Honoring the Sabbath Together

When Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King launched, I was intrigued so I listened on Spotify only a few hours after it was first released. I was surprised to hear the lyrics of one of his songs,

Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A
Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A
Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away
Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray
When you got daughters, always keep ’em safe
Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate
Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A
You’re my number one, with the lemonade
Raise our sons, train them in the faith
Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake
Follow Jesus, listen and obey
No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave

Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain in the US that closes on Sundays, albeit the busiest day of business for food establishments. By including “Chick-fil-A” in his lyrics, Kanye West recognizes the importance of ceasing from regular activities in order to follow Jesus. In his other song called “Selah” he also writes,

They say the week start on Monday
But the strong start on Sunday.

It is quite surprising to note that in these few verses, West appears to be Sabbatarian. I think one of the biggest indications of conversion is when a person turns away from living for himself or “living’ for the culture” and replaces that with the desire to properly honor the Lord’s Day. Sadly, this practice of keeping the Sabbath as commanded in the fourth commandment in the Decalogue is often undermined in many Christian churches or households today.

As a Christian in the Reformed-Presbyterian tradition, I recognize the primacy of honoring the Lord’s Day in the life of the Christian where God calls his people and their children to assemble before Him. Even so the Westminster divines dedicated a chapter on Religious Worship, and the Lord’s Day in our confession of faith:

VII. As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

Westminster Confession of Faith 21

There have been many articles and books written by very able men who could address the theology and history of the Christian Sabbath better than I could. I encourage you to read up on the resources provided by A Puritan’s Mind over here, if you are interested in learning more about the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath.

Below, I provide my meager thoughts on how Lord’s Day worship is a form of discipleship and a delight to the soul. And how we could enjoin our children in honoring the Sabbath together with us.

Lord’s Day Worship is Discipleship

It is quite a challenge to bring small children to worship. Even William Gouge, a Westminster Divine, recognized this and actually excuses tending to young children as “ordinary servile work” which hinder duties of piety. Gouge explains in The Sabbath’s Sanctification,

Most families have some young children which cannot look to themselves nor be brought to Church without disturbance of the whole Congregation.

But I love the perspective that Jason Helopoulos provides in his book Let the Children Worship when he wrote,

The sound of young children reminds the adults in the covenant community that their lives are united with these covenant children and it remains essential that they pass on the faith to the next generation.

I agree that our children are the next generation. Although it must be also be emphasized that they are likewise already part of the current generation as present members of the covenant community, whether communicant or not. Lord’s Day worship is not merely a spiritual discipline we uphold, but we need to embrace it as a way of discipleship. Jon D. Payne writes,

As the means of grace are faithfully set forth week after week in public worship, and God’s special presence is manifested among his covenant people, God is actively discipling his people. The making of disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission, therefore, is not just something that happens ‘out there’ on the mission field. In other words, it’s not just something that happens among the Aborigines in the Outback or amidst the citizens of Madagascar. No, the making of disciples occurs every Lord’s Day in morning and evening worship in every true church

We go through the difficult process of bringing and training our covenant children to honor the Lord’s Day by attending to the means of grace because that is how God disciples His people. J. C. Ryle admonishes us,

“There are some who say that it is useless to urge children to attend means of grace, because they cannot understand them. I would not have you listen to such reasoning. I find no such doctrine in the Old Testament.”

He also adds,

Do not be cast down because your children see not the full value of the means of grace now. Only train them up to a habit of regular attendance. Set it before their minds as a high, holy, and solemn duty, and believe me, the day will very likely come when they will bless you for your deed.

If we believe that God promises to work through the means of grace, we must well bring our children and not to hinder them.

Lord’s Day Worship is a Delight

My children love the Little House in the Big Woods, and in chapter 5 of Laura Ingalis Wilder’s first classic, Pa reminded Laura, who expressly admitted “I hate Sunday!” by sharing a story of how Sundays used to look like during the time of her Grandpa:

When your Grandpa was a boy, Laura, Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning, as it does now. It began at sundown on Saturday night. Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.

Supper was solemn. After supper, Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair. Then they all knelt down, and their father said a long prayer. When he said,

‘Amen,’ they got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed. They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing, or even talking.

Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday.

Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked, because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.

They must walk slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile. Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them.

In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet.

They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless, and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.

When church was over, they walked slowly home. They might talk on the way, but they must not talk loudly and they must never laugh or smile. At home they ate a cold dinner which had been cooked the day before. Then all the long afternoon they must sit in a row on a bench and study their catechism, until at last the sun went down and Sunday was over.

Laura’s great Grandpa may be right about keeping Sundays for worship and learning their catechism. But contrary to what they had experienced, worshipping God on the Lord’s Day isn’t all gloom and doom. It shouldn’t be! In fact, Bishop J. C. Ryle informs us that he is “no admirer of a gloomy religion. Let no one suppose that I want Sunday to be a day of sadness and unhappiness. I want every Christian to be a happy man: I wish him to have ‘joy and peace in believing,’ and to ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ I want everyone to regard Sunday as the brightest, most cheerful day of all the seven; and I tell everyone who finds such a Sunday as I advocate a wearisome day, that there is something sadly wrong in the state of his heart. I tell him plainly that if he cannot enjoy a ‘holy’ Sunday, the fault is not in the day, but in his own soul.”

The Lord’s Day is not only day of rest, but it also a day of gladness. This is why we sing:

O day of rest and gladness,
O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness,
Most beautiful, most bright:
On Thee, the high and lowly,
Through ages joined in tune,
Sing holy, holy, holy,
To the great God Triune.

O Day of Rest and Gladness

Sabbath is also a time when pilgrims find respite from their weary travels and travails throughout the week. The Lord’s Day is when Christians come home, and it is a pleasure and a delight to the soul. God commands us to honor the Sabbath in Isaiah 58:13-14:

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.


How to Train Children to Worship on the Lord’s Day

Prepare

The opening lines of the Directory of the Publick Worship of God, prepared by the Westminter Divines, write:

WHEN the congregation is to meet for publick worship, the people (having before prepared their hearts thereunto) ought all to come and join therein; not absenting themselves from the publick ordinance through negligence, or upon pretence of private meetings.

Joining the public worship of God entails preparation in our hearts. I humbly propose that the way to do this practically is to orient ourselves and our children while we are still at home. The Reformed catechisms includes instruction regarding the keeping of the Sabbath for this very purpose. Questions 58 to 62 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses this:

Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself.

Deut. 5:12–14.

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week, ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Gen. 2:2–31 Cor. 16:1–2Acts 20:7.

Q. 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Ex. 20:810Ex. 16:25–28Neh. 13:15–1921–22Luke 4:16Acts 20:7Ps. 92 title; Isa. 66:23Matt. 12:1–13.

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission, or careless performance, of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Ezek. 22:26Amos 8:5Mal. 1:13Acts 20:79Ezek. 23:38Jer. 17:24–26Isa. 58:13.

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath day.

Ex. 20:911.

We do not merely tell our children that we go to church on Sundays because we’re Christians. We insufficiently instruct them regarding Lord’s Day worship if we do not properly teach them why we do so. Aside from it being a discipleship and a delight, I provide a few answers to the question, What are some of the reasons why we go to church on the Lord’s Day?

What are some of the reasons why we go to church on the Lord’s Day?

  1. God commands us to meet with Him along with other members of our church family on the Lord’s Day. God doesn’t want us to stop meeting together (Hebrews 12:25).
  2. God promises to be present when His children are gathered to worship Him. We also worship with all the other saints who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:22–24).
  3. God ordinarily uses our gathering to reach the other lost members of His family through the preaching of the good news of Jesus. Everyone is welcome to join us for worship and hear the wonderful message that God sent His Son to die on the cross for sinners.
  4. God chooses to bless and encourage the members of our church family by seeing and tasting that the Lord is good. God grows us through the Gospel proclaimed (Word) and the Gospel displayed (sacraments).
  5. God also wants us to grow in knowledge and grace together with all the other members of His family as we love and live with one another.

We train our children. We also pray that they take it to heart as we teach them to carve out one day in a week for resting from our worldly cares and worshipping our Maker and Redeemer. J. C. Ryle in The Duties of Parents exhorts us parents,

Tell them of the duty and privilege of going to the house of God, and joining in the prayers of the congregation. Tell those who wherever the Lord’s people are gathered together, there the Lord Jesus is present in an especial manner, and that those who absent themselves must expect, like the Apostle Thomas, to miss a blessing. Tell them of the importance of hearing the Word preached, and that it is God’s ordinance for converting, sanctifying, and building up the souls of men. Tell them how the Apostle Paul enjoins us not “to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb. x. 25); but to exhort one another, to stir one another up to it, and so much the more as we see the day approaching. I call it a sad sight in a church when nobody comes up to the Lord’s table but the elderly people, and the young men and the young women all turn away.

But I call it a sadder sight still when no children are to be seen in a church, excepting those who come to the Sunday School, and are obliged to attend. Let none of this guilt lie at your doors. There are many boys and girls in every parish, besides those who come to school, and you who are their parents and friends should see to it that they come with you to church.

In one instance, a neighbor asked our six year old daughter why she and her brother didn’t participate in all the fun village activities that was prepared for children. Our daughter told us in reply to our neighbor, “It’s the Lord’s Day. We go to church on Sundays.” I am glad that she recognized the importance of the Lord’s Day, and was able to defend it in front of others. As a family, we cease from doing activities like homeschooling or grocery shopping on Sundays. We rest and we worship God on the Lord’s Day. We make sure that our children know this, too.

Practice

But let’s be realistic, children aren’t good with changes especially if you don’t come from a tradition that includes children in worship. This is the reason why we do not only prepare or teach our children why we worship, we also practice how to worship at home.

Family Worship is good training ground for implementing the basic elements of church liturgy in a less intimidating setup for less experienced members of the covenant community, that is our covenant children. Joel Beeke provides guidelines on how to do Family Worship over here. You may also download a booklet that he wrote on how to do just that. The Westminster Divines indicated the importance of this practice in growing in godliness in the Directory for Family Worship:

BESIDES the publick worship in congregations, mercifully established in this land in great purity, it is expedient and necessary that secret worship of each person alone, and private worship of families, be pressed and set up; that, with national reformation, the profession and power of godliness, both personal and domestick, be advanced.

We orient our children during their first visit to the hospital when they visit a sick family member, or practice with them as to what to do when they see the dentist for the first time. We read books about these first experiences. Why not train them by practicing the liturgy in order for them to be familiar with each step? In the same way that we let our children memorize the catechism to supply them with a trove of spiritual vocabulary, we also go through the elements of the worship liturgy at home to provide them with the spiritual disciplines through constant practice.

Most Reformed and Presbyterian churches provide or publish their bulletin a few days before Sunday in order for members to participate in the worship better. If this does not happen in your congregation, you can probably request a copy from your pastor or church administrator. I’m pretty sure your pastor would be glad to give you a list of songs or the passage he’s preaching on, if you tell him that you’re preparing the family to participate during worship.

Worship is not a performance. So the more familiar we and our children are with the songs, the prayers, and creeds used in our church’s liturgy, the better we are all able to participate in worship.

Participate

We understand the children’s attention spans aren’t the most impressive, particularly during the tender years. Therefore, we must bring a heart of understanding whenever mishaps happen, and they will. Expect that there will be a few whines and wiggles. And that’s okay. It is part of growing up with God’s family. Children are simply learning how to participate or they need a little more practice. Either way, do not let these difficult training become reasons for pulling them out of the blessing of worshipping with the covenant assembly. I resound what Jason Helopoulos writes in Let the Children Worship,

The covenant community’s very identity is wrapped up with worshiping its covenant keeping God. And this community consists of believing adults and their children. Therefore, the church lives out its theology when it encourages and even expects its children to participate in this central event.

How difficult it will be to bring them into congregation worship once they’ve already developed habits that suit their own untrained priorities. Thus, it would be prudent to begin training children at the earliest possible time. We want worship to matter to our children, just as it matters to us.

How do you make children participate after you have sufficiently prepared and practiced with them? Here are some suggestions that you could use in helping children, even those with special needs, participate in worship:

Provide Materials or Sermon Notes

My take, based on my own experience and having observed other children in worship, is to provide them with materials to help them listen. Having children fill out notes can also help you guide them throughout sermon. At our church, we encourage parents to sit with their children in order to address any questions they may have and guide them as the pastor preaches through the sermon. J. C. Ryle also recommends,

See to it too, if it can be so arranged, that your children go with you to church, and sit near you when they are there. To go to church is one thing, but to behave well at church is quite another. And believe me, there is no security for good behavior like that of having them under your own eye. The minds of young people are easily drawn aside, and their attention lost, and every possible means should be used to counteract this. I do not like to see them coming to church by themselves,—they often get into bad company by the way, and so learn more evil on the Lord’s day than in all the rest of the week… What I like to see is a whole family sitting together, old and young, side by side,—men, women, and children, serving God according to their households.

Depending on their literacy levels, writing or drawing sermon notes can provide structure and goals to children for every sermon. It would train them to listen intently, look out for key words or phrases, draw what the pastor was trying to illustrate, or list down questions that they encounter during the sermon. Having a chart to know which part of the service you are in or making a checklist for each of liturgical element would lessen anxiety of those who do not have a proper orientation of time or those with learning disabilities.

Bring Manipulatives or Tinker Tools

Another tip for parents of younger children who aren’t yet developmentally ready to write or draw is to provide with them tinker tools that help them listen. For my children, it’s coloring materials, small Toob toys or manipulatives like putty or clay. Fidget toys have actually been proven to help those with attention issues like ADHD to actually focus on the task. However, if toys and tools distract or make your children irreverent, then you should not provide them with such.

I find that intentional materials and manipulatives are easy training wheels that you can eventually wean off from children once they’re ready to go on their own. Other parents may prefer not to give their children any thing at all. That could be you, and that’s perfectly fine. These things are suggestions. That means these are optional. The principles I laid out here are meant to be applied in your own circumstance and context, however they may look like. The important thing is to encourage children to happily participate, and to hold them accountable in growing degrees as they mature in the faith.

Special Needs

Children with special needs or sensory issues might need a place where they could wind down and relax if it gets overwhelming. If this is the case, inform the pastor ahead of time with your concerns. Perhaps, if he will allow it, respectfully offer him with your suggestions on how to best help your child in this area. For training resources and materials on educating the leaders and the congregation regarding these matters, please visit Engaging Disability with the Gospel, the denominational disability ministry of the Presbyterian Church of the America (PCA).

Plan and Prioritize

One of the ways to inculcate the discipline of participation is to plan and prioritize the Lord’s Day. One of my friends, who is devoted Christian, asked me how honoring the fourth commandment would look like when you’re on vacation. I told her the best way to do it is to plan vacations around the Lord’s Day, not in hindsight after all the travel plans. This means we plan our trips, schedules or hotel locations around Sunday worship and Sabbath keeping. This can also mean that we choose a vacation spot where we are certain we can find a true church.

We might think it’s a good excuse to neglect honoring the Sabbath because we try to keep it for the rest of 51 Sundays of the year. Just this once, we even try to reason. But the children notice. When that happens, this teaches children indirectly that Lord’s Day observance does not really matter when you’re on vacation. Worshipping God with the saints appears to be on break. Jon D. Payne warns us

To neglect worship is, among other things, to disregard Christian discipleship, and to underestimate God’s chosen means of grace. Public worship, therefore, is not optional. In fact, it’s a non-negotiable for every serious believer.

It may seem like a waste to spend Sundays worshipping during a vacation. We know how precious the time is during holidays. However, we Christians do not leave in our identity at home wherever we leave our houses. And we most certainly should not neglect their calling whenever we are on holidays. Our Master summons us every Lord’s Day to come and meet with him. Bishop Ryle also gives us a sobering reminder,

Do not allow them to grow up with a habit of making vain excuses for not coming. Give them plainly to understand, that so long as they are under your roof it is the rule of your house for every one in health to honor the Lord’s house upon the Lord’s day, and that you reckon the Sabbath-breaker to be a murderer of his own soul.

Sabbath-keeping is a serious thing if you are a serious Christian. We hope to instil this habit in children while they are still under our roofs.

How wonderful it would be when we could finally go to Zion, our final resting place and dwell in the presence of the Lord forever. The blessings of eternal unbroken fellowship with the Triune God is perfected in heaven and tasted on earth during the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t you want that for your children as well?

«

»