12 Divine service, acts of blessing, and pastoral care

613 What is a divine service?

 

Divine service is the activity of God upon human beings. At the same time, it is a work of human beings for God.


In the divine service, people come together to worship God, praise Him, and thank Him. They also gather in order to hear the word of God and receive the sacraments.


Thus divine service is an encounter between God and man. In the divine service, the congregation perceives the presence of the triune God and experiences that God serves them in love.

614 What was divine service like in the Old Testament?

 

In Old Testament times, the divine service consisted primarily of the sacrificial service, in which the priests would bring gifts to God. They also had the commission to impart the blessing of God to the people (cf. Numbers 6: 22-27).


From the time of King David it is related that singers and musicians also played a role in divine services and praised God with psalms (cf. 1 Chronicles 25: 6).


In the time of the Babylonian captivity— from 597 BC to 539 BC—believing Jews gathered in specially built houses (synagogues) in order to pray and read and interpret Holy Scripture together. This is one of the sources of the later Christian form of divine service.

615 What elements did the divine service incorporate in the early Christian congregations?

 

There is no record of any specific sequence of divine service in the early Christian congregations. It consisted of the proclamation of the gospel, the professions of the congregation, collective prayers, hymns, and the celebration of Holy Communion.

616 How did Christian divine service develop further?

 

The Christian divine service had a liturgical character for centuries. This means that the divine service was predominantly defined by rituals, namely firmly established words and hymns.

 

This changed in many religious denominations after the Reformation. For them, the sermon became the focal point of the divine service. New Apostolic divine service adheres to this tradition with a sermon that is delivered without notes.

 

Sermon, proclamation of the word: see Questions 623→ et seq. Reformation: see Questions 595→ et seq.

617 Is God present in the divine service?

 

Yes. At the beginning of the divine service, God is invoked with the words: “In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. This invocation of God is called the “Trinitarian opening formula”. This makes it clear to those attending the divine service that God is present, just as the Son of God promised (cf. Matthew 18: 20).

618 What are the basic elements of the divine service?

 

Concerning the early Christians in Jerusalem we read as follows: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2: 42). From this we derive the basic elements of the divine service: the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

619 What is meant by the “Apostles’ doctrine”?

 

The “Apostles’ doctrine” means that the Apostles proclaim the doctrine of Jesus Christ, in other words, the gospel of the death, resurrection, and return of the Son of God. This doctrine is also proclaimed in the divine services by the ministers acting in the commission of the Apostles.

620 What do we mean when we talk about “breaking of bread”?

 

“Breaking of bread” is the celebration of Holy Communion. It is the central event in the divine service, which is celebrated in gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus.

 

Holy Communion: see Questions 494→ et seq.

621 What does “communion” signify in the divine service?

 

“Communion” in divine service is understood as the fulfilment of the words of Jesus Christ: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 20).


This “fellowship” in the divine service also refers to the fact that the believers worship, praise, and give thanks to God together. Thus they also have fellowship with one another.

622 What is the role of “prayer” in the divine service?

 

Prayer is an indispensable component of the divine service.


In the divine service, the congregation unites in the prayers spoken by the officiant. These express adoration, thanksgiving, intercessions, and pleas.

 

Before the forgiveness of sins, the congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer. After receiving Holy Communion, each believer brings thanks to God in a silent prayer.

623 What do we mean by the “proclamation of the word” (sermon)?

 

God’s word is proclaimed in the divine services. Ministers express thoughts inspired within them by the Holy Spirit. This is called the “proclamation of the word” or the “sermon”.


In New Apostolic divine services, the sermon is not read from a previously prepared text. It is based on a passage from the Bible, on which the officiating minister elaborates in free discourse without notes.

624 What is the sermon capable of doing?

 

Since the sermon is inspired by God, listeners experience that the spoken word is “alive”, and therefore that

  • questions of life and faith are answered,
  • faith is strengthened,
  • comfort is given,
  • confidence is imparted,
  • admonitions and help in decision-making are provided.

 

The word from the altar provides orientation in order to live in accordance with the will of God.


The sermon is “food” for the soul, in accordance with Jesus’ words: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4).

625 Who is called to proclaim the word of God in the divine services?

 

The Apostles and the ministers commissioned by them to this end are called to proclaim the word of God in the divine service.

626 What is the main content and objective of the sermon?

 

The main content of the sermon is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the glad tidings that Jesus has brought the sacrifice, has resurrected, and will return.


The Holy Spirit speaks through the ministers. It is in this manner that faith is inspired and reinforced. The proclamation of the word always has the objective of preparing the congregation for the return of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11: 2).

627 Does this rule out any mistakes in the proclamation and hearing of the sermon?

 

Any human being who proclaims the word of God is a sinner who has weaknesses and makes mistakes. However, the ministry which he bears has been given by God and is therefore holy. If this imperfect human being then proclaims the word of God, it can indeed contain mistakes. Nevertheless, God lays His power into the words spoken by human beings.


The listeners are likewise sinners. They too have weaknesses and likewise make mistakes. For this reason one cannot rule out the possibility of error in understanding that which is heard. If they, nevertheless, accept the word of God in faith, they will be able to absorb into their souls all the divine powers contained in the sermon, despite any human imperfections and mistakes.

628 What is the duty of the listeners in the sermon?

 

Before the sermon, listeners should pray that the Lord may grant them strength and peace in His word. They are to accept the word in faith and put it into practice in daily life in thought, word, and deed. They are thus called upon to lead a life of following Christ.

629 How are listeners prepared for the forgiveness of sins and the celebration of Holy Communion?

 

Listeners are prepared for the forgiveness of sins and the celebration of Holy Communion by appropriate words from the officiant. Together, they sing a hymn of repentance in preparation for the forgiveness of sins. In it, the members of the congregation profess their sinfulness and bring to expression their need for help.

630 What is the only prayer that is spoken in accordance with a fixed wording in the divine service?

 

The prayer which Jesus taught is the Lord’s Prayer. It is the only prayer that the believers pray together in accordance with a fixed wording.

 

One version of it is recorded with five pleas (cf. Luke 11: 2-4), and another, more detailed version is recorded with seven pleas (cf. Matthew 6: 9-13).

631 What is the wording of the Lord’s Prayer in divine service?

 

In divine service, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed in accordance with the words recorded in the gospel of Matthew:


“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.”

632 What does the address “Our Father” mean? (Japanese 633)

 

The address “Our Father” indicates that this prayer is a communal prayer. When people address God as “Father”, they bring to expression that He has created them, that He is their Lord, and that He provides for them. They can address God as “Father” without fear, in love, and in confidence.

 

Child of God: see explanation of Question 530→

633 What do the words “in heaven” signify? (Japanese 633)

 

The words “in heaven” emphasise that God is greater and higher than all things earthly. And nevertheless, He is close to human beings in His omnipotence.

634 What does it mean to say: “Hallowed be Your name”?

 

This is the first plea in the Lord’s Prayer. God is holy. The believers hallow His name by giving all glory to Him and by endeavouring to live in accordance with His will. This plea is also reminiscent of the Second Commandment.

635 What do the words “Your kingdom come” mean?

 

The kingdom of God has come to mankind in Christ. With the plea “Your kingdom come” believers pray that the nature of Christ may become more and more perceptible in the congregation. Beyond that, however, this plea is also a prayer that the future kingdom of God may soon be revealed: this will begin with the return of Christ to take home His bridal congregation.

636 What does it mean when we say: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

 

In heaven, the realm in which God rules on His throne, His will reigns without restriction. This plea expresses the desire that all things may also occur in accordance with God’s will on earth. With these words, believers also pray that they may succeed in doing the will of God themselves.

637 What does it mean when we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread”?

 

With these words, believers pray for all the things a person needs in order to live. This plea also incorporates the request that God will sustain the creation. In the figurative sense, the plea also requests that God may provide His word as “food” for the immortal soul.