12. Divine service, acts of blessing, and pastoral care
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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).
The Apostles and the ministers commissioned by them to this end are called to proclaim the word of God in the divine service.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All human beings incur guilt on account of their sins. With these words, the believers acknowledge that they are sinners before God, and ask Him for forgiveness. Because God is gracious and forgives us, He expects us to likewise forgive those who have wronged us. Therefore, we will only be granted forgiveness if we ourselves are reconcilable and willing to forgive.
“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’.”
Matthew 18: 21-22
The believers ask God to help them resist sin with all their might. These words also express the plea that God may protect them from severe trials of faith.
This plea expresses the desire that God may deliver the believers from the power of the evil one. Ultimately it is a plea for God to grant ultimate redemption by delivering us from the evil one forever. In the Son of God “we have redemption, [...] the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1: 14).
These words are an expression of praise to God (doxology). They serve to glorify the Almighty God, and He thereby receives the glory He is due. Our view is hereby also directed to the completion of His plan of salvation, when the redeemed will be permitted to experience the glory of God in His presence forever.
This word derives from the Hebrew and translates to mean: “So be it!” This word concludes the Lord’s Prayer and once again reinforces everything that has been expressed in this prayer.
The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins occurs directly after the collective prayer of the Lord’s Prayer.
The Apostles proclaim the forgiveness of sins with a direct reference to Jesus Christ: “I proclaim unto you the glad tidings: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, your sins are forgiven. The peace of the Risen One be with you! Amen.”
The priestly ministers proclaim the forgiveness of sins with reference to the Apostle ministry: “In the commission of my sender, the Apostle, I proclaim unto you the glad tidings: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, your sins are forgiven. The peace of the Risen One abide with you. Amen.”
No, the forgiveness of sins (absolution) is not a sacrament. It is, however, a prerequisite for receiving the sacraments worthily.
Sins can be forgiven because God—as the God of love—sent His Son to the earth. With His death on the cross, the latter brought the eternally valid sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Through the voluntary surrender of His life, Jesus broke the power of Satan and conquered him and his works, namely sin and death. Since then, it has been possible for human beings to be liberated from sin (cf. Matthew 26: 28).
Jesus sacrificed His life for us so that our sins could be forgiven and so that we would not need to remain under the rule of sin.
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1: 29
For [...] when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...”
Romans 5: 10
It is the triune God who forgives sins. On their own, human beings are incapable of forgiving sins or being liberated from sin. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4: 8).
Yes, the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed. The Apostles proclaim forgiveness of sins by the commission of Jesus in accordance with His words: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20: 23). They thereby make the sacrifice of Jesus accessible to the believers. The priestly ministers are authorised by the Apostles to do the same.
In order to obtain forgiveness for one’s sins, the following are required:
- the person must believe in Jesus Christ as his Redeemer (cf. John 8: 24).
- in addition, one must believe that the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed by the Apostles.
- it is also necessary to acknowledge that one has sinned, thereby incurring guilt, and that one is thus in need of grace.
- the person must have the desire in his heart to be reconciled with God. n the sinner must regret his sins and acknowledge this before God in the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts...”
- one must make the earnest resolution to overcome one’s weaknesses and mistakes.
- the sinner must have the desire to be reconciled with those who have wronged him and thereby incurred guilt with him.
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
John 8: 24
The recognition that one has sinned includes an awareness of one’s own weaknesses and mistakes. This requires self-examination.
This recognition will lead to repentance and remorse.
Repentance signifies the recognition that one has acted wrongly, and incorporates remorse, as well as the earnest resolution to overcome mistakes and weaknesses.
Remorse is the feeling of suffering caused by wrongs committed in deed or omission. Sincere remorse also shows itself in the willingness to reconcile with one’s neighbour and make amends, as far as possible, for any damage that has been done.
Forgiveness of sins cleanses us of sin and cancels out the guilt that exists with respect to God.
The believers whose sins have been forgiven are assured of the peace of Jesus Christ with the words: “The peace of the Risen One abide with you!” If this peace is absorbed believingly in the heart, all fear of the consequences of sin will retreat.
Irrespective of the forgiveness of sins, a person remains accountable for the consequences and responsibilities that have come about through his sinful conduct, whether they are of a material or legal nature.
Yes. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. Concerning this, the Son of God said: “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3: 29).
Those who consciously and intentionally portray the Holy Spirit as a devilish or misleading power for hostile and base motives are guilty of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
The sacraments of Holy Baptism with water and Holy Communion are dispensed by Apostles or priestly ministers in the commission of the Apostles. The sacrament of Holy Sealing is only dispensed by Apostles.
Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing are only dispensed to a person once. Holy Communion is dispensed to a person repeatedly.
As a rule, Holy Communion is celebrated in every divine service.
For certain occasions (such as weddings or funerals) verbal divine services— that is, divine services without the celebration of Holy Communion—are conducted.
Yes, children can also receive all three sacraments. If possible, the children take part in the celebration of Holy Communion with the congregation. Children receive the sacraments of Holy Baptism with water, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion in accordance with the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10: 14).
Yes. In the Sunday divine service and on church holy days, the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles or Apostles commissioned by them also celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion for the departed after the congregation celebrates Holy Communion. In the process, two ministers serve as proxies to receive the body and blood of Christ on behalf of the departed.
Three times each year—namely on the first Sundays in March, July, and November—special divine services are celebrated in which the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles or Apostles commissioned by them dispense all three sacraments to the departed. These acts are likewise performed on two ministers who serve as proxies.
That the sacraments can be dispensed for the dead is clear from 1 Corinthians 15: 29: “Otherwise what will they do who are baptised for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptised for the dead?”
God shares His blessing with human beings in various situations of their lives. When we talk about “acts of blessing” we are referring to all church acts that are performed on special occasions. Acts of blessing are not sacraments.
In an act of blessing, God turns to a human being who sincerely longs for blessing. Through Apostles and priestly ministers, God blesses those who request this blessing and offers them His help, grace, and compassion.
The dedication of a church building or place of worship for a congregation also represents an act of blessing in an extended sense.
The following acts of blessing take place within the divine service: confirmation, adoption into the New Apostolic Church, dispensation of engagement blessings, wedding blessings, and blessings on wedding anniversary blessings. Ordinations and other acts concerning the spiritual ministry are also performed during the divine service.
Confirmation (Latin confirmatio, meaning “reinforcement”, “affirmation”) is that act of blessing in which young New Apostolic Christians take upon themselves the obligations which their parents or guardians undertook on their behalf at their baptism and sealing. Confirmands vow to be faithful to God and publicly, that is, before the congregation, profess the New Apostolic faith.
Once confirmed, these Christians, who have now reached the age of spiritual majority, bear full responsibility before God for their life of faith.
The first prerequisite for being confirmed is to have received the sacraments of Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing. Other prerequisites include regular attendance of the divine services and confirmation instruction. Confirmands are to know the main principles of the New Apostolic faith and the Articles of Faith, and be prepared to lead their lives in accordance with the gospel.
Confirmation takes place in the context of a divine service. To begin with, the confirmands assemble in front of the altar and answer the question of whether they desire to pursue their future path of life as New Apostolic Christians in loyalty to God with their “yes”. After this profession before God and the congregation, they give their confirmation vow. In it they publicly vow to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord, and promise to live accordingly.
Following this, and after a prayer by the officiant, the confirmands receive their blessing. It is dispensed through laying on of hands.
The blessing strengthens the confirmands in their endeavour to keep their confirmation vow and profess Jesus Christ in word and deed.
The text of the confirmation vow is as follows: “I renounce Satan and all his work and ways, and surrender myself to You, O triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in belief, obedience, and the earnest resolution to remain faithful to You until my end. Amen.”
This brings to expression that the confirmands have the firm resolve to avoid all evil and ungodly things, and diligently follow the path of the gospel. They profess belief in the triune God and announce their intent to conduct their lives in faith and obedience toward God.
“Adoption” is an act of blessing in the divine service in which Christians from other denominations are welcomed into the New Apostolic Church.
When Christians are adopted, they publicly profess the creed of the New Apostolic faith. After a prayer they are adopted into the New Apostolic Church in the name of the triune God. The adopted members are now entitled to partake regularly in the celebration of Holy Communion. All other acts of blessing in the Church are now open to them.
The engagement blessing is the blessing that is dispensed when a couple gets engaged. Engagement is a serious promise of marriage. In this act of blessing, the engaged couple publicly declares before God and the congregation their intent to prepare themselves for marriage in a manner pleasing to God. Upon this they receive the blessing.
The wedding blessing is a blessing that is dispensed after a civil marriage ceremony.
The partners are asked whether they intend to stand by each other in faithfulness under all circumstances and pursue their path of life together in love. Both of them vow this before God and the congregation by saying yes. Thereupon they receive the blessing of the triune God. The blessing is intended to help them keep this vow, to lead their life together in harmony, and master difficult situations with God’s help.
At the request of the couple, a blessing is dispensed on the following wedding anniversaries:
- silver wedding anniversary (25 years)
- ruby wedding anniversary (40 years)
- golden wedding anniversary (50 years)
- diamond wedding anniversary (60 years)
- iron wedding anniversary (65 years)
- platinum wedding anniversary (70 years)
- diamond wedding anniversary (75 years)
Here God’s blessing is once again placed upon the matrimonial bond and the couple is commended to God’s continuing care and guidance.
A church building is dedicated on the occasion of the first divine service conducted there. In the dedication prayer, the house of God is dedicated as the place where the Holy Spirit reveals Himself—that is, the place where God’s word is proclaimed and the sacraments are dispensed—in the name of the triune God.
The dedicated church is a place for the worship of God and a sanctuary for those who seek salvation. It is here that divine grace and comfort, strength of faith, and peace of the soul are offered in the divine services.
If a dedicated church is no longer being used for divine services, it is deconsecrated: in the last divine service conducted there, the purpose of the church building as a holy place of divine activity, as imparted in the dedication, is lifted. After its deconsecration, the former church is once again a regular building, which can be used for another purpose.
The sacraments are dispensed in the divine service, after the forgiveness of sins and the prayer following.
The acts of blessing generally take place after the celebration of Holy Communion. Since confirmation has a direct relationship with the sacraments of Holy Baptism with water and Holy Sealing, it is performed before the celebration of Holy Communion. Since it entitles one to partake regularly in Holy Communion, the act of adoption likewise takes place before the celebration of Holy Communion.
Ordinations—in which a spiritual ministry is imparted—as well as appointments of congregational rectors or district rectors, reinstatements of ministers to a ministry, and retirements of ministers take place after the sacraments have been dispensed. They thus take place after the celebration of Holy Communion.
Ordinations are performed exclusively by Apostles. After an address by the Apostle, those to be ordained are asked whether they are prepared to accept the ministry. They are also asked whether it is their intent to serve God faithfully, stand up for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and exercise the ministry in accordance with the New Apostolic Creed. They are further asked if they are prepared to exercise the ministry in the mind of Jesus Christ, in love for the believers, and in obedience of faith.
They vow this before God, who calls them into His service, and before the congregation, by saying “yes”. While kneeling, they then receive the ministry through the laying on of hands and prayer of the Apostle.
The purpose of music in the divine service is to bring praise and glory to God (cf. Psalm 150). It therefore has a serving function.
It can deeply move the soul, prepare the congregation for the proclamation of the word, and underscore the word of God. Singing—be it by the congregation or the choir—and instrumental music expresses and imparts courage, strength, and confidence. In times of sadness and hardship, music can provide comfort.
Music and silent worship before the divine service help those attending the divine service gather their thoughts, and prepare the way for the proclamation of the word. In the singing of the congregation, all present are actively involved in the divine service experience. Before the celebration of Holy Communion, the congregation can attest to their feelings of repentance in a hymn. In the hymn sung during the celebration of Holy Communion, they express their love and gratitude toward God.
At the end of the divine service, all those who are present receive the blessing of the triune God. Together with the Trinitarian opening formula, the concluding benediction forms the framework that embraces the divine service event. This makes it clear that everything which occurs in the divine service emanates from the triune God.
The closing benediction is imparted to the congregation with the words from 2 Corinthians 13: 14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!”
Believers desire to worship God in fellowship with one another. They know that their faith and hope in the imminent return of Christ will be strengthened through the sermon in the divine service. They allow themselves to be prepared for this event in every divine service. Furthermore, they have a longing to have their sins forgiven and receive Holy Communion. Beyond that, they are blessed in the divine service.
Those who thoughtlessly neglect the divine services lose out on the blessing, grace, and powers contained in the word of God and in Holy Communion. Those who frequently abstain from attending the divine services without compelling reasons run the risk that their faith will diminish and their longing for the word of God will fade.
It is a sin to consciously reject or despise the divine service and the grace of God.
Yes. The dispensation of the prenatal blessing is always performed outside of the divine service. As a rule, it takes place in the family circle.
The prenatal blessing is the first visible act of God upon an as yet unborn human being. This blessing serves to benefit the unborn soul, and is performed upon the mother-to-be. Through the prenatal blessing, God strengthens the mother in her endeavour to promote and cultivate the faith life of her child during its prenatal development.
The prenatal blessing is associated with God’s help during the time of pregnancy and for the birth of the child. This does not imply the promise of a problem-free pregnancy or the birth of a healthy child, however.
The church funeral is a divine service that provides comfort and strength to the bereaved. This comfort consists primarily of hope in the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead in Christ associated with it, and the future reunion with them (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18).
The word proclaimed in the funeral service also applies to the immortal soul of the departed, which is commended to the grace of God.
The mourners assembled for the funeral service surround the bereaved in order to demonstrate their sympathy and impart a feeling of security. Beyond that, they thereby pay their last respects to the deceased.
In the funeral service, the life of the deceased is honoured in appropriate fashion. The soul and spirit of the departed are commended to the love of the Redeemer Jesus Christ with the blessed reassurance that He may preserve them until the resurrection to eternal life. The soulless body of the deceased is surrendered to the earth.
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3: 19
The question of whether, or in what manner, a body is interred is of no consequence for the resurrection of the dead.
The significance of pastoral care can be recognised in the conduct of Jesus: without regard for the person, He turned to sinners and allowed them to feel His love. He listened, helped, comforted, counselled, admonished, strengthened, prayed, and taught.
The pastoral care provided by the ministers has the objective of supporting the believers and preparing them for the return of Christ. The ministers accompany the members in the various situations of their lives. This also includes praying for them.
Every New Apostolic Christian is offered personal pastoral care. This primarily takes the form of visits from priestly ministers, but pastoral care visits can also be made by Deacons.
The main focus of the pastoral care visit is the endeavour to deepen love for God and His work, to promote faith life, and enhance understanding for God’s activity of salvation. This is primarily achieved by way of discussions about matters of faith. Praying together is also an important part of the pastoral care visit.
In cases of sickness, New Apostolic Christians receive special attention through visits either at home or in hospital. The responsible minister strengthens them in faith, comforts them, prays with them, and, if possible, celebrates Holy Communion with them.
The model for this personal pastoral care is the activity of Jesus Christ, who repeatedly made such visits, for example, to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, or to the tax collector Zacchaeus: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’” (Luke 19: 9).
Yes, we have confession. By this we mean a person’s admission of sins and acknowledgement of guilt before a church minister.
Although no confession is needed for the forgiveness of sins, there is still an opportunity for confession in the event a person still feels burdened by guilt and is unable to come to peace despite the forgiveness of sins. Confession can be made before an Apostle. In urgent cases, when no Apostle can be reached, any priestly minister can, as an exception, take confession and proclaim absolution in the commission of the Apostle and in the name of Jesus Christ.
In an expanded sense, pastoral care is also a task for the entire congregation. It also relates to practical help in life. Here the words of Jesus apply: “...for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. [...] inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25: 35-36, 40).
The pastoral care of children is primarily the task of parents. They are to impart the fundamental values of the gospel to their children. This includes teaching them to love God and their neighbour, and being an example to them in prayer life and faithfulness in offering.
The ministers and brothers and sisters commissioned as church teachers are there to support parents in this responsibility so that the children may develop into convinced and self-responsible New Apostolic Christians.
Church instruction familiarises children and adolescents with the content of our faith and teaches them to conduct their lives in personal responsibility toward God. This objective is derived from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, church instruction cultivates a sense of community and a feeling of belonging among the growing children. The offer of instruction is tailored to the age and development stage of the respective children.
The objective of Pre-Sunday School is to instruct children about God and His activity at a level appropriate to them. In this manner, children who do not yet attend school can already develop a trusting relationship with God. Imparting knowledge is not the primary objective of Pre-Sunday School. Rather, it is intended to impart a feeling of security, and instil joy of faith in the hearts of the children.
Children attend Sunday School when they begin school or reach school age. The objectives of Sunday School are:
- to awaken and strengthen joy in fellowship with God’s children and in the divine service,
- to impart understanding of God’s activity to the children in an ageappropriate manner through Bible stories,
- to reinforce belief in divine promises,
- to explain to the children the sequence of the divine service, the meaning of the sacraments, acts of blessing, and church holy days.
In addition to Sunday School, there are also divine services for children from time to time, in both smaller and larger circles. The word of God is imparted by priestly ministers in a manner corresponding to the understanding of the children. The ministers thereby help the children understand God and His work. That which the children can comprehend on the basis of their own experiences will become a foundation of faith to them on their path of life.
The children’s service goes into the needs of the children. They are to feel understood, secure, and loved. It is a special experience for them to participate in a divine service in their own circle and celebrate Holy Communion together in the process.
In Religious Instruction the children learn from the accounts of human experiences with God: the history of salvation is discussed in reference to the faith life of the children. Contents of faith are deepened, knowledge is promoted, and the interconnections within God’s plan of salvation are explained. In this manner, enduring values are imparted to the children.
Moreover, Religious Instruction should enable students to freely profess their faith.
In Confirmation Instruction, adolescents are prepared for their confirmation day, when they will give their vow to God in the presence of the congregation and take responsibility for their own faith life as Christians who have come of age. The content of Confirmation Instruction focuses primarily upon the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.
Young people receive age appropriate care and support. Youth leaders are available to assist our young members as personal contacts for confidential conversations in various situations of life as well as for questions of faith.
Pastoral care for young people serves to help them develop into personalities with strength of faith and a sense of personal responsibility. The young people are to be firmly anchored in the values of the Christian faith and are to be inspired by them. In this way they receive a good foundation for making decisions in their lives. They are encouraged to practise, profess, and stand up for their faith in their surroundings. Beyond that, their willingness to involve themselves in the congregation is cultivated. Another important objective of youth care is to cultivate fellowship among the young people themselves.
There are special divine services for young people. These generally take place on a district level or a multiregional level in the case of youth weekends.
The terminally ill and dying require special care.
Even believing people are afraid of dying and death. This fear must never be interpreted as a sign of lacking faith. The minister should accept the dying person in all his fears and needs as he embarks on his difficult path.
It is important to keep alive the hope in a life with God and the comfort associated with this hope.
This support for the dying also entails that the minister proclaims the forgiveness of sins and the peace of the Risen One, and celebrates Holy Communion with them. Partaking in the body and blood of the Lord imparts fellowship of life with the Son of God. In this manner the dying are comforted and strengthened, making it easier for them to proceed along the last steps of their path of life. The assurance of a reunion with those who have already gone ahead into the beyond also helps carry the dying through the phase of bidding farewell.
It is also important to provide pastoral care to the relatives of a dying person. In this phase when they begin to realise that they will have to lose a loved one, they are to experience the secure feeling that they have not been abandoned. Praying together is especially strengthening to them in this situation.
The certainty of a reunion helps to bear the heavy burden of bidding farewell. It is also helpful to family members when they are made aware of what they can do for the dying.
Grieving must be allowed. The important thing is to seek contact with the bereaved, express sympathy, and pray with them. It is important to impart a feeling of genuine sympathy to the bereaved. Despite any fears of saying the wrong words, it is important to reach out to them. “Fail not to be with them that weep, and mourn with them that mourn” (Ecclesiasticus 7: 34).
In coping with grief it can be especially helpful to point out that Jesus Christ also suffered and died. The resurrection of the dead is also founded on His resurrection. They share in the victory of Christ over death (cf. Romans 14: 7-9).
Support for the bereaved serves to encourage the bereaved to talk about their loss and give expression to their feelings. It should be possible for the bereaved to speak with their minister openly about sadness, fear, anger, feelings of resentment toward God, and feelings of guilt. In coping with grief it is often helpful to remind the bereaved of the positive and cheerful experiences they have made with the departed.
Providing comfort to the bereaved through pastoral care may require weeks and months, and perhaps even years, after the death of a loved one.
The following holy days are celebrated in the New Apostolic Church: Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Thanksgiving Day.
At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. This celebration refers to one of the central events of salvation history. Our commemoration of the first coming of the Son of God also reinforces our belief in His imminent return.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem during the celebration of the Jewish feast of the Passover.
On Good Friday, believers look back on the crucifixion and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Through His sacrificial death, the Son of God broke the power of Satan and of sin.
“...He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
John 19: 30
The basis of this feast is the fact that Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place on the first day of the week, namely on Sunday. Later, a specific Sunday in the course of the year was set aside for the celebration of Easter. With His resurrection, Jesus Christ demonstrated that He has also broken the power of death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is also the basis of our belief in the resurrection of the dead, and the foundation of our hope in eternal life.
On Ascension Day we are reminded that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven out of the circle of the Apostles on the fortieth day after Easter. “He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Through two angels the Apostles received the promise: “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 3-11).
On Pentecost—fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection—we commemorate the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out. We also speak of Pentecost as the “birthday of the church of Christ”. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Apostle Peter delivered a powerful sermon which centred on the crucified and resurrected Christ, who had ascended into heaven.
Moreover, Pentecost is a celebration of joy over the fact that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the church.
Thanksgiving Day is the celebration when we give thanks to God as the Creator.
On one Sunday of the year—Thanksgiving Sunday—a divine service is held which focuses on expressing gratitude to God for all the good gifts He grants to us human beings.
Out of thankfulness to Him, believers bring a special offering to Him: “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; and to him who orders his conduct aright, I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50: 23).
The divine services on church holy days are generally celebrated like any other divine service with Holy Communion.
The respective historical event is highlighted with Bible readings and its significance for the salvation of mankind is illuminated.