Liturgy is grounded in acts. Every act leads to another act. In liturgy, skipping to a meal before being cleansed (washing of hands) is improper. Liturgy requires table manners. The liturgy shapes us. In particular, the Lord’s Day liturgy has a way of forming us into obedient children of the Most High God. The goal of biblical liturgy is to make us vessels of the gospel as parents and children. Liturgy is order and decency (I Cor. 14:40). This is one reason structure is so crucial to the Church, and more to the point this is one reason structure is so significant to the life of the home. A home that lacks structure is a home that lacks a well-thought out liturgy. I am not advocating perfection. Any parent who has been a parent for any amount of time knows that there is always work to be done. Parenting does not work within a 9-5 boundary marker.
This is why it is important to grasp the nature of liturgy. Its nature will indicate its purpose. The liturgy of the people of God is a holy one, and those principles which are generally fixed as we gather as God’s family are principles that can be applied to our homes also.
Worship establishes patterns of behavior. In general categories, we could summarize the nature of worship in three acts: First, we are a) cleansed, then we are b) taught, and finally we are c) commissioned. This is a synopsis of a covenant renewal model. When you apply this pattern to child-rearing you realize it is a sober method of disciplining.
First, children need to understand that they have sinned against God (Ps. 51) and against one another. Children need to confess and be cleansed. Children’s ability to understand sin is far greater than we can imagine. Part of this cleansing process is the presupposition that all sin is communal. No sin affects only self. Children are born and baptized for the sake of incorporation. It is the individualist that prefers to see his sins as isolated. But sin in the home hurts the shalom of the house. When sins are individualized parents develop a faulty view of discipline. When a daughter sins, a father’s response should not be to simply discipline her and let it go, rather it is incumbent upon him to explain to the child (briefly) how her sins affect those around her; how her selfishness provided a poor example for her siblings; how her ungratefulness trivializes the generosity of God to our family. When a child sins he needs to see his acts in the context of his community. His sins are not merely exposed, but explained in a broader context than himself.
Secondly, the task of parenting then follows in teaching. This is didactic parenting. All parents are home-schoolers in one way or another. I am assuming here the role of nurturing and building up as part of the instruction. As I mentioned above the act of discipline needs to be followed up by some explanation. Discipline and words of instruction need to go hand in hand, especially when dealing with little ones. The instruction needs to be age appropriate and biblically saturated, even if the verse is not quoted verbatim. Teaching needs to be done calmly and with great patience. The impatience of our children often reveals our impatience. In the same manner, our impatience in instructing our children reveals our impatience to instruct others as well. If we are not capable of explaining the consequences of sins to the least of them how will we explain the consequences of sin to those who are more maturely aware of them?
Under this training, parents need to be also aware of the need to communicate love to our children. The Christian faith is wholistic. If we end simply in the didactic, we may be training little machines to respond appropriately. But though it is often assumed under nurture, parents sometimes forget that physical affection is needed. A I wrote in The Trinitarian Father, children must feel our presence as well as our affection towards them. Jesus comforted his disciples when he commissioned them. He told them that his authority is sufficient for them to fulfill their task. Parents must hug, kiss, and reveal to their children that parental training includes more than mere words, but actions; actions that will leave a lasting impression as they are commissioned to fulfill their call day by day.
Finally, the parenting liturgy concludes with commission. The father/mother after having cleansed and instructed the child, the parent now sends the child out to go and sin no more. This commission stems from the previous steps. Commissioning is the call to be reconciled to the world, beginning with our households. When Jesus grew he grew in favor with God and man. When our sins are confessed we are not only made right with God, but we are called to be reconciled with others. Children are also called to be ambassadors of peace.
Parenting is always liturgical. A make-up-as-you-go liturgy will cause certain effects on the liturgy of the home. I argue that every child needs structure. This is not a never-adjusting structure, but a foundational structure. Liturgy is nothing more than the structure of life.<>