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Ecclesiology discuss Congregational response during the benediction in the Theological Forum forums; Hi folks, Our usual church service ends with a closing prayer directly following the sermon, then we sing praise to God (a psalm), then the ...

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    Tirian's Avatar
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    Congregational response during the benediction

    Hi folks,

    Our usual church service ends with a closing prayer directly following the sermon, then we sing praise to God (a psalm), then the minister pronounces the benediction.

    During the pronouncement of the blessing (or benediction) the minister will usually be looking at us with his hands raised and palms towards us.

    There seems to be two common responses by members of the congregation - to bow the head, or to look at the minister.

    My questions is - if this is the practice in your church also, how do you respond and why?

    God bless,

    Matt
    Matt Glover
    Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

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    I look at the pastor while he pronounces the benediction and say amen.
    Scott Bushey
    Husband to Tina, father to Nicole, Danielle and Zoe
    Attending Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl/OPC
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    brymaes is offline. Puritanboard Sophomore
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    We sing a three fold amen after the benediction. Most people look at me when it is given.

    [Edited on 3-26-2006 by theologae]
    x

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    beej6 is offline. Puritanboard Sophomore
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    I look at the pastor and say "Amen" after the benediction. At our last church, that simply ended the service. At our new church, we sing the "Gloria Patri" to close the service.

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    Contra_Mundum's Avatar
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    Questions like this are great, because it means people are interested in what is going on in church--not just because "that's the way we do it." but so that they can render worship in an engaged and sensible way.

    On the matter of benediction--
    The question standing behind the original one is: What are we doing? The answer to that will help tell instruct us as to "how". The minister is pronouncing God's heavenly blessing upon his people in His name. God, personated by the minister, is acting toward His people, and we the people are receptive.

    This is the final word of the service as well. (Here there may be some difference of opinion, as due ot the "dialogical" nature of worship, one might expect--and occasionally find--a congregational response to the benediction following it.) God speaks first to open the service (the "call") and closes it with the blessing.

    This is a bit of digression, but now, if there is personal or corporate "Amen" or "Gloria", etc., that in essence is our response to what was pronounced, or to the whole service of worship; but it falls in the category (as I see it) of coda or appendix to the service.

    The original question asks, "What sort of posture do we assume in the benediction?" I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer to this. I tend to look up at the minister more often than not (unless I am giving the benediction). I often look higher, as though gazing to heaven on high. Sometimes I bow my head (according to the habit of my youth).

    Compare
    Psalm 5:3 "... I will look up."
    Psalm 40:12 "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up."
    Is. 51:6, "Lift up your eyes to the heavens..."
    Ps. 121:1-2 "I will lift up my eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
    Ps. 123:1 Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.
    Ps. 3:3 "But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.

    Is. 40:26 "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number."
    Eze 33:25 "Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land?"
    Lk. 18:13 "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
    Lk. 21:28 "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."

    The Aaronic benediction (Nu. 6:22-27) speaks of God's "smiling" countenance shining upon the people. Ps. 17:15 speaks of the bliss of heaven where the believer shall be satisfied with seeing God's likeness. We hope for heaven where we shall "see him as he is" (1 Jn. 3:2).

    All in all, I think that looking up expectantly is a most fitting response, especially if directed to do so by the minister ("Look up, and receive God's benediction"). We are the redeemed, not the condemned. He has lifted up our heads. But we can also bow our heads in respect, not in shame. So I don't think there is a rule we can say.

    We ought not go out of a typical service (I won't lay down a blanket claim) downcast. But even when we are rebuked in a sermon, hopefully we have been put in mind of God's unchangable grace and love for his people as well.

    Why are you doing what you are doing?
    Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan
    ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI

    Made both Lord and Christ--Jesus, the Destroyer
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    Thanks for those helpful thoughts on the essence and purpose of both the benediction and a possible response, Bruce. In light of your observations, two questions came to mind:

    1) Could you elaborate on why you view a response as, if included, being an "appendix" of sorts to the service, and not part of the "service" itself? In that context, what is your definition of the "service," and your basis for it being opened and closed specifically by the representative words of God?

    2) Other than Numbers 6, what Scriptures do you think shed light on, or reveal a yet further basis for, a benediction (and a call, for that matter) as an element of worship? Also, would you say there is a confessional basis for those things, either in Westminster chapter 21 or elsewhere?

    Thanks,
    Chris


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    WrittenFromUtopia is offline. Inactive User
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    I usually close my eyes, but I don't necessarily bow my head. I just try to eliminate distractions and listen to the words as I receive God's blessing.

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    Larry Hughes is offline. Inactive User
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    I look at the pastor while he pronounces the benediction and say amen.
    A hearty AMEN at that!

    This is what I do as well, sometimes fighting back the tears. Nothing like coming in and confessing sin and being washed afresh by so form of "For Christ sake you are forgiven".

    My wife and I come from a history of "alter call" churches a truly foul thing. Coming to a church giving the benediction was and still remains the most precious thing to have at the end. When we first came to such a church it was truly lifting to our hearts. The first time I turned to my wife with wet eyes and said, "I hope those who have grown up and know only this know what a precious gift they have." Having come from "alter calls", "rededictions" and other such horrid items.

    Blessings,

    Larry
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    VirginiaHuguenot is offline. Puritanboard Librarian
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    This is a bit of practical advice from the Rev. Dr. Magie which first appeared in the Free Church Magazine in 1845 in an article entitled Posture in Public Prayer:

    There is another thing which it seems important to notice in this connection. In many of our congregations we witness a restlessness and confusion while the benediction is pronounced, which cannot but be regarded as utterly inconsistent with the design of this deeply interesting service. Such conduct savours as little of reverence as it does of good breeding. We must all agree that no part of the public worship of God demands greater sedateness of mind than this. Whether we regard it simply as a brief concluding prayer, or as an official act of the minister authoritatively blessing the people in the name of the Lord, it evidently should be attended upon with seriousness. This is not the time for adjusting the articles of dress or getting ready, as if in haste to leave the house of God. We separate, perhaps not to meet again on earth, and we should all retire praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our heavenly Father, and the communion of the Holy Ghost may abide with us forever.
    Andrew

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    I appreciate Rev. Buchanan's "We are the redeemed, not the condemned. He has lifted up our heads." The joy and confidence in the Lord that I experience during corporate worship makes me want to gaze expectantly up to heaven to see His smiling countenance! I like to look up for the benediction and say Amen, but because everybody else in my congregation is quietly bowing their heads, it almost seems too bold to respond the way I want to. For the sake of decorum I often restrain myself and bow my head quietly, then just whisper "Amen!"
    Abigail Shofstahl
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    I don't get a benediction ()....yet.
    Josh
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    Why is that, Josh?
    The man who is disposed to think of his sin as a great calamity, rather than as a heinous crime, is not likely either to reverence God or to respect His law. - John Kennedy, 1873
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    Meg, I guess it's typical of Reformed Baptist churches?
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    The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. - Ps. 147

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    Tirian's Avatar
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    Originally posted by ProvidentiallyBlessed
    I appreciate Rev. Buchanan's "We are the redeemed, not the condemned. He has lifted up our heads." The joy and confidence in the Lord that I experience during corporate worship makes me want to gaze expectantly up to heaven to see His smiling countenance! I like to look up for the benediction and say Amen, but because everybody else in my congregation is quietly bowing their heads, it almost seems too bold to respond the way I want to. For the sake of decorum I often restrain myself and bow my head quietly, then just whisper "Amen!"
    I can identify with this - up until a couple of months ago I would have kept my head bowed but said an "Amen" after it. However an elder was talking to me about how he looks to the minister in expectation of recieving the blessing and it seemed to make sense. I've done that ever since.

    Perhaps you could talk to your minister about what he expects? Afterall, if everyone else has their heads bowed - who is to notice?

    I really appreciate all of the responses so far. Though I'd be interested in hearing some interaction with Chris' post, I'd summarise the views expressed so far as:

    1. Our response must be reverent, decent and orderly
    2. There are no clear directives as to whether we should have our head's bowed or raised but we should respond as the Spirit leads (subject to 1.)

    Matt
    Matt Glover
    Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

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    Originally posted by Me Died Blue
    1) Could you elaborate on why you view a response as, if included, being an "appendix" of sorts to the service, and not part of the "service" itself? In that context, what is your definition of the "service," and your basis for it being opened and closed specifically by the representative words of God?
    First, I would say that it seems right to me that in worship God should speak both first and last ("...and the last Word goes to..."). Hab. 2:20 "But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."

    Recall that in many Dutch Reformed churches, they traditionally begin (before the "beginning") not with the call but the "votum" (often a reader-response): "Our help is in the name of the Lord/ Who made heaven and earth." Again, I would call this a preliminary--why? because we do not speak first, in the dialog, except as it were to one another, as we come together.

    Second, do we need a vocal "response" when the real response is going out and living as we've been taught? Maybe it's the time I spent in the military, but the CO gives his orders, and that's the end of it. He may wait for a salute, and his return-salute is, you guessed it, the last word). Once he says, "Dismissed," he's not overly impressed with verbal or symbolic acknowledgement--he will be back to check on his orders.

    {edit} I would add this: any response following the benediction strikes me as a "recessional", as if the people were to leave out the meeting-place singing, together, in one accord, separating and dispersing, the song trailing off and each person and family wends their distinctive way. When it becomes a "part" of the service, a closing part, I think it takes on a bit too much of a "last word," which I have already commented on. However, though I do not approve of it, I refrain from condemning it.
    Originally posted by Me Died Blue
    2) Other than Numbers 6, what Scriptures do you think shed light on, or reveal a yet further basis for, a benediction (and a call, for that matter) as an element of worship? Also, would you say there is a confessional basis for those things, either in Westminster chapter 21 or elsewhere?
    2 Cor. 13:14 stands as the "apostolic, Trinitarian benediction," which Reformed tradition has reserved to the ministry for pronouncement (as the priestly benediction was a function of that office). Certainly the closing of many letters of Paul (as well as interspersed within them) are words of blessing. If Hebrews is really a sermon that was turned into a letter, then 13:20-21 may serve to show another typical service benediction.

    The point in all these examples being, these are words of conclusion that bring these letters of teaching/ preaching to an end. God finishes talking, and leaves his people with a blessing. This is in harmony with Old Covenant example. When in the OT service was the benediction to take place? You might say "anywhere" since, the "liturgy" isn't addressed; but it is most fitting, perhaps, after all acts of worship and obedient service are complete. God pleased, sends his people forth with his blessing.

    I don't believe the Confession explicitly refers to a benediction as a named element of worship. However, the Directory, I believe, does exhort the minister to dismiss the Congregation with a solemn blessing. See also Hughes Oliphant Old ,Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, (a recent purchase of mine, but not with me at the moment), pp. 330-337. And this will have to suffice for an answer.

    [Edited on 3-27-2006 by Contra_Mundum]
    Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan
    ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI

    Made both Lord and Christ--Jesus, the Destroyer
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    Irishcat922 is offline. Inactive User
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    Our pastor says the Benediction, hands raised, myself as well as some of the other men respond with an amen and then we sing the Gloria Patri.

    [Edited on 3-27-2006 by Irishcat922]
    Sean Jones
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    VirginiaHuguenot is offline. Puritanboard Librarian
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    Originally posted by Contra_Mundum
    I don't believe the Confession explicitly refers to a benediction as a named element of worship. However, the Directory, I believe, does exhort the minister to dismiss the Congregation with a solemn blessing. See also Hughes Oliphant Old ,Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, (a recent purchase of mine, but not with me at the moment), pp. 330-337. And this will have to suffice for an answer.
    Bruce has many good points on this subject to consider. And Old's treatment of the Reformation theology and Patristic Roots of the benediction are very insightful as well. Particularly edifying to me was this statement by Old:

    In summary we might say that the Benediction is not simply a valediction, nor simply a prayer for grace appropriate to the end of the liturgy, but rather the "pledge of that divine benevolence which is the source of our salvation"3.

    3. CR [Corpus reformatorum, Berlin, 1834], LII, 461. Nam Deus nomen suum apud sacerdotes deponit, ut in medium quotidie proferant tanquam benevolentiae, et quae inde oritur salutis, pignus.
    [Edited on 3-27-2006 by VirginiaHuguenot]
    Andrew

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    VirginiaHuguenot is offline. Puritanboard Librarian
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    Matthew Henry says this of the Aaronic benediction:

    Here, I. The priests, among other good offices which they were to do, are appointed solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord, v. 23. It was part of their work, Deut. xxi. 5. Hereby God put an honour upon the priests, for the less is blessed of the better; and hereby he gave great comfort and satisfaction to the people, who looked upon the priest as God's mouth to them. Though the priests of himself could do no more than beg a blessing, yet being an intercessor by office, and doing that in his name who commands the blessing, the prayer carried with it a promise, and he pronounced it as one having authority with his hands lifted up and his face towards the people. Now, 1. This was a type of Christ's errand into the world, which was to bless us (Acts iii. 26), as the high priest of our profession. The last thing he did on earth was with uplifted hands to bless his disciples, Luke xxiv. 50, 51. The learned bishop Pearson observes it as a tradition of the Jews that the priests blessed the people only at the close of the morning sacrifice, not of the evening sacrifice, to show (says he) that in the last days, the days of the Messiah, which are (as it were) the evening of the world, the benediction of the law should cease, and the blessing of Christ should take place. 2. It was a pattern to gospel ministers, the masters of assemblies, who are in like manner to dismiss their solemn assemblies with a blessing. The same that are God's mouth to his people, to teach and command them, are his mouth likewise to bless them; and those that receive the law shall receive the blessing. The Hebrew doctors warn the people that they say not, "What availeth the blessing of this poor simple priest? "For," say they, "the receiving of the blessing depends, not on the priest, but on the holy blessed God."
    Andrew

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    VirginiaHuguenot is offline. Puritanboard Librarian
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    Archibald Hall's Gospel Worship (1770) has a chapter on this subject -- Chapter 6. Of the Public Blessing of the Congregation -- which includes directions for the congregation at the close of the service:

    SECTION 2

    All that remains on this ordinance, is to give some directions concerning it. I shall dispatch this head in few words.

    I. The highest decency requires, that it be performed with great reverence. Great fear is due to God in this, as much as in any other piece of service that is done in the meeting of his saints. While ministers stand, and lift up their hands to bless, Lev 9:22-23; 1 Chron 23:13; 1 Kings 8:54-55[4] the congregation should stand up to receive the blessing of Heaven, 1 Kings 8:14. Do we in this blessing express our desire and hope, to receive a kingdom that cannot be moved? and how can we be excused, if we have not grace, whereby we may serve him in it, with reverence and godly fear, since our God is a consuming fire? Heb 12:28-29.

    An indifferent person cannot, without indignation, be a witness to that irreverence and unconcerned behaviour, that are sometimes to be seen in worshipping assemblies, where people seem more engaged in preparing themselves to remove, than attentive to the solemn worship in which they should be employed. Such a way of serving God is only offering him the sacrifice of fools, and is an abomination in his sight. A serious mind cannot think of it, without sensible pain, that God should be thus dishonoured, and his worship profaned. Such practices harden Infidels, and steel their hearts against impressed convictions of the reality, power, and influence of vital Christianity. Every thing of so criminal a nature, and of so dangerous tendency, should be carefully avoided by all Christians.

    2. This service should be gone about with due consideration and judgment. We ought to employ all the powers of our souls, in meditation and reflection upon the object and the nature of our address. This would quicken our attention, and compose our minds into a temper becoming the sublimity of the work. Consideration can never be more usefully employed, judgment can never be more worthily exercised, than in hearing and receiving the blessing of the Lord that maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow.

    3. We ought to join in this duty under an humbling conviction of our utter unworthiness, and of God's marvellous condescension in taking any favourable knowledge of us in our low and wretched condition; much more in making so rich, so seasonable, and so effectual provision for our necessities, as the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, are. This is a source of the deepest humility, and a fountain of the most exuberant joy. Here we are led to consider creature-meanness, and divine mercy, in the most delightful and astonishing contrast.

    4. We should bear in mind the common interest that believers have, as fellow-members of the same body, and fellowheirs of the same inheritance, in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the love of God, and in the communion of the Holy Ghost; these are with them all. In this duty we should consider the relation we have to that numberless company, whom God hath chosen, whom Christ hath redeemed, and in whose hearts the Comforter will continue to make his abode for ever. In this benediction, the equal regard of the adorable Trinity to all the saints is supposed, and the same disinterested care one for another is expressed.

    5. Let fervent desire accompany the language of our lips; for in vain do we worship God in calling upon him, unless the desire of our souls be towards him, and towards the remembrance of those powerful consolations in Christ, those comforts of love, and those communications of the Spirit, that are implored, when we join in this important address to the throne of grace. There is no religious service, where every motive of duty and interest, of gratitude and affection, has a better occasion for vigorous, powerful exertion, to excite importunity and ardour in our requests. The things that are freely given us of God are no where set in a clearer, juster light, to strengthen our faith, and enkindle the most passionate desires.

    6. The confidence and the rejoicing of hope, should elevate our minds, and deeply possess our hearts in the whole of this service. In testimony of our assurance to be heard and accepted, we should say, Amen. God never called us to seek his face in vain. His effectual blessing is conveyed by his own institutions. And we dishonour the goodness, wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God, if we stagger through unbelief, or abandon ourselves to hopeless discouragement, when we have such strong grounds of consolation, and of good hope through grace; together with God's most gracious promise, Exod 20:24, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee."

    The directions concerning prayer may also be reviewed on this head. See chapter 5, section 5. [p. 208]
    Andrew

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    C. Matthew McMahon's Avatar
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    Good stuff.

    What do you think about the pastor raising his hand(s) in the benediction? Must do? Might do? Matters? Doesn't Matter?

    Thoughts?

    Leviticus 9:22 Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings.

    1 Kings 8:54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven.
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    Contra_Mundum's Avatar
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    When I pray the Invocation, I pray with "hands uplifted to heaven," palms up, in the gesture of reception

    When I give the benediction, as with Aaron, and Christ (Lk. 24:50), it is with hands uplifted toward the congregation, palms facing down, in the gesture of dispensing.
    Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan
    ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church, CentralLake, MI

    Made both Lord and Christ--Jesus, the Destroyer
    Acts 2:36 - 1 Cor. 10:9-10 & 15:22-26 - Hebrews 2:9-15 - 1 John 3:8 - James 4:12

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    For what it's worth, here is Alfred Edersheim's account of how the Priestly blessing was performed From The Temple - It's Ministry and Services, Chapter 1:
    The Blessing

    The priests, who were ranged on the steps to the Holy Place, now lifted their hands above their heads, spreading and joining their fingers in a peculiar mystical manner.97 One of their number, probably the incensing priest, repeated in audible voice, followed by the others, the blessing in Numbers 6:24-26: "˜Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.´ To this the people responded, "˜Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.´ In the modern synagogues the priestly blessing is divided into three parts; it is pronounced with a disguised voice and veiled faces, while the word "˜Lord´ is substituted for the name of "˜Jehovah.´ 98

    Of course all this was not the case in the Temple. But if it had been the duty of Zacharias, as incensing priest for the day, to lead in the priestly blessing, we can all the better understand the wonder of the people as "˜he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless´ (Luke 1:22) while they waited for his benediction.

    97 - The high-priest lifted his hands no higher than the golden plate on his mitre. It is well know that, in pronouncing the priestly blessing in the synagogue, the priests join their two outspread hands, by making the tip of the first fingers touch each other. At the same time, the first and second, and the third and fourth fingers in each hand are knit together, while a division is made between those fingers by spreading them apart. A rude representation of this may be seen in Jewish cemeteries on the gravestones of priests.

    98 - Dr. Geiger has an interesting argument to show that in olden times the pronunciation of the so-called ineffable name "˜Jehovah,´ which now is never spoken, was allowed even in ordinary life. See Urschrift u. Uebers d. Bibel, p. 259, etc.
    and elsewhere...
    Attitude in Prayer

    The attitude to be observed during prayer is very accurately defined by the Rabbis. The worshipper was to stand, turning towards the Holy Place; he was to compose his body and his clothes, to draw his feet close together, to cast down his eyes, at least at the beginning of his prayer, to cross his hands over his breast, and to "˜stand as a servant before his master, with all reverence and fear.´ Even the priests, while pronouncing the priestly blessing, were to look to the ground. In regard to the special manner of bowing before the Lord, a distinction was made between bending the knees, bending the head, and falling prostrate on the ground. The latter was not deemed "˜fit for every man, but only for such as knew themselves righteous men, like Joshua.
    The outstretched arms seem to support the Biblical evidence while the bowed head might be argued to be a matter of Rabbinical tradition. Nevertheless, the Priests in the Temple looked to the ground with arms outstretched while blessing the congregation.

    For my part, I look at the minister with head bowed and reach my hands out to him as in a posture of receiving a blessing. I consider myself as a child reaching out longingly and reverently.

    [Edited on 3-27-2006 by SemperFideles]
    Rich
    Ruling Elder, Licentiate, Under Care, Hope of Christ Church (PCA), Northern VA
    Student, New Geneva Theological Seminary

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  24. #24
    Jeff_Bartel's Avatar
    Jeff_Bartel is offline. Puritanboard Postgraduate
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    Originally posted by C. Matthew McMahon
    What do you think about the pastor raising his hand(s) in the benediction?

    Thoughts?
    There seems to be biblical precedence for the posture!

  25. #25
    ChristopherPaul's Avatar
    ChristopherPaul is offline. Puritanboard Senior
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    I was just going to ask this question and was pleased to find a thread dedicated to it.

    I am not sure how to respond. My former church bowed and my current church seems to look up.

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that when the early church started, the Apostles would end each service by laying hands on each individual member saying a prayer or blessing over them. They did this only until the congregations became too large to practically do this, so they simply outstretched their arms and blessed everyone at once. I wish I could find where I read that – the comment stuck with me, but not the source.
    Christopher Reeder
    Husband to Kara, Father to Abigail (11), Caleb (10), Grace (9), Zoë (7), Elijah (6), Hannah (4), Mary (2), Philip (1), and Boy (in womb)

    Member: Greenville Presbyterian Church, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), Greenville, SC

  26. #26
    Croghanite's Avatar
    Croghanite is offline. Puritanboard Sophomore
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    My church has allowed the choir to give the benediction.
    Each time the choir did it, the Minister was not present. I recently informed a long time member of the church that I was concerned. He was not.
    Joe
    Christ Bible Church
    Pageland, SC

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