Congregational response during the benediction

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Tirian, Mar 26, 2006.

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  1. Tirian

    Tirian Puritan Board Sophomore

    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,

  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    I look at the pastor while he pronounces the benediction and say amen.
  3. brymaes

    brymaes Puritan Board Sophomore

    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]
  4. beej6

    beej6 Puritan Board Sophomore

    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.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    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).

    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?
  6. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    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?

  7. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    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.
  8. Larry Hughes

    Larry Hughes Puritan Board Sophomore

    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.


  9. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

  10. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    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:

  11. ProvidentiallyBlessed

    ProvidentiallyBlessed Inactive User

    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!" :)
  12. turmeric

    turmeric Megerator

    Why is that, Josh?
  13. Tirian

    Tirian Puritan Board Sophomore

    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.)

  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    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.
    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]
  15. Irishcat922

    Irishcat922 Puritan Board Sophomore

    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]
  16. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    :ditto: 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:

    [Edited on 3-27-2006 by VirginiaHuguenot]
  17. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Matthew Henry says this of the Aaronic benediction:

  18. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    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:

  19. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Good stuff.

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


    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.
  20. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    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.
  21. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    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:
    and elsewhere...
    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]
  22. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    There seems to be biblical precedence for the posture! :up: :up:
  23. ChristopherPaul

    ChristopherPaul Puritan Board Senior

    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.
  24. Croghanite

    Croghanite Puritan Board Sophomore

    My church has allowed the choir to give the benediction.:down:
    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.
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