Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Reformation Project: A Final Word -- the Benediction

In the upcoming final section of this project a number of theses (it will be less than 95) will be presented regarding reform of the church. Before that, however, this section will close with a word about the use of the benediction at or near the close of the service.

Most of the churches visited for this project did not use a benediction, and that is not surprising, though it was perhaps a bit of a shock that Fellowship Church Grapevine concluded its service with a video of the pastor performing rap music. Nonetheless, for much of American evangelicalism, the notion of a benediction has largely been lost. Thus, the word is either no longer used at all or it is used to mean nothing more than a closing prayer. The actual definition of the word, which has to do with the pronouncement of a blessing, has largely been lost. 

It should be noted that Scripture is full of pronouncements of blessings. Perhaps the best known, the Aaronic blessing, is found in the Old Testament. It was used at the close of the service I visited at Friendship-West Baptist Church.

"The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." [Numbers 6:24-26, ESV]

Most of the Pauline epistles conclude with a benediction.

Some years ago, when I was first learning about the significance of the various elements of worship, I heard a minister speak about the importance of the benediction, and he claimed that it was even more important than the sermon. While I am not sure I agree with that, one should not discount its value for the worship gathering. Michael Horton, in his book "A Better Way," describes it this way:

"... [T]he benediction could easily become (and too often does become) little more than a way of saying, 'The service is over, so good-bye.' But here, one last time, God addresses his people. Grace has the last word, as the people receive God's blessing through the minister with raised hands.... The covenant people leave [the church] bursting with thankful hearts because they leave with the assurance that God is on their side and that they stand under his blessing rather than his wrath."

Thus, the service ends not with law -- that is, a set of instructions for those now entering the mission field -- but rather with assurances of God's grace as his people go forth. A church that is reformed according to the word of God will appreciate the need for the minister's pronouncement of divine blessing.

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[b] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." [Heb. 13:20, 21, ESV]