In our last article we began a discussion of those parts of the worship service which go under the name of Salutation, Votum, and Benediction. The Salutation which is chiefly used in our Protestant Reformed congregations is: “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ,” or; “Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Votum which is used is taken from Psalm 124: “Our help is in the name of Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth.” The Benediction takes on different forms, and the ministers tend to vary these benedictions from service to service.
In the last article we took note of the fact that, while the votum and salutation have a long history dating back to the time of Calvin, they are not necessarily required by Scripture. They are, therefore, to be included or excluded from the service at the discretion of the Consistory. We make mention of this once again because it came to our attention, while we were in Ireland and England, that some churches there, though standing in the tradition of the Calvin Reformation, do not make use of either the salutation, the votum, or the benediction. They begin the service with the announcement of a Psalm. They do this because they believe in purity of worship, i.e., they include in the worship service only such elements as are expressly commanded by Scripture. It is striking, however, that while no formal benedictions are pronounced, the concluding prayer, as far as its contents are concerned, is often the words of the apostolic benediction. But they do believe in keeping their worship services as simple as possible.
However this may be, the salutation, votum, and benedictions are, if properly understood, means to make the worship services more solemn and are valuable aids in leading the congregation into worship.
Last time we discussed at some length the votum. In this article we shall discuss the salutation, and the relation between the salutation and the votum—a subject of some interest.
As was said above, the salutation usually is made in these words: “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.” While there is perhaps not a great deal to say about the salutation as such, there is one interesting point that needs to be made.
When the congregation is addressed in these words, it must be clearly understood that the congregation is addressed as God’s people! The congregation as assembled at a given worship service on a given Lord’s Day is, by the minister, addressed as those who belong to God, those who are God’s saints, those who have an inheritance in Christ and who are destined to enjoy the blessedness of the everlasting Sabbath which God has prepared for His people and which shall be theirs in the glory of heaven which is to come.
This immediately brings up the question: how is it possible to address the congregation in its entirety as God’s people when every one knows that there are, in the congregation, those who are not truly God’s people? There are those who attend church because they were born in the line of the covenant and grew up in the church, but who are not true people of God, for there are always Esaus in the covenant, who manifest themselves as such later in life. It is also possible that there are visitors in church on that particular Lord’s Day, who, for whatever reason they may have come to church, are not the people of God. This is not only a fact of experience, but it is also the teaching of Scripture. Jesus assures us, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the tares are not only always present, but that they must continue in the same field as long as the church is here upon earth. And Paul speaks of the fact that not all who are of Israel are truly Israel (Romans 9:6).
Before we enter into a discussion of this point, it must be remembered that this address is, after all, patterned after the example of the apostles in their epistles. In most of the epistles, not only by Paul, but also by the other apostles, an address is found in which, in each case, the letter is addressed to a particular congregation or group of congregations, which are further designated as, “beloved of God, called to be saints,” “saints and faithful in Christ Jesus, ” “all the saints in Christ,” and such like expressions. This is even true of the letter to the Corinthians in which congregation were many weaknesses and sins and even a case of incest, concerning which Paul admonishes the church to cut such a one off from the fellowship of the church. He addresses the Corinthian congregation as, “the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (I Cor. 1:2). If we could say nothing else about this matter, this example of the apostle would settle the issue once and for all.
However, the Scriptures make clear that the church of Christ as it is found in the world is always addressed organically; i.e., it is addressed as an organization from the viewpoint of God’s purpose in that church. Just as a farmer calls his field a wheat field even though it has many weeds in it—calling it by the name of the purpose for which he intends it; and just as Jesus speaks of Himself and His people as the vine and the branches—even though there are branches in that vine which must be cut out; so do the apostles address the church as church, beloved in Christ, even though there are unregenerated people in it, for it is addressed as one organism, from the viewpoint of God’s purpose in it. It is very important that this be done. And the form of the salutation has, therefore, Biblical warrant.
It must be remembered that this address includes in it all classes of people in the congregation. The congregation is composed of old and young, parents and single people, with all their individual differences which arise out of their own unique character and walk in life. Thus also children and infants are addressed as part of those who are people of God, beloved in Christ, saints according to God’s purpose. This is clear from the fact, e.g., that in his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, the apostle specifically makes mention of children and addresses to them a special Word of God which fits their needs as members of Christ’s church. It is for this reason that these children also, saints and beloved, must receive the sign of membership in the church and must be present also in the worship service. They too have a place in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are not potential believers, possible converts, a segment of the congregation which does not really belong to the congregation and must therefore meet separately from the congregation on the Lord’s Day in some sort of “children’s service.” They are a part of the church which the Lord addresses.
So, when the salutation is spoken, the congregation is addressed by God through the minister. This too is important to remember. The worship service is about to begin. The congregation is about to meet with her God. As that momentous and significant moment arrives, God, through the minister, addresses His people: “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The congregation hears this Word of God and immediately realizes that God has come into her midst to commune with her, have fellowship in worship with her and speak to her those Words of salvation which the saints need to hear to be saved.
Two things must be said about this salutation. In the first place, it is interesting that the congregation is addressed as “Beloved.” This too is Biblical. Paul addresses his epistle to the Romans as, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God.” That means that immediately the congregation hears God call them His beloved. What a wonderful truth this is. They come to church on the Sabbath weary and bowed down with the sins of the week, the cares of life and the troubles of their pilgrim’s pathway in this world. They come, oftentimes, hesitant and wondering whether God will receive them, for their sins have prevailed against them day by day. They come starving for bread which they need for their soul’s nourishment, but concerned about the fact that they deserve nothing at the hand of God. It is almost as if they dare not lift their heads, for they are in God’s house. But then comes to them those blessed words spoken by their God Himself, addressed to them in all their needs and sorrows, filled with Father’s concern and love: ‘Beloved . . . .” Immediately this fills the soul of the child of God with great joy and comfort. Once again their heavenly Father shows the great mercy which is towards them that fear Him and which is from everlasting to everlasting.
This gracious Word of God must, however, be appropriated by faith as the child of God lifts his weary head to hear the voice of God. It is faith that lays hold on this Word. It is faith, first of all, which lays hold on it as the very Word of God—not merely the word of the minister. It is faith which appropriates this truth as the very truth of the Scriptures. And it is faith which makes this truth a personal possession of the beleaguered child of God who staggers into church under the load of his sins and sorrows. He believes that Word; and he believes that God speaks to him. And the wonder of it is that God Himself works that faith in the hearts of His people so that they can and do make that Word their own—in spite of all evidence to the contrary; i.e., in spite of their sins, in spite of their unworthiness, in spite of the fact that they deserve only God’s anger. At the very beginning, before all else, this Word becomes theirs. And it is this very fact that makes their worship possible.
Secondly, the possibility for this wonderful truth lies exactly in the fact that we are beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, the believer must have an objective ground for believing that he is truly God’s beloved, the object of God’s love. He must have this objective ground, because he knows that this can never be true as he is in himself. He is a sinner. He is unworthy. He has deserved only God’s wrath. He is wicked and depraved. How then can God call him Beloved? Faith appropriates this truth only because the objective ground is Christ and His perfect work. It serves to remind him that he is not beloved in himself—this is far from the truth. But he is beloved in Christ, because Christ died for him and earned all of salvation. He belongs to Christ. He is righteous because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Because God sees him in Christ, God calls him My beloved. The believer must know this, and must hear this.
We now turn to the question we raised in the early part of this article: what is the proper relation between the salutation and the votum? and, we might add, between the salutation and the doxology? I ask these questions because, at least within our churches, there are different practices. Some congregations begin the worship service with the doxology, and only after the doxology is the salutation spoken along with the votum. Some of our congregations have the salutation spoken along with the votum. Some of our congregations have the salutation first and then the votum; but others have the votum first, then the salutation: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Beloved congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It seems to me that it is liturgically incorrect to have either the doxology or the votum precede the salutation. It seems to me that the salutation must come first. There are especially two reasons why I consider this correct.
In the first place, it follows from the very nature of the salutation, as I explained it above. Before anything else the people of God have to hear that God looks down upon them in love. It is psychologically and spiritually impossible, it seems to me, to sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. . .” when the child of God has not yet heard God’s reassuring Word of comfort: “You are my beloved.” The doxology is, in a very real sense, a response to this Word of God. I hear, in the midst of my sins and troubles, God’s Word to me: “You are my beloved in Christ”; and my response to that Word of God is: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
In the second place, we have repeatedly mentioned in these articles that worship is covenant fellowship, and therefore a holy conversation between God and His people. But within that covenant we are not equals with God. He is God and we are always creatures—and sinners. This implies the fundamental truth of Scripture that our “part” of this holy conversation, our word spoken to God, is always the fruit of God’s Word to us. God always speaks first and our speech follows. God’s speech creates our speech as a living response to what He says. This fundamental truth, a truth which emphasizes Gods sovereign grace, must be reflected in the worship. In the service itself, and in the order of its various elements, God speaks first. Thus the salutation ought to precede the votum. God says to us, “You are my beloved in Jesus Christ.” This speech of God is followed by our response, first of all, in the votum: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
As we noticed last time, this votum, while spoken by the minister, is nevertheless the confession of the church which she makes before Gods face. It is her response. It must follow what God says. And, spiritually, it does. God’s Word creates in the church the church’s confession.
Then everything is in order. God speaks first to our troubled hearts as we assemble in His house: “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The saints appropriate that Word of God to themselves by faith. The perfect response to it is: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Then from the throats and hearts of those assembled arises the glad and joyful refrain: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” It is all right. It is all as it ought to be. It is the church of God in worship.