Some Questions About Liturgy

Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

One of our faithful readers asks some questions about liturgy and liturgical practices.

Question #1

When the invocation is spoken, the minister addresses the congregation as “you”, but at the end of the service when the salutation is given, some ministers conclude with “you all”. Is the “you all” correct?

Reply

Obviously our reader, who is a good listener, has more in mind than might appear on the surface of his question. He seems to imply that when the congregation meets in public worship on Sunday as church institute, it is not all Israel that is called Israel. All are not necessarily believers in Christ Jesus, elect from before the foundations of the earth and redeemed by the blood of Calvary. The carnal element is likely still present, even though we do not recognize them.

Therefore the question can very well arise: Is it proper to say “you all” in the final benediction, as if the carnal element is also included under that blessing?

There are two things that should be considered here.

First, that the invocation is taken, at least in part, from the epistles of the apostle Paul. Moreover, the salutation is also literally taken from the Scriptures, namely from II Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” You will notice that Paul includes the “you all.”

Secondly, this can well be understood when we bear in mind that when the minister addresses the congregation at the beginning of the service, he follows the practice of the apostles in their epistles by calling them the “Beloved” in Christ Jesus. He also does that when he calls them “Beloved Congregation.” Thus the Word is directed to “the saints in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:1), “the called of Jesus Christ, beloved of God’ (Rom. 1:6, 7), “faithful brethren” (Col. 1:2), “church . . . which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 1:1), “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit” (I Peter 1:2), and “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us” (II Peter 1:1). Therefore at the conclusion of the service the minister pronounces God’s blessing on the congregation as a part of the true church, the body of Christ, consisting of believers and their spiritual seed. As ambassador of Jesus Christ he wishes them the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which is bestowed upon them by the love of God through the communion, or fellowship, of the Holy Ghost.

The reason why I, and possibly others, have left off the “all” is because this fundamental principle, so clearly expressed in Scripture, is not always understood, and therefore the “all” could be confusing.

Question #2

This reader also makes the following inquiry. Some ministers will occasionally use some passage in the salutation that is taken directly from Scripture which is not a benediction upon the congregation. He has in mind a passage taken from Jude, verses 24, 25: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” His question is: Since this is not a benediction directed to the congregation, should the minister pronounce this benediction with uplifted hands extended toward the congregation?

Reply

The reader is assuming, and I think correctly so, that the uplifted hands extended toward the congregation are an expression of God’s blessing upon the church of Jesus Christ in the name of Christ Jesus Himself. This reader is not only a good listener but is also very observant. I have often wondered about this myself, and therefore have been a bit hesitant to use this form of benediction.

The question is not so much whether it is proper to use this form of benediction at the conclusion of the service. There is much to be said in favor of expressing praise to God as a doxology at the end of our worship together. Some texts lend themselves to a sermon that necessarily proclaims the wonders, praises, and glories of our God. There can be times when we marvel at the grace of the God of our salvation revealed to us in Scripture as a living reality in our hearts, so that the congregation often gives expression to that in the manner in which the last Psalter number is sung. I can well remember one occasion when I was in the audience and it could well be said that the rafters rattled because of the fervent response to the preaching of the Word.

But the question is: should a minister in pronouncing a benediction of praise to God have his hands extended toward the congregation when this benediction is not extended as a blessing to them, but rather as an expression of praise?

Maybe the minister in this instance should extend his hands in such a way, as some do before the congregational prayer, that he expresses that the entire congregation is included in this expression of praise to God. It is something worth thinking about.

Question #3

Afinal question from the same reader: In our Apostolic Creed as we confess it in our worship service on Sunday we say: “His only begotten Son.” In our Communion Form this same confession appears, but there as “his (God’s) only Son.” Is this an error, and should this be corrected when we publish a new Psalter?

Reply

It is interesting to note that the term “God’s only Son” does not, to the best of my knowledge, appear as such in the Scriptures. Yet the Word of God is very emphatic in declaring that all three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are eternally and equally God. The Son is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, generated by the Father as “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” (Heb 1:3) It also needs no proof among us that Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father, in Whom God is, even as He is in God. (John 17:21)

The term “only begotten Son” appears at least four times in the Gospel that bears John’s name and once in his First Epistle. It is obvious why John should employ the name “only begotten Son” in his Gospel account, because his very purpose in writing this account was that “ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through him.” Hebrews 1:6 refers to this term when it states: “. . . when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world . . .” And in Revelation 1:5 He is called “the first begotten from the dead.”

Although this term “only begotten” is employed in Scripture occasionally to refer to one who is an only son or an only daughter, (see Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38, andHebrews 11:17, where this term appears in the Greek), this name takes on a very special meaning when it refers to the Christ, the Son of God. It emphasizes that He is Mary’s firstborn (Luke 2:7), the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), the firstborn of every creature (Col. 1:15), and the “firstborn from the dead.” He always stands out uniquely as the first begotten of God. He is God’s beloved Son, the Son of the Highest, Who is eternally in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18). Of Him John declares: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth . . . . No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

But the main question is: Is the Communion Form correct in quoting the Apostle’s Creed and leaving out the word “begotten”? This confronts us with the question whether the early creeds that are quoted here include the word “begotten” or not. It is interesting to note that one of the earliest Latin forms of the Creed (341) has the words “God’s only Son”. There is also a Greek form of the Creed that was composed about the same time and has “God’s only begotten Son.” It appears that the word “begotten” did not appear in the Latin form of the Creed until A.D. 650, when the expression read: “His eternally only begotten Son”. From that we would conclude that in composing the Communion Form our fathers quoted the early Latin edition of the Apostles’ Creed. There can therefore be no objection to the words as they appear in our Communion Form.

[Editor’s note: The expression in question in our Communion Form is either a printing error which has been perpetuated in subsequent editions of ourPsalter or it is a mistranslation. In the original Dutch version of the Form—at least in those editions which I have in my library—the expression is “only begotten Son.” In my opinion this error should be corrected, though it is too late to correct it in our coming new edition of the Psalter. HCH]