Can a lay person bring God's greeting at the start of a worship service?

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According to church order, is it permissible for a lay person i.e. not an elected elder or deacon to bring God's greeting at the start of a worship service?

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Participant

No, Henry, it is not permitted.  Article 53 says that even those who are licensed to exhort or otherwise given permission by elders to lead in worship (but not ordained) must "refrain from all official acts of ministry."  The greeting or salutation is considered to be such an official act.   This was recently confirmed by Synod 2001 when it said that "certain acts of ministry -- among them ... the pronouncement of blessings for the people, ... -- are part of the ministry of Christ to his followers and are entrusted to the church and, within the church, to its ordained leaders ...."  You may wish to read up on this in my new CR Church Order Commentary at both Article 53 and Article 22.

If an unordained person leads in worship, it would be entirely permissible for such a person to change the greeting to a prayer.  "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all."  It is then not a pronouncement from Christ to his people, but a prayer of the people to Christ.

I hope this helps you.

Henry DM could you explain the apparent reluctance of ordained elders to present a greeting when leading worship, even though they have been ordained?   How could this be corrected? 

Participant

Well, I can try to explain it.  VanDellen and Monsma, in their Revised Church Order Commentary, limited performing "official acts of the ministry" to ministers of the Word -- not laypersons, but also not students or exhorters or elders reading sermons.  Synod 2001, however, broadened this permission to "ordained leaders," as you can see in my previous post on this topic.  I don't think that this decision of Synod 2001 has truly found its way into our routines and practices, but it should.  The correction would have to go by way of reminding the council or consistory of this decision.

Thanks for your explanation.  It is my understanding that council can give permission to an elder to preach sermons, provided that they properly supervise this.  This would also be considered to be an official act of ministry....   I have encountered elders who are under the impression that they ought not to administer the Lord's supper if a pastor/preacher is not present.   The Lord's Supper sacrament might also be considered to be an official act of ministry.   Do you have any comments on that?  

Participant

In the very same breath with the salutation or "pronouncement of blessing," Synod 2001 names the administration of the sacraments as an official act of ministry.  We've held that position from our beginnings as a denomination.

Article 55 of the Church Order says that the Lord's Supper shall be administered ... by a minister of the Word, a ministry associate, or, in the case of need, an ordained person who has received the approval of classis ...."  The Supplement indicates that "ordinarily the ordained person should be an elder."  As Synod 2001 put it, "no long-standing, organized congregation of Christians should be deprived of these liturgical acts simply because it cannot provide for the presence of an ordained minister or ... ministry associate."

There is no similar provision for elders to preach sermons, however.  Any council that wishes to have an elder preach a sermon must have that person examined by the classis and receive licensure to exhort even if the elder will only preach in his or her own church.

All this is written up in my Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary published by Faith Alive Resources.  Support our dear publishing arm, won't you?  [I do not receive royalties]  Great birthday present!

 

Interesting.   It seems we pick and choose from the church order, however. 

Article 51 a. The congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day, to hear God’s Word, to receive the sacraments, to engage in praise and prayer, and to present gifts of gratitude.—Cf. Supplement, Article 51-a

(Many if not most churches are having one service per sunday.)

b. Worship services shall be held in observance of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost, and ordinarily on Old and New Year’s Day, and annual days of prayer and thanksgiving.

  (Many churches are not holding services on some of  these special days, although they may observe these things in a regular service.)

  Article 53

a. The ministers of the Word shall conduct the worship services.  (there are many others besides "ministers" who are presently conducting worship services, including in some cases non-ordained people.   In many cases, "ministers" who don't want to be called ministers anymore, but pastors, only preach the sermon, and give the benediction, but do not really conduct the service. )

b. Persons licensed to exhort and anyone appointed by the consistory to read a sermon may conduct worship services. They shall, however, refrain from all official acts of the ministry.

(We should consider that this term "official acts of ministry" as used today, is clergification, and not scriptural.  Ministry includes preaching, singing, teaching, sacraments, prophecy, evangelism, public prayer, visiting the sick, family visits.   Ministry is taken from the greek word diakonia or diakonos, which is the greek word used to translate both "minister" or "ministry", "service" or "servant", and "deacon".  So helping the poor widows and orphans is also an official act of ministry, according to scripture.   If we were to take official acts of ministry literally, then we would have to discipline people for saying "God bless you.", since officially only "ministers" or "servants"  or elders (as per 2001), can present God's blessing, which is an official act of ministry.  ) 

c. Only sermons approved by the consistory shall be read in the worship services.  (It is very rare that the consistory actually approves the sermons.   Usually they merely assume that certain sermons will be okay if they come from a certain book or website.)

 Article 54

a. In the worship services the minister of the Word shall officially explain and apply Holy Scripture.  (of course, unless there is no minister there, in which case this clause becomes without force.   Or, if there are three or four ministers, then this should be changed to "a minister"). 

b. At one of the services each Lord’s Day, the minister shall ordinarily preach the Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism, following its sequence.  

(If you were to take a poll, how many churches follow this rigorously or regularly?  Many do not.) 

Article 55

The sacraments shall be administered upon the authority of the consistory in the public worship service by a minister of the Word, a ministry  associate, or, in the case of need, an ordained person who has received the approval of classis, with the use of the prescribed forms or adaptations of them that conform to synodical guidelines

(While this is the practice, there is no scriptural warrant for supposing "in case of need" for other ordained persons to administer the sacraments.  Nor is there scriptural warrant for supposing that an ordained person needs to have additional approval above and beyond his existing ordination for such a duty.) 

 

So, a question.   Should the elders who are required to supervise the preaching without first receiving approval of classis to supervise the preaching, be suddenly subjected to classis approval to supervise preaching of one of the elders, or subjected to classis approval to be able to write a sermon by one of the supervising elders? 

  

 

Pondering on this a bit more with regard to the Lord's greeting.  Every greeting, and every benediction, no matter who says it, and no matter how it is said, is in fact a prayer in the Lord's name.   The Aaronic blessing, "24 “‘“The LORD bless you
   and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face shine on you
   and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD turn his face toward you
   and give you peace.”’  

This sounds similar to the Lord's prayer in the sense that the declarative is really a request as much as a form of praise, rather than a command that God must follow. 

Eph 1:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And while this sounds like a declaration or a command, it too is a request, a prayer, a desire. 

Prayer done in the name of Christ, in the seeking of God's will, in the understanding of God's love and justice and mercy, is effective prayer.   It results in a blessing.   (and it doesn't really matter whether the blessing is official or unofficial...) 

The epistle enjoins us to greet one another with a holy kiss;  is this official or unofficial?  Is this ministry service?  or is it unofficial....   It is the handshake that is official...

Do not think I am merely being humorous.  While I do think some of this is humorous, there is something underlying here that I think is not so far removed from the original causes of the reformation. 

Another thought:   Just as reading sermons produced by crc preachers or Back to God Hour, or potentially presbyterian preachers, are implicitly approved by consistory, although I doubt you will find it recorded in the minutes of most if any council meetings, are not all ordained elders implicitly approved by classis?   Certainly we could not say that ordained elders have been disapproved by classis, nor do they received their authority from classis, yet classis acknowledges their ordination implicitly in their right to be delegates to classis.   Thus we could consider article 55 to imply that ordained elders have the approval of classis. 

In addition, if consistory approves the reading of sermons, it could potentially approve the reading of sermons by someone who wrote his own sermons.   This may seem like semantics, is he preaching or reading a sermon, but then semantics seems to be the nature of much of this. 

As a side note, as many of you may realize, the word sermon is not found in scripture at all.   We realize that the epistles may be regarded as sermons, but it is ironic that we do not place the same classical restrictions on writing letters as we do on presenting or reading sermons, or presenting God's blessings.   Making sure that God's word is truly and clearly preached is an honorable and important task.   However, perhaps we concentrate more on process and governance than on substance?