What Is the Significance of the Handshake Between the Elder and Minister Before and After the Sermon?

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I'd like to educate interested members in some of the practices of the CRC that are often overlooked. Is there something in the Church Order that addresses the practice of shaking hands?

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Henry,

I'm sorry that I can't share "chapter and verse" about where you might find information about the handshake thing, but this is how it was explained to me: The Elders (of whom the Pastor is a specialized member) have been given authority by God, as testified by Jesus when he tells the disciples that what they bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, etc.. Therefore, when the Pastor and the Elder shake hands as they come to the front of the church, the Elder is saying on behalf of God (in his authority as Christ's representative), and on the people's behalf, "You have the authority and blessing to give God's Word to us this day. May you be blessed as you do so."

After the service (though not all churches do this anymore) the Elder would again shake hands with the Pastor saying, in effect, "Thank you for the blessing that God has given us through you. And we submit to His will and His Word as revealed through you today."

It's (to me) a very meaningful practice, and I'm glad you want to share it with people.

By the way, I did look it up a bit. The book "Guiding God's People in a Changing World: A Handbook for Elders" by Louis Tamminga, cites the church order, art. 52a "The consistory shall regulate the worship services." That's the closest I could find...

Participant

I agree with you, Daniel, but would nuance the second handshake after the service.  It is to thank the person for preaching, indeed, but it is more than that.  It is taking back the authority given so as to have the whole council accountable for what occurred during the service.  To put it differently, elders are not to make an individual decision as to whether the sermon was faithful to Scripture, etc., but only to "take back the authority" and make that judgment together with all other elders and deacons.  For a story about misinterpretation, you might want to check my Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary, page 290-291.

 

To both Daniel and Henry, thank you for your replies. So, in essence, this practice is done out of custom and traditon and is not a required element of the worship service. Is that correct?

Participant

That is correct. The principle remains in place but the practice is optional.

Again, thank you for your reply. The practice of shaking hands was explained to me many years ago by my now deceased father. Your explanations refreshed my memory and I plan to pass it along in a "Did you know?" Piece in our church's monthly newwsletter.

I believe there is some history pertaining to the handshake of elder and minister.  After the 'reformational times' not all churhces had full time ministers.  There were a good number of itinerant ministers desiring to preach the Word from location to location.  Prior to having an ambulatory minister lead a community in worship,  elders would meet with the minister and thereby clarify to each other the worship purpose and sermon content.  Following a prayer, the leading elder would usher the minister to the front of the church and they would publically shake hands.  The handshake would publically indicate that the present nomadic minister was approved by the elders and deacons.

To this day, I have accepted the handshake to remain a confirmation of the leadership about to occur in worship.

i have always been told that the handshake is part of the "one speaks, and the others check" principle of 1 Corinthians 14.

The elders give their prior approval, knowing the intent of the sermon, and (if appropriate) their posterior approval after having heard the delivery.

Likewise, each adult member of the congregation indicates at the end of the service whether he agrees with the message by shaking or not shaking the preacher's hand.  Often those handshakes would be deferred till after some additional questioning or discussion ("Pastor, you said this and this, but what about that verse?"  "When you said X, you surely didn't mean to imply that..") has clarified the intention of the preacher.

It is an important part of preventing the preacher to grow into a "mini-pope", and the congregation into passive consumers - each member has to declare, and if necessary defend, his stance on the subjects preached.