The Blessing

Vantage Point

As my wife and I were walking home from a Sunday morning worship service led by our student pastor, we mused over the blessing. It was not the words he spoke, because he spoke them very well. Nor was it that the blessing was unbiblical, because it came from Numbers 6. Rather, we observed that there was no physical, outward enunciation of that blessing. As my wife and I clasped each other’s hand and lifted our free hands to receive the blessing, we received the spoken Word without experiencing the physical dimension of raised arms granting the blessing.

We wondered about the practice of the Christian Reformed Church not to permit student pastors, ordained elders, or others with a license to exhort to raise their hands when providing a blessing to the congregation. We asked ourselves if the CRC was right in maintaining such a practice, since the blessing is intended to enhance the congregation’s understanding of God’s love and care for them as they enter into a new week.

Are we just as blessed by an unordained person who offers a blessing without outstretched arms?

Does the congregation understand this practice of the CRC? Are we just as blessed by an unordained person who offers a blessing without outstretched arms (or arm)? We wondered if there was any thought by either the congregation or the student pastor that perhaps the congregation is not receiving a full blessing the way God or church practice intended the congregation to have when such a blessing is offered. Is a congregation missing something of God’s blessing during a pastoral vacancy when a student pastor, ordained elder, or someone with a license to exhort is ministering to them?

This is not a salvation issue, nor is it an issue we raise to cause divisions in the church. It is simply an observation of something my wife and I feel could be better addressed. We feel very blessed to have a student pastor who ministers to us on Sundays through the prayers he offers for us as a congregation, through the solid, biblically based sermons he preaches, and through the spoken words of God’s blessing he offers. But we would also like to know that our student pastor, ordained elders, or others with a license to exhort can bless us fully with lifted arms before we leave the sanctuary.

About the Author

Richard Vandezande is a manager for the Township of Uxbridge, Ontario. He is a member of Hebron Christian Reformed Church in Whitby, Ontario.

See comments (10)

Comments

I've served the Edson-Peers CRC for nearly 8 years. Edson-Peers could not "call" me, because I hadn’t completed my MDiv. They gave me a contract of employment. During the first five years of ministry here, I served in every way as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament (because Edson is 200kms away from the next nearest CRC, classis granted me permission to administer the sacraments). However, I did not raise my hands in blessing. I perceived, as did many members of the congregation, that raising hands in blessing is a particular privilege, reserved only for those ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament. After five years of hard work, incredible support from my family, the church family, classis and Calvin Seminary, I completed my MDiv. I was ordained on Reformation Day, 2009. It was a very powerful and meaningful experience when I finally raised my hands in blessing that day! Preserving this practice is important. It communicates to the congregation the weight of office. Perhaps we can to communicate that more clearly, rather than simply giving everyone this privilege, without understanding what it means.

Really quick, off the cuff, I still appreciate the practice of allowing only ordained pastors to give the blessing with hands outstretched. Anyone may bless me with a prayer and I may do so for others... and it's obviously a clearly blessed thing to do that, something God can certainly work through. But I think the "official" blessing speaks to the "office" of an ordained pastor. It's an honour that identifies as a pastor as having been granted by the church and its members a certain spiritual authority. Not that this is about the pastor being "better" morally or spiritually or anything like that. It's about the church as an institution, the church as a body, having decided through ecclesiastical deliberation and tradition that when the pastor is on the pulpit something truly incarnational and unique is happening. In trust, God's people and God's servant are acknowledging that the pastor is a conduit of blessing and wisdom, that the role is "made holy" by the Spirit's working, that the process of ordination has a particular value that we see as beneficial for the church. It's not a sacrament, the church can and does function without these distinctions in other contexts and places, but we have collaboratively set this practice as a visible mark of the pastor. The honour of stretching out the hands reminds the congregation to respect and appreciate the pastor for his or her training and willingness to serve, for sacrifice and unique responsibility to the church. It serves to remind the pastor of his or her own accountability to serve as God's spokesperson as faithfully as possible.

OK, as I said, I didn't go back and check any doctrinal reference or church order. I feel so personally addressed and touched by God's greeting and by the benediction as we've done it ... I wouldn't want to mess with it.

Cathy Smith

Cathy Smith expressed exactly my sentiments. I would only add that while it this practice is a tradition that we have in our churches, and not a biblical mandate, traditions can be meaningful. The importance of the idea of ordination, the idea of a call that is recognized and endorsed by the church, is important to remember, and this tradition serves to remind us of that important truth. This was lost in medieval times, when churches no longer had any say in the choice of their priest, and was regained in the Reformation. It is still a meaningful tradition, and one worth keeping.

It is a practice that unecessarily elevates the office of preacher above that of the offices of elders and deacons. It is a tradition that brings a kind of "priest" mentality to the crc, implying that somehow the blessing of a preacher is better or more holy than the blessing of an elder. Does it imply that the preacher can make a personal blessing, while elders can only make impersonal blessings? It implies that the ordination of an elder is less significant than the ordination of a preacher, even though elders have been tasked with ruling and leading the church, including the selection and supervision of the preacher and of the preaching.

It is a "comfortable" tradition with problems.

As I don't read Hebrew etc. I don't know the grammatical structure used in the original Hebrew blessings. However, it seems to me that the way pastors "proclaim" or announce the blessing is usually it a tense that implies a prayer, or maybe a hope for a blessing. E.g. "May the Lord Bless you" or "the Lord bless you" (with the "may" implied). I would expect a real blessing from God to come as a statement of fact, such as: "The Lord blesses you", or "the Lord will bless you", if the pastor is in fact pronouncing a blessing in the name of God as His ordained representative. If it's only a prayer, a wish, or an expression of hope, then it seems to me the raising of hands is really not significant. But I hope someone can enlighten me.

This is the first time I agree with John Zylstra. Unnecessary elevation.

"Name goes here", I appreciate the agreement. Are you at all related to "Charlie", or to "RinsenHangdry"? :)

I could be wrong, of course, but I don't think that "God's full blessing" is dependent on the position of one's arms -- whether it be the arms of the worship leader or the arms of the congregant. I do believe that God has given us far more things to be concerned about than the angles of our appendages or the comfort of our traditions.

I also thought about this a bit more, and remembered a statement made by henry demoor that ordained elders were given synodical approval (2001?) to "give" God's blessing to the congregation in a similar manner as preachers/pastors. While raising of the hands was not specifically mentioned, I assume this would be included. I agree with GLD that God gives His blessing regardless of whether it is pronounced, or prayed for. And also, that pronouncing a blessing, will not overcome the lack of blessing for those who deny its results or its Maker, the Creator and Sustainer of Life.

The formalization of raising hands for a blessing does more to elevate the human being, than it does to elevate the blessing. Thus it should not be formalized in the way it is.

What are they teaching in seminary these days? The position of the arms is critical! Blessings flow invisibly from the fingertips like water from a hose nozzle ("There will be showers of blessings" - Ezekiel 34:26). The correct position for the blessing arm is 30-45 degrees above horizontal to maximize distribution over the congregation.

Your preacher's blessing are pooling uselessly at his feet. If you have noticed that your life isn't going as well as you'd hoped, this could be a factor. I'm sure he would be grateful for your gentle correction.

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