Raising Hands

At the Salutation and Benediction, the pastor raises his hands before the congregation. What is the meaning of this gesture?

The Salutation and Benediction mark the opening and the closing of the service. At the salutation, God, through the minister, pronounces His blessing on the congregation. It is important to recognize that the “grace and peace” pronounced at the salutation is not from the minister but from God. Likewise, the blessing pronounced at the benediction to send people out from the meeting is also a pronouncement from God, not from the minister.

The laying on of hands symbolizes blessing. In Genesis 48, when Jacob blessed his sons, he laid his hands on their heads. When Moses conferred the office of the leader of Israel to Joshua he likewise laid his hands on him. Ordination to the office of elder in the New Testament was done by the laying on of hands. It symbolizes the blessing of God conferred through the human representative to the one being so blessed.

We have several examples of the lifting up of hands to the people of God: “Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them.” (Lev 9:22 NKJ) And, “He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” (Luk 24:50 NKJ) In both of these cases, the leader blesses the people collectively by the raising of hands. The laying on of hands symbolizes this blessing with one or two people, but when it is a group of people, the same principle is shown by the raising of hands.

Raising of hands is a collective laying on of hands. The minister is symbolically laying hands on everyone in the congregation and pronouncing the blessing of God on them- first, in the salutation, that the congregation would know the forgiveness of sins and the power of the Spirit to enable them to worship God in spirit and truth. Then, in the benediction, God sends us out with His blessing on us, that we would continue to know the love of God, the grace of Christ and the communion of the Spirit in all our lives. The raising of hands shows that this pronouncement is not simply well-wishing by the pastor, but is an official pronouncement of God’s blessing on us, and is to be received therefore with faith and confidence.

When we hear the salutation and the benediction, we hear the words of God spoken to us through His mouth. Let us open our eyes and look to the raised hands of the pastor as the representative of God, feel God’s hands on us, and receive that blessing with faith. God certainly promised that all who desire the presence of the Holy Spirit, who ask for that presence, will receive it, and we see the visible reminder of that promise in the raised hands of the pastor each Sunday morning.

Dialogical Worship

The dialogical principle is one way of talking about our approach to worship. The dialogical principle teaches us that our worship is a conversation, a dialogue between God and His people. Our highest created purpose was fellowship and communion with God as His beloved people, and Biblical worship models that. Biblical worship, therefore, is not just us talking about how we feel about God, or worse talking to ourselves about ourselves. It is talking to God and hearing Him speak to us.

So we open with God’s summoning us to worship, which we answer with a hymn (the Gloria Patri) and a prayer to Him requesting the presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship (the invocation). We then sing two more hymns to God, normally hymns of praise. We follow this with a confession of faith from the Heidelberg Catechism, and then the main pastoral prayer, where we bring our praise, our fears and worries, our confession of sin and request for pardon to God.

After this we hear again from God, with the preparatory Scripture reading. We respond with another hymn, with the confession of the Apostles’ Creed, and with the offering up of our financial offerings to God.

Then comes the sermon, the main block of the service in which we hear from God. The pastor reads the Scripture text and expounds it. This principle shows what a sermon is and is not to be; it must not be simply the opinions of the pastor, inspirational stories, humorous anecdotes or academic lectures. The nature of a sermon is such that it must be the faithful exposition of God’s word. Some certain amount of illustration or of academic discussion can be helpful to this task, and a certain amount of the opinion of the pastor will undoubtedly creep in. But at heart the sermon must simply be the faithful exposition of the text.

After the sermon, we respond again with a prayer asking God to help us understand and apply the truths of His word, a hymn praising Him and committing to apply the truths of His word to our lives. We then ask God’s blessing on us through the prayer that Jesus taught us, God finally dismisses us from His worship with His blessing and we leave His worship singing a final hymn of praise, the doxology.

This is certainly not the only way to apply this dialogical principle; there are many others. But Biblical worship will reflect this principle, that worship is about us meeting with our God, and He is a God who speaks. We delight to hear His word and benefit from it and then express back to Him the praise and worship which He is due.