Category Archives: Ministry of the Word

Vos on the Connection between Word and Sacrament

Reformed theologians have regularly underscored the relationship between Word and sacraments.

The sacraments are appended to the Word for the purpose of confirming or sealing it.

The sacraments do not exist independently of the Word. It’s the Word that throws life into the sacraments.

Moreover, there is no grace that is unique to the sacraments. The same grace that is received through the Word is also received through the sacraments.

So Word and sacraments belong together as “two sides of the same divinely instituted instrumentality,” as Geerhardus Vos put it.

Even though Vos did not produce a lengthy treatise on the sacraments, he occasionally addressed the subject in his writings.

In a sermon entitled “The Gracious Provision,” Vos has the following to say about the relationship between Word and sacrament.

The word and the sacrament as means of grace belong together: they are two sides of the same divinely instituted instrumentality. While addressing themselves to different organs of perception, they are intended to bear the identical message of the grace of God—to interpret and mutually enforce one another….

Let us therefore be careful to key our preaching to such a note that when we stand as ministrants behind the table of our Lord to distribute the bread of life, our congregation shall feel that what we are doing then is only the sum and culmination of what we have been doing every Sabbath from the pulpit.

Calvin on Union with Christ through Word and Sacrament

In his “Summary of Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments,” Calvin articulates the idea of union and communion with Christ through the means of grace.

The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God … communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.

We believe this communication to be mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and Spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit [by whom] he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ…. so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.[1]

[1] Jean Calvin, Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 170-77.

Hughes Oliphant Old Sums Up His Life’s Work

 


Hughes Oliphant Old has been publishing articles and books on the subject of worship since the 1970s. [See select bibliography below.]

His book entitled Worship Reformed According to Scripture is hands down the best volume on Reformed worship in print.

His magnum opus is his seven-volume series on The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. This is the most comprehensive study of the history of preaching ever produced in the English language.

In September of 2014, I had the enormous privilege of hearing Hughes Oliphant Old give his last public address. I was brought to tears when he called it his “swan song.”

Even though his body was frail and he had a difficult time recalling his lecture points, his passion for the glory and worship of God clearly came through.

In this talk, Hughes Oliphant Old summarizes his life’s work in five main points.

The funny story he tells at the end of the lecture underscores his total commitment to the ministry of Word, sacraments, and prayer.


Select Bibliography

The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. American Edition. Black Mountain, NC: Worship Press, 2004.

Worship Reformed According to Scripture. Revised and Expanded Edition. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002.

The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century. Eerdmans, 1992.

Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology. Eerdmans, 1992.

Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. Eerdmans, 1995.

The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Seven Volumes. Eerdmans, 1998-2010.

Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. Tolle Lege Press, 2014.

 

Early Christian Worship

What would it have been like to worship with the saints at Rome in the middle of the second century?

One can only imagine how thrilling it must have been to meet older Christians whose parents or grandparents actually knew the apostles. If only they had left us an account of what it was like to worship with the apostles!

Well, one Christian living in Rome in middle of the second century did, in fact, leave us an account of what a service of worship looked like in his day. Continue reading

The Public Reading of Scripture

In this article, we will briefly survey the history of the public reading of Scripture in worship from Moses to the apostles with a view toward developing a biblical model for this act of ministry that may be applied in our own day. While the public reading of Scripture may be carried out in a variety of contexts, our primary concern here is with the regular services of worship on the Lord’s Day.  Continue reading