Most, if not all, liturgical churches close their service with a benediction, or words of blessing from Scripture. This tradition has its roots in Old Testament law (Numbers 6:22–27), and benedictions close many New Testament epistles (e.g., 1 Corinthians 16:23–24).
The idea behind a benediction at the close of a church service is that God is blessing His people through the spoken words of a minister of the gospel. The benediction is seen as an authoritative pronouncement of God’s intention to bless those in attendance. Churches who include a formal benediction in their liturgy usually consider it a “means of grace”; that is, God’s grace is channeled through the minister to reach the hearers in the pews.
In some churches, the parishioners raise their heads and look up to heaven during the benediction; in others, they bow their heads. Some churches specify that the minister’s hands must be raised while giving the benediction. Those who attend liturgical churches may develop the impression that, if you miss the benediction, then you miss God’s blessing.
The problem is that the ritual of giving a benediction is not directly commanded in the Bible. The Bible nowhere gives instructions concerning the position of a minister’s hands or the direction of one’s eyes. The Bible never says that receiving God’s grace is a matter of being in a certain place at a certain time, hearing certain words. In fact, there is no biblical command to include a benediction in a worship service.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with reciting a benediction at the close of a service. Reading and hearing Scripture is always a good thing. The point is only that the Bible does not require a formal benediction at the close of a church service.
Acts 2:42 gives us a snapshot of the early church’s practices: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Notice how basic this is. No specific instructions on methodology, no formal liturgy, and nothing identified as a “means of grace.” Simply an example of these four activities:
1) devotion to the apostles’ teaching
2) maintaining fellowship
3) observing communion
Throughout the rest of the New Testament, no more ceremonies or rituals in worship are introduced. The Bible does not assign a certain way of “doing church” but leaves room for different practices among different believers. Various traditions have sprung up through the centuries, among them the giving of a benediction.
If a person leaves church before the benediction, does he or she lose a blessing? It might depend on the reason for leaving. Is the person leaving because of a hard heart and a refusal to hear God’s Word? There’s no blessing in that, of course. Is the person leaving because they honestly have to get somewhere? We can assume God is gracious in such matters. Besides, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), and a child of God is in Christ. We are the priesthood (1 Peter 2:5) and do not require a fellow human being to give us the grace of God.
Jesus identifies the blessed in Matthew 5:3–10:
- the poor in spirit
- those who mourn
- the meek
- those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
- the merciful
- the pure in heart
- the peacemakers
- those who are persecuted because of righteousness
Notice what’s missing from this list: “those who stay for the entire church service” and “those who hear all the words the pastor speaks.”
More important than taking part in a church tradition is having a heart that seeks after God. “This is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).
It’s possible for a person to sit through any number of church services and as many benedictions yet have a stubborn heart closed to God’s truth. Hearing certain words said from the pulpit, even words of Scripture, will not have a magical effect upon the hearer. The seed that falls on the hard ground is snatched away (Matthew 13:4). By the same token, it’s possible for a person to have to leave a church service early, missing the benediction, yet have a soft heart open to God’s truth. Such a one will be blessed. God knows the heart.