Occasional Elements of Worship: Religious Oaths, Vows, Solemn Fastings, and Thanksgivings Upon Special Occasions

The Elements of Public Worship Part VIII

Occasional Elements of Worship:

Religious Oaths, Vows, Solemn Fastings, and Thanksgivings Upon Special Occasions

Stated festival-days, commonly called holy-days, have no warrant in the Word of God; but a day may be set apart, by competent authority, for fasting or thanksgiving, when extraordinary dispensations of Providence administer cause for them. When judgments are threatened or inflicted, or when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, fasting is eminently seasonable. When some remarkable mercy or deliverance has been received, there is a special call to thanksgiving.” – Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith

As we have been examining Old School Presbyterian worship our attention in previous installments has been focused on the ordinary elements of worship. That is, those elements that we are taught in the Bible to regularly observe in Lord’s Day services, regardless of what is going on in the world around us. Now, we turn our attention to those elements in our worship that are occasional. These are elements warranted in the Word of God, but which are only observed on special occasions dictated by God’s providence.

An example of just such a special occasion were the terrible attacks which took place on September 11, 2001. In light of the great suffering and turmoil America was plunged into, it was entirely appropriate for churches throughout that nation to call for special services dedicated to prayer and fasting. If the nation were mercifully delivered from some terrible calamity (as would be the case if, for instance, a nuclear weapon planted by a terrorist were found and defused prior to going off or legalized abortion was ended), then it would be appropriate for the churches to give thanks to God for His mercy with a special service of Thanksgiving to God.

We find these spontaneous days of fasting or thanksgiving in response to God’s providence throughout the Bible, for instance, when the tribes of Israel were defeated by Benjamin, they fasted and mourned all day (Judges 20:26); and when the rebuilding of the Temple of the Lord was completed, they had services of thanksgiving (Ezra 6:16).

We also find that throughout the Bible, the people of the Lord had the taking of religious oaths and vows as part of their worship. Examples include the oath sworn by the people of Israel to only serve and worship the Lord and to have nothing to do with false gods (Joshua 24) and the admonition to pay our vows to the Lord (Eccl. 5:4). A common example of vows taking place in a service of worship would be the ordination vows that Elders make.

We must note, as Shaw does above, that these occasional days of thanksgiving and fasting which are warranted in the Bible are not to be confused with the Holy Days or “Church Year” invented by men which we are nowhere commanded in scripture to observe. While it has become traditional to observe holy days like Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter in the worship of the church, we remember that these man-made celebrations were not part of the worship of the Apostolic church and are not found in the Bible. As the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship states: There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
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2 Responses to Occasional Elements of Worship: Religious Oaths, Vows, Solemn Fastings, and Thanksgivings Upon Special Occasions

  1. In my experience, it seems like spontaneous days of fasting or thanksgiving are especially neglected these days, so I’m interested to read your future posts on these occasional elements of worship.

  2. Larry Wilson says:

    The WCF 21:5 says, “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the *ordinary religious worship* of God; beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon *special occasions*, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.” It seems to me, therefore, that you might more accurately reflect the Confession and better serve the old school presbyterian cause if you are careful to use “ordinary” and “occasional” to modify *worship* rather than *elements.* That is, our Confession speaks of *elements of ordinary worship* and *elements of special occasional worship.*

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