[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, XXIII.6, June 1885, 164-165.]
Messrs Editors.—I request that you or some of the fathers or brethren would give us information in regard to the dedication of church buildings. Have we authority from the word of God to make a public formal dedication by prayer of a house of worship? If so; why are not all church buildings dedicated? If not; why any?
The mind of the Westminster Assembly and of the Church of Scotland on this subject, is contained in the Appendix to the Directory for Public Worship. They say:
“As no place is capable of holiness under pretense of whatsoever dedication ; so neither is it subject to such pollution by any superstition formerly used and now laid aside, as may render it unlawful or inconvenient for Christians to meet together therein for the public worship of God. And therefore, we hold it requisite that the places of public assembling for worship among us should be continued and employed for that use.”
The assembly evidently meant to guard against two extremes. The one; that the consecration of churches under popery, gave them such a sanctity as rendered it wrong to use them for any other purpose: The other, that by being used for superstitious rites, they were unfitted for religious services. The assembly took the middle ground that they were neither better nor worse from their consecration, and the popish rites observed in them. To those who regard the obligation of the Westminster Standards as they were received by the Church of Scotland, the above ought to be conclusive against the dedication of churches. For if a place is not capable of holiness by dedication, then of what use is dedication? Under the Old Testament dispensation, dedication conferred on places, and times, and things, a relative holiness. The temple was the holy place; the time for observing the annual feasts was sacred time, and the sacrificial offerings were holy. But all this belonging to that which had a shadow of good things to come, was done away when Jesus Christ the substance appeared. Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, foretold of the doing away of the exclusiveness that belonged to places in regard to worship. “In every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering.” Mal. 1:11. And our Lord confirmed it in his declaration to the woman of Samaria: “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father—the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” John 4: 21, 23.
There is a dedication that is not only allowed under the New Testament dispensation, but is required. It is a dedication of persons. Christian parents dedicate their children to God in baptism. Believers dedicate themselves to Christ when they receive him by faith. And they renew this dedication when they partake of the Lord’s Supper. By their ordination, church officers are set apart and dedicated to Christ. In all these cases there can be no taking back, nor transferring to other objects, of that which is thus given to God. Believers in accepting Christ give up their personal right to themselves. They are not their own, they are bought with a price. In presenting their bodies to God a living sacrifice, they perform a reasonable service.
We understand the inquirer to mean by “a public formal dedication by prayer, of a house of worship,” setting it apart in the name of Christ for religious uses. Now, where this is done, if the act has any meaning, that church and the ground on which it stands, can never be used for any object that is not religious worship; cannot be sold or given away. By the act of dedication, the title to the property is alienated to God, beyond the power to recall it. Hence the hypothetical and alternative questions of the inquirer are in point. If dedication of churches is a duty, all should be dedicated. If it is not a duty, then none should be dedicated. On the first supposition to neglect it, is to dis regard divine authority. On the second, to do it is will worship.
There can be no reasonable objection to a congregation holding special religious services on the occasion of taking possession of a new house of worship. Such an occasion furnishes the opportunity, and is a call to express gratitude to God, for his goodness in blessing their efforts. And it may well excite them to earnest prayer that he would continue to show them favor, and bless them in the future as in the past.
Reverence for the worship of God should guard the worshippers against using the church for any purpose foreign to the service for which it was designed. Though not consecrated, it is nevertheless the place where God is worshipped, and should not be used for any end that would jar on the religious feelings and tend to tone them down to a worldly standard. This is done when they are used for places of amusement, holding fairs, or in other similar ways.
There is a tendency at the present time, in the protestant churches to ritualism, that may well be viewed with concern and that should be resisted. It is seen in the favor with which the use of musical instruments, as accompaniments in the praise of God, is received. It is discovering itself in the observance in some form of the popish festival days, Christmas, Easter, and the Lenten season. The practice to which our attention is directed in this article is of the same kind. Less than half a century ago these things would not have been suffered in the Covenanting Church. But times are changing, and we are changing with them, for the worse it is to be, feared, not for the better.