Why Public Greeting is Vital in Christian Worship

Calvin and Hobbes GreetingThis morning I read an article forwarded to me by a friend entitled, “Those Who Really Don’t Like the ‘Stand and Greet Time’ in Church” (click here to read the article).   The main emphasis of the article concerned first time church goers who do not want to be encouraged to talk to other people in the worship service.  A large number of those people polled cited the “meet and greet” or “giving of the peace” element of Christian worship as socially uncomfortable and undesirable.  Many said that they wished churches would do away with this tradition.  I have just a few thoughts in response to the article.  As I view it, the “greeting” or “giving of the peace” in a worship service is not just an aside, it is a vital part of Christian worship.  In fact, the Bible is filled with passages that encourage the church toward love, relationship, fellowship, greeting, and welcoming.  A few examples…

  1. The (church) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
  2. We loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 1 Thess 2:8
  3. Greet one another with a holy kiss.  Romans 16:16; 2 Cor 13:12
  4. Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:21
  5. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Hebrews 13:24
  6. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7
  7. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

To be sure, there are visitors who come to church who are uncomfortable with this vital expression of worship.  But, in the same fashion, there are also people who are uncomfortable with singing in worship – maybe because they can’t sing.  There are others who do not like preaching in worship, but only want to sing.  There are still others who do not approve of a public opportunity to give gifts and offerings.  Some hate readings and liturgy.  Others love readings and liturgy.  My point is that church goers may find a million different things that they do not like in a Christian worship service.  Yet, our focus should be kept on asking the question, “What does Christ find pleasing?”  In the PCA book of church order, we are given a prescription of what should be included in every Christ oriented worship service.  It states:

  • Public worship differs from private worship in that in the public worship of God, His saints engage in worship ‘unitedly’ as His covenant (relationally bonded) people, who exist as the body of Christ… The Bible teaches that the following are proper elements of  a Christian worship service:
    • The reading of Holy Scripture
    • The singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
    • The offering of prayers
    • The preaching of God’s Word
    • The presentation of gifts and offerings.
    • The confessing of the faith (ie. Apostle’s Creed, WCF, Heidelberg Confession, etc.)
    • The observance of the Sacraments
    • The making of oaths (ie. baptism, marriage vows, officer vows, membership vows, etc.)

The implied understanding in all of these acts of worship is that they are done in a ‘public’, covenantal, and relational manner.  In fact, the congregational vows that Christians make regarding baptism, membership, and the receiving of church officers  are public and relational vows.  We make these vows openly, not just to God, but also to each other.

Again, many people may be uncomfortable with this worship environment – maybe due to introversion, isolationism, privatism, anxiety, or whatever else.  So, we should be sensitive to these issues. Yet, these very same people have to interact with service industry people all the time.  In our culture, a person can’t get along very well without greeting, introducing themselves, and shaking hands with people on a regular basis.  So, why should anyone expect to enter into worship with God’s people without also being called to interact with God’s people?  That’s part of what it means to worship our loving Triune God. In the God-head, the three persons of the Trinity are always serving and embracing each other in sacrificial love.  In like kind, God calls us out of our comfort zones to also love and embrace each other as he lovingly embraces us.  That’s who he is and that’s who we are also called to be as we grow in his likeness.  We need to understand, along with our visitors, that Christianity is personal, but it is never private.  A worship service is not a dark movie theatre or a private dinner where those who attend can slip in and out without acknowledgement.  No.  A worship service is a public event.  And in a privatized society like ours, those who choose to worship with us in our churches should feel the invitation of Christ to engage in public worship in a public way.

With these things in mind, I feel that the “greeting of the saints” or the “giving of the peace” in worship is one of the vital ways that we express the very public and relational nature of our faith in Christ.

17 thoughts on “Why Public Greeting is Vital in Christian Worship

    • Charles, I think that is a viable concern. However, a little pocket disinfectant will help with that. School teachers use it all the time.

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  1. You are so right in that worshipping our Lord and Savior is a public act of obedience to the One True God. Greeting other saints in the name of Christ is one of the believers privileges in as much as it is in greeting your neighbor, co-worker or any other non-believer. Corporate worship is just that (together) and should express not only the love for Christ, but also love for each other. Besides, meeting other members of the body of Christ it binds us together as one in Christ. I get to meet people I do not know who are members through the ministry of greeting. Keep the greeters! It’s nice to see smiling faces in the morning and people who care.

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  2. When I exited the sanctuary after the service last week, a sister who was waiting to enter the sanctuary greeted me with open arms and we hugged one another in the name of the Lord Jesus. That was a spontaneous, sincere, genuine greeting. it was wonderful. However, to be prompted from the pulpit to greet someone only serves to remind me that if not prompted, many of us would not greet one another. If the greeting is not from the heart, it’s fake. I find this custom, although widely used, quite uncomfortable.

    Why do we gather, to worship the Lord Jesus, or to make people feel welcome?

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    • Lori, good thoughts. There are some greetings that are spontaneous and that’s great. But I also think there is the need for a ‘formal’ greeting – as an act of worship. This is a blessing type of greeting that we find in the scripture with the “greeting (passing, giving, receiving) of peace.” You asked, “Why do we gather – to worship the Lord Jesus, or to make people feel welcome?” I would say that those two elements are not mutually exclusive but bound together in scripture. For example: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Luke 10:27

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  3. I’ve experienced responses of gratitude for making someone feel welcome. One I became friends with asked us to dinner first because I’d been the first one to welcome her!

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  4. I have had people tell me they went to a church where no one spoke to them. They never went back to that church and were turned off from trying to find another church, what a shame.
    I feel the best thing we can do is welcome everyone who comes to Surfside and make them feel welcome . It is also good to speak to our own members during that welcome time.
    Carole Lanford

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