Chapter 4. Special Ordinances

1. Under the New Testament, there is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Nevertheless it may be appropriate to separate a day or days for public fasting or thanksgiving, as extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence give occasion.

Fasting

2. Special days of fasting, humiliation and prayer are particularly appropriate when God’s judgments are evident in the land, or when corporate sin in church or nation provokes the Lord and invites His judgments. It is appropriate that such days be observed in connection with services preparatory to the Lord’s Supper or on days designated by Sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods for this purpose.

3. In Christian fasting, as an ordinance of God, the believer voluntarily abstains from food or some ordinary pleasure for a season for the purpose of seeking the will of God, strength for service, or deeper spirituality. It should be accompanied by meditation, self-examination, humiliation before God, confession of sin, repentance and renewed dedication to a life of obedience.

4. A fast day may be marked by a service of public worship. In such services, it is fitting that psalms of penitence be sung, along with the offering of prayers of confession of sin and petitions for pardon.

5. If the civil authority calls for a time of prayer and fasting that is in harmony with the Scriptures, Sessions may encourage the people of God to pay due respect to that call. Besides such general occasions, there may be times when families and individuals, for their own reasons, give themselves to prayer and fasting for a season.

Thanksgiving

6. Christians should be thankful at all times, but there are occasions when special seasons of corporate thanksgiving should be observed. These may be in response to a particular blessing of God in the life of the congregation, the call of the civil authority for a day of national thanksgiving (if in keeping with Scripture), or in thanksgiving for God’s provision of material blessings.

7. On such occasions, Sessions may deem that a suitable service of public worship be conducted at which the people recount God’s blessings, sing His praises, thank Him for His mercies corporate and individual, call upon Him in prayer for both church and nation, and are exhorted from the Word of God upon the theme of gratitude to God. Opportunity may be given for the people to express that gratitude by making a contribution to some benevolent cause.

Covenanting

8. Covenanting with God is a solemn act of worship in which individuals, churches, or nations declare their acceptance of Him as their God and pledge allegiance and obedience to Him. Public covenanting is an appropriate response to the Covenant of Grace. The “Covenant of Communicant Membership” is to be accepted by individuals who profess faith in Christ and unite with the Church. Ordinarily, such individuals are to give public assent to this covenant in the presence of the congregation. When circumstances warrant, churches and nations also may produce statements of responsibility arising from the application of the Word of God to the times in which they are made. Such covenants have continuing validity in so far as they give true expression to the Word of God for the times and situations in which believers live. (For a fuller discussion of vows and covenanting see Testimony, chapter 22, especially paragraphs 8 and 9.) Examples of such covenants are the Scottish National Covenant of 1638, the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s Covenant of 1871.

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