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In Holy Service

by Cornelis Van Dam
2023 / 255 pages

The question of personal identity has become a hot-button issue in recent years. The ideology of gender has encouraged the notion that our identity is self-selected; we can choose to be whatever we want to be, regardless of biological realities. Even the existence of a single human nature that unites all of humanity has been called into question.

The era in which we live has been profoundly impacted by this radically new understanding of anthropology, of what it means to be a human being. As this ideology continues to advance, the Christian Church is called to continue to declare an ancient and unchanging message, and Christians are called and called again to find their identity in Christ, and in their office and calling as people who are united to Christ.

This is the theme that unites the writings of Dr. Cornelis Van Dam that have been published under the title In Holy Service.

Three main points

The majority of the material included in this collection had been previously published in Clarion, Diakonia, and elsewhere, between 2008 and 2021, and it has been revised and collated under the headings of:

  • The General Office of a Believer
  • The Ecclesiastical Offices
  • Women in Special Service

The book concludes with an epilogue, “Retrospect and Prospect,” which looks back to the early history of the Christian Church, while looking forward to the future.

Recommended

There is much to recommend in this book. Dr. Van Dam’s writing style is simple, clear, and straightforward. He presents his thoughts in a way that is understandable, and his arguments are cogent and easy to follow. He ably defends Biblical principles about the unique callings and responsibilities of men and women, and provides solid Biblical evidence for his conclusions. His insight into the history of the ecclesiastical offices are helpful and perceptive, and his discussions of specific issues, such as the continuing importance of catechetical preaching, the necessity of training to prepare men to take on the office of elder, and the question of women’s participation in the election of office-bearers are well-argued and firmly rooted in Scripture.

These individual chapters could serve well as a starting-point for group studies at church, and the material included serves as a healthy antidote to the spirit of the age in which we live, and the constant pressure being exerted upon the Church to adapt and change with the times.

Critiques

The character of In Holy Service as a collection of previously-published works does mean that it lacks the unity of a book written “from scratch.” Some of the chapters are very brief, while others are lengthy, and one wishes, for example, that a subject like Chapter 11’s “The Office of the Church in Relation to the Civil Government” would have received a fuller treatment than it does.

Dr. Van Dam’s epilogue, which compares the situation of the early Church with that of our day, is excellent. He emphasizes that Christianity must be counter-cultural, and that we must count the cost to follow Jesus Christ. This is an important reminder, and a necessary one. However, I believe that Dr. Van Dam’s conclusions about the Christian’s relationship with the civil authorities as taught in Romans 13 and his related discussion of the Church’s response to COVID-19 in Chapter 11 do not accord with the strong and forceful message with which he concludes the book. This is an issue that demands a fuller treatment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that In Holy Service is a helpful resource that can serve God’s people as a useful guide to Biblical principles of individual and ecclesiastical life that must be reappropriated, taught, and defended from generation to generation.

It is available at ProvidenceBooksPress.com.

Rev. Jim Witteveen is the author of “How In the World Did We Get Here?” and host of the DanElevenThirtyTwo.com podcast.

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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Worship Matters

by  Cornelis Van Dam 2021 / 327 pages The deeper I got into this book, the more I appreciated its simple title, Worship Matters. In this volume, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam has collected about two dozen of his articles about the church’s worship of our triune God. He addresses many worship-related topics: the meaning of the Lord’s day, the importance of preaching, the place of the Ten Commandments, the gift of congregational singing, the function of the second service, and much more. There are numerous “worship matters,” but what becomes even more clear from this book is that worship matters. From the first page to the last, Van Dam impresses on us the immense privilege and responsibility that are ours when we meet with God in public worship. God has been so gracious to reveal Himself through His Word, to tell us about the way of salvation opened by the crucified and risen Christ, and to transform us by His Holy Spirit. In humility and reverence, we then respond to God with praise, drawing near to the holy Lord with a desire to give Him our very best. Such a spirit of worship must characterise our entire life, but in a special way we may honour God together as congregation on the Lord’s day. Van Dam does not attempt to treat every aspect of Reformed liturgy, but the ones that he does are clearly and helpfully explained. For instance, he has excellent chapters on Psalm-singing, the public reading of Scripture, musical accompaniment, and the closing benediction. Time and again, his liturgical explorations demonstrate the truth of Article 7 of the Belgic Confession, where we confess the sufficiency of God’s Word, and where we state, “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in at length.” Drawing on Old and New Testament alike, Van Dam shows the depths and riches of Reformed worship. In his study of worship matters, Van Dam also doesn’t shy away from some controversial topics. He evaluates the trend of removing the reading of the law from Reformed liturgy, or having people other than office bearers read Scripture in a worship service. He considers the question of whether we can still sing the so-called imprecatory Psalms, addresses the ever-sensitive topic of our Sunday clothing, and discusses the place of liturgical dance. I will leave these intriguing topics for you to read about and consider. Dr. Arjan de Visser contributes a convincing and timely chapter on being “An Attractive Church.” If we desire to be faithful in our prophetic task, we should think about what will truly (and enduringly) attract people to our churches. Should we be prepared to modify our liturgy and message to make them more accessible? Or does Scripture show that true attraction will be based on something else? When a book is good, one can always wish it was a little longer. And so I arrived at the last page wishing that Van Dam had touched on a few more worship matters. His chapter on baptism would have been nicely complemented with a chapter on the Lord’s Supper. A study of the offering would be welcome too, especially in a time when it seems that many of us “pass the bag” – perhaps it’s because of the trend towards a cashless economy, or it’s for some other reason. Just what is the Biblical importance of the offertory in public worship? But an author can’t say everything in a book, of course, and the ground that Van Dam has chosen to cover is valuable. This book would be useful for any church member to read and reflect on. It originates from the pen/keyboard of a professor of theology, but it is not a difficult or complicated book. Rather, its brief chapters are clearly written, carefully organized, and thoroughly Scriptural. While helpful for any church member, this book would also be beneficial for consistories to study together, maybe taking time each meeting to consider a chapter or two. For a consistory, it is inevitable that questions concerning the worship services arise. This might happen through their own discussions, or when members suggest different approaches. Sometimes we feel threatened by any talk of liturgical change—or conversely, we’re sure that such changes will remedy a range of our problems as church—but in any case, we should be ready to seek faithful and upbuilding practices for our liturgy. This book supplies us with solid Scriptural principles and directions for the worship of our great and holy God. It’s worth a careful read, because worship matters! Canadians can find it at Reformed Christian Books, ProvidenceBooksPress.com, and elsewhere....