John Benton has written an interesting post on the London Seminary blog. You can read it here. in it, he offers 10 reasons why he believes pastors should fight to maintain an evening service.
Let me say at the top end, if you have a Sunday morning and evening meeting setup, that’s great. I think that is a wonderful way to serve your people and spend your Sunday. However, my contention in this post is that this is not the only way to serve your people or spend your Sunday. Indeed, it may not – for a whole host of reasons – be the best way.
I should also put my cards on the table: my church does not have an evening service. But we do have a theological Bible study at 9am on a Sunday morning, which leads into our time of tea and coffee at 10am and then our morning meeting at 10:30am, which is usually not done until around 12:15. So, I am usually at church – along with a bunch of our members – from just before 9 until at least 12:45pm. That’s around four hours of meeting together. On the weeks we have a family lunch, we’re there even longer. I don’t share this with any sense of pride or self-justification, it is just what we do.
However, I am specifically arguing here that I don’t think churches should be judged by how many meetings and studies they have on Sunday. I know of places that do more than us on Sundays, some of them wonderful places, others I would be less keen to go to myself. I know of places that do less than us on Sundays, some of them wonderful places, others I would be less keen to go to myself. But it is worth noting our (minimum) of four hours on a Sunday morning, involving one hour-long theological bible study and one 2 hour (or so) meeting that includes a 40-minute sermon, amounts to more time in church than many traditional morning and evening service setups. Again, let me be emphatic: I do not think this makes us better or more holy than anyone else. I raise it because much of the argument in favour of the traditional Sunday morning and evening setup does seems to rest on such an assumption.
Let me address John’s particular arguments in turn.
You will not build church communities by not meeting
It is certainly true that you won’t build church communities by hanging out on your own. It is certainly true that you will not build church communities by never meeting. But I would venture you will not build church communities by only sitting in meetings either. Community is much broader than that. Whilst I think it is important to sit under the Word as a church gathered, it is also important to show hospitality, to meet in homes, to spend time together apart from meetings.
I appreciate the call away from solitude in order to build community, I question whether the sole, or even primary, way to do that is through two services on a Sunday. What if more people are encouraged to host church families over lunch because they don’t have the prospect of having to get back out for an evening service? Might this not build church community? Might it even do this more effectively?
Equally, if we are convinced that meetings are the primary (or only) way, why not have 3 or 4 services on a Sunday? Indeed, why not meet at 9am like my church do, have another meeting at 10:30am (like my church do), stay together for lunch (like my church often do), then have another afternoon meeting and an evening service as well? If the argument here is that more is better, I am unsure why the need to stop at a meagre two?
The Lord’s Day is a matter of obedience
Whether you believe in a Christian Sabbath, you think we have moved from Sabbath to Lord’s Day (and these things are distinct) or you reckon the New Covenant no longer insists on either thing, everyone agrees that meeting together is a matter of obedience. Nobody side-steps Hebrews 10:25. Meeting together is a matter of obedience.
The problem with the application of this argument is that there is nothing in the command – in the sabbath command (if you think it in force), the Lord’s Day nor the command to not neglect meeting together – that insists on meeting together a particular number of times. It might well be a matter of obedience to meet together; there is no biblical command concerning how many times we are to meet. It says no more than to meet. This argument adds nothing to a case (in any direction) of how much we should meet together.
Putting family before God won’t help
Again, I agree with the sentiment. We should not place our families before the Lord. But this argument only holds water if the Lord has insisted we meet twice on a Sunday and people are using their families as an excuse to meet only once. But in the face of such a command, assuming they are meeting together at all (and not forsaking doing so), and they are taking seriously other commands of the Lord concerning our family, it seems a stretch to insist this is an argument for two services on a Sunday. If we are obeying the Lord’s command to meet together, and obeying his commands concerning family, it is hard to fathom how not attending an evening service amounts to neglecting the Lord in favour of your family?
Leadership requires commitment to the church
This, again, is certainly true. And I agree with John that if someone comes once on a Sunday and is never seen again at all in the church, the chances of asking that person to take on leadership positions is decidedly slim. Such a person does seem uncommitted to the church.
But this is still not an argument for an evening service. One could readily be at a morning service on a Sunday, a midweek meeting, involved in evangelism in the week too and yet not be at an evening service? Can we credibly claim such a person is “uncommitted” because they don’t come to an evening service, but attend nigh on everything else? Again, in lieu of a command of Christ that we must meet twice on a Sunday, is this not a case of going beyond what scripture actually says?
Make the most of your gifts
John encourages two services in order to “make the most of your gifts”. I don’t think seeking to make the most of your gifts is a bad thing. But I don’t see how two services on a Sunday necessarily achieves that.
For example, you might preach twice on a Sunday. But if nobody actually turns up to the second meeting, in what way is that making the most of your gifts? That, it seems to me, is a waste of your gifts and not actually serving anybody.
But let’s assume you get good turnout morning and evening. If you really want to make the most of your gifts, why not have three, four or five services? Maybe you could fit in even more than that! There is no particular reason to stop at two services. No real reason to stop at four or five either. The more the merrier, right? Make the most of those gifts!
Usually, when someone makes a point like this, we are told such would be ‘impossible’. Aside from the fact that I don’t think it is at all, the reasons given for the impossibility are because we have other responsibilities. Which, of course, is the point. If we can reject, say, five meetings on Sunday because we have other responsibilities, in lieu of a specific command to meet twice on Sunday, is it not just as legitimate to argue that one service (or just a different setup) allows us to accomplish other necessary and commanded things too? If we don’t accept this argument for just one service, there is nothing to stop anyone arguing for far more services than two.
A closed church building on a Sunday evening is a sorry witness
This is a strange argument. If non-Christians really do think Sunday is the day of Christian worship, and to see the building closed on Sunday evening is a sign to them that God is dead, why is seeing the building locked between, say, twelve and five not a similarly sorry witness? if we really believe this reasoning, then there is no case for not having our building open from 12:00am Sunday morning to 11:59pm Sunday night – with worshippers inside manifestly worshipping on the appointed day unbelievers think they must – lest they conclude God is dead. Indeed, if our concern is that unbelievers might conclude the church is closed and God is dead, ought we not then to ensure our building is open 24/7? I don’t see how this argument can be limited to morning and evening worship on a Sunday at all.
More to the point, let’s consider two hypothetical churches. One has a morning and evening Sunday service, but never meets at any other time and does nothing more. The other has only a morning service on a Sunday, but are regularly seen in an out of each other’s homes in the community throughout the week and are a clear Christian presence in all sorts of community places. Of these two, which do you think offers the better Christian witness? The one who meets twice on Sunday, despite the Lord not insisting they must, or the once on Sunday church who are seen to be an active Christian presence in their community and are known to share the gospel locally? There is evidently more to witness than the number of meetings we have on a Sunday.
It reveals our priorities
John argues it is the ‘older saints’ who tend to come out in the evening. Evidently, he has not spent any time in communities like mine, where it is the older folk who are the least likely to come out for fear of the dark and what goes on locally in it. Many of the older folk are tired (and I don’t blame them) and do not feel up for coming out twice. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Similarly, it is obviously true that there are young people who would come and young people who wouldn’t. The point seems a facile one to me.
In a sense, it is true that landing hard on two services on a Sunday reveals our priorities. I just don’t think it necessarily reveals the priority that we think it does. Primarily, I think it reveals that we think meeting twice on a Sunday is very important. It doesn’t really show much more than that.
There is more to say
Again, this is obviously true. No one sermon will say everything. The problem is, I don’t know anyone arguing otherwise. It is why, minimally, everyone does at least one other sermon a week later. It is why many do bible studies midweek. It is why some do extra studies ahead of a service. Nobody is saying there isn’t more to say.
If we are saying that the more to be said must all be said on Sunday, we hit upon a familiar problem. There is more to say after your Sunday evening service too. So, why stop at only two services? Why not three, four or more. Even then, there will remain more to say.
John argues that making a Sunday evening different to your morning meeting is important. If you are going to have one, I fully agree. I just don’t see this as a great argument for insisting on the two service model. There are opportunities to teach more in the week. There are all sorts of helpful ways we can say more. Is there more to be said? For sure. Does that necessitate two services on a Sunday? Not necessarily, and as far as I can see, not with any specific biblical mandate.
Leaving tradition behind?
John admits in this one he is ‘not mad on tradition’. But he points to various bits of history and suggests some churches met twice on a Sunday. What he doesn’t mention is that, during the periods he cites, Catholic and Anglican churches had more than two services. Matins and Vespers are not the only services. Indeed, there were at least 8 canonical hours that involved prayer liturgies. For most, the three main hours were matins, lauds and vespers. So, in the Middle Ages, most were going to three. If we are going to cite Catholic and Anglican tradition, we are going to need to make room for more than two services!
But, like John, we don’t want to make tradition our ultimate guide. Which brings us back to the question of what scripture demands. When we look at it, there simply isn’t any demand for a certain number of church services. There is certainly, and easily, a case we can make for one (we read of the church meeting at least once). Tradition would lead us to more than two. Indeed, if we take scripture and tradition as our guide for demanding a certain number, two would seem to be among the harder figures to arrive at!
Don’t miss Jesus
John’s final point is the closest he makes to a biblical one for two services. Namely, that Jesus appeared to his followers morning and evening. It does seem worth noting that the morning appearance, the women he appeared to specifically were not meeting together for worship, which rather undercuts the whole thing. The evening appearance they don’t appear to be meeting together for worship either. So, that Jesus appeared to them morning and evening seems more to do with the fact that he had already appeared to the women – whom the disciples did not immediately believe – and then to the twelve later. There is no suggestion that Jesus was setting the pattern for weekly worship at this point.
I think we can confidently say that is not what Jesus was doing by the fact that we don’t, at any point in any of the following epistles nor in Acts, get any suggestion that the churches started doing that. We do read that they met on the first day of the week, so there is a case to be made for that. We do read that the Lord’s Day is a thing. We don’t read, even once, that anyone had two meetings. Which is interesting if Jesus did intend for us to take his appearances as a pattern for worship. Weighed against the other 9 arguments, the case is not strong.
If there is a biblical case for mandating two services on a Sunday, I think John has failed to make it here. It is my view that there is no biblical mandate, command or reason to insist on this model.
Now, you could take from these things that I think two services on Sunday is wrong. But I think there is as much justification for that statement as there is for insisting Jesus commands two meetings. The truth is, the Bible does not give us any such instruction. It commands us to meet together. I believe there is a pattern of meeting together on the Lord’s Day. There are some things we are commanded to do when we meet. But I don’t see any biblical justification for mandating exactly how many times we must meet.
Which means the case for how often we meet must be a wisdom issue. It must be determined contextually. It must take account of a myriad of factors. It cannot, of itself, be seen as a sign of spiritual health or spiritual decline. It is in no way a sine qua non of faithfulness. In the end, the Bible commands us to not forsake meeting together, that is the biblical command we can mandate. There is a biblical case to be made that such should happen on the Lord’s Day. But exactly how many times we are to do it each week, that simply isn’t in the bible and we are foolish if we think we should demand and mandate what it doesn’t, as if we are more holy than what it demands of us.