VIII. The Lord’s Day
The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 12:1-12; 28:1ff.; Mark 2:27-28; 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-3,33-36; John 4:21-24; 20:1,19-28; Acts 20:7; Romans 14:5-10; I Corinthians 16:1-2; Colossians 2:16; 3:16; Revelation 1:10.
FBC Farmersville meets for worship on Sunday evenings as well as Sunday mornings. Not nearly as many people come, and of the people who do attend, not nearly all of them would complain if Sunday evening worship were simply to disappear.
And I confess for myself, there have been times that the Sunday evening service has felt burdensome to me. Evening worship means delivering another sermon after I’ve already preached twice and (for now) taught a Sunday School lesson. For a portion of the year, it comes after I have taught a discipleship class on Sunday evening. At least once each month it comes just before a meeting with our deacons. Frequently it comes after other administrative meetings have taken place on Sunday afternoon. There have been Sundays on which the evening worship service felt burdensome.
And I can tell that some of our people sometimes feel the same way. They have to get the kids ready again to come up to our campus. They have to drive here. They have to stay up later. They have to pay attention and stay alert after having done so Sunday morning. Sometimes evening worship feels burdensome to them.
It’s easy enough to set aside an evening worship time once you realize that 11:00 am worship and 6:00 pm worship is not a schedule arising out of any scriptural edict. There is no “thou shalt come back to the meeting house after thine afternoon nap” verse buried in Hebrews anywhere. If we’re going to have a Sunday evening worship service, it should be because evening worship services bless us. If they are unnecessarily burdensome to us, then they should cease to exist.
But we still have Sunday evening worship, and we do so because I have come to believe that Sunday evening worship services actually are a blessing to us if we look at them the right way.
The New Testament does not establish a set schedule for worship. The text of the New Testament explicitly precludes us from making one day particularly holy above the others, but it also highlights the first day of the week (i.e., the Lord’s Day…the day on which the Resurrection was discovered) as the day upon which you could expect to find a Christian church gathered for worship. The list of Bible references at the end of the BF&M article that I quoted above gives a decent overview of biblical teaching in this regard. I would only add to the committee’s list this additional passage from Acts:
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47, NASB, emphasis mine.
If the New Testament does not specify a pattern of two worship services held weekly on Sunday, it was because they were actually meeting for worship a good deal more than that. If twenty-first-century American Christians are moving away from a pattern of two worship services held weekly on Sunday, it is because we’re trying to meet for worship a good deal less than that. That’s an enormous difference.
The pattern indicated in Acts two is one of daily teaching, daily corporate study, daily corporate prayer, daily corporate fellowship, and daily evangelism. Sunday corporate worship sometimes lingered into the wee hours of the night (see Acts 20:7). The early church worshipped a lot, and although worship was the occupation of the church on every day, the first day of the week clearly had special significance for Christians from the very beginnings of the church.
So, now we come back to the blessing or burden question.
Give over at least one entire day of the week to worshipping God. This quota lies far below the common practice of the New Testament church, and presuming a twelve-hour day, amounts to only about 7% of your time—far less than a tithe. Set aside the Lord’s Day for worship. Sure, go ahead and eat. Take care of personal necessities like getting a shower in the morning and the like. But otherwise, set apart the day for worshipping God, corporately in your morning worship service and then in private devotion for whatever portion of the day is not occupied by corporate worship.
Here’s what I think you’ll discover: When you try to occupy eight hours or so of your time in private worship, you’ll appreciate the helpful blessing that corporate worship truly is: Somebody else to pick songs for you to sing and to sing them with you, somebody else to interact with the teachings of God’s word and to engage you in dialogue over them, somebody else to join you in prayer, etc. When you’re trying to give the Lord an entire day of worship, worshipping privately whenever you are not worshipping corporately, I think you’ll find that you look forward to the change of pace and the companionship that corporate worship provides to the worshipper. The day will pass more quickly and more blessedly if you can gather with believers once again on Sunday evening to worship the Lord together.
Unfortunately, I observe that Christians rarely, if ever, replace abandoned corporate worship hours with private devotion. The time goes to television, to the pagan idols that we’ve made of our sports leagues, to shopping, to household chores, and to sleep. We demonstrate that it isn’t CORPORATE worship that is burdensome to us; rather, it is corporate WORSHIP that is burdensome to us.
Could it be that this tells us something about our spiritual condition? I think so. Malachi condemned the priests of his day who sniffed at their service of the Lord and complained about how tiresome they found it to be. In their judgments about corporate worship God saw judgments about the state of their own hearts. Perhaps the same is true of us.
Revival, when it comes among us, will be accompanied by a greater appetite for Christian worship, as always it has been. Perhaps that will involve the demise of Sunday evening worship times in favor of something larger and more robust. If so, I’m completely comfortable with that. For now, however, I think there is a need to stand up in opposition to the gradual erosion of time with God and His people that would leave him with a solitary hour out of the week, and an impatient hour at that.