January, 2018

Lord’s Day Evening Worship – The Ordinary Means

During the winter, I help coach my son’s wrestling team. The ages for the boys run from 4th-8th grade. For many of the younger kids, this is their first taste of a competitive contact sport. They may have played soccer or baseball, but this is the first time where they lock up with another kid and go at it until one of them has their hand raised in victory. Usually, I will have a parent come up to me at some point in the season and ask, “My son loves wrestling, how can he get better?” What happens is that during a match, their son will wrestle against a kid the same weight and age as their son, but there is an obvious skill level difference. The parent wants to know what is the secret to bridging that gap. How do they get from here to there? The answer I always give is very boring and usually unsatisfying. Practice. If you want to get better, you have to practice. The quantity and the quality of your practice must increase. There is nothing magical about it. Boring, monotonous, repetitive, and ordinary practice. That’s the ordinary path to victory.

This shouldn’t come to us as a surprise. This is the ordinary path for growth in most avenues of life. If you want to develop in your hobby, you need to apply more time and attention developing it. If you want to increase your business, you need to give it more and better time. If you want to develop a relationship, you need to give it a sufficient quantity and quality of time. Malcolm Gladwell posits this same idea in his book Outliers by arguing that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in anything to become an expert. Your competency in nearly any avenue of life will increase if you devote more and better time to it. The simple fact that should strike any of us as just ordinary common-sense is that if you want to grow, you need to do it more.

Our growth and maturity in the Lord is no different. God has provided us with common and ordinary means of grace for our sanctification and maturing in the faith. If we want to grow in our walk with the Lord, we need to employ these means in our lives with more and better time. If you have ever thought that your Christian life is not all that you have wanted it to be (and if you’re honest with yourself, you have), there is a simple and ordinary solution: avail yourself to the means of grace.

Our sanctification is a “work of God’s grace whereby we are renewed in the whole of the man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC #35). The practical component of our growth in that grace is through the ordinary means of God’s grace. The ordinary Means of Grace are the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. The Larger Catechism (#155) instructs us that not only the reading of God’s Word, but “especially the preaching” is effective by the power of the Holy Spirit to “enlighten, convince, and humble sinners.” It drives us out of ourselves and draws us unto Christ. It is especially through the preaching of the Word that God conforms us to his image and subdues us to his will.

So, practically speaking, one of the best ways we can grow in our sanctification and mature in our walk with the Lord is to submit ourselves to more (both quality and quantity) of the preaching of God’s Word. Simply put, if one sermon is good, then two sermons are better. It is for this simple argument that a Sunday Evening worship service would be beneficial to the life of the Christian and a good thing for the overall health of our church.

There are other practical benefits of a Sunday evening worship. I believe that Sunday evening worship can foster greater fellowship among the church. A Sunday evening worship service would be easy to couple with fellowship meals. Another practical benefit is that as the children of our church mature, Sunday evening worship lends itself to facilitating of a youth group meeting.

There are likely a number of questions or objections some folks might have about coming back out for another worship service. We’ll look at some of those next week. But my hope is that the clear practical benefits for a Sunday evening worship service are clear. A common and ordinary way for us to grow in our relationship with the Lord is to avail ourselves to the common and ordinary means of grace. A Sunday evening worship service is an excellent way to accomplish this.

 

Lord’s Day Evening Worship – A Theological Case for Evening Worship

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen. 1:1-5).

From the very beginning, our concept of time has been marked by two halves to every day. There is day and there is evening. These two halves constitute the whole of what we mean when we say “day.” But this terminology was not without confusion. One half of the whole is referred to with the same term as the whole, that is, day (meaning the light part) and day (meaning the whole 24hr period). This was also true in the Hebrew text where yom is used for day (meaning the light part) and day (meaning the whole 24hr period).

Modern conceptions of time include this with the designations of a.m (ante meridiem, before mid-day) and p.m. (post meridiem, after mid-day). When we think about time and the day, we tend to think of it in these two parts. Thinking theologically, if there is something to this pattern, then we should expect to see it pop up in different ways throughout the Scriptures.

In Numbers 28:1-10 we read of the daily offerings (see also Exod 29:38, 39). Two lambs were to be offered, day by day. One lamb was offered in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Why was this the case? This act of worship was done in the morning and in the evening to represent the whole of the day. It was a sign of the need for atonement in the whole life of the person. This worship was amplified on the Sabbath day with additional sacrifices.

This daily offering was a ceremonial law. As such, it was sign that was pointing to the greater reality of sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The fulfillment of that law was found in Christ’s sacrifice on cross. No more sacrificial offering is to be made. So, we, living on this side of cross, do not offer two lambs each day, one in the morning and one at twilight. But while the substance of the sacrifice has been fulfilled in Christ, is there anything we should glean from the form of the sacrifice? Is there something that should inform our understanding of worship of God on this side of the cross? I think the pattern of morning and evening could be instructive for us.

Psalm 92:1-2 also conforms to this pattern of morning and evening. “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.” Morning and night are devoted to the worship of God. Again, this pattern of the whole day, as constituted by the day and the night, is used in the worship of God.

There is record of Paul’s preaching in Acts 20 that seems to indicate an evening worship service. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). Paul was long-winded in his preaching, but it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that this service began in the morning. It seems likely that this was their evening service. This idea of a morning and evening service seems to fit better with the idea in the book of Acts that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This overall pattern seems to imply something more than just a morning worship service. It seems to imply the same thing that Numbers 28 and Psalm 92 implies, namely a morning and evening time of worship for the people of God.

As we have mentioned before, this cannot be pieced together to make an explicit command from Scripture for evening worship. There is an explicit command to worship on the Lord’s Day (Ex 20:8-11, Dt 5:12-15, Heb 10:25, among others). We are not trying to make the case that the Scriptures demand a morning and evening worship service. But we are attempting to make the case that the Scriptures point to a morning and evening worship service. And as the Scriptures seem to imply this, we believe this would make for the best practice in our church. It would be the best way for us to remember and observe the whole Lord’s Day.

Lord’s Day Evening Worship – A Historical Perspective

Some of my sweetest memories growing up are of Sunday evenings with my grandparents. On Sunday evenings, my little Methodist church held youth group and Sunday evening worship. After worship, my grandparents would take my brother and me out to dinner with their Sunday School class. My grandparents and ten or so other “grandparents” would sit around a table and talk with me about church, life, and tell stories about their childhood. Sunday evening worship and post-worship fellowship profoundly and positively affected my love for the church.

For the first 19 ½ centuries of the New Testament church, evening worship was an assumed part of life. It was the normal rhythm of church life. As we begin to evaluate and explore how to re-introduce this practice into the pattern of our church life, it will be helpful for us to see that it is not strange to have evening worship. In fact, if we look at this historically, our current practice is the abnormality.

The worship of the early Christian Church was primarily formed upon the practice of the Jewish congregation in the Old Testament. In Exodus 29:38-46, it was required that the people offer up sacrifices in the morning and in the evening. Typologically, this morning and evening offering was to communicate the continual need for redemption and atonement. This redemption and atonement would only be finally fulfilled in Christ. This continual pattern should be seen in our family worship (we’ll save that for another day), and it is reflected in the morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day.

Evening worship in the early church, therefore, was not something that just happened. It was a direct outcome from the previous pattern of morning and evening worship in the Jewish temple. But instead of going to the temple to offer sacrifices, they gathered to offer praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to Jesus Christ. The early church pastor John Chrysostom (347-407AD) commented on Exodus 29:38, “That God must be worshiped daily when the day begins and when the day ends…. Our homage to almighty God should be paid as frequently at least, morning and evening to be sure.”[1] Eusebius of Caesarea echoed this idea, “For it is surely no small sign of God’s power that through the whole world in the churches of God at the morning rising of the sun and the evening hours, hymns, praises, and truly divine delights are offered to God. God’s delights are indeed the hymns sent up everywhere on earth in his Church at the times of morning and evening.”[2] This principle of daily morning and evening worship was exercised in the Medieval church through daily morning and evening worship. This developed into the pattern in Protestant homes of daily devotions and family worship. And when the Lord’s Day came, these families gathered with the larger church family. It only made sense, therefore, for them to worship in the morning and in the evening.

The liturgies of the Reformed tradition reflect this morning and evening pattern. Typically, the morning service was an expository sermon and the evening service was more doctrinal or catechetical. The Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) discussed at great length the importance of evening worship because the Arminian Remonstrants were attempting to discontinue it. Delegates at the Synod overwhelmingly concluded that evening worship was something to be guarded and cherished for the good of the church. The Synod went so far as to say that the evening service should be preserved even if the only people in attendance were the minister and his family.[3] The practice of evening Lord’s Day worship was observed in the Dutch Reformed, Scottish Presbyterian, English Puritan, Lutheran, and Anglican churches. In dropping the practice, the modern Protestant and Reformed church has stepped out of the mainstream of historic Protestant and Reformed worship.

Today, this history is largely ignored. Many church-growth experts assume that people don’t want to participate in a second service on Sunday. Our lives are too busy for this. We have other things to do. It is disruptive or inconvenient. Culturally, it is very easy for anyone to succumb to this perspective. But we should be aware that if we begin to view an evening worship service on the Lord’s Day in this way, we are the anomaly in the history of the Church.

[1] “A Rationale for Evening Worship on the Lord’s Day,” Roland Barnes, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.tpcstatesboro.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/rationaleforeveningworship.pdf.

[2] Quoted in, “Why an Evening Worship Service?,” Christ United Reformed Church, accessed January 10, 2018, http://www.christurc.org/blog/2010/12/08/why-an-evening-worship-service.

[3] Michael Hutchinson, “A Case for Evening Worship,” Gospel Reformation Network (blog), May 25, 2017, http://gospelreformation.net/case-evening-worship/.

Reflections on Evening Worship – A Biblical Pattern from the Old and New Testaments

Last week, we focused on how the fourth commandment itself commends—but not commands—the framing of the Lord’s Day with morning and evening worship. This week, we will look more broadly at how the witness of Scripture bears on the topic of evening worship. We begin by considering how the morning and evening sacrifices in the Old Testament suggest this rhythm of opening and closing the Lord’s Day with worship.
In Exodus 29:38-43, God instructs Moses on the offerings that were to be made on the altar in the Tabernacle. This offering was to be done “day by day regularly.” As for timing, it was to be done “in the morning” and “at twilight.” These instructions are repeated in Numbers 28 as a confirmation for the second generation of Israel. So, the rhythm that God set was a morning and evening sacrifice day by day. Admittedly, this was a daily, not a weekly, rhythm, and so on the surface it has no special bearing on Israel’s Sabbath—additional offerings were made to mark the Sabbath (Num 28:9-10). So, what this rhythm mainly points to is a daily rhythm of morning and evening private or family worship. (But, that is a topic for another time.) Nevertheless, this rhythm should have a special significance on the Sabbath, for as I mentioned in my sermon last week the Sabbath is a time of God’s special presence with his people.
When Israel entered the Promised Land and established a monarchy, the importance of maintaining a morning and evening rhythm to worship continued. These offerings are mentioned positively in 1 Chronicles 16:40; 23:30; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 13:11; and 31:3 as integral to the religious life of Israel. Surprisingly, even during a dark time in Israel, when Ahaz, king of Judah, corrupted the whole system of worship in Jerusalem, the morning and evening offerings were maintained (2 Kings 16:15). It is also during the time of the kings of Israel that the Psalms capture the importance of the evening sacrifice. Psalm 134, a song of ascents, is an invitation to the faithful worshipers of God “who stand by night in the house of the LORD” to bless the LORD and in doing so also to receive a blessing from the LORD. In Psalm 141, David prays to God that his prayer would “be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
When Israel exited the Promised Land on account of their covenant infidelity, the importance of the pattern of morning and evening remained. Most notably, Daniel, who was a representative of the faithful remnant of Israel in exile, seems to have regulated his prayer life on a morning and evening pattern. In Daniel 9, he remarks that the angel Gabriel appeared to him “at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan 9:21). It was during one of those times of God’s special presence that God sent a message to Daniel.
Finally, when Israel re-entered the Promised Land on account of God’s covenant faithfulness, the remnant of Israel maintained the morning and evening pattern. In Ezra 3:3, the description of the rebuilding of the altar includes explicit mention of the re-establishment of the morning and evening offerings. Moreover, Ezra himself marked the importance of the evening offering. It was “at the evening sacrifice” that he made intercession for the faltering faith of the returned exiles (Ezra 9:1-5).
This look at the Old Testament points to the importance in the life of Israel of a morning and evening pattern, whether that be of offering sacrifices in the Tabernacle and the Temple or of offering prayers at those same times because access to the Temple was no longer possible. While the week-to-week pulse of the life of Israel was measured by the Sabbath, it seems that the day-to-day pulse was measured by morning and evening offerings or prayer.
While there is no explicit establishment of morning and evening worship in the New Testament, there is a hint that may commend it as the practice of the early church. Besides the fact that the disciples, as Jewish converts, would have grown up with this pattern, the first appearances of our risen Lord to the disciples occurred morning and evening on the Lord’s Day. In John’s Gospel, we are told that “on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark” (John 20:1). While by the tomb on the Lord’s Day, she asked “the gardener” where the body of Jesus lay (20:15). “The gardener” of course was our risen Lord, and so Mary met God in a special way on the morning of the Lord’s Day. John continues his account of the Resurrection Day with a scene change to “the evening of that day, the first day of the week” (20:19). There in a locked room full of frightened disciples Jesus appeared. And so, the disciples like Mary also met with God in a special way, but this time in the evening. Thus, on the first Christian Sabbath, God met with his people in a special way both morning and evening.
This one piece of evidence certainly does not a New Testament pattern make. But taken as a whole, the pattern of morning and evening worship on the Sabbath does seem to be something commended by the witness of Scripture. That the church after the time of the Apostles quickly began to adopt this pattern of morning and evening worship is good corroborating evidence, but that is the topic of next week’s reflection.