News

Fake News and Good News

Having lived in the despotic totalitarian regime of Belarus for a year after college, I’m always curious when other similar or worse regimes are portrayed in the news. With the Winter Olympics in full swing in PyeongChang, South Korea, there has been a tremendous amount of coverage given to North Korea. The theme of these 2018 Olympics has been that of peace. The North and South Korean teams have been competing together as a unified team. And there has been an inordinate amount of media coverage of the North Korean cheer squad and the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo-jong. For some reason, the synchronized cheering of these North Korean women has several media outlets captivated with rapt and uncritical attention.

All of this coverage sent me to check out some more information about the North Korean regime. Having seen the way a cult of personality worked in the former USSR and in Belarus, I wanted to learn more about the leadership of Kim Jong Un. John Sweeney’s book North Korea Undercover is a harsh exposé of life under this dictator.[1] Sweeney describes his many experiences as an undercover economics professor touring North Korea. One of the chapters in Sweeney’s book is an incredibly graphic description of the mausoleum where the bodies of Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather are displayed in a glass casket. In North Korea these men are revered as gods, their bodies presented as objects of worship.

Sweeney’s description of the embalming process that went into displaying these men is as amazing as it is disturbing. As he details the chemical processes at work in preserving the body, my mind raced back to my visits to the mausoleum of Lenin in Moscow, Russia. Since 1924 in a little marble ziggurat on Red Square, Vladimir Lenin’s body has been displayed in a glass casket. He is a permanent monument of the enduring legacy of Communism in the former Soviet Union. Sweeney notes that the North Korean officials recruited the same Soviet scientists and morticians who had embalmed Lenin. In fact, after Lenin a little cottage industry of embalming and displaying dictators has developed. Mao Zedong in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela are some of the despotic dictators who sought to continue to rule over their people long after their death.

These dead men are chemically made to appear to be resting and at peace. In their death they attempt to maintain an iron grip on the lives of their people. In reality these men are physically nothing near a real human body and spiritually, apart from an unknown and remarkable deathbed conversion to Christ, certainly not experiencing eternal rest and peace. And yet these totalitarian regimes must balance the stability of their nations on the appearance of their dead leaders’ vitality beyond the grave.

The silly naiveté of western media’s infatuation with the antics of a despotic North Korea during the Olympics and the lengths to which North Korea goes to prop up the cult of personality around Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un reeks of fake news. Sweeney’s book gives anecdote after anecdote of North Koreans who have only lived their lives under the influence of this kind of fake news. They have honestly never known the truth.

We would also have to be naïve to believe that we are never the victims of fake news. Much of the media we consume is carefully and subconsciously curated to reinforce our preconceived biases. Fake news is not relegated to the northern half of the Korean peninsula. We live in a world of fake news. But there is Good News. There is Good News that upsets and overturns the hopelessness of the fake news in our world. There is a radically disturbing and life-changing Good News in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of a kingdom built upon the chemically preserved remains of a despotic leader, Jesus Christ offers a kingdom built upon the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. Instead of creating armies of Stepford Wives to robotically and mindlessly cheer on a regime, Jesus Christ offered to bring a fullness of life (John 10:10). Instead of a kingdom ruled by a man who would crush his people in order to maintain his grip on authority, Jesus Christ emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7), and was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5) in order to set us free (John 8:36). When the media offers us a hope built upon falsehood, we need to continue to turn to the sure hope of the Good News.

[1] John Sweeney, North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State, 2016.

Full of Grace and Truth

The Bible opens with these words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). It has been said that the rest of the Bible is just the outworking of this verse. I believe there is a great deal of truth to that sentiment. The Bible begins with God and the description of how God entered into a covenant relationship with his people. With these opening words, we are immediately confronted with both the origin of everything that was created and the gracious manner in which it was created. There is a God who desires, simply because of his good kindness, to make himself known to the people he created. The Bible builds up to the grand conclusion of this creation with a new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. This is a vision of creation where God is truly known by all his people and his glory shines in the place of the sun and the moon. Death, disease, and decay are no more. Sin no longer hinders and clouds the vision of God’s children in seeing their Father.

“Between these two moments,” Herman Bavinck argues, “lies the revelation of God in all its length and breadth.”[1] The thrust of this revelation is the divine covenantal promise, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” And the crowning apex of this revelation is the revealing of God’s own Son, Immanuel, God-with-us. God brought everything into being by the power of his word. The culmination in the new Jerusalem is the fulfillment of every promise of his word. So it makes sense that the highpoint of God’s revelation would be the Word made flesh. Bavinck then makes this incredibly important point about the Son of God, “That is why Christ, in whom the Word became flesh, is said to be full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”[2]

What is meant by this idea that Jesus is full of grace and truth? In John 17:17 Jesus prays that God the Father would “sanctify them in the truth.” Then Jesus immediately defines his terms, “your word is truth.” Jesus’ definition fits with our understanding of God’s creative work. We know what is true in the natural world by understanding that God created a world of order out of chaos. We can use the scientific method to test and given the same set of criteria, because our world is not governed by chaos, we can expect an experiment to produce the same results again and again. We can discover the truth. We must note, however, that we don’t create the truth. We discover the truth which God has created. God spoke the word of creation and the truth of what has happened. Jesus, as the very Word of God, is the manifestation of truth. He speaks what the Father calls him to speak (John 12:48-49). When Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he would have done well to realize that Truth was standing before him.

There is more to Jesus than just being full of truth. Because of our sin, if Jesus was just truth, the reality of Immanuel, God-with-us, would only bring condemnation. Our knowledge of God and his creation would only bring about a truthful awareness of the just judgment deserved for our sin. But God from the beginning has been full of grace and truth. The grace of God is exhibited in his revealing himself to us. In his revealing, he shares himself with us. There was no need in God that necessitated his revealing himself. God, simply of his own good pleasure, created and revealed himself to us. From the opening words of Genesis to the close of Revelation, he declares to his people, “I am your God and you are my people.” This revelation is nowhere more clearly displayed than in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word made flesh. This is all of grace.

God has always been full of grace and truth and this has been most clearly displayed to us in Jesus Christ. The application of this is really two-fold. First, this reality of God should cause us to glorify God. He is both the source of all truth and he has graciously revealed that truth to us. The generosity of God is on full display in his grace and truth. “God gives himself to his people in order that his people would give themselves to him.”[3]

Second, we should seek to express this same balance of grace and truth in our lives. Often we gravitate toward one or the other. Perhaps words of truth come easily to us. We are able to see right and wrong, and then we point it out. But truth without grace brings only condemnation and judgment. Or we might gravitate more towards grace. Overlooking an offense and extending mercy are much easier than confronting someone in their sin. Grace without truth leads ultimately to a soft condemnation. As God has always been full of grace and truth in his relationship with us, most prominently in Christ, we too must see our relationships marked by grace and truth.

 

[1] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977), 24.

[2] Bavinck, 24.

[3] Bavinck, 24.

Some Questions about Evening Worship

Some Questions about Evening Worship

The Session is moving forward with a plan to begin Evening Worship Services at CPC. We are looking at starting on the first Sunday of March. In this brief article, I’d like to address some questions I’ve heard and answer some objections you might have.

What? We’re having an Evening Worship Service?

Yep.

Why haven’t I heard about this?

Well, we’ve mentioned it up front several times and the Reflections articles in the bulletins have been explaining the biblical, historical, and practical reasons for an Evening Worship Service for the past 6 weeks. I encourage you to read those Reflections. Pastor Chris and I put in a good deal of effort to use that space as an additional and important way to teach and instruct you in the faith. Humbly, I believe some of them are quite good. But if you’ve read this far without being prompted, you probably already know that.

Is it going to be the same worship service as in the morning?

The Evening Worship Service will be a different service. There will be different hymns, prayers, and sermon. After we finish our series on the Ten Commandments in the Morning Worship Service, we will begin a series on the Book of Mark. In the Evening Worship Service we will begin preaching through the Book of Joshua.

The Evening Worship Service will be a little bit more stripped down than the Morning Service. It will be shorter. We won’t do the Lord’s Supper during the Evening Service (perhaps on occasion). Some weeks we have planned to incorporate an evening Hymnsing for worship. It is designed to be a time for us to gather to sing, pray, and hear the Word preached as we conclude our Lord’s Day.

Will there be a nursery or childcare?

That’s a great question, and we need to hear from you about this (particularly if you are a parent of little ones). We believe that the membership of the Church consists of all those who profess the true religion, and their children (WCF 25.2). Since children are members of the visible church, it is appropriate that children (all of them) are in worship.

Now, I get that sometimes Momma and Daddy need a break. That is right and good. And sometimes a nursery is necessary for some of our littlest ones. We have to find the right balance in training our children how to worship (they learn by watching and they can’t watch from a nursery) and in being gracious and caring for the needs of our parents. I would encourage you to consider having your children with you in worship. If you know you’re going to need a nursery or assistance, then please let us know. We want to work with you on this.

This is going to be so disruptive to my regular routine.

That’s not a question, but I know what you mean. I’ve gotten into a regular Sunday habit. And this will change it. But I have to ask myself this question, “Is there a better way for me to spend the end of the Lord’s Day than being with God’s People and hearing His Word preached?” I get that Sunday evening is a prep time for getting your week started. It is going to require some shuffling of your weekend. But this is good for you. It will pay of dividends for eternity. You know you need to exercise. You know you need to eat your veggies. You know this is good.

I like to use Sunday as a time for fellowship. Will this interfere with that?

Maybe. If your commute to church is long, this might curtail some of the hospitality you like to do on Sunday. But I think it also offers some great opportunities for fellowship in the church. I think of the conversations and connection that happened even after Pastor Chris’ ordination service. I saw the crowd and thought, “This is what Sunday Evening Worship will look like.” It got me excited. I hope we’re able to work in some potluck or chili dinners after worship. In the coming years, I believe we’ll see a growing need for a youth group that could meet before worship. I think Evening Worship opens up more avenues for fellowship.

I hear ya, but I gotta be honest, I’m still not sold on it.

I’m sympathetic to that. This is new. It is different. It is going to require something from all of us. But I challenge you to give it a try. Give it a couple of months. Once you get it into the rhythm of your weekly routine, I think you’ll realize that it just fits. It makes sense from so many different angles.

That’s all well and good, but I am not going to do it.

As we’ve mentioned in our previous articles, there is no explicit biblical command for Evening Worship. We believe it is implied throughout the Scriptures. We believe that wisdom would lead us toward this decision. But coming to Evening Worship is going to be on you. We will hold you accountable to your membership vows if you neglect coming to worship at all. But we will not formally discipline anyone for neglecting Evening Worship. We will encourage and try to persuade you to do so, but ultimately, the Session views this as a wisdom issue, not a “right or wrong” issue. We think you should attend. We do not require it as part of your membership vows. We hope you will want to attend.

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.

Reflections on Evening Worship – Keeping the Whole Day

As Pastor Donny has mentioned, the Session is considering the addition of an evening service of worship to complement our morning service. In order to facilitate conversation about an evening service, this reflection—and the next five—will lay out a multi-faceted case for why an evening service is a God-honoring and edifying addition to the life of this church. With that in mind, the first installment in this series will consider how framing the Lord’s Day with morning and evening worship is a fitting way to honor the fourth commandment’s command to keep the whole Sabbath day.

Before looking at the fourth commandment, it is important to note that Scripture does not mandate the New Testament church to worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day. We are not being disobedient to the Word of God if we do not come together both morning and evening. But, the same can be said about worshiping together on Christmas Eve. There is no command to come together to worship on Christmas Eve, and those who do not do so are not disobeying God’s will. We do worship on Christmas Eve, however, because we find that it is God-honoring and edifying. It is God-honoring because it sets apart and recognizes the incarnation as an important event in the history of redemption. It is edifying because 1) we are worshiping God, 2) we are communing with brothers and sisters in Christ, and 3) we benefit spiritually from recognizing important events in the history of redemption. We should view evening worship in a similar way. It is not required, but when we do it, it honors God and edifies the saints.

One way that evening worship honors God and benefits us is that it provides structure to each Lord’s Day so that we are better able to keep the whole day holy to God. Let’s consider what God says in the fourth commandment, and then how evening worship fits in.

The four verses that comprise the fourth commandment shout out loud that God’s people are to keep the whole Sabbath day holy to God. Specifically, we see a few things related to the word “day.” First, it is frequent. Seven times the word “day” or a reference to it pops up in these verses. Second, it is central to the point. At the beginning of the commandment, “day” modifies the word “Sabbath” to highlight that we are to remember not just a Sabbath but a Sabbath day. Moreover, God blesses the whole Sabbath day because he rested on the seventh day of creation. Throughout this commandment, we see that the unit of measure is a day. We are to keep time not in hours nor in any other measure, but in (whole) days.

We also see in this commandment that the pattern of keeping one whole day out of seven as a Sabbath to God is founded on the creation week. Exodus 20:11 makes explicit reference to Gen 2:2-3 which summarizes what has happened in Gen 1:1-2:1. In Gen 1:1-2:1, there is a description of six consecutive days of creation and one day of rest. There is no eighth day and there is no repetition of the first day of creation. This suggests that God’s creation week was the model for how Adam and Eve were then to keep time going forward—and therefore how we are to keep time as well. Six days we are to work; one day we rest; rinse and repeat.

What we learn from this model is that one whole day is dedicated to rest. God did not create over the course of seven days with periods of rest here and there. He worked six whole days and rested one whole day. Thus, we are not conforming to God’s pattern when we try to intersperse some rest time here and there with the hope of it all adding up to one seventh of our week. Ordinarily, we are to keep the whole Sabbath day and to work the rest of the week.

The fourth commandment gives us good reason to think through how we can honor God in the way that we keep the whole Sabbath day holy to him. What evening worship offers to us is a structural support. It is like book ends that support books sitting on a desk. Without both book ends, the books are far less likely to stay where you put them. When you use both book ends, whatever is placed in between is more structurally secure than it would be without them. An evening service of worship is that second book end to help us organize and keep structurally sound all the other activities of rest and worship that we will do on the Lord’s Day. Is it possible to keep the whole day holy without an evening service? It certainly is, just as it is possible that a row of books on a desk will remain standing even if it does not have book ends. But consider what happens when you bump the desk. There is nothing to keep the books steady, just as there is nothing to help us to keep the whole day when our lives get complicated. When we frame the Lord’s Day with worship, we have a helpful support in our endeavors to honor God’s command that we keep the whole day holy to him.

Ordinary Means – Listening to the Word

The Good News of Jesus Christ is outwardly communicated to us through God’s Word. God has ordained that we will come to knowledge and understanding of the redemption that has been won by Christ through the reading and preaching of God’s Word (WLC 155). Through the reading and preaching of God’s Word, Christ is revealed to the elect. The Holy Spirit makes this communication effective. But, humanly speaking, if the preaching of the Word is to be effective, it must be heard.

The Christian is obliged to hear and to listen to the Word preached. We must put ourselves in close enough proximity to the voice of the preacher (either immediately or mediately through recordings) so that his sound is received into our ears and translated by our brains into intelligible noises. This is hearing. But hearing must be accompanied with listening. Any parent can probably explain the difference between simply hearing and listening. A child might hear his parent’s instruction, but if it does not actually register in his brain, then he has not listened. One can have background music playing in the office and hear it, but not really listen to it. The Word preached must be heard, meaning we need to be present enough to receive the sound, but it also must be listened to.

Every preacher has looked out into the congregation and seen blank stares or eyes closed in slumber. Perhaps the sermon is heard, but it is patently obvious (in spite of the person’s protestations) that he is not listening. What is required in not merely hearing but listening to the sermon? The Larger Catechism 160 says we must listen with “diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what [is heard] by the scriptures.” In order to listen to the preached Word, we need to listen with diligence and preparation. Preparation likely begins the night before by getting enough rest so that one is not drowsy. The work week can be burdensome. For many people sitting down for 30 minutes during the sermon is the only time they slow down during their whole week. With that exhaustion, they are nodding off after a few minutes. We must prepare to receive God’s Word by being physically ready to sit and actively listen to the Word.

We also need to listen with diligence and preparation by learning how to listen. T David Gordon notes that most people in Western society today are aliterate.[1] It isn’t that they can’t read, but rather that they don’t read. And when they do read, it is in a shallow and vapid manner. I recently read the 1904 newspaper clipping from my great-great grandfather’s mysterious death from the Eagle Valley Times. It was written by a nameless journalist in a nothing town in the Colorado frontier at the turn of the 20th century. And it is more eloquent than nearly anything written by journalists today. It isn’t because people can’t write like that, it is because people won’t read like that. Ours is a highly visual age. We are a people who want to consume images instead of words. This is combined with the Google-age where nearly limitless information is available with a few taps of the thumb. When we do read, we tend to read for information and not to understand. If we read poetry, we read looking for some line we like instead of seeking to understand the thoughts of the poet. All meaning and interpretation becomes centered around the consumer. The meaning of the word is whatever it means to me. And the result is that when a word is given, our literary abilities are too scrawny to meet the task. This affects how we listen to preaching. We need to prepare to listen to the preached Word by laboring to understand what God is saying to us through the Word.

One aspect that will help us to do this is if we receive the preached Word as the Word of God. The Larger Catechism instructs us to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God.” The 2nd Helvetic Confession 1.4 is even clearer when it confesses that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” The preacher is not regarded as God, but even though he is a sinner the word faithfully preached is good and true. If we see the preached Word with this kind of gravitas, then we will do the work necessary to listen and understand. If we value rightly the preached Word then we will also labor to meditate upon it. We will turn it over in our minds and contemplate its meaning. We will examine it thoroughly and weigh it against the whole of Scripture that we might better understand God and what he requires of us. And then we will do it. We will bear fruit in our lives. God’s Word “shall not return void” (Is 55:11, KJV).

[1] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers, unknown edition (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2009), 37.

Ordinary Means – Preaching the Word

Sailing during the Age of Exploration was a dangerous occupation. There were innumerable hazards from the sea. And there were other hazards simply due to the nature of life away from land. Once longer sailing trips across the Indian and Pacific Oceans became part of the routes of explorations, diseases like scurvy began to enter into the picture. Scurvy was a nasty and deadly disease for sailors. Sir Richard Hawkins, the 17th century English seaman and explorer, described it as “the plague of the Sea, and the Spoyle [spoil] of Mariners.”

Scurvy was essentially a deficiency of vitamins C and B. This deficiency caused a breakdown of tissues on a cellular level. Its effects were horrific. The skin would turn black. Ulcers would appear all over the body. Teeth would fall out. There would be a hyper-sensitivity to smell, sound, and light. But the literature of the day most widely discussed the disfigurement of the sailor’s gums and his revolting breath as a result. It was a brutal disease that would wipe-out whole crews. Commodore George Anson led a squadron of six ships into the Pacific in 1740. Of his 2000 sailors over 1300 died, mostly due to scurvy.

It was discovered that citrus would cure scurvy. A healthy dose of vitamin C would be added to the sailor’s daily ration of grog (a water/rum drink common on ships) in the form of lime juice. Before “limey” was slang for a British person, it was a derogatory word for a British sailor who drank this lime juice to prevent scurvy. In short, the disease of scurvy was cured when the deficiency was supplied.

The evangelical church today is suffering from a form of spiritual scurvy. There is a deficiency in our spiritual diets that leads to all sorts of spiritual ailments. That deficiency is a lack of the Word of God in our lives. God has ordained that the ordinary manner to supply this necessity to our spiritual diet is through the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The preaching of God’s Word is a crucial and essential component of our spiritual lives. Without it we will suffer a spiritual scurvy.

The Westminster Larger Catechism instructs that the Word of God is to be preached by qualified and called men. Those who preach should be “sufficiently gifted,” meaning they are spiritually mature as demonstrated through his life (1 Tim 3:1-7). He should also be intellectually gifted and trained. He must be able to handle the Scriptures appropriately. He must be able to apply the Scriptures to everyday life. He must be able to communicate clearly. And he must be “called to that office.” An elder/pastor/preacher is a not a vocation, per se. It is not a profession as much as it is an office. The preacher is to be appropriately called by the church to fulfill that office. One does not simply decide that he will become a minister. He must be called by God and that calling must be confirmed by that church. Even Jesus did not make himself a High Priest, but he was appointed by God (Heb 5:4-5).

The preaching of God’s Word is to be done by a man properly qualified and called. And that man is to preach God’s Word with sound doctrine. He is to preach diligently and plainly. Sound doctrine is essential for Christians to come to true knowledge of who God is and what duty God requires of man. Pure food and pure water are needed for health. Pure doctrine is needed for the vitality of our souls. The preaching of God’s Word must, therefore, accurately explain the truths of Scripture.

The preacher must also preach diligently and plainly. He must preach “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). He must present the truth of Scripture in a way that is understandable. He must not skip the difficult portions or ignore unpopular passages. He is not to rely on eloquent rhetoric, but instead he is to trust the power of God’s Spirit. Augustine was one of the most eloquent and skilled rhetoricians, and yet he was captivated by the power of Ambrose’s preaching, a power that didn’t consist in rhetoric, but the Spirit. This is contrasted with how today’s evangelical is enamored with a charismatic or winsome communicator who delivered a polished and engaging speech but does not preach the power of God’s Word.

When the Word of God is not preached faithfully by qualified and called men, the people are afflicted with a severe deficit. The body that goes without the preaching of God’s Word suffers from a spiritual scurvy. If left untreated, it will lead to death. But God has provided for the proclamation of the Good News so that His People would hear His Truth for their conversion, edification, and salvation. And all of this is done toward this chief end, the glory of God.