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/.