Recovering the Lost Treasure of Evening Worship

Jon D. Payne
Tuesday, May 1st 2012
May/Jun 2012

I once heard of an elderly Christian woman who had difficulty walking due to chronic arthritis. Despite her condition, she faithfully attended morning and evening worship every Lord's Day. When asked how she always managed to come to both services, she responded with, "My heart gets there first, and my legs just follow after."

Unfortunately these days the heart attitude of this dear elderly woman is almost as rare as the evening service itself. Indeed, over the past twenty years the evening service in a variety of Christian traditions has either been turned into a kind of informal fellowship (attended by a mere 10’15 percent of the congregation), or it has been done away with altogether. Even within the Reformed ranks’where evening worship has been historically viewed as a nonnegotiable part of Lord's Day observance and congregational nurture’the evening service is increasingly jettisoned. But why? Perhaps we are more mature than our Reformed forebears and have less need of the ministry of the Word, sacraments, and prayer? I don't think so. A better answer may be that, in general, the church has become more immature, more distracted, and more consumed with earthly comforts, entertainment, and leisure. In short, our values have changed.

I did not grow up attending Lord's Day evening worship, and the churches I attended did not offer it. I can clearly remember my family's Sunday routine: we attended the morning service and then spent the rest of the day on the soccer field, watching television, or doing menial tasks around the house. For all practical purposes, the Lord's Day was the Lord's hour or at best the Lord's morning. Like many evangelicals today, I don't think my family was ever taught or encouraged to do things differently. After almost twenty years in the Reformed faith, however, I now believe evening worship is a vital part of Christian nurture, growth, and discipleship. My hope is to convince you of the same. The following are five reasons why Christians ought to joyfully attend morning and evening worship on the Lord's Day.

1. The Evening Service Bookends the Lord's Day with Worship

The Sabbath Day was instituted by God at Creation (Gen. 2:3), republished by God in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:8), and reaffirmed by Christ’the Lord of the Sabbath’in the Gospels (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28). Along with work and marriage, the Sabbath Day is a part of the very order of Creation. Though it is true that the ceremonial and civil dimensions of the Sabbath are abrogated in Christ, the moral aspect remains in force. Thus God's children are still obligated to sanctify the New Covenant Sabbath, or Lord's Day, and keep it holy.

The Lord's Day is meant to be a spiritual blessing to the church, not a burden. If it is a burden, we must ask ourselves why. Why is it so onerous to bookend the Lord's Day with evening worship? The Sabbath was designed to be an entire day of delighting in the Triune God and celebrating his works of creation and redemption. Faithful attendance to both morning and evening worship bookends this special day with God-centered worship and helps us not to turn the rest of the Lord's Day into something God never intended. Evening worship guards the Lord's Day from becoming just like any other day of the week.

2. The Evening Service Follows a Biblical Pattern of Worship

The title given to Psalm 92 is "A Song for the Sabbath." The psalmist begins by exclaiming, "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" (Ps. 92:1’2). This emphasis upon morning and evening worship is also underscored by the old covenant administration of the morning and evening sacrifices (Num. 28:1’10). The Sabbath Day is to be a "holy convocation" or sacred gathering of God's people for the purpose of corporate worship (Lev. 23:3). Though the New Testament does not explicitly command morning and evening worship on the Lord's Day, we do see proof that God's people gathered in the evening for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

3. The Evening Service Is a Part of the Reformed Heritage

Until recent decades, the second service was an essential part of Lord's Day observance for Reformed believers. In his book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark reminds us that the "classical Reformed practice was to hold two worship services on the Lord's Day. In recent years, however, the second service or vespers has fallen on hard times. It is becoming more difficult to find a second service. Judging by anecdotal evidence, a significant number of Reformed congregations have eliminated the second service" (293).

The second service was established in the early stages (1520s) of the Protestant Reformation. It was put in place so that congregations would get more of the Word of God. In the more faithful expressions of the historic Reformed faith, the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments are highly esteemed. Having not one but two (and sometimes three) public services on the Lord's Day reinforces belief in the power, efficacy, and sufficiency of the ordinary means of grace to save, sanctify, and comfort God's elect. On the sacred day that God set apart for sacred worship and the building up of his church, why wouldn't we want more’rather than less’preaching, singing of the psalms and hymns, prayer, participation in the sacraments, and corporate worship and fellowship? Perhaps the tendency to marginalize (or cancel) the evening service in Reformed circles today discloses something about our loose ties to the Reformed tradition. It may also reveal something about our spiritual condition.

4. The Evening Service Is a Divine and Providential Call to Worship

My favorite three words after Sunday morning worship are, "See you tonight." Compared to the morning service, the evening service (if scheduled) is often poorly attended. Indeed, in most churches it is common for less than 25 percent of the congregation to return for evening worship. This forsaking of the evening assembly, however, can be remedied with a proper understanding of the call of God and of providence.

In the liturgical call to worship, through his ordained servant and by his living Word, God calls his covenant people to assemble for public worship. In some cases, the call to worship occurs in both morning and evening. The Westminster Confession exhorts believers never to "carelessly or willfully" neglect public worship "when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto" (Westminster Confession of Faith XXI, vi; cf. Heb. 10:25). Notice the two calls that are mentioned: the call of God by his Word, and the call of providence by the elders. Because the elders have, in God's providence, set the times for public worship, and because at those designated times God himself calls the congregation to worship, Christians therefore ought to make every effort to faithfully attend both services. In short, unless one is hindered by proximity or poor health, to forsake Lord's Day public worship is, in a way, choosing to turn a deaf ear to God's call to worship and the spiritual leadership of the elders (Heb. 13:17). Attendance to both morning and evening worship not only demonstrates a hunger for God's ordained means of grace, it also shows a willingness to take one's membership vows seriously.

5. The Evening Service: A Double Portion

Question: How does God, in the most concentrated and efficacious manner, communicate Christ and his saving benefits to the elect? Answer: Through the faithful proclamation of his Word and the right use of the sacraments (John 6:54; Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Pet. 3:21). Once again, our Reformed confession affirms this:

What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation? The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 154)

By attending morning and evening worship on the Lord's Day our families get a double portion of the means of grace. Indeed, when we put ourselves in the way of God's ordained means of grace, in both morning and evening worship, we will on an annual basis worship God and receive His precious promises one hundred and four times rather than fifty-two. We will hear an additional fifty-two carefully prepared expository sermons, receive the Lord's Supper twice as much (if served weekly, alternating services each Lord's Day), sing hundreds more psalms and hymns, and pray myriad more prayers. Again, isn't this why the Reformed tradition’with its high view of God and the means of grace’historically made Lord's Day evening worship a nonnegotiable?

Dearest Christian believer, we have only lightly touched upon an important topic. Even so, perhaps these five reasons for attending Lord's Day evening worship will cause you to reevaluate your current practice’maybe it's time to consider instituting an evening service in your congregation. Perhaps, by God's grace, when we are old and arthritic, we will be able to say along with that dear old woman, "My heart gets there first, and my legs just follow after."

Tuesday, May 1st 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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