Is there biblical warrant for Sunday evening worship?
When people ask, “Should we have two services on the Lord’s Day?” my inclination is to say that I think we as the people of God ought to rise up in righteous revolt against the parsimony of our preachers and ask, “Why can’t we have three?” The day belongs to the Lord. We rest on that day, we worship on that day, and surely it’s a good thing to have morning and evening worship. Presumably, it would be an even better thing to have an afternoon service as well.
I’m being a little bit facetious. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh may be weak. And I don’t think there is a verse—not even Psalm 92 that talks about morning and evening sacrifice on the Sabbath—I don’t think that’s actually a proof text for evening worship.
I do think it’s a prudential matter, and I think if we are committed to Sunday as a Christian Sabbath—which I think we ought to be as a day belonging to the Lord for distinct resting in Him and worshiping Him—then we have to ask, “How should that day be used?” And it ought to be used in rest, Christian fellowship, and service, but also in worship.
If it is to be used in worship, then we have to ask ourselves, “How much worship is good for us?” And, speaking as a historian, one of the things that strikes me is that I think you can draw a pretty close corollary between the decline of Sunday evening worship in Christian churches in America and a decline in Bible knowledge, a decline in disciplined Christian living, a decline in Sabbath observance, and a decline of general cultural influence.
I don’t see how any good thing has come out of abandoning Sunday evening worship. What are you all doing with your Sunday evenings? Are you all sitting at home and watching Ligonier DVDs? As long as you don’t buy them on Sunday that might be legitimate. But I mean that as a very serious question. If Sunday is the day for the Lord, what are we doing with our Sundays? And how are we using our Sundays to draw closer to the Lord?
I have met in my lifetime one or two people who did not go to church Sunday night who were home studying the Bible and catechizing their children, and I don’t know that I necessarily want to criticize those people. But most people who are not going to church Sunday night are not going to church and not doing really spiritual things with that time.
I want to blame particularly—not exclusively, but I want to blame particularly the ministers who too often find life easier if they write one sermon a week instead of two. They are giving in to pressure very often from people. And I think any of us would know if you went to a teacher of algebra in high school and said, “We want you to produce students knowing just as much algebra as they always learned, but we’re giving you half as much time to teach them,” that you would end up with a lot of trouble. But that is what we’re doing in our churches for, as far as I can see, no good reason at all.
Church history isn’t useful for much other than illustrations, but it’s very interesting that the great Synod of Dort, which was an international gathering of Calvinist theologians and ministers in the early seventeenth century, was asked the question, “What should we do if nobody wants to attend the second service?” (So at least we can be comforted it’s not a new problem.) And the answer of the Synod of Dort was that the second service must be held even if only the preacher’s family is in attendance. That advice was taken, and the Dutch Reformed in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth-century became a very Sabbath-keeping, worshipful, and Bible-knowing people because of that advice, in part, being taken.
My feeling is, no, you are not absolutely required to go to church on Sunday the second time. But what are you doing with that time? Use it for the Lord, with the Lord, and tell your preacher you want two or maybe three sermons a Sunday.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s answer given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.