Why do we have a Sunday Evening Service?
The practice of holding a Sunday evening service has completely disappeared in many churches. Those who do keep an evening service have found that attendance is usually in decline. In light of this, we need to consider whether the practice of holding both a morning and an evening service is simply a tradition or something to be carefully guarded.
Those who question the necessity of attendance at an evening service often argue that believers in other parts of the world only gather once on the Lord’s Day. I have had the privilege of worshipping with such believers in Africa, South America and Asia. One soon realises that the absence of an evening service is out of necessity and not a choice. Often the believers can only gather once due to distance or dangers of night travel. In such circumstances, services usually are considerably longer than is our practice. Also, many hold an all-age Sunday School and Bible Class in addition to the worship service.
Some who seek to excuse their absence from the Lord’s Day evening service argue that there is no explicit command in Scripture to hold two services. However, they ignore the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, …which are to be ordered by… Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word.” A Scriptural and prudent consideration of the matter leaves no doubt that, as age, health and necessary circumstances permit, believers should endeavour to attend evening and morning services.
It is our duty
It is the pattern outlined in Scripture. We find the ‘morning and evening’ pattern of worship illustrated by the fact that God commanded there be a morning and an evening sacrifice (Exodus 29). Psalm 92 is the only one with the superscription, a Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. It refers in verse 2 to praising God in the morning and in the evening. It is suggestive that the Gospels record resurrection appearances of Christ to His disciples in the morning and the evening of the first day of the week (John 20:1,19). In the early chapters of Acts, the disciples attended morning and evening worship in the temple. Later, there are references to believers gathering on the Lord’s Day evening.
Two services also match the precept of the Fourth Commandment. Contrary to what has become popular in evangelical culture, it is still the Lord’s Day, not the Lord’s morning, which we are to keep holy.
Two services have always been the historic and reformed practice. In the fourth century, the church historian Eusebius wrote: ‘throughout the whole world in the churches of God at the morning rising of the sun and at evening hours, hymns, praises… are offered to God’.
At the time of the Reformation, the custom of morning and evening worship was continued in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.
So important was this second service to the life of Reformed churches, that the matter was discussed at great length by Reformed theologians at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). They decided that the second service was something to be guarded and cherished so that the Reformed faith might continue to flourish. Perturbed at reports that some churches were neglecting the evening service they instructed that, under pain of censure, all ministers must hold an evening public service, even if the only attendees were the minister’s family!
It is a delight
The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit (Mark 2:27). By attendance at the worship service, we receive a blessing. God manifests His presence when His people gather to worship Him on His Day. If God was in His holy temple in Old Testament times, He is undoubtedly in His holy temple today. His spiritual temple is His people, the house of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15). We not only gather to sit with His people under the preaching and teaching of the Word but to meet with the Lord Himself. We should be overcome with gratitude, joy and anticipation to realise our great God is already waiting for us to meet with Him. As we do, He will speak to us through His word and remind us of His faithfulness. He will encourage and strengthen our hearts and reveal more of His glory. Therefore, we should not view the evening service grudgingly but in delightful anticipation. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
It is a demonstration
By our attendance, we demonstrate to the Lord that we love and reverence Him and therefore we honour His day and His house, the church.
It demonstrates our love and loyalty to our fellow believers. Hebrews 10 warns us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Those who through circumstances are unable to attend services can now enjoy, through modern electronic means, the preaching of the Word from the comfort of their own home. The one disadvantage that this has brought is that it can also provide an excuse for not going to the evening service. Staying at home and listening to a sermon is very ‘me’-centred; Sunday is not just about you being encouraged but about you encouraging others. Sunday evening services give you a second opportunity to do that. Even your very presence is an encouragement.
It is a demonstration to the unsaved that we love the Lord. Our attendance on Sunday evening makes a statement to this secular age. The impact of such a testimony on families, colleagues and society at large cannot be overstated. The Lord’s Day is partly designed by God for this very purpose, that the reality of our faith may be evident to the world.
It is a demonstration to the minister. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones spoke of the great encouragement and blessing it was to go into his pulpit on a winter evening and see elderly widows who had made a sacrifice to be in attendance. Therefore, while we have no specific command in Scripture that we must be in attendance at a morning and evening service, to miss the second service through apathy is grieving to the Lord. It is to your detriment, the detriment of your congregation, and the detriment of our nation.
It has often been said that we do not realise the real value of things until they are taken from us. That has been true during the Covid-19 pandemic. The necessary restrictions upon our public gatherings for worship ought to make us more determined, that when as a congregation, we are able to gather again, we will seek to be in attendance.
Rev R Johnstone
(Retired Minister of Newtownards Free Presbyterian Church.)