Recovering the Lost Treasure of Evening Worship

Recovering the Lost Treasure of Evening Worship

I once heard of an elderly Christian woman who had much difficulty walking due to chronic arthritis. Despite her condition, she faithfully attended morning and evening worship every Lord’s Day. When asked about how she always managed to come to both services, she responded by saying, “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% of the congregation) or it has been done away with altogether. Even within our own Reformed heritage where morning and evening worship have been historically viewed as a non-negotiable part of Lord’s Day observance and congregational nurture, evening worship is increasingly being jettisoned. Why is this happening? Perhaps because we are more spiritually 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, we have become less mature, more distracted, and increasingly more consumed with earthly comforts and leisure than the glory of God and the health/expansion of Christ’s Church. In short, our values have changed.

Personally, I did not grow up attending Lord’s Day evening worship. The churches I attended did not offer it. I can clearly remember my family’s Sunday routine: We would go to the morning service and then spend 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. Like many evangelicals today, I don’t think my family was ever taught to do things differently. The practical observance of the Christian Sabbath, therefore, was a foreign concept to me when I was later introduced to the Reformed tradition, and even then it took years to experience a serious and biblical approach to evening worship.

My first real exposure to evening worship was in Edinburgh, Scotland at a church my wife and I attended for almost two years. Regrettably, and to our considerable disadvantage, we did not make evening worship a priority, going only on occasion. However, that has all changed. Now we believe evening worship to be a vital part of the Christian life. My hope is to convince you of the same. The following are six reasons why Christians ought to joyfully and eagerly 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 (Genesis 2:3), republished by God in the decalogue (Exodus 20:8), and reaffirmed by Christ - the Lord of the Sabbath - in the Gospels (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28). Along with work and marriage, the Sabbath Day is a part of the very order and fabric 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 / 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 return to 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 which God never intended. Evening worship guards the Lord’s Day from becoming just like every 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.” It 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 was also underscored by the Old Covenant administration of the morning and evening sacrifices (Numbers 28:1-10). The Sabbath Day was to be a “holy convocation” or sacred gathering of God’s people for the purpose of corporate worship (Leviticus 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, namely, Sunday (Acts 20:7).

3. The Evening Service Is Part of the Reformed Heritage

Until recent decades, the second service has been an essential part of Lord’s Day observance for conscientiously 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” (Clark, 293). He adds that the second service was established in the “early stages” of the Protestant Reformation (i.e. 1520s). It was put in place largely in order 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 Himself set apart for sacred worship and the building up of His Church, why would we not want more preaching rather than less, more singing of Psalms and hymns rather than less, more prayer rather than less, more participation in the sacraments rather then less, more corporate worship and fellowship rather than less? Perhaps our tendency to marginalize (or cancel) the evening service in Reformed circles today discloses something about our lack of understanding of our Reformed and confessional heritage. Maybe it discloses something about the longing of our hearts. Clark comments that,

“In our setting, as in times past, the second service is a countercultural act of defiance against the antinomian spirit of our age. It is also a statement about the centrality of the Word and sacrament to the Christian life. It is a testimony that Christ’s people have been redeemed in a community and to a community. It is a confession of faith that God the Spirit uses divinely ordained means to save and sanctify. As history and experience show us, it is not easy, and it is not popular, but it is Reformed, it is worth the effort, and it is the way of the Christian life” (Clark, 340).

4. The Evening Service is a Divine Call to Worship

In our congregation, as in many others, at the beginning of every worship service we have what is historically referred to as a “Call to Worship.” In this first element of the liturgy God Himself, through His ordained servant by His living Word, calls His covenant people to corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In God’s providence, the elders of our church scheduled not only one, but two worship services on the Lord’s Day. Our Confession of Faith exhorts us to never “carelessly or willfully” neglect or forsake public worship “when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF XXI, vi). This confessional statement, of course, is based upon Hebrews 10:25. Notice the two “calls” that are mentioned, namely, the call of God (by His Word) and the call of providence. Because the elder / under-shepherds of our congregation have providentially set the times for public worship on the Lord’s Day in the morning and evening, and because at those designated times God Himself calls our congregation to worship Him by His living Word, then we clearly ought to make every effort to eagerly and joyfully participate.

In short, unless we are hindered by proximity to the church or poor health, when we forsake the assembling together of God’s people for public worship we are, in a way, choosing to turn a deaf ear to God’s call to worship and to the wisdom and leadership of the elders (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, attendance to evening worship is incumbent upon those who have taken membership vows in congregations with evening worship.

5. The Evening Service is a Second Helping of the Means of Grace

How does God, in the most concentrated and efficacious manner, communicate His saving promises in Christ to His redeemed Bride, the Church? Answer: The faithful proclamation of His Word and the right administration of and participation in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 1:21; I Peter 3:21; John 6:54). Once again, our Reformed Confession affirms this foundational teaching in the Larger Catechism:

154. 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.

By attending morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day our families get a double helping of everything mentioned above. 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 104 times rather than 52. We will hear an additional 52 carefully prepared expository sermons, receive the Lord’s Supper about 25 more times, sing hundreds more Psalms and hymns, and pray hundreds more prayers with the people of God. Again, isn’t this why the Reformed tradition - with its high and majestic view of God, His Word, and public worship - has historically made Lord’s Day evening worship a non-negotiable in the life of the local congregation?

6. The Evening Service Fosters Christian Unity and Love

When we gather together before the presence of God on the Lord’s Day there are both vertical and horizontal dimensions to worship. The horizontal dimension is the one we all too often fail to recognize in our present-day individualistic approach to worship. According to Scripture, the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that we sing should be directed not only unto God but also to each other (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Our joyful participation in worship is meant to encourage the Body of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews underscores this point when he exhorts Christians to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Therefore, let us be mindful that our participation in public worship, or lack thereof, will either encourage or discourage the gathered people of God. Our committed, enthusiastic, and cheerful involvement in both morning and evening worship will cultivate great Christian unity, love, and encouragement. Being together in the special presence of God on the Lord’s Day is important. Evening worship reinforces this principle.

Dearest Christian believer, we have only touched upon an important topic, but perhaps these six reasons for attending evening worship will cause you to reevaluate your current practice. If you are a Christian leader, maybe you will be encouraged to institute an evening service in your congregation. Perhaps by God’s grace when you are old and arthritic you will be able to say along with that dear old woman “My heart gets there first, and my legs just follow after.”

- Pastor Jon