Why Two Sunday Services?
By John Benton
‘Why do you go to church twice on a Sunday? Isn’t once enough?’ In many churches the Sunday evening service is disappearing.
There are two main reasons for this. First, demands from employers have increased enormously over the last thirty years. Weekends have become precious. Two Sunday services are seen as taking up too much of the weekend. Second, back in 1994, the Tory government legalised Sunday trading. This secularised the day, giving people many more options with regard to how we spend it. Simultaneously it put extra pressure on many to work on Sundays.
Scripture tells us to ‘not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:25). While many Christians are faithful to meet once for worship on the Lord’s Day, they leave it at that. There are those who through age, ill health or other circumstances really can’t make it out twice on a Sunday. So is there any sense in the tradition of two services? I believe there is.
1.) Because two services are helpful practically
For example, I know of a Christian couple, a nurse and a policeman, who often have to work shifts over the weekend. They started going to a new church which met in a school and just had a morning service. But their shifts clashed with the morning service. Suddenly it hit them that they had not been able to attend a Sunday service for weeks. They concluded they would have to leave and find a church which met both morning and evening to give them an option.
Two services are helpful evangelistically also. Many non-Christians have to work on Sundays. I had a conversation like this recently. ‘Come to church,’ I said. ‘Well, I have to work through the night on Saturdays, so it’s a bit difficult for Sunday morning.’ ‘How about Sunday night?’ ‘Well, yes, I suppose I could come on Sunday night.’ So, two services makes sense practically.
2.) Because two services are a pattern in Scripture
While there is no explicit command in the New Testament, this is evident in the Old Testament. We find this ‘morning and evening’ pattern explicitly in Psalm 92: ‘It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.’ As Christians, we meet on Sundays as the day of Christ’s resurrection. It is suggestive that the gospels record resurrection appearances in the morning and the evening (John 20:1,19)
3.) Because two services match the fourth commandment
The commandment tells us to ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’. With the change from the Old Covenant to the New, the Sabbath is changed into the blessing of the Lord’s Day. According to Genesis 1, a day has both a morning and an evening. And despite what has become popular in our evangelical culture, it is still the Lord’s Day, not the Lord’s Morning, which we are to celebrate.
4.) Because two services are the tradition of the church
As we look back over history, we find that morning and evening worship on Sunday was the norm. In the early fourth century (by the time persecution had receded and the church had a chance to settle), we find the church historian Eusebius describing church practice as follows: ‘It is surely no small sign of God’s power that 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’ (Commentary on Psalm 64).
During the middle ages, morning worship became known as ‘matins’ and evening worship as ‘vespers’. At the time of the Reformation the custom of morning and evening worship was continued in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer with its rubrics for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. So churches that have dropped the evening service have sharply departed from the normal practice of Christ’s church. Now I’m not mad on tradition, but the question is this: ‘Are we wiser and better Christians than all those who have gone before us or is it because actually we are succumbing to the secular spirit of our age which marginalises God? Have we fallen into just doing the minimum?
And bear in mind that as we think about the pressures of modern life, it is only in the last hundred years or so that Saturday has become generally a non-working day. We actually have more leisure time and time for our families than many of our forebears.
5.) Because two enthusiastic services rebuke secularism
The meetings of Christians, especially on the Lord’s Day, point forward to the coming Day of the LORD (Hebrews 10:25). The special day, one in seven, always did point forward to God’s kingdom. That is why the Lord Jesus did so many of his miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t do it simply to upset the Pharisees. He performed those miracles on the Sabbath because it was appropriate. Those miracles were redolent of the power and joy of the coming kingdom. With the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week, Sunday speaks of the same thing. It looks forward to the rest and release and joy and fellowship of the world to come, when Jesus returns.
Now secularism sees everything just in terms of this life. But by coming to church on Sunday we are making a statement. We are saying ‘No’ to the view that this life is all. We are saying we are looking forward to Christ’s coming kingdom. And, by having two services on a Sunday, we are saying, ‘This is not a mere duty, we are enthusiastic about this!’
6.) Because two services offer you two opportunities to be encouraged
Hebrews 10:25 says that the purpose of meeting together is to build one another up. We are encouraged as we meet God’s people, pray for one another, share our lives. In particular, our faith is helped under the preaching of the Word. ‘Oh, I can listen to a sermon tape, or do a Bible study at home.’ That is true. But, as Christopher Ash pointed out so ably at this year’s EMA, that is not the same as being together under the Word of God all knowing what we have all heard and therefore looking to help one another obey. How can members of Christ’s body say by their actions, ‘I have no need of you’?
And in a society where we have so many ungodly ideas fired at us from the media to lead us astray, we need a double dose of God’s Word to feed our souls and keep us straight. Christians go back into the world, marriages fail and, not always but often, neglecting the evening service you are hardly setting them an example of enthusiasm for the things of Christ. Then you wonder why they are not interested.
But, of course, there is the flip side to encouragement.
7.) Because two services offer you two opportunities to encourage others
Staying at home and listening to a sermon tape is very ‘me’-centred. Sunday is not just about you being encouraged, but about encouraging others. So Sunday nights give you a second opportunity to do that. Perhaps in the morning you have the children with you. It is not very easy for you to talk to others and keep an eye on them. But if husband and wife take it in turns to put the children to bed so the other can come out in the evening, now you have the chance to be free to talk and pray with others and actually encourage them.
And even your very presence is an encouragement. When Sunday school teachers, or those who can only get out in the evening, come to an evening where the congregation is sparse and the singing a bit weak, they won’t be as encouraged as they could be by a big congregation and seeing all their friends.
So, can you see that although there is no explicit command in Scripture that churches must have a morning and an evening service, and it is not a sin to only have one service, nevertheless it makes a lot of practical sense. And this is quite serious. Our needy nation is not going to be turned around and saved by seeing a lot of empty churches on Sunday nights. People are going to be challenged by seeing full churches, and hearing enthusiastic singing and thinking, ‘What’s going on there?’