Results tagged “Lord's Day” from Reformation21 Blog

The Blessing of Sunday Evening Worship


Soon after my husband and I moved back to St. Louis from Philadelphia and rejoined Covenant Presbyterian Church, we got a call from a friend inviting us to join a new supper club that she and her husband were forming. After she described it to me, I asked when it would meet.

"On Sunday evenings," she replied.

"Do you mean you'll have it after the evening worship services?" I asked.

"Well, no, Mary know, we're not under the Law anymore; we're under grace. You don't have to attend your Sunday evening worship service."

"Oh," I said, "I know I am free to miss it--but why would I want to? These are the people that have stood with me through the hardest times of my life. It's the most wonderful way to end the Lord's Day, being with them and worshiping together. Thank you for your gracious invitation--but we would just miss too much if we intentionally missed evening church once a month."

It was clear that my answer surprised my friend, but it impressed her, too. It piqued her interest to the point that she and her family visited our church for a while, just to see what caused me to love it and its people so much. (They continued to hunt for a church home and ended up in the church where she grew up--perhaps that's where she found her people as well.)

My answer also caused me to reflect on why attending Sunday evening worship is the habit of our lives. Even before we met, both my husband and I had the habit of regular Sunday evening worship attendance. So, when we married, it was only natural that the habit would continue, as it has to this day, 42 years later.

One reason why both of us attended evening worship as single young people was the fact that we were both relatively new Christians and had a hunger for learning the Bible and being with other believers. Both of us really liked our pastors (before we met we belonged to different churches in different denominations) and their preaching. Both of us had made good friends at our churches that we enjoyed being with during and after the evening services. I especially loved our elderly Scottish assistant pastor who led the hymn singing with passion and a heavy brogue! For both of our congregations, the evening service was simply an important part of the life of the community. And as typical singles, we liked being out and about with other people rather than being home alone.

After we got married, we received more teaching about the Sabbath principle of observing the Lord's Day. When George Robertson was preaching through the Psalms, he showed us how Psalm 92 refers to evening worship. The introduction to the psalm says "A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day." And the first two verses say,

"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, [italics mine] to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp."

We learned that the principle of Sabbath rest goes back to creation. That is how the Lord explained it when He gave the fourth commandment to Moses in Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In the New Testament we learn that Jesus fulfills all of the Law for us, and He Himself is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8-10). We find the disciples, after His Sunday-morning resurrection, gathering on the first day of the week, "the Lord's day," or Sunday. So, as G. I Williamson explains, "it is the proportion alone--and not the order--that is fixed by the commandment."1 J. I Packer concurs: "The relation is just a new way of counting six-and-one, so that Lord's Day observance is the Christian form of Sabbath-keeping."2

Whether you call it the Sabbath or the Lord's Day, the day recurs weekly; it recognizes some sort of distinctiveness for one day in seven; it celebrates redemption in Christ and his resurrection, which is a fulfillment of the concept of rest embodied in the Sabbath; the one who is worshiped on the Lord's Day is the bringer of the truth of the Sabbath rest of salvation to which the Old Testament Sabbath pointed (John 5; Hebrews 3-4), prefiguring the future rest of the consummation; and includes the notion of worship and, finally, the concept of lordship.3

There is great freedom in how we choose to keep the day "holy" or set apart, yet we ignore observing it to our peril. God made us; He knows we need rest. And He has graciously provided the means that give us true restoration--including a day of rest set apart unto Him and for us--because we were created "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (WSC Q & A #1), which includes the here and now.

Countless lists can be found with suggestions about what should and should not be done on Sunday. A simple and helpful one comes from H. G. G. Herklots. Paraphrased, he says that the Lord's Day should be:

  • A day of worship.
  • A day of rest in the sense that Christians do not cause others to do unnecessary work for them.
  • A day of real recreation, which by its changed occupation refreshes the mind and body and spirit "after divine service."
  • A day when a Christian goes out of his way to help those who are in need.4

He sums it up this way: "For Christians, Sunday is the most important day of the week. A week without Sunday can be like a ship without a rudder. On the Lord's Day Christians come together into the presence of their Lord: it is here that the Christian family realizes its unity as at few other times. This does not happen automatically. Sunday must be remembered. But if it be also hallowed it may hallow all the week."5

On so many Sundays, such as one recently when assistant pastor Chris Smith gave a wonderful message during the evening service on Psalm 13, we drive away from the church saying, "Can you believe what we learned today?" And, "What better way could there be to end this day?" To be able to express prayer concerns and have them prayed for by the men and women of the congregation; to see a little hand go up during hymn requests and hear the child's voice say, "Number 100, please, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' verses 1 and 4;" to hear God's word faithfully and thoughtfully preached; to sing new songs as well as familiar old hymns; to spend time afterwards talking with church family members--yes, I'm free to miss all that. But why would I?

If attending Sunday evening worship is not the habit of your life, I encourage you to give it a try--especially during the summer, without having to get your children up for school the next day. Train your children and your own hearts in the blessing of setting aside the whole of Sunday to the Lord, book-ending it by morning and evening worship. I don't think you'll be disappointed, and believe you will find it to be a very good thing.

1. G. I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970), 43.

2. J. I, Packer, The Ten Commandments (Appleford, England: Marcham Manor Press, n.d.), 6.

3. A. T. Lincoln, "From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical and Theological Investigation," ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 398-400.

4. H.G.G. Herklots, The Ten Commandments and Modern Man (Fair Lawn, NJ: Essential Books, 1958), 81.

5. Ibid., 81-83.

Mary Beth McGreevy (M.M., UTSA; M. Div., Covenant Theological Seminary) has been an Adjunct Professor at Covenant Seminary for over 10 years and has taught piano in her home for over 40. She is the Interim Director of Women's Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian in St. Louis and a frequent speaker for women's retreats and conferences. She and her husband of 42 years, Bill, love to travel together.

When in Babylon...

Regard for the Lord's Day is on a steep decline, and, sadly, has been for quite some time. Disregard for the Lord's Day is evidenced by the fact that many churches have decided to cancel their worship services this Sunday in order to encourage families to spend time together on Christmas. The Babylon Bee recently ran an article titled "Church Honors Birth of Jesus by Cancelling Worship Service." The satirical (though it would be straining to call it entirely fictional) piece goes on to hilariously put words in the pastor's mouth: "I can think of nothing more worshipful on the Lord's Day than foregoing worship services in order to tear into gift after gift after gift from under our ornate tree... Also, I'll get to play with my new iPad that I just know my wife, Kate, got me. I felt the package. I'm pretty sure it's the Pro edition."

It's a brilliant piece of satire. However, many have become extremely defensive about it. I know that I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm na├»ve enough that I was shocked at the vitriol in the comments section under the Facebook post. It is clear to me that very large segments of the readership of The Babylon Bee don't have what we might call a "robust" view of the Lord's Day.

Now, I also know that massive swaths of the church (sadly even those in the Reformed camp) would like to see the Larger and Shorter Catechisms consigned to the dust bin of history. And it causes me no loss of sleep to think that someone, somewhere, is having fun on a Sunday. What does concern me is the sorts of arguments that people are offering in favor of cancelling church whenever the Lord's Day and everyone's favorite holiday should come into conflict. Here are some of the more troubling comments from the Facebook post:

  • "Love the Bee but, since the church is not a building, place or event, it is never closed. There are other ways to BEE the church this coming Sunday, Christmas Day!"
  • ""Thus saith the Lord, 'Thou shalt have a church service every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night without ceasing, and shouldest never to cancel any service for any reason under the sun'." II Opinions 3:12"
  • "Don't be so hypocritical to condemn those who realize that church isn't a building you have to go to worship but the fact that through salvation we are able to worship him in our heart."
  • "I'm not trolling and have intention of starting a flame war but only legalism dictates church has to be open...ready and willing on Sunday morning or God is not honoured."
  • "It seems that many people prefer the sacrifice of 'going to church' on Christmas, but maybe Jesus desires the compassion of letting people have the freedom to worship the day as they see fit. Go and learn what this means..."
  • "Our church building IS closed on Christmas day and we are not holding services. We can spread the Good News in other ways."
  • "Some people spend too much time in Church, and not enough time with their families. I think it's important for families to be thankful together at home. We as a church must never stop worshipping, but we can get caught up in feeling as if going to church service and true worship are the same thing."

The comments go on and on like this. One could fill pages with the arguments that have been set forth. The most serious problem is that arguments of this sort prove too much. If these arguments are correct, then the end result isn't just that Sunday worship can be displaced whenever it comes into orbit with a better holiday. The logical result is the elimination of any day of the worship of God in the gathered assembly of the people of God for local churches.

If it's really true that we can "spread the Gospel in other ways" than holding services, it is reasonable to ask why we have services in the first place. If the "doors of a church don't need to be open" in order for God to be honored, then why should they open at any time? If it's enough for us to "worship him in our heart," then why do churches even gather? If we should "have the freedom to worship the day as [we] see fit," then everyone can have their own Lord's Day - why have any services? If "it's important for families to be thankful together at home," and if it's not the case that "going to church service" is true worship, then there is literally no reason I can think of why churches as local gatherings of God's people need to exist at all.

On top of all of these problems, these sorts of arguments lead to a church that is not only scattered geographically already, but is also scattered chronologically. If you take for granted that any day is fair game, and if it's just a matter of when you want to worship, then an anarchic approach to picking which day to worship on means the church would no longer even be temporally united. While the early church gathered on the first day of the week to break bread, meet as one group (Acts 20:7; 27:35), to take up offerings as a collective, and to meet with the Apostles (Acts 20:11), many of these arguments would have the believers disband out of a sense of "compassion" (see the third comment from the bottom in the list of comments above) or out of a sense that it is sufficient to "worship him in our hearts." We have entered an era when it is actually viewed as lacking in compassion for the early church to have met every time the first day of the week rolled around.

What I can't help but think in the midst of this all is that many actually have such disdain for meeting together with believers as The Church that they view Sunday worship as "lacking compassion." And I'm left just shaking my head. Is it really that bad? Meeting together with our family which is closer than blood? With people closer than blood - with whom we share the Holy Spirit? Is it really that bad? Hearing the Savior tell his people from his Word that he loves us? Is it really a burdensome yoke that God would call us together?

While this disdain for the worship of the Lord is troubling, we need to know that there are more than just fellow evangelicals looking in on this whole situation. I conclude with one comment which beautifully illustrates the ugliness of it all for "Protestant" churches:

  • "For real, if your church is closed, the Catholic Church will welcome you in, standing room only, with lots of smiling folks making room for you. Gathered together near the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist."

Our churches need to be open, because there will be people looking to worship with God's people in spirit and truth according to His command (Exodus 20:8-11; Hebrews 10:24-25), and they will be expecting to do it on the same day that God's people in the New Testament era have always gathered (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). If we don't hold out the light, someone else will be holding out the imitation.

The Death of the Evening Service

At the church where I minister, we have a morning and an evening service, both of which are practically identical in their order and form. As far as I am aware, we are one of the few Presbyterian churches in Canada who have both services on the Lord's Day. In America, from what I am told, more and more churches are abandoning the evening service.

When I first arrived at Faith Presbyterian our attendance at the PM service was unimpressive; I even thought - wrongly, I might add - the service began at 6:30pm instead of 6:00pm the first time I showed up. Over eight years later, by God's grace, we actually ran out of wine at our last PM service when communion was served. The elders brought back empty trays to me, which was probably the only time in my life I've been glad the wine ran out.

When I was first asked about my "vision" for the church, I made the point that I'd like to see better attendance at the evening service. From some outside the church I received a few silly suggestions, but I resolved to do two things:

1. Not coerce or manipulate people to come to the evening service. 
2. Let the gospel do its work. 

So why is retaining the evening service a good idea?

As Christians, we need to remember the frequent warnings about family in Christ's ministry (Mk. 3:33-35; Lk. 18:29). Christ's family comes before our blood relatives. Our true brothers and sisters - those whom we will spend eternity with - are those whom we belong to as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-26). That may include our blood relatives, but not only them. A PCA minister once told me that he's against the PM service because he wants to spend time with his wife and children. Quite frankly, I want my children to spend more time with other Christian children. 

I sometimes wonder if one reason for the failure of the evening service reflects more on the failure of the church to understand she is a family, where relationships are to be cultivated, not taken for granted. The early church gave themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). The time after the services on the Lord's day is a wonderful opportunity for God's people to fellowship, ask questions about how each other is doing, see how we can better pray for one another, and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11). Why do some Christians consistently love to leave so quickly after church? 

Moreover, worship is a means of grace. When we come to hear God speak to us, we respond in faith, hope and love to our triune God. God builds up Christ's people, for we are Christ's fullness (Eph. 1:22-23). Worship makes us more like Christ, and for that reason I believe that consistent attendance at the AM and PM services, if possible, will ordinarily lead to a more spiritually vibrant Christian life. Public worship is to be preferred before private communion with God. What happens on the Lord's day is a foretaste of heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

Some might object: then why don't we have three or four services? I believe we should also keep in mind Psalm 103:14. It is possible to overburden God's people (Matt. 23:4). But two services doesn't seem to be a burden that no man can bear, especially in North America where we are free to worship. I had to be moved to a special room in China when I lectured there last year because the authorities were after us. But that isn't the case here in North America. 

We have some folk who drive in for both services, and each way is 40-50 minutes for them. They make sacrifices for things of eternal (and temporal) value. Considering most parents are willing to drive their children all over town for sports or music, I'm amazed at how many Christians complain of distance when it comes to church. 

Pastors who preach two different sermons each week also know of the strenuous demands this puts on them. My week is a lot different when I only have to prepare one sermon. Very often I'm not persuaded that either sermon is adequate, but more often than not I've also seen how God can take something very ordinary and do extraordinary things among his people. 

As a PCA minister who takes seriously our Confession on the Sabbath, I also tend to think that two services helps my family to keep the Lord's day not only a delight, but also holy. Almost every Sunday our family spends time with other families during the day and we enjoy warm fellowship. My children also understand that on Sundays we worship the Lord, not the god of sports. For us Sabbatarians, I think there's a greater temptation to let the day go astray spiritually when there is one service. (Though I do know of some who do an admirable job, even though they can only attend church once).

In addition, we have many who cannot make the AM service because of work (e.g., nurses). A PM service may allow Christians in your area to worship the Lord when it would ordinarily be unlikely. We also have many Christians from other churches come and worship with us in the evening, which (because their church won't have a PM service) is a great occasion for a more catholic Christianity. Plus, some of them would never sing a Psalm or Hymn if they didn't come to a Presbyterian Church.

So what if you're reading this and you are a minister who is currently wrestling with the idea of having a PM service? 

For what it's worth, consider:

1. Reformation takes a long, long time. We have to be patient with our people. We cannot expect change overnight. 

2. As a minister, your own attitude to the PM service will make or break whether it becomes a success or a failure. God's people can tell if you are taking the PM service seriously in your preparation and attitude. 

3. Remember that God's word will do its work. God's word changes hearts. We are mere instruments. Pray and trust that God will do the work you are incapable of doing. 

4. If you and your family are the only ones present at the church for several months at the beginning, then so be it. 

I'm surprised that we have better things to do on a Sunday evening than worship the Lord. I'm surprised we don't want to be around our brothers and sisters a lot more. 

The evening service is worth it. I've witnessed the blessing it brings to God's people. I'm not prepared to say it is explicitly commanded, and therefore people are sinning if they don't attend an evening service (however, see Ps. 92:1-2, which speaks of morning and evening worship). There are some cases where I would even advise against an AM an PM service. But I am prepared to say that of all the Christian "activities" that could fall by the wayside - and perhaps there are some that should! -, the evening service should be last on the list.   

This year God allowed me to preach and teach in Brazil, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, and the USA. Let me assure you, we have it really easy here in North America. But perhaps that explains the death of the evening service.  


Last weekend brought with it all the brouhaha that seems to be the sadly-increasing norm among evangelicals with regard to 'holy week' and Easter Sunday. Now, I will deny no man the opportunity to preach about the risen Christ on any day that he chooses. Furthermore, if there is a possibility in a particular place and time that people's ears might be more readily tuned to a certain emphasis, I think it might be wise to take advantage of that. Perhaps there were some stolid brothers who ploughed on with their current expository series last Sunday, preaching their third sermon on the too-often-overlooked significance of Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who judged Israel after Abimelech but before Jair, of whom an equal amount can be (and shortly - if that is the appropriate word, given that it might require a good month or two to address it - will be) said. I am sure that, in doing so, they have been and will be careful to draw out the redemptive-historical significance of Tola. Nevertheless, for myself, I gladly preached a sermon on the need to remember what the Lord Christ said about the empty tomb for our present and future hope.

And so the brouhaha dies down, at least until next year. After all, this next one is just an ordinary Sunday, isn't it?

If that is your attitude, might I suggest that your view of the Lord's day is sadly deficient and probably damaging. I hope you would not need to be a full-orbed sabbatarian to recognise the significance of the first day of the week, the day on which the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the day on which he met again and again with his disciples, making himself known to them and impressing upon them the realities of his resurrection.

Christ did not leave his people with an annual opportunity to enjoy that distinctive fellowship with him which is enjoyed by the people of God gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. There may be regular Sundays, in one sense, but there ought to be no ordinary Sundays. Every first day of the week is a commemoration of the risen Christ, a day of worship and praise. The same truths are equally true, the same realities are equally real, the same themes are equally relevant.

Do not let this be the Sunday when you step down. Let it be another step up, another waymarker on your heavenly pilgrimage, another resurrection day. Preach no different sermon, in that sense, certainly no different Christ. Let the same sweet assurances cloud the day, the same underpinning certainties bear up the soul, the same glorious hopes inform the worship. Come to worship this coming Lord's day with just the same eager anticipation as you did last week, and - I hope - the week before that, and before that. Come with the same earnest request of the ministers of the gospel: "We would see Jesus." Come with the same joyful prospect of a fresh sight of and renewed fellowship with the risen Christ, and may he draw near to you as you do so.

Defending Eutychus

A recent book enjoys the witty title, Saving Eutychus. The book itself is intended to encourage and assist preachers to preach engaging sermons in the hopes of preventing their congregations tumbling out of windows to their death, or something along those lines.

Please understand that I am all for preachers setting out to capture and hold the attention of their hearers, although I am slightly concerned that a number of recent books on this topic tend to focus on the homiletically mechanistic and rather bypass the spiritually dynamic aspects. Neither am I suggesting that its authors are ignorant of the slight unfairnesses inherent in the title to Paul and perhaps to Eutychus himself (maybe the cleverness of the title was just too enticing to pass by?).

However, I wonder if I might offer an interpretation of the passage that might rehabilitate both preacher and hearer?

The episode in question is recorded by Luke in the midst of a blizzard of evangelistic and edifying activity carried out by Paul and a fairly large crew of companions. They arrive in Troas were Paul has an opportunity to instruct the saints. Reading some popular interpretations, one might imagine that Paul begins to preach at a fairly typical hour - perhaps six or seven o'clock, let's say - finds himself a little carried away and gets his second wind at about 11pm. Still going strong at midnight, it's all a bit much for Eutychus, who - overcome with a mixture of boredom and weariness - finally loses the battle against sleep and rolls out of his window seat to his doom, almost literally preached to death. But not to worry! The apostle simply heals the chap, and - undeterred - cracks on unrelentingly with his sermon until daybreak. Insensitive Paul! Inattentive Eutychus! The obvious lessons? Preachers should not go on too long and should make sure they maintain the attention of their hearers, and/or hearers should care enough about the truth not to fall asleep while it is being preached.

But is that what is actually happening? I would suggest not.
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted. (Acts 20.7-12)
You will notice, first of all, when they meet: it is on the first day of the week. This is that day on which the risen Christ made a repeated point of meeting with his disciples to speak truth to them for their blessing. Although the language of breaking bread does not require us to understand that this is a worship service in which the Lord's supper will be celebrated, it is not an unreasonable supposition.

However, on this occasion, these saints have the privilege of Paul himself being briefly present with them, and he takes the opportunity to explain the truth. Now, it is clear that Paul preaches for some time, but it is also worth noting that we are not informed when he began preaching. That is important, because it might help us appreciate what is going on.

Could it be, then, that what we have here is a congregation of believers from various backgrounds gathering as opportunity provides? Several sources inform us that Eutychus was a fairly common name for slaves. If this were the case here, then we might suggest that Eutychus - together with several others of the same or different circumstances - has made his way to worship once his day's work is done, late at night or very early in the morning being the only times when such meetings could occur for the whole church. It may even be feasible to suggest that Eutychus has already met with the saints at dawn. Pliny the Younger, governor and arch-whinger of Bithynia-Pontus not many decades after these events, described Christians as being
in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of good food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. (Book Ten, Letter 96)
Without demanding this interpretation, I hope that a slightly more favourable portrait of Eutychus and Paul begins to emerge. On the one hand, this is not Paul preaching a long and dull sermon without regard for the capacity of the hearers. On the other, this is not dopey Eutychus who simply cannot sustain his interest, or who is too young and weak to keep up the pace.

More likely is that we have here a group of committed and earnest believers who are seizing their opportunity to hear the Word of God from that fruitful servant of the Lord, Paul, before he moves on. They meet when they have their chance, perhaps at the end of the working day (which might have been later for the slaves, not to mention others in an environment where health and safety legislation tended toward the minimal). They come weary but eager, lighting the lamps in the room to enable them to make the most of the brief hours available. Yes, they are tired (preacher and hearers alike). Yes, it is warm. But this is a rich opportunity, and they are eager to make the most of it.

Far from criticising Paul for preaching too long or commiserating with Eutychus for being subjected to such an ordeal, we ought to be commending these men for their appetite for fellowship with God and his people. Yes, young Eutychus does eventually succumb to the atmosphere, and fall from the window. But notice that - once restored - it is not as if everyone decides to call it a night. They keep going until dawn breaks, and there is no indication that Paul locked the doors and put Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus on the exits to prevent people leaving.

Leaving aside the practical issues of engaging preachers and engaged listeners, I wonder how eager we are to meet with God and his people on the appointed day to hear the truth explained, proclaimed and applied? How determined are we to make the most of our opportunities for worship? Are we ready to swap shifts or make up hours in order to meet with the saints? If necessary, either because of persecution or some other necessity, would you be willing to meet before dawn and after dusk in order to worship the Lord your God in company with his people?

Eutychus sets us a good example. To be sure, rolling over in our beds is a lot safer than rolling over in an open window, but - taking into account all the issues - I think Eutychus was with the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. Perhaps such questions are already a live issue for believers in Islamic countries, for example, or in those nations where there is no notion of Christendom (please note that I am not commending the notion, just recognising its existence). These are challenges which converted children in godless homes must take into account, or those with unconverted spouses, for example.

So, let your sermons be engaging, and let your eyes be open, by all means, but - most of all - let your hearts be eager to be where God is making himself known through the preached word.

What about next Sunday?

I have been in Zambia for the last few days - due to leave for home fairly soon - and so opportunity for anything other than my responsibilities here has been limited. However, things have slowed down a little, and I have an opportunity to pause.

As I paused I came across a snippet from Spurgeon here which I provide in slightly fuller form, and I offer it in the form of a question: What about next Sunday?

There is no ordinance in Scripture of any one Lord's-day in the year being set apart to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead and for this reason every Lord's-day is the memorial of our Lord's resurrection. Wake up any Lord's-day you please, whether in the depth of winter, or in the warmth of summer and you may sing -

Today he rose and left the dead,
And Satan's empire fell!
Today the saints his triumph spread,
And all his wonders tell.

To set apart an Easter Sunday for special memory of the resurrection is a human device for which there is no Scriptural command. But to make every Lord's-day an Easter Sunday is due to him who rose early on the first day of the week. We gather together on the first, rather than upon the seventh day of the week, because redemption is even a greater work than creation and more worthy of commemoration and because the rest which followed creation is far outdone by that which ensues upon the completion of redemption! Like the apostles, we meet on the first day of the week and hope that Jesus may stand in our midst and say, "Peace be unto you." Our Lord has lifted the Sabbath from the old and rusted hinges whereon the Law had placed it long before and set it on the new golden hinges which his love has fashioned. He has placed our rest day, not at the end of a week of toil, but at the beginning of the rest which remains for the people of God. Every first day of the week we should meditate upon the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life.

And so, what of next Sunday? Have you peaked for the year, or will you enjoy in short order another, and another, and another day in which you can meditate on the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life?

This Lent I am giving up . . . reticence

I will make no bones about it: I am an Old World (for which please read 'continental European') Christian, of Puritan inclination, and a Dissenter - specifically, a Particular or Reformed Baptist. That means several things. By conviction and heritage I belong to those who left the Anglican communion as a matter of conscience, sick of its halfway reformation and unwilling to conform to the general shabbiness and unscriptural demands of the Act of Uniformity. My conscience with regard to the extra-Biblical trappings of mere religiosity is tender. My attachment to simplicity of worship as a gathered church is sincere. I am sensitive to those doctrines and practices over which my forefathers spent their energies and shed their tears and sometimes their blood, both from within and then from without the established folds of their day. I see things with an awareness tuned by walking the streets, graveyards and memorials of men and women who suffered and sometimes died for conscience' sake.

Out of such an atmosphere I cannot help but be sickened by the seeming obsession with Lent and Easter at this time of year, and Christmas at the end of the year. Please do not misunderstand me: conscience also demands that - where the cultural vestiges of a more religious society patterned to some extent on the significant events of the life of Christ provide for it - I take every legitimate opportunity to make Christ known. If an ear is even half-opened by circumstance, I willingly and cheerfully speak into it, and seek to make of it a door for the gospel. I do not see the point of making a point by not preaching about the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord if some benighted soul wanders into the church with at least some expectation of hearing about his humiliation and exaltation.

But what chills my blood is the unholy elevation of things not mandated by the Word of God. I find it odd that some of the very people who obsess about contextualization and resist 'religion' have swallowed hook, line and sinker the empty traditions of men, that the men who wear Mickey Mouse T-shirts (quite literally) all the year round besides dress in sombre suits every April, telling us with one breath that all of life is worship and so tending to level out our experience and the Biblical rhythms of our relationship with God (especially dismissing the one-day-in-seven pattern established at the first and the new creation), and with the next telling us that this is Holy Week, and we are somehow falling short if we do not build it into some unholy jamboree. Meanwhile, those who trumpet their credentials as the true heirs of the Reformation either seem willing to stop with the house half-clean or seem quite keen to redecorate it with the junk that their more enlightened forefathers were in the process of throwing out (establishing the principles of the matter even if they never quite got round to that corner of the attic themselves).

Whether or not it is a vestige of the Emerging/Emergent appetite for a range of 'spiritualities' or an enthusiasm for an over-ripe liturgical renewal, I cannot say, but I wonder if it is in part a matter of distance both of time and space. This alleged 'recovery' of Lent and Easter is not actually a matter of historical sensitivity and an inheritance regained but of historical unawareness and an inheritance lost. Whether or not it is the high-grade muppetry of entire churches being urged to tattoo one of the stations of the cross on some part of their anatomy, or some gore-drenched re-enactment of the unrepeatable sacrifice, or some spotlit image-fest in which a total insensitivity to physical representations of the Christ - the image of the invisible God - is displayed, or some be-robed priest-figure half a step away from incense and obeisance, it does not come from Scripture and it does not belong in Christ's church. It is a replacement of God's order with man's notions, a disruption of God's regular rhythms of true religion with the unholy syncopation of mortal religiosity. As John Owen somewhere says, where genuine spirituality is substantially absent, men will turn either to fanaticism or to ritual - or perhaps to both - in an attempt to fill the void. Whichever way you sniff at it, and whichever way the wind blows, to the trained nostril it all begins to smell a touch Romish.

But there is a solution. This year there are - if you wish to see it this way - fifty three Easters. Most years there are fifty two. Each is a high and holy day, an opportunity to remember and rejoice in the one thing that the saints of God are commanded to remember and rejoice in: the Lord of Glory - the incarnate Son - who was crucified but who rose again, in whom we live eternally, and for whom we perpetually look with eagerness, our eyes straining for the first glimpse of the one whom not having seen, we love, who will shortly appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Each is a day of sober and grateful remembrance and recollection of his being and his doing. We have our regular (if not all of us a weekly) meal at which we remember the Lord's death until he comes, celebrated usually on the day of resurrection. On these days, putting aside the trappings of the world, we begin the cycle of time on our weekly peak, equipped by communion with God in Christ by the Spirit for the challenges and the opportunities of the days ahead.

Frankly, it seems odd to me that many of those who have proved very quick to abandon all manner of patterns and habits and convictions of Christians over decades or centuries, retain Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday as set in stone in the calendar, one of the high points of the Christian year (which pattern, we are informed, provides the central event in the church year - the climax of worship, expectation, and celebration, an exercise of the church's discipline). If you're not sold on Easter, you might be dismissed as one of the "diehard Reformed" for whom "this [Easter] Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday." To say that Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday is not to suggest an upgraded view of Easter Sunday but a downgraded view of every other one.

I try not to be a Scrooge (although I cannot help but shed a silent tear that I am now literarily reduced to trying not to be a Grinch, but it's only a silent one and fairly dry, because Dickens' plotting makes many modern soap operas look like masterpieces of restraint and reason). I try not to be whatever is the Easter equivalent of a Scrooge or a Grinch (probably something that destroys bunnies or steals eggs). Again, for the record, I delight in the incarnation, and love to explore the excellence and wonder of Christ's coming into the world. I love to do so at any time of year, and find it grievous that I am sometimes not expected to handle those truths or sing incarnation hymns apart from at the dead of winter. Neither do I for one instant deny the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the only Redeemer of God's elect, in the glorious good news that the church of Christ declares.

But when we are told that this is the time of year when Christians begin to think again about the death and resurrection of Christ, does it not prompt the question of what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the year? When men speak after their so-called Holy Week of the abating euphoria of the resurrection, surely they are explaining why a merely annual remembrance is insufficient? Christ Jesus is the risen Lord for 365 days of every year (plus the extra one when required), and we have a weekly opportunity for the distinct recollection of his death in an atmosphere conditioned by his resurrection. To flatten the whole year, perhaps rising only to a few unnatural annual peaks, is to miss so much, to lose so many things, to gain so little.

Christ died to set us free from empty things. Men died to liberate us from the rigamarole of unscriptural traditions and man-made routines and performances of religiosity. I hope that you will hear a voice from the blood-washed streets of the Old World, where those battles and the cost of their victory are ground into our consciousness, where the issues and enemies are neither distant nor tame, and where the lines remain clearly drawn in the collective memory of some of the Lord's people, and consider whether or not the prizes so hardly won ought to be so quickly abandoned.

Results tagged “Lord's Day” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 21.7

vii. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

The final two sections of chapter twenty-one refer to the principle of the Sabbath. Although no significance is now afforded to place, a significance still attaches itself to time. 21:7 assert explicitly a principle of Sabbath continuity from Old Covenant into New Covenant. The Sabbath principle is a moral and perpetual commandment of God, written into the fabric of creation itself and therefore binding upon society as a whole. Before it adopted specific Mosaic (and therefore temporal considerations relating to that period of redemptive history when the people of God were "under age" and a theocracy), the Sabbath reflected God's rest from labor in creation itself. At the resurrection of Christ, the day was changed to the first day of the week. The Confession does not address the issue as to whether this change is merely "recorded" (description) or specifically "mandated" (prescription). Technically, under the New Covenant, there is an observance of the Lord's Day - the first day of the week rather than the last day of the week (reflecting a gospel logic: rest followed by work rather than work followed by rest). This is to be observed to the end of the world.

The Divines approbation of a "law of nature" might be viewed as a step beyond merely attributing the fact that the Sabbath was a law of creation - therefore observed in principle before the Mosaic Decalogue (note the word "remember" in Exodus 20:8 and the non-provision of manna on the seventh day because it was given as a Sabbath (Exod. 16:22-30)0. That the Westminster Divines (following in the wake of the Reformers and mainstream medieval thought in general) believed in the existence of natural law is beyond refute. There is insufficient evidence here to answer how natural law relates to Scripture (if at all). 

What is clear is that the Sabbath is viewed as beneficial for man qua man - in what we might call "secular" society (and therefore civil enforcement) as well as the church. The Confession sees no change in principle as to applicability of the Sabbath principle in secular society (all men" and "all ages"). The change of day notwithstanding - with Aquinas, the Confession views it as merely a different way of counting six-and-one.  There seems no room for Seventh Adventist views of the consecration of a Saturday Sabbath and even less for the "antinomian" (utilitarian) argument that "any" day (or part of a day) will do since we clearly have a need to gather together at some point on time. Mere tradition is inadequate. There exists a "positive, moral and perpetual commandment" for the continuation of the Sabbath principle in the New Covenant economy. Positive addresses the issue of the regulative principle - it is something for which a prescription exists.  Moral suggests that sanctions apply.  There is an "oughtness" to the keeping of the Sabbath Day. And perpetual suggests that any dispensational argument confining the Sabbath to the Mosaic economy is ruled incorrect.  

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is minister of preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.