by H.P. McCracken; September, 2022
From movements such as liberalism and fundamentalism, to concepts including praise bands and megachurches, to technology such as microphones and automobiles, many things come to mind in considering factors that have transformed Americans’ experience of church and worship in various ways over the past few centuries, for better or worse. One of the greatest changes in recent decades—one that many in the church would not recognize—is the loss of Sunday evening worship.
While not explicitly mandated in Scripture, an evening worship service follows biblical patterns and principles, is the historical practice of the church, and holds great potential blessing for the church. In a day when much of the church has come to view historical practices such as evening worship as antiquated and inconvenient, and in a culture that highly values convenience and devalues purposeful commitment to our highest duty in life (worship), I want to invite you to consider the great blessing and benefit of morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day.
THE RHYTHM OF MORNING AND EVENING
Gathering for corporate worship both morning and evening is not just a quaint, arbitrary practice—it follows a biblical pattern. In the worship pattern instituted by God in the Old Testament, the Israelites held two daily public services of worship at the temple, morning and evening, with sacrifices, incense, prayers, and praise offered. Psalm 92, labeled in its heading “A Song for the Sabbath Day,” opens by speaking of worshiping God in the morning and at night. Other psalms reflect this practice of morning and evening worship in terms of personalpiety. So, worshiping morning and evening on the day of worship, the Lord’s Day, reflects a biblical pattern by bracketing the day with worship as God’s people have done for millennia.
THE HISTORICAL PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH
Consider also the historical practice of the church, which reveals that holding morning worship alone on the Lord’s Day is indeed a novelty in history. Nearly universally, the Christian church has for two thousand years gathered for corporate worship twice on the Lord’s Day. Of course, just because something has been done in the past or for a very long time does not establish that it is right or best. But while our culture craves that which is new and exciting, the Christian worldview gives careful attention to that which has come before and to a biblical critique of the novel.
This perspective on what centuries of believers considered right and normative ought to carry significant weight for Christians as we seek wisely to order our lives and priorities. Our current cultural idols of convenience, low commitment, and busyness have helped to push worship from the center of life to its margins. The church has in some ways gone along with such unbiblical trends of modernity, and the loss of what was once the near-universal practice of evening worship is doubtless one example of that. Thus, we have an opportunity to lean against these cultural tides and preserve a biblical and historical practice of the church.
USE OF THE LORD’S DAY
God has always called His people to assemble before Him to worship and to receive His blessing, and the Lord’s Day (or Christian Sabbath) is a wonderful gift of God to His people for their blessing and benefit. It is both our duty and great privilege to set this day aside for its God-ordained purposes, including, especially, corporate worship. Morning and evening worship helps us set apart the whole Lord’s Day. What better way could there be to experience the blessing of the New Testament day of worship than to bracket it with corporate worship as the church has always done? In our cultural moment, we ought to ask whether less corporate worship would be the path to greater appreciation of the Lord’s worship.
Our current cultural idols of convenience, low commitment, and busyness have helped to push worship from the center of life to its margins.
The top reason given in one survey regarding the dropping of evening worship from churches’ or families’ schedules was a desire for family time. This reflects a relatively recent shift in thinking, as the increasing busyness and complexity of modern life has pushed family time from its historical place on Saturdays to Sundays and has squeezed out corporate worship. Time and busyness are difficult things to sort out in our world, but I know that I need regular encouragement to consider what priorities my family is structuring our life around. I need reminders that my busyness is largely not external to me but is my own creation. Ultimately, the Lord’s Day is not given by God for us to pick up the pieces of life that we could not get to during the rest of the week because we are overcommitted, but largely to set those things aside—even good things such as family time in the form that it might take on other days—in order to pursue our highest duty and to receive the blessing of this day by God’s means of grace.
THE MEANS OF GRACE
Practicing evening worship also reflects the conviction that worship is our highest duty and privilege as created and redeemed people of God, and that God attaches His promises of blessing and growth to His means of grace. What do the life and worship of the church look like when it truly believes that God gives grace when we gather to sing praise, to pray, and to confess with the catechism the conviction that “the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 89)?
My congregation has been particularly blessed not only by hearing God’s Word proclaimed again at evening worship but also by the opportunity it affords to gather in an extended time of prayer that is not easily accommodated in just one service.
Finally, I cannot help but think also of the great example, pattern, and blessings to our childrenin the practice of evening worship. As much as anything else my kids need from me—time, attention, instruction, entertainment, experiences, etc.—they need to see me delighting in the pinnacle of the purpose of my creation and salvation: worshiping God. Part of my perspective comes from having grown up in a household (usually with anywhere from nine to twelve people) that, whatever its flaws and weaknesses, loved evening worship and never treated it like a burden—it was just part of our life. The benefit to me, I know, was incalculable.
Reflecting on that during a time while in a church without evening worship, it struck me that my kids were hearing no more than half the sermons I heard growing up. They were experiencing no more than half the worship that the church historically has always experienced. Here is an immense opportunity to include our children in seeking the kingdom of God first, to further set an example and a countercultural pattern of priority for them.
The church, if it has a historical and biblical perspective on how we order the Lord’s Day and worship, should be reluctant to so dramatically reorder the priorities we are setting for our kids and families over against both the historical and biblical patterns. Our children are growing up in what is now characterized as the “information age,” an age in which we are daily bombarded by information from numerous inputs, willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly, being trained unconsciously (in the words of the late Neil Postman) in “amusing ourselves to death.” It seems to me an especially dangerous time to cut in half God’s means of grace in corporate worship for our instruction and growth.
Returning to worship again each Sunday evening is not easy for many. Some live at a distance, some cannot drive at night, some have small children, etc. If you are making the effort despite the challenges, I want to encourage you to press on and to see and seek God’s blessing in it. If you have opportunity to be attending an evening worship service but are not currently doing so, I encourage you strongly to consider it. If your church does not hold evening worship, this is an opportunity to gather with Christians at a church that does hold it. Give careful consideration not to what is most convenient or what feels normal or what we “have to” or “do not have to” do in the Christian life but to whether your family would benefit by participating in morning and evening worship as a regular part of your weekly practice.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 26, 2020.
Rev. H.P. McCracken is pastor of Salt & Light Reformed Presbyterian Church in Longmont, CO.