Should we require two services?
Recognizing that the new covenant age is one of maturity and adulthood, it ought not to surprise us that there is no command in the Bible requiring believers to gather in corporate worship twice on the Lord's Day. Much of what we do today, even as churches, lacks explicit Scriptural prescription. We administer baptisms in the context of corporate worship, for example, knowing full well that there is no explicit command in the Bible to do so.
Part of being mature, new covenant children of God is learning to live by the Word of God, not so much any longer in terms of Scriptural prescriptions, but in terms of Scriptural principles and patterns. Though a biblical injunction requiring a second service on the Lord's Day is absent there are biblical considerations recommending a second service.
In the Old Testament, for example, the Israelites were required to present sacrifices every morning and evening, a practice which corresponds nicely, in terms of new covenant equivalents, to morning and evening prayers. In our corporate worship on the Lord's Day, we do together what we will do individually (and as families) every other day: we assemble in the house of prayer morning and evening (or afternoon) to dialogue with our Lord.
Should we require three meals a day?
Asking whether we should require two services is a little bit like asking whether we should require three meals a day. Wouldn't it simplify life to reduce the number of meals we eat from three to two? It's so time consuming and interruptive, after all, to sit down at a table and eat food.
Questioning whether we should require two services subtly assumes that corporate worship is somehow unimportant, unnecessary, if not unpleasant. But what about worship makes it undesirable? Singing songs of praise? Prayer? Offering our tithes? Celebrating the Lord's Supper? Hearing sermons?
We need to pray that God would endow us with the spirit of excitement about worship that pervaded the early New Testament church. Immediately following Pentecost, according to the narrative of Acts, believers would gather daily in the temple to hear the Word, to praise God, to break bread and to enjoy fellowship.
Why did they assemble daily? The Scriptures nowhere give an explicit answer. The implication, however, is that they were so brimming with excitement about the gospel that it was difficult for them to go long without gathering together in corporate worship.
One service in two parts
I prefer to think of our corporate worship on Sundays not as two services, but as one service divided in two. The first part of the service takes place in the morning and the second part in the afternoon or evening. This has huge implications, incidentally, for what we do in the intermission: nothing between services should seriously interrupt the whole motif and flow of corporate worship on the Lord's Day.
For this reason I prefer to speak of absence at the second service not so much as missing the second service as missing the second half of the service. Attending the morning service and not returning in the evening is the equivalent to leaving a concert at intermission: you're missing part of the show and your enjoyment is incomplete. Worship, of course, is far removed from a show, and this is where the analogy breaks down.
It's important for us to see that the second service is not simply a duplication of the first. That the second service has an entirely different character than the morning service ought to be evident from the presence of certain elements in the morning worship (e.g., reading of the law) which are absent in the second service, and vice versa (e.g., recital of the creed).
One important principle of corporate worship is that we should never presume to approach God without a corporate confession of sin. This is why the law of God is read in our morning worship and why it is immediately followed by a corporate confession of sin, in prayer or song. Have you ever wondered, given the significance of this principle, why we don't have a prayer or song of confession in the second service? It's simply because we've already covered that at the very beginning of our worship, i.e., in the morning service.
Preaching and teaching
In my pastoral office I am distinguished from elders for a ministry of word and doctrine and thus of preaching and teaching. If preaching and teaching are my responsibilities, then hearing sermons and receiving instruction are those of my parishioners and our two worship services afford both of us wonderful opportunities to fulfill both responsibilities.
It's popular today in some quarters for ministers to preach through the catechism in the morning and through Bible books in the second service. I don't find this practice terribly objectionable, though I do think there's Scriptural significance in the syntactical priority of word over doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17) and preaching over teaching (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).
In our morning worship I labour in Word and in the second service I labour in doctrine. This is not to separate the two as if the Word doesn't contain doctrine and as if doctrine is not derived from the Word, but it is to distinguish them in precisely the way Scripture does. Preaching is not synonymous with teaching in Scripture and thus my sermon at the morning service ordinarily has a different character than my sermon at the second service.
Avoiding cultism and Biblicism
One of the traits we acknowledge about the church is its catholic character, i.e., the church is not confined to any age in history or any place in the world, has existed since the beginning of time and is spread over every continent. Our second worship service acknowledges this important dimension to our confession about the church in at least two ways.
- First, we recite one of the ecumenical creeds of the church (either the Apostles', Nicene or Athanasian creed). In so doing we voice the fundamentals of the faith which are shared by the orthodox Christian church everywhere and always.
In so doing we avoid the tendencies of cultism. Every Christian-based cult in North America (erg. “Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons) is doctrinally innovative, insists it has a monopoly on the truth and claims to teach something essential to salvation that no one else teaches. In our worship we want to make the exact opposite claim: our theology is not innovative, but historic and is not uniquely held by us, but is shared by churches throughout the world and history.
- Second, we use the Reformed confessions as a guide for our preaching and teaching. While it's true that the confessions are the doctrinal standards of Reformed churches and not of all Christian churches, they summarize the teaching of Scripture with an historic interpretation. In following these interpretative guides in our preaching/teaching we are aligning ourselves not just with the churches of the Reformation, but with the worldwide historic Christian church.
In so doing we avoid the tendencies of biblicism. Biblicism is the attempt to study the Bible afresh without any consideration for the doctrinal consensus of the historic church. Biblicism wants to reinvent the doctrinal wheel for every generation and thus is guilty of what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. We humbly and gladly accept the teaching of the creeds on the person of Christ, his deity and humanity, and the nature of salvation as God's gracious gift appropriated only through faith.
Our second worship service therefore shapes our doctrinal perspective in important ways and delivers us from the tendencies of cultism and biblicism.