There are always those in our churches who do not seem to see the importance or rationale for attending all the worship services regularly. During the morning services, the pews are often full. Things often look thinner in the second service. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why people can only attend once. We are not concerned about that here. Rather, I want to address the matter of those who are healthy, who have no little children or others dependent on them, who have no “works of necessity” to perform, and yet make a conscious choice to only attend worship once. They could be going twice, but they make a deliberate decision to do so only once.
This may be done simply out of innocent ignorance. Especially if the person involved is a new Christian, new to the church, they might just not know that they belong in church twice. However, since I hope that we adequately disciple our new church members, I suspect that such people are a rare breed. In some cases, “oncers” have not been convinced that this is a biblical practice and they feel they have the freedom to decide what they want to do with their Sundays. As a day of rest, it is a “me day.” In other cases, the people involved are either lazy or they just do not care.
I want to appeal to those who are not convinced that this is a wise, biblical practice. When it comes to those who do not care, there is nothing I or any other human can do. One can present all the best reasons in the world, but sin by its very nature is irrational. However, perhaps there are some readers who are open to hearing the reasons for our practice. I want to make an effort to convince them that regular attendance at both services should be a priority for all Reformed believers. I also want to give tools to fellow office bearers (and others) to disciple new Christians and, if need be, convince those who are open to convincing about this.
Ten Reasons to Worship Twice
When it comes to how often we are to worship on the Lord’s Day, it will quickly be noted by attentive Bible students that there is no direct command in the Scriptures. Yet it should be remembered that there is also no direct biblical command for women to take part in the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes we derive practices in the church from biblical teaching and its implications. As we noted in Chapter 2, some things regarding our worship are taken from the Scriptures by good and necessary consequence. When we do that, we can still maintain that we are striving to be biblical and to follow the will of God. With that in mind, let us consider ten reasons why we ought to worship twice on the Lord’s Day.
- The Witness of the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, there were morning and evening sacrifices. You can see this, for example, in Numbers 28:4, Exodus 29:38-43 and Ezra 3:3. Similarly, the Psalms encourage worship twice on God’s special day. Psalm 92 is specifically identified as “A Song for the Sabbath.” It begins:
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)
Worship on the Old Testament Sabbath was a two-fold affair: morning and night.
- New Testament Practice
At the beginning of the New Testament era, the first Christians gathered together on the Lord’s Day in both the morning and the evening, continuing the practice they had maintained as Jews. There is evidence of this from the early fourth century in the writings of Eusebius:
For 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 the evening hours, hymns, praises, and truly divine delights are offered to God. God’s delights are indeed the hymns sent up everywhere on earth in his Church at the times of morning and evening.
There is no evidence that the New Testament church changed what had always been done by God’s people. They maintained the principle of worshipping twice, though the coming of Christ meant a shift to worshipping twice on the first day of the week (the Lord’s Day) rather than the seventh.
- The Fourth Commandment
We believe the Fourth Commandment has a binding, permanent, moral validity. Whereas in the Old Testament it applied to the seventh day of the week, in the New Testament era it applies to the first. The Lord’s Day is the appointed day of rest and worship for Christians. Maintaining two services on the Lord’s Day helps especially to maintain the character of the entire Lord’s Day as a day of worship, while still allowing for the rest which makes up the other aspect of it.
- Benefit for the Individual Believer
As we have noted in earlier chapters, the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments are means of grace in the lives of believers. The Holy Spirit works through these God-appointed means to bring about transformation in our lives. When a believer skips worship, the means of grace are being neglected to their detriment. Moreover, we are also missing out on opportunities to encourage and be encouraged by our brothers and sisters before, during, and after the worship services. We confess in the Heidelberg Catechism that the Bible teaches in the sixth commandment that we are not to “harm or recklessly endanger” ourselves (HC LD 40). So, why would we want to harm ourselves spiritually by staying away from the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments? Such a choice is self-destructive – it is a form of spiritual suicide.
- Benefit for Our Families
Not only would we be hurting ourselves by attending only once, we would also do harm to our families. If we develop bad attendance habits, what is the message we are sending to our children and grandchildren? Perhaps we are saying that we have arrived. We have already heard it all; we already know it all. Though 2 Peter 1:12 speaks differently, we do not need to be reminded of anything. We do not need the Holy Spirit to work on us through the preaching. We do not need to be strengthened by the sacraments. We do not need our brothers and sisters in the church to encourage us and they do not need us to encourage them. So perhaps we are teaching spiritual pride to our children and grandchildren. We are telling them that you can decide for yourself the way you will worship God and you can forget everybody else. You make up your mind for yourself when you want to go to church. This way of thinking ultimately destroys families, spiritually speaking. Though our culture says otherwise, pride is never healthy for anyone. Over and over again, the Bible warns about the dangers of pride (e.g. 1 Peter 5:5). It is far better to humbly lead our families to worship God and sit as often as possible under the means of grace. It will be of enormous benefit to them and, above all, it will be glorifying to God.
- Benefit for the Body of Christ
We should always aim to do that which builds up the body of Christ. If we love our Saviour and are united to him like a vine and branches, we ought also to love what he loves. He loves his church so dearly that he gave his own life for her. Therefore the church should be precious to every true follower of Jesus. However, when we make a habit of attending only once, we are doing damage to the church and its unity. If we are the body of Christ, why is this particular part of the body going off and doing his or her own thing when the rest are assembled for worship? “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21). And, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one part is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). By extension we could legitimately say, “If one part is worshipping, every part should be worshipping with it.” Since we are the body of Christ, we do things together, and that includes gathering for public worship.
- The Fifth Commandment
We confess in Lord’s Day 39 of the Catechism that we are to show “all honour, love, and faithfulness” to all those in authority over us. We are to submit ourselves with due obedience to their good instruction and discipline. After all, it is God’s will to govern us by their hand. When we do public profession of faith, we promise that we believe all this. Among those in authority over us are the office bearers of the church. The consistory calls the congregation to worship twice each Sunday. It is not optional. Of course, as mentioned earlier, there can be legitimate reasons why someone cannot come. However, if a person makes a wilful choice to do something else, to be somewhere else, when they’re called to be attending public worship, that is a sin against the fifth commandment.
Now someone might object and say that the Bible does not directly tell us to worship twice, so we are not obliged to heed the call of the consistory. However, as we saw above, there are good biblical reasons for this practice. Moreover, one could counter by asking: does this requirement go against what Scripture teaches? Is the consistory forcing you to disobey Scripture by calling you to worship twice on the Lord’s Day?
Let me work this out further with an analogy. The Bible tells us to obey the government. Say the local municipal government puts a speed limit of 60 km/h on some street. You might reason, “Well, the Bible doesn’t tell us that we should drive 60 km/h on that street, so we don’t have to listen to the government.” Try and tell that to the police officer who is going to give you a ticket! No, we still have to obey, so long as we are not commanded to do anything contrary to what Scripture teaches (Rom. 13:1-7, Acts 5:29).
- Love for Your Pastor
I remember once speaking to an older pastor who became frustrated. He was conscientious and spent a lot of time preparing his sermons. Many ministers spend up to 15 or 20 hours on a sermon. During the week, this pastor would encounter situations in the congregation. He knew what needed to be addressed in the preaching and he was deliberate and thoughtful about including those needs. But Sunday afternoon would come around and he would get up on the pulpit and the people with those needs were absent. He had spent all that time carefully studying and crafting this sermon…and then this. For a pastor that can be rather frustrating. It would be like a wife or mother cooking up a delicious, nutritious dish for her family, and then they refuse to sit at the table to eat it.
We ought to remember what the Holy Spirit says in 1 Thess. 5:12-13, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” When someone makes a conscious choice to be a “oncer,” does that really show love and respect for the pastor who spends so much time each week to prepare for the preaching of the Word? One could also appeal to the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31: how would you feel if you were in your pastor’s shoes? Should you not do to him as you would have done unto you? Do you love your pastor?
- A Balanced Diet
When there are two services, there is a greater opportunity for the pastor to provide a balanced diet of preaching and teaching for the congregation. When the congregation avails itself of this diet, they benefit from getting more teaching and on a broader range of texts or topics. As we will see momentarily, this includes the full scope of basic Christian teaching contained in the Heidelberg Catechism.
- Quality of Spiritual Life
When the church worships God twice each Lord’s Day, there is a quality of spiritual life that develops and thrives around that. Being at public worship with God’s people twice every Lord’s Day has a wonderfully positive effect. It more effectively produces not only Christian individuals, but a whole Christian culture. It helps to develop better a community of believers who reflect Christ and his care for his body, and also his care for the world of lost sinners.
Worship Twice – Why Not?
When a consistory calls the congregation to worship twice, it is reasonable to expect Christians to want to worship twice. Why would any believer not want to worship God and come under the means of grace (Word and sacrament) as often as possible? In my ministry I have several times preached the last sermon an individual ever heard. But one brother in particular stands out in my memory. I was a guest preacher at his church. He was an elderly brother and in poor health. He had a deadly respiratory condition. He could barely walk, and talking was even more challenging. Yet to the very last Sunday of his life, he made an effort to be there in God’s presence. This was the most important priority in his life. He was there that Sunday and, even though it was difficult, it brought him so much joy. Then a couple of days later, God brought his soul to heaven. What this brother loved on earth was then experienced even more fully before the throne of grace! For believers like that, the joy of being in God’s presence is reason enough to attend twice.
When we habitually ignore or avoid the worship services, we are ignoring or avoiding the preaching of the Word, one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Of course, that preaching of the Word cuts two ways, whether you hear it or decide to avoid it. For some people, like the brother mentioned above, it gives life in joyful abundance. For others, it will be death. The former is infinitely better. Indeed, the “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
 Quoted by Geoffrey Wainwright, The Oxford History of Christian Worship (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005), 60. While Eusebius may have been referring to a daily practice, it follows that this practice was also maintained on the Lord’s Day.