A Rationale for Evening Services
For a long time, it was assumed that Reformed churches would hold a service both on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. Although still practiced in many congregations, this pattern is no longer necessarily the expectation or assumption concerning how the Lord’s Day will be observed. If we believe in Reformed principles, however, we must consider well what the best use of the Lord’s Day is. The Westminster Confession of Faith 21.7 says,
As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath 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.
As God engraved his law upon humanity as those made in his image, part of that law was that “a due proportion of time” be used for worship. By using a whole day for worship, bookending it with divine services, the Reformed have tried to honor God’s will for his creatures concerning how we use our time for his honor. Although a full biblical defense is beyond the scope of one short post like this, the purpose here is simply to outline a rationale for holding an evening service.
The Lord’s Day
The Lord’s Day is Sunday, which God gives to us so that we may set aside our troubles of the world and look to a greater hope. This rest is not an arbitrary thing though. In Genesis 2:1–3, God kept and modeled the first Sabbath.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
God used this day for rest, and consecrated it—he gave it a special role for a special use—so that we might have it for rest as well. In the very pattern of God’s creative act, we see that the significance of Lord’s Day. The creation week has the exciting end of the Sabbath rest.
In the Ten Commandments, God reminds his people to observe the Lord’s Day. The fourth commandment, as taught in Exodus 20:8-11, says,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
In the command, we are reminded again of the blessings that we have in the Lord’s Day, in that it is designed and meant for our rest. But God cares about our rest, and our time spent with him so deeply that he did not just make this day for us to rest and spend time with him, but he also commanded us to use it. The Genesis account shows how God ordered us toward the Sabbath by creation, but the Exodus repetition of the Sabbath principle shows how we are ordered toward it by redemption as well.
The New Testament also reminds us of the importance to meet together for the Lord’s Day and use that day for rest and worship. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:1–2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” He knew that Christians are supposed to do some things together, like give money to the work of the church, but he reminds us that we do those things on the first day of every week, Sunday. Further, Revelation 1:10 says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” which reminds us that the Lord’s Day is meant for spiritual use.
I think that we sometimes we forget the difference between spiritual and worldly rest. We forget that in prayer, we find refreshment that is better than shopping, movies, and sporting events. We forget that worship is time with God. God has given us a day for rest, and it is restful that we put aside things that distract us during the week and focus on the good things that God gives to us in his promises.
Hebrews 10:23–25 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” There is a need to hold fast our confession and to stir one another up and we accomplish this by not neglecting to meet together. There is the need for regular gathering for specific spiritual purposes that cannot be accomplished unless we are together. The evening service, then, is one way to commit ourselves to what God has appointed for his people to do. These God-commissioned activities are crucial to the life of God’s people. As Acts 2:42 says, that “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul commanded, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” We must be devoted to the means of grace.
Why should we apply this regularity to both morning and evening on Sundays, though? Although we are free from the ceremonial and civil laws of the old covenant, there are still principles that we derive from those legal codes that still apply to us today. So, although our worship does not look like old covenant worship, the principle abides that God instructed the people how to worship which means God cares about how we worship and that we should worship in the way that he commands, now according to the New Testament.
In the old covenant God commanded morning and evening sacrifices. Exodus 29:38–39: “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly.One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” This morning and evening principle applied daily in the old covenant and required Levites to bring sacrifices twice daily. The daily aspect was tied to the old covenant. Take 1 Chronicles 23:29–31 as an example: “Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size.And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening,and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord.”
Certainly, aspects of the old covenant have passed away with Christ’s coming. Most especially the aspect of animal sacrifice, since Christ’s atonement has paid fully for sins by his death. But also the system of sabbaths, which included the daily rituals and yearly festivals. As Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16–17: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The allusion to the ceremonial practices from 1 Chronicles 23 is hard to miss.
There was, however, always a spiritual component attached to the principle of morning and evening. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” The daily aspect of ritual sacrifices has gone away but the morning and evening principle abides and is now attached to the Lord’s Day, which is the singular Sabbath we still keep. We bring sacrifices on God’s day, morning and evening, but not animals. Christ has fulfilled that. Rather, as Hebrews 13:15 exhorts, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
Harrison Perkins (PhD, Queen’s University Belfast) is a pastor at London City Presbyterian Church, an Online Instructor in Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, a visiting lecturer in systematic theology at Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and the author of Catholicity and the Covenant of Works: James Ussher and the Reformed Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2020).