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Our family made plans to visit a friend out of town and in the planning process we told them we had church on Sunday night. They were not expecting that Christians went to church twice in a day. That turned into a conversation about the Lord’s Day and the Christian’s duty on that day. This conversation made me ask the question “What happened to the second service?” in churches? It’s no surprise that many Reformed congregations stopped having a second service long ago. It’s no wonder that many churches that do have a second service see it poorly attended compared to the morning service. I asked a pastor of a large Reformed congregation what his evening service attendance was in comparison to the morning, and he said it was an abysmal 10%. When attendance has been down that low, it is understandable why some churches would cease holding an evening service. Reformed pastors have been working on this problem of low attendance in the second service for a long time.
When the early Reformers established their liturgies and church orders, they prescribed a morning and afternoon/evening service. In the morning there was an exposition of Scripture and the second service was there was catechetical preaching. Preaching that would be aimed and centered on teaching the basics of the faith and by understanding doctrine, they would grow in an understanding of the Word. The intention was that the Christian would then receive a balanced spiritual diet. So they would be exposed to more of the Word and the day would be “book ended” by worshipping with God’s people. However, this was not popular with the members of the church. People didn’t quite know how to receive catechetical preaching and teaching first of all, but mainly they preferred to play on Sunday and didn’t care to go to church twice in a day. Eventually, some ministers decided to cease holding an evening service due to low attendance.
At the Synod of Dort (1618-19), it was decided to censure ministers who stopped holding a second public worship service. Ministers were exhorted to preach brief and understandable sermons and not to cancel the second service due to poor attendance. Even if only the minister’s family attended the service, the expectation was to have a second worship service. The second service would be the uniform practice of Reformed churches in the 1600s. The answer to what happened to the second service seems obvious; low attendance resulted in cancellation. But the next question arises and remains to be answered and explored, “Why the low attendance?” R. Scott Clark’s in, “Recovering the Reformed Confession” rightly states low attendance reflects two things. First, little appreciation of the means of grace in the life of the church and Christian and secondly, the doctrine of the Sabbath.
There is a strong consensus in Reformed churches that God works through means, and that the Sabbath looks forward to the consummation, is a day to rest from work, and for public worship. The difficulty seems to be more practical from this point of agreement. Instead of honoring God with our bodies, (1 Cor. 6:20) we pause for worship and then are consumed by the demands of culture and the secular. I hope to explore this and connected issues in coming articles. This series will be an opportunity to consider and remember why we believe what we believe and then we will know why we do what we do. Perhaps, when you have a friend surprised to hear you attend two services, you’ll be equipped to have a fruitful and challenging dialog.
I want to reflect for a few posts on Confirmation. It’s almost like you never hear of it happening or when someone mentions it, they usually are Roman Catholic or Lutheran. Did Presbyterians forget about this? What is it? Why did the Church have it? I hope to inspect these questions in a somewhat helpful way and before considering the rite of Confirmation it is helpful to back up and begin with defining the term Church.
What is the Church? It’s not the building, though we refer to the building that way. It’s not an institution though we refer to denominations that way. It is an organism, it is a communion. Jesus described the Church as a vine and Paul described it as a body. Both of these examples find their life in Jesus, who gives vitality to the Church. We are members of Christ, in election, his death, resurrection and now seated with him in heaven. Thus with Christ as the Head and the Church as the body, all baptized persons are members of his body.
The question is raised about our children. Are they excluded from this body? Aren’t they people like us finding joy and awe in the world they live in? Don’t they enjoy learning about God and how awesome he is? They marvel at the works of creation made by God. They gaze at the number of the stars, are mesmerized at how animals act and who eats what. They seem to be non-stop growing in the joy of the Lord in everything from playing in water to playing with musical instruments.
Adults engage in God’s world too. Sure it takes more to amuse us. We aren’t as easily brought into wonder and awe but it still happens. We also are moved when we are reminded of God’s forgiveness and love in Jesus. We spend hours and dollars to witness parts of God’s creation. We started a long time ago learning about God and seeing how his works proclaim his glory.
What does this have to do with Confirmation? Confirmation is the beginning of the road. Confirmation is not when they are brought into the body of Christ, Baptism did that. During Confirmation they have been set apart and recognize God’s Gospel call to them. They are on the journey of growing in the Lord. Confirmation is not the first time they confess Christ as Lord, and it will not be the last time. It is their profession of the faith they hold not a ratification of the faith.
We are the baptized, and because of that we are exhorted to seek the Lord’s Table. Abraham Kuyper wrote in his book “The Implications of Public Confession” that the relationship of Baptism to Communion was like that of a newborn. Born and immediately washed because it was born unclean. But the washing was not the goal because soon the babe is brought to the mother’s breast for nourishment. You cannot desire the sacrament of purification and neglect the sacrament of nourishment.
The admonishment by the Apostle to examine ourselves is given to the baptized. When the Session has deemed that a person is able to recognize their sin and their savior they are qualified to receive the “sacrament of nourishment.” Some may retort that a child should have a more mature confession of faith and perhaps be older. Two thoughts. First every person is different but the call on them is the same. Again Kuyper is helpful, “The number of years required for each individual to be qualified for his personal confession was determined by God at the time of that person’s creation… Through those years baptism sounds the plea: Seek the Lord’s holy supper.” (17) Lastly, I can understand the desire to see the young ones “further down the road”. But perhaps there’s a reason we were exhorted by our Lord to have the faith of a child rather than an adult.
So what does the term “Diving Service” mean anyway? Literally it is a “Service of God”, a service where God is the actor and we are the recipients. He calls, he cleanses, he feeds, etc. He calls the church to come to him and be reminded of his goodness. It is a time of the week that is set apart by the command of God wherein the body of Christ is worshipping and being ministered to in the kingdom of God. Reformed worship is different from the contemporary evangelical scene of worship that exists in many (though not all) churches today.
In many contemporary evangelical churches, worship has taken a unique definition. It is the private expression of a person to God. The individual shows their love, respect and honor for God in their singing and their expressions. The personal has taken primacy over the corporate. In fact, it is hard to argue there is much of a corporate aspect in the evangelical scene at all. The result is that many evangelicals are convinced that instead of going to church, they can worship God from their house alone, watching/listening to a sermon on line, or even out in nature spending time alone reflecting on God. In effect they have no need for the church or her ministers. The experience of listening to Christian music in the car can be far more important and appealing than sitting under the preaching of the Word. Worship in the evangelical setting is not so much about what God is doing, it is about what we are doing. It is our work and therefore rightly labelled “man-centered”. (more…)
I read a blog article by Jesse Johnson here on the topic of evening services for Sundays. I read the article and was glad to see someone writing about this. R. Scott Clark has written about the evening service in chapter 8 of Recovering the Reformed Confessions. Johnson’s article deals more with answering the question of why churches are abandoning the evening service. And Clark reminds the reader that the Reformers used the second service as a catechism tool and encourages us to consider taking advantage of that as well. I wanted to take a moment to chime in and add my own 15 cents with a slightly different emphasis.
I talk with members of the congregation or friends at other churches and sometimes ask about evening service attendance. Usually the reason I hear for not attending the service has to do with spending time at home, being tired, kids have a schedule for napping, it’s their free time, homework is crazy, work is crazy, that’s when they spend time with friends, extended family or even attend another church in the evening. There are as many reasons as there are people who don’t attend the evening service. I think people are missing a rather obvious reason to attend the evening service. I also think that if people gave this more thought they would find a way to be at the evening service more consistently because they would realize that evening service absences are missed opportunities. (more…)
In the last post I wrote about that prior to Calvin in Geneva there was William Farel. Farel was instrumental in cleansing Geneva from all the remaining superstitious traditions of Rome but he wasn’t equipped to be the person to replace their forms of worship. Calvin, however, was equipped and in a very methodical and thoughtful manner put together a liturgy and Order of Worship that would remain influential for the Reformed tradition for centuries. In this post I will show that while Calvin wanted to return to a historic pure form of worship he was still a pastor that was mindful of the fragile souls in his ministry. (more…)