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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.
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 have written in the previous two posts about the progression in Geneva in the formulation of their worship. In this post I want to provide the basic outline of Calvin’s Liturgy in Geneva according to Eutaxia; Or the Presbyterian Liturgies Charles Washington Baird then add commentary.
Prior to Calvin, Farel came through and purged all forms of suspicious worship. Calvin initially planned on staying only one night. However, he was talked into staying by Farel to assist in reforming the church in Geneva. “It was his duty before God” according to Farel. If it was up to Calvin, he would have studied somewhere in some obscure location in privacy. Calvin portrays Farel’s most convincing words when he writes:
Then Farel, who was working with incredible zeal to promote the gospel, bent all his efforts to keep me in the city. And when he realized that I was determined to study in privacy in some obscure place, and saw that he gained nothing by entreaty, he descended to cursing, and said that God would surely curse my peace if I held back from giving help at a time of such great need. Terrified by his words, and conscious of my own timidity and cowardice, I gave up my journey and attempted to apply whatever gift I had in defense of my faith. (Church History One Hundred One, William M. Ramsay, 2006, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 57) (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…)
Liturgy and worship is something that always draws controversy. Bring up the discussion of liturgy and worship with two people and you will have two opinions. Include in that discussion a congregation and the conversation just became unmanageable. Sometimes members of a Reformed church will simply claim “RPW”, as if that settles the discussion. The regulative principle of worship given in WCF 21.1 and Catechism on 2nd Commandment…most notably in the Heidelberg. (more…)
The words of God are clear and distinct, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” (1 Sam. 15:22; Matt. 15:9). Every addition to his word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere “will worship” (ethelothreeskeia) is vanity. This is the decision, and when once the judge has decided, it is no longer time to debate.
John Calvin (2010-03-25). The Necessity of Reforming the Church (Kindle Locations 84-87).
It is a difficult thing as Calvin notes to pursuade the world that God has determined how he is to be worshipped. The problem is not our zeal but rather our obedience to God’s revealed will. Therein lies a problem when we take the opinion that we can approach God how we will rather than how he has already “willed”. Thank God for the mercy we have in Jesus. Therefore we are represented by the faithfulness of our federal head Jesus and spared the fate of Nadab and Abihu.