I have a question about the keeping of the Sabbath day. There seem to be many differences among congregations of what this looks like, including attendance at both morning and evening worship. How do we see this in light of biblical truth? Does the Bible mandate attending both services? It says to keep the day holy, but are there verses that point to the requirement of attending both a morning and evening worship service? How should we be looking at this question when discussing it with other Christians who have differing opinions on whether that is required? Are there specific verses we can point them to?
Thank you for your excellent question! We in the OPC are odd birds, it is true. One of the ways in which we congregations might be considered “weird” is our practice of having two services on the Lord’s day, meeting for worship in the morning and in the evening. This practice is counter-cultural—and increasingly so—but we should be willing to be called the oddball when it means being obedient to God’s word. What is the biblical, historical and confessional support for this commitment?
Firstly, Scripture consistently presents a day as bookended by “morning and evening.” (See, for example, Genesis 1 and the cadence of the creation days with the order “evening and morning.”) Since we believe that the Sabbath is a holy day to be remembered by God’s people (Ex. 20:8), it is right and fitting for the honor of the day to gather for worship at the beginning and end of the day. Note Psalm 92, which is titled “a Psalm for the Sabbath,” and begins this way:
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)
This liturgical order of “dawn” and “dusk” also is reinforced in Exodus 29 and Numbers 28, where God commanded that the sacrifices in the tabernacle be presented once in the morning and again at twilight. If we in the new covenant are to offer “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15), is it not appropriate to follow the pattern of beginning and ending the day in offering ourselves as living offerings to the Lord? As an illustration of this, it appears that in Acts 20 the early church gathered in the evening hours of the Lord’s Day as part of its regular meeting to break bread and hear God’s word.
Secondly, the practice of morning and evening worship is historically rooted, and has the sanction of antiquity. In the early fourth century, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea described what he understood to be the universal practice of the church:
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.
In the medieval church, evening worship even received its own name: “Vespers,” which comes from the Latin for evening star. This is the likely precedent for the Anglican practice of “Evensong.” For the Reformed, the second service was valued enough to be included in the church order of the Synod of Dort (1618–19).
One of my pastors regularly reminded the congregation, “This is the Lord’s Day, not the Lord’s minute or the Lord’s hour.” The “whole day” emphasis is in keeping with the doctrinal standards of the OPC, for example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches,
60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.” (WSC 60, emphasis added)
Lastly, attending an evening service is of immense encouragement personally and congregationally, as it affords one more opportunity to sing God’s praises, hear God’s word, and fellowship with God’s people–all things of which we can rightly say “twice is better than once.” It fits well with the Reformed emphasis on Christian growth taking place in the context of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:13–17) and the participating in the means of grace. I believe that sanctifying the whole Sabbath, including attending evening worship, can only result in true renewal and refreshment, as God has promised:
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isa. 58:13–14)
Attending evening worship is one of the more significant ways one can seek to sanctify the whole Sabbath day to the Lord.
Note: The author expresses appreciation to URC minister Michael Brown for his kind permission to utilize thoughts from this article.
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