Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Many Services Should a Church Have, Anyway?

This is a controverted question in the current day. Following from yesterday's discussion, there are a considerable number of churches today that cut out some of the traditional services--Sunday night and Wednesday night--in order to streamline the church and avoid cluttering the busy calendars of the members. Is this a positive development or a negative one?

Well, let me first say that I personally have no problem with a church that has multiple weekly services, meaning the Sunday night and Wednesday night gatherings. There is much good that comes from such times of worship, and I personally enjoy the Sunday night service at my local church as much as any other service in the week. It's relaxed and calm and tends nicely to reflective thought and encouragement. I thus can see the benefits of having such a service. In addition, a Wednesday night service can be really nice for those who seek some midweek nourishment from the Word of God. That is only a positive thing, and it is unwise to cast stones at those who really enjoy and benefit from the midweek service. In short, then, I'm not opposed to a church having any kind of service devoted to the edification of the church members.

However, I do think that we can sometimes become a little over-distressed at the loss of traditional services. I guess I could put it like this: I can see the merits of both sides of this discussion. As a married man whose family time regularly consists of a few squeezed-in hours each night, I am quite aware of the lack of time I have with my wife. I want us to worship God as the New Testament calls us to do, and so that means that we must be absolutely committed to the corporate gathering that takes place on Sunday morning. And because our church emphasizes attendance on Sunday night, and because I find that it is rich and nourishing, we go to the Sunday night service. But were I to be a pastor, I cannot say that if my church met only on Sunday morning that we would be violating Scripture. There is no proof that I personally can adduce to make that argument. The same goes for a Wednesday night service. I fully understand if someone wants to fight for the continuing existence of such services, and I think it unwise and ungodly to sneer at them for doing so. However, I do think that this line of argumentation suffers from a lack of clear biblical support. Put plainly, we are not commanded to worship on Wednesday night.

There is much wisdom in observing church history and seeking to learn from Christians who proceeded us in the faith. I want to do this for the rest of my life. I do not presume to think at the present stage of the church's life, we have reached the apex of wisdom. Far from it. There is so much, so very much, to learn from Christians who proceeded us in the faith. In fact, I naturally hesitate to depart from the traditions of godly Christians who laid down a path of faithfulness for future believers to follow. The confessional traditions especially draw my interest and devotion, for they were so thoughtful, so rooted in Scripture, and the reformers and the Puritans possessed such strong faith and biblical wisdom. With all this said and acknowledged, though, I am yet aware that these traditions are not themselves divine. Their practices and advice do not carry the weight of the Bible. While I see them as godly advisors, then, I do not see them as the normative voice of authority.

Where does all this leave us? With freedom. With freedom to pursue simplicity. We must obey Scripture, and we must seek a vibrant congregational life. We must preach the Word, hear the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word. We must not give these things up. We must do them with joy and freshness. And yet we must also avoid a new law, an addendum to Scripture, that binds our consciences and induces guilt where it is not deserved. Churches have freedom to structure their weekly calendars. They should take into account the busyness of life, the demands upon the family in a society in which the father must often be away from the home for much of the day, the separation of many children from the home due to schooling, and the effects that these modern trends exert upon the family. They must ask whether they are harming the family to help the church. This is a difficult question, and we must wrestle with it today, balancing the scriptural mandate, the goodness of corporate gathering, and the gifts of freedom and simplicity that God has given His local church.

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Blogger Terry Lange said...

I have been thinking the same things myself, but more so along the lines of why do we do the things that we do. Are they biblically based? or do we do things out of sheer habit and tradition. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

7:09 PM  

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