Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Saturday Worship Services
Recently Lake Pointe Baptist Church, in suburban Dallas, Texas, began offering an alternative worship format that is now being considered by as many as 10,000 churches across North America. The Southern Baptist congregation of 2,200 added a Saturday night worship service to its weekly schedule, challenging the centuries- old norm of Sunday morning as the only viable time for corporate worship. Why? “There is a population of unchurched people who cannot be reached by a Sunday-morning service,” explains Mark Yoakum, Lake Pointe minister of education. “And secondly, we don’t have educational or parking space available on Sunday mornings to accommodate the kind of growth we’ve experienced in recent years.”
It is estimated that some 3,000 to 4,000 churches in the United States are already offering alternative-day worship services in addition to their Sunday services. While this figure represents only one percent of the nation’s churches, it includes ten percent of America’s 100 largest churches. Among these is the highly visible and increasingly influential Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. This church, pastored by Bill Hybels, features two Saturday night and two Sunday morning services.
Why are these churches doing this? Several answers are offered. Some are saying that one operative factor involves the cultural acceptance of alternative-day worship engendered by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1970 the Vatican gave approval for Saturday masses. Now, twenty years later, a number of dioceses report that attendance is greater for Saturday’s masses than for Sunday’s. Many Protestant churches with Saturday-night services are located in communities with large Catholic presences.
Another factor is rising building costs. It is extremely costly for growing congregations to expand or relocate their facilities.
Some churches are going to alternative- day services so that they can experiment with more contemporary music and other innovations. This trend is especially widespread among many older churches seeking to reach a younger constituency or the unchurched. For example, five years ago Calvary Church (Undenominational) in Grand Rapids began a Saturday-night service using a contemporary band, drama, testimonies, the pastor dressed in blue jeans, and a question and answer segment. The net result: two very traditional services on Sunday morning which attract 3,500 people, and one Saturday-night service that attracts an additional 600 people.
Carl F. George, director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth, calls alternative- day services “the trend of the future.” We are also being told that few pastors and theologians object to alternative-day services on theological grounds; Several evangelical leaders, however, question whether the movement is more trendy than Bible based. “Is worship like snacking, which we do only at our own convenience, such as when it doesn’t interfere with our favorite television show?” asks David Barrett, editor of World Christian Encyclopedia. “There is a point when Christianity becomes so customized and so time-serving that one has to doubt whether we are understanding what corporate worship is really all about.”
What must we think of all this?’ There are theological reasons why we must never “offer” alternative-day services.” Those reasons are rooted in the Bible’s teaching concerning the Sabbath Day and its observance by the people of God. Reformed believers confess with the Heidelberg Catechism that God requires in the fourth commandment: “First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a christian. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal sabbath” (Lord’s Day 38).
There is certainly nothing wrong with having worship services during the week. That’s obvious from the Catechism’s answer when it says “… that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God . . . .” We have services on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Old Year’s, New Year’s, Good Friday, Prayer Day, and Ascension Day. Some Reformed churches have midweek services as well. Worship services were conducted daily in Calvin’s Geneva. This is perfectly proper. In fact, we probably should have more weekday services.
The problem with the movement we are witnessing in our day is that these are alternative-day services. These are worship services which are designed to attract the unchurched and alleviate overcrowding on Sundays. The result will be that thousands are taught to ignore the proper observance of the Lord’s Day. An integral part of the gospel which must be preached to the unchurched is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”
What we are seeing is indeed a trend, a trend away from the biblical teaching concerning the sabbath and its observance. This is a way for people to salve their consciences concerning the Lord’s Day by going to church on Saturday night. If I go to church on Saturday night, I can sleep in on Sunday and use the rest of the day for whatever I please. This is but another evidence of compromise with the world of unbelief on the part of some of the American churches.
The President and the Homosexual Community
The fact that Scripture demands that Christians obey those in authority, does not mean that Christians are to approve of or even ignore wrong doing on the part of those in authority. President-elect Clinton and his wife (this article was written on January 6) are expected to visit an inaugural- eve reception honoring gay activist David Mixner, one of the first couple’s closest advisers and friends, according to organizers of the event. Mixner is credited with raising $3.4 million from homosexuals for the Clinton campaign, and for winning campaign recognition of gay and lesbian causes. Organizers say there will be at least seven homosexual sponsored events, including the reception, dinners, and an inaugural ball for 1,500 people at the National Press Club. The Lesbian and Gay Band of America will perform in the January 20 inaugural parade, and a homosexual cheering squad will be prominently placed along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route.
If all this happens, and we have no reason to believe it won’t, Christians ought to write to Mr. Clinton, pointing him to the biblical truth concerning the terrible sin of homosexualism and urging him to repent and disassociate himself from the gay community.
National & International Religion Report
GKN Votes to Remain in REC
Adopting the advice of its Deputies for Ecumenical Affairs, the synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands) decided to stay in the Reformed Ecumenical Council. The synod, however, did place a condition on continued REC membership. If the REC adopts a proposal to create a category of suspended membership, the GKN will immediately withdraw. Less than 10% of the synodical delegates were opposed to remaining in the REC.
The Deputies for Ecumenical Affairs judged that the move towards suspension was aimed at the GKN. The proposal to include suspension in the REC constitution came during debate about GKN membership at the REC Assembly in Athens in 1992. This debate caused some members of the GKN to consider withdrawing from the REC.
As reported earlier in this column, some of the member churches have withdrawn from the REC because of the Council’s refusal to oust the GKN. Objections have been raised against the liberalism of the GKN, her membership in the World Council of Churches, and her tolerance of homosexuals in her pulpits.
The GKN is one of the founding and charter members of the REC, which began in 1948 as the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
REC News Exchange
Persecution in Pakistan
On the evidence of one witness a judge in Pakistan sentenced GUI Masih, a Christian, to hang for blasphemy. During the course of an argument with a neighbor who claimed that Mary, Jesus mother, must have been a woman of ill repute, Masih replied that Mohammed had had eleven wives, one of them a minor. This remark is judged to be blasphemy.
The judge, in sentencing Masih, said the neighbor’s testimony rang true and needed no corroboration. “Sajjad Hussain is a young man of 21 years age, student of fourth year with a beard and outlook of being a true Muslim, and I have no reason to disbelieve him,” the judge wrote.
This decision, along with the government’s recent ruling that all citizens of Pakistan must state their religious affiliation on an identity card are causing a great deal of alarm among the Christian minority in Pakistan.
REC News Exchange