Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church of Edgerton, Minnesota.
Is once enough? That is, is it enough to attend church once on Sunday? Scripture does not specifically state that we should attend twice. So why go twice? Is this required and necessary?
No one should dispute the fact that poor church attendance is a sin. The Scriptures make this clear, for example, in Hebrews 10:25. There we are admonished “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Obviously there were those, already in the early New Testament church, who were not regular in their attendance. They were unfaithful members. They neglected the worship services on the Lord’s Day. They were “oncers.” Or, worse still, they did not attend at all.
This same sin is prevalent today. In fact, in the great majority of churches poor church attendance has become a serious and extreme problem. Attendance at the morning services continues to dwindle. And as far as the evening service is concerned, attendance is nothing but a shame. Often only a few elderly members attend. The minister preaches to a mere handful of people.
The main reason for this is the way in which poor church attendance is dealt with. Generally churches and consistories do not regard and treat this as a sin. It is not addressed in the preaching or through discipline. Instead, churches attempt to overcome this problem by devising numerous ways to attract people to their second worship service. They introduce gimmicks. The big draw is the choir, or the special music, or a visiting singer, or movies and plays. Some churches even televise the “Super Bowl” in order to fill up the pews. What unbelievable desecration of the Lord’s house!
In some instances the gimmicks work. Crowds flock to hear a musical performance, watch a ball game, or listen to some high-powered evangelist. But worship is no longer worship. Church is no longer church. The preaching of the Word is no longer present. And even when an attempt is made to include preaching, it occupies a mere fraction of the worship time. It is considered unnecessary and unimportant. There are far more exciting things to do during worship. The result? The people of God are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6).
But often even the gimmicks fail. The reason for this is that worship has been reduced to just another form of entertainment. Thus people find better places for entertainment than church. They would much rather be at the beach, or on the golf course, or at a ball game. Eventually, therefore, the second service is abandoned altogether.
In considering this matter, however, we ought to look, not just at others, but especially at ourselves. We are not unaffected. Thankfully consistories deal with the sin. In the way of loving discipline, and out of a deep spiritual concern for those who keep themselves from the worship services, they make visits and bring admonition. This they must do, and had better do. God requires it of them for the sake of the eternal welfare of the sheep He has placed under their care. But the fact still remains that the sin is present. All too easily church is skipped.
The world itself puts much pressure on us to neglect the worship services on the Lord’s Day. To the world, Sunday is synonymous with a day filled with earthly leisure and pleasure. It is a day, not for God, but for “me!” It is a day for travel, for golf, for hiking, for fishing, for waterskiing, for ball games, or for family. Of all the days of the week, Sunday is best suited to such activities. All are encouraged and tempted to view Sunday and use Sunday in these ways.
Can we honestly say that we are unaffected by the world’s use of the Lord’s Day? How often isn’t it said, even amongst us, “We were traveling. We were visiting relatives. We were on vacation.—But we did listen to a sermon on tape!”
Sometimes the pressure comes even from those who profess to be Christians. They attend church once and believe that is enough. The rest of the day is for themselves. And they beckon and tempt us to join them in their fun and recreation.
Those who neglect church usually convince themselves that they have legitimate reasons for doing so. Perhaps one is too tired—which usually means he hasn’t properly prepared himself for the Lord’s Day. Perhaps one does not feel well—well enough no doubt for the beach or a ball game, but not well enough for church. Perhaps one attends other churches, thinking he does not have to be in his own church both times. Perhaps one finds the sermons boring and difficult to follow, and says he doesn’t get much out of worship—which means, of course, that he has a total misunderstanding of what worship is all about.
Another reason why some do not attend church services regularly is Sunday work. Usually the work is either a work of necessity or a work of mercy (e.g., nursing, farming, being a doctor). But church services are missed.
While it is certainly true that God’s people may perform works of necessity or mercy on the Lord’s Day, the question is, is it always proper? And is it good? Should a child of God have such a job if it keeps him or her from being able regularly to attend church twice?
Remember, we are officially called to worship God on Sundays. And it is Christ Himself who, through the officebearers in the church, calls us to worship. Are we, each week, heeding this call of Christ?
Other arguments and excuses arise. But for the most part they are shameful. It is difficult to believe that as God’s people we convince ourselves that these are legitimate reasons for missing church.
Poor church attendance, and the excuses for it, demonstrate a total misunderstanding of what Sunday is for. One way in which we can know what the day is really for is through the names given to it in Scripture.
It is called, first of all, the “Sabbath” day. This name tells us that it is a day of “rest.” And that does not mean it is a day in which wemay be lazy. But it means we rest from the normal, daily activities of our earthly lives. We rest as much as possible from earthly things. And we spend the day busying ourselves with things spiritual. We rest in the enjoyment of the work God has done for us in Christ. In this way we are spiritually strengthened and refreshed. We have a foretaste of the eternal rest God is preparing for us.
Another name given to this day in Scripture is the “Lord’s Day.” This name teaches us that this day is not, as the world thinks, “our” day, with which we may do as we want. Rather, it is the “Lord’s” day. It is a holy day. It is a day in which the believer refrains from doing his own ways, finding his own pleasure, and speaking his own words (Is. 58:13). Instead he delights himself in the Lord his God. He calls the Sabbath a delight.
Perhaps we ought more regularly to use these names to refer to Sunday. They are names that serve as a good reminder to us of what the day really is and ought to be.
Although Scripture does not give a direct injunction which states, “Be in church twice on Sunday!” nevertheless it sets forth basic principles that show that it is definitely not enough to be in church once on the Lord’s Day.
Hebrews 10:25, for example, admonishes us not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Positively this means we should seek out such assembling with the people of God. We should always want to be there when there is a call to worship. For there we have the opportunity to praise and thank God, and to hear His gospel proclaimed to us.
Isaiah 58:13, 14 is significant too. The Sabbath must be a delight. It ought to be a day we look forward to. It ought to be a day we enjoy more than any other day of the week. As those who are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, we become spiritually weary on account of our daily struggles with sin and temptation. We become weary with the constant, spiritual battles we face in this wicked world. What a blessing and privilege, therefore, to have a whole day in which we can put aside earthly things and do the things in which we, as God’s people, delight.
In agreement with and as an explanation of these and other passages of Scripture, the Heidelberg Catechism has something profitable to say concerning church attendance. As part of its explanation of the fourth commandment, the Catechism states, “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” (Lord’s Day 38).
If there is one thing we ought to learn and remember, it is this: the whole day should be devoted to the things of God.
Worship of God on the Lord’s Day should be the one thing that occupies us on that day. And all our earthly life should revolve around this. During the week we must look forward to and prepare ourselves for church on Sunday. And especially on Sunday itself we should seek the house of God. Everything we do on that day should revolve around and be based upon our desire to worship and praise our covenant God and Father for the wonderful work He has done for us through His Son. We should hunger and thirst after the preaching of the Word. We should long for a drink from the living waters of life, our Lord Jesus Christ.
If one does not have such a desire, if one does not delight in the Sabbath, if one does not want to be in church in order to hear the preaching of the Word twice on Sunday, then he has a serious spiritual problem. Something is radically wrong. Even to ask the question, “Is once enough?” is a sign of that spiritual problem.
One who keeps himself from church shows, by his actions, that he has no desire for the Word which God uses to feed and nourish his soul. No doubt he would never miss a meal of earthly food, but spiritual food he thinks he can do without. Christ calls him to worship in order to hear the preaching of the gospel. But his response is, “I’ve heard enough from Christ today. I don’t really care to hear Him again. Once is enough for me.”
Failure to attend church twice on Sunday is a serious sin. It is so because it is a neglect of the chief means of grace, the preaching of the gospel. The preaching is the chief means God uses to work grace and faith in His people. To neglect this is serious. It is neglecting the essential spiritual food we need for our souls. God graciously provides this food for us. He sets before us on the Lord’s Day a spiritual feast. The table is laden with the heavenly riches each of us needs for his soul. In addition to that, God gives us the freedom to gather for worship. Yet all too easily we neglect it. All too easily we despise the blessing of fellowship with God through His Word and Spirit. All too easily we skip the spiritual feast God provides, and we starve our souls.
The faithful child of God gladly attends church. Not because it is expected of him. Not because he is afraid of receiving a visit from the elders if he does not. And not because he can think of nothing better to do on Sundays. But he does it because he delights in doing so.
Is once enough? Is twice?