An ominous question! One that parents and elders grieve to hear. But a question, it seems, that is more and more being asked, especially by the young people: “Why do we have to go to church twice? Once is good enough.”
Often the asking of this question is not the first indication that all is not well in the life of the young person who asks the question. There have been indications of problems before this. Likely this question has been preceded by another question: “Why do I have to keep going to catechism? I’ve had all that stuff before.”
It hardly needs to be pointed out that more and more’ the second worship service is being abandoned. Those churches which still have a second Sunday service are often plagued with the problem of “oncers.” This is true even in churches of Reformed persuasion. The preacher dutifully mounts the pulpit to lead a congregation in worship that is half the size of the congregation before whom he stood in the morning. Especially noticeably absent are the younger members of the church.
It must be admitted that the threat to the second worship service is a real threat in our own circles. We ourselves, and especially our young people, are influenced by this trend in the churches today. Perhaps it is the case even that our friends and acquaintances only go to church once. They ask: “Why do you have to go to church twice?” And we begin asking ourselves: “Yes, why DO I have to go to church twice? Where does the Bible say, ‘Thou shalt go to church twice on Sunday?'”
Why go to church twice? This question can, of course, be asked in a good way. Then the intent of the question is to understand the reasons that lie behind this practice which we have. It’s always good to know why we do what we do, to be able to give reasons for our behavior. There ought to be good reasons for doing what we do, besides mere habit and tradition.
But this question can also be asked in a bad way. It can be asked in such a way that we are not genuinely interested in the reasons for going to church twice, but are expressing that we see no need for attending both worship services of the church. Then the question really expresses that we’ve made up our minds that this is unnecessary for us ourselves, and we are serving notice that from now on we do not intend to be present at the second worship service.
I believe that there are good reasons why we ought to go to church twice, reasons which warrant this long-standing practice among us. Even though there is no specific commandment to this effect in the Bible, the teaching of Scripture throughout certainly stands behind this practice.
One obvious reason why we ought to go to church twice on Sunday is that this is what the church itself, through the office of elder, requires of us. We are not on our own in the church, every man doing as he pleases. But there is authority in the church, the authority of the office of elder. And we are called to be in submission to that authority. With regard to the rule of the elders, as is the case wherever we confront authority, we are called to obey unless the obedience that is required of us is plainly contrary to the Word of God. Even if we might not personally agree with or like what is demanded of us, we must submit. This is simply a fundamental principle of the fifth commandment of the law of God. We read in Hebrews 13:17, in connection with the office of elder: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
Now, obviously, the requirement that we be in church twice on Sunday is not in itself an unbiblical requirement. The elders do not call us to behavior that is expressly contrary to the Word of God. Recognizing their authority over us, therefore, we willingly obey. At the same time, we understand that by our obedience we are really obeying Christ Himself Who is pleased to rule us through the office of elder.
But why do the elders require of us attendance at two worship services on Sunday? What reasons lie behind their insisting on the continuance of this practice in the church? Why does the church itself insist on this?
The church that insists on two worship services a Sunday understands a couple of things. First, she is sensitive to the requirement of the fourth commandment that the WHOLE Lord’s Day be devoted to God and the things of His kingdom. Let’s be honest—what lies behind the movement to get away from two worship services? The desire to use the Sabbath Day for other things than the worship of God, either publicly or privately. It’s the mentality of putting my time in at church and then I can be off to the beach, or golf course, or whatever else appeals to me. Young people who are convinced that still today God requires the whole day (it’s the Lord’s Day, don’t forget) are not likely to be asking the question: “Why must I go to church again?”
The church that continues to hold two worship services also understands that at the heart of our observance of the Lord’s Day, the main thing is the preaching of the Word of God. The church of Jesus Christ has the highest estimation of the preaching of the Word. Apart from the preaching, in deliberate separation from the preaching, there is no possibility of proper Sabbath observance. Indeed, apart from the preaching there is no possibility of living the Christian life at all. The Scriptures make plain in places like Romans 10:13-17 and I Corinthians 1:17, 18 that the child of God is saved, both initially and continually, by the preaching of the Word of God.
Because she has this estimation of the preaching of the Word, because she understands the vital place of the preaching in the life of God’s people, the church holds two preaching services a Lord’s Day. The young person who understands this importance of thepreaching understands this importance by his own experience, sees to it that he is in attendance when the Word is preached.
There is something radically wrong when we have no interest in going to church. There is something radically wrong when we begin to think that once to church on Sunday is good enough. Just as something is radically wrong when earthly food does not look good to us, so when the Bread and Water of Life are undesirable to us, something is wrong, terribly wrong, spiritually. This is our salvation! This is the means of grace! This is hearing the Word of Christ the Savior, Whom we ought to love and Whose voice ought to be sweet to us!
It’s Christ’s Word that is heard in church. We ought to think about that. Christ says to us, “I have something to say to you.” Do you dare, do you really dare to say to Christ, “No thanks. What I heard this morning is all I care to hear”? But this is exactly what you do if you absent yourself from the second service.
There are, of course, other good reasons for our faithfully attending the second worship service of the church. An important reason is that by our absence from the worship services we are refusing the fellowship of the saints. By skipping church we not only sin against God, but we sin against our fellow believers. Our attending church is an exercise of the communion of the saints. At church there is the strengthening of the bond between the believers themselves. By staying away we reveal very clearly the value we place on the communion of the saints.
Keeping ourselves from the worship services we are also failing in our obligation to support the causes of God’s kingdom. Collections are taken at the worship services. These are not incidental to, but an important aspect of our worship. It is the responsibility, as well as the privilege, of every believer to support financially the causes of God’s kingdom. By not being present at the worship services, and thus not contributing in the collections that are taken, we fail in this aspect of our calling as members of God’s church. In the Old Testament the children of Israel were guilty of this very thing. God’s Word to them is a word of sharp rebuke: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation” (Mal. 3:8, 9).
What about those churches that have abandoned the second worship service? What about those churches where, although a second service is conducted, the building is only half full? Isn’t the loss of the second worship service only one more symptom of the great spiritual plague unto death which has pervaded the churches today? Is it not simply one more indication that the churches are not really interested in the worship of God, the Word of God, and the knowledge of the truth of God? Isn’t it really only another indication of the apathy and indifference towards spiritual things that abounds today and which Scripture tells us is one of the outstanding signs of the end of the world? Isn’t this exactly an aspect of the lack of love for the truth, which Paul says in II Thessalonians 2:10-12 is the main reason to account for the rise to power of the Antichrist? And isn’t it the case that behind the abandoning of the second worship service lurks the devil of worldliness and pleasure-madness?
Already in the early history of the New Testament church there were those who had begun to neglect the worship services. These the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24, 25). Notice that: “and so muchthe more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Let the word of the prophet Isaiah decide the issue: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Is. 58:13, 14).