Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are Saturday Night Services Biblical?

I received this question last week and felt it made for a good entry on the blog:

“Today many churches have a Saturday night service. Some have added such a service because they are at capacity and need room for more people to attend. Others may do it to ‘attract a different group of people.’ Where does the Bible stand on this? My background has always led me to be anti-Saturday night service. However, I'm having trouble knowing if my position is merely because ‘that's how it is’ or because it's based on the Bible. What do you think?”

 It definitely is something we are seeing more and more. I think the question of the Bible's words on Sunday services is really just the first half of the question (though obviously a pretty important half!). I would suggest that Sunday-only worship is an example of common practice being codified into law over time.

 The reasons we have Sunday services are fairly obvious, and they do come from Scripture. Christ rose on the first day, and in so doing, He began a new creation. God was saying "Let there be light" again, on the same day of the week He had done it the first time. Chronologically, the next reference after the Resurrection is in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Paul told the Corinthians to make their contributions to the collection he was taking for the Jerusalem Church on the first day of the week. He does not reference a worship service directly, but it seems reasonable to assume that was what made it a good day to give their offerings. After that comes Acts 20:7. Just a few decades after Christ had ascended, it seems Sunday was already the primary day for gathering to have Communion (which was the focal point). Finally, in Revelation 1:10, it had become so much a part of the Christian pattern that John calls it the "Lord's Day."

Clearly, Sunday is an important day for Christians. However, there were other days of note. The original Lord's Supper had taken place on a Wednesday or Thursday. The Sabbath on Saturday was still the day that had more than one thousand years of history and tradition as the day of worship. And Acts 2:46 says the saints gathered "daily." Sunday had its competitors, and they muddy the waters.

Even more important, though, is the question of commandment. Nowhere in the Bible does it say Christians must worship on Sunday. It is clearly recommended because of its relationship to the Resurrection, but it is never given as a law or rule for us to follow. The Bible is silent here, and it forces us to make a decision. Some say we should only do the things described in the New Testament, and silence on something is taken as prohibition of it. That is certainly the easier road when it comes to certainty, but it is also the road to legalism. Baptisms would all have to occur in the open air, Christians would have to greet each other by kissing on the mouth, women would have to wear head coverings in church, and musical instruments could not be an aspect of worship. Some sects go in one or other of these directions, but no one does all of them because they are all untenable in our culture. It might be easy as far as it concerns not having to think for ourselves, but it becomes impossible in practice. The other option is to take the Bible's silence as neither approval nor disapproval, and then doing the hard work of applying Biblical principles to whatever question we have. I think that is what needs to be done with the idea of Saturday services.

 The question is not, "Why have a Saturday service," but, "Why come to a Saturday service?" What is the honest response to this going to be for most attendees? The purpose of gathering should be to share in God's glorification. If that is being done, I think the day it happens hardly matters. After all, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Some people are incapable of doing that on a Sunday, and if that is the reason most people would go on Saturday, it is probably a good thing to have. On the other hand, some people can go on a Sunday but would prefer Saturday for their own convenience. If enabling that sort of selfishness was a reason given to add a Saturday service, then it should not be done. I also think adding a Saturday service merely because of space is a tenuous reason. I could see having it for a limited amount of time, but not indefinitely. The goal should be to add more space or recruit a seed congregation for a new church plant. Doing it purely for seating would breed the type of laziness I am so concerned to avoid.

Also, it is vital that those who attend Saturday be given a way to become part of the life of the church. There need to be classes, groups, ministries, etc. Without them, there would be a slippery slope. Saturday would become a chance to stamp a time card, an easy sacrifice of a single hour in order to “get in good with God,” rather than an act of worship. That danger already exists on Sundays, but Saturdays would magnify it if the service were left in isolation.

Of course, we still need to leave room for patience. A number of people would go Saturday because it is convenient, but also because they do not know better. They need to have the time and freedom to learn. Eventually, the hope would be that they would get plugged into other disciplines. Even if they continued going Saturday, it would be acceptable if it were about the worship experience rather than the mere convenience. The real problem I see is people who now go on Sunday quitting to go Saturday, and that would be more a matter for correction.

The phrase "good, better, best" comes to mind, but my twist on it is "bad, good, better." It is bad when people do not attend church at all, either because they cannot or do not want to do so. Saturday services would be good because they would open a door to people who are currently excluded. But Sunday will always be better. Even if it was not the commanded day, it was the preferred one. I would argue we have the freedom to set up others, but we need to be very certain of our reasons for doing so. 

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