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Wednesday Night Church… 2012-style.

imageWednesday night church certainly isn’t anything new!  “The Dictionary of Christianity in America” states that the Puritans had Sunday morning and evening services plus a Thursday morning “lecture.”    During the revival era of Charles Finney and Dwight Moody, there were mid-day prayer meetings.   As the 1800’s progressed more churches had a mid-week prayer service (likely copying these revivalists’ techniques).  There was a movement in 1857-1858 called the “Prayer Meeting Revival.” By 1900 most Protestant churches had a midweek prayer service.  As the 1900’s progressed, however, this morphed into a preaching/teaching service.

In the latter half of the 1900s as there seemed to be little distinction between the Wednesday service and the Sunday service, the practice of a midweek service slowly died away, often replaced by midweek home Bible studies. (Others would credit more nefarious reasons for the demise of midweek service, but I don’t).

Now today there is a new take on the midweek service, but for a totally different purpose.

An article in USAToday this week entitled “Churches Switching to Wednesday Worship’” talked about a different kind of Wednesday night service.  The article began:

As New England sweltered in early July, Sunday mornings came and went without a single soul showing up for worship in the hot, stuffy sanctuary of First Congregational Church of Salem, N.H. Even the pastor stayed home.

But God wasn’t forgotten. Worship just waited until Wednesday evenings, when the cool comfort of the basement fellowship hall drew as many as 40 to sing and pray. That’s 50 percent more than the church attracted when it met on summer Sundays….

This Wednesday (July 18), First Church Congregational in Methuen, Mass, will begin a three-week experiment with Wednesday worship. For the first time this August, the only worship services at Plymouth Congregational in Plymouth, N.H., will be on Wednesday evenings. Worshippers will exit to the sounds of live music as crowds arrive for outdoor concerts on Plymouth Common.

“People were a little taken aback initially,” said Emily Knapp, a deacon at First Congregational Church of Georgetown, Mass., where a shift to Wednesday worship has boosted average summer attendance from 15 to 40. From September to May, attendance averages around 80.

“But churches sometimes get stuck,” Knapp said. “This has helped us say, ‘Yeah, let’s try new things. Let’s be innovative.'”

Most churches just are resigned that high percentage of church members will be gone on a certain number of weekends of the summer.  Here in Oregon it is a standing “understanding”:  we have had rain and cool so much of the year (9 mos or so) and nice outside weather for such a short window (3 mos or so) that worship attendance can often be decimated.

Others, unwilling to just give in to “the ways of the world” or “the slippery slope of secularism” have fulminated against the supposed lack of commitment of absent church members.

But a third way is developing, even though it is admittedly small and inconsistently applied.

In the churches mentioned in the article, Sunday services are simply switched to Wednesday evening.  It is often not an additional service.  It is THE main worship service of the church.  And, according to the article, both attendance and giving, have gone up over previous summers.

Now some churches have simply added a midweek service IN ADDITION to their weekend services.  These churches have not seen the increase recorded by the others.  It seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition.   (Although I do note that all of the churches mentioned are small congregations: 25, 40, etc. in attendance).

So…is Sunday worship (recently we have expanded it to “weekend worship”—see below) a matter of tradition and opinion or is it a matter of doctrinal soundness?

From fairly early on, the Christian church has been distinguished by regular Sunday worship (as opposed to Saturday services in the synagogues for Jews).

Sunday (“the first day of the week” according to the Jewish calendar) was the day upon which Jesus arose (MOST Christians affirm that, but not all).

  • Mark 16:9: Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.
  • John 20:1: Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
  • John 20:19-20a: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

Most Christians have seen worship on Sunday (“the first day of the week”)  as an example set by the early church that we should follow.  (Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-Day Baptists, etc. would be the notable exceptions—not because they deny that Jesus arose on the first day of the week but because they believe that the Old Testament regulation of Sabbath [Saturday] worship is still binding on Christians).

  • Acts 20:7: On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
  • I Cor 16:2: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

The church stream from which I come (the Stone-Campbell restoration movement) has held that we are to follow biblical “command and example”.  Therefore, the “example” of Sunday worship has always been an important principle.  (While there is no command to worship on Sunday, there is no New Testament example of Christians, particularly Gentile Christians, worshipping on any day other than Sunday).

ON THE OTHER HAND, Paul says in…

  • Romans 14:4-6: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
  • Colossians 2:16: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

The USAToday article quotes Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University to say: “It is becoming more common for churches to experiment with different times, days and venues for worship gatherings.”

More and more churches have a Saturday night service or even a Friday night service and talk about their “weekend services”.  But they are still tied (it seems to me) in some way to a Sunday observance as the main worship service of the church.

I repeat my question from above: is Sunday worship (or even loosely “weekend worship”) a matter of tradition and opinion or is it a matter of doctrinal soundness?

What do you think?  I want to think it is a great innovative idea.  But I am perhaps 60/40 opposed to it.  If it allows people the opportunity to worship with the rest of the body on a more regular basis, perhaps Paul’s admonition to not worry about the specific day applies.  On the other-hand, is the principle of following biblical command and example a valid one to which we need to adhere?  (I’m not sure it is exactly parallel to using Coke & Doritos for the elements of the Lord’s Supper, but that’s what comes to mind—that practice give me the creeps when I hear about it).   Are all biblical commands & examples flexible to what is most convenient for us?  I think most of us would say no, but where is the boundary?

Or is the principle of following biblical “example” along with biblical “command” a false one?    If the Bible doesn’t specifically command something are we free to do whatever we want, regardless of what others in the early church (or throughout church history) did?

I believe that the requirement to follow biblical example is a valid one.  Paul seems to consistently emphasize the importance of following his example and that set by other faithful disciples:

  • I Cor 4:16:  I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
  • I Cor 11:1: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
  • Phil 3.17: Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
  • Phil 4:9: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
  • 2 Tim 3.10: You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,
  • Hebrews 6:11-12: And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

What thoughts do you have on it? I genuinely would like to know….

(Interestingly, I began writing this blog post 60/40 IN FAVOR of the idea & ended it in the final edit 60/40 OPPOSED to it).

Again, you can find the article here.

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