Way More Than Twice

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Last month I had the privilege of serving as a delegate from Classis Iakotato to Synod 2019 of the Christian Reformed Church. We deliberated and decided on many matters including the funding of denominational ministries, responding better to allegations of abuse, rejecting kinism, and approving a biblical foundation for understanding human sexuality.

One discussion that especially held my interest was about worship. It had to do with these particular instructions in the CRC Church Order: “[Each] congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day, to hear God’s Word, to receive the sacraments, to engage in praise and prayer, and to present gifts of gratitude” (article 51). Trinity CRC, where I serve as pastor, follows the wisdom of this Church Order article with our two services each Sunday in which we seek to glorify God and grow in our faith through the Word and Sacrament. Gathering twice on Sundays “reflect[s] the Biblical practice of morning and evening sacrifice and patterns developed in church history” (Synod 2019 Agenda, p. 509).

However, Trinity CRC is in the minority. Only about a third of CRC congregations hold two worship services on Sundays. So if the Church Order is meant to reflect church practices, the question was raised whether to remove the specific reference to “twice” in article 51. Synod delegates noted a number things, including the multiethnic nature of our denomination: Many congregations that aren’t predominantly Dutch hold midweek services or early morning prayer services. Moreover, “neither God’s Word nor the Reformed confessions mandate a second preaching service; in fact, the goals of rest and worship reflected in the confessions may be met in other ways than by attendance at a public worship service” (p. 511).

At the end of the day, the delegates to synod decided to remove the specific clause in article 51 about gathering twice on Sundays (the rest of article 51 will remain the same). However, we added this next sentence: “Each classis [regional group of congregations] shall affirm the rich tradition of assembling a second time on the Lord’s Day for worship, learning, prayer, and fellowship by encouraging churches to include these items as part of a strategic ministry plan for the building up of the body of Christ.” Essentially we said that if you’re not going to have a second service, look for ways include the benefits of this practice in your church’s other ministries.

Perhaps not surprisingly, reaching this decision came only after a fair amount of discussion. Some delegates affirmed that yes, we simply need to update the Church Order to align with current reality. I was impressed with a young adult representative, though, who spoke of the value in giving people multiple opportunities to worship and to fellowship together – that is, multiple opportunities for people to feel they belong. My favorite comment on the matter came from a delegate who lamented that the prevailing trend isn’t to change the Church Order to instruct congregations to gather three or four times each Sunday!

That got me thinking: It doesn’t matter what the CRC Church Order says, we are wired to worship God. As St. Augustine prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Worship is so much more than the one or two hours you spend in a church sanctuary on Sunday! If we leave a worship service on any given Sunday, even the second service, with the attitude that we can now check “worship” off our to-do list for another week, then the Church Order mandating 10 services per Sunday won’t help us!

The reality is that worship does not end with the blessing at the close of the service. Instead, gathering for worship services propels us into lives of worship all week long. As examples, we strive to do our best at work, and work with integrity and honesty as part of regularly honoring God; we recognize family members and friends as God’s gifts to us and we regularly thank God for them; we delight in the beauty of creation around us and are eager to regularly glorify God for it.

Only by grace do we gather for worship; only by grace are we compelled to live lives of worship. We worship not to get God’s attention, but because God has already given us His attention and we recognize His power and love in our lives and church despite our sins against Him and frequent gracelessness to one another. We worship God not in order that His blessings may flow to us; on Sundays and all week long, we praise God from whom all blessings have already and continue to flow for time and eternity.

See the July-August 2019 issue of The Banner for lots of reporting on Synod 2019.

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Great commentary by the synodical delegates. I still have a problem with failure to recognize the issue of the shift workers. Why do we tenaciously decide we must address handicapped people, yet ignore the shift workers? What about inclusiveness? I make two observations when I attend the second service (which I admit I don’t always do). 1) attendees are fewer, but they are there because they want to be there. 2) nearly without fail, I and my wife feel really blessed having attended the second service and an opportunity to worship our God a second time.

Too late to make changes?, I think not.

   The reasoning for eliminating the reference to have an evening or second service is based on populism - less churches having a second service, therefore change the rules. It would be like saying more people are getting divorced or don't even bother getting married so lets just scrap marriage. The Church Order should not be a document that reflects church practices but rather church practices should reflect the Church Order.

  The Church Order is a document that we all strive to follow and when we can't we must seek help in finding out what the problem is - which is why we are part of a denomination. The Bible is a document that we all strive to follow also and yet we do not scratch out those parts that only a few people are following.

   Any business that wants to keep its customers offers more 'open hours'. Not less.

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The author of this comment seems to assume that churches dropped the second service for trivial reasons. Whereas I can't speak for other congregations, that wasn't the case for the Montreal CRC. We tried a variety of formats including Bible studies with singing in the Fellowship Hall, but the people who didn't attend those often complained that they preferred the more traditional service in the sanctuary, yet when we did hold those services they didn't show up either. I moved to Sherbrooke, QC to attend university there in 1992, and when I moved back in 1999 there was no longer a second service. Council had decided to cancel it, and I'm sure they didn't come to that decision lightly.

So, if 10 out of 100 attend the second service, we cancel it? When we initiate a church plant, would the church planter not rejoice when 10 people attend? Please help me understand the reasoning. What was gained by cancelling the second service?

  My comment was not about individual churches dropping the second service for trivial reasons. My comment was about how the Church Order is being changed. It seems that we have things backwards - many individual churches drop the second service and then we change the Church Order to reflect that reality. With this kind of system there is no need for a Church Order. If the majority of churches in the denomination decide to drop infant baptism in favor of adult baptism, do we simply change the Church Order to reflect that reality? If so, what is the point of having a Church Order or even a Synod?

  Also, if the majority of churches do not have a second service on Sundays do we simply change the Church Order to make them feel better? It says in the Bible to " rejoice in the Lord always". If I find myself having a hard time following this command, should I scratch it from my Bible to make me feel better?