Word came yesterday that a presbyterian church, in a NAPARC denomination, cancelled its Sabbath day service yesterday in order to allow its members to go out and spend time with sinners on and, only incidentally, watch the Super Bowl. We might call this Super Sunday Sabbath Slippage. What began a two decades ago as a move to replace the afternoon or evening service into a Super Bowl watching party has come to replace the only service. How? Well, in many ostensibly Reformed and Presbyterian congregations there is only one service. In some places that one service has been moved to the afternoon or early evening in order to accommodate the schedules of those who attend. After all, there are errands to run, work to do, and soccer games to attend.
This is another reminder that one thing doesn’t always lead to another but sometimes it does. It all depends on the rationale being employed. Many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations gave up the second service on the ground that they wanted to facilitate fellowship and so they replaced the second service with small groups. Implicit in this move is the notion that small group Bible study is on the same order as the “due use of ordinary means.” When that phrase was given to us it referred, in the first instance, to those things that occur in decent and orderly Sabbath-day worship services: the reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, and the administration of the sacraments. In other places two services simply gave way to one service or perhaps there never was a second service and there’s not even a small group substitute for the second service.
What is interesting about this latest development is its ostensible justification: evangelism. If evangelism is sufficient ground to justify canceling the only Lord’s Day service on Super Bowl Sunday, why hold Sunday services at all? After all, there are sinners in need to hearing witness to the Gospel every Sunday, are there not? On that ground, is it not cruel to deny to them witness to the gospel the other 51 Sundays each year?
In case it isn’t obvious, I’m being facetious. Nevertheless, there’s an important point here. There are 6 other days during the week besides the Lord’s Day. Unless every member works in a monastery (and even if they do), there are plenty of opportunities to rub shoulders with the lost Monday through Saturday. The lost have even been known to wander into (or be invited to) a regular service where the gospel is preached and forgiveness freely offered to all who repent and believe. To paraphrase Matthew 26:8, the lost we will always have with us but only have one day a week set aside to anoint the feet our Lord, as it were.
We ought to be greatly concerned about the lost and we ought be about giving witness to the faith and to our faith in the Savior to our friends, neighbors, and co-workers as the Lord grants opportunity. We should pray for such opportunities and pray for grace to speak up when they come. There is no need, however, to leverage worship with evangelism. It’s not an either/or proposition. What will we say to the lost whom we win on the churchless Sunday?
Evangelist: “We want you to come to church with us next week.”
Convert: “Why? You aren’t in church now.”
Evangelist: “True, but this is different. It is a special outreach.”
Convert: “Why is it special?”
Evangelist: “Because it’s the Super Bowl.”
Convert: “So, if there’s an event of sufficient importance Christians can cancel services?”
“Convert: Great because I love the NFL and there are ton of unbelievers at the stadium and sports bar every Sunday!”
Evangelist: “Well, we can’t cancel services every Sunday. Just for the Super Bowl.”
Convert: “But I learned somewhere that Christians gather on Sunday because that’s the day Jesus was raised.”
Evangelist: “True, it is.”
Convert: “Now I’m confused. A man was raised from the dead on this day and you’re telling me that it’s the Super Bowl makes it special. Dude, that’s wack”
We can understand the convert’s confusion.
The same Lord who wants us to give witness to the faith (and our faith; see John 9) also wants us to gather on the Lord’s Day for the regular, divinely ordained worship services in which God speaks to us in his Word and we reply to him with his Word, where the preached gospel is sealed with the holy sacraments. It may not seem very powerful. Indeed, it has seemed to some to be downright foolish (see 1 Cor 1-2). Nevertheless, that’s God’s way in the world. Sending his Son to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary, to be crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead, buried, and raised on the third day was not a terribly efficient and obviously powerful or effective way to inaugurate his kingdom, but it was God’s way.
Let’s graciously give witness to the faith (and our faith) but let’s not neglect the assembling of ourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing (Heb 10).