A Sunday Evening Bible Study Is Good But A Second Worship Service Is Better

Romans 10 On The Centrality Of The Official Preaching Of The Gospel

When I first began to become Reformed (c. 1980) I was familiar with the second service because my Southern Baptist congregation had an evening service. Indeed, we had a Wednesday evening service in addition to the Sunday morning service. Oddly, much to the chagrin of our Reformed pastor, who had been raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition, the German Reformed congregation to which I migrated did not have a Lord’s Day evening service. Instead, we gathered for a Bible study on Sunday afternoon. Thus, when I got to seminary in 1984 I had quite gotten out of the habit of the evening service and I had to re-learn it as a young pastor in Kansas City.

To be sure, the Lord used the Sunday afternoon study. I learned a great deal and we had times of sweet fellowship. Still, despite the apparent practical benefits of that Bible Study, we were still missing out on something very important: we do not confess a Bible study to be a means of grace. We do confess that a public worship service is a means of grace.

In Romans 10, as Paul is explaining how “all Israel” (i.e., the elect) will be saved by the unconditional grace of God alone, through faith alone resting in Christ alone, he explains how it is that God the Spirit works to bring all the elect to new life (regeneration) and to true faith in Jesus the Messiah: through the preached Word.

The Jews think that they can establish their righteousness before God on the basis of their obedience to the law (i.e., to the covenant of works). Paul flatly contrasts “the righteousness from the law” (Rom 10:5) with the “righteousness from faith.” The Law says, “the man who does these things shall live by them.” He was quoting Leviticus 18:5. According to Paul, Leviticus 18:5 was teaching a covenant of works. The Reformed agree with Paul. For more on this see the resources linked below.

After all, Paul argues, we do not climb into heaven to bring Christ down or go into the grave to bring him up (Rom 10:7). In the grace of God, Christ came down to us and he has been raised and he is ascended to the right hand of God. He quotes Deuteronomy again: “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Deut 30:14). That word is the “word of faith, which we are preaching” (Rom 10:8; emphasis added).

Believers are those who confess with the mouth and believe in the heart that Jesus is Lord, that God raised him from the dead. It is through faith that we are saved (Rom 10:9). Faith is not works. Faith is the gift of God. Paul says, “for with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confesses unto salvation” (Rom 10:10). To paraphrase John Cleese (from “The Parrot Sketch”) “works don’t enter into it” in Romans 10. It is the one who believes who will not be put to shame” (Rom 10:11 quoting Isa 28:16).

Because salvation (justification, sanctification, and glorification) is by grace alone, through faith alone (not a faith formed by affections), there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Rom 10:12). The Dispensationalists are wrong. There are not two peoples of God, Jew and Gentile. There has always and only been one people: Jew and Gentile alike trust in Jesus the Messiah for their righteousness and salvation. God is gracious to all who call on him. Paul quotes Joel 2:32, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). Calling is an expression of true faith (i.e., knowledge, assent, and trust).

Only those who believe can call. Only those who hear can believe. Paul writes:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the news of good things! (Rom 10:14–15; NASB95, quoting Isa 52:7).

In v. 16 Paul goes on to quote Isaiah 53:1, “Who has believed our report?” From this he deduces, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:16; NASB95).” The “word of Christ” has gone out “into all the earth” (Ps 19:4) Paul says (Rom 10:18).

The official proclamation of God’s Word is central to Paul’s understanding of how God has ordained to bring salvation to his elect.  A Bible study, for all the value it has, however free God the Spirit is to operate through it, is not the preaching of God’s Word. The official, ordained, proclamation of the “word of Christ,” whether under the types and shadows looking forward—there is only one covenant of grace in multiple administrations—or in the New Covenant is the divinely ordained means of bringing to new life (regenerating) his elect. It is through the preaching of the holy gospel, is that means ordained by God to work faith. Thus we confess in Heidelberg Catechism 65:

Since we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith alone, from where comes this faith?>

The Holy spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments.

The official preaching of the gospel is what the Reformed call “a means of grace.” For the benefits of a small-group Bible study on Sunday afternoon or evening, this divine promise is not attached to it.

There are other reasons why Reformed Christians and churches should not have traded in the second or evening service for a Bible study but this one is chief. We are absenting ourselves from the thing that God has ordained. We have substituted for it something that we wanted, that we thought was a good idea.

The history of the church is clear: our generation is alone in this opinion. We are the first Christians in the history of the church to trade in the second service wholesale for a Bible study.

How long did those Bible studies last, for which we gave up the second service? In too many cases, those Bible studies gradually disbanded and they were replaced with shopping or work or sports or something else.

Paul’s argument is Romans 10 is compelling and intentional. The public, official preaching of the gospel is the way that God the Spirit brings his people to new life and true faith. If we would see Reformation and renewal in the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches we must return to the centrality of the preached gospel and that will lead us back to the biblical and ancient Christian practice of the second service.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. I appreciate this Dr. Clark. I was wondering – do you see the popularization and promotion of midweek bible studies (especially those which are constructed as miniature churches*) as a big part of discipleship – as also being part of the reason that the evening Lord’s Day service has seen decline?

    *by that I mean – they are set up as being ones community and they seek to keep each other accountable apart from the life of the rest of the church – some even being encouraged to observe the Lord’s Table together and to do works of charity in the community together – again all apart from the rest of the local church.

    • Paul,

      The idea of small groups as “mini-churches” was a practice of the Pietists, who prioritized religious experience over doctrine and “activity” over the ministry of the visible church. They called them “ecclesiolae in ecclesia,” little churches in the church. They’ve also been called conventicles. The idea probably dates to a 13th-century heretical group, the Albigensians.

      There’s nothing wrong with a pastor or elder leading a mid-week Bible study. The churches in Geneva held devotions during the week and Calvin himself taught a Friday evening Bible study. The problem arises when the small group becomes the de facto church. This is built into the megachurch movement.

      The conventicles/small groups probably contributed to the decline of the second Lord’s Day service but the chief culprit is the loss of the Christian doctrine of the Sabbath. There are two chapters on these questions/topics in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

  2. Thanks Dr. Clark. Shamefully – I do still need to pick up that book. I won’t put it off longer. I’ll head over to RHB now.

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