Is attending evening service compulsory for members in a Reformed church, such as PCC? If so, please show scriptural justifications.
First, I must begin by saying that I do not believe anyone can show a direct commandment from the Scripture that Christians must attend evening services. Secondly, I must hasten to add that it would not be wrong for a church to make it compulsory for her members to attend evening service. I believe it would be sufficient for the Session (or leaders) to show that attendance at the evening service is in accordance to the Scripture and Confession of the church, is good for the members and pleasing to the Lord, in order to impose it as a duty required of her members. This is the principle of rulership in the church. If the Session (or leaders) may only make anything compulsory for which there is a direct command and a “thus saith the Lord,” then why does the writer of Hebrews teach us: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you“ (Heb 13:17). Now, we must be careful not to abuse this verse as Rome has done to require implicit submission to all popes and bishops, even when they contradict the Word of God. But at the same time, we must not over-react against perceived popery and so throw off all respect and submission, and right of rule in the Christian church. Calvin explains the balance well:
Doubly foolish, then, are the Papists, who from these words confirm the tyranny of their own idol: “The Spirit bids us obediently to receive the doctrine of godly and faithful bishops, and to obey their wholesome counsels; he bids us also to honour them.” But how does this favour mere apes of bishops? And yet not only such are all those who are bishops under the Papacy, but they are cruel murderers of souls and rapacious wolves. But to pass by a description of them, this only will I say at present, that when we are bidden to obey our pastors, we ought carefully and wisely to find out those who are true and faithful rulers; for if we render this honour to all indiscriminately, first, a wrong will be done to the good; and secondly, the reason here added, to honour them because they watch for souls, will be rendered nugatory. In order, therefore, that the Pope and those who belong to him may derive support from this passage, they must all of necessity first prove that they are of the number of those who watch for our salvation. If this be made evident, there will then be no question but that they ought to be reverently treated by all the godly (comm. on Heb 13:17).
That notwithstanding, I must state that PCC has not made the evening service compulsory, and it is very unlikely that we would do so. I cannot speak for other Reformed churches. PCC is a reforming congregation still in her infancy, and therefore our policies may or may not be applicable in other communions. But the reason we have taken such a position is that we (the Session, at least) believe that no one should be forced to come for worship. It may be noted that our membership covenant do require that all members “regularly attend the worship service” in the church. However, in the first place, most of us took the covenant before the evening service begun. And, in the second place, we do understand that many have genuine difficulties attending the evening service. In the third place, it must be admitted that quite a number of us, having been brought up under more or less antinomian cultures, are still not fully persuaded of the principles of Sabbath-keeping. Whatever the case may be, the Session must lead the church with the state of the flock in mind. Until the flock is more mature and there is a rather homogeneous conviction on related doctrines, to make evening service compulsory may be akin to irresponsibly pouring new wine into old wine skins. But of course, if the congregation reaches such a state (which it may not unless we narrow our doors for membership admission), then there will be no more need to impose anything. Although duties and standards may often be required of members so that “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40), it is always best to leave the members answerable to the Lord rather than to the Session in matters where there may be differing convictions. In other words, we should patiently pray that more would come because they want to rather than have to.
Nevertheless, I would like to strongly urge all our members to make every effort to come and attend our evening service. In the first place, I can think of no better way of spending the Lord’s Day evening. Some of us who have genuine difficulties in coming may want to worship at home. But I believe that God is more pleased with public worship than private family worship on the Lord’s Day: “The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps 87:2); “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:24–25). Secondly, experience teaches me that without the evening service, many of us would not have the discipline or resolve to keep the whole day holy unto the Lord. Thirdly, the evening worship provides an additional means of grace. Fourthly, the sermons in our evening service are intentionally made a little simpler, and have a stronger Gospel emphasis so that we may invite our unbelieving friends. The evening service therefore serves also as an evangelistic arm of the church (this is not to say that the Gospel is not preached in the morning, or that there is no teaching in the evening, but that a special attempt is made to speak to the unconverted in the evening).
It is for these reasons (apart from the good Reformed tradition in England, Scotland, Wales and America) that we instituted the Evening Service. It is out of a desire for the glory of God, for spiritual good of the members of the church, and a desire that the Lord will use the church as an instrument of conversion that we have been urging attendance at the evening worship. I believe those who have been attending can testify that they do not find it a burden to come despite occasional bodily tiredness, and indeed that the spiritual refreshings received from the Lord do make our efforts worthwhile.
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