If the Lord's day is Sunday, why do we have a Saturday evening service?
This article is an extension of the sermon from 10-2-05 entitled “Is There a Lord’s Day?” In that message I was trying to answer the question of whether Romans 14:5 means there is no day set apart by the New Testament in honor of the Lord’s resurrection. Romans 14:5 says, “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.” My answer was that this verse is not aimed at neutralizing the unique and normative place of “the Lord’s Day” for Christians (Revelation 1:10).
The way I tried to answer the question was by developing a mini-theology of the Sabbath. Part of that theology was to assert that the early church embraced Sunday rather than Saturday as “the Lord’s Day,” because God’s new creation was decisively purchased on Good Friday and inaugurated by the resurrection on “the first day of the week.” Thus the first great work of God, creation, was marked with a day of rest in honor of the Lord Jehovah; and the second great work of God, redemption (or new creation), was marked with a day of rest in honor of the Lord Jesus. The eternal Sabbath rest for all God’s people is enjoyed by “entering God’s rest” (Hebrews 4:10) through faith in Christ who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
I argued that two texts in the New Testament point to the shift from the seventh to the first day of the week for the day set apart especially for Christ in anticipation of the consummation of our eternal rest:
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.”
1 Corinthians 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.”
I concluded that the world needs to feel the shade of the cool shadow of the Lord Jesus to be cast weekly across its weary, secular landscape. The name of that Shadow is the Lord’s Day (cf. Colossians 2:16f).
That left the question: How should we think about our Saturday night service in view of “the Lord’s Day” being the “first day of the week”? So here is my response:
1. Saturday night is not ideal—indeed no night is ideal—for celebrating weekly the resurrection of the Lord Jesus which happened early in the morning. The evidence that we feel this drawback is seen by the fact that on Easter we cancel the Saturday night service and do all the services on Sunday morning. But every Sunday is a replay of Easter. So the ideal time to worship weekly would be the Lord’s Day morning.
2. However, even the early church may not have worshiped in the morning but the evening of the first day. Acts 20:7 shows that their meeting on the first day of the week happened in the evening. “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.” This may well be owing to the fact that many new converts were obligated to work early on the Lord’s day as servants or employees. The ideal of morning worship was not binding.
3. The Saturday evening service does not and should not replace our setting apart and sanctifying the Lord’s Day on Sunday. There are other aspects of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) that we can use to mark the day has holy to the Lord. Possibly there would be special family worship, extended time in the word or prayer, acts of mercy to needy people (for example, visiting a nursing home), time to read a good Christian biography, personal evangelism in the park, reaching out to unchurched neighbors, teaching Sunday School, etc. In other words, the Saturday service should not be seen as a replacement of the Lord’s Day, but as an extension of and preparation for it.
4. We are not worshipping on Saturday out of the conviction that the seventh day is required. At Bethlehem we have a Saturday worship service as part of a larger commitment to “do good” on Sunday. Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). I argued in the sermon that Jesus did not get involved in the details of what was permissible on the Sabbath but put the issue on a new plane: What extols the Son of Man? What is for man? What is merciful? What is good? The Saturday night service at BBC is a part of our sense that doing multiple services and multiple campuses with unified teaching on the Lord’s Day is God’s will for us now, as opposed to one very large sanctuary downtown. The Saturday night videotaping is part of that vision and we believe it is the “good” that God is calling us to do.
5. What evidence is there that Jesus would approve of our flexibility? The evidence is Jesus’ way of handling the Sabbath in his day. We think he would say something like this: “If priests in the temple and pastors in the Christian church are permitted to work 10 hours on the usual day of rest, then the saints are permitted to worship one hour the day before. The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Come, learn what it means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:27).
6. We think that the freedom implied in Romans 14:5 does not overthrow the importance of the Lord’s Day, but does caution us against making essential the difference between worshipping on the Lord’s Day morning and on the Lord’s Day eve.
October 5, 2005, Fresh Words, Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org//