When we were boys, my mother took my brother and me to Sunday School and church every week. Dad never went to church, but he didn’t discourage us from going. Every Saturday night, I took a bath, filled out my Sunday School quarterly, and often polished my shoes to get ready for Sunday. We had a big Sunday lunch, usually something Mom had prepared and put in the oven or the electric skillet, and during the NFL season Dad was usually watching football when we got home. Sunday was a “different” day, and there never was a debate about going to church, it was just assumed that we would go.
I continued to go to church every Sunday as I grew up. I met my wife at the church we both attended. After we married, we continued to go to church every Sunday morning, usually again on Sunday night. There was never a debate or discussion. We often had lunch with family, we usually took an afternoon nap, and Sunday remained a day different from the rest. It was a day for church, for rest, for family, for remembering the principle of Sabbath to some degree. It was the Lord’s Day. We took both of our children to church the next Sunday after their birth. They grew up attending Sunday School and church every week, just as my wife and I had done when we were growing up.
A number of years ago we visited with my uncle (brother to my mother) and aunt in the small Nebraska town that my mother’s family was from. My uncle and aunt were living in the town while on an extended furlough from Bolivia where they did missionary work. Conversing with them, they noted that they were involved with an effort to oppose the end of business closings on Sunday in the town. Sunday “blue laws” were still in place then. Years earlier, that might have been common in many American cities and towns. Today, that is no longer the case and hasn’t been for a number of years.
In the past, most people did not work on Sunday unless they were involved in agriculture or services like law enforcement or health care, but that is no longer the case. Now, Sunday is a big day for retail, restaurants, entertainment, and in many other fields businesses operate on Sunday as just another day. We live in a busy world, where we have boats to get in the water, home improvement projects to attend to, sporting events and recreational activities to pursue, kids’ ball games to attend, as well as simply leftover tasks we didn’t get to during a busy workweek. It’s been a long week, we’re tired. We simply can’t commit to go to church every week. And yet, a few generations ago, American Christians managed to make it to church. They considered it important to do so. They may have worked sixty hour weeks in a factory, they may have engaged in relentless agricultural tasks seven days a week, but they somehow managed to make it to church. More and more, this is no longer the case.
Recognizing this, many perceived evangelical churches have attempted to make church more attractive to people and help them to make it fit into their schedules. I drove by a church recently with a sign that said something to the effect of “Come on – Give God a Second Chance.” The idea of “stop in and give God a few minutes once a week” is perceived as a big draw. We’ll keep it informal, short, entertaining, and painless, we’ll offer a service on Saturday night so you can sleep in on Sunday morning if you want; just stop by on your way to or from the movies or the restaurant. We’ll have an early Sunday morning service so you can get it over with and have the rest of your day free if that works for you. Shorts and flip-flops are no problem. In many cases, maybe most cases, sound churches have discontinued their Sunday evening services, in part because they were poorly attended.
Worship should be an existential reality for believers. It should be a way of life, an hour-by-hour part of our life. It is not dependent on our physical location, our lot in life, or any external issue. Our personal relationship with God is a constant and ongoing part of life. Similarly, corporate worship is not limited to Sunday. The Lord of the Church resurrected on the first day of the week and so from its earliest days the church came to assemble and worship on Sunday, but believers can assemble and worship together on Saturday or for that matter on, say, Tuesday. Corporate worship can occur whenever the church meets and sinners are warned of judgement to come, Christ and the gospel is proclaimed, the Scripture is studied, believers pray together. In other countries and societies, a Sunday gathering might not even be an option. One wonders, however, when American churches seek to make their meetings completely convenient and informal and easy, if they haven’t lost something.
The New Testament presents to us the importance of being part of a church. We are supposed to gather together with other believers, for instruction and discipleship, for corporate worship, for encouragement and fellowship, for ministry. It isn’t optional, it isn’t something to do occasionally when it is convenient. We are supposed to be a part of each other as the body of Christ in the world. As Americans, we have great freedom to assemble in churches. If we are gathering together with other believers to worship together, to hear a clear exposition of Scripture, to sing songs of worship to God that joyfully and reverently proclaim doctrine and remind of what He has done for us in Christ, it should be a priority that exceeds our need for convenience and comfort. Our heritage as believers living in the United States is a heritage of observing the Lord’s Day, preparing our hearts, putting on some better clothes appropriate to assembling with the body of Christ, and attending church regularly, even if doing so might not always be convenient. This should happen not merely as a ritual or habit, but as a commitment from our heart.
There is no explicit New Testament statement mandating Sunday worship, certainly no limitation to corporate worship on that day, but there are several references indicating that the first day of the week was special for the earliest believers. Matthew 28:1-6 tells us of the Lord’s resurrection on the first day,
“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
Several other New Testament passages mention the first day. That tradition endured throughout history, and was an important part of American society for most of our history. That tradition and commitment has been slowly abandoned in recent decades. The reasons are many. Liberal churches hold to no message that is worth a zealous devotion to weekly church attendance. Prosperity takes our focus away from spiritual matters. We’re busy, have many activities and commitments. We can worship anywhere and anytime, we reason. Our favorite YouTube church is more entertaining and can be viewed anytime. Many professing Christians simply feel no need or desire to be involved with a local church.
But I’m convinced that Christians and the faithful church in America have lost something, something profound and vital, in losing our commitment to The Lord’s Day.