Let's Keep Talking About Sunday Nights
What Do We Do?
Never intended as a series, we are still talking about Sunday nights because questions were asked. I have been asked what we do on Sunday nights. I'll expand the answer by also describing what we do on Wednesday nights.
Why We Do What We Do
No one is certain about when brethren first began attending Sunday P.M. and Wednesday P.M. services. What is certain are the motivations behind these meetings.
Two motivations drive Sunday P.M. services. The first is concern for those whose jobs or other life complications prevent them from attending Sunday A.M. services and participating in Communion. The second is the desire to worship more and be encouraged by the brethren more. This second motivation is in perfect harmony with Acts 2:46 - they "continued daily with one accord." Brethren in the first century sought to be near each other on a much more regular basis than we do.
The second of these motivation is the sole motivation for Wednesday gatherings. Brethren often say they are "recharged in the middle of the week." Recharging each other is the subject of Hebrews 3:13 - "exhort one another daily...lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." These same motivations drive our Men's Prayer Breakfasts, Old Guys Eating Lunch on Thursday's, Women's Devotionals, Prime Timers, Brothers Keepers and so forth. Test yourself: do you require or resist opportunities to be with brethren?
In addition to the motivations and reasons listed thus far, some have also argued that these services possess a certain "ought" because of the authority of the elders. A measure of how seriously some take Sunday and Wednesday evening attendance is explain in this reason. Whether elders can create any extra-biblical "ought" is open to question, but providing extra opportunities for worship and genuine fellowship, and encouraging attendance is certainly within the purview of elders' authority.
What We Do
What we do on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings is a reflection of many of the things that the New Testament would have us do. Sunday evenings look a lot like Sunday mornings, with singing and praying (I Cor. 14:15), Bible study (II Pet. 3:18), and an opportunity to take the Lord's Supper. If you see worship and Bible study as drudgery, this does not sound very good to you. Test yourself: do you see worship as drudgery?
Wednesday evenings focus more on Bible study (II Tim. 2:15). From my experience, Wednesday evening adult Bible classes are the richest of the week. There is an old saying that contrasts Sunday A.M. "presence" from Wednesday P.M. "presence": "Sunday A.M. tired; Wednesday P.M. wired." For some reason, everyone is alert and focused on Wednesday evenings.
Why We Don't
Not alone in struggling with Sunday P.M. and Wednesday P.M. attendance (BTW - our Wednesday P.M. attendance is usually strong), the Churches of Christ are afflicted with many of the challenges that also afflict denominational churches. Why do our members not attend? This is a summary of several studies that explain why we don't.
- Modern culture has developed a very negative take on preaching, worship, and everything "church." It is decidedly not cool to seek the comfort of brethren and the comfort of the scriptures.
- Paralleling these negative attitudes is the emphasis on entertainment. Our worship experiences do not compare with the newest, the brightest, the loudest, and the hippest.
- Similarly, the youth culture has widened the chasm between generations. Younger people are automatically turned-off to spending time with folks who are not their age.
- Family time is at a premium now - just as it has always been (by the way - young families: it only gets worse). Now, however, some have decided that the only possible time for family time is when the brethren are meeting for worship and study.
- Frankly, "my life" is at the core of a lot of resistance to Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings. But "If you find your life, you will lose it" (Mt. 16:25).
Let's Talk A Little More About Sunday Night
Where Did It Come From?
Writing last week's article about the importance of attending our Sunday evening services, I did not intend any follow-up. That changed when some good-hearted questions were asked. This article is written to answer one of those questions - where did the custom of Sunday evening services come from? Next week's bulletin will answer another question by describing what do we do on Sunday nights and on Wednesday nights.
The Chicken Or The Egg?
Unlike the eternal riddle about "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" there is no riddle about the background of Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. We place greater emphasis on our Sunday A.M. service because there is greater emphasis given to a primary service by the New Testament.
New Testament writers spoke of entire local congregations coming together at one time and in one place (I Cor. 11:17, 11:20, 14:23, 16:1-2). This worship service was given greater emphasis because that is the occasion (the first day of the week) when Christians are to share in the fellowship of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). The first day of the week also coincides with the day of our Lord's resurrection (Mk. 16:9). This is the assembly that we are not to forsake (Heb. 10:24-25).
These passages do not describe a brief gathering. Included in them with the Lord's Supper are other worshipful behaviors such a singing and praying (I Cor. 14:15), preaching (Acts 20:7), and giving (I Cor. 16:1-2). Our primary Sunday assemblies were not developed from creative thinking. Instead, we do what we do because the Bible's books, chapters, and verses tell us what to do.
More Chickens, More Eggs
Just as there was a uniquely important assembly on the first day of the week, the New Testament also describes the earliest Christians as yearning for some kind of "day by day" gatherings (Acts 2:46, see Heb. 3:12-23). Seeking to implement these first-century "day by day" assemblings into today, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening meetings have been added. When was the first Sunday P.M. or Wednesday P.M. service? No one knows.
We do know that they were added for the best possible reasons. Brethren often speak of their need to be with other brethren, hear more of the word, and be strengthened with fellowship at other times during the week. These are the reasons for Sunday evening and Wednesday evening gatherings. Sunday evenings have the additional purpose of providing an opportunity to observe the Lord's Supper for those whose schedule prevented them from attending the primary service on Sunday morning (like some of our shift workers who evidence super examples by their determination to share in the Lord's Supper on Sunday nights with bleary eyes after pulling a long shift).
But Not Too Many More Eggs
While many dutifully attend "whenever the doors are open" (God bless them!), it is important to distinguish between what is commanded (a primary first-day service) and what have developed as very good opportunities, but as secondary opportunities. Promoting our additional times of genuine fellowship, worship, and Bible study as wonderful opportunities and not as woeful commands is, I think, the better route.
The better approach is to (i) highly prioritize the primary worship service, (ii) do your best to do the better, (iii) not think of yourself as worse if genuine necessity keeps you away from Sunday night or Wednesday night, and (iv) cautiously and conscientiously monitor your excuses about "genuine necessity." The weakness of the reasons to reject Sunday and Wednesday evenings (no, you are not more tired or busy than everyone else) is one of the strongest arguments in their favor.
Outside of purely religious responsibilities, we do not fall apart when life challenges us to set primary, secondary, and tertiary priorities. Neither should we fall apart when challenged to set aside time (less than 5% of the total hours in a week) for the Sunday morning assembly first and foremost, and for other important, but secondary, opportunities for praise, Bible study, and the mutual encouragement of brethren.
Let's Talk About Sunday Night
Graduating from high school and attending Sunday evening services have a lot in common. Neither are required. Both have benefits. This article is written to expand on the comparison.
High School Graduation
Graduating from high school is not a legal requirement. Here is the Texas statute.
A student (must) attend public school until the student's 19thbirthday, unless the student is exempt (exemptions are limited to disciplinary expulsions and placements in equivalency programs; home school is a kind of mandatory attendance).
Parents are horrified by this tidbit because they understand the many advantages of remaining in school. What are the advantages of high school graduation? Here are the top five:
- Students who learn more, earn more:
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a person with a high school diploma will earn $9,634 more per year than a high school dropout. A high-school dropout is ineligible for 90% of jobs in America, including the military.
- You’re less likely to be unemployed:
High school completers are less likely to be unemployed than those who have dropped out of high school.
- College is suddenly within reach:
Virtually all post-secondary institutions, colleges, and universities require a high school diploma or GED.
- You’ll feel better about yourself:
Research shows that confidence and self-esteem are linked to your education level. Those with a high school diploma have higher levels of self-esteem than those who do not.
- You’ll increase your knowledge:
Learning more about math, science, English, history, and other subjects will help expand your knowledge of the world around you.
For every good old boy or computer geek who dropped out of school before graduating and then made a success of himself, there are hundreds of drop-outs who have painfully fallen on their faces. Maturity is often measured in terms of delayed gratification, the ability to resist a smaller immediate reward in order to receive a larger reward later. Enduring school until graduation certainly leads to greater rewards.
Sunday Evening Services
Just as graduating from high school is not a legal requirement, there is no religious requirement that forces anyone to attend Sunday evening services. Extra services developed from the desire for extra opportunities for worship, genuine fellowship, and Bible study. These are not bad practices, but we must not elevate our useful customs to the level of a book-chapter-verse command.
No one is horrified by this tidbit. Even so, there are some very good reasons for attending Sunday evening services. Give these some thought.
- Attendance on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights has long been considered a baseline for active involvement. I have never heard anyone suggest that attending "whenever the doors are open" is a substitute for other good works, or a make-up for bad works. I have heard of brethren being thankful for additional opportunities for worship, genuine fellowship, and Bible study.
- Attendance whenever the doors are open equals about four (4) total hours per week. Let's generously double that time to eight (8) hours per week to account for prep time (seriously, it's not that much). Eight hours is less than 5% of the total number of hours in a seven-day week (168).
- Surprising information for young families: yours is not the first generation that has found itself very busy. Raising children has always been highly demanding, totally involving, and wringingly hands-on (if it is done correctly). Grades, homework, extra curriculars, and etc. are not new (little league baseball began in the 1920s). Dedicated brethren have been raising active and well-rounded children, finding time for themselves and for family time, and still worshipping regularly for a long time now. Suggestion: pray for God to show you how.
- Who do you think is the biggest fan of skipping Sunday evenings? Who do you think is the source for every excuse? Who are you agreeing with when you decide that ceasing to attend Sunday evenings is your best bet? You know the answer (hint: it's not God).
- Do not be deceived into thinking that you have discovered some rich vein of Christian liberty when you conclude that you are better off attending only on Sunday mornings. "You...were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh" (Gal. 5:13, I Pet. 2:13). Do not misuse Christian liberty as a pretext for selfish indulgences.
57 Million and Counting
Like plodding horses with blinders by their eyes, Americans have blinded themselves to the moral and practical horrors of abortion. Our blinders are our deliberate decision to look away. Looking straight ahead, we do not allow ourselves to see, or count, or consider the reasons behind the numbers.
Declaring that they want abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare," abortion advocates in the U.S. have crafted some of the world's most tolerant laws regarding the purposeful termination of pregnancy. How tolerant are they? According to the Guttmacher Institute (a group dedicated to the liberalization of abortion laws, and once a subsidiary of Planned Parenthood), "Abortion is a common experience: At current rates, about three in ten American women will have had an abortion by the time she reaches age 45."
A "Common" Experience
How common is abortion?
Since 1973, when abortion was legalized in the U.S. by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, there have been nearly 57 million abortions. Current abortions numbers are at almost 1,000,000 per year during a period in American history when pregnancy rates are decreasing.
How many is 57,000,000?
If all of those children had been allowed to live and became their own state, they would easily be the largest state in the United States, with a much larger population than either #1 California (38.3 million) or #2 Texas (26.4 million). Do the math. There have been more than twice as many aborted American babies than there are living Texans.
How common is abortion?
Arguing in favor of some of the world's most liberal abortion laws (in supposedly more-liberal Europe, most countries limit abortions to the first trimester, and waiting periods, and parental consent for minors are common), abortion advocates have used medical necessity and cases of pregnancy after rape as talking points.
Yet when asked why they opted for abortion, women who have been surveyed following abortions include the following explanations:
- 75% say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other activities.
- 75% say that they cannot afford a child.
- 50% say they do not want to be a single parent.
- Only 15% list "problems with getting contraception" as a reason.
- Only 12% list "medical reasons" - this includes emotional and psychological categories.
- One percent report that they were survivors of rape.
Without the Blinders
Removing the blinders that have quieted the controversy over abortion (most have adopted a blinded "It is what it is" attitude toward abortion) one is forced to face two facts:
- Abortion continues at an alarming rate.
- Abortion continues primarily because of convenience.
Why Does This Matter?
These two facts about abortion contradict two moral absolutes.
- It's about innocent life. As a gift from God, innocent life is to be protected (Prov. 6:17). Do not waste your time trying to explain to me that unborn Benjamin Price Prather is some kind of blob and is not living, human, and innocent.
- It's about responsibility. Perhaps even more morally insidious than the taking of innocent life is disregarding the life of the unborn for the sake of convenience. If it is thought to be in poor form to throw your plastic bottles onto Texas highways ("Don't Mess With Texas"), how much morally poorer is it to throw away your child so you can "get on with life" (Don't mess with the unborn)?
Systematic Desensitization to Sin
Wile E. Coyote & Penelope Cruz
I do not think that watching Wile E. Coyote get tricked into a face full of ACME explosives by the Roadrunner dooms anyone to a life of cruelty and crime. I do not think that occasionally hearing Clarke Gable tell Vivian Leigh, "Frankly, my dear, I just don't care as much as you would like for me to" permanently contaminates character. I don't even think that thoughtfully observing a jacked Hugh Jackman in Australia (female version) or Penelope Cruz in All The Pretty Horses (male version) leads to inevitable corruption of heart or mind.
But that's not what we are talking about, are we?
- 60 percent of television programs now contain violence. Not Roadrunner violence. More than half of the violent incidents feature physical aggression that would be lethal or incapacitating if it were to occur in real life.
- In the 2013 movie Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, the "F" word was used 506 times, an average use of 2.81 times per minute. Limits on language are gone with the wind.
- "Strong sexual content" is included in 70% of all television programs and 85% of movies. Not content to show Hugh Jackman in a tuxedo, advertisers are now turning to sexual violence as a way to sell soap.
Systematic Desensitization is an approach of behavior therapy that is employed to help people overcome irrational fears. An example is paralyzing dread of spiders. Gradually, first by looking at pictures of spiders, then by looking at real spiders, then by touching a fake spiders, then by holding a spider in a box, and eventually by holding a real spider in your hand, fear of spiders is diminished.
Systematic Desensitization illustrates how human psychology can be manipulated in a positive way, slowly adapting to what was once feared until the anxiety vanishes or becomes manageable. The system is gradual exposure to more and more of something. The desensitization is slowly losing aversion.
Systematic Desensitization reveals a reality of human nature. Our resistance can slowly diminish to the point that we accept what we once rejected. Our internal limits are not set in stone. Instead, they are set in the mushy, malleable substance of our thoughts and emotions - and the mush can be slowly rearranged.
Systematic Desensitization also illustrates how human psychology can be manipulated in a negative way. If we can lose our fear of spiders, of heights, or of riding in airplanes by gradual exposure to what we fear, then we can also lose our moral aversions, eventually accepting what we once rejected. Solomon is the classic example, slowly losing his religious aversion to paganism due to the systematic desensitization of his many wives' influence.
Test yourself: what do you now accept that you once rejected? You see, Systematic Desensitization works.
Mushy, malleable human thoughts and emotions explain why Paul said, "Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you" (II Cor. 6:17). We would like to think of ourselves as tough guys, able to withstand whatever the world throws at us. We are, in fact, moral weaklings whose restraint can be easily compromised.
As God’s promise...for the Israelites, obliged them to separate themselves from their heathen neighbors, that they might not be ensnared with their paganism; much more are Christians obliged...to separate themselves from the society of the ungodly, and from all their sinful practices, customs, and habits (Benson).
Generally, then, this means that you and I have to very closely monitor the input we receive. Just like monitoring salt intake, we have to remain aware of how much of the world is coming in through our eyes and ears. Just like saying no to salty French fries, we have to say no to certain kinds of images and messages. There are no comfy half-measures that allow us to remain cozy with the world.
- What television shows and movies do you watch?
- What is your favored music?
- What publications do you read?
- What is going on inside those electronic games your kids are playing?
- What kind of systematic desensitization are your friends and close acquaintances exerting on you?