When and where the church meets.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 April

Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services.

My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right?

Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always.

Romans 14.5-6 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.
Romans 15.1-2 NLT
1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might not think it’s a legitimate concern—at all—but to them it totally is. It might derail their Christianity. Shouldn’t, but could. So we have to take that into consideration, and be gracious to them. Not shout back at them, “I have freedom in Christ!”—as if that gives us license to be jerks.

No, that doesn’t mean we have to change our usual worship practices to accommodate them. If you usually attend Saturday night services, keep doing so. But don’t do it to outrage anyone—“Lookit me, I’m worshiping on Saturday, neener neener neener.” I’m mainly thinking of those Christians who attended “worship protests” during a pandemic, not to worship Jesus, but to flout government guidelines under the guise of worship. When you’re truly doing it to honor Jesus, your ulterior motives won’t include fleshly things like division and antagonism. You’re not gonna be a dick about it! And God will judge those Christians for their horrible example to fellow Christians, and their horrible witness to the lost and the sick.

So yeah: If your sister insists Saturday nights “don’t count,” she doesn’t have any biblical basis for this belief. Sunday morning worship is simply Christian custom. Nothing more. We can worship God whenever we like. We oughta be worshiping him daily! And we can worship him together, as the people of his church, whenever we schedule a service, be it Sunday morning, Saturday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, whenever.

But till she finally realizes this, take her to Sunday morning services.

The Sunday morning custom.

Ancient churches used to meet daily, y’know. Some churches still do. It’s their regular check-in with the people of their support system—which is the whole purpose of the church. Say hi, see how everybody’s doing, pray for any requests and needs, sing to Jesus, take holy communion, and otherwise connect with Jesus’s body. When it’s a struggle to follow Jesus, we kinda need that support system.

And today it’s way easier to have that support system. Your church might have a text chain, and you can easily say hi to one another and ask for prayer. You wanna interact with fellow Christians?—you can do it 24 hours a day. Wanna watch a worship service?—they’re on YouTube, available from thousands of churches. Wanna listen to Christian music?—there are whole radio networks, and that’s not counting your music collection or favorite streaming services. There are websites. Books. Hotlines. Church offices with regular office hours. American Christians have a wealth of resources to draw from—as do most westerners, most southerners, and many easterners, who are totally free to tap our resources, ’cause they’re for everyone.

But in ancient times it wasn’t so easy. In persecuted nations it’s still not. They may try to make contact daily… but sometimes it’ll just have to be a once-a-week meeting. And customarily that became Sunday morning, ’cause that’s when Jesus rose from the dead.

It appears to be a very early custom. Sunday-morning Christians are pretty sure “the Lord’s day” in Revelation refers to the first day of the week. Rv 1.10 To the early Christians, Sunday gradually changed from just another weekday, to our Sabbath. True, the Sabbath is meant to fall on the seventh day of the week (and Spanish-language countries have even altered their calendars so Sunday is the seventh day of their week), but early Christians felt Jesus’s resurrection not only changed the world, but changed the calendar too, and Sabbath now falls on the Lord’s Day.

Other Christians still observe Sabbath on Saturday: God didn’t change which day of the week it falls upon. Rest Saturday; go to church Sunday; worship every day. Sabbath doesn’t necessarily mean we go to church. Worship is work. Good work, but still work.

Still, the reason Pharisees held their meetings on Sabbath was they figured this kind of holy work is an acceptable exception on Sabbath. And yeah, Christians can hold church services on Saturday if we choose. Most Adventists do. I’ve attended more than one Saturday-night church; two nondenominational churches, a Presbyterian church, and I was a member of an Assemblies church which did so. (It’s kinda nice to be able to sleep in on Sundays. I get what the pagans love about it.) The Sunday morning custom isn’t mandated in the scriptures, at all. We have room for flexibility.

In person, or online?

Due to the recent pandemic, a lot of churches have stopped holding services at their buildings, and held them online: The pastors and leaders make videos of their worship services, and post ’em on the internet. Many churches were already video-recording their services before our state governments put limits on how many people could meet in any given group, and circumstances simply forced us to commit a lot more effort towards video worship services. (Rightly so: It is a very useful outreach tool. We should’ve been doing it long before!)

And same with Sunday-morning-only Christians, we’ve got those people who insist church services must be in-person services. Because the bible says we’re not supposed to stop meeting together.

Hebrews 10.25 NLT
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of [Jesus’s] return is drawing near.

Crisis or not, persecution or not, virus or not, Christians need to ignore all the calls for safety and caution, and keep meeting in person. Because if we obey this verse, God will reward our faithfulness by magically protecting us from viruses. If you’re still going to church, go ahead and lick that doorknob.

Okay. As anyone who’s sat in on a conference call knows, in-person meetings are not necessary. You can interact from a distance. You can pray for one another from a distance. Jesus demonstrated more than once you can cure illnesses from a distance. You can lead someone in the sinner’s prayer over a video chat. You can even take holy communion together—you with your bread and wine, another family with their bread and wine—from opposite sides of the country. The technology exists, and just because it didn’t when Hebrews was written, doesn’t mean their form of meeting together, is the only form of meeting together.

So why do Christians demand in-person church services? ’Cause it’s custom. ’Cause it’s the form of service they’re most comfortable with. ’Cause personal preference. And—same as with those “worship protests”—it’s for political reasons; they wanna flout the state guidelines and defy the governor, especially if he’s from the opposition party. They want what they want, and they want to be jerks about it.

What do we Christians do with someone who insists, “It doesn’t count unless it’s in-person?” Well, same as the person with the hangup about Sunday morning services: They’re a weaker believer, so we accommodate them as best we can. If there’s a virus going around, take all the appropriate precautions: Personal protective equipment, social distancing, disinfectant, temperature checks; whatever you gotta do.

What if someone insists they don’t have to take any such precautions? Well now we’re no longer dealing with someone who has a hangup. We’re dealing with someone who refuses to make accommodations for other weaker believers. (In this case not spiritually weak, but physically.) We’re dealing with a selfish, fleshly person. We don’t have to make accommodations for such people. Feel free to rebuke them.

But, y’know, kindly. Resist the temptation to return dickishness with dickishness.