Call me prudish, but I’ve always been troubled why so many churches in the U.S. don’t meet on Sunday. Instead, not just newer church plants, but even well-known churches such as Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis (certainly not a church catering to worshiper tastes or trends)—meet on days other than, or in addition to, Sunday.
Now I realize the decision to meet on Saturday (the preferred day) instead of Sunday vary and may even be complicated. For some churches, Saturday gatherings are often out of sheer necessity. This was certainly the case with Bethlehem while Piper was still the senior pastor and the church was bursting at the seams on Sunday mornings.
But I fear that many churches meet on Saturday for reasons other than necessity, namely convenience or so as not to appear staid and traditional like other churches that meet on Sunday. And even in the case of Bethlehem, adding a Saturday service, even out of necessity, comes with a downside, becoming yet another place for many congregants to double-dip, having the best of both worlds (i.e. listening to Piper’s preaching Saturday night and then returning to their local church Sunday mornings with their ordinary pastor). The all-too-familiar result? A rootless wanderer with toes dabbling in multiple places and spaces on different days. Surely this is not good—not only for the congregant, but for both churches and their respective pastors.
But whatever the reasons for meeting on a day other than Sunday, the collective result is the same: Sunday’s biblical and historical significance is flattened and marginalized. Ironically, even tragically, Saturday becomes the new Sunday, a sort of weird evangelical Seventh Day Adventist hybrid.
I’m not alone in my concern.
…the gospels (especially John) and the early practice of the church (as in Paul) reflect the very early understanding of the church that the first day of the week, the day of Easter, has become a sign within the present world and its temporal sequence that the life of the age to come has already broken in. Sunday, kept as a commemoration of Easter ever since that event itself (a quite remarkable phenomenon when you come to think about it), is not simply a legacy of Victorian values but a perpetual sign, joyfully renewed week by week, that all time belongs to God and stands under the renewing lordship of Jesus Christ.
Of course, worship should be ‘seven whole days, not one in seven.’ Many Christians will find, for all kinds of reasons, that Sunday is a difficult day to attend long church services. But we should remind ourselves that the earliest Christians lived in a world where Sunday was the first day of the working week, much like our Monday, and that they valued its symbolism so highly that they were prepared to get up extra early both to celebrate Easter once again and to anticipate the final Eighth Day of Creation, the start of the new week, the day when God will renew all things.
—Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (pp. 261-262).
David F. Wells, in his forthcoming book God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World, echoes Wright’s sentiment:
Every church service is, in fact, an Easter service. So am I being narrow-minded when I ask, are we doing the right thing to cater to convenience by offering worship on Saturday evenings, on the old Sabbath? Does this not depart from the important symbolism which the apostles insisted on preserving? They worshiped on Sunday, the Lord’s day. (p.204)
So to answer Wells’s (admittedly rhetorical) questions: No to the former, yes to the latter.
Jesus’ resurrection reshapes and reorients absolutely everything—even our Sundays. Our inability or unwillingness to recognize and act on it is not only regrettable, but perhaps also an indicator of how little the realities of the resurrection hold sway in our minds, hearts, and wills.
May God do a work among the Western church to recover and rediscover the blessings and joy of meeting on Sunday, the new Sabbath and weekly commemoration of Easter.