DOES A CONGREGATION HAVE
AUTHORITY FOR A MIDWEEK SERVICE?
While I do not think that I have never actually known anyone who has taught this, I have heard that there have been brethren who argued that a local congregation is authorized to assemble only on the first day of the week and therefore it is unscriptural to have a midweek service. I have even heard that there have been some who affirmed that the church is authorized to meet only once on Sunday and that a Sunday evening service is also wrong. Thus, the question for this article is, are midweek assemblies of a local congregation unauthorized and therefore unscriptural, or does a church have scriptural authority for conducting them?
For many years, midweek services of some kind (they used to be called “prayer meetings,” but we have usually identified them as “midweek Bible studies”) have been a practice, custom, habit, or “tradition” among churches of Christ, as well as with various denominational churches, although in many religious organizations they are less common now as these groups strive to make their activities more “convenient” to people’s busy schedules. However, while I am sure that we have all heard sermons against mere “traditions” in religion, to say that the midweek service is a “tradition” does not necessarily make it wrong. The fact is that a “tradition” is simply something that is handed down. Some traditions are divine in origin and therefore must be kept. Other traditions of human origin are sinful because they violate some teaching of scripture or become wrong because they are bound on the same level as divine tradition. Yet, there are traditions which are absolutely harmless and, in fact, accomplish good. To make sure that all things are done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40), some churches establish a custom or tradition for their order of worship (e.g., two songs, a prayer, a song, the sermon, the invitation, the Lord’s supper, the collection, a closing song, and a prayer). They do not bind this “tradition” as equivalent to a revelation from God, but it serves a useful purpose of helping the worshippers know what to expect and moving the service along in an orderly fashion.
Before we can answer the question
as to whether midweek services are authorized or not, we must first determine
from the scriptures how things are authorized in the religion to begin with.
A thing may be authorized by direct command or an express statement that has
the force of a command. We are to keep the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15,
1 John 5:3). For example, Jesus commanded His disciples to observe the Lord’s
supper, and Paul repeated that command for the church (Matthew 26:26-29, 1 Cor.
A thing may also be authorize by approved apostolic example. In fact, the inspired apostle Paul told us to follow his example and that of others who so walk as a pattern, and then commanded us, “The things which you have learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 3:17, 4:9). While Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord’s supper, He did not specifically tell us when, but we do so on the first day of the week because we have an approved apostolic example to show that it is acceptable with God (Acts 20:7).
Or a thing may be authorized by a necessary inference or conclusion drawn from scriptural facts. We have a command to observe the Lord’s supper and an approved apostolic example concerning the day, but we necessarily infer that since the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread and every week has a first day then the Lord wants us to come together on the first day of every week to observe the Lord’s supper, just as the Jews necessarily inferred that the command to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) meant the Sabbath of every week because every week has a Sabbath or seventh day.
We must also understand the nature of authority. Some authority is specific and some is generic. For example, if I simply tell my son to go down to the store and buy a loaf of bread, that does not authorize him to buy candy. However whether he gets Wonder White Bread or Home Pride Whole Wheat Bread or even Hearth Farms Potato Bread, he has done just what I told him to do—buy a loaf of bread. On the other hand, if I specify the kind of bread, then he is authorized to purchase that specific kind and no other.
God told Noah to “make yourself
an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14). As to kind of wood, God was specific;
making an ark of gopher wood did not authorize the use of pine, oak, or any
other kind. However, the command to build is generic. God did not specify how
to make it. Even though God did not specifically say that Noah could use a hammer,
a saw, or whatever, the generic command to make an ark necessarily included
any tools required to do so.
It is fairly easy to see how these principles apply to various activities in the work and worship of the church. Jesus told His followers to preach the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15). He was specific as to what—the gospel. That does not include worldly wisdom, human doctrines, or man-made creeds. Hence they are unauthorized and unscriptural. If one preaches those things, he is not preaching the gospel. However, “preach” is fairly generic as to how. Whether one simply speaks, or uses a blackboard, or a chart on a bed sheet, or an overhead projector, or a Power Point presentation, or a radio, or a television, he is still doing just what Christ said—preaching the gospel. God did not have to say anything about any of these means and methods for them to be authorized. The fact that he told us to preach includes any means and methods that are needed or helpful in accomplishing the purpose.
We are commanded to sing in worship (1 Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19). Sing itself is a specific kind of music, and playing on an instrument or even accompanying with an instrument is not included. With the addition of instrumental music, one ceases merely to sing. Also the “what” to sing is specified—psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16). This eliminates folk, pop, rock, and in fact any other kind of songs. However, the “how” to sing is not specified. It is generic. Now, God never said anything about song books, but we have to have some way to obtain the words to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We could memorize them, or have them read them to us by someone, or use song books. If we choose to use a song book, we are not adding anything to the worship. We are still doing just what God told us to do—singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. God did not have to say anything specific about song books. They are simply an expedient in carrying out God’s commands.
It is clear that God wants His people to assemble, because they are told “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). The purpose for the assembling as a church is specified in other passages—worship (John 4:24) and edification (1 Cor. 14:26). Thus, for the church to assemble for eating a common meal, recreation, or entertainment is not authorized. However, while the church must have a place to assemble, the “where” to assemble is not specified. It is generic. Whether a church borrows, or rents, or purchases, or builds a place to assemble, if it is coming together for worship and edification, it is simply doing what God said. For a church to own a building is not an addition to God’s word; it is merely an expedient in carrying out what God authorizes. God did not have to say anything about a building. The church must have a place to meet, so it is included in the command to assemble and any reasonable place to meet is merely an expedient.
This brings us to the question of midweek services. As we have seen, by example and necessary inference, God has authorized the local church to meet on the first day of every week. However, does this mean that the church is authorized to meet ONLY on the first day of the week? It would IF it met the text of universality, but it does not. In other words, is every example in scripture of a church’s assembling only on the first day of the week? The answer is no. In Acts 2:46 we are told of the church in Jerusalem that it was “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house.” I understand this to make a distinction between what they did as a church, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and what they did as individuals, breaking bread from house to house.
Thus, the church in Jerusalem, at least for a time, continued “daily” with one accord in the temple, the place where it appears that they assembled for worship and learning the apostles’ doctrine (cf. v. 42). The question might be raised, does this “example” mean that the local church must meet daily? Again, if it met the test of universality, it might, but it does not. There is no indication that it was a universal practice of churches in the first century to meet daily. In Acts 14:27, we read of Paul and Barnabas in their return to Antioch from their first preaching trip that “when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them.” This implies that the church was not assembled on the day when they came back. If the church in Antioch were assembling daily, there would be no need to “gather the church together” because it would already be assembling every day.
What this does mean is that if a congregation decided to meet every day, it would be generally authorized, and in fact there are times such as during gospel meetings when a church will do this. Now, if it is generally authorized for a church to meet every day in the week, it is just as generally authorized for a church to pick one day out of the week (in addition to the specified first day of the week) to assemble. One function of the church is “the edifying of the body of Christ” or “the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:12, 16). The when and how of this edifying are not specified. As we have seen, the book of Acts shows that the edifying done in the early church was not limited to the first day of the week. Therefore, God did not have to say anything specific about midweek (or Sunday evening) services. When a church meets for a midweek service, it is not violating any principle of scripture but is simply doing precisely what the New Testament authorizes it to do as it seeks to accomplish “the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Finally, is it necessary for the members of the local church to attend such midweek services? Of course, we recognize that there are times when situations beyond a person’s control, such as sickness, or the fulfillment of other God-given responsibilities, such as providing for one’s family, might make it necessary for one to miss an occasional service. But we are asking about when a person is able and chooses not to attend. Is that wrong? Someone might answer no because such services are not commanded. It is true that they are not commanded, and I have known of faithful churches which, for various reasons, chose not to conduct midweek services. That is their right. However, when a local church does agree to conduct midweek services for the edification of members, there is a responsibility for those who are members of that congregation to support its work to the very best of their ability.
The local church is not just a club or civic organization, though even these groups often have rules that if you miss so many meetings you cannot be a member. The local church is a spiritual relationship. The fact that “we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) places various obligations upon us. After Saul had “tried to join the disciples” in Jerusalem and been accepted, “he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” (Acts 9:25-28). If I am a member of a local church, it means that in my relationship to the other members I am to be “with them.” How can I do this when I habitually absent myself from those times when they choose to meet together? Thus, we conclude that it is generally authorized by the scriptures for churches to conduct midweek assemblies, and that if at all possible the members of that congregation need to be present.
By Wayne S. Walker
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