309 Florence Ave.
Pitman NJ 08071
Sunday Worship 10am
Why We're Moving to One Service
June 20, 2017 by Larry Lazarus 0 comments
At our evening service on June 4th, I shared on behalf of the elders our decision to merge our two worship services together and meet each Sunday morning for one service, at 10 AM, beginning on June 25th.
As I sat down that afternoon to consider what exactly to say about the reasoning for our decision, our monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper was fresh on my mind. So as I began to put my thoughts onto paper, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 came to mind:
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."
The central statement in verse 17 is that we who are many, are one body. That central statement is supported in the verse twice, both with reference to our common participation in the Lord’s Supper:
"Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body…"
"…we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."
The implication seems to be that a church Body’s regular observance of the Lord’s Supper is part of what identifies a church as a church. What is a local church? Surely other things could be said, but what this one verse does say is that a local church is the group of people who eat and drink together in remembrance of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood. Because we share the one bread, we who are many are one Body. The common sharing of the bread and the cup binds these many individual Christians together as a congregation (i.e., a group of people assembled together in Christ’s name).
But what struck me on that Sunday afternoon as I looked forward to my remarks at the evening service, and as I looked backwards to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper that morning, was that in our morning service(s), we really had not reflected this reality. On that Sunday morning, we were not exactly one congregation assembled to eat and drink together. We were two groups of people, eating and drinking apart from one another, at separate times: one at 9 AM, and another at 11 AM.
Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 teaches that it is wrong or sinful for a church to have multiple weekly worship services. As elders, we do not believe that our church has been in sin because of our regularly gathering for two weekly services. But as we’ve considered this over the past several months, we do have a growing conviction that our practice of having two weekly worship services may be obscuring, or even hindering, the fullest experience of unity that Jesus means for us to have as a local church.
This hit home for me especially back on April 23rd, when we did our membership covenant renewal, reading aloud together our membership covenant and signing them together during the worship service. I believe that our time of commitment at 9 AM was meaningful and God-glorifying, but there was a strange sort of discouragement that hit me when I turned around and did the same thing again an hour later, with a different group of people who had assembled, declaring our commitment to each other as one Body in Christ (though God was certainly just as glorified by those who sincerely made that commitment at 11 AM!). Surely it would have been sweet for us all to have made this commitment together, as one Body!
I don’t think my experience on that morning was merely due to a subjective feeling. Objectively, we were missing out on something that the New Testament infers: that assembling together regularly is part of what makes a church a church. The New Testament word for church, ekklesia, refers to an assembly of people gathered together, in the same place at the same time (see, for instance, Acts 19:32, where ekklesia refers to a single gathering of people, though in this use a church is not in view).
Furthermore, when Paul instructs the Corinthians on orderly worship, he envisions the whole church coming together (1 Corinthians 14:23). But for well over a decade now, this has not been our practice. Our whole church does not come together to worship God, in the same place at the same time. And as I have had numerous conversations over the past 8-10 years with people in our congregation who have expressed frustration over not feeling connected in our church, I wonder if one reason (surely, there are others as well) for this common feeling of disconnectedness is that we never worship together as one Body in Christ.
Again, we are not suggesting that our church (or other churches who have multiple services) is in sin. There is no direct command in Scripture concerning this aspect of the structuring of a local church. Should our one service reach a size where we are physically unable to all gather together, we are not ruling out the possibility of adding a second service. But as we have sought God’s wisdom for our church, we believe that having the whole church gather together for worship on a weekly basis is a good and wise implication of the biblical data that we are given, and will be a blessing to our congregation.
With all that said, we understand that there will be some challenges and adjustments for us as we move to one service. We haven’t chosen this path because we thought it was most convenient, but because we sincerely believe that it’s the right thing to do at this time, and that the benefits of making this change will far outweigh the costs. We’ve tried to think of many of those challenges and how to address them, and will be sharing more of those thoughts with the church as we make this transition. If there are specific concerns or questions that you have, we'd welcome you to speak with an elder.
As we continue to journey together towards our heavenly home, let’s continue to make it our prayer that "the God of endurance and encouragement grant [us] to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).
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