Almost half the GKV no longer have afternoon services

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It used to be the norm to attend church twice a Sunday. That’s past in the GKV (Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, our former Dutch sister churches), as well as in the Netherlands Reformed Churches (those who broke away from the GKV in the 1960s). Thereby they are, according to a recent Nederlands Dagblad (ND) article, i] following the trend of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

The ND article reports how a lot of churches turned to digital services during the corona pandemic. Although this was intended as a temporary measure, many consistories decided during that time to discontinue the afternoon services, especially because prior to the pandemic there had already been a steady decline in afternoon attendances.

Like in our FRCA Church Order, these churches had agreed that the congregations should attend twice a Sunday. However, the ND had observed a downward trend. In the Netherlands Reformed Churches only a third of the members attended the afternoon service, while in the GKV attendances were a little higher at 55%.

“Up to the turn of the century it was normal to attend church twice a Sunday.”

Church historian George Harinck reported that this is a break with the past. Up to about the turn of the century it was normal to attend church twice a Sunday. With this development also the catechism preaching is in the process of disappearing.

According to ND, reasons church members give for not attending twice is because life is so busy and full, and they yearn for a Sunday without too many obligations. They also say the morning services are sufficient for them and that there don’t seem to be any clear biblical arguments for obligating one to attend twice. Thus far references to the ND article.

Scripture and the Church Order on church attendance

If we’re looking for a Bible text that says church members should attend church twice a Sunday, we won’t find one. The Bible is not a ready-reference book. Hence we have our little children baptised even though there is no single text that says you must baptise babies, and we come together to hear God’s Word on Sunday even though there is no text to say that the Sunday has replaced the Saturday as the day of rest. We search the Scriptures, to compare one part of Scripture with other parts of Scripture. That’s what Philip did to show the Ethiopian eunuch how the whole Old Testament speaks about Christ Jesus. It’s in this way that we draw conclusions and principles based on Scripture.

That’s also what our Church Order does when it says: “The consistory shall call the congregation together for church services twice on the Lord’s Day” (FRCA Article 62). It’s not just a rule plucked out of the air. Rev Bouwman refers to Numbers 28:1-4 where God speaks to the people through Moses saying:

‘My offering, My food for My offerings made by fire as a sweet aroma to Me, you shall be careful to offer to Me at their appointed time. […] The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, the other lamb you shall offer in the evening…’

Rev Bouwman then comments:

Although this instruction of the Lord related to the daily sacrifices rather than the weekly day of worship, inherent in it is a valuable principle that the churches over the centuries have taken to heart. By means of daily sacrifices offered both in the morning and in the evening, every entire day for each Israelite was bracketed by visible gospel preaching and prayer. The sacrifices were a visible proclamation of the gospel of substitution. Twice a day it was impressed upon the people that although it was they who deserved to die on account of their sins, God accepted the lambs they sacrificed as atonement for their sins. God did so with a view to the death of His Son, The Lamb, who would die in the future. If such a gospel should bracket the daily lives of the saints of the Old Testament, how much more should this be true for saints of the New Testament. To give expression to this reality, the churches have agreed that it is right and proper to call the congregations together for worship twice per Sunday. The whole day, from morning to evening, should be devoted to the Lord.” [ii]

And as to why we have the catechism preaching in the afternoon, Rev Bouwman says it’s because the whole counsel of God needs to be preached. Since it is possible for a minister to avoid preaching on a particular part of the gospel, and to introduce heresies, the churches have considered it wise to have the true teaching of God’s Word proclaimed via catechism preaching. For the catechism covers the various elements of the doctrine of God’s Word. Says Rev Bouwman:

“Here, then, is further argument supporting the agreement of the churches to call the congregations together twice on the Lord’s Day. In the face of the challenges of living in a world with devils filled, each threatening to undo the people of God, opportunity must be used to equip God’s people for the battles of the coming week. Here is a further argument why ‘the Consistory shall call the congregation together for church services twice on the Lord’s Day’.” [iii]

Love for the church services

Why would believers who have tasted the goodness of the LORD not seize every opportunity to attend the church services in order to hear Him speak to them? As Isaiah exclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bring good news!” (Is. 52). And for us the news couldn’t be better! The wrath of God that rests on all people because of our sins, and that condemned us to eternal misery, has been lifted from us through Christ’s sacrifice. Moreover, He renews us by His Spirit and Word to walk in the joy and comfort and obedience of the faith! Instead of darkness we walk in the light. Why then would we not delight to hear the Word of such comfort, encouragement and instruction?

Ironic, isn’t it. In China, North Korea and some Muslim countries, Christians hungry for the Word would dearly love to get together openly on Sundays to hear the preaching and to worship God, but cannot. Yet in western countries, Christian church attendance is in decline as Christians neglect the opportunities to hear God’s Word.

The warning is there for us. As Rev R Bredenhof said in a sermon recently on Isaiah 52: [iv]

But are we still waiting for the gospel, eager to hear it? Do we come to church hungry for the food of the Word? When we regard it as old news, something we’ve heard many times before, it’s hard to get excited. To you and me it will be good news only if we realize how much we need it—how much we need the Lord every day, every hour. So cherish what it means, the gift of God’s grace, entrusted to you, a sinner!

Moreover, in the ups and downs of life, in the swirl of life’s uncertainties, in challenges relating to health and other issues, we need the continual reassurance that God is in full control and sees our every need. We need continual reminder that, as Isaiah exclaimed, “Your God reigns!”.

That knowledge gives us peace. Not just a peace from enemies, for, as Rev Bredenhof says,

Real peace goes deeper than surface realities. It is deeper than Judah’s politics, and deeper than your mental state. God’s peace, under God’s reign, means that He is putting all things right. Not just among the nations and not just in your head, but fundamentally: He is creating peace through Jesus Christ. Christ has reconciled us to God, so that He has become our Father.

And just think of how our Lord Jesus Christ did this. Isaiah 53 tells us how He “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”, how He “was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities”.

And this ‘man of sorrows’, who purchased us with His precious blood, is now our Lord! As Rev Bredenhof said:  

That’s the good news, the best news. Jesus is Lord of all, for He conquered all his enemies: He cast out Satan, He swallowed up death, and He destroyed the power of sin.

‘Jesus is Lord’ means that He is the Lord of all who believe in him. You belong to him, in body and soul, in life and death. So you are secure. He is on his throne, and you can trust in him with everything, and never fear those who stand against you.

How, then, can we not want to exploit every opportunity to hear such good news when the opportunity, indeed Consistory’s call to worship, presents itself? Why would we deprive ourselves of God’s beautiful words of comfort, direction and encouragement for day-to-day life.

Lest we find ourselves steadily moving in the direction of the GKV and other churches that call themselves reformed but evidently need reforming, allow me to end with Rev Bredenhof’s concluding words:

When God speaks, do we have ears to hear? We said that when we are a waiting people—eager to listen, hungry for spiritual food, deeply aware of our sin—then God’s message will be a great joy to us, every time. Then God’s preacher will have beautiful feet as he comes to us, because we’ll realize how much we need the message of Christ. And we’ll be so glad to hear it, Sunday by Sunday. When we have ears to hear, then we’ll have mouths to rejoice.

Isaiah preached for a long time, and he didn’t always get a good response. Paul too, preached a long time, yet many Jews rejected him, and many Gentiles too. That’s a sobering thought for any preacher, and for a congregation too: to realize that probably not everyone sitting here will combine the preaching with true faith.

So there’s a good reason that Isaiah starts this chapter with a call to wake up. In verse 1: “Awake, awake!” No more slumber, but time for revival. We as God’s people too, need to be roused from our sleep. Beloved, you’ve heard it many times, but are you awake to what God offers you in the gospel? Does it move you? Or are you bored, and do you live like you’re bored with God and Christ, doing your own thing, going your own way? It’s time to wake up!

May your life and my life be marked by growing praise, by a rejoicing in the Lord, by a slow but sure increase in love for God. Let your life be filled with an increase of worship, a rising trust, and a greater dedication to his Word. For this gospel shall always be true: ‘Your God reigns. And Jesus is Lord’.”

Therefore, let’s show our love for the Lord and His Word, and our desire to thank and praise Him in the assembly of His people, by “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another even more as you see the day of the Lord coming nearer” (Hebrews 10:25).

 

[i] H Meijer and R Moeliker, “Bijna de helft van de vrijgemaakt – en Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken heeft geen middagdienst meer”, Nederlands Dagblad, 9 September 2022.
[ii] Clarence Bouwman, Spiritual Order for the Church, Premier Publishing, Winnipeg, 2000, p. 138. 
[iii] Bouwman, p. 139.
[iv] TheSeed.info – God sends a preacher to Zion