by Wayne S. Walker
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 onlyonce 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 (I Corinthians 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; I 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; I Corinthians 11:23-26).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” (Philippians 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 togetheron 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 todo — 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 (Mark 16:15). He was specific as to what — the gospel. Thatdoes 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 PowerPoint 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 (I Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 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. Colossians 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 expedientin carrying out God’s commands.