Why We Do What We Do: Vespers (the evening worship service)

“Why do you go to church twice on Sunday? Isn’t once enough?” Here are some reasons why the Reformed tradition has maintained the historic practice of morning and evening worship:

1. Evening Worship is Rooted in Scripture

The pattern of “morning and evening” is found throughout Scripture. We see this in God’s order of creation. He structured time for humans in terms of mornings and evenings (Gen 1-2). This pattern was also evident in old covenant worship as God commanded the daily offerings in the tabernacle to be made once in the morning and again at twilight (Num 28.1-10; cf. Ex 29.38-39). This is why the psalmist declares in Psalm 92 (a psalm for the Sabbath), “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (vv.1-2; cf. Ps 134.1). Moreover, the New Testament reveals that some new covenant worship services took place in the evening of the first day of the week (see Acts 20.7).

2. Evening Worship More Easily Helps us to Sanctify the Lord’s Day

A practical benefit of morning and evening worship is that it provides an excellent structure to help families sanctify the Lord’s Day. The two worship services become like bookends on the Sabbath, allowing the Christian to more easily keep the day holy as we are commanded, rather than merely sanctifying a couple of hours in the morning. Since the Lord’s Day is a mark of God’s covenant community that sets them apart as holy and reminds them that they are pilgrims on the way to the eternal Sabbath, evening worship provides a beautiful rhythm for the Lord’s Day. For centuries, millions of Christians have found the interval between the morning and evening worship services the perfect time for refreshment, prayer, and acts of mercy. Freed up from all the craziness of the week, Christians are able to enjoy a whole day of worship and rest.

3. Evening Worship, like Morning Worship, is the Means of Grace

If God nourishes our faith by the preaching of the gospel, why wouldn’t we want to hear the gospel preached more than once on Sunday? Since “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10.17) and it is the “the preaching of Jesus Christ” that strengthens us (Rom 16.25), we must realize that the evening worship service provides another opportunity for our faith to be built up and our knowledge of Christ to grow. It provides a broader scope of preaching on the whole counsel of God, allowing the pastor to take his congregation through more of Scripture than only one service would allow.

4. Evening Worship Gives us Continuity with the Historic Christian Church

As we look at the history of the church, we see that morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day was the norm. In the early fourth century, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea described what he understood to be the universal practice of the church:

"For it is surely no small sign of God’s power that throughout the whole world in the churches of God at the morning rising of the sun and at the evening hours, hymns, praises, and truly divine delights are offered to God. God’s delights are indeed the hymns sent up everywhere on earth in his Church at the times of morning and evening."

During the Middle Ages, morning worship became known as “lauds” and evening worship “vespers.” Attending both lauds and vespers was standard practice for Christians. At the time of the Reformation, this practice continued as evidenced in the liturgies of the Reformed churches in the sixteenth century. So important was this second service to the life of the Reformed churches, that when it was threatened by the protests of the Remonstrants (Arminians), the matter was brought to the Synod of Dort (1618-19). The overwhelming testimony by the Synod delegates from countries all over Europe was that the second service was something to be guarded and cherished. This practice has continued to be a principal part of Reformed worship. It should be understood that Protestant churches that have dropped the evening worship service altogether have departed from what has historically been a normal practice of Christ’s church.

I encourage you to commit to the practice of morning and evening worship. It provides us with a beautiful rhythm of worship each Lord’s Day.

~ Pastor Brown