I have encouraged congregations to set aside old covenant customs, in keeping with the example set by Paul, in order to better reach the culture around us. I implied it would be better for us to have worship services on Sundays rather than Saturdays. Some people asked: “Didn’t you tell us that days don’t matter? Are you now telling us that they do?”
It’s a legitimate question, so let me explain a little further. The days we meet for worship don’t matter for salvation, but they do matter in practical ways. If you have to work on Sundays, then days matter. If your children have to go to school on Saturdays, then days matter. For most people in our society, days matter in concrete, practical ways, in terms of schedules and convenience.
In terms of pleasing God, days don’t matter. Sunday is not spiritually better than Saturday or Tuesday. But for practical purposes, Tuesday is not a very good day to have our weekly church services. It’s a practical matter, not a spiritual one.
We are in a culture that expects Christian worship services to be on Sundays. Some churches have services on Saturday evenings, but these are rarely the only service time that is offered. The main worship service is usually on Sunday mornings—even the unchurched know that. When I encouraged Sunday worship services, it was based on Paul’s missionary strategy as described in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22.
When Paul was with Jews, he acted like a Jew and kept Jewish laws. When he was with Gentiles, he did not adhere to Jewish customs and old covenant laws. Did customs matter to Paul? Based on his own testimony, they did. He kept certain customs in one society, but not in another. He was careful to be appropriate to the society he was in.
He adapted his behavior because the customs mattered to the culture he was in—and the reason that Paul could adapt his behavior was because he knew that those customs gained neither favor nor disfavor with God. Since God had given him freedom in regard to those customs, he adapted to culture in those matters because he was trying to reach people with the gospel.
Paul lived according to Gentile customs when in Gentile society, so he could save some. If we apply this principle to our situation today, it suggests that most of our worship services ought to be on Sundays—not for spiritual reasons, but for practical reasons. Sunday is the day expected in our society, and usually the day that most people are free to meet. God gives us freedom to adapt our customs to serve the needs of the mission he has given us. He has commanded a mission, but not a day.
We are not requiring that everyone change. Some congregations have practical reasons for meeting on Saturdays. That’s OK. But for most congregations, there is a practical reason for meeting on Sundays, and if circumstances permit, we should prefer that day, not because it is spiritually better for us, but because it is practically better for the mission in most segments of Western society. If we want to be successful in our mission, we need to throw off obstacles that confuse people.
Sunday is not a sure-fire formula for attracting new believers. There is no easy formula. The gospel takes work, and it takes time—all the more reason that we need to eliminate as many obstacles as we can. The mission also requires some sacrifice—and for some of us, it means a willingness to rearrange our schedules to better suit the people we hope to reach.
Days matter to people
For some members, days matter a lot. For some, it is because of jobs; for others, it is a desire to reach people; and for a few, it is because they still think that God commands a particular day. We must therefore act in wisdom. We need to think about how we can be more effective in our mission, and for this, days and times matter. I believe that Paul’s strategy of adapting to culture where he could is something that could help us in our mission today.
The gospel is already counter-cultural. It advocates humility and submission, not self-reliance. It advocates love, not selfishness. We do not need to make it more different than it already is. Our behavior does not need to imply something that the gospel does not teach.
For example, we do not dress like the Amish, because we do not want to imply that the gospel requires people to avoid color. Amish clothes are not ungodly, but neither are they required. They are permitted, and yet for the sake of the gospel, they are counterproductive. For the sake of the mission, we need to be flexible on the optional so we point people to the essential.
For similar reasons, we do not want to keep obsolete worship commands, because we do not want to imply that these commands are required. For a congregation to meet on Saturday because it is more practical is one thing; for it to meet on Saturday because it believes it is doing something God prefers is quite another. We cannot endorse a wrong understanding of the gospel. We do not want to see congregations remain in a “Saturday only” configuration for wrong reasons.
The essence of Christianity is not in the days we meet, but in the message of grace. And it is self-contradictory to preach grace while pressuring people to keep one particular day, no matter whether it is Saturday or Sunday. We are not forcing anybody to do anything. All we are saying is that if we want to be more successful in the mission we have been given (and I hope we do), we need to apply the principle Paul has given us.
The gospel says that we should put aside our own interests and consider the needs of others. When it comes to our mission of sharing the gospel, we need to consider the needs of the people we hope to reach.
We do not wait until children show up before we begin to think about having lessons for children during our worship services. We do not wait for it to start raining before we think about repairing the roof. And in the same way, we do not wait until we have new believers before we begin thinking about what day might serve their needs the best.
This is a mission strategy, not a matter of being a “better” Christian. The mission can be done on any day of the week. The mission can be done by a Saturday-meeting congregation. But I believe that the mission will be done more effectively in America through worship services on Sundays—and I believe that this strategy is supported by the apostle Paul. Our mission and our motto is “Living and Sharing the Gospel.” If our church is full of unnecessary customs, that will hinder the gospel.
Paul said, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (verse 19). Can we apply Paul’s principle in modern society? Though we are free, can we decide to serve others, so that we might win them?
Paul said, “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (verse 21). The law of Christ says we should adapt to serve the needs of others. We need to consider what will help or hinder that mission. When we are in a Gentile society, should we not follow Paul’s example?
Author: Joseph Tkach