The Synod of 1973 has referred several matters to the churches for their consideration and reflection among which is also the report of the Liturgical Committee on “The Second Service.”
There are, however, some problems connected with the request to reflect on and consider this particular report. In the first place, this report is not the result of a study commissioned by Synod. “. . . synod gave no specific mandate to the Liturgical Committee with respect to the second worship service . . .” (Acts, p. 54). But, the committee justifies the writing of this report by stating: “For some years your committee on liturgy has been under pressure to submit a study on the second Sunday service.” This language I do not understand. What is meant by being “under pressure”? We don’t have ‘pressure groups,’ do we? Or does it mean that the problem is so urgent and so widespread that, even though Synod has not furnished a mandate, it must be brought to Synod’s attention?
I am still of the opinion that this report should have been ruled out of order by Synod. However, Synod did not rule it out of order but referred “this report to the churches for their consideration and reflection.”
The grounds for this recommendation are very interesting. The first ground states: “The first section of the report is of an informative and illustrative nature, and calls for further reflection.” This is a good ground for the recommendation. But, the second ground states: “The second section contains suggestions for certain types of services which Synod ought not to adopt with an official endorsement, since in this way the possibility may be opened for types of services which would be in violation of the Church Order (e.g., the ecumenical service), or the intent of one of the questions asked at church visiting: ‘When guest ministers or unordained men are invited to preach, does the consistory employ only persons who are of Reformed persuasion and who are properly licensed’”? Is this a ground for calling the churches to consideration and reflection? What must they consider? Whether it is true that this possibility of church order violation exists? The matter has now almost come full circle: it did not originate in a consistory or classis; it did come to Synod through one of its committees; it is now given to the churches for their consideration and reflection!
So much for the formal aspects of the matter. Now just a few words about the problem itself.
There is, no doubt, a problem connected with the second service on Sunday in many places and the committee is fully aware of these problems. This problem is not new. In the great majority of American churches a second service has never been possible. It is a newer problem in our circles.
Not too many years ago our churches were filled, in two or even three services per Sunday. Today that situation is different. Why? That is a difficult question to answer. The spirit of the age has something to do with it, I suppose. There are, however, also many of our churches where the “problem” of the second service is non-existent.
One of the real dangers when facing this problem is that we will seek solutions which we will learn to regret. History ought to teach us a few things. Various “gimmicks” have been used to increase attendance in some churches. Of course, they failed. The church, the body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth, has but one commodity to “sell,” i.e., the Word! God’s people will come to hear His Word. Soul-hunger has to be satisfied with the “bread of life.” No other food satisfies.
The Heidelberg Catechism states: “. . . and that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, the day of res~, diligently attend the church of God, to learn God s Word to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms.” This is not a theological approach which leaves itself “wide op.en to the danger of a joyless and even a mindless Institutionalism” (Acts, p. 506).
Let us hope that Synod never makes a pronouncement as “pastoral advice” to the churches regarding the second service. There are indications in various Synodical reports and decisions of recent date that Synod is very concerned about many groups, e.g., reports on Neo-Pentecostalism, Amnesty, Homosexuality, etc. Let us not alienate the group of “solid,” faithful, devoted, loyal people who have built our schools, our institutions of mercy, and our churches.
Henry Vander Kam is pastor of the Grace Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.