QUESTION: Has God commanded weekly worship in the New Testament church? Would a Christian be sinning by not attending worship every week?
ANSWER: The Ten Commandments are an outline of God’s immutable and holy Law. They apply to all people of all time. Whether in the Old or New Testament, God’s Law is always God’s Law. It is always sinful to worship idols, to misuse God’s name, to dishonor parents and authorities, to murder, to commit adultery and fornication, to steal, lie, and covet.
And yet, Dr. Luther explains the Third Commandment, writing, “In the Old Testament God set apart the seventh day and appointed it for rest, and he commanded it to be kept holy above all days. As far as outward observance is concerned, the commandment was given to the Jews alone” (Large Catechism, Tappert, paragraph 80, p. 375).
Strictly speaking, this commandment is ceremonial law (see Colossians 2:16–17). The Lord Jesus fulfilled it. By His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave us eternal rest by the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus invited us to “come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He took our burdens to His cross, and in their place He gave us His holiness. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts find no rest until they rest in you.”
The main part of the Third Commandment is the concept of keeping holy or sanctifying. God wants us to sanctify every day. As Luther explained this commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.”
Again, Luther: “Since so much depends on God’s Word so that no holy day is sanctified without it, we must realize that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment and will punish all who despise His word and refuse to hear and learn it, especially at the times appointed” (Large Catechism, Tappert, paragraph 95, p. 378).
The New Testament commands the hearing of God’s Word. Since no specific day is commanded, Christians will do what they can to hear and learn God’s Word every day. The early Christians set the example. They gathered on the first day of the week when possible, to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Many were servants who could not gather on any given day. Persecution was a regular part of their lives. They did what they could to gather whenever they could to hear and learn God’s Word. So the writer to the Hebrews commanded: Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Another factor comes into consideration: our old nature is stubborn. It does not want us to sanctify any day. It does not want us to obey God except when we let our works undermine Jesus’ work for our salvation. Our old nature needs to be commanded. It would like for us to find loopholes: Do we really need to gather together every week to hear God’s good news? When we give in to this temptation, it is sin.
Praise our Lord. He called us to faith. He forgives all our sins. When we were converted, He created a new nature in us that wants to obey Him. Before our new nature can even consider if there is such a New Testament command, it is asking how we can hear and learn God’s Word.
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL