There has been a growing trend in recent decades: That of various denominations to provide church services at alternate times for those not desiring to come Sunday mornings. Many people have found it unreasonably burdensome to awake at a reasonable hour on the Lord’s Day to worship their Creator, so they have moved worship services to another day. I recall when living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that there were particular roads to avoid on Saturday nights, because certain mega-churches would be dismissing thousands from their services at that time. Is it acceptable to forego assembling on the first day of the week in favor of meeting on a more convenient day? No one disagrees that churches professing Christianity have traditionally met on the first day of the week. But tradition in itself is not sufficient reason to say that churches professing Christianity must meet on the first day of the week (Matt. 15:9). What does the Bible teach? Is it obligatory to meet on the first day of every week?
Clearly the apostolic pattern entailed assembling at a particular time to worship. When Jesus gave instructions to the apostles regarding how they were to partake of the Lord’s Supper, He told them, “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29, emph. LM). They were not to be partaking of the Lord’s Supper prior to the time of the kingdom’s establishment on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and there would be a specific day on which it would be taken. Jesus did not yet make clear whether “that day” was literal or figurative; weekly, monthly, or yearly—the apostles would have to wait for further instructions. But as of the day of Pentecost, the apostles had clearly received those instructions, as all the early Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The phrase “breaking of bread” is obviously included here in a context of worship (the use of the phrase in Acts 2:46 is clearly in the context of a common meal), therefore referring to the Lord’s Supper, and there was a particular pattern being observed by all. From what Jesus had told His apostles as recorded in Matthew 26:29, this pattern would have to include assembling at a particular time to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). And how often was this? “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). While it is again agreed that the phrase “break bread” can refer to a common meal, it is impossible but that it here refer to the Lord’s Supper. The prior verse indicates that they waited a full week for this day and came together to break bread, that is, for the purpose of breaking bread. It cannot be understood that they waited a full week to eat, but that they waited a full week to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Since it is to be understood that this congregation was also following the apostolic pattern (Acts 2:42), and that this is provided as an example for us; it follows that we should observe this pattern.
Not only is the first day of the week set aside as the time to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it is also set aside as the time for giving: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (I Cor. 16:2). The phrase “in store” has reference to a common treasury; made clear by the fact that if it were not a common treasury, there would still have to be gatherings made when Paul came. One can only put into a common treasury in a common place, showing that they were assembled together for this, and on a common day—the first day of the week, literally translated, “the first day of every week.”
Pliny in A.D. 112 wrote in a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan regarding Christians: “It was their habit to meet on a fixed day to assemble before sunlight and sing.” The day was fixed but the particular time was their “habit.” Jesus Christ began the practice of assembling on the first day of the week:
Then the same day (of Christ’s resurrection, LM) at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you (John 20:19).
“And after eight days again (the Jewish way of counting one week, LM) his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you” (John 20:26).
The key to understanding the need for meeting on the first day of the week is understanding the need for responsibility to God and authority from God. Each of us has a responsibility to worship God, including partaking of the Lord’s Supper and giving of our means. But when do we have Biblical authority to do these things? (Col. 3:17). Only on the first day of the week. Also essential to the first-day-of-the-week worship is congregational singing (Matt. 26:30; Col. 3:16), preaching of God’s word (Acts 20:7), and prayer (Matt. 26:26-27; 1 Tim. 2:8); although these acts of worship are authorized at other times as well (Jas. 5:13; Acts 13:14ff; 1 Thess. 5:17).
If we are to be pleasing to God, we must indeed meet on the first day of the week. It is a day greatly anticipated by Christians for the opportunities it provides that exist at no other time. We love the Lord, and we love to worship Him—this is why we meet on the first day of the week.