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CLOSED ON SUNDAY NIGHT!

by Dr. Robert Hymers

A sermon given at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, November 18, 2001


"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (Matthew 25:5).

The parable of the wise and foolish virgins describes the condition of many churches in our time. We now see church after church closing the Sunday evening service. I believe that this is one of the signs that we are now living in the last days. This sermon is not a diatribe or an attack on anyone. It is meant to encourage and help struggling pastors in these dark days. It is my prayer that you will be encouraged as you read it.

Writing in A.D. 1685, the Puritan Bible commentator Matthew Poole gives a marvelously rich exposition of Matthew 25:1-13 ( Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, volume 3, Banner of Truth, 1990 reprint of the 1685 edition). Poole points out that the main purpose of the parable is to show "the duty and prudence of watchfulness, from the uncertainty of the time of [Christ's] coming." He goes on to say that the ten virgins represent the professing church. Half of them are unconverted, and the other half are sleeping, though saved. Poole says:

Their slumbering and sleeping signifies the infirmities of the best, who sleep [also]…The coming of the bridegroom at midnight signifieth Christ's coming in a dark time of troubles and afflictions, or at a time not looked for.

This passage of Scripture is a perfect description of the Christian religion in our churches tonight. Millions of evangelicals and fundamentalists are slumbering and sleeping. The second coming of Christ is drawing very near, but our churches are asleep! We now see church after church closing their evening services. I am convinced that this is one of the signs of the last days - the slumbering churches closing their doors - as the age draws to a close - and the world as we know it comes to an end.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

Closing the Sunday evening service is the latest trend among Baptists of every stripe. Southern Baptists and some Southwide churches, "progressive" BBFI churches, and even a few "Bob Jones" fundamental churches, are closing the doors after the Sunday morning service - from one end of America to the other. The Sunday evening service is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

I believe that this shows the chronic sickness of many churches. It is certainly not a positive sign in any way. As with any chronic sickness, no cure can be prescribed by the doctor until the illness has been properly diagnosed. In this sermon, we will examine the patient (the churches which close their evening services) and diagnose the reason - and then propose a remedy - a medicine and a cure. The sickness of these churches can be diagnosed in five ways.

I. First, closing the Sunday night service in Baptist churches is only the most recent time this has happened in a general Protestant trend.

The Methodists began closing their Sunday evening services around 1910. The Presbyterians started closing their Sunday night services about 1925. The American Baptist Convention started shutting down their evening services about 1945. Southern Baptists began doing this about 1985. It should be remembered that the Methodists, Presbyterians and American Baptist Convention were as Bible-believing as any Fundamental Baptist church when this trend began among the "progressive" preachers of their denominations.

Look at the Methodist, Presbyterian and American Baptist Convention churches today! Their membership rolls have shrunk year after year. All three of these denominations have lost hundreds of thousands of members since 1900. Thousands of their churches have closed completely. Ending the Sunday evening service did not help them. It was only a step down the slippery slope of destruction.

Yet today many independent Baptists think they are on the "cutting edge" of some new and progressive thought when they follow the same path that helped to ruin the Methodists, Presbyterians and American Baptist Convention. One independent Baptist preacher said recently, "I've taken the radical step! I've closed our Sunday evening service!" He thinks this will help his church, but I think it will only bring harm to his congregation - as it has done in the "mainline" churches I mentioned.

Winston Churchill once said, "Study history! Study history!" He also said, "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." That is why it is important to know what happened to the "mainline" Protestant and Baptist churches when they gave up their Sunday night services in the past. It's important to see how this helped bring about their demise and disintegration.

Historian Timothy L. Smith has pointed out these facts about the great Protestant and Baptist churches of the early 19th century:

Certainly by modern standards church membership was a strenuous affair. All evangelical sects required of communicants a personal experience of conversion and a consistent life. Two worship services and Sunday School on the Sabbath were customary, along with a midweek gathering for prayer …All of these activities were pursued with a seriousness absent today (Dr. Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War, Harper, 1965, p. 18).

Today, the traditional "mainline" churches are merely a shadow of what they were back then. They gave up the evening service. They gave up the prayer meeting. Now they are in the process of giving up the ghost! This will also be the inevitable outcome among independent Baptists who follow the same path in our day.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

II. Second, closing the Sunday night service in Baptist churches is one of the results of "decisionism."

As we pointed out in our book, Today's Apostasy, Charles G. Finney popularized "decisionism" in the great Protestant and Baptist churches in the middle of the 19th century. Finney's "decisionism" replaced Biblical conversion as a work of God in the human soul with the idea that man is saved by making a superficial "decision for Christ." A mere prayer or physical response took the place of the old-time idea of radical Biblical conversion. As a result, the Protestant and Baptist churches quickly filled up with lost people on their membership rolls by the millions. Unconverted people don't want to go to church twice on Sunday - so the Sunday night service disappeared in these churches a few decades after Finney's methods were adopted.

An exact repetition of this is now happening in "conservative" Baptist churches across America. One Southern Baptist pastor was bewailing to me that he had to close his Sunday night service. "They told me they wouldn't come," he said. I felt like saying, "If people in my church told me that, I'd go ahead and have the service without them -even if it meant that only my family and I were there." But I remained silent.

None of the Baptist churches I attended as a young person had everyone present on Sunday night. We always understood that those who were less committed, or had never truly been converted, wouldn't be there. But we went ahead anyway. The Sunday evening services of my youth were always the best services. The singing was better. The sermons seemed better. We loved those Sunday night services! Maybe it was because those who were religious-but-lost weren't there to drag down everyone else's spirit. That's what I think, looking back.

In our own church today, everyone comes back on Sunday night. I believe this is because they have been trained to do so. But I also believe that it has a great deal to do with the fact that we take meticulous care to make certain that each person has a genuine conversion before they become a member of the church. Personally, I would far rather make someone wait to be truly converted than to quickly baptize yet another lost person, who won't come to church on Sunday night!

I believe that "decisionism" has filled our church rolls with lost people - and now we are paying the price. They just don't want to come on Sunday night!

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

III. Third, closing the Sunday night service often comes about because the pastor has not been called to preach.

A pastor who has no clear-cut "call" to preach will not have much to say. He will have the difficult, if not impossible, task of preparing two sermons with enough "meat" in them to hold a crowd. When the people ask, "Is there any word from the Lord?" he will not know how to give a strong enough answer to hold their attention twice every Sunday.

Sadly, many preachers have never been "called" to preach in the first place. I once sat around the dinner table with a group of preachers. As we were talking, I said, "Let's hear your testimony of how God called you to preach." As we went around the table, I was astonished to learn that only one other pastor was able to give a credible account of God calling him to preach. I was very surprised because these were all fine men in many ways.

But if a man has never had a clear-cut call from God, he will not be able to preach in a way that will make people want to hear him twice on Sunday. He will not be able to bring "forth out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

Sadly, we have been "recruiting" young men for the ministry for many decades. We have called on them to "surrender to preach." To me, this is a mistake. Instead of asking our young men to volunteer as preachers, we should be telling them to go home and pray about it. We should tell them to pray until God definitely calls them - and makes it clear to them that they must speak for Him and preach for Him. Only when they have had a very clear and unmistakable call from God - by His still, small voice in their hearts, should they ever think about entering the ministry. And no one should ever enter the ministry to please his parents. We have far too many "mama-called" preachers, and far too few God-called ones. No wonder people won't come to hear them on Sunday night! People are saying, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him?" (I Kings 22:7). The answer is often "no" - and that is one of the main reasons they won't come back on Sunday night. If you are not called to preach, pray for God to call you, until either He does, or He makes it clear to you that you should leave the ministry.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

IV. Fourthly, closing the Sunday night service brings about several unanticipated, harmful results.

I am sure there are many more negative results than I will mention. But here are a few of them that come to mind.

1. Churches that close their evening services make it twice as hard for missionaries to do deputation. Independent Baptists have their missionaries raise support by doing "deputation work" - by speaking in our churches. If we close our Sunday night services those missionaries lose ½ of their opportunities to speak in the churches. Thus, closing the Sunday night service in our churches will make it twice as hard for missionaries to raise support, since ½ of their opportunities to speak will be gone. It's hard enough for them to raise support as it is! Let's not make it twice as hard by closing the Sunday night service!

2. Churches that close their Sunday night service open the door for their people to visit other churches that may lead them astray. One preacher who recently closed his Sunday night service said, "It frees me up to go to other churches." He thought it was wonderful that now he could go to hear other preachers on Sunday evenings. But I thought, "What about his people? Won't some of them have the same idea?" And what will happen to those people? Remember, the best people will still want to go on Sunday night. But where will they go? Will they go to the charismatic church, with a lively service, down the street? Will they be led astray by a new-evangelical Bible teacher with a "clever" message, whose church is just around the corner? I say that some of them will - and that you will eventually lose some of your best people to churches that stay open in the evening if you close your Sunday night service.

3. Churches that close their Sunday night service lose the greatest evangelistic opportunity of the week. Another preacher told me about a church in New York that has closed their Sunday night service. Instead, they give the people a meal after the morning service and then take them back into the auditorium for another service. That way the people get to go home by 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. "They get as much Bible," the preacher told me. But is the only purpose of Sunday night to "give them more Bible"? I don't think so. For many years good churches have made the Sunday night service an evangelistic meeting. I believe that this was one of the great strong points of Baptist churches in the recent past. People were encouraged to bring lost relatives, friends, and acquaintances to hear the gospel on Sunday night. It gave the good people of the church all Sunday afternoon to "round up" a lost person for the evening service. You can give the people a meal after the morning service, followed by more Bible study, but it destroys the evangelism that built our Baptist churches on Sunday nights! A pastor friend of mine just told me how one of the strongest men in his church came as a result of "dropping in" on a Sunday night service when he was lost. How many people like him will you lose if you miss this great evangelistic opportunity by closing your service on Sunday night?

4. Churches that close their Sunday night services lose one whole offering each week. Every preacher ought to know that you can't pass the plate without getting an offering every time you do. Therefore, by closing the evening service, you lose one entire offering. No matter how much the people give in the other services, the Sunday night offering is lost when the service is closed. The average church that closes on Sunday night loses about $200 to $500 each week - or more. Ask yourself: is it financially worthwhile to close the evening service? Is it wise to lose $800 to $2,000 every month by closing on Sunday night? It's a wonder no one seems to have thought of this simple point before!

5. Churches that close their Sunday evening services lose a tremendous opportunity of reaching and discipling young people. Young people want to go out at night. Remember, closing the Sunday night service will only appeal to older people, who want to be home, to watch TV, and go to bed early. It is mostly the married people and the older people who won't miss Sunday night services too much. But the young people won't know what to do with themselves. I believe that the local church should be a second home for teenagers and young adults. I believe that the future of your church is with them. I believe that the Sunday night service should be especially designed with these young people in mind. We can catch their attention, win them to Christ, and train them for service in the local church, if we have youth-oriented services on Sunday nights. On the other hand, if we close the Sunday evening service, our churches will soon have only a handful of old ladies with blue hair, huddled in an almost-empty church building for one hour on Sunday morning - like the Methodist church around the corner - which gave up its Sunday night service fifty or sixty years ago. I believe that Baptist churches that give up their evening services will be in the same condition a few years from now unless we keep preaching on Sunday night!

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

V. Fifthly, closing the Sunday night service does not make an atmosphere conducive to revival.

I can only touch on this, but I have read enough about the history of revivals to know that they often come at night. I might even say that they usually come at night.

Dr. A. W. Tozer wrote a message called "Born After Midnight." In it he said:

There is considerable truth in the idea that revivals are born after midnight, for revivals…come only to those who want them badly enough…it requires a serious mind and a determined heart to pray past the ordinary into the unusual. Most Christians never do. And it is more than possible that the rare soul who presses on into the unusual experience reaches there after midnight (A. W. Tozer, "Born After Midnight," in The Best of A. W. Tozer, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe, Baker, 1978, pp. 37-39).

Please don't make a "flip" remark that I'm saying our evening services should go until midnight on a regular basis. However, I have had the rare experience of witnessing classical revivals in two Baptist churches, resulting in hundreds of conversions. Both of them went on after the evening service would normally have ended, well into the night. One of these churches added several thousand people in about two years of God-sent revival. The other one added over five hundred people in three months. The second of these God-sent revivals began in a Sunday evening service that went on until nearly midnight. The first one had Sunday night after Sunday night of Heaven-sent revival, with no one watching the clock.

Would these two Baptist churches have experienced such revival blessings if they had closed their evening services? Maybe - but I seriously doubt it. As Dr. Tozer said, revival only comes "to those who want it badly enough." If you want revival badly enough, you will not close the very service where it often comes.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept"

(Matthew 25:5).

But the very next verse says, "And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps" (Matthew 25:6-7). That is revival - born at night! Let's don't miss it when it comes - because we have locked our churches on Sunday night!

Conclusion

What if your church has already closed its doors on Sunday night? What should you do? I know one preacher who realized he had made a mistake by closing the evening service. He wisely started a Sunday night service for the young people. This can gradually be expanded until (without ever saying so) you have brought back the Sunday night service, with many adults coming as well.

What will you preach on Sunday night? Why not take a simple book on systematic theology, like those of Fitzwater or Thiessen (old edition. New edition ruined), and just preach your way right through, on those great topics of systematic theology? The young people will love it. Have them take notes. It will give them "ammunition" against the liberals and unbelievers in general that they encounter.

Or, you could take Dr. Norman Geisler's new book on apologetics, Unshakable Foundations (Bethany, 2001). This book deals with evolution, ethics, Heaven, Hell, abortion, euthanasia, the problem of evil, cloning and other contemporary problems in society. You could work Dr. Geisler's ideas into a series of messages addressing these problems. Your young people will love it - and flock to hear you - on Sunday night. Or you could take Willmington's Guide to the Bible, and use it to just preach through several books of the Bible. People always love that. Or you could preach a series of evening messages on the great preachers and missionaries of the past - biographical sermons.

Or you could take a book on Christian history, like Dr. Earle E. Cairns' Christianity Through the Centuries (Zondervan, 1981), and preach through it - on the great events of the history of Christianity. By now - the adults will begin to trickle back into the evening "youth" service - because they too will want to hear these messages! Always make sure you announce what the topic of the evening will be in the morning service! Make the titles as interesting as possible. You should say over and over on Sunday morning, "I'm speaking on things in the evening service that I just can't deal with on Sunday morning." It's true, and it will draw people to hear you! I've given you enough ideas for several Sunday night series which could last three or four years - or more!

Let's reinvent the Sunday evening service! It won't be too hard to beat what's on TV now. We're not up against great TV programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Jack Benny Program" or a first-run John Wayne movie no one had seen on TV yet. We just don't have much real competition on Sunday night any more. Television is not nearly as great a competition to the evening service as it was in the 1950's or 1960's - or even in the 70's. "Sixty Minutes" or some football game can hardly be as interesting as a well-planned, energy-charged, intellectually stimulating Sunday night service!

Go for it!

(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon: Matthew 25:1-13.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Revive Thy Work, O Lord"

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."




THE OUTLINE OF

CLOSED ON SUNDAY NIGHT!

by Dr. Robert Hymers

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (Matthew 25:5).

I.   Closing the Sunday night service in Baptist churches is only the
most recent time this has happened in a general Protestant trend.

II.  Closing the Sunday night service in Baptist churches is one of
the results of "decisionism."

III. Closing the Sunday night service often comes about because the
pastor has not been called to preach, Matthew 13:52;
I Kings 22:7.

IV.  Closing the Sunday night service brings about several
unanticipated results.

V.   Closing the Sunday night service does not make an atmosphere
conducive to revival, Matthew 25:6-7.