Extra Services?

The Puritans generally rejected extra services of worship besides the Sunday Sabbath services. They lived in a context where the churches in power tended to require lots of extra services. There were feast-days, holy days, saint-days, etc. The Puritans believed that requiring all these extra services bound the conscience to something that was not God’s Word. Their position became clear: only the Sunday services of worship were required by Scripture. However, they did not forbid extra services entirely. WCF 21.5 states that “thanksgivings upon special occasions” are appropriate. The WCF does not specify what those special occasions are. We know from the rest of the standards that none of these extra services can be forced upon the people. However, that is a very different thing from saying that therefore they are not allowed.

If a congregation, therefore, decides that it wants to give thanks to God generally by holding a Thanksgiving service; give thanks to God for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas; and give thanks to God for Christ’s resurrection at Easter, this does not fall foul of the Regulative Principle, and it falls within the parameters of WCF 21.5. The congregation would then have decided that those are the special occasions on which it wants to give thanks. If someone were to respond by saying “those aren’t special occasions,” I would respond by saying, “who gets to decide what the special occasions are?” Is it not the congregation, led by the session? In my situation, for instance, the congregation is used to having a Thanksgiving service, a Christmas service and an Easter service. No one feels bound in their conscience to go. They go freely. This is very different, obviously, from what the Puritans were facing, in terms of required services.

Now, can we require people to go to extra services? Of course not. That would definitely be a violation of Scripture. Nor could we, hypothetically speaking, discipline anyone who did not come to the special services. They must be kept voluntary. This is the understanding of many Reformed churches through the years. One could not fault a church for holding only to the Sabbath services. However, it seems to go too far to judge churches that have Christmas and Easter services. There seems to be a range here of acceptable practice.


  1. reiterations said,

    November 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    You must be on a real tear, Lane. You’ve had thought-provoking posts here almost every day this month!

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    I am trying to resurrect the blog. It is good discipline for my mind.

  3. Bob S said,

    November 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    If we are going to do justice to the question, much more the primary sources, the range of “acceptable practice” for the Puritan divines is further delineated in the Directory for Public Worship which, along with the Directory for Church Government, was also included in the charge from the Solemn League and Covenant for religious uniformity. The Confession and Catechisms were never intended to stand or be interpreted alone.

    For instance the Appendix to the Directory for Publick (sic) Worship says:

    THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
    Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

    Neither were the divines talking about Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving in the previous respective rubrics on days of fasting and thanksgiving in the DPW.

    FTM if Gillespie, a Scotch delegate to the Westminster Assembly, in his Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland rings the changes on all the (Anglican) arguments for days observing different events in the life of Christ, as well as anniversary days that like rote clockwork are observed in the church, what are we left with? Arguing for worship services, but not days?

    True, Calvin was more than willing to preach on a Lord’s Day before or after Dec. 25th regarding the birth of Christ, but again the day itself or a “Christmas service”?
    I don’t think so.

    Rather with the Westminster divines, the church of Christ has enough days already in the year (52) to preach about the life of Christ as well as give thanks rather than following hard on the footsteps of familiar customs/superstitions or the civil magistrate, which if we do not flee, we at least do not countenance as a church.

    Two kingdom aside, what business does the church of Jesus Christ in America have in regularly observing the annual day of thanksgiving called for by the president? Roe Wade anyone? How about Obergfel?

    I mean at least if we are going to talk about reasons for taking a knee during the weekly call to worship in respective congregations in the Church of the NFL

    Oh, wrong church.

    Never mind.

  4. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 4:04 am


    Could you please send me your current mailing address through my ‘contact us’ page. My co-author and I have just finished a book (gong to the printer this week…) in which you are listed in the Acknowledgments and we would like to send you a complimentary copy. The book is titled Ten Parts in the King; The Prophesied Reconciliation of God’s Two Witnesses.

    Thank you, sir,

    Pete Rambo

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Pete, I have extremely limited shelf-space at this point in time, and it is needed mostly for my Th.M. and Ph.D. books. Could you first send me an electronic copy, so that I can determine if it is a book I want in my library? Thanks.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Bob, it is well-known that many, if not most Puritans, held the position you outline. I have my doubts whether they all did. And certainly not all the Reformed did. Given the fact that the Westminster divines did not outline the process or criteria for determining which extra services might be added, there is still some leeway. I am also choosing to pay special attention to the historical situation of the Westminster divines, which is radically different than today’s situation. What they were reacting against is just as important as any other historical or literary context that we can identify.

  7. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    @#5, Yes, I would be happy to do so upon publication. Either a comp Amazon Kindle link or a pdf?


  8. Pete Rambo said,

    November 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Oh, btw, https://tenpartsintheking.com/ for flavor and chapter headings and short preview.

  9. Bob S said,

    November 14, 2017 at 12:02 am

    GB, there is no need to outline the process or criteria per se. The days of fasting and thanksgiving outlined in the Directory clearly do not lend themselves to being turned into special worship services respecting various aspects of Christ’s life, which in themselves are a way of getting around the religious feastdays which are also plainly reprobated. IOW respectfully, bluntly and briefly. a shell game is not an argument.
    9/11 different story. We even had a ecumenical service in the National Cathedral called by the pres who wasn’t even presbyterian.

    Legalized abortion and homosexual marriage is “radically different” than pagan Rome or England during the the 1640″s?

    Many or most of the Puritans is no matter. The question of the OP was in re. to the WCF which while it mentioned the “rest of the standards” really did not do justice to them in attempting to substitute Christmas and Easter services for days of fasting and thanksgiving. (Turkey day doesn’t count because it is an annual rote anniversary day that is observed regardless of Gaia/the Big Bang’s judgements or blessings.)



  10. Thomas McClintock said,

    December 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    And it’s this kind of reasoning that drove me from the OPC.

  11. Reed here said,

    December 5, 2017 at 7:11 am

    Lane, agree with you here.

  12. roberty bob said,

    December 7, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Better to name the Sunday the LORD’s Day [to commemorate Christ’s resurrection / the beginning of God’s New Creation] rather than to call it a Sabbath [God’s rest at the end of His creation]. This is not a quibble. The new covenant church purposefully chose to gather on the Lord’s Day for worship and fellowship rather than on the Sabbath Day. The Apostle Paul states that ceremonial days which had been binding upon God’s covenant people Israel were no longer binding upon the new covenant people of God; this included Sabbath observance.

  13. Thomas McClintock said,

    December 8, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    I’m confused. The 4th commandment was ceremonial? I thought it, along with the other 9 commandments were moral law. Binding on all people in all times.

  14. Ron said,

    December 8, 2017 at 11:35 pm


    That’s correct. RB’s theology is very eclectic.

  15. roberty bob said,

    December 9, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Referencing Colossians 2:16,17 along with Hebrews 4. The Sabbath Day is / was the seventh day, on which our Creator God rested; it was not the first day of the week. Paul says to let no one judge you on sabbath day observance since such is a shadow of the coming reality of Christ. So, now in Christ our observance of Sabbath is not tied to the seventh day being set apart, but rather to entering into the Rest that Christ has won for us through his atoning death and vindicating resurrection. By Christ’s victory, he leads his people into the Promised Rest.

    Personally I refer to the Lord’s Day as the day of worship and rest. Gathering with my brothers and sisters on the Lord’s Day for worship, and then using the remainder of the day for fellowship and acts of love cannot help but lead us deeper into the Sabbath Rest Christ offers us, as Hebrews 4 encourages.

    Electric Theology 101

  16. rfwhite said,

    December 9, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    12/15 roberty bob: Let’s agree that Christian observance of (the) Sabbath is not tied to the seventh day. We are persuaded, however, that the first day, as the Lord’s Day, has essentially the same sabbatical character as the seventh day did. We confess this because the first day is identifiable as sabbatical in character. The Lord’s Day is sabbatical in that it is the day on which Christ took His seat in rest from His redemptive labors and so it is the day on which we are obliged to honor, in our worship and rest, that rest into which Christ has entered. We might say that the issue turns on the sabbatical character of Christ’s day of ascension. Do you deny the sabbatical character of Christ’s day of ascension?

  17. roberty bob said,

    December 9, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    rfwhite: the way I read you, I find that you are echoing what I have been saying and believing — right down the line! Moreover, it would be heartening to have more congregations actually celebrate the ascension of Christ on the 40th day after celebrating his resurrection.

  18. Ron said,

    December 9, 2017 at 10:03 pm


    Is such rest commanded or optional? Is it required by God, or just a good idea in your personal opinion?

  19. roberty bob said,

    December 10, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Heidelberg Catechism Q. 103
    What is God’s will for us in the fourth commandment?
    First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings to the poor.
    Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through His Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

    The Lord’s Day is “sabbatical” in its nature, as is every day. Christians keep / observe the Lord’s Sabbath by attending the assembly of God’s people on the Lord’s Day and by resting from evil ways on every day.

    Clearly this is commanded, not optional; and certainly not my personal opinion.

    Ready for church now. Out the door in 5 minutes!

  20. roberty bob said,

    December 10, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I weighed in on this particular Sunday Sabbath post in the first place because I thought it strange that this term, Sunday Sabbath, was chosen instead of The Lord’s Day. It turns out that I was unaware of the term Sunday Sabbath being the normal term used in Presbyterian circles to define the day.

    So, I am curious what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the congregation in Colosse that they should let no one judge them on the observance of sabbath days. I can understand how certain Judaizers within the church could have been judgmental towards those who were no longer observing Sabbath on the 7th day; Paul, I think, believed that such observance should not be imposed on congregations who were, in effect, keeping the 1st day — the Lord’s Day — holy unto the Lord.

    I reckon it all comes down to the same thing: Lord’s Day observance is Sabbath observance; it’s a Christian Sabbath, not a Jewish Sabbath.

  21. roberty bob said,

    December 12, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Right, the Session of the congregation decides on whether to hold worship services on other [special?] occasions other than the Lord’s Day.

    My family once belonged to a congregation in which which two elders on the Session were on duty each worship service: one of them greeted all of the congregants at the door while the other one extended the welcome to open the worship service. In this way there was no mistaking the Session’s authority. Likewise, the duty elder would extend the right hand to the Minister of the Word when he would step up to the pulpit / table to lead the worship service, and then do the same at the conclusion of the worship service if the Minister of the Word had honorably discharged his ministry. The congregation continues in this mode, and the Lord’s blessing abounds.

  22. roberty bob said,

    December 14, 2017 at 11:17 am

    “. . . it seems to go too far to judge churches that have Christmas and Easter service.” — GB

    How many miles would I have to drive to find a church that does not have Christmas and Resurrection Day services? Does such a church exist on Planet Earth?

  23. Chris said,

    December 18, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Just saw this; Bob S is correct. Lane, To interpret the special days of thanksgiving or fasting as observing the acts of redemption is contrary to the intent and the wording of the original Westminster Standards. To do so is just doing the same thing others do in imposing views not contemplated by the assembly w.r.t the second commandment, fourth commandment, creation, etc. Argue if you like that these other types of services are permissible (maybe from 1.6), but let’s not undermine original intent and try to base it upon a misuse of WCF 21, IMHO. Their meaning in WCF is clear from their earlier written Directory for Public Worship: “AN APPENDIX,
    Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship.
    THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

    Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

    Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.”

    It is also clear from the distinctions the puritans were making against the forced pretended holidays and these other occasions. Gillespie for instance:

    “The Bishop has yet a third dart to throw at us: If the church (he says)7 has power, upon occasional motives, to appoint occasional fasts or festivities, may not she, for constant and eternal blessings, which do infinitely excel all occasional benefits, appoint ordinary times of commemoration or thanksgiving? ANSWER. There are two reasons for which the church may and should appoint fasts or festivities upon occasional motives, and neither of them agrees with ordinary festivities. 1. Extraordinary fasts, either for obtaining some great blessing, or averting some great judgment, are necessary means to be used in such cases; likewise, extraordinary festivities are necessary testifications [testimonies] of our thankfulness for the benefits which we have impetrate [procured] by our extraordinary fasts; but ordinary festivities, for constant and eternal blessings, have no necessary use. The celebration of set anniversary days is no necessary mean for conserving the commemoration of the benefits of redemption, because we have occasion, not only every Sabbath day, but every other day, to call to mind these benefits, either in hearing, or reading, or meditating upon God’s word. I esteem and judge that the days consecrated to Christ must be lifted, says Danæus: Christ is born, is circumcised, dies, rises again for us every day in the preaching of the Gospel.8

    2. God has given his church a general precept for extraordinary fasts (Joel 1:14; 2:15), as likewise for extraordinary festivities to praise God, and to give him thanks in the public assembly of his people, upon the occasional motive of some great benefit which, by the means of our fasting and praying, we have obtained (Zech. 8:19 with 7:3). If it is said that there is a general command for set festivities, because there is a command for preaching and hearing the word, and for praising God for his benefits; and there is no precept for particular fasts more than for particular festivities, I answer: Albeit there is a command for preaching and hearing the word, and for praising God for his benefits, yet is there no command (no, not in the most general generality) for annexing these exercises of religion to set anniversary days more than to other days; whereas it is plain that there is a general command for fasting and humiliation at some times more than at other times.

    And as for particularities, all the particular causes, occasions, and times of fasting could not be determined in Scripture, because they are infinite, as Camero says.9 But all the particular causes of set festivities, and the number of the same, might have been easily determined in Scripture, since they are not, nor may not be infinite; for the Bishop himself acknowledges that to appoint a festival day for every week cannot stand with charity, the inseparable companion of piety.10 And albeit so many were allowable, yet who sees not how easily the Scripture might have comprehended them, because they are set, constant, and anniversary times, observed for permanent and continuing causes, and not moveable or mutable, as fasts which are appointed for occurring causes, and therefore may be infinite.

    I conclude that, since God’s word has given us a general command for occasional fasts, and likewise particularly determined sundry things about the causes, occasions, nature, and manner of fastings, we may well say with Cartwright,11 that days of fasting are appointed at such times, and upon such occasions, as the Scripture does set forth; wherein because the church commands nothing, but that which God commands, the religious observation of them falls unto the obedience of the fourth commandment, as well as of the seventh day itself.”

    See more here (and for the footnotes): http://www.naphtali.com/articles/george-gillespie/holy-days/epc-out-of-the-law/

    And this doesn’t even touch the argument from indifference (picking a topic the same as a pretended holy day around the same time of year), which Calvin compromised on (but see the bit in the latest Confessional Presbyterian on Calvin’s Letters to the Montbeliardians), but I think that the argument also made by Gillespie and bolstered by him out of Calvin that such times are monuments of idolatry and should not be aped or followed, is compelling, if practically universally ignored. See here: http://www.naphtali.com/articles/george-gillespie/george-gillespie-on-the-rule-for-purging-monuments-of-idolatry/

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