Many families and individuals are under the impression that they can take a vacation not only from work and school but church as well. A common mindset is that, ‘I can take the whole week off—including Sunday!’ This, however, is a misguided understanding of vacation and especially worship on the Lord’s Day.
A vacation can be an important time of rest and recreation, but it should never be a vacation from worship. Our desire should be to gather with the body of Christ and worship Him no matter where we may be, whether in suburbia or by the ocean’s shore. While we should enjoy our vacations, we should make it a point to ensure that we will have a suitable place for worship on Sunday morning should we be away on the Lord’s Day. What constitutes ‘the body of Christ’ and a ‘suitable’ place for worship? Wherever the saints are gathered for worship constitutes the body of Christ and wherever the gospel is preached and the administration of the sacraments and church discipline. What if there is not a suitable church in the area of our vacation spot? This very well may be an indicator that we need to change our vacation destination or rearrange our vacation timeframe so that we can be at church on Sunday. Is it not better to drive a few more miles or take an extra day off so that we can obey God and given Him the praise and worship He so rightly deserves? Where do our priorities lie? Do they lie with our vacation or do we seek Christ’s kingdom first in all things?
There are some, on the other hand, who might think, ‘Well, we may not go to church on Sunday while on vacation, we nevertheless have a devotional in its place.’ There are several reasons why this line of thinking is still wrongheaded.
First, our devotion time, no matter how Spirit-blessed, is not corporate worship. The author of the Hebrews exhorts us not to forsake the assembly of the saints (Heb. 10.25).
Second, while the Word of God is certainly powerful and efficacious in our private devotions, reading the Word is not preaching. The Reformed tradition has always placed a high premium on preaching. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), written by Heinrich Bullinger, Ulrich Zwingli’s successor at Zurich, states: ‘Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached, and received of the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be feigned, nor to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; who, although he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God abides true and good’ (I.4). We see this truth fleshed out in the Pastoral epistles when Paul exhorts Timothy to commit the teaching of the Word to ‘faithful men’ who are ‘able to teach others also’ (2 Tim. 2.2). Who does Paul specifically identify as ‘faithful’ men who are qualified to teach the Word of God to His people? He commits the teaching of the Word to elders, or ministers (1 Tim. 3.1-7). We see, for example, that Timothy did not assume the responsibility of teaching and preaching on his own authority but by that of a presbytery who ordained him to such a task (1 Tim. 4.14; NAS).
Third, in a worship service there is a ‘call to worship.’ What exactly is a call to worship? Is it merely a quaint Bible verse that aesthetically adorns the beginning of the worship service or is it something more? A call to worship is a passage of Scripture or phrase that calls the congregation to the public worship of God (Leading in Worship, p. 22). The call to worship is Christ, the session, and the pastor, calling those who are covenanted with God and who have submitted themselves to the authority of Christ via the session to public worship. In essence, it is a command for the people of God to gather before the Lord. If we have private devotions and ignore the call to worship, we disobey the command of Christ. When the call to worship goes out, we are required to be at church whether at home or away on vacation. These are just three key reasons why private devotions are not equal to, and therefore cannot substitute, corporate worship.
There are some important implications to consider. What message do we send the world when we fail to observe the Lord’s Day by failing to attend corporate worship? God ordained the Lord’s Day as a covenant sign with His people; it was a testimony to the world that they belonged to God and that He was sanctifying them. It was a time of rest from their own worldly labors and pleasures where they could spend the day in public and private worship (Exo. 31.13-18; cf. WCF 21.7-8). What message does our absence at church tell our covenant children? It sends the clear message that our vacation is more important than gathering with the body of Christ; if we have a good reason, we can eschew the body of Christ, and ‘disobey’ the command of God.
These things should give us pause when we plan our next vacation. If we are truly pilgrims in this world, then we should long to be with Christ and His people. There should be nothing, including our travels, that keeps us from gathering with the body of Christ each and every Lord’s Day.