Small group retreats and Lord's Day corporate worship

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Joseph Knowles, Feb 17, 2019.

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  1. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    I've posed this question to a couple men whose guidance I trust, but I thought it couldn't hurt to see if anyone here has some insights to offer as well.

    I'm in the very early planning stages of trying to put together a small group retreat for a handful of couples (certainly no more than 20-25 people, if that; topic/theme TBD). Most would probably be members of my church, but a few others would not be. Most of the locations that I've looked into give a weekend rental rate such that we could (if we wanted to) arrive on a Friday evening and stay through until the middle of the day Sunday. I do not want to keep anyone from corporate worship on the Lord's Day. However, I think that if I proposed the idea of hosting our own worship service on that Sunday morning, most would probably be on board with the idea. What gives me pause is the question of whether gathering for such a service outside of the normal routine of our churches is something that we ought to do in the first place.

    A year or two ago, I doubt I would have given it a second thought except, perhaps, to figure out what preacher we would need to bring along with us. Now, however, I think my understanding of what the local church is and is called to do has changed so much that this is not an issue that I can lightly pass over. Can anyone point offer any advice here? Can you point me in the direction of any materials that might discuss this or related issues?
  2. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member


    First, I think small group meetings and retreats are good things. However, regardless of the reason, scheduling a retreat that will take people away from corporate worship is wrong. Scheduling your own worship service is not the same as gathering with your local church for worship. Even if you are fine with such a thing, you will be causing other people to sin by encouraging them not to worship with their local church family. The 1689 LBC speaks clearly on this.

    22.1 But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.

    Also, what is your understanding of the local church that leads you to think this is OK? Are you in agreement with the confession you claim to subscribe to?
  3. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for that, Bill.

    From the outset I’ve actually been heavily inclined to believe that it would not be good for our group to be absent from ordinary Lord’s Day worship even if we had some kind of worship service while there (obviously our small group does not constitute a local church even if we end up doing some of the same things as part of a retreat), but I wasn’t entirely clear about exactly where in the historic confessions I would find a direct answer to that question (given that the type of retreat in view seems to be a relatively modern innovation). In fact, it’s precisley because I agree with the 1689 on the nature of the church that my initial reaction was that holding a service on our own would pose a problem (and most likely an unavoidable one). A younger version of myself would have bought into the “We can ‘do church’ wherever and whenever believers are gathered” mindset, but I know now that that misses the mark by a long shot.
  4. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member


    Hopefully, you can schedule your retreat for a Friday and Saturday and still have a blessed time. In fact, consider the blessing of the lot of you leaving the retreat and having your hearts duly prepared for worship. That will be a wonderful thing!
  5. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    We will be following that exact schedule for the spring maintenance session at the retreat center run by our presbytery.
  6. Joseph Knowles

    Joseph Knowles Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for your input to help me think through this!
  7. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    Good on you for thinking through the issue carefully. In terms of where to look in the historic creeds and confessions, I would recommend carefully reading Belgic Confession articles 27-32. While (as you point out) the word "retreat" does not appear, I think if you have the following questions in mind when reading the answer becomes apparent:
    • What is a Christian's duty on the Lord's Day?
    • What constitutes a church?
    • What are the marks of the true church?
    • Who has the authority to call God's people together for worship?
    • How do we determine what is acceptable worship?
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