Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas IRONY

Several (Michael Spencer and Kevin Hash, among others) have pointed out the interesting announcements that are coming from some of the high-profile megachurches in America: they are cancelling their worship services on Sunday, December 25! The internet is beginning to be abuzz about this. An article from the Lexington Herald-Leader states:
The list of closed congregations on Christmas Sunday reads like a who's who of evangelical Protestantism: Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area's largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas. (read the whole article or another article that quotes David Wells' response)
One of my first responses is, Can We Do That? Obviously we can, but should we? The rationale being given by "megachurch officials" (don't you love that designation?) is that the decision "just makes sense" in today's hectic world. People are so busy. Lifestyles are so packed full of demands and presssures. Shutting down church on Christmas is just a way of giving people a break.

Of course, a question that begs to be asked is this: If this is sound thinking that is "family-friendly" in December, why not incorporate it at other times of the year? Easter tends to be a big family day for many folks. Perhaps churches should not meet that Sunday either. Then there is Super Bowl Sunday! It is getting harder and harder (so I hear) to make adequate preparations for the big game--and halftime shows!!--if 2 or 3 hours of the morning are taken up with church. Along with cancelling Sunday evening worship services that day, it would sure be convenient (read "family-friendly") to cancel morning worship, as well. The same could be done for Independence Day, Memorial Day, President's Day, Columbus Day, Armistice Day, Pearl Harbor Day (that's today; rats! too late for this year), May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Immaculate Conception Day (tomorrow), Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Flag Day, Thanksgiving and several others that I am sure simply escape my mind at the moment. In fact, if megachurch officials put their heads together, I bet they could come up with a schedule that would allow people to get by with attending Sunday worship services maybe only twice a year. Since Christmas and Easter are out, what about Halloween and April Fool's Day (assuming, of course, that the witches and atheists won't mind).

Ah, but here is the real dilemma that is raised by these December 25 cancellations: are the churches that are doing this banning or celebrating Christmas? It is very important that we know the answer to this question. Otherwise, how will we know whether to boycott or applaud them?

14 comments:

Sojourner said...

I find it maddening that Christians will go down to Lowe's to protest a "Holiday Tree" and yet gripe about coming to Church on Christmas day.

jmattingly said...

This is more evidence that the real issue is protecting the sacredness of "American Christianity" and not the Christ of the Scriptures.

We’ve been sold a bill of goods, thinking that the gifts and lights are where our main pleasure can be found instead of in worshiping Him who is the Giver of all good things. Despite all the activities that morning, many will be truly missing out.


If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isa 58:13-14

Pastor Shane said...

According to several news reports, President Rev. Bobby Welch's "church" is canceling one of their two services.

Now, how is he ever going to baptize 1,000,000 people that way?!!? Way to de-empower kingdom growth!
----------------
Makes me more thankful to the Lord for the Puritans...

jigawatt said...

Whatcha bet they ask for a double tithe before taking up the Dec 18th offering?

GeneMBridges said...

We'll throw a hissy about Walmart and Target not saying "Merry Christmas" and then not have church on Christmas Day.

Sadly, this is typical. I was in a church earlier this year where Super Bowl Sunday really was treated as a holiday by the members. Needless to say, I am not there anymore.

Steve Hays has posted about this at his blog. His words are wise:

I'll reprint them here:

The news that a number of megachurches are closing their doors for Christmas, even though it’s Christmas, and falls on a Sunday this year, has drawn a lot of merited criticism.

The putative reason for the closing is that people are terribly busy during the Christmas season.

The reason is stupid on the face of it since holding a Christmas service doesn’t force anyone to attend.

However, I think there’s a better response than censure. Any church which would close its doors on Christmas isn’t worth attending in the first place. Rather than attack them, we should encourage them to close their doors more often. Preferably board them over.

In the meantime, faithful churches can take up the slack. Think of this as a heaven-sent opportunity.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/12/no-room-at-inn.html

xara777 said...

I'm with you, but I think it's important to note that many churches that are canceling Sunday services are having a Saturday evening service. For them, on this issue, the only difference between the churches we attend and theirs is about 12 hours.

The church I attend will be having its regular Sunday am service. But I'm not prepared to come down hard on churches that plan on moving the time of their Sunday am service to Saturday at 7 pm. There is a big difference between this and canceling the weekly worship service because Christmas happens to be on Sunday. Just my thoughts.

Larry said...

Christmas Eve service is not an 'instead of' its an 'in addition to'. The Body of Christ coming together on Sunday is a given. If we decide to meet at other times for special occasions (like Christmas Eve) then great, but none of them should substitute for Lord's Day worship.

Tony said...

I do not know if those that complain about the removal of "Merry Christmas" from advertising are the same people that want to close church on Sunday but there is a bigger issue with those not having services. The principle with many of the churches is that services are for non-believers so that is why they are closed. If they believe that church is for non-believers then I guess that being open or closed is not an issue. But when did the church become a place for un-believers? This is not saying that un-believers can not come but the church has taken up the mantel that “evangelism”, as they see it, is the primary purpose of the church so that drives all they do. Unfortunately it is a skewed view of evangelism that leads to this and thus the church begins to have a skewed view of itself.

I would have to say that there are some churches closing that probably deliver such a minimalized gospel that being open or closed does not matter much. If the true gospel is not delivered then maybe not delivering that message is the best thing that can happen. It is just like the “Merry Christmas” issue. I would rather have the words missing from a stores advertisements than have it equated with some consumerism mentality. Does it really glorify God to have “Merry Christmas” next to an X-Box add or a Victoria Secret TV Commercial?

So while I am more upset over the reasons given for closing the doors on Christmas morning it nothing I guess I would not expect with the direction the church is going. narcissism reigns as usual.

xara777 said...

I hear where you are coming from, larry, but not all Christians who love the doctrines of grace, the preaching of the Word of God, Christ centered worship, etc., believe that the weekly corporate gathering of God's people for worship must occur on Sunday.

My point is not to get a discussion of the Sabbath issue going, but to see that there are churches who are moving their service to Saturday evening because they are not convinced that Sunday is the day mandated by Scripture for corporate worship and that it is best that we be on guard and not lump all churches together who are not having a service Sunday morning.

I, personally, want to gather for worship with God's people on Sunday. The church I attend will not be having a Saturday evening service. But there is a church near me with a pastor who loves the doctrines of grace and is a faithful preacher of the whole counsel of God, who has decided, along with other leaders in the church, to have their weekly corporate worship on Saturday evening. You may be convinced from Scripture that Sunday is the day mandated by Scripture for corporate worship (and I understand where you are coming from and respect that), but there are Christians who share perhaps 95% of your beliefs, but differ on this one point.

jmattingly said...

Xara777,

I appreciate your statements, and agree we must certainly beware of lumping all churches into one category. Also, we are not told in Scripture that we must have two Sunday services. Or that we must worship mainly on Sunday MORNING. We need to beware of clinging to specificity that is not outlined in Scripture. Also some smaller churches may have good reason to cancel their official services (85% of their small congregation are out of town and instead they encourage the remaining families to gather together for prayer and worship in a home somewhere).

However, even with the sanctity of the Lord’s Day Sabbath aside (which I believe is not a small issue), even amongst those believers who do not see the day as unique above other days, let me ask this question: What are we saying by canceling normal services on Sunday morning (or moving it to Sat night) in response to a calendar holiday? Even amongst those who do not embrace the Christian Sabbath, there is still the precedent of worshiping on Sunday at the very least as a memorial to our Lord’s resurrection and based on apostolic pattern. So where are our priorities if we move our standard worship to accommodate an American past-time? I know the practical issues with this, but wouldn’t it be a better keeping of priorities to move our Christmas morning celebration to another morning instead of moving the worship?

Beyond this, what am I telling my children if I move our normal time of worship to accommodate the opening of gifts and family time (as spiritual and Christ-centered as it may be)? I agree that we can not legislate in some of these matters, but we also need to make sure that we all are keeping our priorities lined up with Biblical priorities.

I still think for many that Christmas will be a great test as to whether our true hope is in this world (and the accumulation of things), or in the wondrous world to come and all that is in store for us as Christians now and in eternity. May God give us all grace to answer that question rightly no matter where we happen to be this Christmas morning.

In Christ Jesus,
Jeremiah

Paul said...

For the life of me I can't figure out how attending a Sunday Morning service got to be a chore. I know that this Christmas will be different than in years past, but I am excited that I will get to see my church family as well as my biological family on that day. I wonder if these guys thought of the church in the same way that the NT portrays it would they have made the decision not to spend Christmas day celebrating the birth of Christ with their heavenly family?

Tony K. said...

Most of these churches got rid of Sunday morning worship years ago. Saying they canceled ‘worship’ this year is wrong. Often it is not biblical worship.

Our evangelical attitude toward the Lord’s Day is ugly. If the New Testament directs our worship then Sunday is not optional.

Alex F said...

Tom did you intend the irony you achieved when you asked Can we do That? I thought it was funny. You'll recall that that is the title of an influential book by Andy Stanley and Ed Young Jr

Tom said...

Alex:

You are the first one that I know of who caught that. And I even put it in italics! :-)