Thursday, December 08, 2005

What Christmas Church Closings Indicate

What I find even more disturbing than churches actually cancelling their Lord's Day services are the reasons that are being given to support their decisions. So far, what I have read or heard (from both the internet and our local media) as justifications for shutting down Christian churches on Sunday, December 25 can be grouped into several categories.

Convenience
The kind of production that Sunday services require in some larger churches is simply too difficult and involved to ask the staff and volunteers to do that on a holiday as important as Christmas. If it did not incovenience so many people to hold Lord's Day services, then, according to some of the reasons being given, some churches would opt to stay open on Christmas.

Pragmatism
Some church leaders simply faced the facts that their members are simply going to stay home that day, regardless of what is scheduled with the church. A local Christian radio station manager for WAY-FM made it clear this morning that he was going to spend the day at home with his family, no matter what. He even interviewed his United Methodist pastor (who plans to hold a scaled down service on that Sunday) as a way of showing that his plans should not be "judged" by anyone who disagreed with him. Another pastor in our area said that when polling his congregation it became apparent that many simply planned to skip church that day. So instead of facing the embarassing reality of the low level of commitment that exists in the church, he decided to cancel it.

Just desserts
Another line of reasoning sounds something like the old McDonald's commercial: "You deserve a break today..." People work so hard for 364 days a year (or 51 Sundays a year, as a variant rationale goes) that they deserve not to have to go to church on December 25. Those who have made this case sound like worshiping with God's people is such a pain and burden that no one should begrudge getting out from under that load on a day as special as Christmas. One pastor, commenting on Saddleback's planned shutdown indicated that since that church does so much good, no one should question their decision to take a Sunday off. After all, even Walmart shuts down on Christmas, why shouldn't a church have the same prerogative?

Family values
Familes ought to be together. There are so many pressures that pull them apart, especially during the Christmas season, that it is the least that the church can do to shut down on the Lord's Day in order to promote family togetherness. This is actually viewed as a noble decision, rooted in love for families.

Evangelism
One church even argued that since very few unconverted people are expected to attend on that Sunday, it would not be cost-effective to hold services that day. The reasoning goes like this: since the church's main responsibility is to reach lost people, if they will not come on Christmas, then we will not waste our time and energy at putting on a service.

I am sure that there are other stated reasons and I am sure that many who have offered variations of those I have mentioned above would like to elaborate or refine their comments. Be that as it may, the obvious, glaring omission in all of these excuses is any appeal to the Word of God. It is as if the decision whether or not a church should gather on the Lord's Day is purely subjective. I have mentioned this before but it applies again here--wouldn't it be helpful if someone along the way stopped and asked the question, "Does God have an opinion on this?"

Does God care if a church cancels its worship service on the Lord's Day because it falls on December 25? If He does, then shouldn't we listen to it and heed it? If He doesn't, then let those who advocate canceling Lord's Day services say so plainly. They should say something like this: "We are canceling Lord's Day worship services and God doesn't care one way or the other. The Bible has nothing to say about this. We are completely free to do this."

The kind of reasoning that is coming out in defense of church closings has more in common with the world and its ways than it does with the Bible. And this is further evidence of how far American evangelicalism has fallen away from basic, biblical Christianity. At some point, like Machen did in the early 2oth century with liberalism, we are going to be forced to admit that what passes under the banner of evangelicalism simply is not Christian, no matter how many Christian trappings are retained.

Our only hope is reformation and revival.

25 comments:

allofgrace said...

I agree..it's a sad state of affairs when the church responds like this before an unbelieving world. I think it sends the message that Christ is a great excuse for a holiday, but not worthy of worship, even by those who supposedly bear His Name. I currently attend one of the largest churches in the SBC and supposedly one of the more "conservative" ones, yet the normal 2 services have been pared to 1 with no SS classes or evening service scheduled. May the Lord grant us repentance, revival and reformation.

Joe Specht said...

I wonder how much of the convenience factor falls on the pastors and not only the congregation. I believe it is also because the pastors want a "day off" as if it is a burden to them also. That is why the congregations are like they are. They are following the patterns set by their leaders, a sobering thought.
A side note: have you ever noticed the similarity between Rev. 11:10 and the way the world celebrates christmas?

jmattingly said...

Aww, Tom. Why do you have to spoil our hedonistic schedules by bringing up what God thinks?!

Also, on your previous post you forgot to mention Arbor Day. I am greatly offended. I have always celebrated Arbor Day as a holiday of life, thereby symbolizing the new life that I have in Jesus Christ. It is obvious then that I ought to forego worshiping God corporately on that day in order to have more time to engage in the Arbor Day festivities. :-)

Keep provoking us to search the Scriptures, brother!
Jeremiah

keith whitfield said...

"since very few unconverted people are expected to attend on that Sunday, it would not be cost-effective to hold services that day"

1) I was not aware that the Church's SOLE purpose was to cater to the "unconverted"

2) "cost-effective [ness]" dictates whether we "do church" or not?

I can't find the words to express what I'm feeling...

Scripture Searcher said...

You will be falsely accused of many things including LEGALISM for insisting that Christians observe Hebrews 10:23-25 on December 25 (and other Sundays) but it was always my practice as a pastor for many years to obey the Lord and allow individuals to decide to obey or disobey.

Church leaders must always lead and leave it to the people (sheep and goats) to decide whether or not they will follow. The sheep will and the goats won't.

Are we not much more like the ancient Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14-22) than most are willing to admit?

Very sadly, the truthful, tragic answer is YES! YES! YES!

God save the professing church which may be the largest mission field in the USA and elsewhere!

Randy Williams said...

Great Posts Bro. Tom! Your comments on this are the most sound I have read on the web and gets to the heart of the matter. Thank you for stating the truth.

Tony K. said...

Maybe big churches should rethink how they do church? If a normal Sunday isn’t family friendly then it is wrong. I have heard of churches that do not allow any young children in the worship center, since they are distracting. Ushers are trained to turn then away to a side room.

newlyreformed1 said...

Keep preaching it brother!! Here in Chicago Willowcreek has closed for Christmas. INstead of the service they are putting out a DVD for people to take home and watch with their families! A DVD!!! COME ON!!! American Evangelicalism has steeped into a slippery slope of Liberalism. From their watered down sermos to their man centered worship, it's difficult at times to woroship amongst them. Let's continue to engage or brothers and sisters who have put doctrine and biblical teaching aside in order to embrace the gospel of "needs".

Soli Deo Gloria

annie said...
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justin said...

From what I have read, money is also playing a part in all this ("convenience"). Large churches cost a lot to operate and since the offering is expected to be low on Christmas day, they would actually loose money by opening the doors (so they think).

Yes, we need reformation and revival!

Scott said...

Tom,

Check out the front page news in Atlanta at www.wsbtv.com. Charles Stanley( FBC Atlanta) and his son's church( Andy Stanley) North Point are closed on the Lord's Day. Check out the poll at the website. Former president of the SBC not having a Lord's Day worship. I wonder if Bobby Welch and the others that accuse us calvinist that we are not passionate about reaching the lost will speak up about this. No baptisms that day and opportunities to be saved that day.Faith comes by hearing the word of God! I wonder how many calvinist SBC churches are closed for worship that Lord's Day ? I would be shocked if any. Were the guys that are killing evangelism ?

Jay Harrison said...

Hi Tom,

You asked some really good questions, that really didn't get answered yet:

[1] Does God have an opinion on this?

[2] Does God care if a church cancels its worship service on the Lord's Day because it falls on December 25?

The only answer I've seen hinted to so far was from "scripture searcher", who referenced Heb 10:23-25. When I read that passage, it says Not forsaking which means to not give up on meeting regularly. Rescheduling (as some churches are doing it), postponing, or skipping (whatever you want to call it) one meeting, is not abandoning the assembling of ourselves together entirely, is it?

Was there a timed interval perscribed? How do we know that this does not mean daily, or even monthly?

Furthermore, (and I know this may be off topic) where does the Bible specify Sunday as the Lord's Day. Would that not be the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath supposed to be on Saturdays or Sundays? Or are the "Lord's Day" and the Sabbath two separate days?

I freely admit that I am a fairly "new" Christian (especially compared to some of the other fellow posters here). But my questions are sincere and I am truly looking forward to your thoughts as well as those of others here (just please be kind).

Thanks!

Butch said...

What if Christ said to the Father as He was about to leave the throne of heaven and come to earth, I think I need a vacation? They will not love me and they will kill me, I think I will just let them all go to hell after all they deserve it. And to think we want to shut our doors on Sunday for Christmas. I'm glad Christ didn't go on vacation aren't you?

Josh Eaton said...

Thanks for the great over-all analysis of excuses. I caught on to one of them and blog on it, but you have given me much more to think about.

mimi2six said...

I can't think of a better way for Christian parents to teach their children the real purpose of Christmas than to take them to a worship service on Christmas day in order to worship and exalt Christ. What messge it must be sending young minds and hearts when a family (or worse yet, a church) prefers staying home to worshipping with fellow believers. Also...wonder what the lost people out there think about a closed church on Christmas, of all days!!! I've always wished we had church services every Christmas!

Randy Williams said...
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Randy Williams said...

My Church has services on Christmas Eve, which is usually the Big service at Christmas and no Christmas Day service. This year however with Christmas Day being on the Lord's Day, Christmas Eve services is still a high light but Christmas Day will be the major service this year because it is the Lord's Day.

I agree with the Second London Baptist that God has appointed,
"one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto Him,which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord's Day:and is to be continued to the end of the world as a Christian Sabbath,"

Doug E. said...

Thanks for the insight. Makes my heart heavy.

Doug

mrclm said...

Sorry to break up your pep rally here, but I'll disagree here. If you are interestested you can read my full thoughts on my blog HERE. I'm a conservative, evangelical Baptist, just so you don't think I'm some liberal fringe nut.

Willow is a church I'm sure you have heard of (cited earlier in the comments). Willow is not having Sunday services. Sunday is the time they do their outreach. This IS NOT when they do their indepth teaching for the edification and education of existing believers (and some may argue this rarely happens anyhow, but that isn't the point here). Their congregation IS meeting at their regular times for teaching, which is Wednesday night. In many other churches, where they do not have Saturday night services, they are for Christmas. They have moved their service ahead 12 hours. This hasn't fundamentally changed the function of the church by doing this. If the same church decided to meet 2 hours later, you wouldn't say boo, it wouldn't even make the news. People are making a stink about nothing (for the most part). It is possible some church somewhere is doing this for the wrong reason, but I think the majority are reasonable in making this their choice. I'm not a Willow apologist, I've never even been to Chicago, but it seems to me many people are taking pot shots like country boys at stop signs.

Big Chris
Because I said so blog

yacoub said...

"Evangelism
One church even argued that since very few unconverted people are expected to attend on that Sunday, it would not be cost-effective to hold services that day."

Well that's the biggest lie ever. Christmas and Easter are traditionally known as the two days of the year many millions of "unchurched"/unsaved people attend church because they are under the impression that is what they have to do. That they might desire to attend, and thus have an opportunity to hear the gospel on those two days, yet churches are closed, is a tragedy and disservice of the highest order.

Alex F said...

A pastor and friend of mine once said that family values have become an idol in the American church. I wonder if the situation described here might lend even more evidence to that point.

Not to nit-pick... but actually, Big Chris, I think many of the churches mentioned are not re-scheduling their normal worship gathering. You're right than many are just moving them to Saturday night, and I'm not sure what I think about that.

reform the sbc said...

I heard a small radio clip this morning about this issue. They said that some of the churches that are closing for Christmas are saying that Christmas is about a relationship with Jesus. Some of these churches are saying that it is LEGALISTIC to say we have to come to church on Sunday's to worship, and that the focus should be on the relationship with Christ and not going to church this particular Sunday.

I am sure that if their congregation took this approach every Sunday, they would not feel that this view is correct.

youfoolz said...
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youfoolz said...

As a non believer of organized religion and as I read the blogs about churches not opening for "business" this Sunday. This just proves to me that any church that chooses to close on the Lords day is just one more nail in the coffin so to speak, that today's Christians can talk the talk but they definitely can not walk the walk. Today’s Christians are far more concerned with politics and who is marrying whom or doing whatever to their own body. Churches are not businesses first and for most. But if no one shows up who’s going to pay the light bill. This action shows that these churches and its congregates are hypocrites, but what’s new, this just spotlights your narcissistic attitudes. The truth always comes out.

Please remember folk’s there is more than one religion and no religion is any better than any other. Just because you worship in a 10,000 seat modern facility with a light show and a full band, daycare, gift shop, and cafeteria do not in no way make you more righteous than anyone else. Personally, I feel these mega churches are a slap in the face to what religion is really all about and is only about status and networking. There are churches in my area that requires a finical statement, before you can become a member…HELLO!

Get off the cross, there are people on the Gulf Coast that need the wood to stay warm this Christmas.

tomesnyder said...

I attend a church (LifeChurch.tv) that chose to close on Christmas day. Here are some thoughts:

First, nowhere in scripture are we commanded to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In fact, the date of His birth is not even given. Therefore, Christmas is a man-made holiday celebrated on a man-chosen date. That being the case, whether or when a church celebrates the birth of Christ falls under the scripture found in Romans 14:5-13.

I cannot address what other churches did but I can speak about LifeChurch.tv. LifeChurch.tv had 20 Christmas Eve experiences on 7 campuses in 3 states. Over 14,000 attended and over 150 people decided to become Christ followers in these experiences.

Craig Groeschel’s Christmas Eve message was on the name Emmanuel which means “God with us”. As Craig said, “Because God is with us, every day is sacred.”