Friday, December 09, 2005

Should Churches Close on Christmas? (Part 2)

On Wednesday night, I wrote about the decision some churches, particularly megachurches, have taken to not hold worship celebrations on Christmas, even though it falls on a Sunday this year.

My quarrel with this decision has nothing to do with the churches choosing not to worship on Christmas Day. Neither the home congregation in which I came to faith nearly thirty years ago or the congregation I serve as pastor have been in the habit of worshiping on December 25. Our congregational celebration of Christmas has always been on Christmas Eve.

The fault I find in not worshiping on Christmas Day is that it just happens to fall on a Sunday this year. And while there is nothing that says churches must worship on Sunday, it is an appropriate habit for Christians and those interested in the faith to gather for a weekly celebration of Jesus' resurrection.

I love words in the New Testament book of Hebrews:
...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day [of Christ's return] approaching.
Representatives of the megachurches have argued that through a series of scheduled Christmas Eve worship celebrations, they aren't neglecting to meet together at Christmas. And, I suppose, that's true. But, as I said yesterday, the weekly little Easter is far more important to remember than even the birth of Jesus.

The megachurches also are saying that the only people likely to be interested in worshiping with others are those who are Christian by background, as though that audience ought to be totally ignored in their worship schedule.

Yet another argument they make is that Christmas is a time for family. One of the commenters on Wednesday's post pointed out that this may reflect the "evangelical idolatry of the family." (That commenter, Pastor Jeff, has a fantastic blog, which I recommend reading.) I think there's a lot of idolatry of the family among we Christians these days. But Jesus said that if our families keep us from worshiping Him, we must ditch our families and follow Him.

Through the years, I've known young couples who have decided to build their marriages on Christ, who were and are given hard times by their families. Their relatives can't seem to tolerate it that the young couples choose to be in worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or because they opt to be involved in Christian acts of service rather than participating in extravagant and self-aggrandizing family gift exchanges at Christmastime.

The pressure on all of us to conform to the culture's perversion of Christmas is immense. We in the Church should hardly conspire with the culture on this point, but be resolutely countercultural!

Having said all this though, I was shocked to read the take of Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar for whom I have boundless admiration, on this issue. Witherington has written on his blog, "Shame on you mega-churches--- repent and believe the Gospel, starting with the birth stories of Jesus."

Frankly, I don't think that the megachurches or other congregations that have decided to close shop on Christmas Day have done anything for which they need to repent. The decision to shut down on Christmas this year is not a sin. I disagree with their decision and I do so intensely. But the point is, this is a difference of opinion among people who are seeking to be faithful, not a matter of some churches being faithful and others not.

Here are some other blog posts on this subject:

David Wayne
Charlie Lehardy
Louie Marsh
Tod Bolsinger
Michael Meckler
Andy Jackson
Rick Moore

(Are only male bloggers writing about this? Or is my radar screen limited?)


Deborah White said...

Here's female shocks me that pastors would allow the commercial and material side of Christmas take precedence over Sunday worship services of our Lord.

I would not attend such a church, now or ever. They have become part of our consumer culture. They are clearly OF the world, not just IN it.

Why does it matter if attendance is low? Are they worried about that the collection will be too low to meet revenue goals?

P_J said...


Your last sentences made me think of my old days in marketing. Maybe they could have Christmas Sunday service as a "loss leader" - an item the store takes a loss on to bring people in and get them to buy more profitable items!


Well, I didn't really have the time to spare blogging about this, but Ann Althouse has a thread going on this where I've added some comments. As you'd expect, she's not buying the "famly-friendly" marketing angle. And this inspired me to write more fully myself. Thanks for the kind comments about the blog.

And again, great writing on your part. You've hit the nail on the head.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Here's another female opinion. Maybe the pastor won't be in the Church, but God willing if the doors are open some people will be. What of those who have no families who want the peace and comfort of their God their Church community on that holy day.

Helen Prejean says we go for the community as much as we go for God, because we have God everywhere. We need the sharing and the ritual of being with each other. Together. Does the Pastor call his mother on her birthday?

Does he want a headline? It just makes me sad. I agree with Deborah. Jesus would preach if there were only 1.