What should we think about churches closing on Christmas because it falls on the Lord's Day? Tom Ascol cuts to the heart of the conundrum: "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?" Well, neither of us is applauding them. In part one of this article, we highlighted some of the issues raised by this move. In part two here, we highlight a few more.
Sixth, of course, there is the issue of idolatry. When we prefer something more than Christ, we engage in idolatry. Our proper response to God’s generous gifts to us is not to worship the gifts but to worship Him. Again, while duty is involved here, delight or the bent of one's heart is the real issue. Our response to God's gifts to us indicates not so much whether or not we are willing to be obedient in our response, but the bent of our heart. Our response to Christ not only should be worship, but will be worship if we see Him as we should.
Schlueter points out that God's people always respond to Christ in worship. When Mary was told she would give birth to our Lord, she responded in worship. God marked the birth of His Son with an angelic choir giving praise and worship to God. The shepherds responded in worship. The magi responded in worship. In the temple, Simeon responded in worship. Anna responded in worship. Can it be a Christian response to what God has done to now close the doors of the church and spend time with our families and focus on worthless things that will only burn up one day (and rot to nothing before then in most cases; and be discarded in a few months in many cases)? Such a response is impossible from a biblical perspective.
Seventh, there is the issue of excuses. Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman at Willow Creek said "church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources." What does that mean? Are we now basing the worship of God on pragmatic concerns; whether or not we are being effective in our use of staff? Not to be harsh, but this statement makes no sense at all. It amounts to lip service and gibberish in the face of legitimate questions.
In the same vein, others said their staff members need to be home with their families. Answer? Church staff members have a calling upon their lives and should love nothing more than to lead the people of God in worship on Christmas day. They can be leaders of their own families by having them in church on Christmas as well. If those staff members have out of town family, they can make other arrangements as I did when in seminary 650 miles from my family. Or, they can go out of town to be with their extended family and let other leaders in the church hold worship in their absence. We don't hold to a sacramental view of worship that says we can't have corporate worship without our priest do we?
Others have said they can't put on their regular production without their staff and volunteers in attendance. Here’s a bulletin: it's not about production. It's about Christ. Are we now saying we cannot worship without the light show? May God help us.
Parkinson noted, "The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray." Attendance will be low, so let's close church, is the sentiment here. In my experience, Christmas is one of the most attended days of the year. That is one day I know the believers will be in church to worship their Savior and lost people will come out of duty. Christmas is only one of two days many people do attend. Perhaps the reason attendance is low at Willow Creek on Sunday is their man-centered focus. Some are reticent to criticize mega-churches. It is difficult not to do so with statements and results like these.
Showing their stance and mindset, Parkinson asks, "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" While the mission of the church is to reach the lost, Sunday morning is not designed for lost people. It is designed for the people of God to come together and worship God. Worship is not an evangelistic tool. Worship is not a means to an end. Worship is an end in itself. We welcome lost people to church on Sunday morning. We preach the gospel. I've seen people saved on Easter and Christmas. But, to close the church because unchurched people may not attend is grounded in a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and the nature of worship. To have this mindset is to adulterate (play the whore with) the worship of Holy God. It is to focus on numbers rather than God so we can be proud of ourselves and our visible results. The motive and the reasoning are faulty. According to Tom Ascol, "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 wonder how God feels about Christians saying they won't waste their time worshipping Him.
Some point out that the churches closing on Christmas plan multiple services in the days leading up to the holiday, including on Christmas Eve. Why? Is not this action an accommodation to our materialistic bent and culture? Why would we move Lord's Day worship? It's no different than canceling worship so we can watch the Superbowl. I for one trumpet our freedom in Christ. Yet, we are still talking about a heart problem. To plan services on other days only serves to highlight the inconvenience we perceive Christ to be on Christmas.
Again, those in my theological camp will say that I shouldn't bind someone's conscience as if Christmas day service was law. They would be absolutely right. But again, the issue here is not law but heart. Individuals have a choice, but not if we as leaders make the choice for them by closing the doors.
Eighth, there is the issue of missing a gospel opportunity. While worship is an end in itself, lost people will be in church on Christmas morning. Let us preach to them that they might be saved and they might glorify God for His mercy. How many have been saved in Christmas morning services only eternity will tell.
The question remains, is God our priority, or is something else? We are witnessing Christmas as idolatry as opposed to the celebration of our Lord and Savior's birth. Even Christians are now forgetting that Jesus is the reason for the season. We are witnessing the slow creep of cultural priority and compromise. We are indeed bowing to the god of this age. Is it any wonder the cynicism of unbelievers remains pervasive? We want to focus on what's convenient and comfortable. We are at ease in Zion.
Job was a righteous man in God’s sight by grace. That of course does not mean that he had no sin. He did. Part of his sin was that he was surrounded by pagans and he was at ease in their midst; he was comfortable. After God began to deal with him he confessed, "I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark (Job 16:12)." Would that the church would repent before God does such to us.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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