Sunday, December 04, 2005

Churches Closed on Christmas?

Well I suppose it had to happen. The mega-church in Lexington (Southland Christian) consulted with other mega-churches like Willow Creek and decided that they would close on Dec. 25th, even though its a Sunday and even though its Christmas Day! The rationale given in our local newspaper The Lexington-Herald Leader was--- people are so busy and Christmas is supposed to be a family day, so this decision was made as a family friendly gesture. But wait a minute--- whose birthday is it anyway? And which family is supposed to be serving which--- the family of faith or the physical family? Talking about putting the EM-Phasis on the wrong syl-LABLE.

Our culture does not need any encouragement to be more self-centered and narcissistic or to stay at home on Sunday. It is already that way. Christmas above all else should be a day when we come together as the body of Christ to worship and adore the Lord Jesus. Christmas should be the day above all days where we don't stay home and open all those things we bought for ourselves INSTEAD of going to church. Christmas should be the day when we forget about ourselves for a few hours and go and honor the birthday of the great King, our Savior.

What we are dealing with here are churches whose priorities are so askew that they somehow think it is more important for the church to serve the wants of the physical family than the other way around. This is a far cry from the pattern of the original disciples of Jesus who were seen leaving homes, relatives, jobs to come and follow Jesus. What kind of message does it send to our culture when churches close on one of its highest holy days? That it is o.k. to stay home and do one's own thing even on Jesus' birthday?

It is past time that these sorts of churches be called to account. It is time for them to realize that they have simply capitulated to the larger culture's agenda on issue after issue, in this case in supporting the worship of the idol called family in place of the worship of Jesus. The church does not exist to serve the world, but rather to save the world. The church does not exist to serve the physical family but rather to redeem it and make clear that if it is a Christian family it has a larger and more primary obligation to the family of faith and to its Lord. Christmas is one of two days in the year when we should especially make that clear to our culture and our country.

Shame on you mega-churches--- repent and believe the Gospel, starting with the birth stories of Jesus.

119 comments:

Louie Marsh said...

HI Ben,

I don't know that you can blame all this on the Mega churches. I'll be preaching Christmas Sunday morning, but several churches around here won't be.

One is a very conservative church that HATES the Megas and doesn't follow them at all.

I suspect it's that modern laziness and selfishness you talked about that's the real cause.

BTW - I'm going to post a little article on my blog tomorrow about your interview at CT - you might to check it out - www.marshianchronicles.com.

- Louie Marsh

Ben Witherington said...

I will check it out, BW

e. donovan said...

This is one of the most shocking things I've heard recently. Christmas used to be one of the few days of the year when many people in the culture would go to church, I think - which had its problems, but at least they had the potential to hear the Gospel.

stuart said...

Ben,

Not all mega-churches are doing this. I attend a mega-church in Texas, and we will be having a Christmas morning service.

johnMark said...

Mr. Witherington,
I am replying to this post because it was linked from here: http://metalutheran.blogspot.com/2005/12/bring-it-on.html

Your link is set in a sentence aimed at James White. I quote, "Oh, and here's an Arminion who's about 90 times smarter than you. Go debate him."

Is a theological debate something you would ever consider?

Thanks,
Mark

Ps. I hope that the Lutheran blog didn't offend you. They can be pretty crass.

Catez said...

Hi Ben,
Your post has been featured at BlogWatch.

UCM said...

I agree with your comments, but I did discover that Southland is offering a worship service on Friday, Dec. 23 and 3 services on Saturday, Dec. 24.

Ben Witherington said...

Mark:

I am happy to do a civilized dialogue that doesn't dissolve into polemics and ad hominem arguments. One of the real problems with online debates is that some people are a lot bolder and meaner online than they would be if they had to debate the person face to face. I don't really approve of debates that can't be done in a Christian spirit.

Ben

John said...

My Lutheran in-laws were scandalized to hear that Methodist churches don't have three services on Christmas (midnight, morning, and evening) -- regardless of the day of the week.

MW Gibbs said...

Ben,
Thanks for those thooughts on the Christmas issue. As was stated by another above, it is certainly not just a mega-church phenomenon. However, regardless of the size, theological perspective or otherwise, it is a travesty for the church to be closed on Christmas day!

Agreed!

jean said...

Preach it, Ben

john alan turner said...

What if you really believed that the home was the true center of faith development and activity while church was merely an extension of that?

What if a church really trusted its families to be at home, honoring Christ in meaningful ways?

What if church leaders wanted to give their volunteers a day off to spend with their kids -- knowing that Sunday morning wasn't the only "day of worship" they got?

Personally, I don't like the idea of not having a gathering on Christmas Day, even though that's what the church I attend has decided this year. I do not believe they are being idolatrous. I think they have their reasons.

My dislike is personal -- not theological or philosophical.

Ogre said...

Wow. You're dead on, Ben. A church closed on Christmas? There's just SO much wrong with even considering that. It does show that churches, even, are completely polluted by today's culture. When the churches have forgotten the meaning of Christmas, who's left to remember?

Greg Hazelrig said...

I pastor a couple of smaller rural churches and have been approached with the question of whether we will be open on Christmas or not. I was simply shocked and amazed at such a question. It never even occurred to me that on one of the holiest days of the year we'd stay home. This really is a testament to being conformed to this society of ours insteac of transforming it. Thanks for the post Ben.

Ben Witherington said...

John:

The issue is not faith development, the issue is worship, and true worship is an act of the body of Christ, not just one nuclear family. As Hebrews says we must not neglect the gathering of ourselves together. If you believe that worship is what all God's human creatures are intended for-- then why in the world would we not heed the call to come and worship and offer prayers and praise as the corporate body of Christ on Christmas Sunday?

I realize this is not just a mega-church issue, it is a cultural issue. It is also an Evangelism issue since many only come to church on the Holy Days.

Shame on us for even considering closing on such a day,

Ben

Chris said...

Thanks, Ben for your sentiments. I agree and have linked to you on my blog and added some thoughts of my own. This trend is very upsetting.

john alan turner said...

Was the writer of Hebrews really intending to equate taking one Sunday off with "forsaking the assembly"? Or was he after something much more habitual?

As for the statement that Christmas Day is the holiest of all days, my understanding of the Incarnation and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit makes every day equally holy. Certainly, it is appropriate to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior -- just as it is important to remember and celebrate his resurrection from the grave. However, I'm not sure it's healthy to elevate one day above another. It seems to denigrate the holiness of God's abiding presence in our everyday lives.

Also, regarding evangelism: It is an opportunity missed, and that may not be the wisest choice. However, there seems to be the presupposition that a church structure must be the place where true worship and evangelism takes place. I'm not sure I agree that these are even the best places for these to take place.

Again, let me say: I want to be in a corporate assembly on Christmas morning. But that is a matter of personal preference. I'm not ready to call anyone else to account for what seems to be a matter of personal conscience.

see-through faith said...

sigh
every church should be open
every one should celebrate the incarnation

it's essential to the whole Gospel
without the birth, there is no ministry, miracles or teaching

there is no death
there is no resurrection

WAKE UP LEADERS.

also to the fact that your church is your church family - you are supposed to celebrate this with them too - and not in pre-Christmas parties, but by an intentional worship service full of thanksgiving

sigh I wish I hadn't read this :(

see-through faith said...

sigh
every church should be open
every one should celebrate the incarnation

it's essential to the whole Gospel
without the birth, there is no ministry, miracles or teaching

there is no death
there is no resurrection

WAKE UP LEADERS.

also to the fact that your church is your church family - you are supposed to celebrate this with them too - and not in pre-Christmas parties, but by an intentional worship service full of thanksgiving

sigh I wish I hadn't read this :(


oh and Southland is offering a worship service on Friday, Dec. 23 and 3 services on Saturday, Dec. 24. still exludes Christmas day - which should mean more than eating, drinking and opening presents!!! grrrr

Matt said...

I urge caution here. Ben you are implying that people *must* come to Church on Christmas day. You are speaking negatively, condemning people for the decision they have made. While I think you have a point I also think you should consider carefully how you proceed. As John said, every day is holy, why should we elevate one above the rest. Does scripture say; "These days are especially holy and you must come forth on them?" Well yes, but that is under the Law.

Do we live under the Law?

Christmas day in and of itself is no more holy than any other day of the year. It is an arbitrary date chosen by the early church to celebrate the Incarnation. It is good that we celebrate it, it is good that we might come togeather and worship on it, but is it better than our regular asemblies? I don't think scripture would agree with that sentiment.

As a side note Christmas day is often the only time I get to talk to my usaved family about Christ in a meaningful sense. Do you think Jesus would be upset with my staying away from church to take one of the rare oppurtunities to share him with people who don't know him?

Our church will be open on Christmas day for the first time in it's relatively short history, and I celebrate this. However I may not be able to be there are I have made a commitment to my family to be with them on Christmas day. Does that make me any less of a Christian, any less impious, than people who will be meeting to worship on that day?

Personally I don't think so. Christ is with me whereever I go. Perhaps this Christmas he'll use the occasion to stir up the hearts of my unsaved family. I am praying he does (and I'd appreciate anyone else praying that He does as well :)

David said...

Good News!

I Bring you Tidings of Great Joy!

A Saviour has been born on this Day!

You just can't learn about it in church.

It puts a whole new spin on "no room at the Inn"

http://onanazurefield.blogspot.com/2005/12/this-is-crime.html

Ben Witherington said...

Matt:

You are absolutely right that I am implying that all Christians ought to go church on Christmas Day. Why? First of all because it is 'commanded' that we worship the Lord our God by gathering together in solemn assembly. This is not an optional added extra that is a matter of private conscience or personal decision.

Now of course sometimes there are compelling reasons not to go and worship with others--- like if you are sick and in the hospital.

And of course it is also true that its not about the structure where the worship happens-- its about the assembling of the family of faith somewhere to worship the Lord.

Personal witnessing to family is a good and necessary thing, but it shouldn't replace or be a substitute for the prime mandate-- worship the Lord your God.

Notice that the earliest Christians certainly did have high holy days. Paul is in a rush to get to Jerusalem for Passover. The first Christian celebration of any kind took place at Pentecost during a festival when the Holy Spirit was received.

It is not an accident that John of Patmos says "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I saw" (cf. Rev.1 and 4). Something special happens on the Lord's Day.

It is also not an accident that it is a Gospel truth inaugurated by Jesus that "whereever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also." Note the gathering aspect of this promise.

Then of course there is the fact that the church has observed the LOrd's Day as an especially holy day since the beginning of Christianity, and has in addition celebrated other holy days as well including Christmas on whatever day. Why would we not want to stand with them, rather than with those who stay home on Christmas?

Paul, in Rom. 14, does not say everyone should treat every day as the same. He says some do and we should be persuaded in our own minds. His own worship practices suggest he believed there are special days in the church year to especially remember.

The question is this--- Why would we allow anything to get in the way of coming and celebrating the birth of our Savior? Why would we want to? Why wouldn't we say with the Psalmist "I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord"?

I honestly can't believe I even have to argue this case it is so overwhelmingly in keeping with what the Bible teaches. And I am not talking about just any Sunday anyway--- I am talking about Christmas Sunday.

I can tell you this-- the shepherds were glad they showed up that day when Jesus was born. We should follow their example.

Blessings,

Ben

Mattithyahu said...

Hey Ben, I was just pointed here by Magic Statistics as I have been having some similar discussion over at a post I recently wrote. The dialogue there, like here, has been really enlightening.

Some thoughts from my post: it isn't just the megachurches that are closing. My home church (unfortuantely) will be closed as well, we are a Presbyterian church with about 150ish attenders. One of my commenters runs a small country church and they decided to close as well. The two situations are distinctly different, but I think the underlying problem is the same. Another commenter said it best: "Seriously tho’, this is just one rather obvious instance of how God really comes last for most of us fat and happy christians." A fairly harsh statement, but if you cut through the crap, fairly accurate as well.

Good post and feel free to drop by and and your two cents at mine as well (or not).

God Bless!
Matt

poserorprophet said...

Dr. Witherington,

Thanks for this post, I appreciate your prophetic reflections. This discussion reminds me of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's latest book. He writes:

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it's about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they're really saying to each other, though without realising it, it this: "You are not enough people!"

A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It's a terribly vulnerable survival unit.


Grace and peace,

Dan

Brett Royal said...

I must confess that at first I was a little surprised that we were having a worship service on Christmas Day. My wife corrected me pretty quickly. You can read about it at my blog.
http://beroyalok.blogspot.com/2005/12/christmas-sunday.html

Tom said...

Professor,
I read your post on abeonline.org. Thank you for alerting the Body to this disturbing development. May I copy it on my own blog, "Blessings & Other Stuff, with complete attribution, of course?

Dwight said...

i think it would actually be "em-PHA-sis on the ..." "em" is the right syllable :-P

ap said...

Dr. Ben,

If a church stays open, can it ask for the tithe of the people whose church closed on Christmas? :P

Ben Witherington said...

Anyone is welcome to use this with attribution, or anything on my blog, provided one doesn't unfairly edit it.

Blessings,

Ben

Michael Spencer said...

If you doubt that this is a capitulation to the secular holiday, try this one on:

Can you imagine these same churches announcing they were closing on EASTER so people could spend time with their families?

Ben Witherington said...

Here's another little thought. Would you willingly miss your own child's birthday? I don't think so if you really love your children. Why would you miss the birthday celebration of the birth of God' only begotten Son?

Cindy said...

Ben, you couldn't have expressed the situation more clearly. I just happened on the headline on my earthlink news ticker about the churches being closed....I almost cried...for all the reasons you stated. You are bold and articulate and I thank you for your stand.

Milton Stanley said...

Even Christians who give no attention to a liturgical year should be loathe to simply cancel services on a Sunday.

You've scored a direct hit with this post. Peace.

hopeful cynic said...

when I used to work for a church I hated Christmas for the huge amount of tension that I had to go through for the season. So, I would've been happy to stay at home on Christmas, but Ben's post is extremely niggling and prodding and very biblical. It's all very well for those who have a holy day every day, but God's creation is filled with things that are distinct and separate just like seasons and special days.

Nick said...

I posted a similar blog on 12/5 before reading yours. Mine is not so well written, but I did get a flurry of responses in general support. I's still waiting to hear from a congregant of one of the megachurches that will be closed regarding what reason they could have for closing on Christmas Sunday that would not include idolatry.

Nick said...

Oops, If you would like to read it, go to http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-H7V5MEk_fbQIn470MBiVS2ztxMxJAVz3qzbtG_dWsWs-

Keep blogging God's message. You're on my blogroll.

GreekGeek said...

Ben,

I'm intrigued by your blog (sorry I'm coming to this late!) because the same day I read yours I also read an article in the Times concerning the history of Christmas in America, a day to which the Puritans strongly objected as they saw it as linked with the celebration of the pagan Saturnalia. Although I do think it odd to close a church on a Sunday, regardless the holiday, I know my home church is closing because so many people will be out of town that they weren't sure they could even host a service... For those interested: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/opinion/04sun3.html?n=Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fEditorials

The Church has not always celebrated Christmas, and I don't know if whether the fact that so many "secular Christians" come only on Christmas and Easter means that we've allowed society to tell us what our "holiest" days are, rather than taking a stand to affirm that every Sunday, and really every day, are equally amazing holy days because God has entered our world!

GreekGeek said...

From the article, by Adam Cohen, Dec 4: "As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because 'they do not accept the day as a Holy One.'"

Ben Witherington said...

It would be interesting to know where Mr. Cohen got his information from because I can tell you right now it flatly contracts the primary sources I have about the Methodist Church in the 19th century, who were more concerned about banning Christmas celebrations in homes with candles on Victorian Christmas trees because of the fires, but were urging Christians to go to church early and often at Christmas.

The Puritans were reactionaries in so many regards, especially against the church of England. Anything that smelled like Popery to them, they were against it, including some being against celebration of any Holy Days. But then they weren't in favor of celebrating our birthdays as well. Some of them certainly fall into the Grinch category or the no fun holiness league.

Amy said...

Dr. Witherington:

May a Catholic weigh in?

We've been discussing this at my blog for the last two days here and , from a different perspective, here.

As I state in my original post, my father's family is all southern Methodist, to a person, and growing up, what I experienced from them was very low priority given to attending church on Christmas - the lowest. I am not even sure if their church in Oklahoma had a church service on Christmas day, and even if they did, they never attended, and considered themselves good Christians. They thought it very odd for me and my mother to rouse ourselves from the wrapping paper chaos and go to Mass.

I grew up mostly in the south, and my experience, up to the mid-80's was much the same. It was widely understood that part of the reason Catholic Masses were so packed on Christmas, was not just because of twice-a-year folks but because of Protestants looking for a church service. I was friends with a guy who was a very active Baptist, but who always went to Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church partly because he just like it, and partly because his own church didn't have a service.

The interesting side discussion on this is that even in Catholic churches in many places, the Christmas Eve service (what we would call the Vigil) has come to completely dominated the liturgical schedule. Most Catholic churches have several Christmas eve services and perhaps one on Christmas day.

Thanks, from a fellow DVC-debunker

Amy Welborn

Michael said...

at the heart of this discussioon is that the church is not tied to a meeting location or a day of the week.

we are quick to shame a church for "closing its doors" on the sunday that is Christmas, but most of them are meeting on Chirstmas eve instead. Is that a real church service? Does that meeting honor God? Could a church service happen on a Tuesday night, or a Wednesday lunch time?

Is there something more spiritual or holy about meeting on Christmas morning than meeting on Christmas eve? Both of those days have a lot of family tradition. Would it be fair to staff of a church and all the volunteers to ask them to work on Christmas eve and Christmas.

I work at a church that is offering three christmas eve services primarily for the community.

If churches began cancelling services alltogether, I could see the uprising. But most are simply deciding to meet together as a church on a different day.

There is nothing inherrently wrong with looking at the culture and being flexible with our times, dates and locations of meeting together.

Michael said...

ben,

interesting comment about missing a child's birthday. as the father of 2 kids, that would be a disgrace for me.

however, i have scheduled birthday parties on different days, say...a day earlier or a day later...so that her friends or family could come.

we had our own party and cake on the actual day, but we invited eveyone to the party on a day more convienient to them.

Jesse Joyner said...

Ben,

Wow, what a response! I just saw this on the front page of CNN.com (it mentions Gordon Conwell, Southland, and Willow Creek): http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/12/06/churches.closed.christmas.ap/index.html

I am intrigued with the conversation. I see what you're saying about how Paul, John, and the early church celebrated the Holy Days. It is of utmost importance that the Body of Christ worship together.

But, where is it written in Scripture that it MUST be a Sunday, and that Christmas MUST be celebrated on December 25th? This is Tradition we're talking about, not Scripture.

I tend to side with those that view the family as a center of worship and an opportunity for witness. This is, of course, not as important as corporate worship with many families. But if both corporate worship happens AND family worship/witness happens in the same weekend, does it matter on which day or during which hours each activity occurs?

But how is Romans 14 interpreted in light of this (namely verses 5-6)? Furthermore, you cite times when Paul rushed to the Passover and John spoke in the Holy Spirit on the Lord's Day. But what about Jesus arriving late to the Feast of Tabernacles in John 11:55-12:16? He prioritized time with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany over being at the Jewish Festival on time. It seems that in the scope of the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" (which I know was not organized as such by Wesley), Tradition is elevated very highly when going to church on Christmas Eve Saturday is seen as subordinate to attending on Christmas Sunday. Perhaps those of us who see it slightly differently do not regard Tradition as high. Notice I said, "as high," meaning that I still love Tradition, but that is of course relative to other people.

I only feel free to openly disagree with you, Ben, because I usually agree with you and find it exciting to dialogue about things on which we may disagree.

-Jesse Joyner

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jesse: Nice to hear from you. Two things-- there is a reason why Paul says set aside funds on the first day of the week in 1 Cor. 16. That is when they met for worship and fellowship. The reference in Rev. 1 is telling precisely because it is incidental. John just takes it for granted that spiritual things happen "on the Lord's Day". And are we forgetting why we worship on Sunday instead of Friday night? Its because Jesus rose on Sunday morning. Every Sunday worship is in a sense a celebration of Easter, of new life in Christ. They there is the fact that as we read in Pliny's letters from the early 2nd century Christians continued to meet on the first day of the week, even when they were being carted off for persecution and execution "and sing hymns to Christ as to a God", says the pagan Pliny. Sunday worship obviously stood out and made an impression on him. I do not think it is right to simply relegate worship on Sunday to tradition when it is based on continuing to celebrate the first Easter and that remarkable day. And what better day to celebrate both Easter and the Incarnation than Christmas Sunday? I also enjoy Christmas Eve services a lot, so the more worship the merrier. That's no reason to miss out on fulling the prime mandate of worshipping the Lord on the Lord's Day which also happens to be the Lord's birthday-- making it even more appropriate. I do not thing we can afford to take a casual approach to this with our culture becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Worshipping at home with family means staying at home, not going forth and being counted with the body of Christ. It is important to do the latter on such as day.

Jesse Joyner said...

Ben,

Thanks for the response. Your point about Sunday being resurrection day is well-taken. I like the Billy Graham story, too. I'll let you get on to other things, until next time.

Mowens said...

Professor,
Your need to so scrupulously defend such a "no-brainer" is certainly very telling. It seems to point to the larger problems that plague evangelical Christianity.

Jim said...

There have been a lot of opinions. . . [More...]

Scot McKnight said...

Ben,
I've presented a mild case in defense of our brothers and sisters who disagree with you on this: it at www.jesuscreed.org.

Nice to read your blog, as always.

Jacob Brumfield said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am by no means a theological scholar, but a 17 year old "Wilmore kid" who has a feeling he is out of his league commenting in this arena, so please forgive any blatant theological ignorance I may display in this post.

I am a member of Southland Christian Church's youth group, or "High School Ministry," and I was shocked to see the now famous headline in the Herald-Leader. I have no concrete roll for the “HSM” members, but I would guess that slightly over a quarter of my peers who come to youth on Wednesday nights are far from saved. I praise God that we are able to bring these young people in to hear the word sung and spoken, but I fear that the actions of the church will speak louder than words to them. The message I receive from this announcement is that we need not worry about molding our lives to the church, it will mold itself to a schedule, format, and perhaps even ideology that fits in my often secular life. To a non-Christian, this could be a dangerous signal.

I think one of the most prevalent problems of my high school peers is the belief that they truly live a Christian life when in reality they are far from it; that all of the sinful, secular activities they take part in are "OK" with God because they come to Southland every Sunday morning and Wednesday night. These visits aren't any major threat to their social lives, for half our student body is in attendance; basically, it's convenient to come to church. It would seem that their church's encouragement to stay home on one of the most important days of the year to their claimed faith, even on a convenient Sunday, is simply another act of assurance that they need not change their ways for God; God will be flexible to their lives. If one of the tallest pillars of the Christian faith in our community sends this message, it is apt to quickly become a universally accepted idea among those who look up to it for Godly guidance; how tragic.

While there is an undeniably strong community of believers in High School Ministry, I fear the church is giving off a dangerous impression on those who have yet to join our number. I know I for one will be in attendance at a Christmas morning service somewhere, and I just might make it a yearly tradition.

I ask any and all who read this to pray that divine guidance would be louder than that of human error in the lives of my friends.

-Jacob Brumfield

Ben Witherington said...

Jacob:

Thanks so much for this testimony (which was unsolicited but most welcome). I completely agree with your assessment. It frankly sends the wrong message to both the faithful and the non-faithful. You will be interested to know that both Time Magazine and the NY Times called today asking about this blog and the response to it. Seems they also see this as a sign of the seecular times. If so, may the Lord be with us all.

Ben

Spunky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Spunky said...

Enjoyed your thoughts and the discussion. Especially the thoughts of the last young man. As for me, I wonder what most of these Christians would do if Narnia opened on Christmas Day.

Spunky
P.S. I quoted a portion of your post on my blog today. I found you through Jollyblogger.

Soren said...

Ben,

I have posted about this and linked to you on my blog.

Romans 14 notwithstanding, there is clear evidence in the N.T. that there was something significant about this day. Think about what a HUGE change it was to move away from Sabbath worship. Yet this is exactly what the early church did. There must have been a reason.

The fact that secular news agencies have picked up on this story demonstrates just how whacked-out it is. Even the world recognizes that canceling is rather strange. Christmas isn’t even the issue with me – it’s the idea of blowing off worship on the Lord’s Day – although the fact that it’s Christmas makes it even more ironic. Can canceling on Mothers’ Day, Father’s Day, or even Easter be far behind?

Please, this isn’t about inconveniencing people in order to test their orthodoxy or their allegiance to Christ. It’s about the fact that many believers actually WANT to worship on that day, EVERY WEEK, and especially on Christmas.

Mike Kjergaard

Nathan said...

I’m afraid that by the phrase “being with family,” many (most?)mean “watching the kids play with their new toys” and “avoiding the tantrums they’ll surely throw if I try to pull them away from their new toys and dress them for church.”

RBA Founder Xavier Pickett said...

Dr. Witherington,

I believe you are all over it. As I said, in my blog, "...The irony in all of this is that churches are closing on Christmas, which is supposed to be a 'religious' holiday, at least in its origins as some believe. Who would have guess that a religious holiday, a Christian religious holiday at that would lead to the closing of Christian churches? Even the Roman Catholic parishes will be open and expecting large crowds. I guess now if some unbelievers wanted to go to a church that would be 'sensitive' to them, they would have to hang out with Rome for a day. I think what is really disheartening is that Christmas, a 'Christian religious' holiday, would be the death of the Christian church, if we had any say so over the ultimate survival of Christ’s church."

www.reformedblacksofamerica.org

kevin beck said...

Ben,
I think that churches that close on Christmas are doing little more than reflecting the reality that they intuitively know--namely, that their membership won't show up anyway. By closing, they can seem to be out in front of a situation. "You" don't have to feel guilty about not coming to church b/c we're not having church. It is kind of odd. But I wonder if guilt-based faith and ego really drives the whole thing?

JanaBeth321 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ted Gossard said...

I think there is much freedom in the expression of our faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. I find this issue falling, from what I’ve read and think, in the realm of disputable matters (Romans 14:1). Can anyone prove from Scripture that this is a sin issue binding on all? A discussion as to what may be best is surely of another order, meaning I’m saying that’s fine.

I think we ought to have a service sometime around Christmas, if not on Christmas. That ought to be a given, that in some special way the celebration of Jesus’ birth is remembered by every church, and surely that’s the normal practice.

I just cannot see from Scripture that there is disobedience by churches for simply not meeting on Christmas Sunday this year. But to judge them seems to me to be a different matter- that is a sin issue.

If this is a disputable matter per Romans 14, we must be careful not to judge our fellow Christians on the other side as sinning. In this case it seems that those churches not having Christmas Sunday services are being so judged. Though I’m sure not all who disagree with such churches and are in this discussion are standing in judgment of them.

elizabby said...

Interesting blog! I'm glad I found you, though I think I'm going to take exception to some of the points made in this particular post.

As Matt posted, we are not under the Law, and for those of us with mainly non-Christian families Christmas is a once-a-year opportunity to talk about Jesus and to show love. When I first converted to Christianity in my early 20's I "religiously" went to church every time the doors were open, and caused much family conflict sorry thereby. :( Now I show respect and love for my parents in the only way they understand - by turning up to family events.

I think your condemnation of those who don't come on Christmas Day is a little narrow, even legalistic? Our "gathering together in solemn assembly" will be on Christmas Eve, and I will worship both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I think I will go with Paul on this one, as in Romans 14 he talks about "everyone being convinced in his own mind". I'm not going, but you are free to go as many times as you like!

Shalom!

PS - Spot on with your Pride and Prejudice review, and I was interested to see your comments on Anne Rice as well. I'll be baaaack! :)

gratefulbear said...

One of the churches mentioned in the news stories, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, is not only cancelling services on Christmas Day but on New Years Day as well. I didn’t know January 1st was such a “family day.”

As an Episcopalian, this is all very strange to me. My church always has a Eucharist service on Christmas Day, even if it falls in the middle of the week.

Darrell

Anand Paleja said...

Ben,

Just a thought...

If everyone is so insistent on rescheduling Christmas service, Why dont they just move the gift giving tradition to Christmas Eve, after all it is on Saturday?

No one has suggested to reschedule their family visits... After all what is more important the worship of the One and Only True Living God or visiting with family.

I am apart of a family where most do not believe in Christ and so I told them that since they dont celebrate Christmas from the perspective of Jesus' birthday, why not just schedule it around my worship service (after all as a Christian, Christmas should be about worshipping Christ not visiting family)

And for those who say, people are going out of town and that is why it should be cancelled, why are these churches having service on Christmas Eve?

D.B. Cooper said...

Now I have to agree that the one day out of an entire year that a minister should be working is Christmas Day, whether it is a sunday or not.

On the other hand, Christmas has become such a commercialized holiday, that most have no idea why we have it, except that's it's an excuse to spend money.

In the end though, lighten up, it is America, and they have the right to choose to have services or not. Perhaps you should take the day off and picket one of them or something.

George said...

I agree with you. Return to liturgy and give up all the modern stuff. It isn't really bringing anyone to Christ anyway, because it fails to lift up the Savior. Like you argued- it only exalts the self. Merry Christmas to Ben Witherington!!!

James Gregory said...

I know I am entering into this conversation rather late, so please excuse me for repeating anyone else's thoughts or ideas if I do so in this comment.

Let us not forget that Christmas is a human and cultural institution that the Church recognizes. We all know that Christ was not born Dec. 25th, this is simply the day that many people world wide celebrate and recognize Christ's coming. Certainly the apostles did not celebrate Christ's birth nor were we commanded to do so. It is a matter of tradition.

As far as fellowship and meeting on Sundays, I think it is absolutely vital for a Christian to be actively involved in constant fellowship, whether it is meeting for church on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesday or Wednesday nights, or any time of the week for small groups, bible studies, etc. After all, in accordance with Hebrews, there is no such thing as an "individual Christian" who does not have anything to do with the Church in fellowship or community. According to church tradition the standard or default fellowship day has been Sunday. This still holds true today.

But is God so concerned with what day we assemble in fellowship to praise, honor, and glorify Him and exalt his Son? Or is it that he is concerned that we do it at all?

We are expected to be in fellowship, but we are not expected to go to church every single Sunday, or even on a Sunday at that. Going to fellowship at any time of the week to praise and worship the Lord through hymns and songs, liturgy and homilies, sermons and communion, and baptism and offerings is what is desired of the Lord because it encourages His people to stay fastened in the Truth and to persevere through trials and tribulations.

Therefore, before I must head off to class, I would like to say my opinion regarding this issue:

1. There is no reason why a church cannot cancel Christmas Sunday. A church that makes that decision has a reason for it. Just because it is Christmas does not mean that the church must remain open because Christmas is not anything more than a human, cultural, and national institution to observe Christ's coming in one particular day that is not truly His birthday.
2. There is no reason why a church must have fellowship on Sunday and only Sunday. A church can have fellowship on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday if they like, or every day. There is no rule or regulation set forth in Acts or in the Epistles that states fellowship must be on Sunday and if it is not, then it is not true fellowship and the people of God have missed the mark. At this point I'd like to point out that just because Christ said that when two or more gather in His name he promises to be with them, it does not mean he is refering to church fellowship, rather to church discipline. Let us not confuse that passage with fellowship.
3. There is no reason why a church cannot cancel service in relation to Christmas because the incarnation, though meaningful, is not the fundamental foundation for Christianity--the Resurrection is. If Christ came as a baby, lived a human life perfectly without blemish, died but did not raise from the grave, it would not have mattered, death would still have its sting and there would be no victory over the grave. We should uphold the Resurrection celebration and gain control over that holiday, Easter, before we seek to gain control over Christmas.
4. It is possible to be in fellowship without going to church, so it would reason that the church need not be "open" on Christmas Sunday. A family that prays together and worships the Lord in a unified spirit, mind, and prayer is in fellowship just as much as a congregation in a church.

And so, we have the responsibility for fellowship every day, not just Sunday, not just Easter Sunday, and not just Christmas Sunday. Even though some churches may be closed while other open, Christians everywhere still have the responsibility to be in fellowship whether it be in a church or in a home. However, the church does not necessarily have to be "open" for fellowship. And if a church provides celebration services during the week prior to Christmas Sunday, it has still provided ample opportunity for community fellowship and has not left its purpose unfulfilled.

Whether at home or in church, on Christmas Sunday let us not forsake fellowship to encourage our hearts and to recognize the incarnation of our Lord, but recall that he has risen and that he lives.

DaBadBoyOfRockN'Roll said...

I prayed for ball hair, and i finally got it! Thank you god!!!

Pastor Mike said...

We are having worship services both Saturday night and Sunday morning. We decide, as a staff, we joined the ministry to serve, not to be served. We also know the majority want to celebrate the Lord's birth on Christmas. I don't think the problem is as much the laity as ministers who work all year and are just tired. I know it is important to rest, but with wise stewardship, we can get rest during less important times of the year. I don't require office hours of my staff, only the expectation they get there jobs done. They are hightly motivated, fortunately. The reason I do this is they are called above and beyond so often, like Christmas. This is one of the most important holidays of the Christian calendar and I cannot image not celebrating it as a congregation together.

Pastor Mike said...

...and by the way, in answer to Mr. Gregory, it takes no theologian to know Christmas is not the actual day of the Lord's birth. It is the day we have chosen as a church to celebrate it together. You might think of it like the "half-birthdays" in kindergarten. Those who had birthdays in the summer had a winter day assigned to celebrate their birthday instead. I'm not dissin' Mr. Gregory. Most of his comments were very good. I just think it is perfectly fine to chose a common day to celebrate Christ's birth since we don't know the actual day. As for badboyofrockn'roll, he just needs a hug.(=

Ben Witherington said...

This has been a fruitful discussion but just one more prod is perhaps in order. Where in the world did some of you get the idea that we aren't under any kind of law anymore? This is simply false-- we are under the Law of Christ as Paul himself says (see Gal. 5-6) a Law which commands us to love God with all that we are and our neighbor as self. Of course there are commandments under the new covenant, that has always been part of Biblical covenants. Jesus teachings are not suggestions, they also involve imperatives, the chief of which is the dual love commandment. It will not do to pit Gospel off against Law, as if obedience was optional for Christians. This is either just bad theology or Christians being lazy again.

James Gregory said...

Pastor Mike:

Well said.

I was not trying to stir up dissension.

I was making a point that it is the observed birthday, not the true birthday, and we need not be so caught up in upholding that one particular day as Christ's birthday.

What we do need to uphold is that we observe Christ's coming as a human at some point, whether it be one time a year or many times a year.

I like your use of kindergarten birthdays. Thanks for your input.

~James Gregory

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

I can't find myself saying that the incarnation is only "important." It is SPECIAL, UNIQUE. God came in the flesh! The incarnation is the first in many links God has made to humanity. It's part of the whole story and it's more than just "important." It's even included in the Apostles' Creed. Without it we wouldn't have a resurrection to celebrate.

I suppose if it can be argued that celebrating Jesus' birth on a Sunday could be in the future extended to Easter as well. It always comes on a Sunday, albeit a different Sunday every year. Why not do away with it in favor of being with familes for the Easter holiday? That's the thread of the argument I'm hearing for those who say the doesn't matter. It's where their argument logically goes. Given time it could take us all to the place where Jesus, his birth, life, death, resurrection, and second coming would have to give way to more important things, like family.

The Kansas City media picked up on what I think is the big problem. They noted that megachurches said that Christmas services were cancelled because the holiday is all about family. I suspect that they may have spoken a bit out of turn, but the point is that the impression is now out there - Christmas isn't about the birth of Jesus, it's all about family.

The megachurhes say that their staffs have worked hard all year and deserve the time off. I have no doubt that they have worked hard, perhaps too hard. But, if they would spend less time doing regression analysis, customer feedback surveys, marketing, media promotional work, budget and strategy meetings, etc. they might stop and celebrate it.

NathanWilson said...

Good words Ben. A Southland member at Asbury said he thought it odd for the paper's article to say that no church member objected when in fact no church member knew about the decision until the article ran! -- Nathan Wilson

CindyJ said...

It seems to me that most people are missing the point. I don't think the issue is whether anyone should have church on Christmas. The issue is over having church on Sunday, the Lord's Day. From the time the church began, Christians have been meeting on the first day of the week, known as the Lord's Day. The idea of not having church on Sunday because Sunday and Christmas happen to coincide is absurd! The reason Christians have always worshiped on Sunday is because on that day Christ rose from the dead. So every Sunday we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Just imagine! This year we get to celebrate the incarnation and the resurrection on the same day!

James Gregory said...

Quote:
Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...
I can't find myself saying that the incarnation is only "important." It is SPECIAL, UNIQUE. God came in the flesh! The incarnation is the first in many links God has made to humanity. It's part of the whole story and it's more than just "important." It's even included in the Apostles' Creed. Without it we wouldn't have a resurrection to celebrate.

I agree with you that the incarnation is more than important; it is an integral part of our faith. But the incarnation is not what empowers us as believers. It is only because Christ was raised that we can be saved. If that did not happen, salvation would not be possible, regardless if Jesus came to the earth or not. This was my point. Not that the incarnation isn't important, because I believe it is, and I love taking the time to recognize God's coming in human form through celebrating at Christmas.

James Gregory said...

Quote:
Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...
I suppose if it can be argued that celebrating Jesus' birth on a Sunday could be in the future extended to Easter as well. It always comes on a Sunday, albeit a different Sunday every year. Why not do away with it in favor of being with familes for the Easter holiday? That's the thread of the argument I'm hearing for those who say the doesn't matter. It's where their argument logically goes. Given time it could take us all to the place where Jesus, his birth, life, death, resurrection, and second coming would have to give way to more important things, like family.

I disagree with one thing here:

We just happen to have Christ's recognized day for his birth fall on Sunday, our celebration day, this year. This is different from Easter Sunday which has been celebrated every Sunday for many centuries in church tradition. Logically, it would not be possible to take away an Easter service because traditionally there has constantly been services on Easter Sunday.

And I find some interesting words at the end of the quote: "Given time it could take us all to the place where Jesus, his birth, life, death, resurrection, and second coming would have to give way to more important things, like family."

These are important words--alarming words--for Christ said that he came to disrupt the family. The family, although important, needs to be subject to Christ as number one in our lives.

Grady said...

Ben,
I think you are way off when you say "The church does not exist to serve the world, but rather to save the world." You seem to me to be clearly misinformed. It is God's work that saves the world and it will happen with or without us. It is our role, as the Church, to exemplify the love of God through service. Not only that, but the dissention you cause between the Church by writing scathing blog posts accomplishes nothing in furthing the cause of the Church. How can a secular culture believe in the message of love we preach if we cannot even love within our own Christian circles? As far as I am concered you have done nothing to prove you case and shot yourself in the foot in the meantime by claiming to be a follower of Christ and getting caught up in church politics.
I hope as you attend church on Christmas morning that God blesses you.

James Gregory said...

Quote:
Cindyj said...
This year we get to celebrate the incarnation and the resurrection on the same day!

How true!

I understand that the issue here is not having church on Sunday simply because Christmas falls on this celebration day.

My point is, however, that it is ok to decide not to have church on this Christmas Sunday. This is my opinion, of course, yet I plan on going to both a Christmas Eve service at 11pm and a Christmas Day service at 11am. While I think there is an awesome opportunity to observe both the resurrection and the incarnation this year at the same time on the same day, I do not think it is absolutely vital that every church have service because traditionally a family can have fellowship in their own home even on Christmas day, making it a family service so to speak. Although the day itself is significant being that it is the Lord's day as well as the day we recognize Christ's incarnation, it is still a matter of preference and availability. I say this because Sunday has significance traditionally in the church as the most common day for Christians to come together and celebrate Christ. But it is not the only day. Many people get together on Saturday nights (I am talking Evangelicals here) instead of Sunday because their jobs do not permit them the time to go to celebrate on Sunday. This is just an example, but it serves to show that one does not necessarily have to celebrate on Sunday itself in order to partake in fellowship and communal worship. Therefore, I see no reason why a church cannot cancel Christmas Sunday so that they can have their family time in celebration of Christ.


I hope all of you, however, will take advantage of the wonderful opportunity this year of having communal worship and fellowship on Christmas Sunday!

James Gregory said...

Grady,

I think this blog has done some good. Many Christians can't even argue for what they believe. In just one practical helpful example of this blog, it has provided the opportunity to learn and grow in the knowledge of our faith regarding particular issue--Christmas, the resurrection, and community worship.

This has been a healthy on-going discussion in my opinion.

CindyJ said...

James Gregory, I think you are confusing what individuals can do and what the Church should do. Certainly you are right in your idea that individuals may not always go to church on Sunday, but it does not follow that the Church would do the same. The Church should always have worship on Sunday.

David Dillard said...

As one of millions of unsolicited voices, my personal concern is that we are showing non-believers that we can shift our established services for convenience. The concern feeds an even greater concern of (1) what if Christ or the apostles would have shifted their teachings or events due to convenience, and (2) what else is our Christian hierarchy willing to shift on in the name of that convenience? This is not a simple matter of shutting down services for a single day, Christmas Sunday. Further, this is neither to criticize a certain church over their choices. It is a question for those running those churches on what they are doing and how the world of non-believers view those choices.

We are a family of Christ. This day, regardless whether it is actually Christ's birthday or not, is that these church leaders are taking the decision of attending away from the worshipper. There are many who may or may not attend, however these church leaders are making the decision to close their doors on those that may indeed wish to worship. In this critical time in our history, we need to be opening doors of opportunity for non-believers, not closing them. Send all the volunteers home and let the pastors, preachers, ministers do their job. The word must be available to all and this day stands out to everyone for it's significance. Maybe, just maybe, one non-believer will come to church and be converted. If that door is shut, then one soul may be lost. Forever.

Rich said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rich said...

I recently read an editorial in an evangelical magazine appealing to that denomination to re-institute Sunday school (SS). Can you believe it? Their arguments for letting SS go the way of the dinosaur were legion: too costly, too pedantic, too few teachers . . ..

Now we close churches on Christmas day.

What's next? Place the Communion juice and wafers on a pew in front of the church and invite anyone who might be interested in taking "communion" to come forward?

BTW, I've been in a church that did that.

rich
myjourneytorome.blogspot.com

Bobby Sowell said...

Makes one believe that some Churches are only in it for the money!!! Doesn't help
Christian PR at all! I'm sure other religions are laughing especially the Muslims.
Can you imagine Masques being closed because Ramadan fell on Saturday? Hypocrites? The reason for the season certainly not domesticated here! What better appropriate time to worship than on Jesus birthday? How long does it take to open presents anyway? Family? All Sunday's are for families. I don't think 1 hour of worship would interfere with family? This isn't the 1st time
Christmas has fallen on Sunday. But, it is the first time I've heard of closing church
on Christmas Sunday! Shows you where some Christians self-centered hearts are really at.
Which leads me to the finial question of any church: WWJD?

What Church would Jesus attend?

My Church is open!!

Boyd Bettis said...

Just a few thoughts....(Not directed to anyone..but rather some thoughts for us all to ponder)

1. Christmas day, isn't it like a couple months before or after Dec?
2. Are we worshipping God or a day of the week?
3. Some of the blogs read 'the church is closed' I don't know how a group of believers can be closed down...a building can be closed.
4. Let's stop the debating with one another...lets think about this for a minute...a bunch of lost people read 'christians' debating eachother about...well yeah i would want to become one too...
5. Why so much knocking on other churches...if you don't fellowship there, how do you know why they decided to do what they did...


Not trying to start any debates or arguments about who is right or wrong
but just an awareness to both sides

To be honest, it just hurts, it bothers me that my brothers and sisters are more concerned with proving one another wrong and who is right, rather than take that time and share the love of Jesus Christ with one who doesn't know.

Let's get together and stop debating and well go love on the lost!

Have an awesome day!!

Brownie said...

I do not want to insult anyone's intelligence, but why are we so hung up on Sunday? Is that really the Sabbath? And do we really know that Jesus was born on December 25th? I highly doubt it. That's just a date that we decided was close to the time that Jesus was born.

Why does it matter what day we celebrate our Savior's birth, as long as we celebrate it? For us Christ-followers, everyday is Christmas.

It seems as though this has become a message about slamming mega churches, rather than having services on our traditional date of Christmas. I believe that people flock to the "truth" and it seems as though these churches have a "mega flock." Because the truth of the Gospel, the most dangerous message ever heard, is being preached and people are coming to get a drink.

And about your comment that mega churches need to repent. Do you think that maybe they already have and that this could be a reason they are called "mega." Repenting results in authenticity and truth. Again, people flock to the "truth."

I don't go to a mega church, but I do go to a church that has canceled services on Dec. 25th. Is it because we think it's a day that should be spent with family opening gifts? No. It's because we believe that we can reach more searching people with the message of Christ, who would not ordinarily come on Sunday, by offering a celebration of the birth of Christ on the 23rd and two more on the 24th.

Is it about reaching hurting people with the Gospel of Christ, or is it about keeping a "good" name in the community by having services on December 25th?

I'm glad that I serve in a church that desires to reach people.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Jesus said,

"He who loveth mother or father more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:37

Priorities are all about making choices. Choose...

yuckabuck said...

One point I didn't see during my rapid skim of the above 85 (!) comments:

When I visited Willow-Creek, I was shocked to learn that their "service for Christians" was NOT Sunday morning- it was on Tuesday and Wednesday nights! (In fact Dr. Joseph Stowell was preaching that week.)

The Sunday morning service was expressly intended for Christians to bring their unsaved friends to, as it was a real "seeker targeted service."

In essence, Willow Creek at least has only canceled their "outreach service." The services for Christians are not canceled.

(Not taking a side here yet- Someone made the excellent point that Christmas is the most likely day of the year for a non-Christian to attend church! Also, this may only apply to Willow Creek, not Southland Christian.)

James Gregory said...

traditionally, the Church has had fellowship on Sundays and also daily, UNLIKE us today who only have fellowship Sundays and some also on Tuesday/Wednesday
biblically, the Church has not been commanded to have fellowship on Sunday

the early church was concerned with having fellowship constantly throughout the week, they were not so concerned with having church on one particular day; for them it was a matter of preference to enjoy fellowship with one another on Sunday to recognize the risen Lord, but they went above and beyond that and had more fellowship throughout the week

in retrospect, this is a minor issue in which Christians and the Church has the right to practice liberty in having the church building open or closed on Christmas Sunday. I don't think we should major in the minors. What is important--major, if you will--is a church to provide a place for fellowship at some time in that week because it functions to serve the body of Christ and to the community. At the least, if not on Sunday, then at some point during that week there should be some fellowship services made available for the congregation and community.

That's just my opinion.

~James Gregory
http://jamesgregory.blogspot.com

lawyerchik said...

"when I used to work for a church I hated Christmas for the huge amount of tension that I had to go through for the season." - I have to say I agree with that spirit, even though I realize how much is wrong with it.

I've been reluctant to attend church at all anyway, in part because of the production aspects of a megachurch I used to attend, and in part because I felt that if I didn't do all of the same things and have all of the same perspectives as everyone else, I didn't really fit in.

I've attended a smaller church more recently, which was nice, and I've attended an older historic church, which was also nice, but in some cases, the production of Christmas drowns the meaning of the celebration.

The best service I've attended in over 2 years was the one at the historic church a couple of Sundays ago - it was a musical production of Handel's Messiah, and more than anything I've ever heard, it demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas.

Maybe the reason people are so willing to abandon coming together for services on Christmas is because there is so little focus on what Christmas is all about, despite the representations to the contrary. It's all about the songs, or the message, or a host of other things.

When Jesus walked on this earth, people were drawn to Him. Maybe the reason so many people are willing to forsake church on Christmas is because they haven't seen evidence of Jesus' presence in their local body.....

Just a thought.

Kentucky sister said...

Does anyone but me find it ironic that as Christians debate attending church on Christmas day, millions are attending theaters to watch a movie symbolizing Christ's love, life, sacrifice?
Isn't it interesting how God chooses to work despite us? Can't we marvel at how He works to spread his message in the most unlikely of places to the most unsuspecting places instead of boxing God into a church building?
Kentucky sister

John said...
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D.B. Cooper said...

Here is my big problem with this whole conversation. Christians as a whole seem to forget some of Christ's or for that matter, God's whole opinion on things like being judgmental, and just how big and powerful God is supposed to be.

In the case of Willow Creek, our erstwhile host and blogger Mr. Witherington, seems to forget both. He says and I quote, "It is past time that these sorts of churches be called to account. It is time for them to realize that they have simply capitulated to the larger culture's agenda on issue after issue, in this case in supporting the worship of the idol called family in place of the worship of Jesus."

Jesus would want you to be with your family, any day of the year, even Christmas. Is it preferred that it be in church? Probably, but I doubt Jesus would have evn cared. If your idea of Christianity is just showing up for church when you are supposed to, and not following Jesus' teachings when you are not in church, then you less a Christian and more a gambler, hedging your bets for the afterlife. Being a Christian means not judging others, because that's God's job, not yours.

It is preposterous to think that the only way to reach God and Jesus is through a church. Is God not everywhere? Is he not all things? Does that mean if Mr. Witherington falls down the stairs and breaks his legs on Christmas Morning and spends his entire Christmas in agony at the bottom of the stairs, that he is not a good Christian? I would say no. If he is faithful to the Lord, then God already knows that he is.

Second, I really have a hard time with another quote from Mr. Witherington's blog. "The church does not exist to serve the physical family but rather to redeem it and make clear that if it is a Christian family it has a larger and more primary obligation to the family of faith and to its Lord."

Would Jesus let someone starve to death on the basis that that person is in good with God, and that's all a church needs to do? Hello? Loaves of bread, fishes? did everyone skip that part in the bible? Churches serve the physical needs of it's flock, and indeed those who are not in it's flock all the time. Remember the churches that became makeshift shelters during Katrina? Remember the concept of Sanctuary?

So Willow Creek and others are going to close. Big deal. I can think of worse things to do on Christmas.

sosad said...
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Ille said...

We, in the Orthodox Church, have the following Christmas prognamme:
Dec.24-Great Vespers of the Nativity;
Dec.25-Matins and Holy Liturgy in the morning;
Vespers, on evening;
Dec.26. "Synaxis of Theotokos",Matins
Holy Liturgy and Vespers
Dec.27-St.Steven, the Archdeacon and Protomartyr,Matins, Holy Liturgy and Vespers.

stuactive said...

Ben--

i think i can see your rationale, but i think you are way off. as someone who works at a mega-church, i'm not sure that you understand how many people and how much work it actually takes to pull off a service. our church, much like yours, it seems, is having a number of Christmas Eve services to offer the masses of people who consider Christmas and Easter the only two times church is an option in their lives: punching their religious card. So, for all of us who are giving up every minute of our Christmas Eve to put on services for thousands of people in our cities, when exactly are we supposed to celebrate the beauty of Christmas ourselves?

You're right, Christmas is about getting together and being the body of Christ; but why does it have to be at a building, with a bunch of pretty music, nice lights and a handy sermon? Why can't it be, as you suggest, more in line with the Scriptures: in people's homes where we can celebrate the birth of our Saviour with family and friends with whom our hearts are knit? Why does it have to be with thousands of people, most of whom i don't know, and many of whom i won't see again until Easter?

so, when do I get a chance to celebrate Christmas?

robyn said...

I was looking at this issue a bit - and ran across this blog. I'm Jewish. And it's simply inconceivable to me that a place of worship would cancel services on a major holiday because the holiday fell on an inconvenient day. Mind you - services on major Jewish holidays - even in Reform (the least observant) synagogues are lengthy - they last the better part of a day. And you're telling me that quote/unquote "religious Christians" can't be bothered to attend church for an hour or so on Christmas? That the churches can't be bothered even to open their doors? And these are the same people who are spending all their time filing lawsuits to have Nativity scenes in shopping malls? There is something terribly wrong with this scenario. And it is not something that leads an outsider like me to respect your religion.

sosad said...
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Jack said...

STUACTIVE, your comment really grieves me for the church:

"So, for all of us who are giving up every minute of our Christmas Eve to put on services for thousands of people in our cities, when exactly are we supposed to celebrate the beauty of Christmas ourselves?"

I don't think anyone begrudges you or anyone the opportunity to spend Christmas with your loved ones. But why has church become a matter of putting on services? I know there is a temptation to turn church services into performances, so maybe that's the real source of our problems. Maybe by turning worship into something we "put on" for the congregation, we have turned it into a source of strain rather than a source of joy for those who "produce" the service.

I would hope perhaps that there will be a time when we can celebrate the beauty of Christmas for ourselves as PART of the services we lead for others. Maybe that means giving up elaborate concerts and plays. But that's probably okay. I think Jesus would be just as honored by a simple service of prayer and praise.

Just a thought. Peace and blessings to everyone!

Craig said...

Do you really think Jesus would be upset at you if you didn't have church on a Sunday or Christmas if it was to spend time with your family? I go to Willow Creek, my dad isn't a Christian and refuses to go to church with us, are you saying that my family should just leave him at home while we go to church? Isn't community worship?
Also to the first post listen to yourself "church that HATES" that's more ridicoulous then a church closed for one Sunday so then can spend it with there family's It's not about the church it's about worshipping which It never says you can't do outside of a church.

Jack said...

I have two thoughts on your post, craig.

First, your decision whether to spend time on the sabbath at home with your family versus at church is a personal decision. As a Catholic, I believe that there is an obligation to participate in corporate worship on the sabbath. But I understand that not all Protestants would agree with that. However, can't you see a difference between you making that choice for yourself in your particular situation and the church making that decision for the entire congregation by cancelling sabbath services?

As a second point, and this goes back to my statement regarding sabbath as an obligation. While yes, Catholics see participating in sabbath services as an obligation, we use that in the best of terms. It is a most joyful obligation because in the Catholic perspective we receive great grace through the mass and most particularly through the gift of the Eucharist (the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus) together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Hopefully all of us, brothers and sisters across denominations, can come to see the "obligation" for corporate church worship on the sabbath as one of the greatest sources of joy in our lives.

the lufmiester said...

As a somewhat "confused" evangelical Christian, I often find myself in an odd place. I am currently employed at a conservative Episcopal church, but trace my roots back to the Assemblies of God through Southern Baptist and Presbyterian churches.

Nonetheless, I agree with those who view this trend (which really isn't all that recent, contrary to what some folks would like to think) with sadness and worry. It is a problem in that it does reflect conforming to the culture rather than transforming the culture and it highlights the fact that Christ is often not of the utmost importance; convenience and personal "d'ruthers" are often more important.

However, I don't think that one can make a reasonable argument that not meeting on Christmas Sunday is a violation of practices laid out in scripture. Dr. Witherington, you cited "where two or three are gathered in my name," how can you see a biological family gathering as less significant than the local congregation? If Christ is glorified, then all has been fulfilled. Indeed, such a gathering might more accurately reflect the early church than meeting in a "church" building! Furthermore, if widows, orphans, and the poor are invited to join with the family (which will certainly be the case in my home on Christmas), then it could well more accurately reflect the Lord's Supper and the celebration of the church than the rituals of congregational worship.

I do regret that my AG home church will not have services on Christmas - it does indicate an worrisome conformance to culture and placing Jesus behind other things. However, I don't view this as dangerous to Biblical practice beyond how it reflects on motives. It isn't forsaking the gathering of the assembly necessarily and to believe that it does might point to an dangerous understanding of who and what the Church really is.

May the Peace of Christ be always with you,

Sam Lufi

mr. matthews said...

hmmm ... i've read a lot on this ... almost as much as the "happy holidays" issue.

i don't attend a mega-church. in fact, we're a baby church plant ... running about 90 a week. we decided this year to have a meaningful worship experience on christmas eve and to not gather on christmas morning.

i'm not feeling stronlgy either way, though i am excited about christmas eve.

i wonder sometimes if our legalism and desire to always "do the right thing" sometimes causes us to not "be the right thing" for the right reasons and in the right ways.

i guess i don't feel like not having church on a sunday is letting God down, or society down, or communicating the wrong message to the people ... i may be dead wrong (i've been known to be before!) but at the very least i'd love to see some more humility and love on this subject.

robyn said...

Sosad - I have a mixed marriage. One of my nieces went to a Baptist seminary - and she is married to a Baptist preacher. I think they would have sooner walked over hot coals than not be at their church to conduct services at Christmas. Even if it meant coming to family gatherings late - or leaving early - or not coming at all. My nephew-in-law is now back in school for an advanced theological degree - so he doesn't have a congregation.

And - when we went to visit my husband's family for Christmas - the first order of the day was going to church for those who cared to attend (and most did attend my sister-in-law's church - even though they belonged to different denominations at home - although I did not).

I understand that there is more than a fair amount of controversy in Christianity about the concepts of being "saved by grace" and "saved by works" (and I assume that going to Church - among lots of other activities - falls into the latter category). On my part - I do not think that it is very good for society to have a huge number of people who believe that no matter what one does on earth - one can be saved simply by thinking certain thoughts (or saying certain words). Perhaps that is why we see so many cases of allegedly religious people doing pretty bad things. I will note that in terms of the thoughts/deeds debate - Judaism is much more a religion of deeds than thoughts. Robyn

robyn said...

And to Craig - If you have a bunch of family together at Christmas - it's really no big deal for those people who want to go to church to go - and those who don't want to go to skip it. In my family - my in-laws never wanted to go to church - nor did I or my husband - but other siblings/nieces/nephews and inlaws did. So they went. In the morning. For about an hour. No big deal unless someone wants to get into an argument about it. Robyn

funkytown said...

All of you should at least hear the Southland minister's sermon clarifying why they are not having church on Christmas. Agree or disagree you should at least listen to his explanation.

http://www.southlandchristian.org/

Ille said...

Aren't all these things a consistent application, although rather odd, of that famous principle of "Sola Scriptura" ?
If tradition has nothing to say about this issue, then we are free to try things that have become increasingly
bizzare to any people that are still anchored in the tradition of historic Christianity.

Mark Barnes said...

Interestingly Josh Harris posted this on his blog yesterday...

""This year because Christmas morning falls on a Sunday I made the decision to replace our normal Sunday meeting with two Christmas Eve services. Since then I’ve come to believe that this was the wrong decision, informed by the wrong priorities." (read more)

Good to see honesty from him.

Also worthing noting that in my particular circle of British reformed evangelicalism, any church that doesn't have TWO different services on Christmas day would be seen as selling its soul to the world. ;-)

JeanneM said...

Gee...I've spent a lot of time reading these comments and I just can't decide which of you is holier.

Sam said...

So group, if Willow or any church did a service that began or ended at 12:01 Sunday, would it qualify for the saving "Sunday Christmas" track?

Charlie said...

Well put Ben! I usually attend the Saturday night service at my church, but because I don't want my church leaders to have low attendence to bea reason to
close the church on a Christmas Sunday in the future, I am bringing my family to the Sunday morning service at my church and have emailed my mens group to try to get them and everyone they know to pack the house.
I would not want to belong to a church that closed its doors on the date we Christians have chosen to celebrate the birth of our Lord. I think some of it has to do with our pastors getting lazy. They want to "play" to the same crowds they are used to every Sunday and because they think there will be less attendees why bother. Well there are people in the church family who only have the church as a family.
What are you saying to those people? There seems to be a movement to grow the flock by many churches today, which is a good thing. But the desire for growth by these churches is all consuming at the cost of tending to those that are in the flock already. And what of the chance to reach a person in the community who the spirit moves to hear the word that morning and finds the church down the road closed on what should be one of the most special days of the year to believers? What happened to trying to reach even one person? Is that for every other day, but Christ's birthday? In my opinion it's a slap in the face of the congregation and and a huge slap in the face of the Lord and I believe they will have to answer for it.

slb said...

I don't think you can blame not having Christmas Day services on "lazy preachers" or selfish, commercialized churches. I attended (and volunteered at) Northpoint for years and it is a wonderful church with a huge draw - Andy always speaks the truth and that is what pulls people in to hear the word of God. To host multiple services on Christmas Eve - with hundreds of volunteers to guide parking, hand out bulletins and greet, to help people find a seat, to take care of infants and toddlers in the nurseries, to man the production/media aspects, to sing - THEN to ask them all to return 12 hours later to do what would probably be at least 3 more services, even if less attended (their satellite church in Buckhead has 5 Sunday services and it is the "small campus")...I agree that it is nice to let people enjoy their families instead of having to start opening up a huge building like that at 6:30 am (the time the volunteer production teams start arriving). Many of these volunteers have families and their children have to stay in the childcare areas for hours so their parents can volunteer. If you have not attended one of these churches, I don't think you should judge. It takes a LOT of people and work to pull it off each Sunday and to give them a break is quite nice, I think. It shows honor and respect for what they do year-round.
That said, I know Andy Stanley is a man who does nothing without praying over it fervently. I assume the same of Bill Hybels and the other pastors of these churches. So I would respect any decision he made.

Ann TS said...

We have been so burdened during this Christmas season to the closing of the church on Christmas Sunday simply because it falls on Christmas. It is no secret that Christmas is, hands down, the most depressing time of year for so many lonely people. People that would never darken the church doors often do so during Christmas time and they would be much more apt to desire a place of refuge on Christmas day itself. As I recall, the last Christmas that fell on a Sunday, we had a simple Christmas day family service and the church was packed. I remember being surprised at how many turned out for it and I would imagine that there was at least one person there visiting that needed a touch from God that day. We, as Christians, need to remember that it costs to serve Christ and on the day that is typically declared to be the day of the highest percentage of suicides in our society, we need to be willing to "sacrifice" family time to "be there" for those in need. Please, let's never close our doors again!

I don't believe you have to be in church to worship and those with young children or other issues may choose to worship at home, but what about that person that sits in the 3rd chair? The one that might stumble in on Christmas, but NOT on any other day, the one lost sheep -- that's the ONE that Jesus cares about and so should we.

Eric Jones said...

I attend a "mega-church." The church I attend preached 51 Sundays. We also had 4 extra services this week on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Every service we talk about love, and community, and fellowship, and the history of the church, and how we should live it today. I find it ironic that you decided two quote "wherever two or more are gathered, there I will be." That is the very basis of church. In today's world, it is too often taught that "church" is a building people go to in order to worship. I disagree. Church is a body of Christ. Church is where the family of God can come together to worship Him. Church is anywhere and everywhere.

Look at the very first Noel. Jesus was born among the dirty animals, and all their dung. God sent three wise men-God loving people whom God loved even more. God sent shephards-the dirtiest and poorest of the people. What's the symbolism here? Was this not the very first church service on a Christmas day? Did God not have people there that would praise God from whom all blessing flow? Both clean and dirty people? Was this church service held in a temple? Or was it a place where family and friends gathered, both clean and dirty, Christian and non-Christians, where worship was all they did? And did all this happen on one single day? Or was it a celebtration that lasted longer than a day? The wise men brought presents, does that mean they thought it was a material day?

I disagree that Christmas is a single day. The true meaning of Christmas is easily lost, and for some to codemn the church for not holding services on Christmas Day tells me they have missed the point. Christmas is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus, and for Christians to be worried that we aren't going to the building called church on the actual Day set aside tells me that some of us have also missed the point. Isn't this really saying that we don't have enough trust and faith in God and each other that we are celebrating this day by actually worshiping Him anyway? Thinking that this means the church is falling to today's culture is misguided. When in reality, the church should actually be celebrating God, and the birth and death of Jesus, every day of the week, 365 days a year, and worshiping God in ALL that we do. Yes, God says to set a day aside for him, but can't the joy of giving on this day, like the wise men did, actually outweigh the feeling of receiving?

Society has indeed made Christmas a material thing, but what I really hear you saying, is that you don't have the faith in God that some of us are still worshiping Him so much, that there isn't anything material about this day. When you say that the church building is the only place where worship can truly happen, I take a step back and pray for you. Saying that witnessing to a non-believing family member on Christmas is not really worshiping God? Show me where it says that in the Bible.

True Christians, in every sense of the word, do not need church on Christmas day in order to fully worship and celebrate Jesus' birth. Non-believers are much more likely to celebrate a Christmas service on a day other than Christams, because they are going to be wrapped (no pun intended) up in their own Christmas tradition on that day anyway. So why is worshiping with your family in your own home not truly celebrating God? I say that viewpoint is simply wrong.

I am not judging anyone who disagrees with me, for I know that different people celebrate in different ways, and I praise that and can sing Hallelujah right along side you. All I ask is that you stop condemning other Christians who do not feel the same as you. The most important thing is to glorify God in all that we do, and I am going to continue to do that every day of the year.

Pastor Vaughan said...

I agree that Church should never be closed on any Sunday because of the resurrection. I also agree that worship is best done when a community of believers gather together to offer praise to our Lord, not when we sit around a tree and open up presents.

I have two children, 6 and 4 and they would deeply saddened if we failed to go to church, even though it is Christmas. Every Sunday is a holiday to them, as I believe it should be, so this week it is two holidays in one.

One last thing, if we do hold to the Church's traditional recognition of Christmas as Dec 25, it should also be noted that Christmas is a season and not simply a day. It starts the 25th and goes through the Epiphany on January 6. So as to when can I celebrate with my family, well, even the government has given an extra day for Christmas because it falls on Sunday, so do the family thing on the 26th. That's why they give the day off!

Danny T said...

Well, its as if we are back in Jesus' time and the Pharisees are at it again! I guess this legalistic attitude will never end.
So, some churches have chosen to not have service on Sunday (Christmas Day) while others have chosen to do so. It's not about being inside a building on this special day - it's a matter of the heart - we can all worship and be with our families at home or in church. It's a relationship not works!!! I wonder if we'll ever learn?
Now, for the churches who are judging other churches about what day they have chosen to worship this Christmas Season - I feel they have sadden the heart of our Lord.

everafter said...

Hello Ben,
I guess since Christmas falls on a Sunday it does seem weird not to have church on Sunday. I attend Willow Creek and I went to the service in Barrington on Tuesday night and my home church on the North Shore on Thursday night. I guess that I'm not locked in to attend on Sunday because I attended during the week. Not sure what the big deal is about not being a Sunday service. Most people I know make it a huge tradition to go to the 11pm service on Christmas Eve. But I can understand the criticism from people who do not attend. Hope you had a nice Christmas eve.

The Floating Dome said...

Ben, you've got a lot of good points, but I think the discussion is getting a bit misaligned. I posted on it, and would like your input. If you feel I'm painting you unfairly, I'll be glad to discuss it with you and make corrections. Merry Christmas.

Aarron Pina

Jon M said...

Did you ever consider checking these churches Christmas Eve shedule before being so critical about their Christmas Day decision. If Willow was able to get 20,000 people into church the day before, I thikn it's ok to close shop the next day. Some people who were open might have had one service scheduled all week-end...in that case, it would be foolish to close down for the day.

Pick your battles better!

thea said...

Our traditional Lutheran Church held services on Christmas Morn. My family, along with some others served a full family style breakfast and our "family in Christ" celebrated as Lutherans can do very well, with worship and food.

My family then went down to Seattle to join another family at "Operation Night Watch". They house 23 Senior Citizens that would otherwise be homeless. We made Turkey, Ham, cookies, fresh bread, stuffing, vegies, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc. All from scratch

We served, sat and ate with them, prayed, talked and became friends.

It was about 6:00 when we got home so I made a light supper, had two single friends over did some silly light presents talked about the day and how much fun it had been.

We went to bed happy, knowing our day was devoted to the Lord and works that favored Him.

jchaifley said...

I think it is great that churches close for christmas. What people fail to understand is that the church cannot run with out people. Church staff and volunteers are usually overworked. What is so wrong with them being with their families like the rest of us? I pray that they have a blessed relaxing christmas.