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.


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.

Mark said...

Mr. Witherington,
I am replying to this post because it was linked from here:

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?


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.

Scott 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...


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.


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.

opinionated 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...


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,


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...

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


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...

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


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

Weltanschauung 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 A. Carlson 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"

Ben Witherington said...


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.



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!

DanO 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,


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.

Tommy said...

I read your post on 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

Aaron Perry 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.



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?

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.

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

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

GreekGeek said...


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:

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 Welborn 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

Unknown said...


Wow, what a response! I just saw this on the front page of (it mentions Gordon Conwell, Southland, and Willow Creek):

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.

Unknown said...


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.

Mark Owens said...

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.

Scot McKnight said...

I've presented a mild case in defense of our brothers and sisters who disagree with you on this: it at

Nice to read your blog, as always.

Ben Witherington said...


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.


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.

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

Soren said...


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

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."

Kevin Beck said...

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?

Ted M. 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!


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! :)

Darrell Grizzle 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.


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.

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.


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

James Gregory said...

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...

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.

James Gregory said...

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...


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.

rich said...
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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.


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!!

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

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.

John said...
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Sam Lufi 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

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. ;-)

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?

ATS 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.

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!

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.

Aarron & Cristine Pina 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

Anonymous 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.