Church on Christmas?

I was surprised to read that some columnists (like this one) are complaining that some churches are choosing not to have services on Christmas day. Even (gasp!) Willow Creek has decided not to open the doors on Christmas. What’s the big deal?

The columnist I linked to says that not having church on Christmas means: 1.) We love things more than we love Jesus. 2.) The church is compromising. 3.) The church is hypocritical. 4.) Non-christians think we are compromising and hypocritical. 5.) The family has become more important than Jesus.

All this because of skipping one service. This leads me to ask the question, what is the purpose of a church service, anyway? According to this guy, we go to show the world that we are self-sacrificing world-haters who would rather attend church than see our families. In his defense, he also says that a church service is an opportunity to “gather with God’s people for worship.” A noble endeavor, of course, but is that it?

To me, it depends on whether the purpose of Christianity is to facilitate church services, or whether the purpose of church services is to facilitate Christianity. I fall into the latter camp. I attend church for the same reason I take my car to the gas station — it’s an opportunity to fuel up. I gain spiritual energy through fellowship and corporate worship, helping me to live the rest of the week as Jesus would have me do. Missing one week doesn’t drain my tank, and some services (you’ve been to them, too) don’t exactly overflow the tank, either.

I didn’t decide to follow Jesus so that I can attend church services. I attend services to help me follow Jesus. Church is not what we do on Sunday morning. Church is when we talk with our friends, when we gather with our families, when we live out our Christian faith in our everyday lives. I don’t know about you, but I definitely will be “attending church” on Christmas.

18 thoughts on “Church on Christmas?”

  1. This argument strikes me as particularly hateful. Coupled with Bill O’reilly’s anti- “Happy Holidays” rant, it’s another attempt to take us beyond being “in the world but not of the world” to “in the world, but bitter, spiteful, and superior about it”.

    This isn’t just trying to make it us against them in world vs. Christians, though, it’s Christian on Christian crime, and that truly is the worst kind.

    Some of the gripes mention Christmas as the “holiest” day of the year. There are several problems with this idea, but even if you just mean that you set it aside to thank God for the birth of Jesus, didn’t you just do that on the Eve of the day? I think you could argue that we make the day more special by not meeting.

    Traditionally, Christian churches do not have Christmas day services, they have Christmas eve ones. To hold to that even when Christmas is on Sunday makes sense to me.

    As I said before, this “argument” quickly becomes silly and just sad.

  2. And furthermore, to employ the logic that Darren is teaching his kids, in this quote we’re supposed to do things because the world is watching, where a paragraph prior, we were to do “right” things regardless of a watching world. Which is it?

    The world is watching this new trend and oddly enough, they are just as stunned as we are. Schlueter noted that the very fact that this trend is making headlines says the world has taken notice. Further, “An NBC affiliate ran a poll on its website asking readers whether they approved of this trend or not. Last time I checked it, 72 percent of readers said they thought the trend was wrong. Even the world knows something is off here.”

  3. You said it better than I, djayt. Aren’t we being hypocrites when one of our reasons for going to church on Christmas day is because the world expects us to?

    I had a conversation just today with a friend, who said he’s interested in quantity (more Christians), not quality (better Christians). Which result will we get if we go to church on Christmas day? Will the unbeliever rejoice at my faithfulness and vow to start attending himself? Will I praise Jesus better because I’m in a pew instead of around the breakfast table?

    By the way, I am apparently apostate every other year, as we go to visit my wife’s family out of town. I don’t attend church that Sunday — and often don’t even make it to the Christmas Eve service! I am convinced that none of her relations, many of whom are not believers, are offended or surprised by my lack of commitment. On the contrary, they are glad there are some kids around to play with their own children.

  4. Is there a verse in the NT that’s been more misapplied than Hebrews’ “forsake not the first or second service”?

    It seems to me that the people who know I’m a Christian but are not also Christian, have me in a little box of people who don’t swear, rarely drink, and did not live together before getting married. They don’t check my attendance, and wouldn’t move me from one place in the little box to another if I missed or did not miss.

    Hip Hop music has all kinds of categories, so does Metal. But to people who are not fans of those types of music, it all sounds the same. Non-Christians might be as surprised to find us going at each other over meaningless issues as I was to discover how much animosity all those individual “Russian” countries had for each other once the Wall came down.

  5. I think the analogy of those Soviet Union countries is very helpful! I naively thought, “Aren’t they all the same?” Apparently not. The average non-Christian out there may be surprised that we have so many disagreements. We are hardly improving our cause (the Kingdom) when we complain about the number of services at the church down the road.

  6. I, too, cringe when I hear about Christians fighting about issues like this. It reminds me of the passage starting in [bible]John 4:20-24[/bible] [Ed. note: hotlink inserted by skipper] where followers were arguing about which mountain to worship on. They confront Jesus about it and He states something like “You are missing the point! It doesn’t matter WHERE you worship, but HOW you worship!”. I picture Jesus shaking His head and thinking “I’ve got a ways to go with these people…..”

    I have heard this backlash about not having church on Christmas day, and I don’t understand it. Don’t a lot of churches have Saturday night services each week? Why can’t the Christmas Eve service be considered the church service for the week?

    If we held our Christmas Eve service at 11 pm and made sure we went at least one minute past midnight, could we technically say that we DID have a service on Christmas?!? Maybe we would be applauded because we could also say we held our church service over a TWO-DAY PERIOD to celebrate Chrstimas! Of course then someone would protest and state that ” A service needs to be at least X minutes long for it to be considered a service in regards to qualifying for having a service that day.” Perhaps a committee could be formed. Meetings could be scheduled.

    Of course, I have my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek. Skipper put it best…..The purpose of church is to facilitate Chrisianity, not to facilitate church services.

  7. There is a pragmatic issue that we’ll bump into this month. On a Christmas Eve service there are carols, there are scripture readings, there are screaming kids as there isn’t a nursery provided, there are candles but… there is not an offering!

    Seriously, this could mess up the budget for year end. I’ll bet there is quite a bit of offering that doesn’t get given if the people don’t make it on a Sunday and have that tray pass by their lap.

    Should we mention a box in the back or something? Should it be part of announcements this Sunday?

  8. I think a box in the back is great. I attended a church which DID NOT (repeat: NOT) pass the plate. They had mention of boxes in the back in the bulletin. It was fantastic. BTW, there were 2 or 3 thousand attendees with a budget of about $1M, so it wasn’t a hole-in-the-wall kind of place.

  9. My Dad grew up in a church that had a similar practice, as does Lana’s home church. The thing there is, it’s ingrained. People do it because they’ve always done it and it’s a habit.

    “Cheerful giving” verses notwithstanding, I think we try to spiritualize offering so it seems to be a natural part of the service where it’s really, while natural, not a particularly mystical thing. It’s a pragmatic thing through which one may be mystically blessed.

    Those “box in the back” churches had to start somewhere, but I don’t know how we’d teach that, or if we could withstand the change over shortfall.

  10. Apostates! All of you! Thank goodness the Sabbath is Saturday. 🙂

    skipper ” The average non-Christian out there may be surprised that we have so many disagreements.” The average guy out there thinks Christians are like Fred Phelps!

  11. Fred is the one of the Devil’s most brilliant strategies. My high-schooler has had to deal with fallout from that genius. He’s not only hurt us on a state level, he’s literally made Kansas a nation-wide byword for bigotry and hatefulness among “Christians”.

  12. I just ran across this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking but not really saying out loud…

    (Incidentally, I really like this guy bob hyatt — skipper, your church planting link you posted a month or so ago was from this guy.)

    Bob the blogger puts it in the context of big churches, but I don’t think it’s limited to big churches. Rather, it’s churches who when they meet are committed to a certain type of meeting — really, a production. This is a prime example of consumer church, in my opinion.

    Now don’t get me wrong: I supported our own church’s decision to not hold services Christmas morning. But, that’s because producing our typical style and quality of service would be simply impossible. If we were doing church a different way, I can easily see my decision being reversed.

  13. I have to agree with bob the blogger, that church services have become something that must be fed and cared for, and that they also tend to separate families (something I have thought for a while but Tim Schmoyer said well).

    When we go to church, the kiddies go off to Sunday School, the teens have their own meeting or else sit together, and possibly at least one of the parents is serving. So much for family on Sunday mornings. Taking the day off is a vote for family time.

  14. bwhite, may I be so bold as to ask this: if we were doing church in a different way, what would it look like? Feel free to create a new post….

  15. There are as many different ways to “do church” as there are local faith communities, but an example of a church doing it differently is bob hyatt’s church (bob the blogger as referred to above), called The Evergreen Community in Portland. (For you fans of Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, Bob and members of his church hang out in the same pub that Miller frequents and does much of his writing in.)

    Put your mouse on the titles to the right (values, vision, gatherings, holistic) and notice the emphases and words used vs. the common contemporary/seeker church. Notice that words like “excellence” and “relevance” never come up; rather, notice other words like “dialogue” and ” holistic” …

    I’ll be interested to see what all of you notice in looking at this site vs. what you know of contemporary, production-driven, seeker churches. But, I want to say this: don’t interpret any of this as me saying one way of doing church is bad and another way is good. They are merely different, with different values and visions, which will lead to different emphases and beliefs and practices, and a different shape to the gathering/service — which may lead to different decisions on whether to have a corporate gathering Christmas morning.

  16. Checked out Evergreen. The statement are very attractive. Are they only words? What does it look like when its practiced there? Flesh it out if you know the hows.

  17. It’s interesting to see the Pacific Northwest as anything but the home base of the enemy.

  18. What?! We have to stop listening to Christmas music after Christmas is over?! I didn’t get that memo…I try to srtcteh it out until at least March…then I take a break for a while and crack it out again in August. I’m such a dork.

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