And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:46-47 ESV
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
—Acts 3:1 ESV
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
—Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man….
—Acts 17:24 ESV
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
—Romans 12:1 ESV
As one who writes about church issues, I can't ignore the recent furor erupting over the plans of some churches—mostly megachurches—to not have Christmas Day services this year.
Anyone who comes by here enough knows that I hold the feet of American churches to the fire for a number of reasons. My hope is that the Church in this country will live up to the high calling for which the Lord offered Himself. I love the Church, else I wouldn't be doing any of this.
But honestly, on this issue of canceling Sunday services on Christmas morning, I think too many folks are missing the bigger picture.
The tradition I grew up in called for us to go to Christmas Eve services at my parents' Lutheran church. That service started at 11 PM on the 24th and ended around 12:10AM on Christmas Day. Until Christmas 2000, that was the way my family did it, even after my brothers and I got married. However, I can't remember ever attending a Sunday service that fell on Christmas Day. We'd met together as the Church just nine hours before, right? Honestly, I don't recall if that church had a Christmas Day Sunday meeting.
As much as I crusade for a Church that resembles that of the Book of Acts, not a single person reading this right now carries on a church life that resembles what the early believers followed.
The temple was destroyed in 70 AD and there hasn't been one like it built since then. While the early believers may have gone there regularly for prayer, the temple no longer exists. (God doesn't dwell in temples made by human hands anyway.) Do any of us go up at the appointed prayer hours to pray at our church? Unlikely.
The believers met in their homes for fellowship on what may have been a daily basis. Even house churches don't meet that regularly. Are you enjoying the daily fellowship of believers?
Considering the worship and fellowship patterns of the early Church, are we truly following any of them perfectly? If we're getting hacked off by some churches canceling Sunday services because Christmas is on Sunday, why are we not incensed about our the failure to fellowship in each other's homes several days a week?
When you boil it all down, the biblical command is that we not fail to meet together.
My wife's side of the family is filled with one Evangelical pastor after another, but they don't go to Christmas Eve services at all, and I suspect we won't go to this Christmas Sunday service, either. But I can guarantee you this: We most definitely will be gathered together as believers singing hymns, reading the Word, encouraging one another, demonstrating love, honoring the Lord, and being the church in my in-laws' home. Doesn't that fulfill the mandate God set forward for the Church?
And those megachurches? I'm sure there are people who attend those churches that don't have what I have. Those folks may very well lose something by their church giving up on a Christmas Sunday meeting.
So let's have the right perspective here. It's not about a legalistic "show up on Sunday come hell or high water" attitude, but Christians meeting horizontally with each other and vertically with the Lord. Truthfully, most of us can do that no matter what the time or venue, especially on a day like Christmas. Does it have to be at a physical church location at a set time? For many of us, the clear answer is no.
However, I'm not going to let those "kill the meeting" churches off so easily. They may very well be depriving some people of the ability to meet together with fellow believers that week. Not all of us are as blessed with a steady supply of the saints. If anything, a church that cannot provide that kind of fellowship on any other given day of the week is missing far more than just a canceled Christmas Sunday meeting; the whole of their fellowship is lacking. And the real tragedy is that this is true for many of the churches that ARE meeting on Christmas Sunday. As we see in Acts, the believers met together almost every single day. If we who claim the upper hand here aren't careful, we may also fall under our own condemnation.
Just something to think about whether we're in a church building on the 25th or not.
8 thoughts on “Canceling Christmas Sunday”
Dan, thanks for some common sense on this issue.
I’ve been sort of confused by the uproar about this and fail to see how it is indicative of all that is wrong about the American church. (There’s a LOT wrong, but I’m just not connecting the dots.) I think the fact that those big bad “mega-churches” are doing this (or at least, a few are) may have colored the reaction.
Our church is having four Christmas Eve services, but I just found out yesterday will have none on Christmas Day. We are always in Houston for the holidays, so we wouldn’t have been able to attend anyway, but we likely won’t attend a service while out of town.
Ditto Jared’s common sense thanks. I have a friend who works at one of the “mega-churches” that’s been cited specifically elsewhere. They never have a Sunday service on the last Sunday of the year — it just so happens to be on Dec 25 this year. The staffing needed every week is enormous, and even if things were scaled way back, would still be quite large, or they’d be hearing stuff like, “What do you mean, you ‘lost my baby’? No, I don’t want to take a different one instead!” 😉
So, Dan, you’re saying, “I’m okay with this; what’s your problem?”
My reaction to this was not so sterile and uncaring. I’m single. My mother does not celebrate Christmas, and on Christmas Day she spends a lot of time ranting against Christmas and how it’s evil and of the devil and all that. So spending Christmas with her owuld be like, well, spending it with Annas or Caiaphas. Honestly. Dad’s the same way (they’re divorced. Wonder why?).
So, not having a family with whom to spend Christmas, I rather enjoy Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services. My church is not having either one. I am disappointed. Left in the dark. Out in the cold, shut out. Ever feel like that? That’s how I feel about this. Shut out. I hate it. It’s as if the temple veil were never ripped open, as far as some of these churches are concerned. They don’t CARE about their congregants.
So, I know where there are churches who are having services that day. The Catholic Church up the road a piece can always be counted on to have both. Perhaps I should become Catholic? I don’t think so. But I do know that sometimes when I go to that particular Catholic church (which isn’t all that often), I sense the presence of God.
Yes, one can connect with believers when not at church. And one can connect with non-believers while not at church. And certainly God does not live in temples made with hands. But is not the body of Christ a temple? And are we not told NOT to forsake assembling together? It’s not a legality – it’s just common sense.
See, Dan, here’s another one for your little series. The Christian Church today worships the *family*. What about those of us who have none? Who have given up father, mother, sisters, brothers, to follow Christ? Are we somehow second-class citizens in the church because of our choice? From this decision… yes. We are. From your attitude towards this thing… take a look at the older singles in your church, who aren’t out to get married with anything that’s the opposite sex and willing. Where are THEY this Christmas? At home, alone, with nobody to talk to because all their friends are out with their own families and don’t care?
When I was back in Colorado, I could COUNT on receiving an invitation to go spend Christmas Day with at least three families – because they knew I was single and without local family. Do you know, the only such invitation I’ve recieved in 2 years here in California has been from NON-CHRISTIANS?
This year, it looks like I’d spend another Christmas Day at home. Alone. But I won’t. I refuse. I will get out and go to church. Even if it’s not my church. Perhaps my church shouldn’t be my church any more.
The “I’m okay with this, what’s your problem?” approach you have taken, Dan, is spiteful, proud, and selfish. Rather than asking, “where is the rule in the book?” can you not ask, “Who is hurt?” And if you cannot see who is hurt… take another look. Think like the SAMARITAN and not the PHARISEE!
I don’t think you read to the very end of the post. I addressed your exact situation.
If you’ve been around here long enough, you will know that I’ve also spoken to the fact that too many churches do a bad job with single people. I’ve also written about the “cult of family” issue you mentioned.
By that measure, I am less the pharisee than you would paint me to be.
The question of frequency of meeting IS an issue. The Hebrews passage tells us that we should not foresake meeting, but neither does it tell how often we should meet. In my post I note that Christians in the first century met far more often than we do, but even if they met every day, God is not in the mode of zapping people if they miss once. That’s not how Christianity works. Nor, as the Scriptures point out, does failing to meet altogether get a pass.
If you are not getting the regular fellowship you need because your church does not provide it, then I would consider finding another church. From what you describe, you don’t have that kind of church that makes certain people don’t get left out. If I were in your situation, I know of at least a half dozen church-related places that would have me on Christmas day if I had no other family. If that’s not available to you, then I would say that something is amiss and to consider a church/fellowship that better understands your need.
When I say that I’m okay with some churches not meeting on Christmas Sunday, I’m saying that strictly from a biblical injunction within the limits of freedom in Christ. This is not to say that churches aren’t blowing it by doing so. Again, in the end, I come down against churches that strand people due to fellowship problems within those churches.
If I knew where you lived in California, perhaps I could make recommendation for a church that would have a more vibrant fellowship that could better meet your felloshipping needs.
Good stuff, Dan. We were having a discussion about this on The Ooze, in the culture section. I posted your article on there.
I was raised (and still am) Catholic. I didn’t realize until the story broke about the mega-churches that other Christian faiths DIDN’T necessarily have Christmas services….I was kind of shocked, actually. Not go to Church on Christmas? That seems weird and just wrong to me.
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I think you’ve handled this gracefully.
The church I’m planting has decided to have a Christmas service a little earlier than our normal worship time and most in our group are happy with that.
I’d like to reference this post in my blog when I write about it later this week.