The Evangelical Burying of Good Friday


'The Crucifixion' by Matthias Grünewald (detail of the Isenheim Alterpiece)With Holy Week now concluded, I was pondering what appears to be the demise of the local Good Friday service in my community. It used to be that the local churches near my little town would combine to host a Good Friday service, but I heard nothing about it this year. The large (for our area) Pentecostal church of which I am a member does not hold its own Good Friday service, but we did host the traveling community service now and then.

Having grown up in the Lutheran Church, which firmly places Good Friday among the most “holy” dates of the year, the day retains great meaning for me. Since leaving that denomination, I’ve wandered through more traditionally evangelical churches. Almost universally, those evangelical churches have had an indifferent relationship with Good Friday. Scant few held their own Good Friday meeting, and if they did, it always felt more haphazard than those I was used to in the Lutheran Church.

Over the years, even those evangelical churches that DID have a Good Friday meeting seem to have let it slide into oblivion.

I talked with a Roman Catholic last Good Friday evening and we tried to come up with some reason for the evangelical burying of Good Friday, but we came to no good conclusions.

As much as some evangelicals talk about the cross, Good Friday for them is a curious nonevent. And I have no idea why.

Do you have an answer as to why Good Friday has gone missing? What are your thoughts on the downgrade of Good Friday among evangelicals? Have you noticed the date sliding into oblivion in your church or community? Why do think this may be happening (or not happening, depending on your local situation)?

I miss celebrating Good Friday together with other believers. Though I no longer consider myself an evangelical, the majority of my Christian life has been spent in evangelical churches, and I don’t see that changing. I hope someone in evangelicalism starts working to place Good Friday in its proper context for the 21st century.

20 thoughts on “The Evangelical Burying of Good Friday

  1. I’m older than you Dan and still remember our church taking part in a Good Friday service. I moved to this little town and the churches did do that until some pastors got a burr up their butt and decided to withdraw from the local ministerial association. The church I pastor had a worship night this past Friday. 1 1/2 hours of worship, music and testimonies. God was at work.

    • Good for you, Bill. I think that one of the missing elements in evangelicalism is contemplation, and Good Friday is the most contemplative of all Christian “holy days.”

  2. Heartspeak

    Dan, I grew up in an evangelical church and while we did SS, worship services, Sunday night services and mid-week prayer services, we never did Good Friday services. I do remember my father attending one once at another church but it just wasn’t in our consciousness.

    I later spent a number of years in a Lutheran church and experienced the power and tradition in that and have come to value it a bit more.

    So from all that, I’d say that Evangelicals tend to be a bit more determined to be ‘free’ of the ritualism that special services tend to engender. It may be more from a stubborn pride than anything and now it just isn’t in their repertoire so to speak.

    That said, I’ve actually thought that it might be making a bit more of a comeback rather than going away. But then, I haven’t frequented too many evangelical churches of late! It is celebrated/practiced/remembered a bit more in churches that aren’t the traditional mainstream evangelical denominations.

    • Heartspeak,

      I can see younger evangelicals pushing the “authenticity” envelope to include a greater importance for Good Friday. That said, the Baby Boomers and Gen X are still in charge, and they don’t seem as enamored of it. Gen Y and Millennials, perhaps.

  3. ccinnova

    I belong to an evangelical Anglican church, and Holy Week services are still important in our congregation. The church held services on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, although I was unable to attend since I work evening shift.

    As for other evangelical churches, I suspect they may consider Good Friday services too closely connected to Catholicism. My eyes were opened last fall when I attended a potluck dinner and movie review at an evangelical megachurch hosting one of the few singles ministries in our area. The discussion facilitator stated their church didn’t host nativity scenes because they considered them too closely linked to the Catholic deification of Mary. That was startling.

    • ccinnova,

      The Catholic connection may be it, but that didn’t seem to be as big an issue 30 years ago, when more evangelical churches DID have Good Friday services AND the RCC was considered more “threatening” to Protestants. I think most Protestants today have an indifferent view of Catholics. I’ll think on what you wrote.

  4. Jeff

    Dan, I attended a Good Friday service at a local congregational church this year (it was a Tenebrae style service). It was a contemplative service and the speaker urged us to linger for awhile at the cross before jumping ahead to Easter. It was a good break from the typical Sunday services that I normally attend and a good opportunity to reflect upon the cross.

    A couple years ago you wrote a good post on the opposite problem, too:

    My thoughts are that some of the seeker type churches are likely to downplay Good Friday by either not having a service or instead, sentimentalizing the cross. Either way, it’s a disservice to the church community not to set aside a day to focus on Christ’s death.

  5. Jeff,

    Hoisted by my own petard!

    Actually, if we’re going to dwell on the cross, Good Friday is most definitely the day to do it!

    I wonder if the people leading these churches today didn’t grow up with a Good Friday service themselves, so they don’t perpetuate it.

  6. I’m afraid I’m a bit cynical: in a world obsessed with success (including among Christians), few are interested in stopping to contemplate seeking defeat and death. The last Good Friday service I went to was in a Pentecostal church, and it felt more like an Easter Sunday a service – the message was all about resurrection and victory.

  7. Stu

    Could it be that amongst some evangelicals, the belief that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday as opposed to a Friday as Catholics believe, factor into your question? Jn 19:31 states that the Sabbath following Jesus’ death was a high or special Sabbath; not the usual weekly one. This timeline would also be more consistent with Jesus’ own proclamation that he would be in the heart of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights according to Matt 12:40.

  8. David P

    A few reasons:

    1) We’re always too busy and have something else going on, even Friday nights. Sunday night gatherings and mid-week gatherings are almost a thing of the past. It would make sense that non-Sunday services would be next.

    2) How would they commemorate Good Friday? With so much of our theology coming from our worship music, it’s hard to find anything on the suffering of Jesus in CCM. Yes, a lot of “Jesus is awesome so we’re awesome” songs are out there, and there’s a few good Easter songs, but Jesus suffering along with creation? There’s not much outside of Fernando Ortega (also an Anglican), a few Lutherans, and Catholics.

    2a) Also, there’s actually a “worship” song out now that brags that Jesus isn’t hanging on a cross or in a manger anymore, so we shouldn’t be thinking about Jesus like that I guess. Nevermind that one of the most profound aspects of Christ’s life on earth was his death – giving up his life willingly and all of the prophecies leading up to that point.

    3) We’re captives to our culture. How do you market Good Friday services? A mega-church pastor might zipline into church on Easter Sunday, and the kickin’ worship band might play “Highway to Hell.” A startup might give away IPads or make some reference to a TV show on Zombies (of course, all of these are real examples!). How do you sell solemn grief and injustice, contemplating our sin and the greatness of God? How do you interpret Jesus failing to carry his own cross and failing to walking upright when we’ve followed the world’s example of exalting “leadership” and self-empowerment for so many of our sermons and songs?

    • Heartspeak

      Market Good Friday services? MARKET Good Friday services???

      (somehow if it’s a matter of marketing, then I suspect we’re missing the point )

      • David P

        Please note I was being facetious 😉 As someone who goes to a small liturgical church, marketing ANY service is a foreign concept.

        But our culture tells us that if it’s worthwhile it can be marketed…

        • Heartspeak

          As was I (mostly ;-). Readers of CS tend not to be too ‘into’ marketing and ‘conventiional wisdom’— thankfully!

  9. Diane R

    I don’t remember any evangelical church out here in my Los Angeles area doing this. That is probably because the liberal Protestants owned the community Good Friday services everywhere here (this is NOT the Bible Belt) and the evangelicals really didn’t wish to join with them.

  10. Gary Warrick

    Dan: Thanks for this post! My wife and I attended a Good Friday service, but it was about Easter as was mentioned above. But I was struck by your comment that you do not consider yourself and evangelical. What does that mean and what would you consider yourself? I would call myself a follower of Jesus or servant of the Lord, even though I would align myself in some ways with evangelical thought. Is this what you mean? Thanks for your response!! Gary Warrick

  11. Chuck

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I greatly appreciate all the candid and enlightening comments.
    Dan, When you left the Lutheran church, you may have run in the wrong direction. Good Friday is alive and well in the Catholic Church (most parishes have two Masses on Holy Thursday, two services on Good Friday and an amazing Mass for the Easter Vigil. Some Catholics (too few) make a point to attend both Holy Thursday and Good Friday as well as go to confession as a way of preparing for the biggest day of the liturgical year —Easter.

    We do this not out of an obsession with death or grimness, but because it is good to take time and focus on the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. (Our Jewish brothers do this on Yom Kippur). Far from eclipsing the day of resurrection, Holy Week (and the entire season of Lent) is designed to fully prepare us for that event.
    Celebrating the resurrection without grappling with suffering, may be a trend that dovetails with the way Americans think nowadays. We don’t like suffering. We don’t like guilt.
    Catholicism always was and always will be countercultural —we are constantly reminded that good comes from suffering and as Christians, we are asked to take up our own crosses to follow him. We can take no active part in Christ’s resurrection (we only receive the saving grace).
    Many of us Catholics are astounded at what we see (or hear) happening at evangelical churches. We are slowly recognizing that active participation, community sharing and fervor plays a great role in a healthy spiritual life, and the Catholic Church has been slow to pick up on it.
    There is a new evangelical spirit in the Church led by recent Popes and internet juggernauts like Father Barron, Brandon Vogt, and Matthew Kelly.
    We are hoping for all the best God can offer: a Holy Church where God is alive and burning in the hearts of the faithful, but still always present in the Eucharist, the gospel, the Church’s rich traditions and her leadership.

    Thanks for the great post: Have a blessed Holy Week!

  12. Chuck

    Correction: The Jewish faithful accentuate “atonement” on Yom Kippur, which is somewhat analogous to our sacrament of confession and thematically linked to Holy Week. Of course, this predates Christ’s suffering. I need to proofread better!

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