Several megachurches, in West Michigan and nationally, are getting mixed reviews in response to their decision to forgo Sunday services Christmas morning.
Many people have praised leaders in these churches for their sensitivity to family interests. Still others have criticized what they consider a lapse in spiritual commitment and a loss of a spiritual opportunity. Some people believe churches that close their doors on Christmas morning are simply demonstrating common sense, while other people are accusing these churches of kowtowing to secularist trends. Some people think churches planning to close on Christmas morning are admirably displaying a “big view of God and his work in the world.” Meanwhile these same churches are being cited for contempt of Christian tradition, irreverence, and a direct violation of “What would Jesus do?”
What seems lost in most of the commentary I have read is mutual respect and a consciousness that “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” And, therefore, that we should “stop passing judgment on one another.”
Whether to hold church services on Christmas morning is a classic Christian liberty issue if there ever was one. So Christians in any given church ought to be given the space to make a decision about when they schedule services without having their faith called into question.
Scripture tells us that we should “not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25), but nowhere does the Word of God mandate how often per week and on what day of the week we should gather for worship. When we meet, where we meet, how often we meet, what times we meet, how our services are structured, how long the services last—all these matters are left to our devising. Our patterns are more cultural than doctrinal.
Most of the churches that plan to dispense with services Christmas morning are also planning special or additional services during this coming week or the days after Christmas. So they will offer more spiritual programming during the Christmas season than less. Criticizing these churches, then, simply on the basis of their closed doors on Sunday morning seems self-righteous and legalistic. Citing one’s own plans to attend church on Sunday morning as a basis for one’s criticism is not much better. That tactic is what some might call “holier than thou.”
Some people have also accused No-Service-Christmas churches for “placing God second and families first.” This is an oft-repeated but not always applicable argument. In other words, it is possible to worship or to lift up something in our lives other than God. People do this everyday. It’s called idolatry, and we do it with everything from materialism, to recreation and hobbies, food, sex, golf, you name it.
It’s also possible to engage in an activity other than church, Christian service, ministry, etc. and honor God by doing so. Scripture tells us that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Scripture also says that Christ should be given the place of “supremacy” in all things (Colossians 1:18). So here’s how that works: It’s possible to go to church on Christmas Sunday morning with a carnal heart and in no way glorify God and in no way give him supremacy in what we are doing. It’s also possible, in fact divinely expected, for us to “put God first” in whatever we are doing (as long as our activity does not itself violate the moral will of God).
We don’t need to go on a guilt trip wondering if God is in third, second, or first place. He’s always supposed to be in first place “in” and “through” everything we are doing. If he is, then the rest of our priorities will take care of themselves.
In the Old Testament, through the prophet Samuel God reminded King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Meaning: a contrite worshipful heart trumps religious ritual every time. Saul never got it.
God further clarified this truth a bit later in the appointment of the shepherd King David, saying “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
On Christmas Sunday morning God will look not so much at whether we are in church as whether we have the right heart toward him.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
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