Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.
No Services on Christmas Sunday??
It seems churches today are willing to bend over backwards in an attempt to accommodate their members. The mega-churches typically have multiple services with various worship styles. But who would have dreamed that several of the largest congregations in the United States would actually cancel their services on Christmas Sunday in an effort to be “lifestyle friendly” and not be a hindrance to family Christmas activities?
Elaine Spencer reports in The Christian Post on December 7, 2005:
This year, Christmas may be cold or at least quieter for the thousands who attend several evangelical megachurches across the country. Some of America’s largest churches are closing their doors on Christmas day, which this year falls on Sunday, to accommodate to the lifestyles of their congregants.
Among those slated to close its doors on Christmas day is Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago’s largest congregation and one of the top five largest in the nation.
“It’s more than being family friendly. It’s being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy,” said Cally Parkinson, spokesperson for Willow Creek, to the Associated Press. Some lifestyle-friendly adjustments include bunching up the services on Christmas Eve instead.
According to the Associated Press, megachurch officials around the country consulted with each other before deciding to take the day off. On this list include Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, and the Fellowship Church near Dallas, TX.
Supporters of the move say it frees up time for the church staff and church members to focus on commemorating Christmas at home.
“At first glance it does sound contrarian,” said the Rev. Gene Appel, senior pastor of Willow Creek, to the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas at home, hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day.”
However, some scholars criticized the move, saying it’s the day of the week, Sunday, that is sacred to the evangelical faithful.
“This speaks to the dilapidated state of evangelical faith today,” said David Wells, a professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, to the Tribune. “That we would think that going to church is getting in the way of celebrating Christmas, that the family celebration shouldn’t be impeded by having to go to church, it seems to me that our priorities are upside down.”
For the most part, the megachurches have survived the decision relatively unscathed. At Southland, for example, only a handful of complaints were called in, and only two inquired about the closures at Willow Creek.
According to James Bratt, a historian at Calvin College, this general acceptance reflects a shift in how relevant Evangelicals are becoming to the secular culture.
“It’s a sign of how totally identified with the culture (evangelicals have) become,” Bratt said. “The church has subordinated to cultural icons, and family is one of them…. The logic of that is you should celebrate the holiday in its true sanctuary, which is the home.”
For those who wish to celebrate the holiday with the church family, doors to other evangelical churches across the nation will generally remain open.
Yes, there has been some flak since this became generally known through the Associated Press. Allie Martin and Jennie Parker report on Agape Press on December 4, 2005:
Some Christian leaders feel some U.S. churches are bowing to secular culture by not having worship services on Christmas Day this year. Recently, a number of mega-churches across the nation announced that they are canceling their services on Sunday, December 25, saying they expect low turnout or want to allow members to spend time with their families on the holiday….
However, some Christian leaders have criticized these churches’ decisions, declaring it is unthinkable to close the doors of God’s house on the Lord’s Day, and perhaps particularly so when that day is also the Lord’s birthday. While some pastors argue that the decision to close is a matter of putting family relationships first, Fuller Theological Seminary’s Professor Robert Johnson has voiced strong objections to the idea of redefining Christmas as a family celebration rather than a commemoration of the Savior’s birth. And Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries told the Miami Herald that Christians need to “think carefully” before abandoning worship services that day, “especially when many churches are rightly blaming retailers and business for ignoring Christmas.”
California pastor and Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur agrees. In fact, he believes a consumer mentality may be to blame for what he sees as a disrespectful or even sacrilegious move on the part of these churches that are opting to cancel services on Christmas.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” MacArthur says. He proceeds to demonstrate the irony, commenting, “You certainly wouldn’t want to have a church service interrupt a celebration of Christ’s birth, I guess. What kind of thinking is that?”
Many churches intending to close on Christmas Day have planned multiple services in the days leading up to the holiday this year. Still, MacArthur insists, “I can’t think of anything more perfect than to have Christmas on a Sunday. That’s like, the best plan possible—to come and celebrate the birth of Christ by worshipping Him. To me, that’s so obvious….”
Those churches that are choosing to forego gathering for worship on Christmas Sunday are exercising flawed judgment, MacArthur contends. “To me it is indication of the superficiality, the shallowness, and the disinterest in really worshipping Christ—disinterest in truly exalting Him,” he says.
Despite widespread criticism, Pastor Jon Weese of Southland Christian Church in Kentucky has defended his church’s decision to cancel its December 25 services. In an AP report, he was quoted as saying that the Lord Jesus Himself was also criticized by people who “emphasized religion over relationship.”
What I find especially striking is that most of the criticism regarding this cancellation of Christmas Sunday services by some of the prominent mega-churches concerns Christmas and its celebration. There may be discussion and debate concerning the necessity of observing, by public worship services, special days such as Christmas. In the Reformed tradition, this matter is settled by the Church Order of Dordrecht, which is essentially the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Article 67 of our church order states that “the churches shall observe, in addition to the Sunday, also Christmas….”
But what is outrageous in the closing of these church doors is that they are being closed onSunday! This bespeaks an increasingly common attitude toward the Lord’s Day and corporate worship—the attitude that relationships and family activities should take precedence over public worship. Sunday becomes “family day.” Yet very little of the criticism regarding this cancellation of worship services concerns the fact that this is Sunday, the Lord’s Day! That Lord’s Day worship services should be cancelled for family Christmas festivities is an abomination! Worship services are at the very heart of the keeping of the fourth commandment. The Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 38, explains our calling well: “that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God….”
Another Attempt to Ban Spanking
This is not the first time Canada’s spanking laws have been called into question. In 2004, after numerous court challenges, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the spanking law does not violate the rights of children. The Canadian Criminal Code currently states that any schoolteacher, parent, or person standing in place of the parent is justified in using reasonable force by way of correction of a pupil or child. But an anti-spanking law is central to the plans of the social engineers who are creating the New Canada.
Consequently the Canadian Senate found itself debating the issue once again this past summer. Introduced as Senate Bill S-21, the bill seeks to criminalize spanking as a form of discipline. Ted Byfield, columnist in Western Standard magazine, comments in the July 11, 2005 issue:
It is part of the lunatic attack on parental rights by people who, in the main, have no children themselves—being so frightfully busy with their nation-building careers—and who are bent on telling those who do have them how they want those children raised….
Meanwhile, would some of these far-seeing nation builders please explain something? Would they try to produce a convincing answer to a simple question that I have never once seen any of them address: why is it that the more we preach and legislate non-violence, the more violent our society becomes?
That is, 50 years ago, when nearly all children were spanked by their parents for misbehavior and routinely strapped in class for breaking known rules, we had no instances of juvenile mass mayhem; we did not have kids performing drive-by shootings; we did not have police assigned to high schools; we had very few teachers terrorized by their students.
But now, after at least 25 years of the “new education,” wherein all physical discipline is denounced and withdrawn, many schools have become, as the saying goes, “unfit for human habitation,” centers for drug trafficking, where some kids feel it necessary to go armed.
Could it be that the people who made these supposedly enlightened changes were handicapped by a fundamentally flawed perception of human nature? They seemingly believed that human beings are instinctively “nice”—so nice that if they removed the strap from the classroom, and the swat stick from the parent, and filled the police department with sympathetic “youth specialists,” transforming cops into social workers, then every errant childhood tendency would simply disappear. Every youth would automatically become gentle, loving, tolerant, and utterly “non-violent.”
Well, it didn’t happen. They have produced instead, to a distressing degree, the precise opposite. They do not understand what people are really like.
How true! Who today will reckon with the sad reality that children, also our children, have inherited a “vicious nature.” They are conceived and born in sin. Even as regenerated children, they have an old man of sin, just as we do. That means that a “time-out” doesn’t always cut it. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15).