Lessons from Christmasgate: Sunday, December 25, 2022
I was a little taken back by all the debate and the spirit of the chatter about whether churches would cancel their Sunday worship on Christmas day this year or not. I guess, thankfully, this issue won't raise its head again for eleven years. However, next year Christmas Eve will land on Sunday, so maybe we will have a ChristmasEvegate? I hope not! Anyway, here a few thoughts on Christmasgate, now that the arguments have ceased.
The reason some churches cancelled Sunday worship is because they have unfortunately succumbed to the very thing we've tried for years to resist. I grew up in church. So, I've been hearing about the woes of "the commercialization of Christmas" since I was young enough to believe that Santa really knew if I had been good or bad. 2018 is when we started seeing churches exponentially increase the amount of Christmas Eve services they offered. (Some churches offered six or more in 2022). In addition, this year, some churches actually added a Christmas Eve, Eve service on December 23rd. But that's not all. If you viewed the social media advertisements, you noticed that these Christmas Eve services are becoming full-fledge productions! Amazing light shows. Kids who come are promised special gifts. Raffle drawings with expensive prizes are planned. Photo-booths are professionally set. And on-and-on! Understandably, a big reason some churches cancelled Christmas Sunday worship was clearly stated: "we are all going to be completely pooped after all those Christmas Eve services! So, we are going to give all of our volunteers Sunday off." Well, yeah! Evidently the craziness of the Christmas season, that we've been pushing-back on for years, has finally overtaken us. Sigh.
Another reason some churches cancelled Sunday worship on Christmas was due to conflating an outreach opportunity with Lord's Day worship. Outreach is key. Outreach is our mission. We do too little of it. Gathered, Sunday worship is commanded. It edifies, encourages and equips believers. We do too little of it. All the outreach that is happening on Christmas Eve is awesome! Gathering on Lord's Day, which was also Christmas Day, this year, was especially impactful. With that said, some churches cancelled Sunday worship on Christmas day because they confused evangelistic opportunities, like Christmas Eve, with the mandate for the church to gather for worship on Sundays. The two are not the same thing. We gather to worship on Sundays, and then we scatter in order to evangelize from Monday to Saturday. That should be the normal rhythm for the people of God. Make no mistake, Christmas Day falling on a Sunday exposed this confusion, it didn't create it. Most churches that lean more attractional rather than confessional tend to confuse these most of the time. So, when Christmas fell on a Sunday like it did this year, it was a no brainer what they would do. They would cancel the worship service on Sunday. After all, when outreach gatherings and worship gatherings are conflated, it does no harm to cancel one of them, was their thinking.
Be aware that your church's decisions do impact other gospel-preaching churches in your area. One of the reasons the Apostle Paul gave when he was seeking to persuade the Corinthians about the ethics of women and men wearing headgear in the church was "what other churches were practicing." While important denominational distinctives have caused our churches to worship separately, we still must steward our decisions carefully because those decisions impact other churches. On Christmas Sunday this year, I found it disappointing to meet family after family from other local churches that were joining us for worship only because their churches had cancelled Christmas Sunday worship.
We should be careful of becoming self-righteous because we did host worship on Sunday, December 25th, 2022. The other side. While I'm completely convinced that churches should not have cancelled Lord's Day gathering because it was Christmas Day, I can easily demonstrate a self-righteous spirit with my position. While I personally wish churches would not have cancelled Christmas Sunday services (reasons stated above), I have a responsibility not to judge them as an unspiritual believer because we disagree. If they have abandoned Lord's Day worship entirely, that's another issue, for sure. But short of that, I must show deference to other churches, pastors and believers by how I speak about those who made a decision with which I disagree. (Romans 14:1-15:7). I want to encourage those of us who didn't cancel worship on Christmas Sunday, to not blow a trumpet on the street corner, so that everyone knows about it. If you did, you have your reward.
And may God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit abundantly bless our gathered worship on Sunday, December 25th, 2033.