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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas on a Sunday Spells Controversy

Well, a huge firestorm has erupted over the issue of churches cancelling services on December 25 this year. I've read a lot, commented on a couple blogs, and thought a lot about this topic before finally taking the time (more like finding the time!) to post here about it.

Here's the issue: It seems that some rather large, well-known churches decided to cancel their Sunday services because they felt it would be better to let their staff and volunteers spend time with their families on that day. I'm sure it's not just those big churches. I would guess that a lot of churches, even smaller ones, have faced the question of whether or not to hold regular services on that day. But for some reason, this has touched a huge nerve among a lot of bloggers. And for me, it has highlighted some of the concerns I have about the institutional church's mindset.

First, the bloggers that are talking about it. The Internet Monk, of course, put his thoughts out there. JollyBlogger (one of the ones I regularly read) posted two posts about it: This one, and this followup. (Update: I'm not sure what is happening with JollyBlogger's blog, but today [Dec 16, 2006] several of the recent posts were suddenly missing and the "followup" link I posted claims the article doesn't exist. Very strange...) In his posts, David Wayne (JollyBlogger) references several other blogs who have dealt with it. A Google blog search shows over 2,000 blog entries talking about this! I have no idea what the ratio of positive to negative posts is, but it gives the impression from the sampling I've read that about 98% of the posts written on this topic are coming down against the churches who have chosen to cancel. Comments are being made such as these representative quotes:

I think those three quotes right there give a pretty good indication of what is being said. And each time I read quotes like that, I get a very uneasy feeling inside. Not a feeling like "maybe they have a point", but a feeling like "something is terribly wrong with this picture." And it's not the cancelling of services that I feel is terribly wrong. It's the debate itself.

I'm not sure if I'm just not cut out for these online debates, or if my concerns really are legitimate, but I always get the feeling that when blogs put out these sorts of topics (primarily, I'm referring to Christian blogs here because that's the world I spend my time reading), issues are presented as extreme dichotomies of choices.

Now for those of you who know me, that may sound odd because I'm not normally a "gray area" kind of guy. I'm a right/wrong, black/white, either/or. However, it really is important to me that the choices being presented are accurate representations of the choices available. And that is what I feel is lacking here in this discussion about cancelling church services on Christmas Day.

The choices that are being presented in most discussions about this topic are: Either worship Christ at a formal church service, or sell out to the secularization of Christmas. But those are not the only valid options in this situation, and we do a great disservice to the dialogue by presenting it as such!

There are several presuppositions behind this issue that need to be addressed:

  1. Worship can only take place in a church building
  2. Worship must take place on a Sunday
  3. Cancelling a worship service that is normally scheduled means that one will not be worshiping
  4. Corporate church experience must be put above family worship experiences and interaction
  5. Cancelling a church service means that the Gospel will not be preached, and souls may be lost for eternity as a result (this point was made in the comments section of the Internet Monk post I linked to above)

These are not the only presuppositions at play, but they do comprise the bulk of the issue that I have seen. I think that these presuppositions illustrate much of what is faulty about the instituational church mentality. With the exception of number 2 above (the importance of Sunday worship) -- I understand the basics of how some believers arrive at the conclusion that Sunday is the Sabbath for Christians, and I respect their views on that -- I find that these presuppositions are not derived from reading of Scripture, but are mere traditions of men.

Jesus said it very well in John 4 when He said that God was seeking those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth. The context of that comment, in a discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, was the issue of whether or not people should worship in a particular location. The Samaritan woman noted the different beliefs of Samaritans vs. pure-blooded Jews, and Jesus said that a time was coming, and now was, in which the location was not the issue, but the heart. (Actually, the Old Testament prophets made it clear that the heart was always the issue, but it became more apparent through Jesus's teaching, in my opinion.)

So worship can, and should, take place outside a church building. If we believe that we can only truly worship with the Body of Christ in a church building, we have missed the whole message of Christ being "God with us" -- Emmanuel. Jesus said that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there with us. This was a very different relationship with the Almighty than people experienced in the Old Testament. They did not have the indwelling Christ. We do. That is a fact that is often overlooked in our churches that are built on the model of the Old Testament system of worship.

Well, I've written enough about this for now, I think. Perhaps I'll follow it up at a later point, but for now, I'll throw it open to you for comments. Am I missing something? Have I overlooked a key aspect to this debate? What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

steve :)

3 comment(s):

Wow, only 2% of bloggers are saying it's okay? Well, I'm one of the minorities then. I just think it's silly that so much fuss is being made over a holiday that is not even Jesus' real birthday. ;) My post is here:

http://www.messychristian.com/archives/2005/12/church_not_havi.htm

By Anonymous Messy Christian, at Friday, December 16, 2005 7:03:00 AM  

Amen, messy christian. Steve noted "where two or more are..." and that stirkes me as the core issue. Church only takes a gathering of two, yet we spend billions on special "houses of worship" and get all bent out of shape if our image of the practice of holiness within these walls is given short shrift. Does anybody else recognize the self-imposed self-importance of such?

ded

By Anonymous ded, at Friday, December 16, 2005 8:33:00 AM  

Right on, messy and ded. Glad to have your comments here. I can't find the exact passage right now (I was looking for it for a post I created this morning, and couldn't find it), but I know there is a place in the Old Testament where God expresses extreme frustration and disgust with the sacrifices of the nation of Israel.

Now, this is really odd, considering He was the One Who asked for those sacrifices in the first place. But His frustration came from the fact that they were going through the motions without the heart attitude.

I think, in a lot of ways, this applies to this topic of Sunday worship, and even more specifically to Sunday worship on Dec 25. If we go through the outward motions of "worship" in our fancy buildings, and don't have the right heart of worship (see John 4:24), then God is not pleased at all. In fact, He is more likely to be disgusted with it all.

Thanks again for commenting, both of you. Great to see some interaction!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, December 19, 2005 10:54:00 AM  

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