Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Skipping Church on Christmas Sunday?
Here's a simple little quiz for you:
1. Whose name serves as the root of the word "Christian"?
2. Whose birth do Protestants traditionally celebrate on December 25?
3. Where do Christians usually gone on Sundays, and why?
And no, these aren't trick questions. Christians ostensibly follow Someone named Christ, after Who's name their faith is called.
Although Jesus Christ was born probably in March or April, we've historically celebrated His birth on December 25.
And most Christians set aside the first day of our calendar's weeks to worship Christ corporately, in recognition of His resurrection, which took place on a Sunday.
You knew those, right? See? No tricks.
Here are some more basics that you already know. It's not a Christian law, for example, that we worship on Sundays, or that we can only worship on Sundays. Nor is it a Christian law that we observe the birth of Christ on December 25 - or that we officially observe it at all. In fact, some Christ-followers simply do not celebrate Christmas, since the holiday is what's called "extra-Biblical", or something that is not mandated or even suggested in the Bible.
The author of the Bible book, Hebrews, encourages Christ-followers to "not forsake the assembling of yourselves" with the implication being that we should meet corporately on a regular basis. But what is "regular"?
Historically, Christians have met corporately on a daily basis. Through the centuries, in some traditions, the number of times per week was whittled down to twice on Sundays and once during the middle of the week. Then Sunday night church fell out of favor. Then Wednesday night church. Meaning that currently, most congregations only get together once a week, on Sunday mornings. If you're a hip, trendy church, you have Saturday night church. And technically, at least, it's all good, as the kids say.
Considering the fact that many Christ-followers outside of North America are grateful to be able to meet together whenever they can - whether it's on a Sunday or not - the actual day of the week isn't terribly important when it comes to doing church. Still, the symbolism of Sundays is most prevalent in parts of the world where freedom of religion is the most widely available. (And, perhaps, taken for granted?)
Now, regular readers of my blog will remember that I don't hold church attendance sacrosanct. There are times when I get tired of church and the type of pretentions in which churched people tend to wallow. We can get so caught up in the programming and the social dynamics within a congregation that our motives fall out of their proper focus on Christ, and more on the logistics of doing church in a post-Christian culture. Over the years, I've come to wonder how big the gulf likely is between what New Testament writers considered church would look like, and what we've contrived it into being. We've turned "the assembling of ourselves" into a vast evangelical industrial complex, and it hasn't proven to be entirely beneficial to our holy worship of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
So this is not a lecture on the sanctity of church attendance.
Nevertheless, whether we're ready or not, we're brought this year to the issue of whether or not your church is holding worship services this coming Christmas, December 25th, which happens to fall on a Sunday. And, frankly, if your church isn't holding services on December 25th because it's Christmas Day, then why does your church exist at all?
We get this same debate every time our observance of Christ's birth - now known mostly as International Toy Distribution Day - falls on a Sunday. And the triviality with which many church-goers treat the Namesake of their presumed religion is dismaying. If you're going to celebrate Christ, and if we normally celebrate His birth, is doing so mutually exclusive of our corporate worship of Him? Especially on the day of the week when we'd normally do it?
Then again, if your church is having a Christmas Eve event, which this year would be on a Saturday night, is it legit for you to do the Christmas Eve thing and skip the Christmas morning gig? After all, you still get to check off the church box for the weekend. Otherwise, wouldn't you be risking the drudgery of spending twice the amount of time at church than you'd ordinarily spend on a weekend, and especially on a Christmas holiday?
After all, vacation days don't grow on trees.
Like many things about our personal faith in Jesus Christ, it's not so much what we do that can be right or wrong, but why we do what we do. Our motivations for doing some things, or not doing others. God knows those, even if we try to hide them from ourselves, and others.
Some people go to church whenever its doors are open because they want to piously check-off those church attendance boxes. Worship is a secondary motivation at best, and often not even secondary. And that's not good.
Meanwhile, some people will have to work straight through the Christmas holiday weekend, and won't be able to attend any church services, even though they might really want to - and for all the right reasons.
So whether your church is holding worship services on Sunday, December 25, isn't itself the question. The question is why a Christian church wouldn't hold worship services on this particular Sunday.
Would it be because too many congregants wouldn't be attending? And why wouldn't congregants be attending church services on Sunday, December 25? Would it be because they want to spend time with family? Around a tree decorated with ornaments and partially buried behind boxes wrapped in colored paper?
After all, there's nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with one's family, even when we don't really make doing so a priority during most other times of the year. There's nothing inherently wrong with decorated trees, either, even if the historical baggage behind the pagan ritual is problematic for Christians. There's nothing wrong with gifts, and there's certainly nothing wrong with giving gifts.
Then, too, many Americans don't spend Veteran's Day concentrating on veterans. Most Americans don't attend a patriotic ceremony commemorating our war dead on Memorial Day. We generally only pay token homage to our country on July 4. We almost certainly don't go to a church service on these days, unless Independence Day happens to fall on a Sunday. So why should Christmas Day be any different?
That's not a trick question either.
Meanwhile, of all the people who observe Christmas, even in our hedonistic culture, if one claims to be a follower of the holiday's Namesake, what does an empty church on Sunday, December 25, say about the faith of the people who ordinarily attend that church?
Doesn't relevance matter? Not Christianity's relevance to our culture. But our faith's relevance to our demonstration of it?
Not because we must attend church on Sunday, December 25. But because we actually want to.