Oddly enough, the decision regarding whether Christians should gather for worship on Christmas morning has become controversial and even contested in some circles. I believe local churches should generally meet on Christmas. But before we discuss why, let’s stop and extend grace to four categories of Christians whose consciences should not be bound by this year’s church calendar’s concerns.
Who Can Skip/Cancel Church This Christmas?
First, I am not talking to those who must dig through 50 inches of snow this Christmas morning to get to church. If you are snowed-in, God’s grace extends to you as it does to shut-ins, those sitting in jail for their faith, and others who find themselves physically kept from worship by God’s providential hand. Instead of condemning such souls, I believe we should empathize with them. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body (Heb. 13:3).” When God providentially keeps us from meeting, we have the freedom to cancel or miss services.
Secondly, I am not addressing those who are traveling this Christmas season. If you are attending Aunt Sally’s church instead of your home church, well done! Praise the Lord for the opportunity to experience another part of God’s kingdom!
Thirdly, I am not talking to those who gather for worship on days other than Sunday. Though the early church generally met on Sundays to commemorate the Jesus’s resurrection which took place on the first day of the week, neither the apostles nor Jesus commanded believers to worship on that day. They did the opposite and gave us freedom. As Paul told the Colossian churches, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath (Col 3:16).” Local congregations have the freedom in Christ to worship on Saturday, Friday, or any other day of the week that they so choose. Such congregations should feel no pressure to change their worship service to accommodate the church calendar, however, helpful it may or may not be. If this is you, this is not your conversation.
Lastly, I am not addressing first-responders, soldiers, and others who must work on Christmas morning. Though as believers we should be slow to give up congregational worship, we should also extend grace to those who must work on Sundays to care for others or to protect the civil order. In Matthew 12:12, Jesus clearly stated that those protecting the innocent, healing the sick, and generally loving their neighbor can be graciously excused from worship at times. The sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. We should also freely extend such grace to those who miss services because they choose to care for a loved one in hospice or because they decided to stop and help their neighbor change a flat tire. If this is you, this is not your conversation.
Who Should Not Cancel Church?
So, who am I speaking to? I am speaking to those who will skip church on Christmas because of their church culture or societal concerns. The first group will cancel church on Christmas or skip their church’s Christmas service because their church’s parade of special programs in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas has exhausted them. They will pass on church to get some R&R and to enjoy some quality family time.
The second group will cancel church not because they have worn people thin, but rather because of social pressure. They will close because they fear (and perhaps legitimately so) that they will not have enough people to help in the nursery or to set up chairs or to lead music. Many of their key leaders will travel this holiday season. Others will not come because their extended families have guilted them into attending the family dinner in place of Sunday worship.
The Purpose and Power of Sunday
But these two lines of reasoning fail to account for the purpose of the church and its power. Why does the local church get together? To borrow from the Reformers of old, the local church gathers to facilitate the preaching of the word and to practice the sacraments. And if we understand both baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be mini sermons of their own and understand the singing of songs to contain an element of communal preaching, we could simplify the definition above even further and say that the church exists to preach the gospel. To borrow from the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:11 and 13, the elders of the church are to, “Command and teach these things… [and] Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” The church exists to save and to edify through preaching. As the next letter to from Paul to Timothy makes clear such ministry is to happen both “in season and out of season (1 Tim. 4:2).” Even this Christmas season.
Secondly if we arrive at December 25 and find ourselves too exhausted to worship or fearful of what will happen when we have fewer volunteers, I suspect we have forgotten that the success of service resides not in us but in Christ. Yes, we may be short staffed on Christmas. Our execution may not be up to our usual standards of greatness (whatever that might be). We may have wiggly preschoolers, mismatched chairs, and off-key songs. Distractions and challenges may abound. But that should not stop us.
What does Christ require of us? Does he require perfectly synced transitions and complex worship arrangements? No, he requires us to faithfully preach the Word through sermons, sacraments, and song. A sermon poorly delivered that faithfully presents the gospel will do far more for the soul than Rudolph, white elephant gifts, and apple cider. Remember how Spurgeon came to faith under the preaching of a clumsy lay preacher who spent most of his sermon simply rereading Isaiah 45:22, offering only the most basic of reflections. Still that unnamed man’s faithfulness in a midst of a snowstorm that had prevented his pastor from reaching church and Spurgeon from reaching his home church produced amazing fruit. Friends, the success of the gospel’s proclamation depends not upon our skill nor upon how many are in the room but upon Christ. God’s Word is powerful and will not return void even if culture is against us (Is 55:11).
Moreover, the refusal to meet to worship will leave those who feel the pressures to abandon Christ for the sake of family tradition more venerable to cares of the world and to sorrow. For as Christ makes clear, life comes not through identifying with family but with Christ. He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:37-39).” Let’s meet this Christmas and encourage the weak and the wavering to find the joy of Christ afresh which comes through a clean conscience shaped by obedience to the Word! Let’s preach the Word!
A Heart For Worship
In other words, the heartbeat of the Christian should be to worship! We are saved not to go off and meditate with our biological family as we sit around a fake tree but to worship Christ in the great assembly of His sons and daughters who have been adopted from every age and every people group. When faced with the choice to worship or not to worship, the believer (and those covenant groupings of believers known as local churches) should by default choose to come and worship Christ the newborn king if they can physically do so (See above for a list of exceptions). Or to quote King David, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” Worshiping Jesus on Christmas should not be a burden but the greatest joy…a privilege to be cherished!
In other words, I believe most churches should meet this Christmas!