Sunday vs. December Twenty-Fifth

mcchurch.jpgWhat can be said that hasn’t already been said about the surprisingly widespread practice among churches of a certain size and disposition of cancelling Sunday services this year because they happen to conflict with the Feast of Our Lords’ Nativity, a.k.a., Christmas? Amy Welborn tackles it here. Terry Mattingly at GetReligion shakes his head here. (Ack! Even while I was typing this I see that Jim Kushiner of Touchstone’s Mere Comments reports on the story by way of the Middle West’s “Paper of Record”.) Get the seminal, lowly, and unassuming Louisville Courier-Journal article here, from which I quote:

Southland Christian Church near Lexington is joining several evangelical megachurches across the country in canceling services for the holiday, which this year falls on a Sunday.

Officials at the church, where about 7,000 people worship each week, said the move is designed to allow staff members and volunteers to spend the holiday with their families.

The Detroit Free Press, in expanded coverage, adds this bit to the story:

“It’s more than being family friendly. It’s being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy,” said Willow Creek spokeswoman Cally Parkinson.

What can be said that hasn’t been said, indeed? Leave it to me to try…

Shutting church doors for Christmas (the 2nd or 3rd most holy day in the Christian year) is a perfectly natural and predictable byproduct of a church who fails to see itself as the Church, i.e., as offering for the faithful something that they cannot obtain themselves. It is a deformity, but yet one arising solely and directly from a church’s perfectly deformed ecclesial view of itself. As Pontificator’s Fourth Law boldly states (Funky’s faithful readers are sure to have it memorized…):

A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.

Churches of sufficient high-ness, e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and (occasionally and in spite of their struggles) Anglican, see themselves as the One, the Holy, the Catholic, and the Apostolic church advertised in the Creed. Such churches see themselves as occupying uniquely, not merely notionally (as in a gnostic sense) but actually, the place of Ark of Salvation for the entire world. (Parenthetically, this is the “elephant in the room” in ecumenical engagement between Protestants and Catholics. They can find mutual agreement in many things, but this audacious view the Catholic Church has of itself ultimately destabilizes any mutual accord. It is theologically safer, utterly wrong but safer, to take Rand’s approach, one which matches the RCC’s audacity.)

Thus, such Churches consist in not merely the delivery of God’s Word to the world, which the aforementioned megachurches sometimes do very well, but in the delivery of the Sacraments, i.e., objective, physical marks of grace normatively necessary for eternal salvation, to the Faithful. This latter ecclesial definition was watered down slightly by Luther in his reformation, watered down considerably more by Calvin’s, and is rejected out of hand by the heirs of the Anabaptists, which today include nearly all “megachurches” and all their (smaller) fellow Low Church Evangelical Megachurch-Wannabes.

In a church, therefore, that does not provide objective means of grace for the working out of one’s salvation, a church therefore that does not purport to actually hold the Keys to the Kingdom, attendance is obviously optional. And in churches where people are “just” (Cally’s use of the term “just” is just so… Evangelical, heh!) so darn busy, where busy-ness is an apparently unquestioned virtue, what could be more “lifestyle-friendly” than cancelling services on December 25. Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where their local Mega-Mart announces something to the effect: “In honor of our Savior’s birth, we will be open on Christmas!” To paraphrase Nick Park’s Wallace, “I think you’ll find this church is a valuable addition to our modern lifestyle.”

Obviously megachurches are popular, or otherwise they couldn’t very well be megachurches, could they? But I have to wonder what do these churches provide that so gosh darn attractive? Anonymity? Unbridled consumer choice? Unmitigated noninterference with one’s chosen way of life? Perhaps it is a sense of spirituality (not, of course, that which might be misconstrued with objective norms of faithfulness or obedience), which is now more popular than the Beatles ever were.

Whatever the attraction, it is I think safe to say that it is no longer a question of taking Christ out of Christmas, but of taking His Body (a.k.a., the Church) out of Christmas. And it happens as a direct consequence of Christians, of a certain disposition, not seeing these two questions as being identical.

Comments 10

  1. Tom Smith wrote:

    Churches. Closed. On. Christmas. Dude, I just don’t get it.

    Oh well, Evangelicals have never celebrated ChristMass, so it’s not like this is the first time they’ve messed with the liturgical holyday of December 25. It seems only a natural development anyway — take Christ’s real presence out of Christmas, and you’re only memorializing Him; and why can’t you just do that at home for five minutes after you spend six hours opening the presents?

    I don’t mean this to be an anti-Evangelical Christian comment; most Catholics are also guilty of putting God behind trees and Santa Claus and presents. But I think decling Christmas attendance at McChurches can be ultimately tied to failing to come up with a draw that beats spending a lazy day at home. Seriously. If all you do at church is sing hymns, hear a sermon, and receive a Communion that’s seen as a rather empty symbol, what are you really missing by not going when you have more fun things to do? This is probably the reason that Catholic churches have a decling attendance as well; nobody really appreciates the gift of the Eucharist. Church is something that’s done for recreation when one feels like it.

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 6:14 am
  2. Emily T wrote:

    Well said, Steve. Just when the battle rages about replacing Christmas with the p.c. “Holidays”, megachurches go and say – yeah, Christmas really isn’t all that important anyway. Go figure.

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 12:54 pm
  3. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    BTW, Funky added the picture. Good one! HA!!

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 2:27 pm
  4. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Yeah, I’m well aware that Christmas doesn’t get as big a deal historically in the evangelical church (of which I’ve been a member for most of my life). I mean we never typically had Christmas Day services. Usually we have Christmas Eve services. Here in the C&MA Church we were at in NJ, our Cmas Eve service was sorta semi-“liturgical” and pretty good. Many evangelical churches (just see Veggie Tales) do Cmas pageants &c. but rarely ON Cmas Day.

    But I guess what I really don’t get is: If Cmas is NOT important, why not just ignore it and go about normal Lord’s Day Sunday observances? That’d be because Cmas IS important (for families, for “lifestyles” HEH! I still can’t get over just how hilariously stupid that sounds)… Well then, why the heck don’t you have Cmas Day services EVERY year?

    I guess the answer boils down to: what we’re doing, as evangelical (read Sacrament-free) church, doesn’t REALLY matter so much, at least as regards your (the “consumer’s”) eternal salvation.

    Ergo, it is a perfectly natural development every so many years when Sunday happens to conflict with December 25th.

    Cheers!

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 6:12 pm
  5. Stuff wrote:

    I absolutely love the post (especially the quote from Wallace) and the pic…but what I want to know is, if you DO want to go to church on Christmas, will there be free cookies? And can you Biggie Size them? 😉

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 8:41 pm
  6. Emily W wrote:

    When I was growing up, my evangelical Protestant church never had services on Christmas Day. We had Christmas pageants (usually the week before), and a couple Christmas Eve services, but no services on Christmas Day. I can’t remember what, if anything, they did when Christmas fell on a Sunday (after all, it’s been 7 years since then).

    I think it’s horrible, but I’m also not all that surprised by it. It’s the natural outgrowth of the evangelical mentality. If no day is really “holy,” and if churches cater to people’s lifestyle, then it’s not shocking that services are canceled on a Sunday that happens to coincide with Christmas.

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 9:07 pm
  7. howard wrote:

    I grew up evangelical protestant, but I don’t recall church being canceled on Sunday. But then it’s been a few years since those days, so maybe my sister would remember better.

    But we didn’t quite attend a big box church like Willow Creek, so….

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 10:36 pm
  8. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Your sister Howard (for those who don’t know, my wife) recalls definitely going to Church on Cmas Eve, but (it being fairly rare) doesn’t recall what would’ve happened had Cmas day conflicted with Sunday. My guess, knowinig the way that church was (and is definitely not anymore), is that they would certainly have observed the Lord’s Day no matter what holiday it conflicted with. And cudos to them for doing so!! I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that THIS Cmas that same church (being so much more hip and relevant) is cancelling services. I’ll ask your sister’s parents 😉

    Posted 07 Dec 2005 at 10:47 pm
  9. Nathan wrote:

    But I guess what I really don’t get is: If Cmas is NOT important, why not just ignore it and go about normal Lord’s Day Sunday observances? That’d be because Cmas IS important (for families, for “lifestyles” HEH! I still can’t get over just how hilariously stupid that sounds)… Well then, why the heck don’t you have Cmas Day services EVERY year?

    Steve, you nailed it with that thought. I have nothing to add.

    Posted 09 Dec 2005 at 4:22 pm
  10. Wade Turner wrote:

    I’m not that surprised that these “mega-churches” are cancelling services on Christmas Day. I would expect nothing less of these “churches” that do not have a cross in them, or offer the Sacraments.

    Posted 09 Dec 2005 at 7:50 pm

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