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December 08, 2005

Comments

Joe Kendrick

Yep, it's official...Jesus is only good for promotion and marketing.

Kevin Powell

The part that really bothers me is that Christmas falls on a Sunday. I find it doubly ironic that these folks are cancelling Sunday worship because it falls on a sacred feast day.

kgp

Scott Jones

I'm going to actually disagree with you on this one. For the record, we are having church Christmas Day. But it will be the first time in my life that I have gone to church on Christmas Day when it was on a Sunday. My family never went when it fell this way because we had our normal Christmas traditions at grandparents, etc. More people go to more church in December than pretty much any other time of year, but they don't come out that Sunday after Christmas. Most churches at least cut back their programming the last Sunday in December, but then they usually have double the programming earlier in the month. And churches that have a big Christmas Eve service are dealing with the difficulty of the service the next day (at least my people have till Sunday evening don't have to turn around for a morning service after having just been to the midnight service). Probably not a bad idea if churches wanted to be open that day for people to pray or have something simple, but the truth is there is no need or obligation to have worship services on that day. I'm surprised at the implication of your statement that would seem to imply that worship on Christmas Day couldn't be done with family or friends. So, if I could get out of being in church this coming Christmas Day, I would.

Greg, I think you were just wanting to rant against these particular churches.

greg

What I'm saying, Scott, is that when I join a church I have an obligation to the larger community. You can call hanging out with family and friends worship if you want, but I think we both know it really isn't, most of the time. Church is not about my family traditions or my preferences; it's really about worship, and worship is best done in a corporate setting. If we're going to set a church calendar and follow it, then I think it's important that the priority remain on worship of God, not what is convenient for me. It seems absurd to cancel services on the second most important day of the church year. Would you agree to cancelling services on Easter? Hell no. But because Xmas has become so much a part of the culture, we tend to view it more as a holiday than a high, holy day. So, I'll be disagreeing with you on this one, Scott.

Tim Sean

Though I love the church calendar I know that is a construction of the church that isn't necessarily ordained of God. I think its a pretty cool idea and I work hard at trying to get our church to pay more attention to it because it connects us with millions of other believers world wide. So for that reason I tend to agree with you Greg, but only because I am an ecumenical church nerd and have love for the world- church. It's a high church day, a feast day as the Catholic church calls it.

We do have folks around the church house these days saying they are coming to one service or the other, but not both. Bunch of Scrooges! The service on Christmas day is going to be relaxed, festive, lots of talk between dads about who put glitter-hay out for the reindeer, that sort of thing. A few women will be baking Happy birthday Jesus cupcakes for all the kiddos. But that's why I go to a small community congreation and why I am sad for all the megas, poor bastards.

Trav the Okie Vegan

This whole topic is sad, funny, and ironic.

sad: If church truly were focused on Christ, then there is hardly a more appropriate, more holy day to assemble as a body of disciples and celebrate together the birth of his mission to bring peace on earth and brotherhood/sisterhood among humankind. Peace and unity? Nah. That's not what it's all about: stuffing oneself, running up credit card debt, getting one more inane gadget or tie or whatever--now you're talking about Christmas.

funny: Christians NOT going to church on Christmas? The whole idea is laughable. Wait--perhaps I should have used scare quotes around the term Christmas. No, on second thought, the scare quotes should be utilized with "Christians."

ironic: The same Christian who is overcome with a spirit of self-righteous indignation when the merchants "take the Christ out of Christmas" and wish her/him a "Happy Holidays" rather than a "Merry Christmas" is the very person who will skip church Christmas Sunday to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with her/his family. And, of course, when I speak of the true meaning of Christmas, I mean the day when we all celebrate the birth of Santa Claus.

greg

Well said, Trav.

Chris_from_Alaska

Wow, big sigh.....this makes me sad. If you ever needed an example of how woefully off course so many American churches have gone, well, here you go. I believe that I would have suffered an immediate aneurism if my own budding megachurch weren't having services on Christmas Sunday. But I will admit that I was holding my breath while I checked online for service times......

Tim Sean

Just to make it interesting, local OKC mega, LifeChurch, will not be having worship services on Sunday, December 25th.

greg

Tim,

I hoped you were kidding, so I checked their site myself. You weren't kidding. I'll obviously have more to say about this later. Right now I'm off to the airport to pick up a friend.

Scott in Houston

If church is about HAVING church then count me out. If worship is about having a worship service, then count me out. Your searching for foot-hold to prove mega's failure shouldn't set it's cross-hairs on Christmas day services. There are better bones to pick than this. IT's actually very brave of most megas that depend on the thousands of dollars on each service to sustain it's lavish existance.

For the record, I can list several dozen churches that won't be having church on Christmas here in houston. There are more that are not having service than are having service. But, since some of us will be home with our families then maybe we can have a moment of brilliance and have "small group" chuch experience with our families.

My church is having Christmas Eve services. I'll be home in Arkansas, thankful that my church families can be with their relatives enjoying what for some could be their last together.

Have church...find a church and go. Do what you're convicted and compelled to do but I think you're wrong for picking this day and this issue to exercise you're convictions against church the way most are doing it today. I humbly express my opinion and take the liberty of disagreeing with you Greg. Sorry.

Blessings, and Have a Joyious Christmas,
Scott in Houston

P.S. it's flippin' cold down here. Texas and Ice don't go together. It's a dangerous place driving in the lone-star state these days.

greg

Scott,

Sorry, you weren't very coherent. Just because several dozen churches aren't having a service proves nothing. The reason we have a holiday called Christmas is the birth of Jesus. The holiday is not just a cultural event; it is a church event, and a high, holy day at that. If you want to argue that we don't have to have church on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday, why not argue about the sensibility of having church at all? If the church doesn't gather on days like Easter and Christmas, why would they gather on the second Sunday of February or November? You're free to disagree all you want, but Xmas isn't primarily about spending time with your family; it's about celebrating the birth of the Lord with my community, church community.

Joe Kendrick

Nope, Christmas is about stuff. I get the idea of spending time with the family and thinking it's a good substitution for Church on Christmas but let's face it's not...no one is going to be praising Christ. Sure, some may read the Christmas story, just because you do doesn't make it worship. Let's just be honest, everyone will be playing with all their stuff and thanking God that they got stuff on Christmas. Afterall, that's what it's all about, right?

Scott in Houston

Greg,

Someone who was incoherent wouldn't have comented at all. I simply do not agree. The difference between Christmas and Easter is that easter is always on Sunday; it's designed that way. I have never heard you argue this point when Christmas falls on any other day, so why argue when it falls on Sunday? It's an opinion and I respect yours but don't agree.

p.s. I should have clarified my point on churches that are not having Christmas service. I wanted to point out that there are big and small churches of all denominations that are choosing to observe services at different times other than Sunday morning.

jnelson

I've had one person ask me if we're having church on Christmas. It really is a strange thing for some to think about because of the cultural aspects of the holiday. Of course, we ARE having worship that day. We probably won't get many more than the usual group of seniors who come to everything, but we'll be there.

A question was raised on another blog about why churches don't have worship on Christmas when it falls on any other day of the week. I thought it was a good question. We have Christmas Eve services, but unless it's a Sunday we don't tend to have a morning service the next day. It made me think about this whole deal in a new way: am I more upset that these churches won't have worship on Christmas, or am I more upset that these churches won't have worship on a Sunday? Both, to some degree. But which do I find more scandalous in light of the above question?

Regardless, churches need to name the holy during this time, lest the cultural monster engulf it completely.

Scott in Houston

Joe, good comment. I have to reluctantly agree with your points. It is about the stuff and has been for decades and it's not going to change world wide until the church changes. Good call.

Joe

Scott,

Thanks. This conversation has really stirred up some stuff inside. Especially with alot that's going on here in my own church and within my family. Have good Christmas.

Bob Smietana

Greg

Have you read Scot McKnight's piece about this on his blog (Jesuscreed.org). He makes a number of good points.

Phil

Irony of ironies?

The historical Jesus was doing the Hanukkah thang. Did frustrate himself with all this line-drawing ya'll are engagin' in. I bet he's laughing his ass off at ya'll right now. Or crying. There is always that.

Phil

"didn't frustrate himself"

that's what I meant to write.

Mazzel, good things.

yo, fo' reel.

greg

Dear all,

After reading Scott McKnight's blog that Bob linked I'm amazed at the number of people who would normally be on the "you should be in church on Sunday" side of the argument who are suddenly finding how free and open their ecclesiology is. Again, it smacks of convenience: we want to be off that Sunday, so let's take up this argument we've fought long and hard against, to wit, that worship happens outside the Sunday service and should not be viewed restrictively or legalistically. As many of the long-time readers know, that is an argument I've made many times. I did not suddenly become all about organized church, but there are times when organized worship is called for. If you would not cancel your Easter service, you should not cancel your Xmas service (especially when it falls on a Sunday). I thought that Christians would be delighted that they would have an opportunity to worship on the actual day of observance. How silly of me.

As far as Scott's blog and some other things I've read, the churches who have cancelled their services have not given the same sort of involved theological justification that Scott talks about; they cancelled because of lack of attendance (tell that to the church with 75 people) and lack of resources (ditto). Those are not well-thought out theological reasons. My original critique was directed at megas because the way they arrived at this decision revealed the thought process by which decisions are made: business/corporate model. The deeper critique is that no church, regardless of size, should pass up an opportunity to worship on Christmas day, especially when that day is a Sunday.

Scott, being a good evangelical, wants to begin with the Bible and find the justification for every decision there. Other than smacking of a sudden dive into the Campbellite method of hermeneutics, the argument in this case simply doesn't work. The church calendar is established after most of the canon. We don't follow the church calendar for Scriptural reasons; we follow it because it shapes us into a certain kind of people, gives us continuity across generations and nations, and keeps our minds focused on what really matters (hmm...).

It may be that we should take a lesson from the Catholic Church on this one: there will be a mass on Xmas day. It doesn't matter what day of the week on which it falls. Shame on us for not following suit. Maybe they're more right than we on this one. However, as far as cancelling mass on Christmas Sunday--haven't heard any reports of that yet. I suspect much of it has to do with the careful way the Catholic Church has followed the church calendar for almost two millenia. Just because a holiday has been co-opted by the culture, doesn't mean we should surrender the very reason for the holiday (worship of the Christ child) with arguments based on expedience and "family time." May I ask what is wrong with a family worshipping together at a church on Christmas day?

greg

Oh, and here is the latest reason from Atlanta:

"We just want our volunteers to have an opportunity to spend the holiday with their families," said Rick Holliday, director of administration and one of the founders of North Point. "It would be difficult for them to get here, and we thought we'd give them a day off."

Dr. Mike Kear

I live in Oklahoma. This is football country. This is the place where the State Supreme Court hears arguments over a high school student's eligibility to play in a game.

What's my point? My point is that churches all over my fair state cancel or rearrange services on Super Bowl Sunday every year in order for "families" to be together for this "sacred" annual event. Now, these same churches are simply being consistent. They are cancelling services in order for "families" to be together for the "Super Bowl" of consumerism: Christmas.

It amazes me that Christians are finding Sunday and Christmas Day incompatible with one another. Cancel worship because it falls on a holy day honoring the birth of the Founder? To me it is a capitualtion to culture, capitalism, and consumerism, when we should be capitulating ("the act of surrendering or giving up") to Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Mike

greg

Mike,

Allow me to call you the voice of sanity. I think that people have genuinely forgotten that Xmas is a day of worship. Not presents, not turkey, not "family time," but worship. How have we lost sight of that to this degree? For all the lamenting conservative Christians do about the attacks on Xmas, they are undercutting their own credibility when they won't even do the thing they've been insisting the "holiday" was set up to do. I'm pretty sure the etymology is holiday=holy day. Egad.

transplatedokie

This is the sadest thing I think I have ever read.

greg

Sad in what way?

Jim

As one who enjoys and appreciates so much of what I read from you, Greg, I'm at a loss as to why you're so worked up about this.

The church is a travesty in North America, that is well known. What I'm not understanding is why is it a big deal that any given church worship on Sunday, Christmas or not? And if it's got to be Sunday, then why not only Sunday; why not forget about offering any other worship services during the week, ever. I don't know, maybe it's a stupid question but Sunday is the chosen day only because of tradition and not because of any call or mandate from God. Why is it not alright for the body to gather in worship on a different day once a year-- actually once every seven or eight years (in this case, Christmas Eve, Saturday).

greg

Jim,

Gather any day you want. That is not my point. My point is that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and we should worship that day, not cancel service. Am I not being clear about this? Most of the regular readers know I have serious doubts about institutional church, but I do believe that we should gather as a community to worship on those days the Church has historically designated as important: Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, etc.

Just Pete

Aaaack! It's happening to my church! Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, is also closing for Christmas. It's an aspiring megachurch (aren't we all) who takes a majority of its cues from Willow Creek.

Remember the last time the inn was closed on Christmas?

Just Pete

Sorry, one more jab (this is theraputic).

Megachurches: "We closing shop to be with our families."

Jesus: "Who is my [family]? ... Whoever does God's will is my [family]." Mark 3:31-35, New Bored-Again Paraphrase

April

Greg, you are a total badass!
I love this post and the following discussion.

This almost makes me want to visit Oklahoma. Last time I was there, I left with a car caked with insects, so that is really a huge compliment.

greg

April,

Thanks. Checked out your website. Looked for you on iTunes. Do you have any music online?

smitheeboy

Greg,

I couldn't agree with you more on the Christmas issue and thank you for brining up such a great point. My church's philosophy is regardless of weather or the day of the week, the doors will be open for worship.

Scott Jones

Greg I think your vision works if we all live in our European village that we've been in for generations and generations. To go to all the masses of the traditional church year at the one local parish with all the people you know in every other aspect of life and when you weren't in a pluralistic society made lots of cultural sense. But that image, as wonderful as it may be, simply doesn't exist here and now.

I simply don't feel any obligation from scripture or anywhere else to go to a worship service on Christmas day.

Plus, if you add that it is really the feast day of the God Mithra and is a Constantinian accomodation to the Roman army, then . . .

greg

Scott,

From a Ph.D. I expect a better argument than that last one. Since Christmas is just a concession to paganism, I guess you can toss Easter too. It's named after the goddess Ishtar and is based on when the vernal equinox occurs in conjuction with the lunar cycle. Please...

Christmas Day is the day the Church set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ. You remember the Church, right? They compiled that lectionary you like and the Book of Common Prayer and the Church Calendar. And let's not forget the Bible. They sort of put that together too. Oh what the hell, let's toss 'em all if they get in the way of our cultural celebration of materialism. If you don't feel an obligation to worship that day, don't be surprised if your congregation doesn't feel an obligation to be there any other particular Sunday, pastor. You set the tone, after all.

Tim Sean

I think this has everything to do with the way these folks "worship." It is a concert-theater-show mode and it takes a cajillion people to put on the show, so let's give them a rest on Chritmas Sunday. Shut down the turbo-gym for the kiddos, turn off the giant playstation screens, give your thirty-member tech team a day off, the kick-ass band, the ushers who drive the disno-golf-carts in the parking lot, etc.

Turns out at my pitiful 250 member church we can get along just fine with Ron playing organ, Carol on the piano, Bobby giving us a sermon and racks full o'hymnals. Simple.

The whole mega thing exhausts me. I say, if you gotta work that hard to be that shallow then maybe you should just close up shop all-together. Ick.

Dr. Mike Kear

Greg,

I watched with interest an interview this evening on one of our local TV news broadcasts with the pastor of the hydra-headed megabeast in OKC. The reporter asked him why his 14,000 member church had called off worship on Christmas Sunday. His reply? We polled the people and they said they didn't want to worship on that particular Sunday.

Maybe I'm the one whose thinking is all awry, but this sounds to me like the definition of self-centered churchianity. Maybe the question that professed Christians are facing in this controversy is: Does the Church serve the people or do the people serve the Church? If the Church exists for the exaltation of the people, then of course we should expect the Church to acquiesce to our preferences. However, if the people exist for edification of the Church (which is the body of Christ), then we must capitulate to the apostolic commands and forsake not the assembling of ourselves. Especially on a high holy day (holiday) of that Church.

Like I said, I might be way off here. But it seems that, to many, the Church is only a thing of value as long as it meets my personal needs. It seems a far cry from the ideas expressed by St. Paul in the 1st chapter of his letter to the Colossians, where the apostle speaks about being a servant of the gospel "for the sake of [Christ's] body, that is, the church." (v.24).

Now, I'm not trying to be judgmental. If the view of the body of believers in a particular church is that the Church should serve their desires, then closing the doors on Christmas Sunday is only logical and consistent. However, if we are servants of Christ ministering to His body and making Him available to all who might seek Him, then closing the Church on any day of worship would be unthinkable, especially a day like Christmas Sunday, which arguably may attract more seekers than any other Sunday besides Easter.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Peace,

Mike

Chris_from_Alaska

Hopefully I'm not such a tech-deprived idiot that this link fails, but I noticed that MSNBC had a story today about certain mega-churches not having services on Christmas Sunday. Nothing that hasn't been discussed here already, but I did find it of interest that a segment of the national media picked up on it. Here's the link....hopefully.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10355438

Scott Jones

Oh, Greg, that last was sort of a joke, a dig at your anti-Constantinianism (which I share of course). Lighten up.

As I said in my first comment, though I basically share all your criticisms of the megas and even the various interpretations thrown at this issue, I just don't see this as a serious issue. I think there are plenty of other things to get vexed about.

greg

Scott,

Glad you were making a joke. I was a little concerned about you there for a minute. You were starting to sound like some of the folks I grew up with. However, you've still yet to explain why this is "not a big deal." Seems it's easy to say anything is not a big deal so long as it's convenient.

marty

At the risk of beating a dead horse:

My church is having services on Christmas Day. It's one of the few things my church isn't in danger of fucking up about right now.

The debate, Greg and Scott, isn't "Should we or shouldn't we be in church Sunday, December 25, 2005?" but is rather, "Since this is the second most important day of the year for our faith tradition, should we or shouldn't we be in church December 25 or every single year, regardless of the day?" (Yes, by the way, is the answer to this second, more relevant questions.)

Having worked in a mall for a few Xmases in a row, I had the luxury of giving up Xmas years ago. In recent years I have had the blessing- not the luxury, mind you- of finding and celebrating Advent. What a potentially wonderful season of hope! And, luckily for me, this year the culmination (not the optional ending) of that season falls on a day when my local church family will be meeting to celebrate and worship.

I don't find this a surprising thing for greg to get worked up about. I find it a surprise for other to not feel a little discomfited by the ease with which churches (mega and mini) cast aside this important opportunity to come together in a coporate worship setting to celebrate and be energized to bring about this kingdom of God here and now.

Ahem. Which is to say: Family gatherings are habit. Worship of our Lord on the day set aside to celebrate God's greatest revelation of God's self to humanity is a rich and beautiful and- dare I say- fairly neccessary tradition.

p.s.
Bah. Humbug.

thebizofknowledge

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. It really is dismaying to me to hear about how many churches have given up on Christmas services. That seems to be the main day they SHOULD be having worship services!

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