What Christmas Church Closings Indicate

What I find even more disturbing than churches actually cancelling their Lord’s Day services are the reasons that are being given to support their decisions. So far, what I have read or heard (from both the internet and our local media) as justifications for shutting down Christian churches on Sunday, December 25 can be grouped into several categories.

The kind of production that Sunday services require in some larger churches is simply too difficult and involved to ask the staff and volunteers to do that on a holiday as important as Christmas. If it did not incovenience so many people to hold Lord’s Day services, then, according to some of the reasons being given, some churches would opt to stay open on Christmas.

Some church leaders simply faced the facts that their members are simply going to stay home that day, regardless of what is scheduled with the church. A local Christian radio station manager for WAY-FM made it clear this morning that he was going to spend the day at home with his family, no matter what. He even interviewed his United Methodist pastor (who plans to hold a scaled down service on that Sunday) as a way of showing that his plans should not be “judged” by anyone who disagreed with him. Another pastor in our area said that when polling his congregation it became apparent that many simply planned to skip church that day. So instead of facing the embarassing reality of the low level of commitment that exists in the church, he decided to cancel it.

Just desserts
Another line of reasoning sounds something like the old McDonald’s commercial: “You deserve a break today…” People work so hard for 364 days a year (or 51 Sundays a year, as a variant rationale goes) that they deserve not to have to go to church on December 25. Those who have made this case sound like worshiping with God’s people is such a pain and burden that no one should begrudge getting out from under that load on a day as special as Christmas. One pastor, commenting on Saddleback’s planned shutdown indicated that since that church does so much good, no one should question their decision to take a Sunday off. After all, even Walmart shuts down on Christmas, why shouldn’t a church have the same prerogative?

Family values
Familes ought to be together. There are so many pressures that pull them apart, especially during the Christmas season, that it is the least that the church can do to shut down on the Lord’s Day in order to promote family togetherness. This is actually viewed as a noble decision, rooted in love for families.

One church even argued that since very few unconverted people are expected to attend on that Sunday, it would not be cost-effective to hold services that day. The reasoning goes like this: since the church’s main responsibility is to reach lost people, if they will not come on Christmas, then we will not waste our time and energy at putting on a service.

I am sure that there are other stated reasons and I am sure that many who have offered variations of those I have mentioned above would like to elaborate or refine their comments. Be that as it may, the obvious, glaring omission in all of these excuses is any appeal to the Word of God. It is as if the decision whether or not a church should gather on the Lord’s Day is purely subjective. I have mentioned this before but it applies again here–wouldn’t it be helpful if someone along the way stopped and asked the question, Does God have an opinion on this?”

Does God care if a church cancels its worship service on the Lord’s Day because it falls on December 25? If He does, then shouldn’t we listen to it and heed it? If He doesn’t, then let those who advocate canceling Lord’s Day services say so plainly. They should say something like this: “We are canceling Lord’s Day worship services and God doesn’t care one way or the other. The Bible has nothing to say about this. We are completely free to do this.”

The kind of reasoning that is coming out in defense of church closings has more in common with the world and its ways than it does with the Bible. And this is further evidence of how far American evangelicalism has fallen away from basic, biblical Christianity. At some point, like Machen did in the early 2oth century with liberalism, we are going to be forced to admit that what passes under the banner of evangelicalism simply is not Christian, no matter how many Christian trappings are retained.

Our only hope is reformation and revival.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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