Over the last few weeks there has been some grumbling about churches who have chosen to host only a morning service on Christmas Day, instead of the usual two. This is obviously a ‘thing’ as I’ve seen it on Twitter, Facebook, and I’ve received email correspondence about it from concerned brethren.
There are a number of things that trouble me about the criticisms being levelled at churches who are dropping from two services to one, but the main concern is the spirit of judgement. One person made this comment,
“I wonder what kind of message it puts across to our members about the importance of the Lord’s day and the importance of gathered public worship. I suspect people would rather stay at home and watch Christmas movies than go to church. Even though our evening service will be on I fear many of our members won’t make the effort to come out.”
Another person made a similar accusation,
“What sort of assumptions are the leaders involved making about their people; and what sort of message do they think it will send their congregations’ children?. . . The answers would seem to be (a) ‘There’s no point holding the usual service because our members will just stay home to see Doctor Who and the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special,’ and (b) ‘We’re not worried about kids learning it’s OK to skip church when there’s something more fun to do, like bingeing on selection-stocking chocolate or watching a Scotland international.”
I have some major issues with these kind of sweeping generalisations. Here they are in no particular order.
- This is a violation of the ninth commandment. To insinuate, or explicitly claim that services are being cancelled because people want to watch mind-numbing TV programmes is to break the commandment that says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”. What evidence is there that this is why Kirk Sessions have decided to drop down to one service? Can we see the Session minutes? And why are people so willing to break an actual commandment of God to rebuke those who are not keeping a commandment of man?
- There is no commandment in the scriptures to hold two meetings on the Lord’s Day. Consequently, there is nothing sinful in choosing not to hold a second meeting on the Lord’s day. Further, anyone who tries to make this a commandment is in danger of falling into a Judaising mind-set. To make human tradition the law of God, or the mark of faithfulness is nothing other than legalism. Jesus reserves the strongest words of judgement for this kind of religionist.
- It’s an attack on Christian liberty. The Westminster Confession states that, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men.” I’m wary of people who want to bind the church with human tradition. Liberty needs to be safeguarded zealously.
- Kevin DeYoung’s article is being misused. In a couple of online discussions, DeYoung’s article has been referenced in support of the attack on churches who have dropped down to one service. But what does DeYoung say?
Don’t cancel all your services on Christmas. Scale back on the nursery perhaps. Take the week off from Sunday school. Make things closer to an hour than to an hour and a half. Skip the life groups or even the second service for a day. But don’t close the church up on Christmas.
It seems that DeYoung is willing to extend grace, where some Scottish zealots are not. I know of no Reformed Church that is cancelling services full stop.
- This attack is clothed in a spirit of judgement, and lacks grace. It is pharisaical to the core. If a spirit of judgement is what we carry into our evening service on the 25th December our worship is in vain. We are no better than the Pharisee who stood boasting in the presence of God about his commitment and judging the sinner next to him, “thank you Lord, I’m not like this sinner”. If we have embraced this judgemental spirit that falsely accuses and judges churches who have dropped their evening service, then the first thing I suggest you do when you go to church is to repent. With this kind of attitude we are as spiritual as Burns’ ‘Holy Willie’.
- The criticisms are removed from reality. They show no understanding of the context. They fail to recognise that people are either away at family, or hosting family. They fail to recognise that some people will have travelled the globe to be with family at Christmas. They ignore the pressures of hospitality. They forget the fact that some people will be working flat out right up to Christmas Eve, then knocking their pan in to prepare meals for guests, and some I’m sure – if they are lucky might just actually get to sit down before it is time to run out to church again.
- It ignores the fact that people may be hosting guests who are not Christians. What are Christians to do? Abandon their guests while they head out to church? Force their guests to come to church with them? The ‘you must go to a second service’ attitude does not leave many other options.
- It undermines the character, competency and integrity of Kirk Sessions. Kirk Sessions have the responsibility for leading the local church. Kirk Sessions know their people and their circumstances. Kirk Sessions are the ones called by God to lead the church. Yet the self-appointed prophets have no problem in judging and condemning elders for what they see to be capitulation to the spirit of the world.
Ah but what will people think? What kind of message does it send out? What will our children think? Hopefully the kind of message that shows that Christians are hospitable, practical and full of common sense. Hopefully it shows that we are not miserable. Hopefully it shows that we recognise that Christianity is more than a meeting. Hopefully it shows something of the book of Acts kind of Christianity, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” (Acts 2:46) And hopefully it shows that our attitude on Christmas Day, and this Lord’s Day is not “Bah Humbug!” but “Hosanna to the Son of David!”