Friday, December 9


On the subject of megachurches canceling Christmas Sunday services, I have a few thoughts.

First, Christmas is a man-made occasion. It is appropriate and natural for believers to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, just as any family commemorates the birth of a loved one. But Jesus was not born on December 25. As with Easter, the date was chosen as part of a practice by early Christians of appropriating pagan festivals as a means of stamping them out.

John W. Ritenbaugh writes, "People say they keep Christmas and Easter to worship Christ, but they are also defining the nature of God according to their own ideas. Just as surely as the ancient Israelites blended paganism with what God truly revealed, so people do today. This is the basic principle of acts of presumption, and each of us has done this, not once, but sadly, repeatedly, even though we may know better."

In other words, mankind has created its own forms of worship undirected by God. The Lord did not tell us, "Remember Christmas Day, to keep it holy." By closing the doors of a worship center on Christmas, no one is disrespecting God.

In my family Easter was always considered to be the greater of the two traditional Christian holidays. As my mother used to say, "If Christ hadn't risen from the dead to promise eternal life for believers, it wouldn't have mattered so much that he was ever born." Nonetheless, we've always enjoyed the trappings of the Christmas season, the good will, the opportunities to gather together and express our love for family and friends through gift-giving, and especially to pause to thank God for his greatest gift to us, his son. We attend Christmas Eve services because it's an opportunity for us to celebrate that gift, before we become immersed in our celebrations of a more material nature. But let no one mistake a "celebration" with an act of obedience to God.

God didn't ordain Christmas. Man did. And how we choose to observe it should not be a source of division among believers.

Now, as to the issue of closing church on Sunday ("What some consider the deeper affront is in canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord's Day, when communal worship is an obligation."). Hebrews 10:25 (REB) says, ""We should not stay away from our meetings, as some do, but rather encourage one another, all the more because we see the day of the Lord drawing near." This is a suggestion, not a commandment, that we meet to build up one another in the faith; it does not refer to worship. In addition, it should be noted that Sunday worship itself was never ordained by God. To the contrary, the commandment was to observe the Sabbath, which is Saturday, and that day of rest was in the nature of a blessing from God to man, "not as an oppressive legal yoke." Jesus and the apostles observed the Sabbath and it was not until decades later that the early Christians began to set aside Sunday in commemoration of his resurrection. Here again, though, it was man's decision, not God's commandment.

Mark 7:6-9: And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

He was also saying to them, "You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."

Throughout the Bible God makes it clear that he looks with disfavor upon man enshrining anything in creation, whether it be a day, a statue, a person or a ritual, unless explicitly commanded by God himself, lest that thing become an object of worship itself. Christians throughout the years have erred in that, and this utterly fatuous "war on Christmas" controversy is surely displeasing our Father. As Christians, we are supposed to worship "in spirit and in truth" -- from the heart, not the pew.

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