By the time I’m writing this, it’s too late. The conversation is over; sort of. Who would have thought the controversy of the Holiday Season was whether or not churches should gather on Christmas Day, Sunday Morning? For the past several weeks, I’ve witnessed several “hot takes,” passionate opinions, and debates. Some were more zealous of their position than others, and some were more bothered than others. Like everyone else, I too, have an opinion on the matter, but I held my peace. More than my opinion, I believe that God has an opinion on the gathering of His People on the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s House. Never mind that the word for church (ekklēsia in Greek) in the scripture means a gathered assembly. If Sunday falls on the day of the most wonderful time of the year, church gatherings take a back seat to opening the presents under the tree. Who knew?
Now, I want to be clear. If a family decided to stay home Christmas morning, I don’t believe they have committed a grievous offense in the eyes of God, but they could have. I do not know their heart or their habits. Moreover, I doubt anyone of us can claim perfect attendance in our Sunday church rolls. So, you missed one Sunday. I’d only implore you not to miss again next week. The point is I want to be gracious in not judging any non-attender on this particular Sunday or any other Sunday throughout the year. However, something bigger was at play this Sunday. It was the calculated decision of some local churches and their leaders not to gather on Sunday Morning, the Lord’s Day, for worship. Rest assured, something bigger is going on here than just a family opting to remain home for the holidays.
I want to briefly address some common arguments I heard this year on the issue. I’ll speak to them in definitive statements rather than engaging in endless debate.
1. Yes, Christmas is a man-made holiday, but the Lord’s Day is a day unto the Lord in which the church gathers together for worship. By not gathering, is the church saying the things of culture or society take priority over the gathering of the church for worship? It sure appears so…
2. Yes, we are to live counter-culturally, so why would we alter our weekly rhythm to conform to secular society?
3. Yes, God created both family and the church. May we remember the two are not at odds or in competition?
4. Yes, Christ is the “reason for the season.” That shouldn’t change when Christmas falls on Sunday.
5. Yes, the holidays are busy. Yet, as believers in Christ, we should intentionally keep room for Christ in our hearts, our homes, and our worship together.
6. Yes, intentionally deciding not to gather for worship on the Lord’s Day is a big deal. God has spoken, and we don’t get to alter His word according to our needs or desires.
7. No, this is not the national publicity we should desire as Christians – Link.
But I want to be honest, all of those arguments and debates went out the window this morning when our very small local church gathered for worship this Lord’s Day. Among those who gathered was the majority of our church body. For those that missed, we missed their presence but understand that no one keeps perfect attendance. Some were sick, others out of town. Others were just simply unable to be there this morning. We missed them and prayed their Sunday and Christmas to go well. In short, we understand, and we look forward to gathering with them next week.
Yet, among our typical worship attenders this Sunday were also several guests. A few were visiting with family. A few more came because their church had canceled or met on another day of the week this week. One had not attended church in years but came because it was Christmas, and they wanted to be there with family. Another came alone. Her name was Julie (name has been changed). Julie was new to our church. I introduced myself and asked how her morning was going. Perhaps I wasn’t prepared for her honesty. “Not well, if I’m being truthful. It just hasn’t been a good morning,” she said. My response was, “I’m so sorry, Julie. I want to pray for you this morning, and we are glad you are here with us today. There is good news this morning because of Christ, and He is near you in the midst of your difficult morning.”
We gathered, we preached, we prayed, and we sang. The gospel was proclaimed, and Christ was exalted. As we left, I thanked Julie again for gathering with us, reminded her that I would be praying for her, and hoped she would gather with us again. As my family and I got into the car to return home. I looked at my wife and said, “You know, it’s quite amazing that we had several guests. One of which was looking for hope. I’m so thankful that the hope of Christ was proclaimed today, and I’m glad we met today, for Julie’s sake, but more importantly, I’m glad we met for the Lord’s sake!”
Maybe Julie was the only one searching for hope, joy, and peace this morning, but I highly doubt it. More than likely, on this Lord’s Day that happened to fall on a Holiday, were hundreds or thousands of people just like Julie, hurting, sorrow-filled, and needing hope. Imagine the disappointment of arriving in that mindset only to discover the church was closed, and they decided to “worship” at home instead. Maybe that didn’t happen to any “wanders” or “seekers” this morning, I sure hope not, but I do wonder.
It will be 11 years until Christmas falls on a Sunday again. I can only hope we learn from this one and do not repeat the “controversy” of this year. For me, all the debates and arguments went out the window when I heard a part of Julie’s story. In great wisdom and simplicity, God has ordained His church to gather for worship on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day. It’s not fancy and/or flashy, certainly not in our church. But I pray the Lord was honored by our faithfulness. Moreover, it was through this simple, faithful rhythm that the life of our church crossed paths with Julie. I can only pray we remember people like Julie when Christmas falls on Sunday, eleven years from now. I can only pray we think beyond our busy schedules and the “hustle and bustle” and value the gathering with and encouraging of brothers and sisters in Christ more. Moreover, I pray we remember the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s church and gather to celebrate Christ together for worship!