I see a note on Fox News regarding the closure of services on Christmas in many churches.
I hold Calvin’s position, which I would also say is the Bible’s position (elucidated in Col. 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5-6, and other places), that no day is religiously different than any other. We cancel services occasionally in a small church like mine for various reasons, including the services this last Sunday because power was out due to a storm. I don’t really see why, if most of your congregation is going to be gone from church for family reasons, it would be of itself sinful to cancel services. Unwise perhaps, but not sinful. We would never say that an individual family is sinning by being gone one Sunday because of travel. So if the church collectively makes that same decision when a large majority of the church is traveling, why is that different?
It seems to me to say otherwise is to run the risk of falling into a ceremonial view of the Lord’s day. I believe the appointment of Sunday, one day in seven, for worship is an ordinance of the church for the purposes of good order. I believe that the individual believer has a duty to support the church, to be present for the stated meetings of the church, and not to neglect public worship. The individual believer is also to submit to the ordinances of the church. But to make a day like Christmas into a “holy day”, or to make the first day of the week a “holy day” and then judge others for observing that day differently, I believe is to fall afoul of Paul’s instruction to us in Colossians 2:16-17:
16 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–
17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
UPDATE: I want to make it clear what I’m not saying. Some of those canceling their services are quoted saying things like “you don’t have to be at church to worship” which, while true in one sense, serves to denigrate the importance of the public worship service. That is not my position at all. The Sunday services are of great importance and should be regarded as such by every believer.
My point is that canceling services on Christmas for valid reasons should be regarded as religiously no different as canceling services on any other day for equally valid reasons.
23 thoughts on “Christmas day services”
I agree. I will no more condemn a church for canceling services than I will condemn a brother for skipping the service on Christmas morning. We all must admit that it is something of an inconvenience to interrupt our holiday traditions, observances, and rare, uninterrupted family time to go to church. When one has a family as large as mine, going to church is not an easy task. If a father thinks it is best for his family to remain home, then I have no right to condemn that decision. Likewise, if a church believes it is best to cancel services, so be it. Of course, I have more significant issues with the mega churches that are gaining media attention, but that is another issue altogether.
yeah, and church is such a bother some times. ????
Well, I wasn’t saying that, and I don’t think Andy was either. I am just advocating against a particular view of Christmas. And I think what Andy’s saying (I don’t want to speak for him so if I’m wrong I hope he’ll correct me) is that we all have choices to make, and sometimes church conflicts with other things. I don’t know about your church, but I don’t discipline people or even disagree with them for sometimes choosing to see family instead of coming to church. And if that’s the case, then I can’t protest if a whole church makes that same choice.
You are correct, Matt, of course. If I thought church were bothersome, I would not have dedicated my youth to learning to serve it. I am bothered when people assume things based on a few words and do not really seek to understand what one is saying. I simply meant that on Christmas morning, under certain circumstances, it may actually be a healthy and wise decision not to attend. I do not think we should be enslaved to a certain schedule. Whatever the case, it is up to the father to make the decision, and no one else.
I appreciate your dialogue, but I must admit that I’m surprised at your comments since I perceive you all as being “hard core TR types.” In an effort to avoid what Andy rightly points out, and to better understand what the heart of the matter is, let me ask you both a question. Is the issue at hand Christmas or the Sabbath?
I don’t really know what you mean by “hard core TR types”, except I’m pretty sure you mean it to be insulting.
As I said in the main body, I don’t regard one day as different than another, of itself. This applies to both Christmas and Sunday. We don’t observe a Jewish Sabbath, and we pick one day out of seven as a matter of good order and government, not adherence to the Sabbath observance.
So the issue is both. I don’t observe days. If someone misses church for good reason, whether it be Sunday or Christmas or Advent or any other day, it’s not the day that matters. The stated gatherings of the church matter, whenever they’re called.
I would agree with Matt. I do not like Prebyterian labels, but if a “TR” is a strict subscriptionist, then I suppose I am one. However, it should be remembered that the continental Reformed confessions, to which I adhere, are not sabbatarian. Of course, they also say nothing of Christmas. I think observing the Lord’s Day and other Christian “holidays” such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany, etc. is fine and can be very beneficial. But, these observances do not bind my conscience. There is no day that is holier than another, for it is the Christian himself who is continually being sanctified or made holy. It is the Christian soul which is now the temple of the Living God.
I’m sorry; no insult intended whatsoever. That is one of the problems of text only correspondence. I guess I should not have included the “hard core” reference. That does conjure up some unpleasant images. I figured you and Andy for “Totally or Thoroughly Reformed” theologians. Aren’t you both RCUS guys who went to New Geneva? Is it true that the RCUS will not ordain men who hold any other view of creation than 6/24? If this is the case and as an creation ordinance God rested on the 7th day, humanity at large should respect the Great King of the universe and worship and submit to Him as set forth from the foundation and creation of the heaven and the earth which is latter made even more binding in the 4th Commandment?
I’m not question your Christian liberty in the matter. I am questioning the wisdom in such a policy that you both have sketched out. As the undershepherd of Christ’s flock should you not stress the great importance of the Sabbath, and exhort God’s people to attend the corporate covenant renewal that takes place every Sunday under your authority? The creation took place long before Christmas, and I think it is wise to remember that that little babe in the manger was and is and will be for all eternity Lord of the Sabbath.
Peace in Christ,
p.s. Matt, I fancy myself a “hard core TR” dude and quite like the designation. Please forgive me if I offended you.
If no offense is intended, then none is taken.
I think even a Sabbatarian would agree with the main point of this article, which is that the simple coincidence of Christmas occurring on Sunday does not change the conditions under which it’s appropriate or not appropriate to cancel services that day.
As for the Sabbath, I hold Calvin’s view, that it was ordained as a sign to point forward to Christ, and the ceremonial part of that (1 day observed in 7) is no longer binding.
Here is a very good article, which states my position far more thoroughly than I could. http://basketoffigs.org/Living/warren.htm
But yes, I am RCUS, and I went to New Genevs. And the RCUS does hold a uniform view of Genesis 1, but the implications for this on Sabbath observance are by no means straightforward. There is quite a variety of views on that, Calvin believed in a lieral 6 days, and yet also believed that the Jewish observance of days was comp[letely abrogated, and many others, including Andy and myself, likewise combine those views. So I don’t think there’s any necessary illogic in holding both positions.
Interesting. I’ll check out the article; I’m always looking for thought provoking theological articles.
Holding to Calvin’s view, as you do, then maybe a better question would be, do you think Calvin would cancel Sunday worship service if it happened to fall on Christmas Day?
Do you think historical document may hold the answer to this question?
Upon further reflection of your post is it safe to say that creation ordinance does not come into play in your theology and as such can you explain how there is a “ceremonial” aspect to it.
Even the strictest sabbatarian is not consistent on the creation ordinance. It would force us to rest on Saturday. The very fact that early Christians saw fit to worship on Sunday and, yes, work on Saturday demonstrates that the Jewish observance has been abrogated. As to the continuance of the sabbath rest, we enjoy it for eternity, for it is a spiritual rest in Christ. The old Sabbath pointed to this. Let us not exchange the far more potent reality for the shadow.
Let us also not forget that my church and Matt’s church are both meeting on Christmas. Let not your heart be troubled, I am a ruling elder, and I would not move to cancel services on Christmas morning. I will be attending the service at my church. And, unless Matt’s church has suddenly turned Quaker, not needing a pastor, I suspect he will be there too:) I don’t think either of us are specifically arguing for cancelled services. We are simply saying that an individual church should have the right to make the decision. Neither Calvin (who is not a de facto pope) nor the media should decide the matter. It is up to the consistory or spiritual council. If we are to criticize these mega churches, let us do so on more obvious biblical grounds, of which there are, of course, plenty.
The article link is not working.
In what way can we say that creation ordinances are ‘Jewish’?
The LORD set forth a six and one foundation. The fact that we worship corporately rests upon the resurrection. Would our continually resting in Christ really abrogate the archetype of worship laid down in creation?
…corporately on Sunday…
I’m not sure why the link isn’t working for you. It’s working fine for me.
If the creation ordinance of Sabbath is eternal, then why did we switch to Sunday? Where’s the explicit command?
The early Christians switched to Sunday to express, I believe, their explicit understanding that it had been abrogated. Ezekiel 20:12 tells us that the Sabbath was given as a sign, not as an eternal statute. In fact, the previous verse talks about God’s statutes being given to Israel, but then says the sign of the sabbath was given for a separate reason, to signify the sanctification that God had in mind for them.
That sanctification is found in Christ. Christ being here, there is no more purpose to the observance of days, and in fact the observance of days is forbidden a number of times in the New Testament.
The creation ordinance, so stated, is to work six days and rest on the seventh. I know very few who actually practice this. In fact, consistently applied, it would mean that the sabbatarian should work on Sunday. The Jewish ceremonial observances have been abrogated. The sabbath rest pointed forward to our rest in Christ. We have the full reality. There is no more room for shadows.
The Lord’s Day: Recovering a Lost Blessing
The biblical doctrine and practice of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day has all but disappeared from the contemporary church context. In the Reformed and covenantal tradition, where historically the Lord’s Day has been understood as an entire Day to be sanctified unto God for rest and worship, it is more often than not looked upon as just another day of the week when Christians “just happen” to gather for an a.m. service. What has caused this widespread ignorance and neglect concerning the Day that God established from the beginning to be an extraordinary blessing in the lives of His people? May I suggest three reasons for its near demise?
Dispensationalism: This system of biblical interpretation radically divides Old and New Testament theology. Therefore, in the mind of the dispensationalist, very little from the Old Covenant is correlative, relevant and applicatory to the lives of those who live in the New Covenant, that is, except explicit Messianic prophecy, nice moral maxims (ie “be like David” or “be like Joseph”), and so called “literal” apocalyptic references. Due to the late 19th century emergence of this Bible renting hermeneutic and its acceptance by the revivalistic masses (Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals), very few in present day evangelical America have ever been taught the glory and significance of God’s covenant of grace, the signs and seals of the covenant of grace, and the Sabbath Day (Lord’s Day). According to dispensationalism, the Sabbath is simply believed to be an important day in a different dispensation (era).
Industrial Revolution: In mid-nineteenth century America commerce changed radically. Large factories were built for mass production and multitudes were moving to the city from more rural settings to find financial stability and success. This transformation of society profoundly changed a way of life that Americans knew since its founding. One of the differences involved the increasingly rapid pace of life due to the pressure placed upon men in the workplace. Not only did the common practice of family worship begin to suffer due to late work days and long commutes, but Sunday slowly lost its distinctiveness as a day set apart for rest and God-centered worship. In a word, capitalism and consumerism eventually became the all-consuming force, dictating every aspect of life (personal, familial, and religious). This reality is self evident when we observe almost every strata of society busily working, buying, and selling on the Day that God established for worship and rest.
Biblical Illiteracy: I do not think it is too far fetched to say that we are perhaps in the most biblically illiterate era in the history of our great nation. Most “committed evangelicals” cannot name the Ten Commandments or give a simple explanation of fundamental doctrines like justification and sanctification. We are living in an age where minds – even Christian minds – have been allured and captured by the trivial while the meaningful collects dust. We are more likely to know more about the latest Hollywood gossip than we do the life-transforming doctrines of the living Word of God. Therefore, it is no surprise that few know or understand the meaning of the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
Have the affects of dispensationalism, the Industrial Revolution, and biblical illiteracy spoiled any chance of the Church regaining a proper view and practice of the Lord’s Day? Absolutely not! And I am glad the Protestant Reformers didn’t approach the fight for the doctrine of justification with a defeatist attitude though its misinterpretation was widespread! So what will it take for the present day Church to recover the biblical meaning and practice of keeping the Sabbath Day (Lord’s Day – Rev. 1:10) holy? I believe what we need, more than anything, is a sound redemptive historical interpretation of God’s Word, that is, a view of Scripture that recognizes the connectedness of God’s redemptive work – its continuity throughout all of history. In other words, the Sabbath Day must be conceived of in light of its establishment at creation, its perpetuity in time, and its ultimate fulfillment at the consummation.
The Sabbath Day was established at creation, along with marriage (Genesis 2:18-25) and work (Genesis 1:28), as a creation ordinance (it is a part of the very fabric of the creation order). God not only established one day in seven as blessed and set apart from the others, but He Himself exemplified the keeping of it. (Genesis 2:1-3) God reinforced the importance of Sabbath keeping by making it a part of the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Exodus 20:8). Since Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it (Mt. 5:17), He unearthed the true meaning of the Sabbath from underneath heaps of Pharisaical legalism and tradition. He taught that the Sabbath was made for the blessing of man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27). In addition, Jesus Christ calls Himself Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). In the history of redemption, from the Garden of Eden to the ministry of the Son of God to the practice of the early church and beyond, the Sabbath Day or Lord’s Day (from Saturday “Sabbath” to Sunday “resurrection” Lord’s Day) has been a divine blessing and a moral obligation. Its ultimate fulfillment will be experienced at the consummation when all of God’s elect are ushered forth into an eternal rest from sin and perfect worship in the presence of God (Hebrews 4:1-13; Rev. 7:9-12).
It is hard not to see the golden thread of the Sabbath running through all of Scripture, from beginning to end. God has given us this Day to rest from our common labors and focus our hearts and minds, in a concentrated manner, upon the triune God and His glorious works of creation and redemption. We sanctify the Lord’s Day by gathering together for public worship and spending the remainder of the Day in works of piety, necessity, and mercy (see WCF XXI; viii). On the Lord’s Day we are provided a foretaste of the heavenly rest as we rest from our earthly toils, a foretaste of the great wedding feast as we feast spiritually upon Christ in the Lord’s Supper (Rev. 19), and a foretaste of perfect fellowship with God and His glorified people as we spend the Day exercising our faith upon Christ in the context of public worship and loving, God-centered fellowship
Are you getting the picture? God has ordained something beautiful for His people and for the most part we have spurned it as an inconvenience to our busy lives. God gave us the Sabbath so that we could delight in God as we rest from our ordinary labors, providing needed renewal and refreshment. It was designed by our heavenly Father to give us adequate rest and to refocus our lives upon our greatest priority, namely, God Himself. The loss of commitment to the Lord’s Day has resulted in considerable spiritual impoverishment. God established, exemplified, commands, and reinforces it through His Son. My prayer is that the keeping of the Lord’s Day would once again be a meaningful and distinctive aspect of our lives and witness at Grace Church, thereby demonstrating that we take seriously the commands of God and embrace joyfully the ordained occasion to give our undivided attention to divine worship, Christian fellowship, and rest.
So when Calvin took the position he did, that the Sabbath was abrogated and Sunday was not to be viewed as religiously different than any other day (my position too), do you think he was motivated by dispensationalism, industrialism or Biblical illiteracy?
Obviously Calvin was not motivated by any of the three. I was just seeking to broaden the discussion.
Your post stated that a lack of observance of the Sabbath in the church was motivated by those three factors. I certainly accept that it may have been motivated by those factors in some, but not in all, and I use Calvin as my example, since he did not believe in a continuing Sabbath or in regarding one day in seven as religiously different than any other. I am calling your attention to the fact that there may be some, and I include myself in this, that do not view Sunday as the Sabbath for reasons of Biblical exegesis, and nothing to do with the three factors you mention.
I am not meaning to be insulting, and I hope you did not take it as such. But I do think that your comment failed to deal with any of the Biblical reasons for denying the continuation of a Sabbath observance for the New Testament people of God.
No insult taken.
I think we are speaking past each other. I asked questions concerning creation ordinance and God’s moral law only to receive answers insufficient to persuade me. You keep bringing up Calvin and Colossians 2 as your stated reason for not holding the Sabbath as set a part by the LORD, consecrated for our good and His glory. I think that your argument is not sufficient compared to the totality of Scripture.