Tuesday, December 20, 2005

If no one but the minister is present...is it still Church?

Many of you have heard the NPR report on Mega Churches closing their doors on Christmas Sunday this year. Perhaps you have read the AP article I did (I don't know how long the url will be good, as the link I first read it off of, Yahoo, has expired).

I had actually been predicting such a move by the "Mega Church" movement--although, I have to admit, I didn't really think it would happen; I was just extending the presuppositions that the mega church movement rests upon to their logical conclusions.

You see, I always get asked, each year by someone, why in the world we are holding worship services on Christmas day. I usually remark that we call it "Christ's Mass" for a reason. It is one of the high holy days of the Christian year--it is the celebration of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, after all--a not too unimportant event in the history of salvation. The Church has always worshipped God for the incarnation of the Son. Why would we not do so on the day that we celebrate that incarnation?

Of course, I hear a reply about family and friends and worshipping with the family and opening presents and not enough time in a day, etc.

So, considering that so many of my evangelical friends do not worship on Christmas day, I concluded that many of the same pragmatic reasons would be brought to bear this year, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Of course, I was still surprised when I read the article and heard the NPR report.

Of course, the amazing thing is the clarity of the presuppositions. There is no doubt that pragmatism, or utilitarianism is at the bottom of it. “Whatever works” is the motto of the day.

“The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray…” (AP article). Well, if only a small number come to Church, we ought to cancel it, after all, it wouldn’t look good for the Church to be empty. Rather tell the world we don’t think worshipping God is important than admit that a few do.

"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" (ibid.).

"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night…. We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship” (ibid.).

Well, the Church of all ages would agree that one should worship every day of the week. That has always meant, however, getting on one’s knees and actually praying! And no, one doesn't have to be in a church building--but if such a building is available, why wouldn't it be used?

Whatever works is the key to the equation for much of this reasoning. We have less people on a Sunday that is also Christmas and the name of the game is numbers, so we’d better just call it off, because there is nothing more to be aimed at, apparently.

Some of the quotes from the NPR piece bring out more of the problem. From Willow Creek Community Church we understand that "Officials are handing out a DVD for families to watch together."

DVD’s may be nice (or not, but that’s another topic), but what does that have to do with worshipping God in His Church? Yes, yes, I know, the Church is not the building. But neither is it the family all gathered around the vidiot box. The worship of the Church is the assembly of the saints for the purpose of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, oblation and communion with our God. You don’t do that by yourself, generally (unless you're the only one who showed up to worship), or with your family in front of the TV sipping on a hot cocoa.

Steve Williams, a volunteer at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta says that closing the Church will not take anything away from Christmas "for us because we will celebrate his birth...whether we're at home, or at another Church...or with family or whatever, we will celebrate Christ's birth” (NPR).

I think the key word here is “whatever.” That seems to be functional word for the Mega Church movement. Whatever works. Whatever gets people into the pews (or stadium seating, or “whatever”). Whatever gets people to be emotionally connected. Whatever gets them to love Jesus. The list could go on of course.

Somehow, the “whatever” mentality doesn’t seem to jive with the Words of Jesus, who doesn’t say whatever works, but pick up your cross and follow me. Christ was not a pragmatic kind of guy; rather, He was speaking of incredible visions for His people, of justice and love and mercy and doing the impossible--literally, like rising from the dead.

Jesus calls us to himself. He calls us to himself in worship, where we commune with Him at His table. It doesn’t matter if there are two people or two thousand people. The call is the same and our response is to be the same.

If that is indeed our calling, then we can never shut the doors of the Church on a Sunday, the ancient and Biblical day of worship for the Church. Nor should we allow utilitarian thinking to keep us away from worshipping our Triune God on a high holy day like Christmas, even if it is not on a Sunday.

And from the quotables section from World Magazine, December 17th issue:

"This speaks to the dilapidated state of evangelical faith today."

David Wells, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, on many large evangelical churches canceling worship services on Dec. 25, a Sunday this year, so that people will spend more time with their families on Christmas.


eLr said...

Father Foos!! I didn't know you had a blog! It's great to find you online. :)
Happy Christmas to you and the fam, from Miss Ridgeway.

Miss Steinberg said...

At the risk of being repetitive.... gnostic!
Doesn't this just highlight a lack of concern for sacraments? It seems that they think as long as they have the proper mental feelings, they've done the worship job. What about communion, and the body of Christ?
My college minister once taught on this Psalm verse that says "the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Judah." What does that mean? The DVD at home just doesn't cut it?

Miss Steinberg said...

Hi, Miss Ridgeway!