Many churches across America have announced their plans to be closed on Sunday, December 25. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press made this news a national story this week in her report, “Some Megachurches Closing for Christmas.”
At the end of the day, the controversy over the propriety of such a move boils down to a dispute about whether the Bible prescribes Sunday to be observed as the Christian Sabbath. Since no church that I have seen wants to cancel services altogether (most will have Christmas eve services on Saturday), this doesn’t seem to be a question of whether to gather for worship, but when to gather for worship. So the question is this–Can Christians meet for worship on Saturday in lieu of regular Sunday services? The question becomes all the more controversial in light of the fact that the issue of the Sabbath has certainly not been a theological point upon which Evangelical Christians have had consensus. Some observe Sunday as a biblically prescribed Sabbath, and others do not.
Yet even if Evangelicals cannot agree on the propriety of observing Sunday as Sabbath, they certainly should agree that the matter ought not be settled by appealing to the preferences of people who aren’t even Christians! Sadly, this kind of agreement does not exist–at least not with those who have a more “seeker-friendly” orientation. As Rachel Zoll reports, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church said that “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?”
This is the kind of statement that is common fare among those who have imbibed of the pragmatism of the church growth movement. Yet the notion is wrong-headed on a number of different levels. First, no where does the Scripture teach that the church should conform its worship practices to the darkened opinions of those who do not in fact worship her crucified and risen Lord. The church gathers to worship Jesus Christ, to make much of her Lord, not to bow to the unsanctified whims of those still in need redemption.
Second, since when has it ever been the case that the unchurched like to stay away from church on Christmas? Everybody knows that one of the only times the “unchurched” show up to church is on Christmas and Easter! So the spokesperson from Willow Creek has not only missed the point theologically, but also pragmatically. On her own criterion, the stated reason for keeping the church closed doesn’t achieve the goal it intends.
Whether churches meet for worship on Sunday or Saturday, may it be this Christmas that the Lord’s people will endeavor to be pleasing in all things to her Lord alone.