Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. Beliefnet.com reports on megachurches that have decided to close their doors on the holiday and then promptly scolds them, “What kind of message does it send to our culture when churches close on one of its highest holy days? That it is OK to stay home and do one’s own thing even on Jesus’ birthday?” (“No Church on Christmas?”, Ben Witherington, beliefnet.com) “Jesus’ birthday”? Whatever the exact day of Christ’s birth, it is extremely unlikely to have been December 25 (Luke 2:8). “Highest holy days”? That certainly is not speaking as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:8). There are no “high holy days” designated in the gospel of Christ (including His birthday).
Professor Witherington concludes his rebuke, “Shame on you megachurches. Repent and believe the Gospel, starting with the birth stories of Jesus.” One can easily find the record of Christ’s birth in the Scriptures. But one will search in vain to find divine commandment, apostolic example or a necessary conclusion that God sanctions, approves, endorses, expects and accepts men offering Him a religious celebration of the birth of Jesus. Using the same logic, we might as well begin having annual celebrations of the baptism of Jesus. Like Easter, church councils and church tradition authorizes and advances the religious celebration of Christ’s birth long after New Testament days. The Bible, while recording the wonderful event, does not command a birthday party. We encourage Mr. Witherington and beliefnet.com to study the dating of the birth of Jesus as well as its religious celebration before asserting Christ’s birthday is December 25. (See “A Thing of Brass”, www.bibleanswer.com/thingofbrass.htm)
As for closing on Sunday, December 25, the megachurches are just following the will of the people - something they have done since their inception (Prov. 16:25; Matt. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:6-9). One of the leading megachurches, the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL closed in 2005, the last time Christmas was on a Sunday (“When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off”, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times). According to Mr. Witherington’s beliefnet.com article, “The rationale given in our local newspaper, The Lexington-Herald Leader, was: people are so busy and Christmas is supposed to be a family day, so this decision was made as a family-friendly gesture.”
Religion imposed by men is warned against in Colossians 2:23: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” True worship is not regulated by how busy we are or by pitting family goals against worship goals. The conflict over whether to have services on December 25 exists because men have mandated a religious holiday the Bible does not authorize. We must be content with God’s way of worship. Offering God worship He does not endorse is vain (John 4:23-24).
God’s people anticipate and rejoice to praise and adore God for His wonderful grace and mercy, His infinite love and blessings, and for His name’s sake (Psalm 100:1-4; 22:22-23; Heb. 2:11). Worship is a wonderful privilege and a great responsibility. The blessing of worship must not be tarnished by advancing human will and tradition as if it is the will of God.
- The Spirit’s Sword, 12/4/11