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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

No Church on Christmas

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An Associate Press story today heralds that some megachurches will be closed on Christmas Sunday. Where to begin? Where to begin?

Here's a quote from the story:

"Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said.

'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?' she said."

Well that seems like a good place to start. "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched": here, I contend, is where the weak and market-driven ecclesiology of the megachurch completely falls down in the face of pressure from the culture. If your target and your mission is to reach the unchurched, then you're hardly a church, no matter how many people you cram in your auditorium.

Does the worship of God have anything to do with your "target and mission?" Does witness to the good news of the gospel? Does service? Does discipleship?

The ecclesiology of the megachurch is very little more than evangelism writ large. And this is where their strength lies; heaven knows how mainline protestant churches in this country have completely choked over evangelism in the past 100 years. But evangelism is one target of the church, one part of its mission. To make it the whole of the church's mission means that anything is permissible in the service of that end. Even closing your doors on Christmas.

Here's another quote:

"'This is a consumer mentality at work: `Let's not impose the church on people. Let's not make church in any way inconvenient,'" said David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Hamilton, Mass. "I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing.'"

I think Wells misses the larger boat here. Evangelicals have long critiqued their own when it comes to the megachurch's tendency to pet the culture's individualist dog. But what I see in a decision like this is something more distressing: the elevation of "family" over and above everything else, and the positioning of the church as the ultimate bastion of the values of family.

It's the thing that has allowed wealthy evangelicals (along with Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, et. al.) to move out to secluded gated communities and enroll their kids in private religious schools. Family. More specificaly, a conservative religious image of family that largely sees its role as that of protectorate. Protect the children, protect the family: against gay marriage, against crime, against evolution, and, yes, against Christmas.

Don't get me wrong; I've got nothing against family. In fact, every week I say of our church that we are "a family of Christians . . ." But I also preach and teach in such a way that the model of family that we aspire to is not the one that our culture (especially the more "religious" sectors of our culture) assumes. Instead, the model that our "family" aspires to is the one laid out by Jesus in the gospels.

"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple."

"Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

The decision to close the church on Christmas on the part of these megachurches is a bow to the "family." It is a gesture of deference to the forces of "values" and "family morality" that see the nuclear family as the primary locus of God's activity in the world and that sees the church's role to be that of advocate and apologist for the nuclear family whenever possible.

Maybe someone should remind these churches that the church celebrates on Christmas the Kingdom of Heaven breaking into the world through a very un-nuclear family. Maybe the reason that Mary and Joseph couldn't find anywhere to stay was that all the Bethlehem families were tucked in close together in their warm houses, all cozy and religious.

Not to labor the point, if you're in the Kansas City area and want somewhere to worship on Christmas morning, let me know; I know a church that most certainly will be open.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:13 AM


someone mentioned this to me the other day, saying, "so, the choir is singing on Christmas Eve at 7 and Christmas at 10:30? You know, I need to spend time with my family."

I said, "hmm... that's interesting, but we don't cancel Church because it's Jesus' birthday. Is there something that would work better for you?"

No response.

Amen, rockstar. Amen.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:21 PM  
Amen, indeed. The church I'm familiar with wouldn't think of cancelling church on Christmas--that's a day when the church can finally break this pastor's tyranny of not letting them sing Christmas songs during the season of Advent. Christmas morning, sing all the carols you want.
commented by Anonymous Brian, 4:13 PM  
Wow- What church is that? I am starving for a church that hasn't caved to the Frosty/Santa mafia and has been singing carols since November (and will put them away on December 26)...
commented by Blogger Chuck Strawn, 3:13 PM  

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