As we cross the threshold of the festive season, there is an apparent sense of excitement in the air; schools have closed, giving way to the holiday; shopping centres don their halls with an array of colours; homes are filled with wonderful aromas as food takes on a nostalgic theme. The Christmas season has a way of bringing about change. The Church, however, is not immune to its effects.
The question which inevitably arises is, “How should the Church respond to this cultural phenomenon?”
As we begin to seek answers, we must remember that Scripture does allow for believers to have differing opinions on the importance and significance of different days. Romans 14:5-6 affirms, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” Thus, as we near our application of Christmas Day let us understand that Christians will have differing attitudes toward it. But these differing attitudes are not sinful.
However, this year (2016) presents itself with another challenge, Christmas falls on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Historically, if you’ve attended a Church which has a Christmas service, the Christmas service would have been much earlier than the normal service to allow time to return home and make the final preparations for family and friends. Can such an approach now be imported to the Lord’s Day?
Below we seek to highlight those considerations we believe every Christian, and local church, must consider in determining their answer to this question:
1. It is Primarily the Lord’s Day
As one reads the New Testament, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a momentous and monumental event. It shifted the entire reality of the disciples, initially, but also all those who would later have faith in Christ. As a result, the early Christians deliberately chose to meet on the first day of the week to honour the Lord (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor.16:2). We do understand that this day therefore is regulated by God’s Word as a day to be set aside for corporate worship and enjoyment of our Eternal Sabbath Rest – Christ Jesus who became flesh.
As we approach the Lord’s Day on the 25th, we must remember that it is first and foremost, not Christmas day or Christmas morning, but the Lord’s Day.
2. Its Christmas Day
As we approach such a sensitive topic, it’s important that we do so being informed.
During the reign of Roman emperor Aurelian (270-275 AD), a common festival, “The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” was inaugurated to celebrate the sun god at the winter solstice. However, it was during the reign of Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD), the first emperor to believe in Christ, that he assimilated the feast as a commemoration of Christ’s incarnation. He used Malachi 4:2, “Sun of righteousness,” as a motivation for the shift. It was only in 354AD, a good 3 centuries after Christ and the death of all the apostles that Christmas first appeared on the Church’s chronological calendar.
While such a stance, in the midst of Roman paganism, is commendable for Emperor Constantine; we must remember that it is, at the end of the day, a social construct and not a regulative principled Scriptural means of worship.
3. The Incarnation is Applicable
Since Christmas is the social construct that remembers the Incarnation, our application of it can be firmly rooted in its theology. While the common sentiment in many Churches will be the pressure to accommodate various commitments, let’s remember again Philippians 2:1-4 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
The imperative here a doxological (praise to God) in nature, “complete my joy.” It’s about joy, happiness, merriness, not a mere set of strict theological prose. We do this by being of the same mind (agreement) and having the same love (living in light of the agreement). Such joy, Paul argues, flows from selflessness in the service and regard of others as you count their needs above your own.
Paul then presents the incarnation, at length, as a reason for why the Church ought to present themselves this way.
Unfortunately, this has simply meant dropping a teddy in an orphan trolley for many people, but Paul is speaking about the Church here. The pressure that is placed on churches to cancel services, or even change service times runs contrary to the thrust of Christ’s redemptive work.
4. How do we at SBC apply this?
As elders we acknowledge that many of these truths may be unfamiliar and even new to some of you. We also acknowledge the evangelistic opportunity this day presents to us. To be stringent now, would be unwise and unhelpful.
However, we are committed to the Lord’s Day. This is not a day that may be wavered for anything other than the Lord to take precedence. He is preeminent, not you or I. Thus we have agreed to hold two morning services on the 25th of December.
The first service will be held at 8:30-9:30 and the second service will be from 10:00-11:00. We will also still close the Lord’s Day with our evening service from 17:30-18:30.
While not ideal, such an undertaking may be prudent at this point in time. Christ is worthy.