When Christmas lands on a Sunday, I often think that a great test is set before those who claim to follow Christ. Who and what are they really worshipping? Family? Sentimentality? People need to think beyond the mere fact of the birth of Christ to what his work accomplishes and where we are led in response.
Every year there is some new controversy over the celebration of Christmas. Of particular interest is the controversy that broke out this year in Dedham, MA over the local library’s decision to not set up a Christmas tree. The decision was made in response to the claim that “people were made uncomfortable last year looking at it.” An intense debate followed and many Christians protested against its cancellation expressing that “the Christmas tree is the symbol of Christianity.” As a result of the public outcry, the save the Christmas tree campaign prevailed and the Dedham library has now installed their annual Christmas tree.
Of Trees or Worship Services?
In all of this, we should not miss a much quieter cancellation that has not yet made it to Fox news. As Christmas this year falls on a Sunday, churches have announced that they are canceling worship on Sunday to accommodate those who want to be with their families. Kevin DeYoung has responded. But then, surprisingly, over at the Gospel Coalition, Fletcher Lang has written an article in response to DeYoung justifying the canceling of worship on Sunday due to Christmas celebration logistical challenges.
With a remarkable line of reasoning, Fletcher attempts to support the canceling of Sabbath worship (as required in the fourth commandment as it has been historically received across denominational lines), for the sake of difficulty and numbers. “ The problem is around 80 percent of our church travels for Christmas…We need to put out chairs, set up sound equipment, and place signs outside. While we have less work to do than many church plants, there’s still a considerable amount of setup required.”
Are these reasons legitimate? And why should we not make application here to Jesus’ warning about making the commandment of God of no effect for the sake of our tradition? Is the fourth commandment really a thing indifferent, as Fletcher suggests, by citing Romans 14 and the celebration of days? Does Sabbath worship all the sudden become a neutral issue only when it coincides with tradition, culture, and difficulty?
It might be helpful for the reader to know that when the Synod of Dordrecht met in 1618-19, they had a debate about challenges to public gathering for worship on the Lord’s Day. The consensus at the Synod was that even if the minister and his family are the only ones in attendance, the second service itself shall still be called on the Lord’s Day because the public gathering of the people to worship is not a neutral proposal of God’s Word.