Christmas Day Worship in America

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. God’s witness to Christ continues to happen as part of the mission of the church in the preaching of the gospel. The witness of Christ takes its greatest priority in the public gathering of the saints in worship on Sunday and we never have the prerogative to set this aside.

Maybe a better article title for the season should be, “A Plea to Pastors: Please Don’t Cancel the Second Service on Christmas?”

O Worship the King

Our present controversies over the celebration of Christmas on Sunday expose a kind of American idolatry of conflating Christ with culture. Notice that people will fight with great passion for the culture of Christmas in America and what it represents, but miss entirely where a true celebration of the incarnation should lead us.

Our witness before the world is not over the freedom to say “Merry Christmas”, or hang a Christmas tree, as important as those basic American freedoms may be. There is a most important response that few are talking about: the freedom to worship the risen Christ. This is the saddest of ironies. Should we not have more passion over the cancelation of worship than whether a Christmas tree is refused in Dedham?

Christianity is about God sending to us the indescribable gift of his Son. Jesus Christ, the king, came to lay down his life to save his people from their sins. This was the purpose for which the wise men came to Jesus: to worship the Christ—together. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him (Matt. 2:11).” Worship is the most important response to the truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.”

This gift is God’s answer to a world under the dominion of sin. This gift is what makes our message worth telling. Sadly, what has become evident, yet again for some, is that the cultural celebration of the day is actually standing in the way of his worship. The culture celebration has become a hindrance to the very response demanded of the incarnation. Yes, the devil is in the details.

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.

Sincerity of our faith will look a lot like the response of the wise men, who took a long inconvenient journey to come and worship Christ. Yes, to attend corporate worship on Christmas may require just a bit of extra self-denial and sacrifice to come before the throne of grace with God’s people.

Seriously, how many Christians around the world come every week to worship under the threat of death and persecution and are willing to count all loss for Christ, and here we are debating about canceling worship because it inconveniences our time to celebrate Christmas with family? The mere fact we are discussing this as a possibility displays everything that is wrong with American Christianity.

Shouldn’t we see it as a good providence of God that the culture is talking about the birth of Christ on the very day that we have opportunity give witness to Christ in our public gathering in worship? Shouldn’t we invite our families to worship on this day? What about this kind of witness to our unbelieving uncle?

Dear American Christians, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture.”

Worship on the Sabbath should not be a burden but a delight. May our celebration move us far beyond what is a cultural to one that draws near to God with a true heart as we gather together this Christmas to worship our king.


  1. Good grief! Many cultures and denominations INTENTIONALLY GO TO CHURCH on Christmas morning, regardless of the day of the week it lands on…

  2. If the cultural celebration of Christmas, which has no Scriptural mandate, conflicts with our worship of God on the Lord’s day, which does, then it would be better to cancel Christmas rather than obedience to the fourth commandment. That is the truth of the matter.
    Our faith in Christ should make it no contest. If any accommodation should take place it must be in our celebration of Cristmas, never in our worship on the Lord’s day.

  3. AMEN! CHURCHES should NOT be CLOSED on the day we celebrate CHRISTmas- JESUS’ BIRTHDAY! All FAMILIES should be in Corporate Worship in HIS HOUSE! THIS IS A SPECIFIC Time All FAMILIES can come together to TRULY Celebrate JESUS’ Birth! And for the UNSAVED to be Saved! JESUS is the reason for the Season!!!!!!!!!
    NOT Family, Convenience & tradition!
    It is Hypocrisy to say you Celebrate CHRISTmas Season the whole 30 days of Dec. – YET the ACTUAL DAY we set aside for the world to Celebrate JESUS’ BIRTHday in HIS HOUSE- the doors are LOCKED- NO ONE THERE!
    How would it be if humans Celebrate a gathering for their Specific date set aside for their BIRTHday & the doors were LOCKED & NO ONE showed up to HONOR & Celebrate their BIRTHday?
    Excuses for folks to do their own thing & to * H —
    with GOD saying Do NOT FORSAKE the assembling of yourselves together & SO MUCH MORE as you See THE DAY Approaching.
    GOD comes 01st!!!!!!!! NO ands, ifs & Buts about it!
    Then FAMILY leave Church To3gether to go to their houses to Celebrate with Family with Food & gifts IF they are FORTUNATE to have Food & gifts that GOD Provided!!!!!
    Putting FAMILY, CONVENIENCE, TRADITIONAL Above & BEFORE GOD is S I N & displays where Ur LACK of Love is!
    It wasn’t CONVENIENT for JESUS the cross either; But HE went!
    Some day SOON we may NOT have Opportunity to go to HIS HOUSE to Worship HIM; we Better GO EVERY OPPORTUNITY we have& NOT FORSAKE THE ASSEMNLING of ourselves together like GOD COMMANDS- NOT SUGGEST!
    GOD of SELF is SIN- it is Called IDOLATRY!!!!!!!!!

    • Of note, “Christmas” as we know it is not in scripture, nor HIS birthday, especially Dec 25. We are however instructed to commemorate HIS death till HE comes again. Search the scriptures…see yourself.

  4. The Dedham library incident reminds me of those who go nuclear whenever the 10 Commandments are removed from a courthouse in _________. My response: “are the 10 Commandments read from the pulpit in your church every Sunday? If not, are you raising a ruckus about *that*?”

  5. For myself I distinguish between the Christmas holiday of the world and the holy days of Advent in the church calendar by which we set out to focus our hearts and minds on Christ and the fulfillment of the promise of a redeemer come to set His people free.
    But of course this is a lifestyle for the saints, a daily consideration and I think by equating the holiday of Christmas with the holy days of Advent we go wrong. The Lord’s day is The Lord’s Day regardless of what’s going on around us. We ought to show ourselves to be a separated particular people who live unto God through Christ and not bow to the world.

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