Churches taking Christmas off

Churches taking Christmas off

For some reason this year, the fact that some Protestant megachurches have decided to not have services on Christmas is big news. Perhaps part of the reason is that this year Christmas is on a Sunday, so not having church on Sunday seems like an even bigger deal.

At the crux of the defense of not having worship on Christmas is what most Protestants, especially Evangelicals, consider to be worship: Singing, reading, and preaching. They sing songs, read the Bible, and then hear a homily. It is vastly different from those churches with a sacrificial liturgy, especially Catholics and Orthodox whose liturgies make Christ sacramentally present in the Eucharist. In Protestant services, they recall Christ and celebrate Him, but in Eucharistic liturgies, we encounter Christ in person, we receive Him.

And frankly, many Protestants of my acquaintance haven’t held too closely to the interpretation of the Third Commandment as requiring church attendance. If they’re on vacation, well, as long as they don’t work on Sunday and perhaps pray a little, that’s enough to keep holy the Sabbath.

But there’s another aspect as well that is peculiar to the megachurches. Like much of Evangelical culture, the goal seems not to be countercultural, but to ape the culture and provide a palatable substitute for secular enticements. Thus, the churches begin to resemble mini-malls with bookstores, coffee shops, even food courts. The services are less like worship and more like staged variety shows with stage managers and bands and skits and intermissions. There are no pews, just stadium seating. And so it seems natural for the “mall” to be closed on Christmas, like the regular mall, and the hundreds of people required to stage the weekly events can instead stay home from work.

It is a stark difference between Catholic culture and Evangelical Protestant culture, which too often is a gussied-up form of plain, old American culture.

Update:Kelly Clark reminds me that the Third Commandment, not the Second, requires us to keep holy the Sabbath. So much for my apparently failing memory.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli