In the controversy of cancelling church on Christmas, the attitude of dispensability of the local church was, to me, the most troubling thing. One mother wondered how she could make Christmas special for her children if they didn't cancel church services. How could she get all the cooking done, and opening gifts, and work in the afternoon naps, and the like? I was troubled by that because of the mindset that set in opposition a memorable Christmas and worshipping Christ with his body. Why wouldn't a Christmas service be a memorable way to celebrate Christmas? If cooking were a main concern, why wouldn't you have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve when you can cook on Saturday morning rather than Sunday morning?
This last year, there was a brief media buzz leading up to Christmas over the fact that many megachurches cancelled Christmas day worship services. (What sense could a Martian have made of the fact that in America, many Christians, on the one hand, were arguing for the freedom at Christmas time to place religious symbols in public places while, on the other hand, other Christians in the megachurches were closing the doors of their churches, on Christmas day no less, closing the doors on the most visible religious symbols in our society?!) The reasons given for this were that Christmas day is family time, that it was unnecessary to worship on Christmas day because many would have been to pre-Christmas services and, further, that it would be unnecessary because people were being supplied with videos for that day.
Skipping church on Christmas day is not the unforgiveable sin. Let us be clear about that. Nevertheless, this magachurch disposition was symptomatic of an attitude. It spoke to the fact that many people were not going to allow the church to inconvenience them on this day. Their decision also said something about their understanding of family—as if we have to choose between “family time” and worship! I thought that, from a biblical perspective, worship is what FAMILIES did together and so it is central to “family time,” not something which interferes with it! And this matter of videos tells us that we are now in great danger of privatizing our faith in its entirety. If this becomes a habit, all Christians will have to do each week is to visit a (Christian) video store some time in the week to pick up their sermon for that weekend and then, in the privacy of their home, viewing it when the time is convenient. The local church would then become entirely unnecessary!
For too many, church has become a matter of convenience. "We will make it when we can," is the attitude, "when it doesn't conflict with something else." And oftentimes it is not even an unspoken attitude. Such a spirit is troubling.
With the modern or post modern phenomenon of the privatizing of truth (i.e., "whatever works for you"), it is little wonder that the privatization of church is not far behind. And while the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ, that is no promise that individual local churches will not suffer from such privatization. After all, if we can have DVD worship on Christmas Sunday, why wouldn't we do it on Easter Sunday, so the kids can enjoy their Easter baskets and Easter dinner can be cooked? And if we don't meet on the two most significant Christian days during the year (birth of our Savior and resurrection of our Savior) why would we bother to meet any other time? Why not just podcast our services, take the offering by Paypal, have Bible studies by email. Then we could sell the building and avoid the maintenance costs, the gas and electric bills, the T-1 line for the church network.
Why is the corporate gathering of the church necessary at all, since there are so many other pressing issues, like soccer games, and picnics? John Piper in, The Hidden Smile of God, observes, "There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles with whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death, and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning" (p. 164). This past year, we could have exchange "play soccer" for "have family Christmas."
The reality is that Christmas Sunday was not a problem of the day of the week. It was a problem of the attitude that says church gives way to whatever else might appear to be more important. And yes, I am old school about this. I would have church on Super Bowl Sunday if for no other reason just to avoid the appearance that I might have cancelled for that reason.
Pollster (or "Finger-in-the-wind"ster) George Barna has recently suggested that the local church is on the way out anyway. While I have no great desire to fully understand Barna's point (since he has redefined Christianity in his surveys anyway), the very mention of such a notion shows that the church needs to seriously consider her biblical mission.
The local church is God's plan for this age. Parachurch organizations may serve a role. Blogs and website may help out. But the local church is where it's at. And her mission is not to settle in and hold out, but to go forth in victory proclaiming the risen Lord in ways that people can understand. It does not need to bow to the time pressures of extra-curricular activities. It need not be sacrificed on the altar of family memories, or family priorities. It stands unapologetically as God's temple, as Christ's body, as the focus of this age. Let's not give it away.