In my nearly forty-seven years in the ministry, there have been seven times that Christmas Day has fallen on the Lord’s Day. The most recent time was a few weeks ago in 2022 and I think I am correct in saying that the next time that will happen will be in 2033. Something strange happened during this past year with respect to Christmas and the Lord’s Day. Many churches did not have Sunday services so that families could celebrate Christmas together. That had never happened before to my knowledge. You probably saw some of the articles written before Christmas Day 2022 in which most churches stated that they planned to have Sunday worship service that day regardless of it being on Sunday. Those articles made me scratch my head on why it was even necessary to say that. Then, Sunday December 25, 2022 came and several of my church members informed me about the various churches in Destin that were not having church that day. Most of those churches had had Christmas Eve services the night before. But why call off Sunday worship? To my knowledge, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church was the only church in Destin that had services on Christmas. Then, I talked with several people in other places and found out that many churches where they live had also called off services.
Is Christmas Day more important than the Lord’s Day? Or, to ask the question in a different way, is gathering for worship on Sunday—any Sunday, every Sunday—less important than Christmas Day? The Lord’s Day has Scriptural authority. Christmas Day is a man-made observance. The Bible nowhere tells us what to do on Christmas Day or on Christmas Eve. There is nothing holy about either one. Before Christmas 2022, I sent you an article in which I included a quote from a sermon by the great Samuel Davies concerning the observance of Christmas. Like Davies, I agree that if someone uses the day to religiously improve their devotion to Christ, it is a good thing. I am befuddled that any church would think that letting people celebrate Christmas Day with their families without coming to church on the Lord’s Day was a better option than obeying a clear command of Scripture.
It seems to me that too many churches and pastors have become antinomian (‘against the law’) in their doctrine and practice. They appear to believe that the Ten Commandments—written on stone tablets—are not permanent. They seem to believe that those commandments are merely suggestions that the church can modify, annul, or ignore at will. The church meets on the first day of the week, we believe, because the day was changed, but the commandment continued. It is certainly true that the fourth commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not restated in the New Testament. That does not mean that there no longer is a commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Christian Sabbath is a day of worship, first and foremost. There is nothing that changes that. Man needs a time to worship the Creator and the Redeemer with other believers. The Christian Sabbath is also a day of rest and a day to engage in works of necessity and mercy.
It is not the prerogative of the Christian Church to neglect the Christian Sabbath or to call off services at whim. Certainly, churches may call off services under very unusual circumstances—winter storms, hurricanes, national disasters, etc. Those occasions should be very rare. There have been three times during my thirty years in Destin, FL that we have had to call off services due to hurricanes. On a recent trip to Israel, I learned that many Christian churches there have their services on Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—since Sunday is a day of work in that country. Other Christian churches in Israel meet on Sunday evening for worship. John Calvin would agree with such decisions. We are not to worship the day superstitiously as the Jews did their holy days. We worship Christ who rose from the dead on the first day of the week. It was for that reason that Christians began having their assemblies on the first day of the week. As Calvin wrote: “Meetings of the church are enjoined upon us by God’s Word; and from our everyday experience we well know how we need them. But how can such meetings be held unless they have been established and have their stated days?. . . Also, we should all observe together the lawful order set by the church for the hearing of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and for public prayers… But we ought especially to hold to this general doctrine: that to prevent religion from either perishing or declining among us, we should diligently frequent the sacred meetings, and make use of those external aids which can promote the worship of God” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Two, Chapter Eight, Sections 32-34, The Westminster Press, 1960, pp. 398, 400, 401).
The wisdom of Calvin is often overlooked by Christians who hold too superstitiously to the Lord’s Day. First, the Lord’s Day is a day of worship, Calvin states, that is necessary for us to maintain a lively Christian faith with other believers and to prevent religion from declining. Second, it is necessary for a certain day to be set aside for the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the sacraments, and for public prayers. The Lord is the One who changed the day from the observance of the Jews of the seventh day to the joyous celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Each Lord’s Day is to be a delight.
One thing I have observed through my years as a Christian is that there are many different “rules” that various Christians have on how to observe the Christian Sabbath. It is impossible, in my opinion, that all Christians will ever agree on all those rules. One of the strictest Sabbatarians I know once asked me if I wanted to join him for a brisk walk before we went to church that Sunday morning (I was a guest in his home). Now, I do not normally go for exercise on Sundays. Rather, other than that one particular day with my friend, I never go for walks on Sundays. I went through both college and seminary without ever completing class work on Sundays. That was not always easy to do, but I did it. Yet, there is a great danger of making too many rules concerning the Christian Sabbath that we can easily become like the Pharisees who condemned Jesus because He and His disciples plucked ears of grain on the Sabbath and performed miracles of healing on that day. Yet, there is one point on which we all must agree because the being and well-being of the Church depends on it: the Christian Sabbath is a day set aside by God Himself for the Church to gather for worship and it is not in the discretion of any particular congregation to call off church except in the most extraordinary of circumstances—mostly for the protection of life. Christmas Day falling on Sunday is not extraordinary. It is, in fact, very ordinary. It is not common because it does not happen every year, but it is ordinary. It happens four times every 28 years in a regular pattern—the sixth year, the fifth year, the sixth year, and the eleventh year. Then it starts all over again.
It is especially concerning to me that Christian churches would call off worship because of Christmas Day being on Sunday. What is Christmas if it is not about the worship of Christ? How can we celebrate Christmas together as a church if we call off worship services? Christmas is not a family day—that would be to totally secularize the day. Yet, in days when the Church is becoming increasingly more and more like the world, it is not surprising that churches would promote the secularization of Christmas Day and call off services so families can be together that day. It is very disappointing, but it is not surprising.
I realize that there might be someone on this email list who is in a church that called off services on December 25, 2022. My recommendation to you would be to go express your disagreement with the pastor(s) and elders. If they do not hear you, then I would leave that church if I were you. Hopefully, no pastor on this email list was a party to calling off services in his congregation. While I cannot and do not speak for everyone in Vanguard Presbyterian Church, I would hope and I believe that any Vanguard church that did not hold services on Christmas Day so that families could spend time together would need to answer to the presbytery. The church in America and throughout the world is at a dangerous place. We cannot move forward if we minimize the importance of the public worship of the whole body. God gave us a day just for that purpose. Let us use it accordingly.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL
Please send donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. Happy New year!