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Worse than Nothing Part 1

Posted By on December 17, 2017

by Teri Ong  

[Introductory remarks – I wrote this a long time ago, but I needed to carefully consider whether it could be helpful to anyone or might be merely inflammatory. Many years ago I heard a song by a country Gospel group that was much more concise than what I have written, but along the same lines. The song was called “Excuses.” It was all about the excuses people give for not going to church, and believe me, in 40 years of church ministry, I have heard every one of them given. There are sometimes legitimate reasons not to attend congregational worship, but most of the time we are just “excusing” ourselves. After 10 months of prayerful consideration and sharing this three-part piece with godly colleagues, I offer it here for your prayerful consideration as we soon come to another holy-day season.] 

 Today is New Year’s Day 2017. It also happens to be Sunday. Today we worshiped the Lord on His day as we always do – corporately – in church – with brothers and sisters in Christ who also believe it honors the Lord to honor His day. Today, as on other Sundays, we prayed together, sang together, read Scripture together, heard God’s Word taught and expounded together, ate together, shared our lives together, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. 

Today it happened that we had a couple from another city join with our little church family because their church cancelled services on Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Sunday. I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of closing the church doors on the day we celebrate the Lord’s first coming to earth as a man, the day we celebrate His birth in space and time so He could ultimately carry out God’s plan of redemption. After all, we have designated Christmas as a “holiday.”  “Holiday” is simply a compound word made up of the two words “holy” and “day.” Worshiping as members of His church on a day on which we especially acknowledge the miraculous incarnation of our Savior is not only appropriate, it should be our highest priority. 

All of the attendant activities that are part of holy day celebrations are fine and good in their place – gathering with family members, special foods and feasting, gift giving, music making, etc. God Himself gave His blessing on these types of activities. Look at all the references in the Bible that contain the word “feast.” You will see that God is pleased when we set aside “laborious work” for a period of days and eat good food, play happy music, and in all ways express our joy for all His good provisions. The fact remains, however, that “holy days” are holy because they are set apart by and to God.  Moses explained this truth to Pharaoh, “…We must hold a feast to the LORD.” (Ex 10:9) 

Why would an otherwise biblically sound, evangelical church cancel worship services “to the Lord” on a Sunday because it is Christmas? Like King Solomon, I “set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” (Eccl. 1:13) Here are my speculations about possible reasons. 


1.The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for others in the congregation and will sacrificially cancel services, even though they would rather be worshiping in church. 

 2. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for themselves and will altruistically extend a “day off” to everyone in the congregation.

 3.The church leadership anticipates that there will be very few in the congregation that will show up for church and don’t want to waste time, effort, or material resources to prepare a service or open the building for the hand-full that will come. 

 4.The church leadership knows that there are some “pillars of the church” that don’t plan to be in church, and the leadership doesn’t want to alienate any VIP’s by making them feel guilty about not being in church for Christ’s birthday celebration. The way to avoid this situation is to cancel entirely. 

 5.The church leadership realizes that everyone will be so tired out from all of the partying around the “holiday” season, or that all the mothers will be so stressed out about all the preparations for the partying that must take place after services are over, that even those few who show up will be there in body only. Since worship is to be “in spirit,” and no one’s spirit will be there, there is no need to have a service. 

  I have no way of knowing whether or not I have touched on anyone’s reason for canceling normal worship services on Christmas Sundays or not. Perhaps I am not imaginative enough or sensitive enough to come up with better or more accurate reasonings, but all of the ones I did come up with are pretty flimsy.  

Church leadership that would cancel for the “benefit” of the congregants isn’t spiritual “leadership” at all. No activity is more beneficial to an individual or a family than gathering with other members of the body of Christ to worship Him. Church leaders that encourage members of the flock to think more highly of themselves and their family traditions than they ought to think– that is to say, more highly than they think of worshiping their Savior– are leading people down the broad path that leads to spiritual ruin. Christ made it clear that family concerns, even momentous concerns such as a death in the family, are not to supercede our duty to follow our Savior. (Matt. 8:22) 

Leaders who cancel for their own convenience are teaching their flock that personal convenience and comfort are the highest good. They are teaching by their example that Christ is not pre-eminent in their lives or in their church, and that He is not worthy of setting aside our little human concerns. As to the issue of wasting time and resources on a reduced or even meager attendance, could it not be possible that God would be especially blessed by the more extreme sacrifice shown by persevering when attendance is down? The size of a meeting has never been a hindrance to the God who promises to be in the midst of “two or three gathered together.” (Matt. 18:20) What if God decided to take a “day off” from us personally or from the average church?   (Acts 17:25) 

But what about demonstrating love to other weaker brothers and sisters by not making them feel guilty or convicted about abandoning the body of Christ on Christ’s holy day? Isn’t that legitimate? A wise woman I know taught that we need to distinguish between “love” and “indulgence.” True Christian love is willing to exhort and correct when necessary. Remember what the writer of Hebrews said: 

 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; (Heb. 3:12-14) 


What was the reason for this bold exhortation? The writer of Hebrews was recalling what happened when the Israelites provoked God in the wilderness with their worship gone wrong. (Heb 3:15-19) One notable provocation happened when the Israelites decided to have a “feast to the Lord,” but they didn’t do it God’s way. They chose to celebrate in an idolatrous and fleshly way. Sadly, there are many ways that their way is also the “American way.” 


5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. (Ex. 32:5-7) 


If all these possible reasons for cancelling worship are inadequate for Christmas, they are doubly so for cancelling on New Year’s Day. That ranks right up there with cancelling on Super Bowl Sunday. New Year’s Day is not traditionally set apart as a holy day like Christmas. For Americans, it is often a day of recovering from the drunken revels of the night before. Is there any sense that New Year’s Day should be set aside to God? Scripturally, first days are very important to God. Look at Exodus 12:2 and 40:2. God chose to have His tabernacle set up on the first day of the first month, and the first month was established to coincide with the exodus from Egypt.As Christians, New Year’s Day can be a special remembrance of what God took us out of– a life of bondage to sin– and an acknowledgment of our Savior Immanuel – the one who came to “tabernacle with mankind.” 

Cancelling corporate worship in church on holy days sends the message to a sinful world that gathering with believers to worship God is worse than nothing. Is that the message we want to send? 


 O Come, O Come Emmanuel 


1) O come. O come.  Emmanuel, 

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here 

Until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 


3) O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free 

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; 

From depths of hell Thy People save 

And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 


4) O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer 

Our spirits by Thine advent here; 

O drive away the shades of night, 

And pierce the clouds and bring us light. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 


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