Christmas, Church

“If You Skip Church on Christmas You’re Probably Not Even Saved” and Other Holiday Nonsense

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It happened in 2011, and it’s happening again this year in good old 2016. Christmas Day falls on a Sunday- and the spiritual lumps of coal are being lobbed all over the internet: If you’re a Christian who’s even thinking about taking the day off from church attendance or your church has decided to cancel services that day…well, you’ve firmly ensconced yourself on God’s “naughty” list.

So I’m innocently cruising around on social media, podcasts, and the blogosphere recently when what to my wondering eyes should appear, aspersions galore from those I hold dear. Seriously, scads of doctrinally sound Christians I love and respect have said things like, “Church attendance on Christmas will separate the wheat from the chaff,” and, “If your church is canceling services (or even modifying the regular Sunday schedule) on Christmas, it’s time to find a new church.”

Did I read that right? Are theologically-grounded Christians really questioning people’s salvation and the spiritual health of churches based solely on a once-every-five-to-eleven-years Christmas Day worship service?

I honestly don’t think I’m biblically out of bounds when I say that’s absurd and judgmental and it needs to stop. Like, yesterday.

Yes, probably a lot of the churches who are canceling services on Christmas are theologically wonky, but that’s because, statistically speaking, the majority of churches out there, period, are theologically wonky. Too many people are post hoc ergo propter hocing this situation. Just because there are bad churches that are canceling services doesn’t mean every church that cancels services is a bad church. What about the rural church of 20 members (that hasn’t had a visitor since the last century) who have all informed the pastor they’ll be out of town for Christmas? Is he supposed to show up and preach to an empty room? What about churches who have moved their services to Christmas Eve so members can spend time with family on Christmas without missing weekly worship? Is there a passage of Scripture I’m not familiar with that prohibits a church from doing this every once in a blue moon?

Yes, there are doctrinally unsound churches out there, but they’re doctrinally unsound because they consistently teach unsound doctrine as measured by applicable Scripture, not because they cancel a worship service or shift their normal schedule around for Christmas- an issue nowhere mentioned in Scripture.

As for judging people’s salvation (or love for Christ, love for the church, commitment, spiritual maturity, etc.) based on whether or not they attend church on Christmas- if you’re going to question a Christian’s salvation for skipping church that day, are you ready to pronounce a pagan saved if he shows up for services on Christmas Sunday?

Of course not. Because that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

The people who are using Christmas Day church attendance as a spiritual barometer would be the first to tell you – and rightly so – that going to church won’t save you. Neither will missing one service (or a dozen) “unsave” you. Salvation is determined only by whether or not you’ve repented of your sin and placed your faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to redeem you. And sanctification (spiritual growth) is a lifelong process – a trajectory – of becoming more and more Christlike through the years. Church attendance on Christmas isn’t a make or break for your salvation or sanctification.

Earlier this week in The Ten, we studied the fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” We discovered that, while God’s intention for the Israelites was simply to abstain from working at their jobs, housework, and commerce in order to rest and worship Him, the Pharisees later came along and added all kinds of micro-managing rules defining “work.” So by the time Jesus came on the scene, things like picking (“harvesting,” according to the Pharisees) and eating grain as you walked along, and performing miracles of healing were considered “work”- thus breaking the Sabbath. But these were man-made laws, not God’s law. It was oppressive and robbed people of the joy of worship God intended His people to bask in each week. “The Sabbath was made for man,” Jesus said, “Not man for the Sabbath.”

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I can’t help but wonder if these “Real Christians will be at church on Christmas Day,” pronouncements aren’t similar. God has made no law for Christians that we must be at church on Christmas Day – or any other particular day – or we’re sinning. And, as for the churches who once every several years cancel services or shift their Sunday service to Christmas Eve, God has made no law that churches must meet on Sunday every single week or they’re in sin. What God has said for New Testament Christians is:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

“Not neglecting to meet together.” Reminiscent of the paucity of Old Testament explanations of what constituted Sabbath work, God doesn’t give a definition of this phrase or quantify it with a specific number of allowable and acceptable missed Sundays per year. It is left to the conscience of each individual Christian and the agreement of each local body of believers (but I can scarcely believe that a person who is at church every week unless Providentially hindered and opts to skip the Christmas service is “neglecting” to meet with the body by any stretch of the word). But when we by-pass issues of individual conscience and church agreement, make a law where no law exists in Scripture, and judge people’s relationships with God based on our own man-made law, are we not doing exactly what the Pharisees did?

What’s of far more concern than where your body is on Sunday, December 25, is where your heart is the other 364 days of the year. Do you love the body of Christ? Are you committed to serving the Lord and your brothers and sisters all year long at the church you’re a member of? Do you faithfully attend worship each week? Then deciding to spend Christmas Sunday at home with your family (especially if you’ve already attended the Christmas Eve service the night before) is not an indication that you’re backsliding or somehow “less” of a Christian than those decrying your absence.

But what if you answered “no” to those questions? What if you skip church as many or more Sundays as you attend because you just don’t feel like going, or you signed your kid up for a soccer team that plays on Sundays, or there’s a ball game on TV, or you’d rather go shopping, or you go out of town on pleasure trips a lot of weekends? What if your general attitude toward church is, “Meh, I’ll go when I feel like it and have nothing better to do.”?

That is much more problematic than skipping church the years Christmas falls on a Sunday. That’s an indicator that you need to examine your heart to discover whether or not you’re in the faith. To love Christ is to love His bride, the church. People who are genuinely regenerated love the church. As a general rule, they want to be at church worshiping, serving, learning, growing, and fellowshipping with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why, between 2011 and 2016 haven’t I seen and heard these same folks who are judging Christians about Christmas church attendance speaking out equally as boldly, and in the same numbers, about people being sporadic in their attendance and uncommitted to the body the remaining Sundays of those years? As Christians, we celebrate Christ’s incarnation every Sunday, not just when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Are those other Sundays somehow less important?

One day, out of the thousands that comprise your life span, is inconsequential. The Bible does not say that simply staying home from church on Sunday, December 25, is a sin. What’s important is pursuing Christ, hungering for holiness, and loving and serving the church every day, not just when Christmas Sunday rolls around.

11 thoughts on ““If You Skip Church on Christmas You’re Probably Not Even Saved” and Other Holiday Nonsense”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Well said and well founded on scripture.

    I belong to an 11-month-old church plant. There are 4 elders. The 4 elders have created a Reformed church with a flow of service that is based on 9Marks and includes hymns, confession time/devotional, expository preaching from a pastor who is doctrinally solid in his insightfulness and passion, and an elder-written blog with essays urging us to dig deeper posted after the service and essays urging us to prepare our hearts before the service. I have not seen them make an unscriptural decision yet nor behave in any unscriptural way. I trust them and their decisions very deeply.

    They decided to move our services to Christmas Eve. I don’t know the reason. We rent a place, so it could simply be a scheduling issue. Our congregation is composed mainly of local college students and young people aged 18-25 or so (PRAISE THE LORD FOR THAT!!) so since many of them will be out of town perhaps it was for that reason. Maybe it was simply to allow the congregation to have time with their families. I don’t know why they decided, but I trust their reasoning.

    I was saddened by the flurry of prescriptive and judgmental accusations spitting out from social media, which due to their global nature, were by default leveled at me and my elders since we are under that umbrella of churches changing their schedule. I love my church and it’s a praise to the Lord that it exists. It’s a bastion of truth in an apostate world, it serves its members in need so humbly and eagerly, it welcomes so many of the youth at risk of wandering, especially college students. Our pastor (who is comparatively young) preaches sermons so astoundingly MacArthur-Washer-Lawson-like. I am fully confident we are not turning instantly apostate by moving our Service back in time 18 hours. Since I am a witness to what Jesus is doing in our local church is so beautiful and eternal, I consider these uninformed, all-encompassing charges gadfly-ish in the extreme. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well put, Elizabeth. Another reader mentioned that her (doctrinally sound) church is moving services back to 12/24 because they meet in a school that is not allowing them to hold services on the 25th. I think your point about trusting your pastor/elders with this decision is an important one :0)

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  2. Oh yes! I miss those days of “where WERE you last Sunday” I said never! Ugh. Yes those were my membership days of when the church doors are open, you BE there. If you aren’t, and the Lord comes, you’ll be left behind! Oh boy. My current church has service on Christmas Eve. They do have a song service on Sunday, which I do not attend. My family comes first. Church attendance, while important, is not a requirement for my salvation. The legalistic nonsense doesn’t move me at all. Believe me, there are many children who now have turned there backs on the Lord because of the insistence of legalistic parents who listened to man and were there every time the church doors were open. And the church doors were open 7 days a week.

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  3. Excellent post! I, too, had seen the same warnings from discernment websites that I regularly check and thought, “Really?” My own small body of believers meets on Saturday evenings because we borrow a church building. I wonder what they would think of that?!? (Admittedly, the first time I went to the grocery store on a Sunday morning, I felt like a heathen).

    The reality is, there are many solid Christians (especially women) who will be sitting in church on Christmas morning with a checklist running through their heads as they think about putting the turkey in the oven, suddenly remember that last item they forgot, or wonder if the kids cleaned the bathroom for company that will be arriving shortly after they return home. Is it right? No. But, we’re weak, sinful humans. And those who sanctimoniously sit in their pew on Christmas morning need to check their pride. Reading the story of Christ’s birth around the Christmas tree to reflect on the greatest gift ever. given can be just as meaningful, if not more, than going through the motions in a church building.

    Merry CHRISTmas!

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  4. So well reasoned. We do make much ado about nothing at times. I liked your pointing out that celebrating Christs birth will mean church for some families and Scripture reading around the tree at home for others. That we can violate the worshipful intent of Christmas wherever we are or are not.
    Isn’t the following, though, a false dichotomy? I think it weakens your overall argument. You say, “If you’re going to question a Christian’s salvation for skipping church that day, are you ready to pronounce a pagan saved if he shows up for services on Christmas?” The foolish but obvious answer to that question is “No, the pagan has to attend church every Sunday just like anyone else in order to be saved.” It is skipping church (with whatever parameters the legalistic determines) that apparently threatens one’s salvation.
    I struggle a little with what constitutes legalism about Sundays. I have felt uncomfortable when families skip church because of children’s sports commitments, but because I never was in the position of having to make such a decision, I don’t feel qualified to take a stand. It’s easy to pronounce self-righteously that I never would….”
    Thank you for helping us think through potential blind spots.

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    1. Hi Suzanne- Thanks so much for your comment. It is challenging to work through these things at times, isn’t it?

      The differences between missing church for soccer games on Sundays and missing church when Christmas falls on a Sunday are:

      a) We don’t have a choice about, or any control over, Christmas falling on a Sunday (if we did, I’d choose for it never to fall on a Sunday :0) Parents have a choice about, and control over, signing their kids up for a team that has games on Sunday that conflict with church. They could sign their kids up for a team whose games don’t conflict with church, or they could decline to sign their kids up for a sport, period.

      b) Christmas falls on a Sunday once every five to eleven years. Soccer teams play multiple games every year. That’s a difference of missing church once every several years or missing church several times every year.

      The point about pronouncing pagans saved for showing up for church on Christmas morning wasn’t meant to be a supporting argument, but a rhetorical question designed to point out that it’s just as fallacious to question a person’s salvation for missing church that day as the converse- pronouncing someone saved because she shows up that day. Church attendance/non-attendance on one particular Sunday is not an indicator of salvation.

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  5. I so appreciated this post. Our church is having both a Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day service. Which, I think is great! I’m all about the church meeting on Christmas Sunday. But, my personal struggle is performance oriented righteousness. Legalism. I struggle with it constantly, so I feel this intense obligation to be there for both services. My husband (who also loves the Lord and is growing in his faith steadily) does not and has stated that he thinks we should attend the Christmas Eve service, but just be home as a family on Christmas Day.

    I have been feeling all kinds of conflicted over this. So afraid of what my church family will think of us if we’re not there on Sunday! But you’re post has reminded me that I am not living for the praise of man and that God sees my heart. He knows my love for His body. He knows my desire to be obedient to Him. He knows my struggle with legalism. I’m going to respectfully and gladly submit to my husband and trust his leadership here. Thank you for allowing me the grace to do that through your words.

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    1. Aw, thanks so much for your kind words, Anne. I’m glad I was able to help just a little.

      You bring out an important point for all of us ladies- if there’s disagreement between husband and wife on this issue, we need to submit to our husbands (a clear command of Scripture) rather than insisting on attending one service or another, or both (found nowhere in Scripture).

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  6. Two points in your article I particularly liked A) post hoc ergo propter hoc. When my children were young our church had a Christian day school. We are a small independent Baptist church and the curriculum we used held a similar view of many things as we do. There was a phrase in one of the books that said “wide aisles and large choirs do make a good church” I understand what they are getting at, but those things do not make a bad church either. As you said, because some churches emphasize the wrong things, and even have wrong doctrine, it doesn’t mean some other practices are wrong. I personally miss singing in a large congregation, but of course I wouldn’t attend a doctrinally unsound church just for the music, but good music (or even choir robes) isn’t what makes a church unsound. B) the other comment you made about Hebrews 10. Our pastor always taught that a person should be in church 3 times a week, no matter what (almost) even when young children are usually in bed early, etc. I have seen people in church with terrible migraines, or awful colds (who actually are quite disturbing to the meeting) who I believe the Lord would forgive for staying at home on those occasions. I have always thought that the passage is talking about making a habit of not going to church, rather than being there every time the doors are open. We have no Biblical mandate for schedules of church attendance, other than the statement that the young church met on the first day of the week. I have appreciated in the past your idea of the difference between prescriptive and descriptive in the Bible. It is a helpful point.

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