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December 15, 2005


"politically conscious and liturgically indifferent"

So true. Thanks, John.

This will be my first Christmas in a mission-field culture. Having the opportunity to step out of my own culture's traditions I find myself seriously evaluating exactly what it is I am celebrating on Christmas morning. With less than 1% of the population in my host culture, Japan, protestant Christian, Christmas isn't a family holiday, it is a Church Family holiday. And why shouldn't it be? Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' giving up all of heaven to come to this sinful world to die for His people. Should we not step back from worshipping the god of materialism for a few short hours to worship the King of Kings for His sacrifice? My family will spend all day with our Japanese church family, as we would even if Christmas were not on Sunday this year - because Christmas is a celebration of our God and Saviour and we look forward to being with His family on that day.

Correct forms? Could it be that Mainliners follow forms while Evangelicals follow Christ? Just a thought.

When the Samaritan woman questioned the Lord about "correct forms" in John 4, Jesus missed an opportunity to lecture her on her "liturgical indifference" and instead said that the problem was "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship." He went on to say, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24)

While the OT has much to say on procedure of worship, the NT is deafeningly silent on this issue, but has much to say about Who we worship and our relationship with Him. I haven't found an explicit command to worship on Sunday, or to wear certain colors or light certain color candles based on the time of year. Heb 10:25 only commands that we meet together for mutual exhortation. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with all the traditions man has piled on to the Gospel over the centuries, but we must not lose the Savior for the "forms."

I too am disappointed that some churches have canceled Christmas day services, but for reasons along the lines of what Joyce said, and not because we are changing a centuries old tradition.

I hope I did not come off too harsh. I just want to make sure that we do not minimize what is essential, namely Christ, because we are so caught up in what is relatively unimportant - man's traditions. I did not mean to suggest that people who follow forms can't also follow Christ.


You raise some important questions that cannot be answered thoroughly in a forum like this. At the risk of sounding self-promotional, I can recommend a book on Reformed worship that addresses your concerns: With Reverence and Awe, that I co-wrote with D.G. Hart.

Very briefly, I would urge you to consider that the desire follow Christ with indifference to forms may itself be part of a centuries-old tradition, called Gnosticism. The Protestants of the 16th century knew better, it seems to me, and so they focused on recovering the right forms of worship, even to the point of embedding that concern in the name of their movement -- it was a Reformation, not a Revival.

I am glad that you too are dismayed at what some churches are doing on 12/25. Have a blessed Lord's Day tomorrow and a week from tomorrow.

I have a a couple of comments. First the churches that have gotten so much attention about not having services on Christmas really do have hundred of volunteers that are part of putting on services. Nursery workers, parking lot helpers, greaters, teachers, musicians are a reality for large churches. I am intrigued by your comment that they are "doing church wrong". I would love to hear more about where that is going. My thought is to understand where you are coming from. I see the problems and the glories of this kind of church from the inside.
Second, most of these same congregations are having many services on Christmas eve with tens of thousands of people in attendence. No one mentions this. While it may be a model of church that is different from yours, it is not irrelevant to the thoughts about Christmas Sunday services.
I go to one of those big churches who chose to do both the Chrstimas Eve services and the Christmas Sunday morning service. It was a hard decison. It means that we prevail on many, many people to help out on Saturday and then again on Sunday morning.

Like I said, that's a different conversation, so Glenn will have to invite me back if we want to kick that around. But briefly, I believe that American Protestants have not given sufficient attention to the question of the appropriate scale for "doing church." If church means ambitious age-segregated programing, worship bands, drama teams, food courts after services, etc., then of course the bigger the better. But if church is the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, and pastoral oversight where ministers really get to know their flock, then it is hard to imagine doing that well when membership exceeds 250.

Re Christmas eve evangelistic services: they may have their place, but I don't think churches should program activities that encourage the absence of their members from the worship on the Lord's Day.


Consider yourself officially invited back to take this up in more depth. We can work out scheduling in January.

My worry about you writing such a piece is that you'll be arguing theologically. In my few short months in the blog world I've noticed that a number of bloggers only countenance an argument that has a specific Bible verse tied to it. If no verse, then no argument.

Theological reasoning, especially if the argument being advanced runs counter to the person who requires a verse, recieves some disdain. Perhaps if you labor to show the Scripture undergirding your theological reasoning you will overcome this sort of objection, but I'm not confident.

Even with my worry about this, I still think your perspective would be good to publish so that readers can consider it in depth.

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