Cancelling Church for Christmas

This year, Christmas Day fell upon Sunday, the Lord’s Day. These are two days which are considered very important to the majority of people living on my own native Island. One of the days is observed once a week, whereas the other is observed once a year.

The Lord’s Day has long been observed, tracing its roots back to the arrival of the Gospel in Lewis in the 19th century, initially through the Lord’s blessing the work of the Gaelic School Society and, more famously, the ministry of the Rev. Alexander Macleod, parish Minister in Uig. On the other hand, whilst Christmas has been celebrated on our Island since before my birth, it is a far more modern practice. The community gathers for the annual switching on of the Christmas lights, including a Scriptural message, and family traditions feature heavily as many Islanders return home to visit their families.

In 2011, the last time December 25 fell on the Lord’s Day, a Presbyterian congregation in my locality cancelled their evening service, in order to allow people to be with their families. This year, once again, the evening service was cancelled, and likewise another congregation cancelled their evening service. As far as I’m aware, this is not a trend that is practiced by many congregations in Lewis, but it does raise the issue, as to what our priorities are on the Lord’s Day.

A quick search online reveals that this issue has been discussed on various blogs, as churches elsewhere remained closed throughout the whole day, not merely for the evening service. It seems that those who have raised legitimate concerns have been dismissed by some as “disgruntled Sabbatarian’s” and “legalists” for raising a “grand source of pettiness.”

We are to meet for worship on the Lord’s Day and whilst there is no direct command in Scripture to hold multiple worship services, there is a morning and evening pattern found throughout the Scriptures (Ezra 3:3, Acts 20:7). The practice of holding two services on the Lord’s Day is of spiritual and practical benefit to us as it allows us to sanctify, or best make use of the day as a day of worship.

I have no doubt that some of the congregations who cancelled their services yesterday, placing a high value on family, did so with the best of intentions. However, to prioritise our own traditions over the Lord’s and to absent ourselves from worship services, without good cause, is to relegate God to a place which He ought not to occupy. If we submit ourselves and our plans to God for His day, we will be more likely to put Christ first and live our lives for Him on other days.

What better place was there to be yesterday, morning and evening, than at God’s house where His Word was read, preached and sang? What better place was there to encourage family and friends to join with us than at God’s house?

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honourable,
And shall honour Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14)