Over the next few days, many churches across the nation will be standing room only. Their parking lots will be chaotic, their pews will be lined and their lobbies will be cramped. But, it won’t be because we’ve entered some sort of second Great Awakening (although God knows it certainly wouldn’t hurt.) No, it’s simply because it’s Christmastime and if there’s one time out of the year that we should all attend church, it’s the last couple weeks of December, right? Otherwise, our names might end up on Santa’s naughty list and, let’s be honest, who really wants to take that sort of risk? (Not me.) Sadly, this is the time of year when the phrase “going to church” becomes synonymous with other hallowed, biblical activities like “drinking eggnog,” “opening presents,” and “building snowmen.” In fact, many folks — Christians included — simply lump “church” in with all of the other cool, awesome, amazing, edgy, happy, festive holiday traditions. As Jesus proclaimed, “The only rules during Christmas are to have fun, get lots of free stuff and wear trendy sweaters everywhere you go.”
Sorry, I think that was actually a line from the last Old Navy commercial I saw. It can be easy to confuse the two, depending on who you ask.
To be fair, there’s certainly nothing wrong with guzzling holiday beverages, buying overpriced merchandise or constructing large anthropomorphic beings out of frozen clumps of rainwater. But, when these things begin to take priority over observing and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ — the greatest event in the history of the universe — there might be a problem. Of course, that’s sort of the point: it is a problem and it’s an American problem in particular. Every year, we’re treated to more and more evidence that consumerism and commercialism have essentially wrecked the real meaning of Christmas. Moreover, our society is becoming increasingly hostile toward any expression of the Christian faith during this time of year, which inevitably leads to really stupid things like censoring a Charlie Brown cartoon or removing a manger scene from a veterans hospital. Even secular decorations like this pink Hello Kitty Christmas tree have to go. I would argue this is even worse and far more harmful than the dangers of consumerism. Also, it gives even further inspiration to the atheists, who have now apparently recruited Santa Claus as their mascot for promoting a “just skip church” Christmas message.
Anyway, I thought now would be an appropriate time to remind you that Christ isn’t just the “reason for the season” — He’s the reason for our very existence. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always keep this in mind or live by it. I often find myself being selfish and stressed and exhibiting a pessimistic view about the state of our country. So, if you struggle like I do to maintain a Christlike perspective throughout the year, Christmas is a good opportunity to refocus and reprioritize.
Speaking of priorities, a recent survey from LifeWay Research found that 61 percent of adults typically attend church during the Advent season. In a report titled “American Views on Christmas” researchers discovered that most Americans still place a priority on attending some sort of religious service during the holidays. LifeWay Research Director Scott McConnell says the data was similar to last year’s findings.
In 2014, a LifeWay Research survey indicated 63 percent of Americans think Christmas activities should include a visit to a church service. In 2010, a LifeWay Research survey found that 47 percent selected ‘attend special church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day’ to a list of things asking which does your household typically do at Christmas time. The smaller number reflects only Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services compared to any at Christmas time in the 2015 service.”
I could blather on endlessly about the particulars of this survey, but I think the larger reality is that if you’re going to a local church during the Christmas season, it must be because, whether you’ll admit it or not, you at least recognize that there’s something true and wondrous and extraordinarily special about it. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be there at all. You’d be like those billboard atheists sitting at home trying to “be good for goodness’ sake.” At any rate, I’d encourage you to understand that all of the things that make “church” beautiful, extraordinary and special during Christmastime are just as beautiful, extraordinary and special every Sunday of the year.
Obviously I’m not opposed to all these high attendance numbers during the month of December, but I’d like to see the numbers just as high after Christmas is over. I’d like to see every biblically-grounded church in America with standing room only every week. I’d like to see churches having to expand their buildings to make more room for the crowds, not bulldoze facilities that are no longer in use. I’d like to see new churches being built rather than old ones being forced to close their doors. If we truly want America to be a great nation again, we need more Americans sitting in church under biblically-sound and doctrinally-pure Scriptural teaching.
What we don’t need, however, is folks attending church once or twice a year with the reasoning that it’s the “American thing to do.” Sadly, many of the people in the aforementioned survey are irregular churchgoers — some of them even Christians — who really couldn’t care less about the Christian life but still want to appear “spiritual.” Even more sad is the fact that there are a lot of churches out there who cater to people like this. I call them “Americanized” churches — houses of worship that have become so obsessed with being politically correct and inoffensive that they try to make Christianity ‘cool’ and ‘convenient’ and ‘comfortable.’ Even worse are the pastors who continue to promote this dangerous brand of faux Christianity, like this one who officiated the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wedding. This Rich Wilkerson guy even has his own reality TV show (of course) with a teaser preview that shows him lounging around on the beach with his bikini-clad wife and shouting out all of the ridiculous self-help cliches we’ve heard millions of times. Wilkerson even says that the Gospel doesn’t require or demand any sort of behavior modification (because, well, demanding that anyone change their sinful lifestyle would just be, like, so totally offensive, right?)
I guess, I’m getting a little distracted now, but you get the point: the “Americanization” of Christianity, which is particularly evident at Christmastime, is an alarming trend to say the least and it’s one that believers should strive to combat — hopefully by spreading the message of God’s grace every day of the year and telling people that church is more than just a Christmas and Easter thing.
So, in case you were wondering, here are a few of the reasons why church attendance should be a regular occurrence and why it’s something you should do collectively rather than individually. After all, the Bible says that as Christians we are God’s children — part of His family — and families by their very nature and definition are inter-dependent.
First, Jesus Himself went to “church.” He observed the Sabbath in accordance with the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament and often returned to Nazareth, where he grew up, to attend the “meeting place” as a customary tradition. Did you catch that? It was a custom for Him. If you’re a Christ-follower, you’re called to follow the example and behaviors of Jesus. Second, regular church attendance is necessary for spiritual growth and if you’re serious about your faith, it’s essential. Third, it’s a good habit, as Hebrews 10:25 tells us.
Of course, this is just skimming the surface of reasons to make church attendance a regular part of your life, but please realize that none of them are very “American.” The Christian life is not about shortcuts, comforts or ‘coolness.’ That’s the American way of life. But, Jesus never promised us that Christianity would be easy, fun, hip or trendy. So, if you’re thinking you’ll be going to church this Christmas just because it’s the “American” thing to do, you’re going about it all wrong and you’re missing the bigger picture.
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