Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Closed for the Holidays: In Defense of Southland

"I don't think churches should be closed on Christmas because that's the only time I go."

- Brian
How long did you think it would take for me to post on this one?

As many of you may be aware, like many other mega-churches in the country, Southland Christian Church decided a few weeks ago not to hold worship services on the Feast of the Holy Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which some of you call "Christmas" (for some reason). I call it, "The Feast of the Incarnation," for short.

You might read the follow-up article by the Lexington Herald Leader's Frank Lockwood, who broke the story. In terms of the 'Net and editorials, as usual, Get Religion provides the best coverage here and here.

These are my major points about issue itself and the ridiculousness that has ensued:
  • We live in an increasingly technocratic, urbanized and impersonal society. People move all over the place and by virtue of the jobs they have and all manner of obstacles, don't always get much travel time to spend with extended families. It is a gift for abundant life and indeed a witness to the Gospel that churches would refuse to impose religious obligations that would add to the constant break-down of relationships that are meant to be the gift of God.
  • How many hypocrites have denounced Southland for this decision when they themselves would only keep the Feast of the Incarnation should it happen to fall on a Sunday? I have news: the tradition of Sunday worship is not primary as a witness to the Resurrection. The Life we share together, seen as a whole, is far more important. It's that "abundant life" thing again. Further, in terms of ritual, the Celebration of the Eucharist is considered in both the Scriptures and the Christian tradition to be far more important than the day of worship. How many of these folks who are so scandalized intend to share the sacramental meal that is at the center of our witness as the Community of the Resurrection?
  • How can we bear witness to Jesus and our lives as part of that community if we devalue our families like the rest of the culture? Do these people really think it's so much more important to be dictating to people who aren't believers how they should celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation rather than living lives in the midst of our world that continue and extend the Incarnation?
  • Christmas rites do matter. But most of you don't do them anyway. So to avoid being hypocrites, before you harass people for "taking the Christ out of Christmas," why don't you put the "Mass" back into it?
  • And to paraphrase Christ, was the liturgical calendar made for people, or were people made for the liturgical calendar?
  • Finally, Christian mission is about living lives together in love and hospitality, and offering that life to the people around us. The folks who comprise Southland Christian Church do not owe it to anyone to break up the rhythm of their lives together in order to provide religious goods and services to nominally Christian people who have only in mind to consume them so they can feel mildly "spiritual." Further, there is nothing to stop those members who want to worship together from inviting friends over to say prayers and even celebrate the Holy Communion if they so desire.
For those folks who are not members of SCC, it's really none of our business. The people who make up SCC have a responsibility to one another and their own community to teach and live out the Gospel in its fullness, and to do so in a way that seems right to them in their missional context, and in reference to the wider Christian Church and the ancient tradition. Just like any other congregation. "In reference" does not mean following slavishly every criticism that some fool obsessed with "the Christmas Wars" throws their way.

Pray for Jon Weece, and the people, deacons and elders of Southland Christian Church.

See also: "Herald Leader: Lighten Up"


+ Alan said...

Well put O Kyle. One good thing, maybe if not for all this hullabaloo, I may not have thought of Vine & Branches having a Midnight Mass - which we are. But seriously, we really can't handle all the overflow of Southland in my living room. :)

Kyle said...

But I already printed the invitations!

Let's build a bigger auditorium...

Anonymous said...

thanks for your throughtful perspective on this. it helps me see a different outlook than the one from which I have thought/blogged on similar subjects.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:
"Christmas rites do matter."

THAT'S the point as far as I am concerned. And not that it makes me any better than anyone, but I WOULD and DO do them anyway.

Anyway, my views appear to be in the minority in the blog circles in which I hang out, but that's ok. I love you guys and I think you still love me. In particular, I am finding your series of "antitheses" your standard excellently reasoned fare. My sincere thanks to you for being a thinking Christian and a thinking blogger on this issue as well as every other. We need more of such thoughtful approach across the boards in Christianity.

I'll always listen to people who think out their positions and don't just hold them ignorantly and haphazardly, even when I may not agree with them.


Kyle said...

Thanks, Fernando and Arlen.

Arlen, that is a powerful point. In terms of SCC's context, however, I wouldn't expect a Christmas Day service to be more theologically loaded than or different from their normal Advent fare.

And here's where you might challenge me: I don't really have a reasoned argument as to why the commemoration of the Incarnation must be united to Dec. 25, and that outside of this union, something is missing.

Alan teases me periodically because I'm the one who insists on having Easter Vigil on Saturday night as opposed to any other time.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

It is not important what day things are done on (apart from whatever importance one places upon tradition). It is certainly not important that they be done in a building.

My whole reason for opposing this is simply that the reasoning for doing so seems to me to be piss-poor, and shows--in my opinion--that the reasonings of some churches continues to be faulty and based upon premises that are not the Gospel, such as "the bottom line", "attendance", and the losing battle of "cultural relevance" which ends up amounting to "cultural capitulation" and shallowness.

And if this was done in the name of "family".... Family is great; I love it, but Christmas is about "family"? This is really the message we want to send? Sorry, but such a vision is a cheapened, watered down one, and not one that is being reclaimed from the distortions of our culture.

If you have a good, well reasoned theological line of reasoning for doing something then I'm probably "ok" with it, even if I personally disagree.

In my opinion it just sends a wrong message and betrays symptoms of an ethos that I have come to thoroughly disagree with.

Kyle said...

Good points, man.

And I'm about to listen to the mp3 of Weece's defense to see if his theologizing on the matter is any more sophisticated than mine. ;0)

And you're dead on about the family thing; while I did defend it, I'll admit that it's quite week. As Ben Withington likes to remind us, the Church does not exist to shore up and improve nuclear families as such.

Would I have made the same decision they did? Hell, no. But then again, I'd also throw out the communion stations and reform the liturgy and scale back the performance and... you get the picture.

I'm still pretty happy about it, because it's a pretty up-front symptom of the problems that all kinds of people have brought up (whether I agree with their stances or not) that need to be discussed in an intentional way in these communities.

And anytime a big ol' church like that might ask, "now why do we do what we do and what does it mean? and does it mean enough?" something good is happening.

naak said...

Most of this is stupid. Not your post, but the fact that some one would make such a deal about it. My church is having a service that day, and I'm glad because I love going to church to worship. But even if we were not because of the day which it falls on, it shouldnt be that big of a deal. Did not Paul say that it didnt matter if we hold one day above another or reguard them all as equal? That every man is to be fully convinced in his own heart about such things? And it will be the Lord who will Judge? So why bother these people with such a pointless thing. In the end, whether they go or not, for what ever reason, they do to the Lord.

In my mind, it better to go to church on Christmas. But I will not judge one for not if they feel it best according to conscience, simply because Scripture does not tell us we have to do it...and Im not much of one for tridition.

Expax said...

Kyle is your war on Christmas stemming from not receiving enough presents on Christmas as a child? Isn't it time you exercise the inner demons that are within? Let us bless this mulled wine and hope as you drink it the demons will be cast off of you. Don't worry once the spiritual warfare is over you will have no desire to wage war on Christmas. Have a merry Christmas kyle.

(Just Kidding by the way...)

Kyle said...


Cardinal John said...

Should be writing a paper right now...
My first reaction was. Bummer. Church leaders should know better.

But then I gave it some thought. Talked it over with my wife. (She's pretty sensible and always helps when pondering something "grey.") And we came to a few questions:
A. Are you yourself going to Church on the 25th of Dec.? If yes, go to question 2. If no, then you're done.
2. Is it just as bad if there is no service on the 25th of Dec. when its not on a Sunday? If yes, then go to question D. If no, stick a fork in ya'.
D. Being that our culture celebrates with presents and family (especially on the monring of the 25th) is it really that difficult to do a small service in the afternoon? If yes, then you're doing something wrong. If, no, the do it. Everyone else go worship Christ the Lord instead of casting stones.

Its funny how this whole situation reminds me of a Charlie Brown Christmas.

-CJ (btw anyone know what "Christmas movie" and character I am referencing with my choice of "numbering?"

Kyle said...

Dang. I couldn't tell you the film, but I think your perspective and assessment are dead-on. Thanks for posting it.

'Cause since when is the Feast of the Incarnation all about being furious with retailers and church leaders for failing to commemorate it in the fashion I prefer?

Cardinal John said...

Home Alone

The scene where Kevin's older, meaner, but not quite bright brother explains why he thinks Kevin will be okay...

Of all the laughs in that movie...A, 2, D cracks me up the most.


Anonymous said...

My favorite is the dopey older brother reading the kiddy book to the kid in the tub...he pronounces "sobbed" "so bob bed"

#Debi said...

So, would that be Happy Feast of the Incarnation, or Merry Feast of the Incarnation?

Kyle said...

That's "blessed," you raving secularist!