Should churches “close” on Christmas Day? The fact that this question is seriously considered by churches across the country indicates the dismal state of the contemporary evangelical church. It indicates a faulty understanding of the Bible’s authority and a deplorable comprehension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most evangelicals, I would maintain, do not understand the nature of the Fourth Commandment, which has to do with keeping the Sabbath. Many assume that this law is no longer relevant because it refers to the so-called “Jewish Sabbath.” This is, however, not what the Bible teaches. This Commandment concerns the principle of Sabbath, not a particular day of the week.

The primary focus of the Sabbath is the temporary cessation of our ordinary routines so that a period of time may be designated for worship and rest. The term “Sabbath” (shabbath) refers to rest, but this rest is actually “work” of a another kind—the “work” of worship. Periodically, therefore, God requires His people to set aside their normal labors in order to concentrate on the tasks of worship and rest.

From the beginning, the Sabbath was intended to be a picture of the coming eternal state in which the people of God will have uninterrupted worship of God while being freed from all the implications and complications of sin. The Sabbath is tied to the issue of redemption, which means that it is joined to the work of Christ. The Bible teaches that it is in Christ that the sinner finds deliverance from sin and the ultimate consequence of sin, which is eternal condemnation. By offering Himself in our place, Jesus paid our penalty thus guaranteeing that we would have a place in the presence of God forever.

In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the writer explains the relationship between the Sabbath principle and the work of Christ. He refers to the leadership of Joshua who successfully established the people of Israel in the land of promise (cf. Heb. 11:8-10). That land was a type of the uninterrupted peace that God has prepared for His people in eternity. The writer emphasizes, however, that Joshua did not provide the final rest for God’s people, but only a picture of it. He concludes: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:9) The text makes plain that the continuing Sabbath obligation has to do with the work of Christ. Only in Him can true and lasting spiritual rest be found (cf. Matt. 11:28, 29; Rev. 14:13).

As already stated, the Sabbath doctrine has to do with our responsibility to set aside a portion of our time for the worship of God and related activities, and this is done in anticipation of the coming day of everlasting rest. This is the time when the redemption of the human race is finished and the Savior presents redeemed humanity to His Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-28). Before the work of Christ was completed on Earth, the day of perfect and eternal rest (or Sabbath) was yet future. Therefore, God commanded that the people work for six days and rest on the seventh. This illustrated the truth that the rest of redemption had not yet been achieved. The Jews lived their lives in light of the promise of rest and they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in whom they would find true and unending Sabbath.

With the completion of His work and return to heaven, those existing after the completion of Christ’s ministry live in a time of redemption accomplished. The labor of the Savior has forever secured our place in the eternal rest of God. Our Sabbath keeping is also symbolic, therefore. The nature of our week testifies that the promise has been fulfilled, redemption has been accomplished, and we may begin our labors with that certain knowledge. The change from a seventh day observance to a first day observance of the Sabbath was necessary in order to reflect properly the redemptive work of Christ. Rest was anticipated, but now it is realized.

All of this means that a weekly Sabbath is not an option, but an obligation, which is why you find a law regarding the Sabbath among the Ten Commandments. Just as we would not consider dispensing with the Commandments regarding murder, stealing, lying, etc., so we should not behave as if the law of Sabbath is no longer relevant.

Old Testament believers “preached” the gospel by working six days and resting on the seventh at the end of their week. As stated, this pattern taught that salvation and eternal rest were yet future in terms of having been secured by the Savior. New Testament believers also preach the gospel in the pattern of our work week by reflecting the fact that Christ has completed His mission. By observing the Sabbath on the first day of the week, we announce the finality of our redemption before we begin our earthly labors.

The Church is, of course, the primary representation of the Savior’s post-resurrection ministry to this world. In our weekly gatherings, we teach the gospel not only in our words, but also by the way we arrange our days and weeks. Due to the nature of Christ’s work, it would be inappropriate to continue observing the Sabbath rest on the last day of the week. It had to be changed in order to declare accurately the progress of God’s plan of redemption.

This makes the matter of Sunday worship an essential issue. If Christians do not meet for worship on Sunday, we misconstrue what has been accomplished by our Savior. The same thing must be said about those churches that substitute a Saturday night gathering for a Sunday gathering, which many churches do when Christmas happens to fall on a Sunday. The gathering of believers on the first day of the week is a testimony regarding the death and resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament seventh day Sabbath was in the grave, so to speak, with the crucified Christ. His resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week forever established the primacy of that day.

The question of whether churches should “close” on Christmas Day should never be entertained. We are commanded in the Bible to observe a weekly Sabbath; it is an imperative. This duty may not be set aside, therefore, for any other purpose—such as Mother’s day, Father’s day, or football. Following apostolic teaching, first century Christians continued the six plus one pattern of the Old Testament, but reoriented the relationship between the days. Sunday became the Lord’s Day (cf. Matt. 28:1 ff.; Rev. 1:10).

The answer to our question is “no.” Evangelical, Bible believing churches should never be “closed” this side of glory. In light of the above teaching of the Bible, the reasons put forward in favor of dispensing with Sabbath observance on Christmas Day are indeed pathetic. But as I said, the very fact that this question is being seriously contemplated illustrates the troubling status of contemporary believers when it comes to grasping and manifesting the glorious work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of our race.