Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Seeing as I am not one to shy away from controversy I thought it would fun to look at an anti-Christmas statement by the Free Church of Scotland and to hear some responses from the blogosphere.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?


For many people Christmas is the most important social event of the year. They spend lots of time, energy and money on their preparations for the festive season. At no other time of the year are there so many parties, dinners and social events. Family visits are arranged and the children look forward to it with great anticipation. Christmas images abound: snowy, Victorian scenes, camels crossing deserts and the inevitable Father Christmas. With its colour, warmth and cheer Christmas is, for many, the high point of the festive calendar.
Christmas, of course, has a religious dimension. Amidst all the tinsel, shopping trips and coloured lights, is the idea that the birth of Jesus is being celebrated. Christmas carols sound out on street corners and in department stores. Images of mother and child, angels, shepherds and stable scenes add to the displays in shops and churches. Many go to church or sing carols. All this contributes to the unmistakable and unique atmosphere at Christmas time. Because of its cultural importance and the assumption that our country is largely a Christian country, the thought of a Christian not celebrating Christmas may seem strange. But there are firm reasons why Christians who take a serious interest in the Bible withdraw from the festive season entirely. The risk of being thought of as unsociable or overly strict is outweighed in their consciences by a number of facts about Christmas and their understanding of the teaching of the Bible.

The Origins of Christmas
Many people are aware that the origins of Christmas lie in the pre-Christian pagan observance of the winter solstice. Neither: Christ, nor the apostles, nor any of the early Christians celebrated anything that could be described as Christmas. It was: only in the 4th century AD that the Church of Rome introduced the idea of a mid-winter ceremony, the Christ-Mass, as a way of making Christianity more attractive, to pagans. The retention of Christmas in the Protestant Church depended upon the extent to which the principles and practises of Rome were deemed acceptable. Where, these were repudiated as unbiblical, Christmas was also repudiated. So that until recently, the recognition of Christmas was unheard of in many churches

The Lies of Christmas
The actual date of Christ's birth is disputed. It is wrong, therefore, to invent a date. Christ never intended the wondrous event of his birth to be associated with pagan rituals or transformed into an annual festivity. As with the date of the Saviour's birth, much of what people associate with Christmas is simply untrue. Christianity, however, is concerned with the truth above everything else. The Bible is the true Word of God. Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth and the life." (1) There is simply no place in the faith and life of a Christian for deliberate falsehood. He is forbidden by the Ten Commandments from lying (2) and therefore cannot go along with lies in an shape or form. He must not pretend that 25th December is Jesus' birthday. He may not sing the carol which says that Christ was born on Christmas Day. He does not accept the myth of Santa Claus. The Bible identifies the devil as a liar (3) and therefore the Christian can have nothing to do with whatever he knows to be a lie, however "harmless" others might consider it to be.

True Christian Worship
The Christian is concerned with how he worships God. His guide in this matter is the Bible. The Scriptures state that God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. (4) No place is to be given to images or idols or anything that could be mistaken for them (pictures of Mary, Jesus, angels, etc.). The second commandment begins: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above" (5) . The nativity scenes that abound in homes, schools and even churches, are a flagrant breach of this commandment. The all too common depiction of the Son of God in the form of a plastic doll is therefore nothing short of blasphemous.

God's Holy Day
While many see Christmas as a holy day it is not seen as such by God. The day appointed by God to be kept holy is the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath. This is the day He has commanded all people to keep holy and to rest from worldly work and recreations. (6) The Lord Jesus Christ said that the Sabbath was made for man,(7) which means that in appointing one day in seven to be a day of rest and worship, God had the well-being of people at heart. The Christian Sabbath or Lord's Day is also given to us to focus on the great theme of redemption, central to which is Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week. (8)

The True Christ
Jesus Christ is described in the Scriptures as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief". (9) He was the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head. (10) He was nailed to a cross to die for the sins and iniquities of others. The quasi-religious aspects of Christmas are things which only take people further away from the truth of the gospel which Jesus came to declare. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.(11) Rather than join with the world in Christmas pleasures, true followers of Christ should listen to His voice, as found in the Bible, and seek to serve Him in the Ways that He prescribes there.


Bible References:
1. John 14:6
2. Exodus 20:16
3. John 8:44
4. John 4:24
5. Exodus 20:4
6. Exodus 20:8
7. Mark 2:27
8. Luke 24:1/Acts 20:7
9. Isaiah 53:3
10. Luke 9:58
11. 1 Timothy 1:15

21 comments:

Gary said...

Why not just write Bah Humbug. Same sentiment. ;)

Gary said...

On a more serious note, I'm sure the free church of Scotland would be ridiculing Paul for his daring to use the Greeks' idols in his attempt at converting them. (Acts 17) Much like Christian missionaries did with the ancient celebration of Yule.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

The only problem with pointing towards Paul's "use of idols" in this case is that Paul never once used them as a part of his Worship. He merely used, as in the Sermon on Mars Hill, them as an example to start with and then moved away from them to make a larger point. Certainly you would not say that we should somehow incorporate "the UNKNOWN GOD" into our worship do you?

Gary said...

Fine.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

By what do you mean?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Bah Humbug then ;) .......

I have to agree with Ebenezer (though I agree the Free Church definitely seems to be cranky) here. Paul did use idols to begin the conversation but that was it.

Machaira said...

"Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?"

Well . . . I'll give the short answer first and see what comes of it.

Celebrate yes. I believe it's a matter of personal freedom, (Romans 14:5,6). I know I'm about to draw down fire on this one. So be it.

However, Christmas has no place in formal collective worship. It's not to be a "holy day of obligation" appointed by the Church because in keeping with the RPW, there is no command to do so.

Jim Polk
www.jude3.wordpress.com

Dad said...

I guess I'll just keep your presents then.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I agree with Machaira's differentiation. I do not believe Advent has any place in Lord's Day Worship but I see nothing wrong with celebrating a civic holiday much like one would celebrate the Fourth of July.

Machaira said...

I guess I'll just keep your presents then.

LOL. Well . . . let's not be to hasty dad. I could be wrong! ;)

Viola said...

I'm a little late to this conversation but the first thing I thought of was Narnia under the white witch--always winter but never Christmas.

But I am also thinking of Colossians. Because Christ has made us "alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Therefore [and I would put this in bold if I could] no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." (Col 2:13-16) and see all the rest.

How wonderful that Jesus Christ has overcome all pagan holidays. The false gods and goddesses of them have no right any longer to all that belongs to Christ so all that we use in festival is for joy, but not for worship. We must only worship Christ. If you stop and think about it, it was the false deities that took what was meant for good; it never really belonged to them anyway.

I love the idea in Hosea where God berates the Israelites as His wife for worshipping the fertility gods and goddesses in festival and then in his mercy gathers Israel in a kind of outdoor wedding that entails all of nature. See Hosea 2:14-23.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Viola,

To bold all you need to do is use HTML tags < b > and < / b > to bold something in a comment.

And to Col. 2:13-16 I would point you to this comment from Albert Barnes:

Or of the sabbath days. Gr, "of the sabbaths." The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, as the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence, from this passage, that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. If he had used the word in the singular number —"THE Sabbath"—it would then, of course, have been clear that he meant to teach that that commandment had ceased to be binding, and that a sabbath was no longer to be observed. But the use of the term in the plural number, and the connexion, show that he had his eye on the great number of days which were observed by the Hebrews as festivals, as a part of their ceremonial and typical law— and not to the moral law, or the ten commandments. No part of the moral law— no one of the ten commandments — could be spoken of as "a shadow of good things to come." These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation.

Machaira said...

The false gods and goddesses of them have no right any longer to all that belongs to Christ so all that we use in festival is for joy, but not for worship.

Amen. I recall some smart cookie saying something similar somewhere. Can't seem to remember who though . . . ;)

Jim Polk
www.jude3.wordpress.com

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Just because the false deities have "lost their power" does not stop us from worshiping them any less.

Viola said...

Ebenezer,
I don't think what Barnes writes changes what I wrote. I would agree that the scripture in that text is speaking of the Jewish festivals not Sabbath worship. That is why I used it.

And I agree that the loss of power by false deities does not stop people from worshipping them, however joined forever to Jesus Christ how can we worship what is false.

And I don't think the lure of false deities has anything to do with the proper celebration of the birth of our Savior. Rather it has to do with coldness toward the poor and needy, overspending, bad doctrine about the incarnation, etc, etc.

Charles said...

Actually I find the Free Church's report a bit misleading myself. The early church continued to recognize Passover and Pentecost and - by extension - sought to remember the whole of Christ's life. It had to fall some time in the year.

Funny when Wesley starts Friday night prayer meetings to keep people from drinking themselves to death, that's the epitome of pastoral wisdom. But when we tell people to "put off" their pagan calendars and "put on" a Christian worldview and we do it by recognizing the Incarnation, that's evil.

At least we're in good company... Calvin, the Continental reformers, and the Anglican reformers.

Admin said...

The views made by the Free Church remind me of this post.

http://www.leithart.com/archives/000357.php


Chuck

will said...

Personally I tend to regard this as optional. It is *not* a 'holy day of obligation'. The 4th of July analogy strikes me as accurate. There are many problems with our observances of Christmas - in terms of excess, certain wholly pagan customs, etc. But most of these are not necessary to the 'civic' holiday itself.

But I'm wondering what Christian holidays are 'holy days of obligation'. I'm asking seriously.

In the New Testament, I only see the Lord's Day - in observance of the Resurrection. Communion observes the Crucifixion. There may have been observances of Pesach and Shavuot (because of its association with the Holy Spirit). I don't see Easter - as a particular day esteemed above others. It is clearly also a pagan fertility observance - as the name indicates. Yes, the word occurs I think once in the NT (and that was an odd translator's choice to render pascha) - but even in that translation it appears to be describing a season or time of year.

Machaira said...

But I'm wondering what Christian holidays are 'holy days of obligation'. I'm asking seriously.

In the New Testament, I only see the Lord's Day - in observance of the Resurrection. Communion observes the Crucifixion.


Hey Will,

IMO, you see rightly. Many do question the observance of OC "holidays" by believing Jews in the first century notwithstanding. The way I see it, the time between the resurrection and 70 AD was a time of transition or overlap between th OC and the NC within the Church. I think it's plain that the destruction of the Temple marked the final end of the OC economy. The OC was said to be waxing old and ready to vanish at the time the writer to the Hebrews said:

Heb 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. ESV

will said...

Machaira - thanks for the response.

I think the NT was tolerant of both observance and non observance of these particular days. (At any rate, there clearly was some overlap for Christians at least until 70 - and possibly until 135.)

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Well I believe the only "day of obligation" is the Sabbath.