• December 22, 2008 /  Uncategorized

    1. The New Testament has no concept of annual and monthly ceremonial cycles. In the Old Testament there are such cycles, which were suitable for teaching the Church in its infancy. The one permanent cycle was the weekly Sabbath. Only the Sabbath is based only on God’s say-so. Though God decreed them, years, months, and days are based on the intermediaries of the sun and the moon. Optimistically, the church year, with its seasons and special days, is an attempt to re-create the old covenant system with its annual cycles. Men like that because they like ceremonialism, and dislike the simplicity of the Sabbath. Pessimistically, it is a means of importing small amounts of paganism into Christianity, through dependence on festival days relating to the change of seasons.

    If any dates have a right to recognition, it is the God-appointed dates of the Old Testament. But Paul argues to the Galatians, who were in danger of going back to the old Jewish ceremonies, “But then, indeed, not knowing God, you served as slaves to those not by nature being gods. But now, knowing God, but rather are known by God, how do you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements to which you desire to slave anew? You observe days and months and times and years. I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored among you in vain.” (Galatians 4:8-11, MKJV) It is possible in Galatians 4 that Paul is speaking of Easter, which dates back to the early second century, at latest. Regardless of whether it was Easter, or a Jewish day, the argument remains the same – man-appointed days are not allowed.

    Here are the two passages that are allegedly contrary to my position: “One indeed esteems a day above another day; and another esteems every day alike. Let each one be fully assured in his own mind. He who regards the day regards it to the Lord; and he not regarding the day, does not regard it to the Lord. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks.” (Romans 14:5-6) and “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

    The Colossian Church had problems with Judaizers who wished them to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law, together with its calendar. Paul tells them not to go back to the old forms, and not to let anyone judge them because they do not keep the Old Testament ceremonial law.

    The Roman Church had a situation where the Jewish Christians observed Jewish holy days privately. For the sake of peace in the church, Paul admonished the church not to let the Jews to force their practice on the Gentiles, or vice-versa. After the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish Christians very naturally abandoned even private worship practices. It was clear that God no longer wanted them, because the place that was the geographic core of that worship had been destroyed. Prior to that point in time, Jewish Christians occasionally used the old Jewish ordinances in ways that were understood not to be morally binding in a general way on Gentiles or Jews. In Acts 21, even Paul occasionally did this, but he made sure that it was not a morally binding practice for all Christians to follow.

    Christians do not have a vivid ceremonial system similar to that of the Old Testament. We have something better. We worship God in Spirit and in truth; we do it through the one mediator, Jesus Christ. We have no need of shadows; the reality is here. The Old Covenant ceremonial system has been replaced by that of the New Covenant, where we worship God in greater simplicity, with the preaching of the word receiving greater prominence than before.

    But if the Old Testament ceremonies and days are not acceptable, how much more the days made-up by men? The Bible is quite plain when it comes to the worship of God. God does not want anything that he has not commanded for religious worship. It was true of the Israelites when they created images of Jehovah, added special days, and worshipped Jehovah by sacrifice apart from the Temple, after the Temple was built. God had strict rules on worship – there was only one way to do it.

    Though in the New Covenant, we worship God in greater simplicity, the strictures remain. There has been no revocation of what is a moral law, even if the ceremonial aspects of it have been fulfilled in Christ. God gave us the Sabbath as a perpetually binding ordinance. It was in effect before the Law was given, as well as afterward. It leads Christians to corporate worship, and rest. It is an in-your-face reminder that God owns our time, by calling us to what will bless us, once a week.

    Christmas and Easter take away from the Sabbath; people go to church twice a year, and think they are done with the public worship of God. By eliminating services on Christmas, and preaching about the Sabbath on Easter, consciences might be pricked as to their true duty to God. Further, Christians might gain a better perspective on how special the Sabbath is. This will only happen when they lose the competitive days of Christmas and Easter, which, due to their prominence, and the energy people expend on them, have a greater place in the hearts of Christians than the Sabbath does.

    Christmas achieves what the Sabbath can’t; everything is closed. To suggest that something similar be done each Sabbath will be disregarded at best.

    2. Christmas and Easter have pagan accretions; Christmas has a possible pagan origin. The beginnings of Christmas, like Easter, are lost in obscurity. Unlike Easter, it begins very late, in the third or fourth centuries. It is possible that Christians at the time proposed a day to celebrate the incarnation for one of two reasons: a) to fight Arianism, by stressing the humanity of Christ, or b) to compete with an existing Pagan ceremony to Mithra, together with the whole Saturnalia celebration. The conclusion held by many of the Reformers was that of the latter. They believed the Church syncretized with paganism at that point to aid the conversion of Romans to Christianity.

    Whether the syncretism occurred at that point or not is uncertain, but it is by no means uncertain with respect to the seventh through twelfth centuries. Saints’ days and days like Christmas and Easter were set very consciously in place of pagan festivals as the conversion of Europe went on. The old practices were retained, but the God they worshipped had a different name. This affected church worship, as well as private superstitions in the home. Thus we get the Christmas Tree, Yule log, wreaths, etc.

    It is not proper for Christians to be superstitious. It gives credence to the idea that there are powers out of the control of God; things that must be appeased apart from him. Christians, like Israel, are to purge their lives of religiously significant things that do not proceed from scripture. The Israelites were to destroy all traces of the Canaanite religion, lest it would prove to be a snare to them.

    On the mission field, it can be relatively easy to get people to confess Christ. It is often harder to get new converts to get rid of their idol shelf. Getting rid of the idol shelf is more than a renunciation of the false Gods (which are nothing) that lay behind it. It means rejecting the religion of your culture. The new believer is not rejecting his culture in entire when he gets rid of he idol shelf, but it is perceived as such by outsiders.

    Christmas and Easter are like that, with all of the pagan accretions, as well as genuine Roman Catholic religious significance. They are religiously significant days that do not spring from a command of Scripture. It is difficult to get Christians to lay them aside, because of long established cultural practice. They are snares that goad Christians back to high church liturgy, together with a multitude of other sins associated with the seasons.

    3. It is difficult not to impute some sort of religious intent to Christmas, even in private observance. Why do anything special on the day, consistently, year after year? There is no natural reason for it. Businesses and governments take the day off to a degree unequaled during the year. The giving of gifts, the decorations, etc., identify people as a group who say the day is special. The Roman Catholic Church can ably explain to us all why it is so, better than anyone else. No other explanation gets close. Because of the identification with Catholicism, and the non-necessity of observance, the day must be shunned by Christians.

    The Christian life is more thoroughgoing than mere church observance. Some will say it doesn’t matter what you do at home regarding Christmas, just so long as you do not engage the church in worship then. What we do at home is crucial. We spend most of our time there. Family worship goes on seven days a week, compared to one for the church. Are families allowed differences in worship compared to the church?
    No. We aren’t allowed to take symbols of another religion into our houses. It is disloyal to consciously identify with foreign gods.

    4. Christmas (and Easter) favors empty ritual. Being part of the broader church calendar, it should not surprise anyone that the high liturgical “churches” tend to get the most mileage out of the days. To them, they are a native part (the highest parts) of a complex ceremonial system. To Protestantism, they are pasted-on. The Protestant emphasis on Sola Scriptura is at odds with days that have no warrant for existence, much less public or private celebration.

    It is therefore no surprise that these days introduce practices into Protestant churches that would not be countenanced on other days of the year. Churches that sing psalms may toss in a hymn or two. Churches that would never consider liturgical drama might have it then. The same is true of special music, choirs, etc. There is a pressure toward pageantry.

    Having been a Roman Catholic, I cannot overemphasize that the smells, bells, candles, lights, clothing, decorations, and themes of high church liturgy have real power. The sensuality, even when done in a classy way, has a deadening effect on the verbal information content of the whole affair. The minister or priest may teach what he wants, but the people are attracted to the ritual of it. These are the things that modern Protestants get a taste of at Christmas and Easter. This taste leads some into abandoning the simple gospel for high church liturgy. It is better to eliminate the elements of high church liturgy, that those who are prone to that sin do not stumble.

    It is true that the subtexts of Christmas and Easter, the Incarnation and Resurrection, teach doctrines that are of surpassing importance to Christianity. In my opinion, the other factors within the season deaden what good these doctrines can do. Also, by walling the doctrines off into a segment of the year, it limits their usefulness year round. The resurrection should be taught every Sabbath; it is that central to the Gospel. The more liturgical the church, the less freedom there is for the gospel to escape the shackles of the church year. It is difficult to preach things other than what the church year encourages.

    But though important, the incarnation of Jesus is overemphasized. The chaining of the preaching of these doctrines to a time of year contributes to a sense of ordinariness of them. Those that only attend twice a year have heard it all before. Many think of Jesus as an infant, rather than as Savior, King, or Judge. The ideas that might jolt them out of their complacency do not fit well with the themes commonly given with Christmas and Easter. Clever men can wedge the jolt in, but that is rare in churches that are given to ritual.

    5. There are many things that the Bible leaves silent that inquiring minds would like to know. Among those things is a lack of knowledge of the date of the birth of Christ. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pluck a day out of the year and tell God we’re going to celebrate the incarnation of His son then. What right do we have? What command? Why should God be happy with this behavior? From the scriptures, we know he is most pleased when we follow his simple commands. Creativity in things religious is at its best dimly appreciated by God, and more often condemned.

    If God had wanted us to celebrate the birth of Christ on a given day, we might have expected a number of things to be revealed to us: a) the date of the birth, and b) a command to celebrate it. We have neither.

    As an aside, there are improper interpretations of scripture that have latched onto Christmas as result. The most common one in my culture is the idea that the Magi were there at the birth of Christ. They showed up when Jesus was two. There are other misinterpretations and fables that are more widely held in other cultures.

    6. Not that all Christians go in for Santa, but some do. The main problem here is lying to the kids. When they discover that Santa, whom they could not see, is a lie, they will be tempted to wonder if God is a lie. After all, they have it on the same authority.

    A related problem is greed. The crush of gifts at that time of year creates perverse incentives for children that must actively be fought. Children that are prone to greediness will find that sin encouraged. Birthdays have a similar problem to be managed.

    7. The time could be put to better use than the myriad tasks that go into a Christmas celebration. Go to the library, or onto the Internet, and scan newspapers written in December. There are always articles on the stress from busyness, depression, burnout, etc. due to Christmas. Idols make demands that wear us out. This is not a proof of the illegitimacy of Christmas, but when things of lesser value bear bad fruit, we must test them for legitimacy.

    I am not trying to tell Christians what to do with their free time. That is a matter of Christian Liberty. Nonetheless, our consciences need to be pricked to consider issues of relative value. In my opinion, there are better things to do; personally, I like doing my taxes on 12/25! It is my way of making common what others falsely regard as sacred.

    Summary

    1. It is not legitimate for Christians to make up their own days with religious significance.
    2. Christmas involves Christian in syncretism with Roman Catholicism and paganism.
    3. Christmas is a religious day with Roman Catholic content.
    4. Christmas and Easter promote high church liturgy at the expense of the gospel.
    5. Christmas is without support in the details of Scripture.
    6. Santa Claus encourages people to lie to their children.
    7. The time could be put to better use.

    For these reasons, all Christians should dissent from Christmas and Easter, and other holy days, and their associated practices.

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    Now, for those that want more, I offer you a piece by my friend Brian Schwertley.  It is more detailed, with more references, and more technical terminology.

    Posted by admin @ 2:29 am