An examination of the religious celebration of Christmas in light of the Scriptural duty of separation and the Regulative Principle of worship
by Douglas W. Comin
The following discourse was presented as a sermon to the congregation of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, PA on December 22, 1991. It was not an easy message to preach. It is never easy to re-examine practices and patterns of thinking that have been presumed and taken for granted for a lifetime. It is especially difficult when these practices are associated with intense emotional feelings and are bound up with deep-rooted family traditions. Such is the case with the subject of Christmas. To even call into question the annual celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ is inconceivable for most modern Christians. That anyone would even suggest that Christmas and its festivities have no warrant in the Word of God and should therefore be dismissed from the practice of God’s people seems the height of foolishness to our generation. The question which must be asked is, “Why?”
If the celebration we all know as Christmas is to be zealously upheld by the Christian Church, what is the reason? Do the Scriptures prescribe this annual Holy Day? Did Jesus Himself institute a yearly commemoration of the day of His birth to be kept by His disciples to the end of the age? Do the Scriptures even provide us with the date of our Saviour’s birth?
All practices and patterns of thinking must be subjected to the scrutiny of the Word of God. If we are unwilling to lay our personal views on the table beside an open Bible, then we are indicating more than we may think about our openess to conform our lives to the teaching of Scripture. This sermon seeks to examine one of our most cherished traditions by the light of God’s Word. The question of the propriety or impropriety of any practice must always be decided on that basis alone, and never on the basis of subjective emotion. Emotion has often led well meaning people down the wrong road. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. May God grant us the courage and character always to be willing to submit our personal viewpoints, on every matter of faith and life, to the scrutiny of His unerring Word.
This is one of the most difficult sermons that I will have preached in my career, short as it is, as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I feel the need to preface it by explaining that to you, because it is the result of some intense personal study – a study that has affected my life in a particular way, as you will see. And it has caused me to come to a conclusion that is not a popular conclusion among the majority of Christians today. And so I don’t imagine that I will be particularly popular after the preaching of this message. After all, the disparagement of such a precious tradition as Christmas is interpreted in our modern world as in poor taste, at the very least, and downright anti-Christian at the most. This would not have been the case 100 years ago, but things have changed.
In actuality, I wrestled long and hard with this topic before deciding to preach it to you today. And in the final analysis, my conscience would simply not allow me to avoid it. The Scriptures and the historical material are just too clear, and the willful blindness of much of the church is too painfully evident, as it was painfully evident in my own life and mind. And all the while, the holiness of Jesus Christ is being profaned. I believe this with all of my heart. I’ve been guilty of it myself, and it grieves me deeply. But I’m thankful to God that in His mercy He has redirected my thoughts to the standard of His Word which alone is the guide for all of our faith and practice. And I must share with you what I have seen there in regard to the current practice of many Christians, who in most cases have simply never bothered to ask the necessary questions.
I take some solace in the fact that these views which I will espouse have been held by such well respected men of God as the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who began a sermon on December 24, 1871 with the following words:
- We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the Mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung, in Latin or in English. And secondly because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour. And consequently, its observance is a superstition because not of Divine authority.
I take greater solace from the fact that these things are rooted and grounded in the very Word of God, which is always the guiding light for the path of the Believer.
If God’s Word can be shown to refute the contents of this message, then I will gladly and obediently retract every phrase. But if, by God’s standard, the message stands, then we are all bound to respond to it in humility of heart and consistency of behavior, lest we be guilty of the sin of being found hearers only of the Word and not doers. Therefore, I would humbly request that you give careful consideration to the contents of this sermon, as you would any other, and imitate the character of the noble Bereans, examining the Word of God to see if these things be true.
The Wonder of the Incarnation
Before proceeding into the negative aspect of this discussion it is necessary to affirm with the utmost fervency that the rejection of the observance of Christmas as a holiday is in no way a denial of the excellency of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is often implied, if not actually stated – that to deny this human innovation is to reject the wonder of the virgin birth of Christ in a stable in Bethlehem so many years ago. It would be equivalent to say that since Reformed Presbyterians do not allow the use of instrumental music in worship, that we therefore reject the beauty of all instrumental music, from Bach to Wagner. This is simply not the case, and it is also bad logic. The wonder of the Incarnation stands forever, regardless of whether or not Believers celebrate an unsanctioned holy day. The charge of denying the excellency of the Incarnation assumes that the observance of this holy day is instituted by God, for that is the only way that the ignoring of it could be an affront to the Incarnation. But where in the Bible is such an institution? Indeed, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is a wonderful thing. And we affirm most heartily the wonder of the Incarnation.
In the Incarnation we see, first of all, that we have a God who is capable of self-sacrifice for us. Philippians 2:6 describes Him who “being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” Isaiah 53:3 tells us that “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with suffering.” And, of course, the Gospel accounts reveal to us the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Savior of the world, surrounded by scandal and poverty, and the filth of a stable. All this the majestic and holy, unblemished Lamb of God was willing to take upon Himself, for the sake of helpless, lost sinners like you and me.
Secondly, in the Incarnation we see that Christ has set for us a model of humility. The description of His humiliation in Philippians 2, of course, begins with the controlling phrase, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” In a world in which everyone is clawing their way to the top, striving to gain prominence in the eyes of men, treading thoughtlessly over the weak and the oppressed, looking out for number one – Jesus, who could be exalted no higher than equality with God, willingly gave up His rightful place and took the place of a servant. Men cry out for personal success shouting “I have a right! I want what is mine!” And over the clamor of their selfish chorus is heard the cry of a tiny baby – the cry of the One who alone possesses any truly inalienable rights, but who counted His personal rights as nothing in the face of the desperate need of others.
In the wonder of the Incarnation we see, thirdly, that the depth of our self-sacrifice is to be no less than His. What was the extent of the love that Jesus exhibited for us? Did it involve only momentary discomfort, or light affliction? Was it only the enduring of ridicule and poverty? Again, Philippians is our guide: “And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” In Romans, Paul says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The extent of that example is emphasized in 1 John 3:16 where we read, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our life for our brothers.” Paul goes a step further in his love for his fellow Jews when he says in Romans 9:1-3, “I speak the truth in Christ, I am not lying. My conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.” In humility of mind, then, following the example of the incarnate Son of God, consider others better than yourself.
Fourthly, because of the Incarnation, He can sympathize with our weakness. This is the burden of the author of Hebrews, who tells us that because of the Incarnation of Christ – His being born as a man – we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. He then admonishes and encourages us to approach the throne of grace with confidence, that we may find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. This sympathy of the Savior would not have been available to us apart from the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only in sharing our human nature was Jesus enabled to be this kind of a compassionate High Priest.
Fifthly, because of the Incarnation, we have the most precious gift of all. Certainly apart from the glorious fact of the Incarnation there would be no sacrifice for sins. We would still be eternally lost. He had to be made like us in order for the just penalty of the Law to be transferred to Him. Paul says that God made up in the person of Christ for what the Law was powerless to do. He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful men to be a sin offering and so He condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fully met in us. In other words, He who know no sin was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The Incarnation – the physical birth of Christ in human form – was necessary for this exchange.
All of this and much more can be said of the wonder of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The virgin birth is one of the magnificent pillars of our faith. The fact of the birth of Jesus ought to often be the subject of our preaching and our meditation and our discussion one with another. The example of His incarnation ought to be a conscious guide for our daily life and practice. We are far from disparaging the birth of our Savior.
The Blunder of the Church
But the wonder of the Incarnation has little to do with the blunder of the Church in having introduced a superstition into the practice of its members which Jesus Himself never ordained, nor did His Apostles promote or practice it. This, friends, is the fundamental question that must govern all of our practices. To the Law and to the Testimony! If they speak not according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
Let us be clear about our goal. It is my strong personal conviction, based upon the Word of God, that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation of men which has been instituted in the Church and is therefore contrary to God’s revealed will. And despite our intellectual efforts, we cannot relegate Christmas to the realm of personal or family tradition, for it has been instituted in history by the Church and as such it must be confronted. Before turning to the Scriptural material, it is appropriate to look at the historical considerations concerning this celebration, which in and of themselves are fairly breathtaking. And it seems to me that part of the difficulties that we face in the Church are the direct result of a lack, on our part, of looking back at the history of God’s dealings among His people. It is common to the generations of men to see their contemporary situation as the norm and to assume that what they have always known is right and good, or else they would not have known it.
Within the first generation of Israelites in the Promised Land following the death of Joshua the people, as a whole, had simply forgotten about the God of their fathers, who had delivered them from the hand of their oppressors by signs and wonders so dramatic that it’s difficult for us to comprehend their amnesia. Part of it was the fault of their fathers who neglected to pass down this knowledge to their children as they were commanded. Part of it was the fault of that generation which became so caught up in their own affairs that they didn’t have time to look back on the past. They were soon judged for forgetting their God. Let us not fall into their folly by assuming that our current practice is normative simply because we have known no other alternative. Our fathers did, as the historical record clearly shows.
The Testimony of the Word of God
The first historical consideration in this topic is the Word of God itself. When we look there for a reference for the celebration of Christmas, we find that the Word of God nowhere commands it. Jesus did not admonish His Church to institute any feasts or holy days apart from the Sabbath. The holy days of the Old Testament people of God were typical in nature. They looked forward to Christ. They were fulfilled in Christ. And they were abolished and put to rest. Jesus did institute an ordinance for His Church to observe in remembrance of Him, but it was not Christmas – it was the Lord’s Supper.
The Testimony of the Early Church
What about the practice of the early church, then? Did the Apostles or their disciples over the next several hundred years begin the celebration of Christmas? A study of the early church reveals that these also did not observe it. Historical evidence supports the conclusion that the observance of Christmas was not practiced in the church at all until sometime during the fourth century. That’s four hundred years. Origen, who is a highly respected, though sometimes theologically strange authority, who lived in the third century of the church’s history, provided at that time a list of commonly observed festivals of his day and Christmas did not appear in that list. It was unknown to the early church. There were, however, various pagan celebrations which correspond seasonally to the current observance of Christmas. The winter solstice – the time of year in which the sun changes its course and begins to lengthen the day was a festive time for the pagan world. The Sun-god of Scandinavia was worshipped during this time in the feast of Yule, from which we derive our word “Yule-tide.”Here the imagery of trees was very prominent as with many cults. The god Saturn was worshipped in Rome during this time in the feast of Saturnalia. Listen to this description of the influence of paganism in the practice of the early church, offered by Joseph Duggan. He says,
- One of the most prominent and popular of the pagan ceremonies was the Saturnalia running from the 17th to the 24th of December, followed by the Brumalia on the next day. It was a time of great celebration, merry-making and the giving of gifts. All this was to celebrate the victory of the unconquerable sun-god over darkness at the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point and the days begin to lengthen. It was one thing for the church, now popular and dominant in Rome to persuade the people to give an outward profession of her religion. But to persuade them to surrender age-old practices was another matter. The most expedient thing to do was to let the people keep their old pagan festivals while recasting them in an outwardly Christian form.
And so the imagery of Saturnalia was changed from the worship of the sun-god to the worship of the Son of God. The similarities were accentuated. The sun-god had been likened to a small child… perfect. The sun-god has been regarded as unconquerable… Gift giving was retained, but the gifts were now given in the name of Christ. All of this seemed harmless enough to the Roman Church. In fact, they were operating under what could be conceived of as a commendable motive: bringing the un-saved into the church. But the end does not justify the means, especially if the means are clearly condemned by the Word of God. In the end, principle had been compromised for the sake of expediency, and this is always a dangerous course.
The Testimony of the Reformation
As we move along through the history of the church, we come to the time of the great Reformation in Europe. We find there, concerning the celebration of Christmas, that the Reformers rejected it. There are some hints in the writings of John Calvin which indicate his opposition to the observance of all festivals with the exception of the Lord’s Day, which God had ordained. The chief opponent of these man-ordained holidays was the mighty spokesman of the Scottish Reformation, to whom we owe our very existence, humanly speaking, as a church. I am referring, of course, to John Knox. Knox from the very beginning placed a self-conscious focus upon the subject of true worship in his work for reformation. He held steadfastly to the principle which we also hold, that true worship must be instituted by God. Here is an excerpt from one of Knox’s debates with a representative of the Roman church:
- That God’s Word damns your ceremonies it is evident for the plain and straight commandment of God is, “Not that thing which appears good in thine eyes shalt thou do to the Lord thy God, but what the Lord thy God has commanded thee, that do thou. Add nothing to it. Diminish nothing from it. Now, unless that ye are able to prove that God has commanded your ceremonies, this, His former commandment will damn both you and them.
The first Book of Discipline in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which was drawn up in 1560 by Knox and several other leaders in the Church of Scotland clearly expelled the observance of ecclesiastical holidays from the Reformed Church. Part of its opening section refers specifically to the observance of Christmas as something which is not to be practiced in the church. The Reformation was a cleansing of the church from all of the pagan corruptions which had been permitted, or deliberately incorporated into the worship of the church by the hierarchy of Rome. Will we now reject the benefits won for us through the blood and toil of the martyrs of the Reformation, as though their efforts were really unnecessary? Will we return to the errors from which they sought to free us?
The Testimony of the Westminster Assembly
Following the Reformation, the church continued to grow and prosper in the grace of God. Many outstanding contributions were made for the clarity of the church’s doctrine and the definition of the Bible’s teachings concerning God and man. One of the products of this was the work of the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the mid 17th century. The document that they together contrived was a summary of the teaching of the Bible – a creedal statement for the church of Christ. It has been adopted by many Reformed denominations, including our own, as a subordinate standard – a faithful summary of the teachings of the Word of God. What was the position of the Westminster Divines concerning the celebration of Christmas? The Westminster Divines did not allow it. In the Confession of Faith itself, which we have been studying in our evening worship, the Regulative Principle of worship is clearly set forth in chapter 20, section 1. It says that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”The same position was confirmed in the Larger Catechism, which says that Scripture forbids any religious worship not instituted by God Himself and corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever. The authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith also drew up a document called The Directory for the Publick Worship of God and The Directory for Family Worship. And in the section titled, “Touching days and places for public worship”we find the following statements:
- There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the Gospel but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called holy days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.
Those of us who subscribe to the Westminster standards as a faithful summary of the teaching of God’s Word ought not to take such statements lightly.
The Testimony of the English Puritans
Among those who were influenced by the work of the Westminster Assembly were the English Puritans, who later became among the first settlers in America. These people were staunch Calvinists. They ordered their whole lives in self-conscious obedience to the Scriptures, making every effort to live consistently with their convictions. They were not always successful, as none of us are, but they were more consistent than most in many areas. A study of the history of early America reveals to us that Christmas had no place among the Puritans. To the pilgrim settlers December 25th was just another day. Consider the following extract from the reflections of William Bradford concerning a mild conflict in 1621:
- On the day called “Christmas Day” the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most part of this new company excused themselves and said that it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, they found them in the street at play openly, some pitching the bar and some at stool ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their implements and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep to their houses. But there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets, since which time nothing has been attempted that way, at least openly.
The assumption of Bradford and the Governor and the rest of the Puritans was that those who clung to such celebrations would forsake them when they were “better informed.” When the Governor saw that the man-ordained festival of these individuals was being used as an excuse to evade the God-ordained duty of productive labor for the sake of revelry, the God-ordained activity took prevalence.
The Testimony of Modern Church History
The history of our own nation since the time of its first Puritan settlers has unfortunately been marked by a steady departure from self-conscious obedience to the Word of God in the public sector. And most of the churches have followed the public trend. So in many ways it’s not surprising to find such things as the celebration of Christmas and other man-made holy days, which were firmly resisted by our Reformed ancestors on the authority of the Scriptures themselves, finding wide acceptance in the church today. What is surprising, however, is the late date at which these things began to be widely accepted. The acceptance of Christmas into the mainstream practice of Protestant churches is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, a study of the history of the church shows that up until the turn of this century, even the Presbyterian Church in the United States, commonly known as the most liberal of the mainline denominations, resisted it. One Presbyterian Church Historian documents the fact that December 25th was not recognized as a day of any religious significance in the Presbyterian Church for a full generation after the Civil War. He quotes from a periodical, The Southern Presbyterian, an article written on December 22, 1870 which said, “if the exact date were known, or if someday December 25th had been agreed upon by common consent in the absence of certain knowledge, we would still object to the observance of Christmas as a holy day. We object for many reasons, but at present mention only this one: that experience has shown that the institution of holy days by human authority, however pure the intention, has invariably led to the disregard of the Holy Day, the Sabbath, instituted by God.”
Even as late as 1899, the General Assembly of the PCUS was steadfastly opposed to the observance of these man-made holidays in the practice of the church. Their Church Government had a section which read, “There is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary. And such observance is contrary to the principle of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So you see it has been within our own century that this custom has been widely accepted, and has become ingrained in the thought and practice of Christians in virtually every denomination. So thorough has this infiltration been that today it is considered blasphemous to even call the practice into question. But this was not the case one hundred years ago.
We’ve become like our ancient counterparts in the book of Judges, who within a generation after the death of Joshua simply forgot about the teachings of the Lord their God and turned to the practices of the pagan inhabitants of the land. We must not allow ourselves to blindly pursue current practices of our day without a careful examination of the teaching of the Bible and the practice of our forerunners in the faith. We do not live in a vacuum.
Most of the theological considerations have been alluded to already, in our historical discussion. Our ultimate guide for what we do must always be God’s Word.
The Regulative Principle of Worship
The first theological consideration in this discussion is the Regulative Principle of Worship. This is the guiding principle behind the practice of our denomination in matters of worship. Our worship is limited by what God has commanded. One of the clearest Biblical statements of this is in Deuteronomy 12:29-32:Deuteronomy 12:29-32
- The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do the nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. Because in worshipping their gods they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. See that you do all that I have commanded you. Do not add to it, or take away from it.
The practices of the pagans are not to be incorporated into the worship of the people of God.
The Duty of Radical Separation
Secondly, what is the proper response to paganism? The operating principle of the Roman church in the fourth century was that the worship practices of the heathen could be sanctified in the name of Christ and blended with the worship of the Church. This is always the downfall of the people of God. No period in Israel’s history is more illustrative of this than the time of the Judges. Despite God’s specific warning in Deuteronomy, we find in Judges 2:10,11that “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up who neither knew the Lord, nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord and worshipped the various gods of the nations around them.”Judges 2:10,11
Each succeeding section of the book of Judges begins with the same preface: “Then the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord and the anger of the Lord burned against them.” This evil that they did was the blending of pagan worship with the true worship of the Lord God. In each case, when God brought deliverance, there was a purification of worship. They were not to purify the practices of the pagans by consecrating them to the Lord. They were to completely destroy any remnants of pagan worship from their midst and return to the pure worship which had been commanded by God.
So Gideon in chapter 6 received a divine commission: “Take the second bull from your father’s herd – the one seven years old – tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole which you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” The altar to Baal was to be completely destroyed, and the wood from the Asherah pole consumed in the fire before the Lord. God was demonstrating His utter displacement of pagan worship from the midst of His people.
Sometime, re-read the book of 2 Kings. One by one you’ll notice that the wicked kings of Israel are described by God according to this standard, word for word: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to commit.” Who was Jeroboam, and what was his sin? He was the wicked son of Nebat, who became the first king of the northern kingdom following the division of the people. And 1 Kings chapter 12 describes his great sin:
- Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord Rehoboam, king to Judah and they will kill me and return to king Rehoboam.” After seeking advice the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan, and this thing became a sin. The people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. And Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even thought they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the 15th day of the 8th month like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the 15th day of the 8th month – a month of his own choosing – he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.
From that day forward the kings of the land were judged by the Lord according to whether they followed after the practices of Jeroboam in combining pagan worship with the worship of Israel, or whether they turned away from it.
One such king, who did turn away from these things was Hezekiah. And in 2 Kings 18 we read of him that “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him. He kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.”
The similarities cannot be ignored. The worship of the gods of Canaan was not vastly different from the worship of the sun-god of Rome. Idolatry is idolatry, any way you slice it. And the combination of pagan elements of worship with the practice of the children of God continues to be a sinful abomination in the eyes of a Holy God. The elements of idolatry cannot be sanctified and incorporated into the Christian life. They defile pure worship. They pollute and corrupt. They always seem to be harmless enough to those who practice them, but they are not harmless if they are contrary to the directive of God. The Church is commanded, and has always been commanded, to purge itself of any traces of paganism.
- Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? For what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a Believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you.
The standard is complete separation, not compromise.
The Influence of Roman Catholicism
A third consideration is the direct influence of Roman Catholicism. We are a Church with roots in the Reformation. The incorporation of holy days into the practice of the church in general was an innovation of the Roman Catholic Church. Even the name of the holiday in question, “Christ-mas,”is formed from the Roman Catholic terminology “Christ”and “mass”. The Reformers exposed the idolatry of the mass, along with the many errors of the Roman Church including the celebration of man-ordained holy days. We must not fall back into those errors. The basic error of Rome was the exaltation of the authority of the Church to an equal, if not greater, position than the word of God. It was this error which enabled them to introduce these extra-biblical holy days so easily into the practice of the church. But our heritage as a Reformed Church rests on the sole authority of God’s Word. “Sola Scriptura”was the cry of the Reformers. God’s Word alone is the standard of our faith and practice.
The Undermining of the Christian Sabbath
Fourthly, there is the undermining of the Sabbath of Christ. Some will certainly offer the complaint, “Are we saying that the Christian life is to be totally void of celebration? Take away the holidays and you take all of the fun out of our faith.”But this is far from the case. In fact, the basis of such a complaint is a misunderstanding of the holy day that God has given to His people. God is far more generous with us than we are to ourselves. We would make one or two days of the year special days of joy and celebration, but God has given us such a day every week. Fifty-two times a year God sets aside a time for worship and joy and celebration. The problem is in our perception of the Lord’s Day, which has been divinely instituted by God as the Holy Day for God’s people. Do we see God’s Holy Day as a bore and a drudgery, while those of our own invention are filled with joy and festivity? If we do, then we celebrate the Lord’s Day amiss.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, offers this promise to His people: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day. If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s Day honorable. And if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” Calling the Sabbath a delight is what we are called to do.
The Pharisees had a faulty view of the Sabbath. They were rebuked by Jesus for worshipping according to the traditions of men rather than the commandments of God. They saw the Sabbath as a drudgery, and a day of rigorous anti-activity. And so they added to the commands of God a list of their own devising of things not to be done on the Lord’s Day. They indicated by this their basic perception of the Sabbath as a punishment rather than a blessing. Jesus reminded them that God created the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath.
God has given His people a day of great joy and celebration in the worship of His holy name. We need not invent our own imitations as though God’s gift is not sufficient. The addition of man-made holy days implies the deficiency of God’s own holy day. If we’re not fully satisfied in the Lord’s Day, then we ought to spend ourselves in learning to observe it correctly – to call the Sabbath a delight – rather than forsaking it in favor of our own celebrations.
A False Sacrament?
The fifth consideration is the adding of a false sacrament. The celebration of Christmas, in the context of the Christian Church, is an imitation of the Old Testament feasts and festivals. These Old Testament feasts were designed to point forward to Christ, they were typical. They were shadows of what was to come. They were fulfilled completely in Jesus and their observance was discontinued in the New Testament Church, with the exception of the sacraments which were instituted by Christ Himself, for the perpetual observance of His people, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Many defend Christmas observance by saying, “We’re only remembering the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. What harm can there be in that?”The fact of the matter is that Jesus has already given a memorial of His life and of His death and of His resurrection. He could have chosen to institute an annual birthday celebration for the Church, but He didn’t. Instead, He broke bread with His disciples and passed around the cup and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”In the light of this, the edition of another memorial by the church constitutes a false sacrament. What Jesus has given is sufficient. Who will presume to add to it?
The Inconsistency of Christmas with Christ’s Humility
The sixth theological consideration is the contradiction of the humility of Jesus. Jesus was a simple man. He was born in a stable. He had no form or comeliness that we should be drawn to Him. He was not boisterous or flamboyant. But is the current observance of Christmas, which is supposedly done in His honor, really consistent with His own character of humility? Is Jesus pleased and honored by flashing lights and brightly colored wrapping paper? He was a model for us of humility.
I think further that it is quite significant that the single most exalted holiday in the practice of Satanism is one’s own birthday, not Halloween, as many people would think. This fits in perfectly with the self-exalting nature of the followers of Satan. It is the foundation of humanism. And in contrast to this, Jesus identified a symbol for His people – He gave them a holy day to keep from generation to generation – and the symbol which He instituted for His church was not the remembrance of His birth, though His birth more than any other is worthy of honor. It was the remembrance of His self-sacrificial death signified by the bread and wine of Communion. Jesus, to the end, was a man of deep humility.
The Promotion of Anti-Christian Values
Seventh, we must consider the promotion of anti-Christian values. The final consideration is one of practice. The observance of Christmas, even if originally implemented as a solemn and religious occasion, has degenerated into a pretense for all manner of anti-Christian attitudes and activities. Among them we might include: gluttony, drunkenness, greed, envy, covetousness, materialism, blasphemy, and assorted other vices. The Red Cross called me yesterday because there is desperate need of blood since the incidence of auto accidents rises so dramatically during this “sacred”time of year. So we might add murder and violence to the list. Go into a shopping mall and begin to ask people this question: “What is the real meaning of Christmas?”Very few will still remember.
The real meaning of Christmas is compromise – a sinful fusion between the worship of the true God and the worship of the pagan world that was instituted by a church which was not prepared to cast down the idols of the nations and burn the Asherah poles – or Yule logs – and enforce the pure worship of the God of the Bible. We must not join with them. We must not follow in the ways of Jeroboam, son of Nebat. We must not be yoked together with unbelievers. Let us reclaim instead the glory and delight of the Lord’s Holy Day and learn to call the Sabbath a delight. Let us rejoice together in the precious sacrament which Jesus has given to His Church as a celebration of His life, death, and resurrection. And in doing these things we are promised a blessing from God:
- Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.