Each year I hear the arguments for and against celebrating. And yet, I also have brothers and sisters in Christ who have never even heard of the idea of Christians not celebrating the wonderful event of the Incarnation. I was challenged this year by a close friend and brother in Christ to write my reasons (which ought to be founded upon the Bible) for celebrating what I believe is one of the most tremendous events in history. So here goes!
The most frequent argument I hear against celebrating Christmas is the argument of the origins of Christmas. Anyone with Google, 30 minutes, and the desire can soon find the origins of Christmas were pagan. Although the day was not called Christmas by the pagans, many of the traditions and the date find its origins in pagan worship. Under the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and Emperor Constantine these pagan holidays were altered and change to be no longer about worshiping the sun, moon, and stars but rather the birth of Jesus Christ. Over time this holiday became one of the high holy days (holiday) of the RCC. This holiday along with Easter (another pagan holiday converted into a RCC holiday) became the two most holy days of the year. Mass was held on these two days and to miss these holidays was for many within the RCC an unpardonable sin. This is how Christmas (Christ Mass) got it’s name. This is also where the name Chreasters (people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter to avoid the unpardonable sin) has its roots.
The PROSTESTant Response
During the Reformation John Calvin, Martin Luther and the many others had to fight the tide in teaching people that Christmas and Easter were not anymore holy to God and there was no special grace given on those days in particular. If you read the catechisms that came out of those times when Protestants were Protesting many of the false teachings of the RCC you will be able to find there responses to these events. However, even amidst this turmoil of false teaching we have a letter written by Calvin where he states he believes each Christian is free to celebrate holidays and special occasions in a way that his conscience and the Word of God would not be offended. He believed Christmas was a day that could be done meeting those two criteria.
Many today have attempted to point to the articles in the catechisms and writings of these men to argue that Protestants celebrating Christmas is a modern day phenomenon. When one has the context into which these are written one no longer sees this as the mere condemning of holidays but the adding to God’s Word as to what must be done to worship God rightly. Here are some quotes:
Treating the second commandment, the Larger Catechism demonstrates the unlawfulness of adding to the worship of God. The scriptures forbid “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 pretence whatsoever” (Larger Catechism no. 109; cf. Confession, chapter 21).
Appendix, “Touching Days and Places for Public Worship.”
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
In 1899, the General Assembly of the pcus was overtured to give a “pronounced and explicit deliverance” against the recognition of “Christmas and Easter as religious days.” Even at this late date, the answer came back in a solid manner:
There is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holydays, rather the contrary (see Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Appendix, “Touching Days and Places for Public Worship.”
When one goes to the passages listed there is no argument for the celebrating of holidays. Rather in both passages Jews were legalistically instructing a church full of gentiles that they had to honor the Jewish holidays in order to worship God in a way pleasing to Him. In other words, the reformers saw the bondage the RCC was placing on people with the addition of two more Holy Days that must be celebrating as no different the what the Jews were doing to the Church in Paul’s day.
So what we see clearly in Scripture and our Biblical tradition is the command not to add to God’s word what one can and cannot do.
What Does Scripture Command, Permit, and Forbid?
The Scriptures command each man to live with a good conscience before God (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9; Acts 23:1; Romans 14:5-6). However, left only to conscience we will get lost in a sea of emotions. The conscience can be misinformed, hardened, and/or overly-sensitive (1 Timothy 4:2; 1 Corinthians 10:23-29). That is why each person is to instruct oneself with the Word of God so that her conscience can be properly aligned with God’s will (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The Bible also commands fathers to establish traditions and practices that utilize life’s circumstances to instruct the child concerning Christ and His Gospel (Exodus 12:26; Deuteronomy 6:7-9; 11:18-20; Psalm 78; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4, [much more could be said on this but for the sake of keeping this post as short and accessible as possible this will suffice]) . These practices should be established by the parents through wisdom to utilize each sense God has given us so that the child can not forget what was taught. A good father will seek to utilize: taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing to teach their family about God and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.
I know from my childhood certain smells trigger an event that points me to Christ, certain symbols remind me of the gospel, how the touch of bread instructs me of the Great Sacrifice, the taste of Welch’s grape juice grants me fresh memories of the cross, and the hearing of certain hymns or the opening of a book reminds me of the importance of God’s Word. These are all wonderful teaching tools that communicate wonderfully the next generation the faith handed down to us.
The Word of God permits freedom and liberty for each household to decide which teachings tools would serve best in their home. There is no universal command on what traditions God approves be done in the home. As long as the father is not engaging in behavior that is explicitly condemned in Scripture there is freedom and room for creativity (Romans14:1-6; I Corinthians 10:29-31). As a BAPTIST I hold dearly to the “I” in BAPTIST which stands for “individual soul liberty.” One man may engage in sports while another does not. One man may engage in an occasional glass of wine another may not. One sister may eat bacon and another may not. But as long as no direct command is be neglected and no principle is being undermined each person is free to enjoy life and its many blessings. What Scripture does say is that each thing we do should be profitable (1 Corinthians 6:12).
The Bible forbids man or men to add to God’s laws commands that must be kept by all in the faith (Colossians2:16-21; Galatians 4:9-11; Romans 14: 1-6; I Corinthians 10:23-31). In the early church some people were celebrating the Jewish holidays and some were not. Some were eating meat the was sacrificed to idols and some were not. Paul’s response to both of these situations was that each person was free to celebrate or not. Paul taught that each person was free to eat the meat or choose not to. But Paul forbid a brother guilting (not a word I know :-)), manipulating, or condemning the other brother for not doing as he did.
Paul understood that the holidays are mere shadows that if used properly could bring honor to God. He also knew that some would see these shadows as the picture framed on a wall and not a window looking to the cross. For these people, they were abusing the holiday. In these cases what made the practice right or wrong was the intents of ones heart and goal.
Paul also knew that some would not be able to break the association of the pagan origins of the meat sacrificed to idols and so would be sinning against their conscience if they ate (on a side note, Paul actually instructs that if you know the meat is sacrificed to idols but the brother is simply enjoying the meat as a good gift, don’t spoil it for him and tell him the origins of the meat. In other words those who seek to expose the origins of Christmas when a brother is truly enjoying the magnificence of the incarnation, don’t spoil his worship with the origins of Christmas).
Apostle Paul also believed that things gone bad could be redeemed and made into a beautiful thing or means to give thanks to God (I Corinthians 10:29-31; 1 Timothy 4:4-5)! This indeed is one of the things that Gospel teaches us. God brings life out of death, light out of darkness, good out of evil. God did not abandon what he made good and had become defiled. Rather, he cleansed it and redeemed it that it may be received with thanksgiving. This has been my goal and hope with the celebration of the incarnation! God became man! Do we understand this profound mystery?! These past couple of months I have been listening to the same Christmas album by Andrew Peterson “Behold the Lamb of God” and each morning on the way to work I marvel anew at the profound truth that God took on flesh and became a real full-blooded man! I thank God for this wonderful gift of Christ! And I find nothing in Scripture that forbids me to celebrate with my family this wonderful event. Throughout Scripture I discover instruction for me to take advantage of every opportunity to make traditions and practices in my home that will teach my children these wonderful stages within redemptive history! Christmas is one of those traditions in my home we have now used for seven years to focus in on this wonderful event of God becoming man. But let each man do what he deems best in light of Scripture to fulfill all the commands therein given and to abstain from that which is condemned or forbidden.
God has given us the wonderful gift of tradition for us to instruct ourselves and those around us the wonderful truths of Scripture. Let each of us seek to utilize this gift to the best of our abilities that we may be a informed, wise, and a thankful people!
Due to the length of this post I never went into details on each of the traditions my family engages in and how Ashley-Nicole and I have sought to use these practices to teach our children about Christ and the incarnation. If you want to know specifics or just fishing around for ideas let us know and we would be glad to share. Lastly, let each person seek to make every tradition we have be an opportunity that points to Christ.