American Presbyterianism and the Religious Observance of Christmas

Discussion in 'Church Calendar and Pretended Holy Days' started by NaphtaliPress, Dec 24, 2017.

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  1. Adam Olive

    Adam Olive Puritan Board Freshman

    Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology
    Eleventh Topic: The Law of God, The Fourth Commandment, Fifteenth Question: Festivals (P.100-103)

    Whether it belongs to the faith in the New Testament that besides the Lord's day there are other festival days properly so called whose celebration is necessary per se and by reason of mystery, not by reason of order or ecclesiastical polity only. We deny the papists.

    I. Festivals are stated days recurring every year or week or month, separated from others for the sake of religion and piety and, as it were, consecrated by a certain law to the public worship of the deity. No one doubts that there were many under the Old Testament, since a distinction of days was a part of the ceremonial law. But the question is whether they ought to have a place in the Christian church. This is the question between us and the papists, who, as in other things, have retained various rites of the Jews. Here they have interpolated Judaism or rather paganism itself (in which it is known that there were mote festival days distinct from common days), burdening Christianity with such a mass of festivals as to embrace the greater portion of the year.

    II. The question is not whether the memory of God's blessings to us and the mysteries of Christ wrought to acquire salvation for us ought to be perpetual in our minds and continually reflected upon by us. For this all allow and it is done daily by the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Rather the question is whether for the recollection and solemn and public commemoration of those singular benefits and mysteries particular festival days, sacred to God, annually recurring, should be celebrated every year by Christians. This we deny.

    III. The question is not whether anniversary days may be selected on which either the nativity, or circumcision, or passion, or ascension of Christ, and similar mysteries of redemption, may be commemorated, or even on which the memory of some remarkable blessing may be celebrated. For this the orthodox think should be left to the liberty of the church. Hence some devote certain days to such festivity, not from necessity of faith, but from the counsel of prudence to excite more to piety and devotion. However, others, using their liberty, retain the Lord's day alone and in it, at stated times, celebrate the memory of the mysteries of Christ, with whom "the dissonance of things of this kind does not take away the harmony of faith," as Augustine formerly remarked of a fast. Rather the question is whether some days are more holy and sacred than others and a certain part of divine worship ought to be celebrated under the reason of mystery and not only as related to ecclesiastical order and polity (as Bellarmine maintains, "De Cultu Sanctorum," 3.10 Opera [18571, 2:541-47 and is the doctrine and public practice of the papists). On the contrary, we deny that those days are in themselves more holy than others; rather all are equal. If any sanctity is attributed them, it does not belong to the time and the day, but to the divine worship. Thus the observance of them among those who retain it, is only of positive right and ecclesiastical appointment; not, however, necessary from a divine precept.

    IV. First, festivals properly so called (which are of the necessity of faith, obligatory of themselves and under the relation of mystery) ought to be commanded by the divine word because the right of prescribing his own worship belongs to God alone (who in his word has omitted none of the things which he judged necessary to his church). But such festivals we nowhere read as having been either instituted or kept by Christ or his apostles. Nor can an unwritten (agraphos) tradition be brought up here, since no place can or ought to be allowed it in matters of faith and practice, as has already been demonstrated. Second, this brings back the Old Testament distinction of days, abrogated in the New Testament and condemned by Paul (Rom. 14:5, 6; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16). It introduces into the church under other names and a specious appearance both the superstition and idolatry of the old heathen.

    V. Third, the ancients confess that festivals were kept neither from the institution of Christ nor of the apostles, but from choice and custom. There is a noteworthy passage in Socrates where, speaking of the disagreement of the Eastern and Western churches about the observance of Easter (which was the first festival day begun to be kept in the Christian church), he says expressly, "Neither the apostles, nor the gospel itself imposed the yoke of slavery upon those who yielded to the doctrine of Christ, but left the festival of Easter and others to be celebrated according to the free and impartial judgment (tē eugnōmosynē tōn etergetēthentōn tirnan katelipon) of those who had received on such days blessings” (Ecclesiastical History 5.22 INPNF2, 2:130; PG 67.627-281). And he adds: 'Neither the Savior nor the apostles commanded it to be observed" (ibid., p. 627). "For," he subjoins, "the apostles proposed not to enact laws concerning the Celebration (f festivals, but to prescribe to us the method of piety and of right living" (ibid.). Nicephorus repeats this (Ecclesiastical History 12.32 [PG 146.847-54)).

    VII. Although the Lord's day is sacred to God, it does not follow by an equal reason that other festivals can be consecrated to God. (1) The Lord's day was instituted and kept by the apostles themselves; other festivals were ordained only by the fathers. (2) The Lord's day as to genus is commanded so that one day in seven should be set apart for the public worship of God (although not as to species). On the contrary, these festivals were commanded in neither way.

    VIII. The practice of the Jews, who kept the feast of Purim in Esther and the Feast of Dedication in memory of the temple purged by Judas Maccabaeus (mentioned in Jn. 10:22), does not immediately prove that this custom ought to prevail in the Christian church (on account of the difference between the Old and New Testament economy). It shows only that on certain days (annually recurring) there may be a public commemoration of the singular benefits of God, provided abuses, the idea of necessity, mystery and worship, superstition and idolatry be absent.

    IX. Paul does not intimate that the Feast of Pentecost was to be kept by him necessarily (Acts 20:16), but only that he must hasten to be present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost on account of the gathering of the Jews (that he might have a fuller opportunity and chance to preach and turn many to Christ).

    X. It is one thing to make mention of the conception, nativity, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ on certain days in discourses to the people and thus to embrace the opportunity of exhorting, consoling, instructing Christians to edification, piety, patience and holiness. It is another, however, to make and by established law to impose necessarily upon Christians festivals sacred to God and the saints, to constitute these a part of religion and of divine worship as more holy than other days. The former can sometimes be employed with advantage according to the circumstances of time, place, persons and things (provided abuse, superstition and idolatry are absent, as was not rarely done in the primitive church); but the latter is not lawful both because it belongs to God alone (and not to men) to prescribe what belongs to divine worship and because religious worship is not to be paid to any creatures, but to God alone.

    XI. A thing can be called "holy" either absolutely (with regard to some inherent sanctity) or relatively (with regard to its destination to a sacred use); either by divine or human appointment. There are no days to which any quality of inherent sanctity may be attached of which they are not capacious (nor if it could be attributed to them, could this be done by the operation of men, who can communicate internal sanctity to nothing). We do not deny relative sanctity to certain days by reason of their destination to sacred uses, which (if it proceeds from God, as formerly on the Sabbath day and on the festivals established among the Jews) was a true relative sanctity by reason of the divine will. But if from men, in no way can sanctity be ascribed to days, except in relation to the things done on them and on account of the purpose for which the cessation from our works is enjoined.

    XII. By the feast (of which the apostle speaks in 1 Cor. 5: 7, 8), he does not mean a stated day on which the memory of Christ's passion should be celebrated, but the whole time commencing with our regeneration; not only for seven days (as the Passover of the Jews), but the whole time of our life. This is evident because he is speaking of the paschal feast, when having slain a lamb, unleavened bread is eaten. Now in the New Testament, Christ, the Lamb of God, having been once slain (whose efficacy remains forever), our unleavened bread of sincerity and truth ought to last through the whole course of life.

    XIII. If some Reformed churches still observe some festivals (as the conception, nativity, passion and ascension of Christ), they differ widely from the Papists because they dedicate these days to God alone and not to creatures.
    No sanctity is attached to them, nor power and efficacy believed to be in them (as if they are much more holy than the remaining days).
    They do not bind believers to a scrupulous and too strict abstinence on them from all servile work (as if in that abstinence there was any moral good or any part of religion placed On the other hand it would be a great offense to do any work on those days).
    The church is not bound by any necessity to the unchangeable observance of those days, but as they were instituted by human authority, so by the same they can be abolished and changed, if utility and the necessity of the church should it. "For everything is dissolved by the same causes by which it was produced,” the lawyers say. In one word, they are considered as human institutions. Superstition and the idea of necessity are absent.
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  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thanks Scott!

    I am struggling through the issue of Jesus' presence at these two non-commanded feasts: (1) Hannukah, and (2) Purim:

    First Hannukah:
    “Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22–23).

    AT FIRST, it appears that John mentions the Feast of the Dedication in a manner that makes it appear that Jesus' presence was there for the feast.

    But it seems Jesus kept Himself to the court of the Gentiles and did not go in an worship with the Pharisees but used the occasion to engage them.

    Since the Feast of Dedication was initiated during the time of the Maccabees when there was no revelation given, by affirming that Jesus celebrated it, we would be giving affirmation to the Book of Maccabees, right? And also affirming that the supposed miracle of the oil actually happened, right? For Jesus wouldn't celebrate a holiday based on a fraud.

    BUT....Jesus did attend the Temple during the Feast of Dedication. Isn't this an observance of sorts, as much as He could? He attended the Temple on the expected day....but only kept to the Court of the Gentiles.

    BUT..... how about Purim? It does not say God instituted Purim, but only the Jews...

    But in John 5 it appears that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the purpose of the Purim feast. Did Jesus celebrate Purim?

    My opinion right now is that it appears that though Hannukah and Purim were not directly commanded by God that Jesus still appeared and attended upon these festivities, though in a way that did not dishonor God.

    Can you change my mind? I think I'd like to start a separate thread on this, since it confuses me. Thanks for engaging me.
  3. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Of course not, an image of Christ does not automatically result in worship either. That's not the argument. But memorializing an event in redemptive history, particularly, is a cultic act. It cannot be secular. It seems to me that the same dilemma that is applied to the images applies here. With an image of Christ you must take either the left horn or the right horn of the dilemma--the 2nd commandment violation or the 3rd. A day set apart to memorialize our Lord and Savior's birth, if it be legitimate, must drive us to worship in the same way that the Day sanctified by our Lord's resurrection does--the Lord's Day. Is there an example of a religious day observed without worship in the Scriptures? Even the feast of dedication and Purim had cultic observances attached to them.
  4. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Chris, I do not disagree. I am taking the Devil's Advocate position here, if for no other reason than to flesh out the reasons for and against private Christmas observance. I had a conversation with a friend who said, "If I meditate on the Lord Jesus Christ at any other time of the year, and it results in a worshipful attitude, is that a problem?" I do not see where this scenario is problematic. Perhaps that brings the subject of private worship into the discussion. Of course, he was speaking for himself and not the wholesale observance of Christmas.
  5. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I have read "If we take care of this problem in the church the rest will follow". Now one can see that this is not a real situation in that the laity will do what they want to do even if our elders say it is wrong. Now may I state plainly that if the elders say Christmas is ok to do privately, then I KNOW the laity will jump on this like a fly to garbage (intentional slight hyperbole). :) I have seen this first hand in how the celebration of Christmas in "protestant" churches puts Rome to shame, and this includes "reformed" protestant churches.
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