Bahnsen and Christmas

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Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
Christmas (and other “holidays”) has always been a difficult subject for me since becoming a Christian, given questionable origins and seeming lack of biblical warrant. Since becoming fully Reformed in the past year +, it has been more difficult in light of now holding to the Regulative Principle of Worship. Given all the discussions on here over the years, and seeing Bahnsen brought up a few times but not seeing anyone interact with him on the topic, I thought I would summarize his audio lecture, now freely available at CMF. Please note that I am not agreeing or disagreeing with him, just presenting his argument.

His base text is 1 Tim 3:16. For cultural context, see Acts 19:28, 34. The Ephesians worshipped Artemis with the cultic chant “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” But Paul says to Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh...” Bahnsen states that the Greek parallelism and diction show this as being a six-line chant or hymn, and suggests this was already in use in the Ephesian church. He cites Php 2:5-11 as another example of a NT hymn.

Bahnsen says the Incarnation was a regular theme of worship in the church from the 1st-4th centuries before a Dec. 25th date was settled. There was nothing “Roman Catholic” or pagan about it. He notes that yes, fixing a date in late December did coincide w/certain pagan festivals, but regardless of the timing, Paul had no qualms about the church assimilating a pagan chant to Artemis into a hymn directed at the Object of proper devotion, Jesus Christ. Bahnsen acknowledges that as Incarnation celebrations spread throughout the West, it continued to pick up various cultural winter customs that probably had pagan origins.

With that historical background laid, he now turns to specific objections:
1. Christmas violates the RPW
-Bahnsen says if Christmas can be shown to violate the RPW, then we must immediately and decisively discard it wholesale.
ANSWER: Christmas is not an element of worship, but a voluntary occasion for worship. If a minister were required to preach on the Incarnation around a specific date, then it would become an element and violate the RPW. (He never touched on Advent wreaths/candles/liturgies, I wish he would have, but maybe he does elsewhere)

2. Our Puritan and Reformed forefathers rejected it.
ANSWER: They did so because they were protesting Roman mass and idolatrous rites inextricably linked to it at that time in history. Bahnsen says they were probably right to reject it given the times and battles they were facing. Although he notes there were differences within the reformed tradition between the Continent and England/Scotland with how exacting they were in their rejections. Today, however, there is not generally a strong association between Christmas and Roman Catholic mass. He also cites WCF XXI:5 allowing for special religious occasions for thanksgiving.

3. Christmas has RCC and pagan origins
ANSWER: Bahnsen rejects certain Reconstructionist tendencies to Christianize all customs, finding it silly for example to attach “Christian” meaning to evergreen trees in an attempt to justify their religious use.
-covering your mouth when sneezing has pagan origins, but no one would suggest we shouldn’t do it because of that.
-origins don’t dictate current practice and custom. Most of us were introduced to Christmas customs in a Christian cultural context, not pagan tree worship.
-W/R/T objections based on the verbiage of Christ-MASS, Bahnsen notes that the word post-dates Incarnation celebrations and in modern parlance, at least in America, the word simply relates to the time of celebrating Christ’s birth, not RCC mass rites.

4. Christmas is associated with commercialism, godless sentimentality, and worldliness. Society often associates Christmas with lascivious parties and excuses for debauchery.
ANSWER: Christians are obviously never allowed to partake in those things, no matter the time of year. These immoral associations are not essential to the meaning of CHristmas. Greed and commercialism are obviously bad, but if merchants focus on products celebrating the Incarnation, what a great way to spread the message! Merchants often play Christ-centered music and employees are often more cheerful, so enjoy it. Merchants often take advantage of consumer greed, meeting demand that already exists, they aren’t making consumers greedy.

ARGUMENTS FOR CHRISTMAS (This is not an exhaustive list of Bahnsen’s arguments)
1. A preacher can certainly preach on the theme of the Incarnation at any time of year.
2. Nothing in scripture forbids teaching certain themes regularly at the same time each year.
3. It is not wrong to have worship on days in addition to the weekly Lord’s Day. He notes some Puritan churches shuttering doors during the week, but cites the early chapters of Acts demonstrating daily worship gatherings.
4. THe date is irrelevant as to the historical event. Any date could be picked to teach certain themes.
5. It IS wrong for a church to require a pastor to observe/teach on Christmas.
6. It is not wrong to give gifts out of gratitude and in imitation of God giving us gifts.
7. It is not wrong to take a day off from work at a time other than Sundays.
8. It is not wrong to decorate a tree and home during winter any more than it is to eat hot dogs every 4th of July.
9. Is it wrong to be sentimental or nostalgic? It is wrong to be nostalgic about a godless universe. It is wrong to wish for peace on earth and goodwill to men without God being the source of that peace and goodwill. It is wrong to be sentimental about caring for the poor and being cheerful about family and good health without God as the source and motivation. When men naturally desire these things, it is appropriate to direct them toward God.

APPLICATIONS:
1. Unbelievers shouldn’t celebrate Christmas as commemorative of Christ’s birth. If they wish you “Merry Christmas,” take the opportunity to ask if they are really grateful for God sending His Son into the world to save sinners.
2. Believers celebrating Christmas is adiaphora.
3. It IS appropriate to celebrate the Incarnation. After all, the angels celebrated it (Luke 2); it is ok to be on the side of the angels!
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Today, however, there is not generally a strong association between Christmas and Roman Catholic mass. He also cites WCF XXI:5 allowing for special religious occasions for thanksgiving.
This is not a correct understanding of 21.5; the WA held that providential occasions for fasts or thanksgivings are appropriate, not fixing permanently to certain days events in the life of Christ.
Christmas is not an element of worship, but a voluntary occasion for worship. If a minister were required to preach on the Incarnation around a specific date, then it would become an element and violate the RPW.
It's not voluntary if on the Lord's Day and some make attending such services mandatory.
3. Christmas has RCC and pagan origins
ANSWER: Bahnsen rejects certain Reconstructionist tendencies to Christianize all customs, finding it silly for example to attach “Christian” meaning to evergreen trees in an attempt to justify their religious use.
-covering your mouth when sneezing has pagan origins, but no one would suggest we shouldn’t do it because of that.
-origins don’t dictate current practice and custom. Most of us were introduced to Christmas customs in a Christian cultural context, not pagan tree worship.
-W/R/T objections based on the verbiage of Christ-MASS, Bahnsen notes that the word post-dates Incarnation celebrations and in modern parlance, at least in America, the word simply relates to the time of celebrating Christ’s birth, not RCC mass rites.
I agree this is the weak argument many seem to want to rest on: the fact something had pagan origins. Gillespie's syllogism accounts for such things as pass into common use like the names of the days of the week, but things that remain monuments of idolatry such as the church calendar should be cast out as Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent, which some could have objected that he should have simply restored it to a proper use. See this section of Gillespie's English Popish Ceremonies where he lays out the sylogism and applies it. https://www.naphtali.com/articles/g...n-the-rule-for-purging-monuments-of-idolatry/

Topical preaching must bow to the corruptions of the times and address them or not lay stumbling blocks. So one preaching a nativity sermon has the responsibility to drop that shoe, as Calvin, etc.

I didn't see anything new. I think all of this has come up in some form in the many debates on this forum the last nearly 20 years.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
His base text is 1 Tim 3:16. For cultural context, see Acts 19:28, 34. The Ephesians worshipped Artemis with the cultic chant “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” But Paul says to Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus, “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh...” Bahnsen states that the Greek parallelism and diction show this as being a six-line chant or hymn, and suggests this was already in use in the Ephesian church. He cites Php 2:5-11 as another example of a NT hymn.
I realize that this is not really the main point of the thread, but I do tire of hearing this assertion. There is no evidence that any hymns other than the psalms are given in Scripture. If these were hymns sung by the church, they must have fallen out of use very quickly, becauze there is no record of them. I think it at least as reasonable to read these passages as mnemonics. Perhaps they were in use in catechizing believers. We don't know. (People argue from these that man-made hymns are approved in church! Disappointing, to say the least.)

Whatever the case, to move, as Bahnsen does here, from Paul was okie-dokie with the church employing pagan-inspired chanting in worship to Paul surely would not have objected to an Incarnation festival coinciding with pagan festivals is patently ridiculous.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
This is not meant to sound dismissive, because with these words I condemn myself as well, but, truly, even the best of us can be blinded by our own desires.

If you want to have Christmas, you'll find some justification for it, somehow.

"It's only voluntary, after all."

"Things are different today. Popery isn't the threat it used to be."

"What's bad about celebrating the Incarnation?"


How we think of worship can only start from one place. Put aside your own desires and ask, "What does God desire? What has he commanded?"

This is why the arguments haven't changed, really, for centuries. I do believe it is a matter of the heart.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
This is not a correct understanding of 21.5; the WA held that providential occasions for fasts or thanksgivings are appropriate, not fixing permanently to certain days events in the life of Christ.

It's not voluntary if on the Lord's Day and some make attending such services mandatory.

I agree this is the weak argument many seem to want to rest on: the fact something had pagan origins. Gillespie's syllogism accounts for such things as pass into common use like the names of the days of the week, but things that remain monuments of idolatry such as the church calendar should be cast out as Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent, which some could have objected that he should have simply restored it to a proper use. See this section of Gillespie's English Popish Ceremonies where he lays out the sylogism and applies it. https://www.naphtali.com/articles/g...n-the-rule-for-purging-monuments-of-idolatry/

Topical preaching must bow to the corruptions of the times and address them or not lay stumbling blocks. So one preaching a nativity sermon has the responsibility to drop that shoe, as Calvin, etc.

I didn't see anything new. I think all of this has come up in some form in the many debates on this forum the last nearly 20 years.
Chris, w/r/t your second point, is preaching on the incarnation ok the other 51 Lord’s Days, but NEVER on the one coinciding with Christmas?

The early church devised the lectionary system as an aid to regularly and systematically teach through the entirety of scripture. Is this not ok? Is it wrong for Reformed churches to regularly preach/teach through the Heidelberg Catechism on the same annual schedule? Or is it ok as long as your schedule doesn’t have Questions 35 and 36 fall at the end of December?

I ask these questions in all sincerity as I continue to work through this issue.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
Would it be ok to do it every 1st Sunday of March?
What if one finds it convenient but in no way compulsory to preach on the Incarnation every week of Dec 25th since everybody in the Western Hemisphere is already think about it because it’s everywhere in culture?
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
What if one finds it convenient but in no way compulsory to preach on the Incarnation every week of Dec 25th since everybody in the Western Hemisphere is already think about it because it’s everywhere in culture?
Should the Church join in with a man made ritual or cultural festival? No, never.


Would it be ok to do it every 1st Sunday of March?
There is no scriptural basis to elevate any date over another.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Chris, w/r/t your second point, is preaching on the incarnation ok the other 51 Lord’s Days, but NEVER on the one coinciding with Christmas?

The early church devised the lectionary system as an aid to regularly and systematically teach through the entirety of scripture. Is this not ok? Is it wrong for Reformed churches to regularly preach/teach through the Heidelberg Catechism on the same annual schedule? Or is it ok as long as your schedule doesn’t have Questions 35 and 36 fall at the end of December?

I ask these questions in all sincerity as I continue to work through this issue.
Preaching a nativity themed sermon on or about Dec. 25 is something governed by the rules governing things "in theory" indifferent. If it is a stumbling block, reinforces rather than guards against the error of holy days, then don't do it. If it is as I indicated already well guarded, does full justice to the idolatry of the day, etc., then I don't have a problem with it. Samuel Davies preached a nativity sermon on a number of December 25ths. Durham gives a sixth distinction regarding scandals (offenses; stumbling blocks).
6th distinction
Whence arises another distinction of offenses, viz. from the matter of a​
practice, or from the manner of [the] performing of it, or the circumstances​
in the doing of it. For as it is not an act materially good that will edify, except​
it is done in the right manner, so will an act materially good not keep off​
offense, if it is not done tenderly, wisely, etc. And often we find circumstances​
have much influence on offense, as times, persons, places, manner, etc. For​
it is not offensive [for] one to pray or preach, but at some times, as before​
an idol, or on a Holy-day, it may be offensive.​
James Durham, Concerning Scandal (Naphtali Press, 1990), 4-5.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
@NaphtaliPress , w/r/t WCF 21:5, they cite the institution of Purim as a prooftext. This was an annual festival. Obviously they did not approve of the Popish Christ-Mass. But it would seem that regular, annual, thanksgiving celebrations were not absolutely out of the question.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
@NaphtaliPress , w/r/t WCF 21:5, they cite the institution of Purim as a prooftext. This was an annual festival. Obviously they did not approve of the Popish Christ-Mass. But it would seem that regular, annual, thanksgiving celebrations were not absolutely out of the question.
The divines didn't deal with recurrence. The Scots commissioners were not even happy with the English monthly fast during the war but tolerated it. Since they did not address the issue, it is not really far to take their work to use to support the idea. Something I wrote for an article that has had several revisions over the years:
Though the Divines refer to Esther 9:22 as a proof text for times of thanksgiving, (( The divines also refer to Psalm 107 throughout, which says nothing to the subject of recurrence. As for Esther 9, see the appendix at the end of this article containing an extract from Thomas M’Crie’s Lectures on the Book of Esther. )) the words of WCF 21:5 do not address annually recurring thanksgiving times or days. To such a suggestion that it does, it first must be objected that the Divines do not reference the broader context of the proof text, which would have only required adding the immediately preceding verse or two. Since they do not, it seems clear the Assembly was simply adducing an example of a time of thanksgiving, and not addressing the subject of annual recurrence of such observances. It should also be remembered that the Scripture proofs are not provided to add propositions to the Confession, but are there to support the actual statements and propositions given. This role is additionally supported by the fact that the references were only added at the insistence of the House of Commons — it was not the original design of the Divines to ‘proof text’ the propositions of the Westminster Standards. (( Shaw, 1.361-364. Minutes, 295. Hetherington, 346. Especially see, Alexander F. Mitchel, The Westminster Assembly its History and Standards (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1897) 377-378. ))​
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I am sure many of you opposed to speaking anything Christmas-related around December 25th probably said something relevant to the national election last month (godly rulers, and nations, national repentance, etc) making you an inconsistent witness.

I once knew a "Truly Reformed" pastor to preach against Earth Day on that event, and yet he maintained that we should completely ignore Christmas. I think the week of December 25th covered Leviticus or something. Nothing says Merry Christmas like Old Testament menstruation laws.

If the minds of the congregants are on some national or cultural event, it is probably wise to touch on it somehow.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I am sure many of you opposed to speaking anything Christmas-related around December 25th probably said something relevant to the national election last month (godly rulers, and nations, national repentance, etc) making you an inconsistent witness.

This argument is a bit of a straw-man. The argument is that Christmas is a monument to idolatry and thus ought to be kept out of the church lest it encourages a relapse into idolatry. Elections, by way of contrast, do not fall into that category.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
There is no scriptural basis to elevate any date over another.
I completely agree with this. But I myself am wondering how to deal with this passage from Paul:

"One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."​
—Romans 14:5-8​

Again, just to be clear, I do not offer this passage as a rebuttal, but as an honest question on how to deal with this matter of esteeming days biblically. It seems to me, at least at first, that Paul is giving latitude for the esteeming of days as individual Christians, but not for the Lord's Day worship gathering. What do you think?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I completely agree with this. But I myself am wondering how to deal with this passage from Paul:

"One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."​
—Romans 14:5-8​

Again, just to be clear, I do not offer this passage as a rebuttal, but as an honest question on how to deal with this matter of esteeming days biblically. It seems to me, at least at first, that Paul is giving latitude for the esteeming of days as individual Christians, but not for the Lord's Day worship gathering. What do you think?
It is helpful to recognize just what days Paul has in mind here. He is not speaking of holidays that have their origin in popery, nor is he speaking of worldly cultural festivals devoted to materialism, and whether we can give any place to those. With regard to days and diet, Paul is addressing the use, under the New Covenant, of those ceremonies that belonged to the Old (cf. Col. 2:16,17; Gal. 5:6).
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Eyedoc84 said:
Christmas is not an element of worship, but a voluntary occasion for worship. If a minister were required to preach on the Incarnation around a specific date, then it would become an element and violate the RPW.
“It's not voluntary if on the Lord's Day and some make attending such services mandatory.”

Chris,

The voluntary aspect of Eyedoc84’s quote pertains to the minister who voluntarily preaches on the incarnation. The voluntary aspect was then contrasted with a hypothetical scenario of the minister being required to preach on the incarnation. That established that Christmas can be a voluntary occasion, not a required element of worship. The preaching of the Word is a required element. The content of what the minister preaches is voluntary when not required.

Your point trades on a subtle transfer of meaning to an unrelated subject, namely members. What is required of members is not the same thing as what is required of ministers. Ministers are required to preach. Members are required to attend preaching. The voluntary aspect pertains strictly to ministers (not members) and to the content of what they preach. In this context, there is no voluntary aspect as it pertains to members. Therefore, members are not forgoing anything that is voluntary if required to attend Lord’s Day worship. If members are required to attend the element of preaching, they forgo no freedom if the minister voluntarily seizes the occasion of Christmas.

Perhaps consider it this way. A necessary condition for the element of preaching is, of course, content. That’s unavoidable. If members are required to attend preaching and the content of the voluntarily chosen sermon is Incarnation, that is no different than if the voluntary content happened to be Genesis 17 or Galatians 3. If members are required to attend the element of preaching, they forgo no freedom because the voluntary content is the Seed of Abraham and not the incarnation (or visa versa).
 

Grant

Puritan Board Senior
I completely agree with this. But I myself am wondering how to deal with this passage from Paul:

"One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."​
—Romans 14:5-8​

Again, just to be clear, I do not offer this passage as a rebuttal, but as an honest question on how to deal with this matter of esteeming days biblically. It seems to me, at least at first, that Paul is giving latitude for the esteeming of days as individual Christians, but not for the Lord's Day worship gathering. What do you think?
Yes, but I would think days like Thanksgiving and July 4th could fall into play here and not the RC days. The RC Holy day’s being monuments of idolatry should be cast off and cut loose (or maybe ground to powder and partakers commanded to drink it). In Romans Paul is likely not giving permission for Christians to associate with a textbook pagan holiday (the Papist only making it more Pagan). However I do think Romans 14 is still worthy of discussion on this subject, though I do not see it as a defense to redeem a pagan/papist festival.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Ron, My point is that members must attend services on the Lord's Day and thus anything the minister and session bring into the service, voluntary or not on their part, is imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.

All, I've already said that there is nothing wrong per se with a topical sermon about Christ's birth around the end of December. But we've centuries of context that inform that question and whether it is prudent, or how it should be prudently and faithfully done. The problem is not such a sermon. There are very few churches that just have such a sermon, or if so, actually preached one like Calvin, who is often adduced to justify observing the church calendar. Calvin rebuked his people for their attachment to such idol days when he saw more folks at church on a week day Dec 25 service. Not much has changed. It is very hard to take the "holy day" out of "Christmas." Take any subject; if there is a predominant error or sin attached to it and the preacher ignores that aspect of the subject, has he done his duty?
 
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Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
It is helpful to recognize just what days Paul has in mind here. He is not speaking of holidays that have their origin in popery, nor is he speaking of worldly cultural festivals devoted to materialism, and whether we can give any place to those. With regard to days and diet, Paul is addressing the use, under the New Covenant, of those ceremonies that belonged to the Old (cf. Col. 2:16,17; Gal. 5:6).
In my summary of Bahnsen’s teaching, he dealt with the popery and materialism claims. Incarnation-themed worship pre-dates “Popery” regardless of what the RCC added to it. And since materialism is not essential to Christmas, it is a separate category and should not be joined in by Christians any time of year.

W/r/t Taylor’s quote, I think he was bringing up the individual Christian’s liberty to esteem certain days differently than others, against the charge that it is wrong to do so. He was not bringing Romans 14 as a defense for the church instituting holy days.
 

Grant

Puritan Board Senior
In my summary of Bahnsen’s teaching, he dealt with the popery and materialism claims. Incarnation-themed worship pre-dates “Popery” regardless of what the RCC added to it.
It’s either pagan or papist (which is still pagan). “Incarnation-themed” worship (not sure what you mean) should be occurring every Lord’s Day within the RPW. Celebration of the Christmass seems contrary to scripture even if people drop the “s“ to lighten conscience somehow. I see no sin in preaching in Luke or other “famous” incarnation passages through December. Maybe at most not as much wisdom given all the superstition in the church do the the time of year.

What practices are you actually advocating for?
 
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User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ron, My point is that members must attend services on the Lord's Day and thus anything the minister and session bring into the service, voluntary or not on their part, is imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.

All, I've already said that there is nothing wrong per se with a topical sermon about Christ's birth around the end of December. But we've centuries of context that inform that question and whether it is prudent, or how it should be prudently and faithfully done. The problem is not such a sermon. There are very few churches that just have such a sermon, or if so, actually preached one like Calvin, who is often adduced to justify observing the church calendar. Calvin rebuked his people for their attachment to such idol days when he saw more folks at church on a week day Dec 25 service. Not much has changed. It is very hard to take the "holy day" out of "Christmas." Take any subject; if there is a predominant error or sin attached to it and the preacher ignores that aspect of the subject, has he done his duty?

“My point is that members must attend services on the Lord's Day and thus anything the minister and session bring into the service, voluntary or not on their part, is imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.”

Perhaps we agree. My point is that if we are to be consistent and fair, then we must also maintain that a less occasional sermon is also “imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.” Yet we don’t typically refer to elements of worship as impositions. But if you’re willing to say, as I trust you are, that a sermon on Genesis 17 in late December is an imposition on God’s people, then we agree in principle but I wouldn’t tag terms as such. All good.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
In my summary of Bahnsen’s teaching, he dealt with the popery and materialism claims. Incarnation-themed worship pre-dates “Popery” regardless of what the RCC added to it. And since materialism is not essential to Christmas, it is a separate category and should not be joined in by Christians any time of year.
That is, really, neither here nor there.
W/r/t Taylor’s quote, I think he was bringing up the individual Christian’s liberty to esteem certain days differently than others, against the charge that it is wrong to do so. He was not bringing Romans 14 as a defense for the church instituting holy days.
I repeat, Paul had in view nothing close to Christmas (whether Popish or pagan or otherwise). To suggest such would be absurd anachronism. (It would be akin to saying "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" refers to David, Watts, and Tomlin.)

It is crucial to understand that Paul was speaking of ceremonies - which, significantly, were indeed established by God under the Old Covenant. This makes all the difference. Man-made "Festivals of the Incarnation" (and such like) are not even in the same category.

Will-worship ought to be condemned in private as well as in public. I am simply not free to offer worship according to my own corrupt inclinations. It is the most senseless arrogance to suggest that man should divine the mode of worship that is to be brought before the living God.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
“My point is that members must attend services on the Lord's Day and thus anything the minister and session bring into the service, voluntary or not on their part, is imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.”

Perhaps we agree. My point is that if we are to be consistent and fair, then we must also maintain that a less occasional sermon is also “imposed on the congregation who have been called to be there.” Yet we don’t typically refer to elements of worship as impositions. But if you’re willing to say, as I trust you are, that a sermon on Genesis 17 in late December is an imposition on God’s people, then we agree in principle but I wouldn’t tag terms as such. All good.
I just have a problem with Bahnsen's arguments as though only what is imposed on the minister is the issue. How is it unlawful if mandated to the minister because it makes it elemental, but the minister's imposing and insisting on it on the congregation yearly does not? I guess Jenny Geddes didn't get the message. There is more at stake here than just the minister because the choices elders make by nature impose; so those things must be biblical and free of will worship. That is why in my granting a nativity sermon in theory hinges on what exactly that is in practice.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Also, why would not the congregation's expectation and tradition also not make this practice elemental?
WLC 109. "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are,... all superstitious devices,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,543 though under the title of antiquity,custom,devotion,good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever...."
Again, my view is that preaching a sermon and the topic are of the nature of things indifferent which are governed by the rules of offense, and not by the regulative principle that prohibits introducing holy days, or against the rule prescribing the destruction of monuments of idolatry which applies to the accouterments of idolatrous practices per the reformed duty adduced from the destruction of the bronze serpent by Hezekiah, amongst other places. In trying to sew up a defense I think Bahnsen's arguments introduce more problems. Would he have said the prescription by the Reformed church made the observance of those days elemental? I'm going by the transcription and my memory of it above. I would say it is fine as long as it guarded against the sins of the times, as already said, regardless of one off, occasional or repeated.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
I completely agree with this. But I myself am wondering how to deal with this passage from Paul:

"One person values one day over another, another values every day the same. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and the one who eats, does so with regard to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat, and he gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s."​
—Romans 14:5-8​

Again, just to be clear, I do not offer this passage as a rebuttal, but as an honest question on how to deal with this matter of esteeming days biblically. It seems to me, at least at first, that Paul is giving latitude for the esteeming of days as individual Christians, but not for the Lord's Day worship gathering. What do you think?
Other have already pointed out that Paul is speaking of Jewish festivals, and not papist superstitions, which are now past away in Christ. Matthew Henry explains it as follows:

Concerning days, Romans 14:5. Those who thought themselves still under some kind of obligation to the ceremonial law esteemed one day above another--kept up a respect to the times of the passover, pentecost, new moons, and feasts of tabernacles thought those days better than other days, and solemnized them accordingly with particular observances, binding themselves to some religious rest and exercise on those days. Those who knew that all these things were abolished and done away by Christ's coming esteemed every day alike.one day above another--kept up a respect to the times of the passover, pentecost, new moons, and feasts of tabernacles thought those days better than other days, and solemnized them accordingly with particular observances, binding themselves to some religious rest and exercise on those days. Those who knew that all these things were abolished and done away by Christ's coming esteemed every day alike.

And importantly he does say this about the Lords Day:

We must understand it with an exception of the Lord's day, which all Christians unanimously observed but they made no account, took no notice, of those antiquated festivals of the Jews.
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi Chris,

I guess I’m having a hard time reconciling this:

How is it unlawful if mandated to the minister because it makes it elemental, but the minister's imposing and insisting on it on the congregation yearly does not [unlawful]

with this:

“All, I've already said that there is nothing wrong per se with a topical sermon about Christ's birth around the end of December.”

The issue for you seems to be the yearly practice of the occasion, but not the occasion driven practice per se.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
It’s either pagan or papist (which is still pagan). “Incarnation-themed” worship (not sure what you mean) should be occurring every Lord’s Day within the RPW. Celebration of the Christmass seems contrary to scripture even if people drop the “s“ to lighten conscience somehow. I see no sin in preaching in Luke or other “famous” incarnation passages through December. Maybe at most not as much wisdom given all the superstition in the church do the the time of year.

What practices are you actually advocating for?
I’m not advocating anything. Just trying to work through the issue.
 
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