Christmas and the Christian

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Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
so, yet again, those who are pro-winter holiday need to provide biblical exegesis and hermeneutic to show that this holiday is warranted by God in worship to Him.

Would you object to a celebration of New Year's on these grounds? Would you object to a church holding a service of thanksgiving on the occasion?
 

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
New Year's and Thanksgiving Day are non-sequitars. Are there Reformed churches who do not celebrate yuletide and Easter that hold month-long celebrations with the interruption of regular worship for the lighting of different colored candles and special musical cantatas with no exposition of the Word for those days?
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
so, yet again, those who are pro-winter holiday need to provide biblical exegesis and hermeneutic to show that this holiday is warranted by God in worship to Him.

Would you object to a celebration of New Year's on these grounds? Would you object to a church holding a service of thanksgiving on the occasion?

If such occasions are in celebration of the LORD and to His glory than yes I would.

I usually equate those with the 4th of july or labor day, but maybe I am mistaken in that.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
You would also need to explain how putting up lights, trees, and caroling "in celebration of Christ and to His glory" is not worship of Him.

I think you miss my point. Such things are worship in the sense that all of life is lived in appreciation of God and we do many things in the course of a day that we choose to do mainly to celebrate Christ. The guinea pig was just one example. I also (like Jonathan Edwards) take walks mainly to appreciate and celebrate the Creator. I select and read books for the same purpose. Like Boaz, I choose to greet Christian friends by saying "The Lord be with you" and I do it specifically to give honor to Christ. I also use other greetings that aren't direct Bible quotes but still are meant to honor Christ. These things are worship in the broad, all-of-life sense. But they are not worship in the narrower, tightly regulated sense that my devotional time or a church service is. The fact that I do something in celebration of Christ and to his glory does not necessarily make it that kind of worship.

I'm merely pointing out that one can do something specifically in appreciation of Christ without it falling under the realm of organized, regulated worship... and that one should be doing such things if one is a whole-life Christian. I think I'm in pretty solid agreement with historical Reformed understanding on this princple, regardless of how we decide to apply it to Christmas.

(By the way... Uzzah is a weak argument that you might want to rethink. Uzzah wasn't making up his own way to worship. He disobeyed a direct command of God never to touch the ark. I never mention Uzzah when suggesting that worship ought to only include commanded elements because people would throw that one back at me, claiming that Uzzah's story shows that God's concern is with breaking direct commands. The regulative principle you and I are trying to support says that we we may not invent our own ideas for worship where God is silent. That's very different from God punishing over actions about which he has clearly spoken.)
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
If such occasions are in celebration of the LORD and to His glory than yes I would.

So what I am hearing here is that the church must not hold worship on any day other than the Lord's day. Is this correct?

What the statement you just quoted is saying within its context is that holiday traditions meant to worship the LORD that are not commanded in His Word should be rejected.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
It has always been the doctrine of the Reformed churches that the Church may set aside occasional days of fasting or thanksgiving, and that such days may be (and in fact perhaps ought to be) on days other than the Lord's Day. We have also always held worship services on days other than the Lord's Day -- meetings of Presbytery and other Church courts being the most common example. What is unique about Christmas is that it is an annual holy day which celebrates the birthday of Christ. Private celebrations must be handled differently in these arguments than public worship services, yes, but even a private celebration is at least a tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of the Church having established an annual birthday celebration in the first place. One can strip down Christmas, and that is commendable as far as it goes, but one is still choosing to recognize an historical, ecclesiastical birthday celebration for Jesus.

That being said, I realize that with the ubiquity of Christmas in our culture even among unbelievers, questions of how to deal with Christmas personally and among family can be sticky. Many extended families only (or primarily) gather around this time. Nevertheless, we must agree on the general principles before we can hash out what to do about personal circumstances. And as a starting point, it is a valid general principle that the Church did not and does not have the prerogative to appoint a birthday for Christ, as if His own institutions for His remembrance and worship were insufficient.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
What the statement you just quoted is saying within its context is that holiday traditions meant to worship the LORD that are not commanded in His Word should be rejected.

Ok, so if one were to hold a service on the 25th of December whose only holiday trappings were circumstantial and treated as such, you would be content?
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
You would also need to explain how putting up lights, trees, and caroling "in celebration of Christ and to His glory" is not worship of Him.

I think you miss my point. Such things are worship in the sense that all of life is lived in appreciation of God and we do many things in the course of a day that we choose to do mainly to celebrate Christ. The guinea pig was just one example. I also (like Jonathan Edwards) take walks mainly to appreciate and celebrate the Creator. I select and read books for the same purpose. Like Boaz, I choose to greet Christian friends by saying "The Lord be with you" and I do it specifically to give honor to Christ. I also use other greetings that aren't direct Bible quotes but still are meant to honor Christ. These things are worship in the broad, all-of-life sense. But they are not worship in the narrower, tightly regulated sense that my devotional time or a church service is. The fact that I do something in celebration of Christ and to his glory does not necessarily make it that kind of worship.

I'm merely pointing out that one can do something specifically in appreciation of Christ without it falling under the realm of organized, regulated worship... and that one should be doing such things if one is a whole-life Christian. I think I'm in pretty solid agreement with historical Reformed understanding on this princple, regardless of how we decide to apply it to Christmas.

(By the way... Uzzah is a weak argument that you might want to rethink. Uzzah wasn't making up his own way to worship. He disobeyed a direct command of God never to touch the ark. I never mention Uzzah when suggesting that worship ought to only include commanded elements because people would throw that one back at me, claiming that Uzzah's story shows that God's concern is with breaking direct commands. The regulative principle you and I are trying to support says that we we may not invent our own ideas for worship where God is silent. That's very different from God punishing over actions about which he has clearly spoken.)

Everything you mentioned in you first paragraph is commanded in scripture or is in line with commandments in scripture. taking walks to think on the LORD falls into the command to think on what is noble and good. same with selecting certain books to read which would also fall in line with the command to not put anything worthless in front of our eyes. We're also told to greet fellow saints.

so, again, everything you are doing is in compliance with God's commands. therefore, you are still left with the task of showing where we are allowed to establish traditions of worship to the LORD that He did not command.

as far as uzzah, again, read deut 12 while taking note of the last verse in the chapter and you will see that the principle of only rendering worship to God in the way he has commanded is in fact something he clearly spoke about. therefore, the uzzah example actually does work in that despite his intentions and sincerity in wanting to preserve the ark by keeping the ark from falling into the mud, he violated the command of God and was punished.
 

Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
For those who do celebrate Christmas, I have a question. :)

If you were asked to give up everything related to Christmas (and Easter) for just one year, could/would you? No tree. No gift giving. No decorations. No lights. No carol services. etc.

However far we have got from the origins of this festival, ignorance, or a determination to disassociate our own celebrations from the pagan origins (or the pagan celebrations going on all around us today) will not remove the fact we have learned from the heathen and their ways of worshipping their gods (which is clearly forbidden in Scripture). Whatever ‘we’ say we are doing or not doing does not change what has been said by Him for all time.

Ezekiel 20:39, "Pollute ye my holy name no more.”

"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen”

If we were to look at the pagans today and see how they are worshipping their gods and then directly imitate that in some way, even to the establishing of a new holy day wherein we.......yes ‘we’ the created, attach the name of Christ (the Creator) and do the self same things the pagans were doing in celebration of their gods, surely most of Christendom would be up in arms? Yet, listen to all the many arguments (not just on this board of course) ‘for’ exactly that. Just because we inherited Christmas and did not ourselves invent it, does not make the thing any less learned from the heathen.

"So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”
“...in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Does the tradition of Christmas make void the word of God? I don’t personally see how that question could be answered in the negative.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
For what it's worth... I'm not so much interested in defending Christmas observance, which is problematical a lot of the time. I simply want to point out that it is incorrect to assert that all celebrating of Christ or doing things for his glory falls under the "regulative principle" (a phrase I never heard growing up, but I suppose it is a handy way to refer to the idea I was taught that when it comes to specific activities of worship we may only worship in ways God has commanded).

This matters because when people overreach with the "regulative principle" and start using it to lob criticism over areas of life it doesn't cover, it gives the principle and those who affirm it a bad name. The wider church badly needs to recognize the principle today. We who affirm it need to be careful in how we assert it. There are many, many good arguments against Christmas observance that don't include trying to overreach and apply the "regulative principle" to everyday areas of life.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Everything you mentioned in you first paragraph is commanded in scripture or is in line with commandments in scripture. taking walks to think on the LORD falls into the command to think on what is noble and good. same with selecting certain books to read which would also fall in line with the command to not put anything worthless in front of our eyes. We're also told to greet fellow saints.

Ah, but none of these is about organized worship. Do you contend there is no distinction between organized worship and all-of-life living with Christ in mind?

And excuse me, but I have to run off for a bit. Back later...
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Just because we inherited Christmas and did not ourselves invent it, does not make the thing any less learned from the heathen.

As I have said before, the connection is fallacious, therefore the debate on this point is on the proper role of the RPW.
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
"The burden of proof would fall squarely on your shoulders to find warrant in scripture for such a tradition of celebration to be rendered to Christ. "

(Obviously), I disagree. I think I am free to celebrate the birth of Christ any time.
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
What the statement you just quoted is saying within its context is that holiday traditions meant to worship the LORD that are not commanded in His Word should be rejected.

Ok, so if one were to hold a service on the 25th of December whose only holiday trappings were circumstantial and treated as such, you would be content?

If there was a normal Lord's Day service being held that just so happened to fall on the 25th day of the 12th month of the year, i would see no issue.
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
"The burden of proof would fall squarely on your shoulders to find warrant in scripture for such a tradition of celebration to be rendered to Christ. "

(Obviously), I disagree. I think I am free to celebrate the birth of Christ any time.

You can celebrate it at any time but only in the way the LORD has commanded which is what the statement you quoted is saying.
 

THE W

Puritan Board Freshman
Everything you mentioned in you first paragraph is commanded in scripture or is in line with commandments in scripture. taking walks to think on the LORD falls into the command to think on what is noble and good. same with selecting certain books to read which would also fall in line with the command to not put anything worthless in front of our eyes. We're also told to greet fellow saints.

Ah, but none of these is about organized worship
. Do you contend there is no distinction between organized worship and all-of-life living with Christ in mind?

And excuse me, but I have to run off for a bit. Back later...

But they are forms of private worship. The RPW applies to both public and private worship. organized vs. all-of-life is not the proper differentiation as all of God's worship is organized by Him in that He commanded all of it and it encompasses our whole life.

We are yet still left with the task of showing that we have the right to establish a tradition of worship that the LORD never commanded in His Word.

I think we're also going to have to start another thread to define the RPW. We will not get anywhere if we don't.
 
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au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Jack and Philip have highlighted the need to be precise in how we apply the RPW, and I think rightly so. More precision is needed in these conversations. It can be a bit frustrating reading these threads, and it's not because I don't like heated (or moderately warm) debate. It's because the terms of the discussion are often vague and on the fifth page of discussion, it is still not clear what the actual debate is. The interlocutors are often talking about two different things (an ecclesiastical holy day vs a private family gift exchange on 25 December). Those two things are connected, but it must be explained how, not merely left to the imagination. I am not the best person for the job, but I have a few thoughts to put out there in hope of clarifying a few things.

First, we need to establish where the RPW applies. A common overstatement is that the RPW does not apply to all of life or to life outside of church. Well, yes and no. It is true that the RPW does not restrict me from building a fence on Tuesday afternoon without explicit Scriptural warrant, but if I choose to build an altar by the fence on Tuesday, then the fact that I am not in church and it is not the Lord's Day does not exempt me from the RPW. The moment I am engaging in "special worship" (public, family, or secret), it becomes important that I do not invent my own elements of worship. So while it is necessary to distinguish private celebration of Christmas from an ecclesiastical holy day, the reality is that private celebration of Christmas is, historically, a recognition of a civil and ecclesiastical birthday celebration of Jesus Christ. A given family might try to separate their Christmas from historical Christmas (which is private celebration of an ecclesiastical holiday) -- and, again, that is commendable and I appreciate my brethren for doing it -- but it does not change the fact that celebrating Christmas privately does not happen in a cultural vacuum. It communicates something historically significant -- a recognition of an historical, civil, and ecclesiastical birthday celebration for Jesus Christ on 25 December.

Secondly, I think Jack is right to point out that we worship Christ in all we do (in the "reasonable service" sense, [KJV]Romans 12:1[/KJV]), and this kind of worship must be carefully distinguished from special worship. However, it seems clear to me that celebrating Jesus' birthday falls into the latter category.

Thirdly, there has been some discussion of how pagan influence works. We use the names for the days of the week that pagans once used in honor of their gods, for example, and this is not typically regarded as "learning from the heathen." This point is well made: we anti-Christmas folk need to do a bit more than say, "That was pagan," and leave the room. We need to establish that it matters in a way that the names for the days of the week do not. I think it is fair that we accept this burden. In my view, the key difference with Christmas is that Christmas is an ongoing ecclesiastical holiday that is still celebrated by its creators -- Rome -- and that still purports to be the birthday of Jesus Christ. Some folks argue that Christmas is mostly cultural now. Here is an easy way to test that. When you can Google "Christmas" and the first line of the Wikipedia page that comes up isn't something like, "Christmas (Old English: Crīstesmæsse, meaning "Christ's Mass") is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and a widely observed holiday, celebrated generally on December 25 by millions of people around the world" (Christmas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), then you will know that Christmas has become cultural like the names of the days of the week. For comparison, the first line for Thursday's wikipedia entry is, "Thursday (Listeni/ˈθɜrzdi/ or /ˈθɜrzdeɪ/) is the fourth or fifth day of the week, between Wednesday and Friday."

I am sure there is more to say, but that's all I have time for now, and I am interested in hearing from others on these points.
 
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Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
As I have said before, the connection is fallacious, therefore the debate on this point is on the proper role of the RPW.

What in particular do you consider to be fallacious about the connection between Christmas and ‘learning the ways of the heathen’? (Sorry, if you’ve already answered that. I haven’t read every single post on this thread.)

"Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.31 Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Deut 12

Christmas was learned from the pagans. It is a doing unto the Lord, what they did (and still do........witches (Wiccan) here in the UK are very quick to defend the 25th December as a pagan day and can better demonstrate that than believers can demonstrate it as being honoring to the Lord/about Christ) which surely is a direct violation of the RPW?
 

PreservedKillick

Puritan Board Freshman
Am I alone in noticing that the thread has veered far away from the original topic, Pastor Martin's excellent sermon series on Christmas and the Christian? Listening to the series has proved quite helpful to me over the last week. The sermons have much wisdom for those on both sides of this debate.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Christmas was learned from the pagans.

When all the pagans are having a holiday, wouldn't it make sense for a persecuted church to meet together while everyone else is distracted by the revelry? One could almost imagine Christians in the Islmc world doing something like this during Ramadan.

Regardless, the fallacy lies in saying that if X was a pagan practice then, it must be so now. This is not necessarily the case. The RPW argument merely argues that this is an OT "high place" (ie: a practice that is unwarranted) rather than Baal-worship, which is the argument from Pagan origins.
 

Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
Am I alone in noticing that the thread has veered far away from the original topic, Pastor Martin's excellent sermon series on Christmas and the Christian? Listening to the series has proved quite helpful to me over the last week. The sermons have much wisdom for those on both sides of this debate.

Yes, I noticed that sometime back. :) However, the discussion was bound to take this direction.

I listened to all 7 sermons and was almost, for a brief time, persuaded that what he said about liberty (Romans 14) did indeed apply to Christmas. (It sure would be more comfortable for me......as one strongly opposed to Christmas.......if that were the case!) But, as persuasive as his preaching so often is, it didn’t stick. He appeared to be more zealous for the liberty of the created than the plain commands of the Creator.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
au5t1n said:
Thirdly, there has been some discussion of how pagan influence works. We use the names for the days of the week that pagans once used in honor of their gods, for example, and this is not typically regarded as "learning from the heathen."
I myself am not entirely sure how "past origins" is relevant for today and how it is not. I also don't have a lot of time, but I just wanted to add the potential consideration that the names of the days of the week have to do with language and language is something that must be shared (though one could try to change it by personally not using those names, I suppose; anticipating an objection, the "Lord's Day" instead of "Sunday" is merely used to mark out the day as special, not necessarily as an avoidance of a pagan name, though some do and have argued for the different name on the basis of that), which differs from special days that need not be observed (though one may be forced out of work on them).

And as another potential consideration, there is a difference between secular and pagan to be sure, but I wonder if at some point, a "neo-paganism" would emerge (if it hasn't emerged already?), with customs that do not look like or special days dedicated to things other than what is traditionally associated with "paganism," but I would think would turn these special days into something that needs to be avoided just as much (along with avoiding those customs)?
 

Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
Regardless, the fallacy lies in saying that if X was a pagan practice then, it must be so now.

I wasn’t seeking to draw that conclusion. Rather, I was communicating that the origin of Christmas should matter to the church today. If it came about by the church transgressing a plain command of God (do not learn from the heathen, do not serve me as they serve their gods, do not add to my commands) then surely it is something the church today should repent of rather than continue to build upon a sandy foundation? Granted, today it is widely held up to be a ‘Christian’ holiday and many are ignorant of the pagan origins, however the passage of time and ignorance of origins does not lessen a transgression any. It still requires repentance, not continuance.


When all the pagans are having a holiday, wouldn't it make sense for a persecuted church to meet together while everyone else is distracted by the revelry?

Absolutely! They could gather today and worship God in the ways in which He has commanded them to do.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I myself am not entirely sure how "past origins" is relevant for today and how it is not. I also don't have a lot of time, but I just wanted to add the potential consideration that the names of the days of the week have to do with language and language is something that must be shared (though one could try to change it by personally not using those names, I suppose; anticipating an objection, the "Lord's Day" instead of "Sunday" is merely used to mark out the day as special, not necessarily as an avoidance of a pagan name, though some do and have argued for the different name on the basis of that), which differs from special days that need not be observed (though one may be forced out of work on them).

I think this is an excellent point.

And as another potential consideration, there is a difference between secular and pagan to be sure, but I wonder if at some point, a "neo-paganism" would emerge (if it hasn't emerged already?), with customs that do not look like or special days dedicated to things other than what is traditionally associated with "paganism," but I would think would turn these special days into something that needs to be avoided just as much (along with avoiding those customs)?

I am not 100% sure I follow you here. I think you are saying that a secular culture can develop special days that are not "pagan" in the traditional, historical sense (worshipping false gods) but that also ought to be avoided (perhaps because they are basically still worship of false gods in a sense, but materialism not Odin). If that is what you mean, I think it is also well noted. This is one of the reasons that dividing Christmas into "cultural" and "religious" isn't very helpful to me because I dislike both aspects of Christmas. Either we are celebrating excess and covetousness, or we are celebrating Jesus' birthday, which He didn't feel was important enough to establish during the 40 days He spent with the Apostles after His resurrection. Neither holiday -- secular or Christian -- particularly appeals to me. And that is even if we grant that you can really divide them in the first place.
 

Hemustincrease

Puritan Board Freshman
The question is not so much ‘Is Christmas pagan?’ but ‘Does Christmas transgress/make void the word of God?’ If we were to try and answer that question based only on today’s generation we would be missing a vital part of the equation. For we would be missing the original transgression of the church (which does require us to consider the pagan influence) in instigating what God had not commanded her to do. The church is to ‘minister and declare’ what is complete, not to invent and innovate.

When I spoke of Christmas as something learned from the pagans my point was to demonstrate how the church transgressed the word of God by adding to His commands and by seeking to serve/worship Him in like manner to the pagans at that time (no matter how well intentioned they might have been.) The pagan elements which still remain today are secondary matters (in my opinion). It is the foundation which is important. Was it (Christmas) built on truth? On the Word of God? On Christ? Or was it built on a transgression of the Word? On a lie? In direct disobedience to Christ?

Scripture tells us again and again that the foundation we build upon matters. If we build on the wrong foundation we cannot glorify Him. If He is not with us in the building (Psalm 127) we labor in vain.
 
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