Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Christmas? Bah Humbug?

No one has suggested a topic for September, but I thought I would write about Christmas as I did last December here.

One blogger has written four posts called "Christmas and Holy Time, Seasons of Scrutiny". Calvinised Pipe The CP blogger quotes Dr. Richard P. Bucher in Christmas is Not Pagan:
The problem was not that the Galatians were observing holy days and seasons. It is that they were being taught that such observances were necessary for their salvation, a complete contradiction of the Gospel that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Similarly, to observe Christmas because you believe to not do so would be sinful is wrong and you would fall under Paul’s exhortation in Gal. 4 & 5. But to observe Christmas in your Christian freedom, because you choose to, not because you have to, is completely permitted before God.
A Puritan's Mind uses Regulative Principal is the proof for not celebrating Christmas, but allowing certain traditions such as "Frosty the Snowman." This is incredible to me--go secular but do not celebrate Christmas!

Pastor Todd Ruddell has a thoughtful sermon with emphasis on Exodus 32:1-8, Jeremiah 10:1-16, Colossians 2:16-23, 2 Chronicles 34:1-7 and Matthew 28:18-20.

Expense and Trouble of Christmas Giving. Some of our extended family do not give gifts anymore and I don't believe it is because they are Reformed. I prefer to give, even though we are on a strict budget. Giving gives me joy and of course I can do that all year long. The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. I have learned to not expect gifts from people anyway. I like phone calls and face-to-face conversations the best. I no longer want my husband to put lights up on the house--he has fallen off a ladder once, and the joy of the season doesn't have to mean elaborate decorations.

My husband and my pastors have NOT spoken against celebrating Christmas, but we don't make it a part of worship at all.  I also see in Romans 14:5 that everyone must be convinced in his own mind.  Colossians 2 says to not let anyone judge you in respect to festivals, or meat or drink.

I am thinking that it might be a stumbling block to our neighbors were we not to observe Christmas.  We started an annual neighborhood Christmas party when we moved to this house in 2001 and I enjoy having decorations for the real meaning of Christ’s birth in our home when others have been over. Except for the new Social Media, Christmas cards are almost the only way many friends and extended family all over the country keep in touch these days. We send out an annual letter and I think we can do this in November this year and thereby not offend those who do not celebrate the tradition of Christmas.  Romans 14 also talks about the principles of peace, joy, mutual upbuilding and faith. 

Cultish for a Christian to not celebrate Christmas? Is this the same logic as Jehovah Witnesses who do not pledge allegience to the flag of America? How far should we take this? Not use pictures of Calvin and Luther in case that has reverberations? What do you think, gentle reader?


  1. The following is an excerpt from the The Directory for Public Worship of God from the Westminster Confession of Faith of February 3,1645. I do think it makes you stop and think. We have become so shaped by our culture rather than shaped by what the Word of God directs. We show our gratefulness and thanksgiving by celebrating in our hearts, all year round, Christ's Birth, Life, Death,and Resurrection on the Lord's Day and every other day that He gives us breath.

    "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.

    Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God's providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people."

  2. I agree with you 100%! I have one friend who does not celebrate Christmas and another whose joy I feel has been stolen by being almost"convinced" not to celebrate Christmas. She does, but I cannot see any joy,perhaps guilt, and if it is done on a different day due to time schedules...it's good because now it's over. I know the origins of Christmas and I know Christ was probably born in the spring but you know what? I celebrate the incarnation of my Christ, my Redeemer!

  3. Cultish? that is harsh. Those of us who do not celebrate the 25 December as the birth of the Lord are simply trying to be biblical and
    observe the RPW. What is not commanded in scripture (concerning worship) is forbidden. I do not see any value in Frosty the Snowman either, but it has absolutely nothing to do with worship, has it? If one were to worship a snow man then of course, that is idolatry.
    Christmas = Christ Mass. Definately a no-no for me as a Reformed Roman Catholic.

  4. Finally people are reading and commenting! I am thankful year around for my Redeemer. I would say that if Christmas falls on a Sabbath, then I would prefer to get together with family and friends on Saturday or Monday. It is such a family thing to me and yes worship should happen all the time and a day to get together with anyone is a special day. Romans 14 convinces me above the WC, although most often the WC explains Scriture so well. I guess I am a half-baked Reformed sentimental person looking forward to a season of socializing, but not as much as I look forward to my weekly Sabbath worship of my God and Redeemer.

  5. Carol, my wife and I do not celebrate Christmas. My reasons would be the same as the ones given by SandyKaye and Ruby. For us it all comes down to what is more important to us - our convictions in our faith or our traditions of our culture? Obviously it is the former and I'm sure you would answer the same for you and your husband. Anyway, i plan on blogging about this too over a series of posts, but I will do mine a bit closer to Christmas, probably beginning of Dec.

  6. What an interesting topic. Our family also does not celebrate Christmas because it simply is not Biblical, and for the reasons mentioned above. It's not truthful or God-ordained in scripture and therefore not proper worship. However, we are careful not to be legalistic about it. We receive gifts from relatives (mostly for our children) and they are delighted to receive them. We give out evangelistic materials along with baked goods to our neighbors during the holidays but that's about it. Most of our family does not even realize that we do not celebrate Christmas. Each must follow his own conscience in the Lord and I am not the Holy Spirit so if you really want to celebrate, rock on. We are convicted and so we do not. But we have attended churches where Christmas is a big deal and would be taken from them only by prying it from their cold, dead hands ;-D It's not a salvific issue so we try to major in the majors and minor in the minors. But when asked we are very clear about where we stand and why.

  7. Charlene and Andrew,
    Good points. Like how Charlene puts it together to share her faith with neighbors and that her delightful family does not realize they don't celebrate Christmas. I chatted yesterday with Andrew on Facebook and he actually does go to his inlaws for Christmas, thereby honoring his wife's parents. Hum, maybe I don't have to decorate this year which will help with our over-all goal to simplify due to my husband's dementia! But I do want to hear Christmas carols!

  8. I think if people feel so inclined and are thus convinced in their own minds not to celebrate Christmas that is their own business. I told my one friend that I would have to be convinced in my own mind and thus far I am not. I mean , I have a question plaguing me ...if one does not observe Christmas due to the fact it is not Biblical, I would like to know if one then does not celebrate birthdays and anniversaries?
    But I do have a problem with folks that do not celebrate Christmas, find out I do, and feel they need to educate me . After all I am a reformer...I should know better??? I do know the origins, and this is what I told my friend, I celebrate and rejoice in what Christ has done for me. I see no error in putting aside a day to mark such an important event in history.

  9. A good post, Carol, although the tone is different and makes my previous comment seem dramatic :-)
    Re birthdays and anniversaries ~ they are not to do with worship so are not a problem to most of us.

  10. I would note that "celebrate" and "worship" are (1) not identical and (2) not necessarily conjoined. One can celebrate Christmas as (if nothing else) a family tradition without violating the regulative principle.

  11. Diana, I'm sorry you feel pressured by others. We often feel pressured by those who do celebrate and know that we don't. I will say this about anniversaries and birthdays--neither one of those concerns God. I believe that God cares deeply about how He is worshiped (see the entire book of Leviticus) and if we want to celebrate Christ's birth, crucifixion, resurrection and pentecost, we can see all those things in the Biblical feasts given to the nation of Israel. The feasts each match up to one of these events, perfectly prophesying about Messiah. So God has already provided celebrations for all those things, though we are not in any way obligated to observe them since they are merely types and shadows. But to paste Jesus onto a pagan holiday is not worshiping Him in spirit and in truth as the Scriptures say we should. I am perfectly happy to enjoy the "Christmas" season as a time to share the gospel with those I don't have everyday contact with, see family, eat treats, take a break from schooling, but not as Christ's "birthday" because we know for a fact it is not. And if celebrating Christmas is a source of joy that can be taken away by not celebrating it, then there is a big idolatry problem. The source of our joy and rejoicing is knowing that our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life! And the greatest way we can celebrate what Christ has done for us is by sharing the gospel--which we should be doing every day. I think it's safe to say that God prefers obedience to ceremony. And I find that most people's joy is connected with Christmas instead of Christ as it should be. But as long as your conscience is clear on it, no need to be concerned what others think.

  12. Christmas Carol et al,

    Thanks for the link to my blog about Christmas. It’s indeed a growing concern of a topic for many, and for a variety of reasons. I think perhaps the main thing is not to needlessly foster feelings of shame or guilt or spoil anything for anybody, but to find a way to individually and together live up to the very first catechism question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism; “Q.1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” For Christians, I think that generally both observers and non-observers of Christmas have in mind to glorify God and enjoy Him. The angles, shepherds, and wise men certainly celebrated (and with worship), though apparently not continuing annually on Jesus’ birthday (whenever it was). My Reformed theological ancestors of only a generation ago may not have celebrated Christmas, but admittedly I did as a child, even to the point of making reindeer tracks in the snow to show to my little sister in wide-eyed wonder.

    Little me has researched about Christmas and Reformed worship quite a bit, and while I’m an ardent supporter of the Reformed regulative principle of worship (RPW), I find it not to Scripturally speak to many of the aspects surrounding a celebration of Christ’s birth (and certainly not reindeer tracks). Most use the RPW to regulate Sunday congregational worship (to the exclusion of Christmas or other feast days), but of course, like the first Christians, many church goers worship together more often than Sunday, and I’m sure God is glorified by our celebrating the Son’s incarnation whenever we do it, even on a Christmas Day or this week’s Feast of Tabernacles. I do think there’s something holy and entirely appropriate and Christ-centred about a Christmas season and the joy it brings, that’s only half-baked when we perhaps run around over extending ourselves and miss out on the time to fully bake.

    For me, and I’m not suggesting it of everyone, the problem with Christmas is it’s problems – too much of everything, and the everything there’s too much of usually has very little to do with glorifying God and enjoying Him, but rather catering to the whims, extremes, and worldliness of the world; complete with Roman Catholicism, Paganism, commercialism, secularism, and just about every other syncretised smashing together of celebratory indulgence. Even Christmas cantatas, plays, church parties, candlelight services, and Christiany Christmas things seem to take on a life of their own rather than a simple focus on worshipping Christ’s incarnation. If we want Christmas to be a sacred thing, a holy time, then I think it wise and overdue for us to distance our worship and celebration from that of the world and theologies and dates not rooted in Reformed worship and practice or even the Bible, and often misleading. Even though we are always to be prepared to defend our faith, we shouldn’t have to excuse whether we celebrate or don’t celebrate Christmas and how and why, but our worship practice and celebration ought to be something we’re most glad and joyful about and are fully unashamed that we’re properly glorifying God in what we do and share with our fellow church members.

    - grit

  13. Hi Carol and all,
    I finally found my way here..!
    We do celebrate Christmas - it would be like declaring a major war, in the family and out, to try and change that! I think it would do more harm than good, for us here at present. I love the music of the season, and have no word from the Lord on it.
    There's one thing that weighs quite a lot with me. God instituted regular religious festivals for Israel - it just seems that the human race thrives on having set seasons for traditional and innocent merrymaking.
    Of course Satan continually works to twist every festival into something tawdry and covetous, but what else is new? Christmas causes me to dwell anew on the wonder of the nativity, and always fills my heart with joy and thanksgiving - if ever I'm convicted over it, it'll be time to think again!

  14. There are a lot of good reasons, holy reasons, and ecumenical reasons to avoid an outright War on Christmas and be accepting of those who have chosen to honour Christmas Day in worship; but I think it long past overdue for Calvinistic Christians, and particularly our churches, to have serious discussion and loving debate on the matter.

    As much of an ancient tradition as we often think it is, most Calvinistic Americans (the Reformed, Presbys, lots of Baptists, still a few Methodists, and some others) are only a generation or two removed from NOT celebrating Christmas, and as a tenant of our faith. That is, being anti-Christmas was what defined our worship and practice in Puritan or American Calvinistic theology as being true to sola Scriptura (based in Scripture alone), and upholding the principle in our worship that the Holy God we serve is only pleased to be worshiped according as He has regulated in revealed Scripture. I’m not as sure as our forefathers that Sunday-only worship is demanded in Scripture, but there can be no doubt that our American observance of Christmas came as a result of theological compromise away from Christian piety, to inculcating popular Christmas merriment into first our civil, social life, and then our religious life, and quite against what our churches, pastors, and denominational leaders properly instructed and urged in those days. While it’s certainly true that many of our church leaders today are as enthusiastic about Christmas as any, it still hasn’t usually been with the depth of theological and liturgical thought of the what, why, and how our first Reformers rejected the syncretised Roman Catholic Church / Pagan Calendar which now has re-infected so much of Protestant Christendom.

    I like Jenny’s recognition of natural seasonal rhythms in human worship – thanksgiving for the fruits of harvest, clinging in faith that God will carry us through the winter into the rebirth of Spring, as reflected in both Judaism and most all religions. I like that the very basic Church Year Calendar some Reformed Protestants have adopted essentially centres on the life of Christ, rather than an abundance of saint’s days and the like. But we need to seriously reconsider how our associations in Christmas celebration and worship have actually harmed our Christian witness and detracted from that with which God is pleased in honouring Jesus’ Nativity. There was a time over the past couple of generations when the theological errors of Christmas worship weren’t as noticeable, and where the similar observance of All Hallow’s Evening (Hallowe’en) was overlooked as too many of the harmful and daemonic associations that now have reacquired prominence. To me, it isn’t that recognising Christ’s Nativity and his victory over fear and death (where fear and death is a particular focus of Hallowe’en) is without merit of proper seasonal celebration and worship (though, again, Lord’s Day worshippers say this is what we do each Sunday), but that Christmas has become so full of secular, commercial, Catholic, Pagan, and hedonistic baggage that if there is some Christmas message and worship at which God smiles (and I certainly find there is), it is unduly and needlessly clouded by what Christians may legitimately celebrate with distinction at some other time more in keeping with Biblical principle and godly sanctity. If celebrating Christ’s Nativity is truly about worshipping God and not simply what our families or neighbourhoods have grown to culturally expect, then, though some may say it makes us look unduly weird or peculiar, why not reform and purify our worship away from Christmas excess and back to the manger at a time more in keeping with Biblical structure?

  15. I asked New Testament scholar Dr. Larry Hurtago about the earliest celebrations of the church calendar on his blog today. Here is his answer:
    "As reflected in the entry in The Oxford Dictionry of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone–an excellent reference tool for ooodles of topics), the earliest reference to observances of the 25th Dec as Jesus’ birthday comes in the Philocalian Calendar (ca. 336 CE), reflecting Roman Christian practices. The birth stories in the Gospels show that interest in Jesus’ birth goes back to the first century, of course. But there is no indication of a church celebration of the event on any particular date before the fourth century. Eastern Christians tended to favor 6 January over 25 December, again earliest evidence from the fourth century and thereafter. The death and resurrection of Jesus was liturgically celebrated from the earliest observable moments of the Christian movement in every “Lord’s Supper”/Eucharist, of course. Every Sunday was a commemoration of the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s thought that 4th-5th centuries controversies over the incarnation and the nature of the person of Jesus (divine/human issues) may have contributed to the rising interest then in liturgical observance of a birth day."

    See link to Dr. Hurtago's blog at the right under links.

  16. Christmas has for some time now been a time of heavy heartedness. 3 reasons. 1) the flagrant materialism in the general festivities and the irrelevennce to the birth of our Saviour - pine trees, snow, santa claus, etc. which make a mockery of the demeaningly humble birth of our Saviour. 2) There is no Biblical record of the exact date of Jesus's birth, nor is did he give any injunction to remember or celebrate it. Whereas he specifcally requested his believers to remember his death. 3)The resurrection of Jesus is what makes his birth and death of any value to us. Yet there don't seem to be a similar burst of festivities in conjuction with Jesus' resurrection? That's sad.

  17. I am thankful to have a holiday where I can exalt Christ openly to my unsaved extended family and neighbors. I believe you made an excellent point that each person should be convinced in their own mind. I have the freedom in my heart to celebrate Christ during this holiday. If I were to change anything it would probably be to throw out the Christmas tree.. but I do enjoy the beauty of the lights. Not a very spiritual reason. Thoughtful post Carol!


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