Section 8B ... Controversial Issues/ Christmas


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A Brief History & Examination of Christmas

by Tony Warren

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    The word Christmas comes from the Latin word [cristes maesse] which means, "the Mass of Christ." However, this word is a misnomer as it relates to the traditional Protestant observance of the day. In Protestantism, Christmas means no more than, "a memorial day of celebration of the birth of Christ."

The actual story of Christmas (the birth of Christ) is from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke where an angel appeared to shepherds by the town of Bethlehem and told them of Jesus' birth. The Magi or wise men who came bearing gifts, followed a special star in the sky which led them to the baby Jesus. Christians choose to remember this glorious moment yearly by a special celebration in prayer, commemorative decorations, placing stars and lights on a tree, and indulging in the spirit of giving.

Though the exact date of Christ's birth is unknown, Theologians unanimously agree that it was probably not the day Christians observe it (December 25th). Because Zacharias (father of John the Baptist, husband of Elizabeth) was of the division of Abijah, and considering John's birth in relationship to Jesus', most learned Theologians place the birth of Christ somewhere between September and October. The first records of anyone noting December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is in a Roman calendar dated 336 A.D. By this time Christianity was beginning to grow steadily, and By the end of the century it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The use of December 25th by Christians is generally thought to have been influenced by the pagan festivals which were also held at that time. It probably was an effort to combat the pagan festivals with Christian customs. For example, the Romans held an end of the year festival to honor their harvest god Saturn at this time of year, and there was also honoring of Mithras, which they believed to be the god of light. In these festivals the pagans prepared special foods, decorated their homes with plants, and gave gifts. It is generally thought that Christians thought to bring the gospel of Christ to the pagans by holding their celebration of His birth at this time. A noble but somewhat controversial decision.

Though Christian gift Giving is believed to originate from the gifts of the Magi, the custom of giving gifts may well have also been influenced by the northern European tradition of giving presents as part of their end of year celebrations. It is not inconceivable that these customs made it more of an acceptable practice in the celebration of Christ's birth.

Also See

Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions?


Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Philosophy

Sadly, the legend of Saint Nicholas and his alleged charity also found it's way into some Christmas celebrations as many Catholics made him a symbol of the charitable giving of gifts. Nevertheless, it is self evident that the unrighteous practice on any given day, cannot abrogate the day itself, or make it unacceptable by Christians who use it properly in righteous memorial. In truth, the argument against observing Christmas is mostly based on the origin of it, and leans heavily upon the abuse of it both in history and today. But this argument is spurious in my view, because origin or abuse of any particular thing is not the judge of whether it may be used rightly. It is difficult for any logical person to argue this reasonably, else we would have to give up the word Sunday, because it's origin is from the pagan worship of the sun. Likewise we would have to give up Saturday, because it's origin is from the pagan worship of Saturn. In order to remain consistent these detractors should never utter the days of the week again. However, we all understand that mere words, origins, or objects (as a tree) are not inherently evil, and the same goes for a celebration of Christ's birth in December, or January, or any day for that matter. Do we say that because pagans today have usurped Sunday as their day of the religion of football and hallow it in their own eyes, disrespecting God, that we should no longer observe the Sunday Sabbath? No one would suggest we stop worshipping on Sunday. And likewise, there should be no condemnation of Christians who commemorate Christ's birth on December 25th, simply because pagans have their own festivals then.

We would all agree that unrighteous use of the day certainly occurred, and is even today occurring, but that did not (nor does it) effect the righteous who in reverence to God, use this as a special remembrance. Not then, nor now. And it was clear by the year 1100 A.D. that Christmas had become the biggest religious festival in Europe, and it's popularity grew until the 1500's when a movement called the Reformation moved the Church back to a sound reliance upon the Word of God, over the words of men. It is in this backdrop that some Christians began to question whether we should partake in a celebration which was not specifically commanded, and one which included what they deemed as non Christian customs reminiscent of these pagan festivals, including feasting and decorating. In their zeal, they even managed to outlaw Christmas in England for a brief time in the 1600's. This banning of Christmas also spread to some sections of the American colonies. However, it was short lived, and the overzealous action soon subsided.

In large part because of these Reformed traditions, some Christians even in our day (mostly in the Reformed traditions) decide not to celebrate Christ's birth, despite the fact that today's Christian celebration has nothing to do with pagan festivals and feasts.

Sometimes the regulative principle is cited, however, Reformed churches have through the centuries disagreed whether Christmas actually violates it, and have differed widely on their application of the regulative principle to this matter.

There are other Christians who decline to celebrate Christmas because it has become commercialized (which is a much more valid reason than tradition) where it has almost lost it's meaning as more and more Christians fall from the faith. But again, can improper use make the proper use evil? No, we discern that it cannot. Just as false Churches cannot make a true Church evil, neither can observing in unrighteousness, make observing in righteousness a bad thing.

Consequently, most Christians continue to observe Christmas on December 25. They understand that it is of little import what actual day is used, it is the thought "behind the observance" that is evil or good. It is self evident to this Christian that No day can be a bad day to celebrate the birth of the Savior. If Christians can with a right heart set aside this time to give gifts, decorate their homes with commemorative ornaments to bring notice to the day of Christ, and set up a Christmas tree to the glory of the Lord their God, then I can find no reason in scripture to condemn this!

It is indeed the Christmas tree itself, which has become the most controversial part of Christmas. And many misguided Christians point to it as pagan ritual and offer up the book of Jeremiah as proof that a Christmas trees is spoken of there in evil terms. But is this an accurate accounting?

Jeremiah 10:2-4

    "Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

    For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

    They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."

Unfortunately, their erroneous conclusion has been floating around for years, and comes up every Christmas season like clockwork. But the "fact" is, this chapter has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christmas tree. If they would simply read the context carefully they would see it is simply another "typical" misapplication of scripture. Jeremiah is talking about idol worship, not a Christmas tree. In those days men carved wood idols and put faces and jewels in them and worshipped them. Not unlike today's native American totem poles, or African carved idols and images. Do men carry Christmas trees around because they cannot move? Any "careful" consideration of the chapter "in context" would show that an idol is what is being spoken about. But many, for their own self serving reasons, declare that this is talking about a Christmas tree. It's another example of how something can be made to "appear" to be speaking about one thing, but when carefully examined, it's shown to be error.

The real good or evil celebration of Christmas with a tree comes down to what is in the heart, not what is in the house. Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. If we feel we cannot glorify God with a Christmas tree in our house, then by all means we should not have one! But if we can look upon that tree merely as a beacon to all, a symbol to signify to all the present, beauty, and joy in the birth of our Saviour, then by all means we may freely display it. Under no circumstances should we to speak evil of another man's good. Unfortunately, that is what many do. Christians of all people should understand that Good and evil are of men, not of symbols or in objects? Just as the Lord gave us the example of things sacrificed to idols being eaten, and not inherently evil (1st Cor. 8). There is no inherent evil in the meats, but "in the man" only. Yes, we are not to cause our brother to stumble, but likewise we are not to think someone observing a Holy day is evil. Consider what the scriptures say, and then consider what it means, and then explain how anyone can sin by esteeming this day unto the Lord.

Romans 14:3-6

    "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

    Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

    One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

    He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks."

Since in the New Testament we are not "required" to esteem any day but Sunday, what can this scripture possibly be talking about "if" not that we "CAN" esteem one day or another unto the Lord and that we Christians are not to judge those Christians who do, as "to His own master he stands or fall...is it not case closed?

If one "insists" that we can't celebrate on any special days unto the lord because it's not commanded, then this passage becomes meaningless. As it's saying that we CAN, and more than that, it is saying to "real" Christians not to judge God's Children in this observance of days. Some Christians simply do not want to look at this passage carefully to understand what it is saying. But it is saying if we don't want to look at it as a holy day, fine, but do not Judge Others who do observe it, for they observe it unto the Lord!

Why does man continue to try and put other Christians under bondage of law, which God has not? It doesn't matter what pagans did hundreds of years ago. Would I worry that the person who invented the pew was an atheist, and so not ever use one? No, because it is immaterial who first used it. What is at issue is how I use it! Likewise, many false gospels think of Mary in an abominable way, does that mean that from now on I will not call her blessed because of their idol worship? Again, what they do has no bearing on belief, or in the right way to serve God, it's what I do and how I believe which counts. It's not the cross, or the tree, or the gifts, or the meats offered to idols, it's the Heart. It's what is within a man that counts, not the tree outside of him. Has not God made that clear before?

Many feel they can serve God well and bring Glory to Him by having a Christmas tree illustrating Christ to all who would see it. There can be no doubt that Christmas keeps Christ's name out there, even in the world. Yes, even the wrath of men praises God. And to the Christian it is in honor, and for the glory God has received in the birth of Christ, and His sacrifice, resurrection, and the gifts he gave unto men. The fact is, if Christ be the root of your tree, then the tree be in Glory of Him! If the the decorations be a symbol of the delight and joy to the world Christ brought, and the gifts a symbol of our giving, as God has given to us, then what evil can this be? Do we think that the magi who gave in honor of the King, would today be condemned? Probably, just as the woman who brought perfume for the feet of Jesus. Because man does not look upon the heart. There is no evil in an action not condemned by the law. A Christmas tree can be used to commemorate Christ, in faith only.

Nevertheless, whosoever cannot understand this, or feels this improper, then they should not use a tree in celebration of the nativity of the Lord. But it is not inherently evil, it is simply a piece of wood! So judge not another man's servant (Romans 14:1-6). To his own God he stands or falls.

Psalms 44:20-21

    "If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;"

    Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart."

It's so simple. Because it's a matter of the heart, not the materials used. It never has been, and no matter what rhetoric is used, it never will be.

There is no Biblical warrant nor precept for remembrance of the day of Christ's birth, nor does there have to be. Indeed in my humble opinion it is noble that we should have a special celebration each year to honor God's gift of Christ's birth, and have special joy and celebration in it's significance. I find it very odd that anyone could find inherent fault with this. The theory that we must have clear Biblical command or precedent before having religious commemorations or celebrations is ludicrous. Do we have to have special Biblical command or precedent in order to pray on the 2nd day of April? The 3rd day of May? The 4th day of June? Do we need Biblical command or precedent before we worship God on any day? This theory is totally self-serving. God says very clearly that we are not to judge our fellow Christians in relationship to respect of a Holy day (Rom. 14:6), so how much clearer can it get?

I say Christmas, to every faithful Christian, should be more than simply celebrating His birth some 2000 years ago, it should also be a time in remembrance and renewing, to keep our hearts and minds in Christ, and to exhort one another in continued prayerful expectation, as we celebrate the Blessed hope of His promised return! May the Precious Lord who is Gracious above all, give us the wisdom to understand this very pertinent question.

Copyright 2000 Tony Warren


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