A Christian NOT Celebrating Christmas as a Religious Day?

It usually surprises some who know that I am a devout Christian that I do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday marking the birth of Jesus. After all, when the mantra of many in the Christian world is “put Christ back in Christmas” why is a Christian not supporting this and, in fact, not participating in the religious ceremony?

At the foundation is a conviction to look to the teaching and practice of Jesus and the apostles as revealed in the New Testament as the authority for what I practice as a Christian in worship and in my life. Christmas was not commanded or practiced by Jesus and the apostles and there is no record of the churches of the New Testament celebrating the birth of Jesus. It was introduced much later in history and was not even universally accepted then. As The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religous Knowlege notes:

Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ’s birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan festival.

For those who would argue that even though Jesus and the apostles didn’t command it and the early church didn’t observe it is still a good thing because it honors God, I’d caution you to consider these points summarized from the post “Just Because We Want It Doesn’t Mean God Wants It”:

  1. David and Nathan, two sincere and devout men decided that it would be good to build a temple for God and that God would be with David (2 Samuel 7). God rebuked them for their presumption noting that He had never command this from His people. Even sincere people may assume that God will be pleased with what they want to do to His glory.
  2. King Jereboam was not acting out of sincere motives and, as recorded in 2 Kings 25, changed the practices commanded by God to suit his needs and was condemned.
  3. The Pharisees also changed service to God by adding practices then condemning those who did not follow the man-made traditions. Jesus rebuked them saying, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” They went through the motions of worship but God did not accept it.

The second reason that I do not celebrate Christmas as a religous holiday is that it is a mix of Christian symbols and idolatrous practices. Even a quick study of the origins of Christmas, by supporters and critcs, note the links between the idolatrous Saturnalia and Brumalia feasts and the introduction of Christmas. Schaff-Herzog again:

The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence…The pagan festival with it’s riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner.

A quick Internet search of the pagan orgins of Christmas will yield an abundance of sites for those who want to pursue this further. If doing things in worship and service to God without His authority displeases God, so much more would would worship that is established on an idolatrous foundation be abominable to Him! The Old and New Testaments teach this clearly. For a more detailed analysis of the mixture of idolatry into Christian practices, view this article at Myth and Mystery.

Finally, I do not celebrate Christmas as a religous holiday because I am not a member of the Catholic church and do not observe the Catholic liturgical practice known as the mass (described here). I eat the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day to remember the sacrifice of Jesus as was commanded by Jesus and practiced by the apostles and early church. I don’t recognize the authority for a Christ Mass to be celebrated on December 25th in the New Testament therefore I reject that practice. It confuses me that many non-Catholic Christians who reject the authority and traditions of the Catholic church embrace this completely Catholic practice.

This time of year is a great time to spend with family as travel plans and relaxed work schedules permit greater opportunities to spend time together. There is no problem giving gifts to those you love at any time of the year. Christmas has, in many ways, left it’s relgious roots and its symbols–the tree, lights, etc.–have lost their religious significance. Each Christian has to decide to what degree, if any, he will participate in the celebrations but must do so considering the commands and expectations of God and do nothing that takes from His glory.

References: The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Entries for “C” here

Update: 12/21/2011: Added Myth and Mystery Link

Just Because We Want It Doesn’t Mean God Wants It

Sometimes sincere and well-intentioned people want to introduce practices in the worship of God that were not commanded or practiced by Jesus, the apostles, or the church in the New Testament. Often they will counter the request for New Testament authorization that we are free to do what we want in service to God because it would honor Him and it seems like a good thing to do.

Before embracing this philosophy, consider these important lessons from Scripture.

David and Nathan

 David, before his sin with Bathsheba was called “a man after God’s own heart” and after that sin, Nathan was the faithful prophet who confronted the king with his sin. After securing peace for Israel through military power, establishing Jerusalem as the city of the king, and building a fine palace for himself, it occurred to David that he was living in luxury while the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence was manifested for Israel, was “dwelling in a tent.” Religious students know that the “tent” was the tabernacle built according to the specific pattern that God gave Moses.

When righteous David expressed his concern to faithful Nathan, the prophet told David “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you (2 Samuel 7:3). Since two faithful and sincere men of God came up with what seemed like a good thing to do for God, the Lord must be pleased, correct?

Before he left the palace grounds, God sent Nathan back to David to tell him that He did not want David to build him a house (temple). In fact, God argued, through Nathan:

In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 2 Samuel 7:7

God had the power and means to command what He wanted and never commanded this. And God made that clear to Nathan and David that they conceived this in their hearts (no matter how sincere they were) but it was not in the heart or plans of God.

Though Nathan was a godly man, he was presumptuous to say that God supported David’s plan. Though David was a godly man, he was presumptuous to suppose that God would be pleased with something that He never commanded. God did allow the construction of the temple, but on His terms and instructions.

Jeroboam’s innovations (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Some changes are not introduced with noble intentions. When the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, King Jeroboam feared that people leaving the northern kingdom to worship in Jerusalem, according to the commands of God, would lead to instability in his kingdom. In order to prevent this he made some changes to to the worship God commanded. Some changes seemed minor but God considered it abominable:

  • Jeroboam built calves at Dan and Bethel and told the people that “these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Note: this sentance sermon also preached by Aaron was not acceptable in his time either – Exodus 32:4).
  • Instead of appointing priests from Levi as commanded by the Law, he appointed anyone who wanted to be a priest. The book of Hebrews notes that by commanding tribes from the tribe of Levi it excluded priests from any other tribe: Hebrews 7:14.
  • He changed the days of worship commanded by the Law to days of his own choosing. Similar to those who forsake the Lord’s Day–the first day of the week–as was the pattern of the New Testament church to days that are more convenient to them.

The effect of this sin is that in addition to the sins the kings of Israel committed, they are also condemned for “following the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.”

Pharisees

The Pharisees, mentioned often in the gospels, were a religous/political party in the New Testament. They tried to be faithful to the law but introduced practices and condemned men for not following their man-made decrees. In rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus said “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” Matthew 15:9. It is vain worship to follow the practices introduced by the wisdom of man and not the command of God–no matter how sincere or well-intentioned those men might be.

God has given us commands for how to worship. It is presumption and arrogance to think God will just accept whatever we want to worship. It is true sincerity and humility to worship as God instructed.

Is Your Faith Your Own?

Guest Post by Phil Robertson

     The old adage “numbers never lie” is really true.  Two plus two will always equal four.  No matter the situation, time, consequence, or feelings of those “doing the math” the numbers always stay the same.  When someone learns the math, they can calculate almost anything.  For example, NASA scientists use the precision of numbers to determine the exact location of stars, planets, and comets shooting through space at 20,000 miles per hour.  It truly is amazing when you think about it.  Using math, scientists have sent spacecrafts through the icy tails of comets and even guided one probe into a head-on collision with a comet.   And due to the precision of numbers, scientists know that Haley’s comet will return to our inner solar system in 2061.      

    Although the numbers never lie, that does not mean mathematical answers are always easy to find. That is why math teachers do more than just demand the correct answer on tests, they require students to “show their work.” 

     Jesus taught absolute truth.  Like the precision of numbers, He claimed He was the only path to salvation.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6).    But, Jesus also demanded believers “show their work.”

     Consider Pilate, the Roman responsible for our Lord’s execution. “Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” (John 18:33-34) 

      It seemed like Pilate had the right answer but Jesus challenged his means of arriving at that conclusion. Jesus wanted Pilate to “show his work” or in this case “show his faith.”  It is as if Jesus is saying to Pilate, “Are you saying I’m the king of the Jews because you searched for the answer yourself and that is what you truly believe or are you just repeating what someone else has said?” 

    When you think about it, it is a good question for all of us.  Do you believe in Jesus because of your own faith?  Or, are you just believing what the preacher said, or what your parents said, or what your friend said? 

    “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his own cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38).  Where did you get your answers?  Is your faith your own?  Can you “show your work?”

     Please answer the following questions with Bible verses.  This will hopefully give you a little insight into your our faith.  Remember “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word is our only guide to absolute truth (John 1:1).  (Hopefully you will be able to answer these questions with the verses from memory without opening your Bible): 

     1) Why do Christians worship God on Sunday?

     2) Why does the Lord Supper consist of unleavened bread and grape juice?

     3) How do believers worship God collectively?

     4) How is someone saved from sin?

     5) How are disciples added to the Lord’s church? 

     Although numbers enable us to calculate the pathway of a star or comet, I’m sure I could never figure it out.  However, it does not take a rocket scientist to find the pathway to heaven.  Jesus said, “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).  Just remember, we have to seek on our own and we cannot follow someone else’s path.  We must have our own faith.  

Answers to the questions will follow soon… but for now… please do your own work!  Thanks.    –  Phil Robertson  philrobertson@charter.net

Reading With A Purpose

Guest post by Josh Creel

Have you ever said or heard someone say, “I don’t understand the Bible,” or “I read the Bible, but I don’t come away with anything,”? Bible study is clearly important for the Christian because the Scriptures reveal the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-13), reveal all we need (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and will judge us (John 12:48-50). So, what can we do to profit more from our Bible study? How can we insure that we come away with something each time we read the Scriptures? Try answering these questions whenever you read the Bible:

  1. What commands are there to obey?
  2. What examples are there to follow?
  3. What sins are there to avoid?
  4. What promises are there to receive? Are those promises conditional or unconditional?
  5. What prayers can I make my own?
  6. What do I learn about God?

While this method of Bible study may not result in a complete understanding of any particular passage, it will insure that we gain something each time we read the Bible. Also, if we will apply what we learn we will grow in our faith and be pleasing to our Father. So, try reading with a purpose the next time you sit down to read the Scriptures; read to find out what God is telling you.

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