Christmas and Christianity, Part 2

Christian Living, Culture

christmas-treeRead Part 1.

Biblical Considerations

There are at least five areas to consider when working through the biblical arguments against Christmas celebration. They are festivals and special days of observance, the Lord’s Day, the regulative principle of worship, cultural engagement, and Christian liberty.

Festivals and Special Days of Observance

Reformed Christians have presented varied opinions regarding the observance of special days and festivals in their confessions of faith. The Continental Reformers, writing the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 stated, “Moreover, if the churches do religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Nativity, Circumcision, Passion, Resurrection, and of his Ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, according to Christian liberty, we do very well approve of it.” [1] Similarly, the Dutch Reformed Church adopted a Christian calendar that included numerous special days for observance: “The Churches shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, with the following day, and whereas in most of the cities and provinces of the Netherlands the day of Circumcision and of Ascension of Christ are also observed, Ministers in every place where this is not yet done shall take steps with the Government to have them conform with the others.” [2] Other reformed confessions do not necessarily make reference to specific celebrations, however very clearly identify their lawfulness. [3] R.C. Sproul comments, “Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations.” [4] Of course, none of this proves anything beyond the fact that reformed Christians have identified and affirmed festivals and special days of observance as acceptable in the body of Christ.

I readily recognize that the Bible does not command a celebration of the birth of Christ (nor his baptism, resurrection, ascension, etc.). Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant events in the history of the world, and the Bible is not silent on the specifics of that wonderful day. In fact, it can rightly be said that whenever the Scriptures regarding the birth of Christ are read and preached in the assembly of God’s people, the birth of Jesus is being celebrated as praise is given to God and proper worship is rendered in the hearts of each Christian. So while it is true that there is no biblical command for the celebration of Christ’s birth, it is equally true that it is not forbidden and, more importantly, that it is certainly a biblical event. Therefore, it is not an issue of the proper administration of the regulative principle of worship (discussed below), but instead whether or not we are biblicists. I for one am not. [5] There is a significant difference between Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and Solo Scriptura (Only Scripture). We are on faithful ground when we affirm Sola Scriptura (Scripture are the final authority for all faith and practice) and reject Solo Scriptura (Finding no use for anything outside of Scripture, to include creeds, confessions, and the writings of other Christians throughout the history of the Church).

The Lord’s Day

The only day of the week that God requires of his people is the Lord’s Day, or the first day of the week. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states the following in chapter 22, paragraph 7:

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.

While festivals and special days of observance are lawful among the churches of God, they are not and shall not be obligations, nor shall members of any church be told they are required to participate if they choose not to. Therefore, a church member should not be considered in violation of Scripture or insubordinate to the church if he decides to absent himself from a special meeting of the church for a Christmas Eve service if the days in question are not the Lord’s Day. Nevertheless, Stephen Doe writes, “[The Old Covenant] church exercised her liberty in worship by establishing the Feast of Purim (Est. 9:18–32). The apostolic church exercised her liberty by meeting on many occasions other than the Lord’s day to worship and act as a community (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:42-47; 4:23-31; 5:42; 13:2; 20:7–38). This is a foretaste of the church in glory, when she is always worshiping (Rev. 4).” [6] While corporate gatherings outside the Lord’s Day are not required, they are lawful and have biblical precedent.

In my opinion, a person who will argue for the abrogation of any and all Christmas observance ought to be the most responsible adherent to the Lord’s Day, and yet this is often not the case. Much effort has been expended in arguing for the proper observance of the Lord’s Day as a Christian Sabbath. [7] Reformed Theology has, almost unanimously, affirmed the perpetuity of the 4th Commandment. Therefore, while most likely unintentional, it is a seriously misguided decision to forego the upholding of God’s very clear commands in the moral law while simultaneously insisting upon the upholding of a non-explicit principle derived from an argument of silence. Furthermore, while those who oppose Christmas are often quick to point to the Lord’s Day as the only day of observance recognized by God, they often do not as vehemently oppose the celebration of birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other national holidays. It will be argued that these days do not make religious overtures, however based upon their reasoning with regard to the Lord’s Day, they are making an all or nothing argument. In other words, either the Lord’s Day is the only acceptable day of celebration or it’s not. If it’s not, their argument is invalid.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The worship of God is regulated by His Word, and should be conducted in accordance with His commands as they are clearly identified in Scripture. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 explains the regulative principle in chapter 22, paragraph 1 with these words:

The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.

On the issue of Christmas, the question with regard to the regulative principle of worship really comes down to the content of a worship service. Is it unlawful for a sermon to be preached or songs to be sang about the birth of Jesus Christ? Surely not, so long as they are biblical in content. Furthermore, is it unlawful for a pastor to interrupt a series of sermons to focus on specific biblical truths at certain times of the year? It is not unlawful, and to suggest otherwise is to suggest that God commands certain passages of Scripture be preached by His ministers every other day of the year as well. The church is commanded to teach all of Scripture, to include the birth of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2; Acts 20:27), and it is left to the ministers of the Word to decide in what order and at what times of year that will be done. There is tremendous profit in preaching about the most significant events of world history through the redemptive-historical lens for all God’s people. Simply stated, the birth of Christ is part of the whole counsel of God, which must be preached.

But let us not be fooled. Many songs about Christmas are patently false and must be avoided in the corporate worship of God. Likewise, many sermons are no sermon at all. Sentimentality and cultural assumptions must be avoided and, as with every other song that is sang, prayer that is prayed, and sermon that is preached, great care must be exercised in ensuring all of worship to be biblically sound and Scripturally accurate, regardless of the season or time. However, if a pastor is not given the freedom to preach from the Word of God as he sees fit throughout the year, the regulative principle is being misapplied.

When considering the related issues of special days of observance, the Lord’s Day, and the regulative principle of worship, Stephen Doe summarizes the issue well:

God commands us to worship him once weekly in a corporate manner, but allows us to apply biblical principles to worship him at other times. The church under the new covenant does not have less liberty than the church under the old covenant; we are not the underage church, but the church which has been baptized in the Spirit of Christ. If we were to apply the regulative principle without clearly understanding these things, then we would have to condemn the apostolic church for meeting daily, since God had never commanded such meetings. Instead, they understood that what God was commanding was for them to worship him acceptably (cf. John 4:24; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 10:25; 13:15). This balance is seen in the example of our Savior, who exercised his liberty of conscience, while not violating the regulative principle, when he attended the Feast of Dedication (that is, Hanukkah; cf. John 10:22). That was an extra-biblical feast not commanded by God in Scripture, but begun by the Jews to commemorate the rededication of the temple after the close of the Old Testament. Jesus was free to go up to Jerusalem or not to go up. God commands us to worship, and Jesus was using that occasion to obey the command of God. [8]

Cultural Engagement

On the Lord’s Day prior to each December 25th, it is not uncommon that many of our neighbors – people with no religious affiliation at all – are very likely to find themselves sitting in a church to hear a sermon and observe the worship of God’s people. So how shall the church respond? It’s quite easy to tell them all that we are Christians, not pagans, therefore we do not recognize Christmas as a legitimate holiday, and reject all notions that it has anything to do with the birth of our dear Savior. However, is it a dire tragedy that non-believers would hear something true about the birth of Christ, God made flesh that He might live a law-fulfilling life and die a sinners death that men and women like them might be rescued from the penalty of their sin and set free from the bondage of death that they might live, by grace, through faith with Christ forever? Nah. Sounds like a good gospel opportunity to me.

However, with that being said I must admit that even this year (in 5 days!) I will not be preaching a sermon about the incarnation on the Lord’s Day before Christmas. It simply hasn’t worked itself into my rotation this year, and since we are not bound to a liturgical calendar, it certainly isn’t required. Nevertheless, it’s important that we should normally seize any opportunity to proclaim the central themes of Scripture. If, by even the slightest margin of a chance, some unbeliever decided they wanted to know what Christians think about Jesus’ birth, would we be bottom feeders for life if we told them?

Christian Liberty

As I’ve stated many times up until this point, the primary issue at hand is Christian liberty. John Owen believed that without a proper doctrine of Christian liberty, the Christian life is impossible to live.

The second principle of the Reformation, whereon the reformers justified their separation from the church of Rome, was this: ‘That Christian people were not tied up unto blind obedience unto church-guides, but were not only at liberty, but also obliged to judge for themselves as unto all things that they were to believe and practise in religion and the worship of God.’ They knew that the whole fabric of the Papacy did stand on this basis or dunghill, that the mystery of iniquity was cemented by this device,–namely, that the people were ignorant, and to be kept in ignorance, being obliged in all things unto an implicit obedience unto their pretended guides. [9]

Indeed, the reformers and puritans thought the issue of Christian liberty to be of utmost importance. John Calvin writes:

We are now to treat of Christian Liberty, the explanation of which certainly ought not to be omitted by any one proposing to give a compendious summary of Gospel doctrine. For it is a matter of primary necessity, one without the knowledge of which the conscience can scarcely attempt any thing without hesitation, in many must demur and fluctuate, and in all proceed with fickleness and trepidation. In particular, it forms a proper appendix to Justification, and is of no little service in understanding its force. Nay, those who seriously fear God will hence perceive the incomparable advantages of a doctrine which wicked scoffers are constantly assailing with their jibes; the intoxication of mind under which they labor leaving their petulance without restraint. This, therefore, seems the proper place for considering the subject. Moreover, though it has already been occasionally adverted to, there was an advantage in deferring the fuller consideration of it till now, for the moment any mention is made of Christian liberty lust begins to boil, or insane commotions arise, if a speedy restraint is not laid on those licentious spirits by whom the best things are perverted into the worst. For they either, under pretext of this liberty, shake off all obedience to God, and break out into unbridled licentiousness, or they feel indignant, thinking that all choice, order, and restraint, are abolished. What can we do when thus encompassed with straits? Are we to bid adieu to Christian liberty, in order that we may cut off all opportunity for such perilous consequences? But, as we have said, if the subject be not understood, neither Christ, nor the truth of the Gospel, nor the inward peace of the soul, is properly known. Our endeavor must rather be, while not suppressing this very necessary part of doctrine, to obviate the absurd objections to which it usually gives rise. [10]

One of the easiest things for church leaders to do when it comes to areas of dissent relating to their personal preferences is to eliminate areas of Christian liberty by arguing against their validity as a matter of Christian obedience. One of the hallmarks of authoritarian leadership is an insistence on obedience to a pastor’s preference instead of the clear teaching of the Bible. Where there is no liberty, there is very little Christian growth and vitality. A church is easy to control when they assume there are no liberties, however a church in such a state is not depending on the wisdom of God, but the leadership of man.

Christian liberty is the central issue in a discussion on Christmas. Yes, proper precautions must be made and pastors are right to offer warnings of excess and wholesale purchase of the world’s observance, however the outright condemnation and calling Christmas celebration sin is a violation of Christian liberty and a most grievous sin in itself.

Often, those who oppose Christmas will cite Mark 7:8, 13 when Jesus said, “You lay aside the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition.” However, Jesus was not scolding the Pharisees because they had traditions, but rather because their traditions contradicted God’s commandments and they told the people that those who didn’t hold to their traditions were sinning, thus binding the consciences of the people. Does the annual celebration of Christ’s birth contradict the commandments of God? No. Are pastors telling the people of God they must observe Christmas, and if they do not they are in sin? I certainly hope not! We are not in sin if we choose not to, but nor are we in sin if we do.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

 1. Compiled with introductions by James T. Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume II, 1552-1566 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 872-72.

 2. Church Order of Dort (1618-1619), article 67.

 3. e.g. 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner” (2LBC – 22.5; WCF – 21.5).

 4. R.C. Sproul, “Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?,” Ligonier Ministries, December 16, 2013, accessed December 17, 2013, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/celebration-christmas-pagan-ritual/.

 5. Dr. Jim Rehnihan explains: “D.B. Riker provides a helpful definition: ‘biblicism is the rejection of everything not explicitly stated in the Bible, and the concomitant dismissal of all non-biblical witnesses (Fathers, Creeds, Medieval Doctors, Councils, etc.)’

“What are the results? Effectively, they are idiosyncratic interpretations of Scripture. The strange reality of all of these attempts to interact with the pure Word of God is that when the results are compared and contrasted, you almost never get the same conclusions. There is an unending stream of doctrines promoted under this rubric: the Jehovah’s Witnesses use it to deny the deity of Christ (following the same method as Arius long ago), the Campellites use it to teach their form of baptismal regeneration. Heretics have always employed this message. More sober men likewise use it, and produce strange results. Someone, somewhere studies Scripture, draws out a system of doctrine, and teaches it to others. A new movement begins. But sadly, personal interpretation almost always ends in conclusions different from everyone else. Yet, the product is claimed as the teaching of the Word of God. And in reality, though it may be startling to say so, these are basically new revelations. Since the claim is made that the doctrines taught are those of Scripture, they must be equated with Scripture. It is impossible to separate one from the other.

“…But here is the problem: This whole method is based upon a form of personal independence, or even self-confidence. Doesn’t it ever cross anyone’s mind that they aren’t necessarily the wisest theologian, the best exegete and most insightful commentator? Don’t they stop to think about God and His purposes? Has the Lord chosen me to know truth that has been hidden from others? Such self-confidence is really arrogance-unbridled and oftentimes evil. It misleads self and others. Is the Christian faith reduced to my conclusions? What right do I have, alone and unaided to think that my reading and study perfectly meshes with the mind of God? Jesus and me with a Bible under a tree-perhaps a romantic notion, but a dangerous and potentially damning notion” quoted in Barcellos, Richard (ed.), The Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastor’s Conference Papers (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2013), 114-115, 119.

 6. Stephen Doe, “The Observance of Christmas,” The Mountain Retreat, accessed December 17, 2013, http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/articles/christmas1.html.

 7. cf. John Giarrizzo, The Lord’s Day Still Is (Carlisle: Reformed Baptist Publications, 2013).

 8. Doe, “The Observance of Christmas.”

 9. Owen, John, Complete Works, 15:402.

 10. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997), 3:19:1.

5 thoughts on “Christmas and Christianity, Part 2

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