Something that disturbs me about the church today is the great variance of opinion that brethren have on certain holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter. One brother finds these holidays unscriptural when paired with a commemoration of Jesus, while another views them as a good thing especially when men associate these holidays with Jesus. And there are many other views in between these two but what we are left with are brethren in disagreement and churches that do not have a firm stance on truth and therefore leave their members and the world confused. These two viewpoints could not be further away from each other, and it is ultimately a strain on the unity of the church.
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
What we just read is the desire of the Spirit of God for brethren to all speak the same thing, one in mind and one in decision. Now, we are not talking about that we must be one in mind over whether we prefer chicken or fish or one sports team over another; for these things have no bearing on the church or our life of faith in Christ. However, things that are associated with Jesus no longer come down to matters of opinion, such things are matters of truth. The scriptures are filled with admonishments concerning doing all things in the name of the Lord, i.e. the authority of Christ: “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:16). This would certainly include any holidays and festivals that we would participate in to glorify Christ and commemorate an aspect of his life, whether it be his birth, death, resurrection, etc. One thing that is readily apparent from reading the old and new testaments is that it is God who appoints holy days and feast days. It is not left to man’s authority to appoint such days to glorify God, rather it is under God’s authority for us to be told how he is to be honored and glorified. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Unfortunately, many religious people have not considered this truth and have gone in the way of king Saul, honoring God outside of the written authority of God (1 Samuel 15:13), while joyously calling their activity a “good thing” or a “good work”.
Of course, the children of God have been known in the past to call something that is evil a good work/thing, and likewise, they have also called the good things in God’s word the wrong things to do (Isaiah 5:20). So we know that this can happen, but we must fight against it. What makes something either good or evil? It is by the standard of God’s word that man understands what is good for man to do. This is important because we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), but not works that man accepts as good, but the works that God had prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). I imagine that the end result would not be pleasant for anyone who puts aside what God prepared for us do in order to do their own works while saying they are doing the work of God.
God has promised us that the scriptures will make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work”. So then, considering these truths, we must conclude that making manmade holidays like Christmas and Easter into holy days to honor the Lord would indeed be adding to the word of God (Deuteronomy 4:1-4, Proverbs 30:6, Galatians 1:6-10, Revelation 22:18).
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
How sad. Jesus said that there will be “many” who will do “many mighty works” for Jesus, but Jesus will say to them “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”. Lawlessness is the state of being without law, that is, those who are condemned by the Lord have works that they do for the Lord outside of the law (the written word of God). Many works today fall under this example, and Christmas (when honored as a religious holiday) is certainly a textbook case.
Jesus also spoke out against men trying to honor him with manmade traditions and not by what they find in the word of God: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8).
Christmas is not in God’s word, it is not a holy day unto the Lord, and it does not honor and glorify Christ. Christ has told us precisely how to honor him: “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Man should know of no other way to honor Christ than to do the things he has said: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). In the Lord’s Supper, we honor our Lord and remember his death. If Christ wanted a birthday celebration, then he would’ve told his people what he desired out of us, but he gave no such word, nor do the scriptures provide a date for the birth of Christ. Christmas is simply not the Lord’s will. Are we people who do the will of the Lord, or the will of man?
With all that said, let’s turn our focus on whether a Christian can celebrate Christmas in any other capacity. From the beginning I will tell you that I do believe it is possible for Christians to observe the holiday as long as it is without religious association. But if we had lived in a different century, I would have said just the opposite. We live in a unique situation today when it comes to Christmas, for the holiday has been adopted by the majority as a non-religious holiday. But this wasn’t always the case.
Did the first century Christians celebrate Christmas?
Christmas was just as big of a holiday in the first century as it is today, and the festivities have experienced very little change in the last 2,000 years. One of the few changes is the name of the holiday; it was changed to Christmas in the fourth century, but before that, it was called Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a festival toward the end of December that glorified and worshiped the sun. The winter solstice brought longer periods of daylight, so to the ancient pagans, the solstice was considered the birthday of the sun god. In celebration of this birthday, the people would exchange gifts in decorated boxes, sing carols from house to house, feast and play games together. Sound familiar? And there’s more; they would decorate their houses with lights, mistletoe, holly berries, evergreen wreaths, and evergreen trees. The color theme was red (symbolic of the sun) and green (symbolic of new life). Communities would sacrifice to the sun god a citizen of the community. And in celebration, dolls were given to children as presents (symbols of human sacrifice), they snacked on human-shaped biscuits (now known as gingerbread men; also symbolic of human sacrifice) and blood pudding (you know what that symbolized). Understanding the history behind Christmas, it becomes apparent that no true Christian in the first century could have joined in on the festivities of an idolatrous festival. Consider also that these things were taking place annually throughout the life of Jesus, but Jesus could not entertain himself with such activities that break the covenant of God, for then we would have no sacrifice for our sins. Interesting, today some cry out to “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but friends, Christ was never in Christmas. Or “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, no, the reason for the holiday season was to garner favor from the sun god in hopes that the idol would bless man for the coming year. Associating Christ with Christmas seems sacrilegious once we look at the evidence.
Even those who were a part of the early evolution of Catholicism wouldn’t dare take part in the festive season: “The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity. The day and month of the birth of the Messiah are nowhere stated in the Gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined” (Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature). But as time went by, ultimately the Catholic church, which was in full swing by the fourth century, had to find a way to incorporate the idolatrous festival into their lives: “The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit or in manner.” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge). The quote from the encyclopedia above uses the word “Christian” in a way that is unnatural to the Bible, applying it to the Catholic faith but consider how these “were glad of an excuse” to enjoy the holiday as the pagans did. That “excuse” was Jesus. How irreverent to the Lord? They blasphemed the name of Christ, placing his name over the festival of idolatry, irreverently calling it “Christ-mass”. So in the fourth century, the birthday celebration of the SUN god became the birthday celebration of the SON of God. And for twelve centuries the world continued to celebrate the holiday (although evolving away from the pagan worship and human sacrifice aspect and into a more harmless and meaningless feast) and right along with them, the Catholic church celebrated in the same ways, except they associated the pagan symbols with the birth of Jesus.
In the sixteenth century, the protestant reformation began, and great waves of Catholics renounced Catholicism and sought for what they felt were more biblical views. Thus were born the Baptists, Puritans, Quakers, Amish, Methodists and the Presbyterians; all of which rejected the celebration of Christmas, being disturbed by the idolatrous origin of the holiday. But, as we can see today, Christmas won out yet again, and many of these denominations like the Baptist and Methodist churches have now wholeheartedly adopted the Catholic tradition of Christmas and have bought into it as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. No scripture has been given in support of this activity, only remarks that it is good for us to do. But, as discussed in the previous bulletin, God is good, his word is good, and he has revealed to us through his word what is good. Christmas is only one example of thousands of “good” ideas that men have devised to make the church into something that better suits them or the culture that surrounds them, but in all these matters that have an appearance of good, do we first ask “does this suit God”? It is, after all, his church, his life, and his salvation. So, if we desire a part in his church, his life, and his salvation, then we must deny self (Luke 9:23) and selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3); deny the desire to honor him our way instead of His way (Genesis 4:3-7, Deuteronomy 4:1-4, Proverbs 30:6) and refuse the temptation to act before consulting God’s proper order (1 Chronicles 15:13).
Can Christians Celebrate Christmas Today?
As we discovered, it would be truly dishonorable to Christ to honor him in our own way using manmade traditions, whether it be Christmas, Easter, or anything else not found in God’s will, his word. Also, we saw how it would be impossible for Christians to observe Christmas in earlier centuries when it was associated with idolatry. However, in the process of time, exchanging gifts, feasting with family and friends, hanging colorful lights and decorations on houses and evergreen trees have entirely lost their pagan association. To the secular world, these things are done to merely brighten the dark days of winter. And if celebrated in this manner, then the holiday is presently an amoral (neutral, neither right nor wrong) subject. It is one’s choice whether to observe the federal holiday in a non-religious capacity or to not celebrate it at all. But, as with anything, it can become a stumbling block and sin if we bring these traditions of men into the church or into our walk with God.