Religious Holidays - Christmas
One of the things that we see becoming more prevalent within churches of Christ today, especially those who have already abandoned a “Thus saith the Lord” for their doctrine and practice is the observance of religious holidays. It is only one of a number of religious worship practices and other things that our brethren are taking in that are being taken directly from the denominations, several from that largest denomination of all and mother of all others the Catholic church. With our limited time this evening we can only examine one of these holidays so we, obviously perhaps due to the season, will look at the celebration of Christmas.
First of all let’s look at what the New Testament says about observing holidays in general:
Galatians 4:9-11 “BUT NOW, AFTER THAT YE HAVE KNOWN GOD, OR RATHER ARE KNOWN OF GOD, HOW TURN YE AGAIN TO THE WEAK AND BEGGARLY ELEMENTS, WHEREUNTO YE DESIRE AGAIN TO BE IN BONDAGE? YE OBSERVE DAYS, AND MONTHS, AND TIMES, AND YEARS. I AM AFRAID OF YOU, LEST I HAVE BESTOWED UPON YOU LABOUR IN VAIN.”
Of course, Paul here is writing specifically about the Jewish holy days that were observed under the Old Testament law. The Galatian Christians were trying to go back to the old law and use it’s authority for their religious observances and celebrate the feasts God had given authority for through Moses. The Holy Spirit through the writing of the Apostle Paul condemns their practice. In fact in Galatians 5:3 he tells the Galatians and us that if we observe one part of the old law we are made debtor to keep it all.
Though specifically addressed to Jewish feasts the principle still applies to religious holidays today. Why? simply because we are only to observe in worship to God that for which God had given us authority, no more and no less. Has God given us authority to observe Jesus birth? God gave us no such authority; in fact He doesn’t even tell us when Jesus was born. Man has established a day to celebrate and we’ll review how that came about and who generated this holiday and why in moment.
God gave us the Bible to direct and
govern our daily behavior, the principles by which we live, what we offer as
worship to God and when we offer that worship. God has given us no authority to
celebrate any day above another save one, that is
Sunday. The first day of the week, that
day we call Sunday, was the day that Peter first spoke to the Gospel of Jesus
Christ to men gathered in
Matthew 28:1 “IN THE END OF THE SABBATH, AS IT BEGAN TO DAWN TOWARD THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK, CAME MARY MAGDALENE AND THE OTHER MARY TO SEE THE SEPULCHRE.”
Sunday is the day that the
Acts 20:7 “AND UPON THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DISCIPLES CAME TOGETHER TO BREAK BREAD, PAUL PREACHED UNTO THEM, READY TO DEPART ON THE MORROW; AND CONTINUED HIS SPEECH UNTIL MIDNIGHT.”
Sunday is the day that the church gave of their means as the Apostle Paul ordered because they had already gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper and worship.
I Corinthians 16:1-2
“NOW CONCERNING THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS, AS I
HAVE GIVEN ORDER TO THE CHURCHES OF
Scripture repeatedly stresses religious observance of Christ’s death (Luke 22:19, Acts 2:42, I Corinthians 11:26) but makes no provision nor, as noted earlier, does it give us any authorization to observe Christ’s birth.
So where did Christmas come from and if we observe it, how should we do so? The name Christmas is literally “Christ’s Mass” or the festival, feast, or religious service that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It comes from the Roman Catholic religion and those other denominations who copied their practice. It ranks fourth in importance in their view behind Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany. Epiphany is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus and the visit of the wise men, twelve days after Christmas on January 6th.
Christmas as a religious holiday was first celebrated sometime around the fourth century after Christ. The date it was to be observed was a subject of controversy for several hundred years and was finally arbitrarily set by one of the Catholic Popes as December 25th. In reality, it is quite likely that Jesus was born in the spring, the time when it was warm enough that shepherds would keep their flocks in the pastures overnight. The custom of the yule log, caroling, mistletoe and giving of gifts were added by the English and other European people from their own pagan feasts and festivals. Santa Claus came to be as a result of the English in New York adopting the celebration of the feast of St. Nicholas from the Dutch. In the Netherlands and other European countries the feast of St. Nicholas was/is a children’s feast celebrated on December 6th with gift giving.
Christmas as a religious holiday then has it’s roots in Catholicism. It is actually a marriage of a feast to celebrate the birth of Christ and the pagan feast of Sol the Sun God. As a religious holy day, it’s observance is not authorized by God. To observe Christmas as a religious activity is to identify ourselves with religious groups that worship God in vain, “TEACHING FOR DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN” (Matthew 15:9). God wants his people to separate themselves from men’s religions and religious practices:
II Corinthians 6:16-18
“AND WHAT AGREEMENT HATH THE
So, can a Christian celebrate the holiday of Christmas? While God has given us direction related to worship, living a Christian life, and all things religious in nature he has not, at least that I or any of the scholars I’ve studied can identify, given us direction in scripture regarding celebrating non-religious holidays. Consequently, so long as we do not make the celebration of Christmas a religious holiday, do not use the symbols that associate the holiday season with unauthorized religious practice or worship (like angels or nativity scenes) we should feel perfectly free to observe Christmas as a festive national holiday, a time to gather and spend time together as families. The decorating of trees, giving gifts, and such like, are not necessarily associated with a religious observance of Christmas. This should be readily apparent from the fact that thousands of non-religious, Jewish, and even atheistic people observe this holiday season with all its cultural trimmings. These all celebrate this holiday without assigning any religious significance to it whatever and so can we.
William L. Schwegler, Sunset