In today’s presentation from the 2016 Ozark Memorial meeting, Andrew Richardson addresses a subject which has caused great controversy. Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica speaks of the apostate “man of sin”. Who is this arrogant rebellious son of perdition? Listen to this sermon for scriptural insight on this difficult Biblical issue.
The Falling Away MP3 Link
This question has resonated through centuries of Christian history. No one can deny the great significance and importance of the holiday to many people. Every year a seasonal barrage of movies, shows, and commercials heightens the holiday excitement. Cultural traditions such as ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, and ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ are inescapable elements of childhood. In the midst of bleak winter many homes and neighborhoods are magically transformed into wondrous luminous displays of colored lights. Hundreds of thousands of families delight in decorating the evergreen tree with sparkling ornaments and glitter. Many people feel the ‘spirit of Christmas’ which is a general attitude of good will and philanthropy.
Such a powerful cultural phenomenon has had an effect upon the Lord’s Church. It is rare to hear public debate about Christmas among Christians. Often the subject is studiously avoided because someone might be offended. Teachers attempting to publicly teach on the issue are sometimes told ‘this is a subject best discussed in private studies’. Some gospel preachers teach the observance of Christmas is a ‘liberty’ and a ‘matter of judgement’. Thus, many members of the Church of Christ openly participate in Christmas in some limited fashion, while others commit wholeheartedly to the holiday.
It is the purpose of this article to study the origins of Christmas and Biblical teaching about Christmas, and then attempt to answer the question ‘Should Christians celebrate Christmas?’. Has God indeed chosen Christmas as a remembrance of His Son’s birth? Are Christians authorized to join hands with much of the unbelieving world in a non-biblical quasi-religious festival? There is no question that this is a difficult issue. However, the servant of the Lord must rely on guidelines provided by scripture and attempt with an honest heart to obey God. As Moses wrote:
“You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses…” (Deuteronomy 12:3-5)
CHRISTMAS AND THE EARLY CHURCH
Was Christmas important to early Christians? Both the New Testament and secular history testify that early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia records:
“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”[i]
There is a simple reason for the absence of Christmas in the early Church:. History and the Bible testify that rather than celebrating Christ’s birth, first century Christians remembered His death and resurrection every Lord’s day.
If Christmas is not biblical in origin, when did it begin? One commentator writes:
“Christmas was for the first time celebrated in Rome in 354, in Constantinople in 379, and in Antioch in 388.” [ii]
Those amazing dates confirm that Christmas was created over 300 years after the death of Christ and establishment of His Church. Now that we know approximately when and where, let us consider why Christmas was created.
THE HISTORY OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE
To understand the origins of Christmas one must understand the festival of the winter solstice. Solstice means ‘standing-still-sun’.
Winter solstice is the winter day when daylight is the shortest and the sun is at its lowest point (arc) in the sky. Ancient peoples knew of this yearly event (usually December 21st-22nd in the northern hemisphere) and made the days and weeks surrounding the solstice a time of renewal, sacrifice, and celebration. They worshiped celestial bodies to prevent disaster and calamity from destroying the world.[iii] They feared that the daylight might not resume if the proper reverence was not shown.
How widespread was this festival of winter solstice? Archaeology suggests such celebrations may have been worldwide. It is possible that the tradition originated long ago and then spread to cover the globe (perhaps after the tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11). Dr. Earl W. Count (in his book ‘4000 years of Christmas’) writes:
“Mesopotamia is the very ancient Mother of Civilization. Christmas began there, over four thousand years ago, as the festival that renewed the world for another year. The “twelve days” of Christmas, the bright fires and probably the Yule log, the giving of presents, the carnivals with their floats, their merrymakings and clownings, the mummers[iv] who sing and play from house to house, the feastings, the church processions with their lights and song- all these and more began there centuries before Christ was born.” [v]
Mesopotamia was not the only ancient culture to have a solstice celebration. Archaeology has shown that various forms of solstice existed in nearly every culture that followed Mesopotamia. The ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Greece all observed the winter solstice in different ways. Rome also had a December tradition that was called ‘Saturnalia’. General merriment, feasting, and immorality was the rule.
Evidence of solstice celebrations is seen throughout the rest of the world. Vast numbers of burial sites, altars, and sarcophagi attest to this ubiquitous custom. For example, the famous Stonehenge is believed to mark the summer solstice. Another example is the five millennial old granite circle called Newgrange in Ireland (which is more ancient than the pyramids).
It should be obvious that the tradition of solstice idolatry have been present in nearly every culture since the beginning of recorded history. Our nation is no different. Christmas is the modern solstice celebration.
FROM WINTER SOLSTICE TO CHRISTMAS
How did the solstice religion of the ancients transform into the Christmas holiday? In AD 274 the Roman Emperor Aurelian made December 25th the focal point of the Roman solstice, called “Saturnalia.” The date was chosen in honor of the sun god, and echoed the ancient belief that worship of the sun insured his return to rescue the earth from eternal winter. The customs of Saturnalia were very similar to those of modern Christmas: work was suspended, students released from study, gifts exchanged, and homes decorated with candles and greenery.
Sometime in the middle of the fourth century the Pope established December 25th as the celebration of the birth of Christ (possibly Liberius in 358AD) and the Roman Saturnalia was transformed into Christmas. Did the Pope choose December 25th because it was the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ? Certainly not. Rather, renaming the winter solstice as a ‘Christian’ feast helped the Pope expand his new nascent religious and secular authority. How is this possible?
The famous Roman emperor named Constantine (the first so-called ‘Christian’ emperor) is part of the answer. The Papal declaration was possible because of Constantine’s favoritism to Christianity.In 323 Constantine invited all Roman citizens to become like him, a ‘Christian’. Gibbon records that soldiers in the service of Constantine had the symbol of the cross ‘glittering on their helmets…’, ‘engraved on their shields…’, and ‘interwoven into their banners…’.[vi]
Constantine even used the authority of the church to ‘ratify the obligation of the military oath’. In other words, a Roman soldier who was guilty of treason or cowardice would be ‘excommunicated’ from the Church. As Gibbon so aptly writes, these events had ‘placed the monogram of Christ in the midst of the ensigns of Rome’. [vii] Christian leaders were ‘admitted to the Imperial table’ [viii] and the Roman Pope eventually became the most powerful ‘Christian’ in the world. Is it difficult, then, to understand how the Romans would accept the new holiday as the official celebration of the solstice?.
In the fourth century the average ‘Christian’ Roman citizen saw no duplicity in worshiping both the old gods and the new ‘Jesus’ of Constantine. These half-hearted ‘Christians’ refused to give up ancient and enjoyable traditions such as the winter solstice. How better to gain control of the solstice than to simply rename it in honor of Christ! Dr. Nissenbaum in his book ‘The Battle for Christmas’ comments on the choice of December 25th as the Nativity holiday:
“… this date was chosen not for religious reasons but simply because it happened to mark the approximate arrival of the winter solstice, an event that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity…Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.” [ix]
Did ‘Christianizing’ the solstice make it approved by God? Did the people forsake their sinful practices and begin commemorating the birth of Jesus in purity and righteousness? Dr. Nissenbaum writes:
“In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.”[x]
Thus, drunkenness, reveling, lust, gluttony, fornication, and wantonness were the hallmarks of the embryonic Christmas. The ancient custom of “misrule” involved the mockery of authority and power. Revelers disguised themselves with paint or costumes so that crimes committed were anonymous.
The tradition of “mumming” involved wearing the clothing of the opposite gender and singing ‘carols’ door-to-door. The sixteenth century minister Hugh Latimer wrote about Christmas:
“Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than all the 12 months besides.”[xi]
Thus, the heathens did not have to alter their lifestyle or licentious worship practices, and the Pope and ‘Christian’ emperor received all the glory. Penne Restad (a professor at the University of Texas at Austin) comments on the advantages the Roman Church gained when it converted the solstice to Christmas:
“The concurrence of the two celebrations gave the Church an opportunity to turn elements of the Saturnalia itself to Christian ends. For example, it used the creation of the sun, the center of the Saturnalia, to reinforce and symbolize frequent scriptural and doctrinal imagery of God as the sun, and of Jesus’ role as Son of God. The creation of Christmas was thus a measure of Christianity’s growing power, challenging the crowds enjoying Saturnalia revelry to join the once secretive Christians in a celebration not of the birth of the sun, but rather the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.”[xii]
The intent was to substitute the Christian birth of the ‘Son’ for the pagan birth of the ‘sun’. Is this surprising to anyone with knowledge of the apostate Catholic Church and its customs? It shouldn’t be. Consider specific elements of the Catholic Church such as incense, holy water, statues, icons, rosary beads, and Mary worship. All of these heresies originated from idolatry and paganism, but in the Roman Church they fuse with Christianity. The well respected secular historian Will Durant makes the issue of paganism and the Roman church exceedingly clear:
“Paganism survived…in the form of ancient rites and customs condoned, or accepted and transformed, by an often indulgent church. An intimate and trustful worship of saints replaced the cult of pagan gods…statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus; the Roman Lupercalia and the feast of purification of Isis became the feast of Nativity; the Saturnalia were replaced by Christmas celebration…and ancient festival of the dead by All Souls day, rededicated to Christian heroes; incense, lights, flowers, processions, vestments, hymns which pleased the people in older cults were domesticated and cleansed in the ritual of the church…soon people and priests would use the sign of the cross as a magic incantation to expel or drive away demons… [Paganism] passed like maternal blood into the new religion, and captive Rome captured her conqueror…the world converted Christianity…” (The Story of Civilization, vol 4, page 75, vol 3, page 657)
THE DIVERSE ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS
The Nativity celebration spread rapidly from Rome throughout the Christian world. Conservatives at Antioch resisted Christmas but lost in 388.[xiii] The custom had spread to Egyptian churches by 432. By the 500’s it was in England and Europe.
Have you ever wondered how Christmas became such a diverse and often geographically unique celebration among the various nations of the world? The Catholic Church allowed and even promoted the incorporation of foreign beliefs into the holiday. As the centuries passed, Christmas became a complicated combination of many different customs pagan One way to visualize Christmas is as a river into which many different streams of pagan religion have flowed:
“Christmas…is a microcosm of European religion… It is a river into which have flowed tributaries from every side, from Oriental religion, from Greek and Roman civilization, from Celtic, Teutonic, Slav, and probably pre-Aryan, society, mingling their waters so that it is often hard to discover the far-away springs.” [xiv]
These religious ‘tributaries’ predate Christianity by thousands of years:
“…the Yule log, the candles, the holly, the mistletoe, even the Christmas tree— pagan traditions all, with no direct connection to the birth of Christ.”[xv]
Notice some of the origins of specific elements of modern Christmas:
1. Christmas Tree
Few people consider the origin of the Christmas evergreen when they ‘trim the tree’. Even well informed denominational Christian leaders often believe the myth that Martin Luther conceived the idea one winter evening while walking through the German outdoors. The truth is that the evergreen tree was a potent religious symbol thousands of years before Christ. Ancient peoples worshiped the evergreen as a symbol of fertility. Sheryl Ann Karas writes the following about the Christmas tree in her book, ‘The Solstice Evergreen’:
“…the Christmas tree is a vestige of the ancient religious practice of using evergreens to symbolize life in the dead of winter…The evergreen played an influential role in the spiritual life of pagan societies throughout the world. Archaeological and anthropological evidence indicates that veneration of the tree dates from at least 4000 years before Christ. Its pervasive symbolism was central to primitive cosmologies, or beliefs about the universe, which laid the foundation for every major religion, including Christianity. These pagan beliefs survive to this day imbedded in religious rituals and myths as well as in secular customs, legends and fairy tales.” [xvi]
Don’t believe it? The Old Testament records this association between the ‘green tree’ and idolatry:
“For they also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree.” 1 Kings 14:23 (NKJV) [xvii]
Consider this striking passage from the book of Jeremiah:
“Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.” Jeremiah 10:1-4 (NKJV)
Jeremiah records that the Gentiles were fearful of the ‘signs of heaven’. What were these signs? The days were shortening, the sun was lower in the sky, the temperature was falling. Would the sun leave, never to return? As part of a ritual to appease the sun god, they would cut down an evergreen tree (the universal symbol of life), decorate it with silver and gold, and fasten it so that it would not fall. Thus, it is evident that the evergreen tree is an ancient pagan symbol that is integral to modern Christmas. Why? Because Christmas is the modern solstice celebration.
The custom of displaying numerous brightly colored lights upon homes and businesses is ancient and related to the solstice. For example, the Persians used fires to honor Mithra during their winter solstice. Other cultures (such as Rome) used candles to ‘drive away evil spirits’.
The Catholic Encyclopedia makes no pretense about the custom of holiday lights and simply states:
“We need not shrink from admitting that candles, like incense and holy water, were commonly employed in pagan worship and in rites paid to the dead.”
How did early Christians feel about the practice of hanging candles on one’s home during the December solstice celebrations? Tertullian (a Christian writer who lived AD 160-230) makes these grim statements concerning the customs of the heathen:
“Let them”, he writes concerning the pagans, “kindle lamps, they who have no light; let them fix on doorposts laurels which shall afterwards be burnt, they for whom fire is close at hand; meet for them are testimonies of darkness and auguries of punishment. But thou,” he admonishes the Christian, “art a light of the world and a tree that is evergreen; if thou hast renounced temples, make not a temple of thy own housedoor.”[xviii]
“He says ‘Let your works shine.’ But now all our shops and gates shine! Nowadays, you will find more doors of pagans without lights and laurel wreaths than those of Christians!… Do you say, ‘But the lights in front of my doors, and the wreaths on my gate-posts, are a honor to God’? However, they are not there as an honor to God, but to him who is honored in God’s place through ceremonial observances of this kind.”[xix]
Tertullian believed that these customs honor wickedness even if done in the name of God. Have things changed in our century? Has modern culture passed beyond previous boundaries and restrictions? No! Modern electric lights are an extension of this pagan practice. Early Christians knew that candles were associated with idolatry and avoided the practice. When modern Christians hang Christmas lights on their homes they are figuratively joining hands with countless pagan generations of the past and honoring paganism. Remember the words of Jeremiah!
3. Gift giving
History records that early Christians avoided the ancient custom of holiday ‘gift-giving’ because it was reminiscent of the Roman Saturnalia.[xx] For early Christians, the fact that holiday gift giving was associated with paganism was enough to avoid the practice. Do we have the same attitude today? Or are we apathetic? Christmas gift giving today is not only associated with ancient paganism, but more importantly with a holiday of the apostate church. This association should be even more disgusting to the servant of God.
Many more traditions of Christmas are linked to ancient idolatry. Santa Claus, the Yule Log, mistletoe, and others have intricate pagan histories. The interested reader may consult the endnotes.
Thus far we have covered the origins and evolution of Christmas in the remote past. Next, we will consider more recent history on the North American continent.
THE AMERICAN BATTLE OVER CHRISTMAS
Most Americans are unaware of the fact that there has been a lengthy religious and cultural conflict waged over Christmas. Christmas was first criticized in the modern era during the Reformation. Martin Luther suggested that the many Catholic holidays (Lent, Pentecost, Ascension, Easter, Rogation Days, Epiphany, Mary feasts, archangel feasts, etc…) were not scriptural. He felt that every holiday except the Lord’s day should be eliminated. Many orthodox religious groups adopted this policy as they struggled to separate themselves from the profane accretions of the Catholic Church.
The reformers carried their doctrine of religious purity to the shores of the new continent. The anti-Christmas forces consisted of orthodox Protestants or ‘Puritans’. Many of the Protestant immigrants rejected Christmas as a Catholic heresy. For example, the Pilgrims who disembarked from the Mayflower made a public point of treating December 25 as any other day. While many communities used the “informal pressure of like-minded co-religionists” to suppress the holiday, in 1659 the Massachusetts Bay General Court passed legislation to make the observance of Christmas illegal. The Puritans contended (a familiar theme to the Church of Christ) that Christmas was ‘non-scriptural’ and should not be tolerated by Bible-believing Christians. In 1687, an influential New England Puritan named Increase Mather wrote the following:
“In the Apostolical times, the Feast of the Nativity was not observed… It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25… The New Testament allows of no stated holy-day but the Lord’s-day… It was in compliance with the pagan Saturnalia that Christmas holy-days were first invented. The manner of Christmas keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ.” [xxi]
American observance of Christmas in the 16th and 17th centuries was inconsistent and haphazard. The holiday was not widely accepted, but the pro-Christmas forces were legion. Many argued that the American calendar was sadly lacking in holidays. John Pintard, a prominent New York citizen, bemoaned in 1823:
“Our Protestant faith affords no religious holidays and processions like the Catholics…” [xxii]
Successive waves of immigrants from Catholic Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries were important to the rising popularity of Christmas. The Catholic immigrants, of course, continued old family and religious traditions (including Christmas) in their new American homeland. The Protestant reluctance to observe Christmas came under sustained criticism. Anti-Christmas forces were termed “Papaphobic dissenters” (a reference to the Pope) and “schismatics”. Puritans were described as men “sadly warped through early prejudices, long confirmed.”
With the advent of railroads and postal mail the country was connected and the popularity of Christmas began to spread nationally. Local newspaper editors in Boston editorialized for a “more marked observance of Christmas day” in 1833. In the 1840’s women’s magazines such as the ‘Godey’s Lady’s Magazine’ (a magazine that had a dramatic influence on women, e.g. ‘Good Housekeeping’) began to endorse to the homemaker the merry holiday of Christmas. The idea of the Christmas tree was ‘sold’ to wives and mothers as a way to bring holiday peace, cheer, and goodwill into their homes. The evergreen tree was an opportunity to begin a glorious new family tradition. As Restad explains:
“Women usually supervised the task of transforming this ancient fertility symbol into a moral talisman of domestic order” [xxiii]
Christmas trees were first sold in the 1840’s (beginning in New York City) and by the 1850’s were common fixtures in many churches and homes across the American landscape. In 1852 ‘Gleason’s Pictoral’ reported:
“…already is the annual Christmas tree established as one of the household gods of New England and a large portion of the states.” [xxiv]
Church ministers and youth leaders quickly adapted the idea and promoted the usage of the ‘Sunday school tree’ as a tool to assist in promoting attendance and effectiveness in Sunday school. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce was the first president to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
Christmas was finally nationalized during the Civil War. During the midst of the bloody heartache and despair of a nation that had wounded itself, Christmas became a symbol of the national brotherhood that escaped a people in conflict. George Templeton wrote in 1862:
“Christmas is a great institution, especially in time of trouble and disaster and impending ruin…” [xxv]
At the end of the war, Harper’s Weekly printed a drawing entitled ‘The Union Christmas Dinner’ which showed President Lincoln beckoning the ‘confederate prodigal son’ to come in from the bitter winter to a warm Christmas feast. Resistance to Christmas all but collapsed after the war’s end and today Christmas is the single most important celebration on the national calendar.
Currently, there is very little debate over the scriptural authority for Christmas. Rather, the controversy is over the much discussed concern that ‘Christmas has lost its true meaning’. Denominational preachers bemoan and bewail the greedy spirit of materialism that has come to preside over modern Christmas. They feel that Christmas is too commercialized and urge people to remember the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas.
What then, is the true meaning of Christmas? Christmas is the ultimate expression of the self-willed religion of Cain (Genesis 4). With a rebellious spirit the religious world offers up to God an unauthorized holiday (while ignoring the true commandments of God). Christmas, until the last 150 years, was a hedonistic display of crossdressing, drunkenness, lasciviousness, rowdiness, and general immorality. Christmas in medieval Europe was the epitome of debauchery and ludeness. Ordinary men and women engaged in a multitude of sinful acts with the blessing of the Roman Church. It was the elimination of these grossly immoral elements and the retail commercialization of Christmas that made the holiday acceptable to the general public (and sadly, Christians) in North America.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CHRISTMAS?
Should Christians engage in the Christmas holiday? There are several reasons that Christians should have nothing to do with Christmas.
1) The Silence of the Scripture is Prohibitive.
The New Testament records the events of the Messiah’s birth in a concise but glorious fashion. The story is majestic and commands the attention of the reader. The natural impulse of the untrained is to make the scene the object of worship. Not one word of scripture, however, directs the Christian to reverence the story of the birth of Christ.to avoid any religious observance of Jesus’ birth. Christians are not to go beyond what is written:
“…that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.”1 Cor 4:6 (NKJV)
“ If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…” 1 Peter 4:11 (KJV)
Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 that we are to “Test all things, hold fast what is good.” How does the servant of the Lord test a religious custom or principle? By application of the scripture. If the issue in question passes the test, then it can be adopted and ‘held fast’. If the issue fails the test of scripture, then it should be rejected with haste. Christmas does not pass the test.
2) Christians are to remember Christ’s Death.
Have you ever wondered why the NT does not give Christians many more special days and events than it does? The old law had many different holidays, festivals, and religious ceremonies. These events all pointed forward to the coming atoning death of the Messiah. Christians, however, have only one holy day. Is this a mistake? Did God forget to add other holy days by accident? Certainly not!
Our holy day, the first day of the week, looks back to the atoning death of the Messiah. God’s divine emphasis is on the Lord’s day. It is all we need brethren. We must be satisfied with the liberty that God has given us. We do not need to create additional holy days to serve our Lord.
There are, of course, many different events in the life of Christ that are of special significance (Christ’s baptism, His Sermon on the Mount, His transfiguration). Christians could create holidays out of any number of Biblical events. The Catholic Church has done exactly this. In fact, there are so many holy days, celebrations, and festivals that not even the most devout Catholic can keep track of them all. Christians are commanded, however, to commemorate our Lord’s death and resurrection from the grave.
“Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor 11:24-25 (KJV)
How are Christians to remember their Savior? “This do.” Lord, I wish to honor You by making holidays out of the other events in the New Testament. “THIS do.” Jesus gave the holy and perfect ordinance of communion and instructed His servants to partake of it. Jesus never instructed His disciples to remember Him by some other method. Sadly, by design Satan and the world have placed Christmas above the scriptural observance of communion.
3) Christians are not to adopt the religious customs of the world.
By refusing to allow the world to corrupt our hearts and minds with false religion, we can demonstrate the true religion of God.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (NKJV).
Christmas is a worldly religious custom and is often used by society as a litmus test for Christianity. The world objects when attendance at every Lord’s day is stressed and conversely, when told that a person does not participate in Christmas, many in the world react ‘I thought you were a Christian!’ Christmas has become the standard of conduct for ‘believers’ in the world. Thus, when we participate in Christmas we conform to the religious expectations of those outside the Lord’s Church. We fail to prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. Jesus taught that we are to be a light to the world:
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Matthew 5:14-15
How is a Christian’s influence affected by compromise with worldly religion? Will hypocrisy and ignorance impress the potential convert? Suppose a member of the Church converts a Roman Catholic and then subsequently teaches him not to partake of the false teachings of the Roman Church (such as mass, Mary worship, counting the Rosary, bowing to images). What will be the effect on the new babe in Christ when he then observes the Christian partaking in a false holiday? It is probable that the Christian’s influence will be damaged and irreparable damage may be done to the new convert.
4) Christians are to avoid Idolatry.
It is impossible to deny the pagan aspects of Christmas. Christmas is in the same category as other blasphemous innovations as holy water, incense, statues, icons, rosary beads, Mary worship, and so on.
Some, however, would argue that there is nothing wrong with indulging in ‘harmless’ pagan customs. There are numerous other pagan practices, they say, that we engage in on a daily basis. For example, the days of the week are pagan in origin (Thursday comes from Thor’s day and Saturday from Saturn’s day). Another example is the custom of celebrating birthdays. Ancient peoples marked the passage of a person’s life by years as we do.
It is true that we may engage in practices in daily life that are pagan in origin. There are several important differences, however.
a. The fact that something is pagan in origin does not make it inherently wrong. Many of the beneficial and positive elements of society are non-biblical. Rather, it is pagan religion that is offensive to God. Birthdays, for example, are not religious in nature and do not involve the worship of God. Christmas is by its very nature religious and associated with false (and unauthorized) worship of Christ.
b. We cannot escape the calendar. It is not a voluntary choice. The same is true about many other pagan customs.
c. More importantly, however, it is illogical to defend Christmas by pointing to other activities which are questionable. Each practice must stand or fall by its own merits.
Also, consider that nowhere in scripture does the Bible condemn birthdays, or calendars, or many of modern non-religious customs. The Bible does condemn the solstice and the cutting down of the evergreen tree as a solstice custom.
Even if the Christian tries to separate all religious elements from the holiday and doesn’t believe that he/she are taking part in a ‘religious’ event, the denominational world will still view participation as a religious celebration.A Christian who takes part in Christmas is, in a sense, dragging Christ through an ancient idolatrous custom. How does the Lord feel about His servants using profane elements in His worship?
“You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations…served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses…” Deuteronomy 12:2-5 (NKJV)
Is Christmas the ‘place’ that the Lord has chosen for His disciples to worship Him? Some may object: ‘That is an Old Testament teaching. We know that idols are nothing and that they are harmless. We can indulge ourselves freely because of our knowledge.’ This argument overlooks the fact that the New Testament teaches exactly the same doctrine concerning idols as the Old:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols…” (Acts 15:28)
If we cannot eat anything sacrificed to an idol, how can we take an idolatrous practice and incorporate it into our worship of Christ?
(Joshua 24:5) when he saw him partaking of the 12 Mesopotamian days of solstice?
Or perhaps Joseph celebrated the Egyptian winter holidays with his wife and father-in-law the priest of On?
Is it possible Daniel arose from his plate of vegetables during the Babylonian solstice to give holiday gifts to his family?
Or did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come from the fiery furnace to wish their loved ones a happy solstice?
Certainly not brethren! These men of faith understood the pure religion of God even though they had not yet seen the Promised One. Brethren, we have both seen Him and received the promise! (Hebrews 11:39). Can we do any less than our forefathers in faith? Let us forsake Christmas and incline our hearts to the Lord.
OBSERVANCE OF CHRISTMAS IS NOT A MATTER OF LIBERTY
Those who support Christmas often teach the observance of Christmas is a matter of ‘judgment’. They claim the disciple is at ‘liberty’ to partake in the holiday and base their argument on Romans 14:
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” Romans 14:5-6 (NKJV)
As with any passage one must consider the context. The context of Romans 14 is the observance of the old Jewish law. Brethren, this point cannot be stressed enough. It is pernicious eisegesis to teach that Christians can observe Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Epiphany, and so on because of some misunderstood concept of ‘liberty’.
Again, the issue of Romans 14 is observance of Mosaic customs. Some Christians desired to keep the old Jewish feast days and holidays.Other Christians believed that these ‘old covenant’ teachings were inappropriate in the new religious economy. Paul teaches that it is not sinful to keep Jewish feast days and holidays as long as they did not impose them on other people. The New Covenant gives ‘liberty’ to those who wish to keep the older Jewish feast days but it also gives ‘liberty’ to those who do not wish to keep them. Both groups were right in God’s sight as long as they did not judge each others conduct in this matter.
Paul is not teaching that Christians can create new holidays at will. Can you imagine the Apostle’s reaction to those brethren who in a few years decided to make a holiday from Christ’s resurrection and name it after a pagan goddess, Ishtar (Easter)? It is unlikely he would have been tolerant of such hubris. Paganism and idolatry is not even in the consideration of the Apostle Paul. Can you imagine Paul teaching brethren that they could continue in old pagan practices? Quite the opposite is true. Consider Paul’s words in the second Corinthian letter:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 (NKJV)
There are those who teach that Christians can invent new holy days and observe them as family ritual. However, if one follows this line of reasoning there is no religious observance that is prohibited.
What about Lent? Lent is very similar to Christmas. Lent is loosely based upon the Roman pagan custom of observing February as a month of self-denial. Lent was created to pacify the new pagan converts to the Catholic Church (just as Christmas) and commemorates with fasting the 40 days immediately prior to ‘Easter’ (another pagan holiday). Both the practice of fasting and the resurrection of Christ are Biblical concepts. What then can be wrong with the Easter celebration or the Lenten observance of fasting? Why not celebrate the resurrection of Christ in a special fashion? Lent doesn’t seem too bad, does it?:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods…” 1 Timothy 4:1-3
The Apostle Paul doesn’t leave the issue in doubt. Lent is a doctrine of demons! It may look good on the surface but it is deception. In AD 380 Emperor Theodosius made it law to celebrate Lent. Anyone guilty of violating the holiday could be put to death. No doubt many true Christians died because they refused to bow to the demon-inspired doctrine of Lent (Rev 17:6). They refused to bow to the Pope, they rejected the authority of the Roman Church, they forsook the false teachings of apostasy, and they paid the price with their lives. Do we desire to profane the memory of those who have gone before us by honoring the Nativity holiday of the enemy?
The approach of the Church of Christ has been to ‘speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.’ How does Christmas fit into that model? Why isn’t the Lord’s day enough for the follower of Christ? Do we need unauthorized rituals to complement our religious fervor? Are we like David attempting to bring the ark back to Jerusalem on a cart, or Solomon offering incense to the Lord on the high places?
5) Christmas is an invention of the apostate Roman Church. This is a consideration of the utmost importance. Christmas is not a Biblical festival but was created by the organization that persecuted and murdered innocent Christians by the innumerable thousands throughout the centuries.
The apostate church is lawless and has no respect for the laws of God. It makes its own laws without consideration for the primacy of scripture. Rather, the Catholic Church teaches that the edicts and commands of the Pope are equivalent with the Bible. The book of Daniel prophesied how the ‘little horn’ (the man of sin) would presume to tamper with God’s law:
“He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law.” Daniel 7:25
The phrase ‘times and law’ of Dan 7:25 does not mean civil times and law. Rather it refers to God’s times and law. Does the Catholic Church have the authority to make new ‘times’ (holidays) or new laws? Absolutely not.! If God had desired Christians to observe the birth of Jesus, He would have instructed us to do so.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle.” 2 Th 2:15 (NKJV)
If we indulge in teachings and holidays of the Roman Church, we are partaking in its works:
“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Rev 14:9-12
What is the mark of the beast? The ‘mark’ is willful participation in the works of the beast. Any of the multitudes of holidays, customs, and religious beliefs that characterize the Catholic Church qualify as the ‘mark of the beast’. Christmas is a Catholic holiday and should be avoided by those who keep the commandments of God. Christians should keep the heavenly admonition of Rev 18:4:
“And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (NKJV)
In conclusion, should Christians celebrate Christmas? To summarize:
1) The scriptures are silent about any memorial of Christ’s birth and the early Christians knew nothing about it.
2) Christmas is nothing more than a pagan festival created by the apostate church of the book of Revelation.
3) Christians are commanded ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. We remember the Lord’s death every first day of the week.
In conclusion, can we partake of Christmas in a limited fashion? Consider the commandment of God to the people of Israel just before Joshua died:
“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15)
How would God have responded if the children of Israel had asked if they could put away their wooden or stone idols but still burn candles and give gifts on idolatrous feast days? Would God have approved of this behavior? Obviously the answer is no.
To many Christians the idea of forsaking Christmas is devastating and bleak.. (Colossians 3:2) We must give up everything to gain the prize that is in Christ Jesus. Rather than looking at the holiday season as a loss, we should realize that the holiday season is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the truth to those trapped in demonic denominational false doctrine. What better way to begin a conversation with friends and co-workers about true religion than during the Christmas season?
To understand the history and origins of Christmas – a fusion of paganism and apostate Christianity -and still conclude that ‘it doesn’t matter’ is to close one’s heart to the truth. Christmas is a tradition of false religion and for the true servant of the Lord to participate in any way is a betrayal of all that we hold precious. We should not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of our own will. What the Lord says, that we should speak. We should seek the place that God chooses and worship in spirit and truth. The patience of the saints is to keep the commandments of God, not the commandments of men. God help us hold fast to the traditions that we have been taught from inspired scripture and have nothing to do with Christmas!
Bart Shaw 670 East Breedlove, Sturgeon, MO 65284
Rice Road Church of Christ Columbia Missouri
[i] Online encyclopedia at http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/ see ‘Christmas’, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm
ii Geldenhuys, Norval, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, from the ‘New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F.F.Bruce, p. 102, Eerdmans 1993
[iii] See Deut 4:19.
[iv]The practice of crossdressing.
vCount, Earl W. “4000 Years of Christmas, A Gift from the Ages”, pp. 24-25, Ulysses Press 1997
viGibbon, Edward, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, Volume 2, p. 318, reprint of the 1909-1914 edition
viiGibbon, Volume 2, pp. 319-320
viiiGibbon, Volume 2, p. 325
ixNissenbaum, Stephen, “The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday”, p.4 Vintage Books, 1996 (1st ed.)
x Nissenbaum, p.8
xi Nissenbaum, p.7
xiiRestad, Penne L., “Christmas in America” pp. 4-5, Oxford University Press, 1995 (1st ed.)
xiii Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/03724b.htm under ‘Antioch’
xivMiles, Clement, “Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance” p.358, Dover Publications, 1976 (originally published 1912)
xvi Karas, Sheryl Ann “The Solstice Evergreen: History, Folklore, and Origins of the Christmas Tree” p.4, Aslan Publishing, 1998
xviiSee also 2 Kings 17:10-12, Isa57:5-6,2Chron28:1-4
xviiiTertullian, quoted from Miles, p.269
xix Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, p. 70
(by Clint Defrance)