Do you celebrate Christmas?
If I asked you this question in person, your response would likely be a long stare with squinted eyes and a stuttered, “Um yes, does anyone NOT celebrate Christmas?”
Over the past year at Gordon, I’ve tested this question on a handful of friends and received nearly this same response every time. It has occurred to me that the celebration of this holiday is rarely challenged. And if it is, the challenger must endure pressure from an overwhelming majority of Christians who feel the need to defend their beloved tradition.
But what better place than a small, Christian liberal arts college such as Gordon to challenge beliefs and ideas? This is why I decided to write an article on my war with Christmas; to spark a conversation that challenges the religious practices of fellow believers.
From my observation, Christmas is a Christianized pagan holiday that does not have Divine authorization from the Bible. As such, I believe it should be analyzed carefully before it is intermingled with corporate Church worship.
Christmas is of the world
“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition,” – Charles Spurgeon
There is no evidence that the early Church adopted a celebration of Jesus’ birth on a particular day of the year. Rather, it was in the fourth century that John Chrysostom convinced the church to convert the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, Natalis invicti, into a celebration of the Nativity. Since then, Christmas has evolved, and spread around the globe to become one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.
In 1 Corinthians 8:8, Paul states that we are no worse off for eating food sacrificed to idols than if we do not. There are countless areas of culture, traditions, and practices that have pagan roots, and Paul encourages Christians to glorify God when exposed to these things. However, we are not permitted to succumb to cultural or historical lies, especially in the Church. It is the avoidance of such lies that drove the the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland to make this declaration about Christmas:
“As with the date of the Saviour’s birth, much of what people associate with Christmas is simply untrue. Christianity, however, is concerned with the truth above everything else.”
Christmas and the Church
Worship in the Bible is clearly vital to the Christian life. From the beginning, God sets up His standard of sound worship:
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I am commanding you.” -Deut. 4:1-2
Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, founder of A Puritan’s Mind, elaborates on this when he wrote in reference to the observance of Christmas in the church,
“To allow into worship what is not expressly commanded in the Bible, whether that is for a day or for the regular Sunday service, is false worship. It is a worship fabricated by men, and this violates the principles of worship that God has commanded.”
This may seem a bit extreme. After all, just because God didn’t say we should celebrate Christmas doesn’t mean we are forbidden too, right? Aren’t there many things observed by the church which the Bible doesn’t mention?
While it’s true that there are many details that are not described in the Bible for regular church worship, most churches hold to particular Biblical ordinances such as prayer, singing, reading the Word, communion, and the like within their worship services.
Biblical scholars call this the Regulative Principle of Worship: the view that worship should consist solely of practices that are explicitly described in the Scriptures. This principle comes from various examples of God condemning unauthorized forms of worship in the Bible, such as in Genesis 4, Leviticus 10, and 2 Samuel 6. Furthermore, Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by commissioning his disciples to “follow all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20).
When following the Regulative Principle for corporate church worship, it becomes difficult to justify a celebration of Christmas. Any day set aside (“holy-day”) for worship must come directly from the Word of God, and there are no cases in the Scripture in which the birth of Christ is recognized after it happened, nor are there any direct commands to celebrate it. Jesus’ earthly life and ministry are expanded upon in Paul’s epistles, but the focus is on his death and resurrection, not his birth (1 Cor 11:26). Of course, the theological significance of God becoming man and dwelling among us is profound and should never be overlooked. However, setting aside a day or month to observe a holiday with pagan roots and with no direct Biblical recognition is questionable, to say the least.
“[W]hen we insist on establishing a service of worship based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol, though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity.” -John Calvin
Approaching Christmas as a Christian
As Paul warned the Roman Church and James warned his readers, Christians must be wary of becoming conformed to the ways of the world (Rom 12:2, James 4:4). We must analyze our beliefs and traditions from God’s perspective, rather than our own (Col 3:2).
“It is an easy thing to float with the tide of popular opinion; but it takes much grace, diligently sought from God, to swim against it.” -A.W. Pink
That being said, Christmas is a time, maybe the only time, when many people expose themselves to Christianity by going to church or hearing the story of Jesus. In this way it can be a beautiful opportunity to share the rest of the story with friends and family who may not be as reachable at other times of the year.
While I believe corporate worship should consist of only that which God deems acceptable, I do not see the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth to be consistent with this principle. Christmas can be observed similar to any other worldly holiday; an opportunity to glorify God and spread the gospel, but it is not something that should be intertwined with the holy, corporate worship of the Church.
“No Christian should be theologically lazy about what God requires of them.” -Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
10, harpdivaSeptember, et al. “Calvin’s Response to Being Forced to Observe Christmas.” The Heidelblog, 29 Oct. 2015, https://heidelblog.net/2015/09/calvins-response-to-being-forced-to-observe-christmas/.
26, Kevin McGraneDecember, et al. “A Brief History of Christmas.” The Heidelblog, 24 Jan. 2017, https://heidelblog.net/2014/12/a-brief-history-of-christmas/.
McMahon, C. Matthew. “Christmas, Christmass or Xmas?” Reformed Theology at A Puritan’s Mind, https://www.apuritansmind.com/puritan-worship/christmas-and-the-regulative-principle/.
Pink, A. W. “XMAS.” XMAS by A.W. PINK (FREE BOOK on Why CHRIST CONDEMNS CHRISTMAS at Still Waters Revival Books), http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/christmas-awpink.htm.
Schwertley, Brian. “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas.” THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP AND CHRISTMAS by BRIAN SCHWERTLEY (FREE BOOK on Why CHRIST CONDEMNS CHRISTMAS at Still Waters Revival Books), http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/christmas.htm.
“Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?” Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, https://www.fpchurch.org.uk/about-us/how-we-worship/no-christian-festivals/should-christians-celebrate-christmas/.