OceanSide church of Christ

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Stephen C. Atnip

          The world is abuzz this day with celebrations of Christmas.  For some, this is the quintessential Christian holy day.  We receive cards and letters featuring nativity scenes of the birth of our Lord.  There are even those who stress that if a man does not celebrate this “most holy” of seasons, then he is a derelict in his Christian understanding and duties.  What is peculiarly missing from this discussion is a reflection on any sort of Biblical commandment, or example of the early church in the keeping of any birthday celebration for Christ.  We are encouraged to keep the “spirit of Christmas.”  Pray tell, what is the “spirit of Christmas”?

            This unusual preoccupation with Christmas is actually a very new concept for mankind, except among Catholics.  As a matter of fact, when I hear Protestant exhortation to keep “the spirit of Christmas,“ I chuckle inside.  The great originators of Protestantism often spoke ardently against this Catholic tradition.  John Calvin (the originator of Presbyterianism, primitive Baptist theology, and the evangelical reformed movement) wrote, “I see more people than usual at sermon today.  And why?  It’s Christmas day.  And who told you?  It seems so [to be a holy day] to poor beasts.  There’s the fitting label for all who came to sermon today in honor of the feast…But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are beasts, indeed, rabid beasts.”  {http://www.takenforgranted.com/2005/12/17/john-calvin-joins-the-ranter-in-the-war-on-christmas-2/].  One can certainly see that John Calvin was not an avid fan of Christmas. 

            John Knox, the great 16th century Scottish Presbyterian Reformer joined with his brethren in creating The First Book of Discipline.  With regard to Christmas and all other such “popish inventions,” this book stated, “Which things, because in God’s scriptures they neither have commandment nor assurance, we judge them utterly to be abolished from this Realm; affirming further, that the obstinate maintainers and teachers of such abominations ought not to escape the punishment of the Civil Magistrate.” [Knox’s History, Vol. 2, p. 281. cf. John Knox, Works (David Laing, ed., Edinburgh:  James Thin, 1895), Vol. ii, p. 190).  The reader will perhaps find this somewhat amusing when he finds out that the John Knox Press in 1991 published, Christmas Praise:  Worship Resources for the Seasons of Christmas.  And inWashington state (2007), the John Knox Presbyterian Church USA is celebrating with a Christmas musical, and holding what they call “Operation Christmas Child.” [http://www.jkpcusa.org/htm/children-ministries/index.htm].  My, oh my, how things do change!

            The early Puritan Protestants were equally un-enamored with Christmas:  “the Puritans believed that the first-century church modeled a Christianity that modern Christians should copy.  They attempted to base their faith and practice solely on the New Testament, and their position on Christmas reflected their commitment to practice a pure, scriptural form of Christianity.  Puritans argued that God reserved to himself the determination of all proper forms of worship, and that he disapproved of any human innovations – even innovations that celebrated the great events of salvation.  The name Christmas also alienated many Puritans.  Christmas meant ‘the mass of Christ.’  The mass was despised as a Roman Catholic institution that undermined the Protestant concept of Christ, who offered himself once for all.” [http://www.wcg.org/lit/church/holidays/xmassin.htm].  “The Puritans banned Christmas altogether and during the Cromwellian period in England, anyone celebrating Christmas was jailed for heresy” [http://www.locksley.com/6696/xmas.htm].

            Charles Spurgeon, London’s great Protestant expositor, wrote, “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, in observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority” [http://www.founder.org/blog/2005/12/spurgeon-on-christmas.html].  Spurgeon wrote again, “When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then.  It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord.  We ask concerning every rite and rubric, ‘Is this a law of the God of Jacob?’  And if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.”  [Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 81:4].

            As a matter of fact, the American celebration of Christmas is historically very recent, “In America, Christmas was generally outlawed until the end of the last century [19th century].  In Boston, up to 1870, anyone missing work on Christmas Day would be fired.  Factory owners customarily required employees to come to work at 5 a.m. on Christmas – to insure they wouldn’t have time to go to church that day.  And any student who failed to go to school on December 25 would be expelled.”  [http://www.locksley.com/6696/xmas.htm].  Christmas has no source in New Testament teaching whatsoever.  And the present fad sweeping our nation is just as susceptible to change tomorrow, as it has been in the past.  But the everlasting word of God is unchanging and unchangeable (1 Peter 1:23, 25). Build your faith and hopes on things eternal.

            Enjoy the national holiday, but please realize its source as arising from the hearts and imaginations of men, and not from the commandments of God.  And do not propagate the errors in teaching with regard to the birth of Jesus.