CHRISTMAS AND THE CHRISTIAN
Rev. Ronald Van Overloop
The commemoration of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is important to Christians. The unbelieving world also recognizes this event; but, just as it is with everything the ungodly does, he corrupts it, commemorating it only on one day of the year and then doing so with much carnality.
Since the Christian is called to glorify God in the real world in which he lives, a part of which is the Christmas season, the child of God must come to a position with respect to his attitude and his actions in the Christmas season. Some believers have tried to deny the existence of this season. But that is impossible. Whether we like it or not we are forced to reckon with the reality of the Christmas season.
To come to some clear biblical convictions in this area is difficult. First, there is tradition. Innocent tradition is hard to relinquish.
Against bad tradition it is easy to react and to over-react. Secondly, there are sentimental attachments to ways of celebrating or not celebrating the holidays. And, thirdly, there is the pressure which comes from the world to conform to it. These forces create a fog which must be cleared away in order to come to clear, biblical convictions.
Let us recognize three facts concerning the celebration of Christmas.
First, there is no biblical warrant for the remembrance of the day of Christ’s birth as a day of special religious celebration, as there is for His death (Lord’s Supper) and resurrection (the Lord’s day). Whereas there is biblical warrant for the remembrance of Christ’s birth, and for being constantly amazed at the wonder of the incarnation, there is none for remembering that day as a day of religious celebration. Those churches which hold worship services on Christmas Day do so for practical reasons. Without specific biblical command and example, the conscience of the Christian may not be bound by the ideas or traditions of man.
Secondly, the setting apart of December 25 as the date for the celebration of Christ’s birth is rooted in pagan traditions. In A.D. 336 Emperor Constantine declared Christ’s birthday on December 25 as an official Roman holiday. Tertullian, Chrysostom, and others objected that it was pagan in its origin and worldly in its practice, but they were overruled. One has good reason for being suspicious of the tradition behind the date of December 25.
Thirdly, the current celebration of Christmas is essentially pagan, humanistic, and ungodly. Its joy and peace is purely humanistic, beginning and ending in man. The spirit of covetousness and greed which pervades the season certainly is most ungodly. The believer must reject that which is humanistic and ungodly.
In the light of the above what shall the Christian do?
Some would want to take simplistic positions. Some say that Christians should have nothing to do with the day, and they do their best to see to it that no one else does. No gifts, no trees, no carols, nothing. These often condemn and judge all who give any hint of observing the season. Others believe that all Christians should capture Christmas for Christ. Every gift must speak of God’s gift. The tree must remind us of the tree on which Christ hung. These Christians condemn all others who do not strive to capture Christmas for Christ as guilty of sinful retreat, because they give the day up to the devil.
Both of these responses to the Christmas season are simplistic, failing to take into account the whole picture. It is much worse if they make their personal conviction determinative for others.
What are some biblical principles that can be used for each of us to reach our own conclusions?
Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 are passages which are vital for treating a subject of this nature. In these passages Paul is dealing with differing positions about whether a Christian must be a vegetarian, whether it is right to observe days on the Jewish calendar, and whether it is right to eat meat offered to idols (is there anything more pagan?). Paul shows that in each case it is possible for Christians to take a stand on either side of the issue and to do so to the glory of God (even eating meat offered to idols).
The first principle Paul establishes is that in these issues there is nothing which in itself is sinful. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself”; and “all things indeed are pure” (Rom. 14.14,21). Paul states this because there was the belief that there is evil in the things themselves. Apply this to Christmas and the question whether we shall or shall not celebrate Christmas, whether to have or not to have a tree, etc. A tree is a creature of God, having no intrinsic evil. Is there anything intrinsically evil in a coloured light, or in the giving of a gift? Each is a creature of God and can be sanctified by the Word of God. Any mentality which looks upon any creature of God as evil in itself is unbiblical. And the origin of a thing has nothing to do with whether something is evil or not evil, whether it is pagan or non-pagan. All are gifts of God.
The second principle is that we must come to individual conviction under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 14.4-9): “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God”. You and I must come to personal convictions under the Lordship of God. Notice the emphasis on the individuality of the convictions, “Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” You cannot rest on the convictions of another, nor can you blindly follow the example of another. Each of us must stand in our conscience before Christ. The result will be that there is not going to be perfect uniformity among the people of God in matters of things indifferent. Notice also that the sphere of these convictions must be, not in the context of carnal desire or the pressure of tradition, but the Lordship of Christ. So he that regardeth a day, regards it not unto his relatives, nor even unto his own desires, but unto the Lord. Each believer must be conscious that Jesus is the Lord of his life, the gracious Saviour whom he must please and to whom he must one day give an account. The money used for Christmas decorations, gifts, and meals must be spent as unto the Lord.
A third principle taken from these passages is that we must not stand in judgment against those whose persuasion and activity differ from ours. While we must be fully persuaded in our own minds, we must not judge our brother who is equally persuaded but is persuaded differently. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth:
for God hath received him” (Rom. 14.3). Who are you to judge the servant of another? “Let us not therefore judge one another any more” (Rom. 14.13). Paul, knowing his and our human nature, knows that it is our inclination, upon reaching a conclusion under the Lordship of Christ, to see the matter so clearly that we conclude that it should be equally clear to everyone else. Stinking pride arises and claims greater spiritual sensitivity and greater spiritual comprehension. Then that pride demands that others must agree with us in our position and practices. The Bible is not clear about a Christmas tree, but it is very clear about judging our brother or sister.
A fourth principle is that we must be careful not to cause others to violate their conscience. “Judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Rom. 14.13-23; 15.1-6). Note well that causing offence is not the doing of something which causes a brother to judge me, but doing something which causes my brother, following my example, to do something which is a sin to him. Then, for my brother’s sake, I must forego my activity, lest I encourage my brother to sin. It would not be right to try to persuade a Christian who you knew felt very deeply that a Christmas tree was sin. “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14.1). If you know that your celebration of Christmas as a family tradition would be an offence to him, do not invite him over, lest you cause him to participate in practices which to him are sin. Instead of these differences being occasion for friction and mutual judging, they should become occasions for manifesting the selfless love of Christ. “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom. 15.1,2).
Some practical conclusions follow.
First, we must not let the world dictate to us our practice. We live in the midst of a dangerous and essentially pagan season. You are a servant of Christ and not of man (his tradition or sentiment). Be sure that everything you do is done unto Him. Though this may mean a change in your practices, do not cease recognizing Christ’s Lordship just because it is the Christmas season.
Secondly, do not judge one another. You have every right to be
fully persuaded in your own mind. Give your brother the right to be just as fully persuaded in his own mind. See those who differ in matters about which the Bible does not speak as your brothers in Christ and as under the Lordship of Christ. Before the Lord we each stand or fall.
Let us each wrestle with these biblical principles. And the answer we reach must be one for which we can give good account in that day when we stand before our Lord. May the Lord thus bring us through this season to His glory.
Reprinted from Reformed Witness December 1990