Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Reformation DayI have been asked the following question,
“The 31st October 1517 was Reformation Day, when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Roman Catholic church door. It has been suggested that this should be an annual church celebration. I have only recently learned of this event. My initial reaction to making Reformation Day an annual celebration was one of hesitancy. Luther did some very good things, but there are also some things that concern me. Is this such a significant event in the history of the Church that we should celebrate it? My greatest concern is that should this become a celebrated event akin to that of Easter and Christmas, are we exalting a man and not Christ?”

Luther taught that salvation is by grace alone through faith and not by good works. His rediscovery of this truth led to many other church and societal reforms. He condemned unbiblical practices like indulgences (asking for payment in order to forgive sins) and claimed that the Bible is the central religious authority (rather than the church or tradition).

And what about Christmas, which is the day of the year that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ? It’s not celebrated annually in the Bible and some say it’s a pagan holiday.

Christian liberty

The Bible says that Christians have the freedom to celebrate holidays or significant events.

 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom. 14:5-6NIV). Follow your conscience in debateable matters like keeping religious festivals and eating food offered to idols. The Bible gives principles for dealing with debateable matters in our daily lives.

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). A Christian cannot be justly condemned by others for what they eat or drink or for lacking to observe a religious festival or a holy day.

An example of this is when Jesus celebrated a holiday that was not mandated in Scripture.

The Festival of Dedication - HanukkahThe Festival of Dedication

John described an event near the end of Christ’s ministry, “Then came the Festival of Dedication [Hanukkah in Hebrew] at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (Jn. 10:22-23). This festival was a commemoration of the dedication of the Jewish temple by Judas Maccabeus in December 165 BC, after it had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes by erecting a statue of Zeus in the most holy place and offering a pig on the altar. That desecration of the temple by the Syrian forces of Antiochus Epiphanes was called “the abomination that causes desolation” (Dan. 11:31; Mt. 24:15). Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to eradicate the Jewish faith.

Hanukkah (or the festival of lights) is observed for eight days by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, commonly called a menorah. It was a yearly celebration that was instituted by the Jewish people. It was not instituted by the Lord like other festivals mentioned in the Old Testament. But we see above that Jesus celebrated the festival of Dedication.

Anniversaries

We celebrate anniversaries of significant events like one’s birth and marriage. And a few months ago our church celebrated 60 years of ministry.

There are many Christian holidays that can be celebrated, including Christmas. And Reformation Day could be added to this list.

The main thing

Some years ago the London Transit Authority was receiving a lot of complaints because their buses were driving past customers who were standing at the bus stops. The Transit Authority put an explanation in the paper saying, “It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers.” Clearly, that company had forgotten its purpose. Steven Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. And the main thing in any church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and help them grow spiritually.

The main thing for us is to acknowledge God’s character and work. The main thing about Christmas is the incarnation (God coming to earth as a human being). And the main thing about the reformation is the sufficiency of Scripture (the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service).

Conclusion

Any celebration can be assessed by checking if it helps or hinders the main purpose of the church. You don’t need to celebrate Christmas or Reformation day if you don’t want to, but you may if you want to. If you do choose to practice such a celebration, then it should be done in a way that is consistent with the mission of the church.

Appendix: Christmas

There is no evidence that Christmas had a pagan origin. And if it did, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. For example the names of the days of the week were named after pagan gods. But they are not used in this context today. And the planets are named after Roman gods. But they are not used in this context today. The meaning (or semantics) of a word or passage comes from its context, not from its source (or etymology).

Reformation DayI have been asked the following question,
“The 31st October 1517 was Reformation Day, when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Roman Catholic church door. It has been suggested that this should be an annual church celebration. I have only recently learned of this event. My initial reaction to making Reformation Day an annual celebration was one of hesitancy. Luther did some very good things, but there are also some things that concern me. Is this such a significant event in the history of the Church that we should celebrate it? My greatest concern is that should this become a celebrated event akin to that of Easter and Christmas, are we exalting a man and not Christ?”

Luther taught that salvation is by grace alone through faith and not by good works. His rediscovery of this truth led to many other church and societal reforms. He condemned unbiblical practices like indulgences (asking for payment in order to forgive sins) and claimed that the Bible is the central religious authority (rather than the church or tradition).

And what about Christmas, which is the day of the year that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ? It’s not celebrated annually in the Bible and some say it’s a pagan holiday.

Christian liberty

The Bible says that Christians have the freedom to celebrate holidays or significant events.

 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Rom. 14:5-6NIV). Follow your conscience in debateable matters like keeping religious festivals and eating food offered to idols. The Bible gives principles for dealing with debateable matters in our daily lives.

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). A Christian cannot be justly condemned by others for what they eat or drink or for lacking to observe a religious festival or a holy day.

An example of this is when Jesus celebrated a holiday that was not mandated in Scripture.

The Festival of Dedication - HanukkahThe Festival of Dedication

John described an event near the end of Christ’s ministry, “Then came the Festival of Dedication [Hanukkah in Hebrew] at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (Jn. 10:22-23). This festival was a commemoration of the dedication of the Jewish temple by Judas Maccabeus in December 165 BC, after it had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes by erecting a statue of Zeus in the most holy place and offering a pig on the altar. That desecration of the temple by the Syrian forces of Antiochus Epiphanes was called “the abomination that causes desolation” (Dan. 11:31; Mt. 24:15). Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to eradicate the Jewish faith.

Hanukkah (or the festival of lights) is observed for eight days by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, commonly called a menorah. It was a yearly celebration that was instituted by the Jewish people. It was not instituted by the Lord like other festivals mentioned in the Old Testament. But we see above that Jesus celebrated the festival of Dedication.

Anniversaries

We celebrate anniversaries of significant events like one’s birth and marriage. And a few months ago our church celebrated 60 years of ministry.

There are many Christian holidays that can be celebrated, including Christmas. And Reformation Day could be added to this list.

The main thing

Some years ago the London Transit Authority was receiving a lot of complaints because their buses were driving past customers who were standing at the bus stops. The Transit Authority put an explanation in the paper saying, “It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers.” Clearly, that company had forgotten its purpose. Steven Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. And the main thing in any church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and help them grow spiritually.

The main thing for us is to acknowledge God’s character and work. The main thing about Christmas is the incarnation (God coming to earth as a human being). And the main thing about the reformation is the sufficiency of Scripture (the Bible is all we need to equip us for a life of faith and service).

Conclusion

Any celebration can be assessed by checking if it helps or hinders the main purpose of the church. You don’t need to celebrate Christmas or Reformation day if you don’t want to, but you may if you want to. If you do choose to practice such a celebration, then it should be done in a way that is consistent with the mission of the church.

Appendix: Christmas

There is no evidence that Christmas had a pagan origin. And if it did, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. For example the names of the days of the week were named after pagan gods. But they are not used in this context today. And the planets are named after Roman gods. But they are not used in this context today. The meaning (or semantics) of a word or passage comes from its context, not from its source (or etymology). And the meaning comes from the context today, and not the context hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Early Christians were predominantly Jewish. According to historian Josephus, Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays: “The law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children.” It was not until large numbers of Gentiles became Christians that interest was given to celebrating the date of Christ’s birth.

The Bible doesn’t specifically give the date of the year when Christ was born. This means that no one knows for sure when Jesus was born. I have seen different studies that have shown His birth to be in autumn, in winter or in spring! The exact date of the first coming of our Lord is much like the date of His return. No one knows the exact day or hour of the second coming (Mt. 24: 36, 42, 44, 50; 25:13).

The Bible does not command us to celebrate either the first coming or the return of Jesus Christ. However, believers are permitted to rejoice because of the significance and meaning of these two events. There can be no second coming without the first. We may celebrate His birth on any date we choose, and it is possible to do so without becoming side-tracked with irrelevant debate about whether the date is “correct”. For example in Australia the Queen’s birthday holiday is the second Monday in June, whereas her actual birthday is 21 April.

Written, 25 December 2021

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