What About Christmas?
by Tim Haile
December 1, 2000
Is it scriptural and right to celebrate Christmas as a religious holy day? It is an obvious fact that most religious people believe that it is. In fact, many religious organizations stage grand productions and arrange elaborate displays for the purpose of commemorating the birth of Christ. Many of these exhibitions attract much attention, huge crowds and even new members for the performing church. Children and parents alike love the church sponsored nativity scenes, light shows and festivities, which has caused these productions to increase dramatically in size, splendor and number.
However, regardless of how impressive these presentations may be and how very "religious" the sponsors may appear, there is a larger question for people to consider: Did God ordain the celebration of Christ's birthday as a religious observance? All who are interested in "speaking as the oracles of God" and speaking "according to" God's word will turn to the scriptures for the answer to this question (1 Peter 4:11; Isaiah 8:20). All who are interested in acting in accordance with the authority of Christ will turn to the "word of Christ" for their authority for "whatever" they do in religion, "whether in word or in deed" (Colossians 3:16-17).
Non-religiousObservance of Christmas
Before considering the religious observance of Christmas, I wish to make a couple of observations regarding its non-religious observance. There is a huge difference between a national "holiday" and a religious "holy day!" Human authorities are divinely permitted to establish holidays to honor special people and events. No sin is committed when stores, factories and businesses close in honor of those holidays. National holidays actually establish some useful standards allowing families and friends to visit each other in such a way that they may not otherwise be allowed to do. According to Romans 14:5, Christians have the God-given right to "esteem one day above another," thus observing a holiday or holiday(s) of their choosing. No sin is committed by such action unless the Christian binds his views and practices upon others (Rom. 14:10,13). As with other national holidays, Christians may rightly use the December 25th holiday for the purpose of gathering with loved ones for whatever lawful reasons they may choose. This may even include the exchanging of gifts, which incidentally, may be done on any occasion.
However, no human authority, whether church or state, has any right to establish religious holy days! This includes the establishment of December 25th as the "birthday of Christ" and using that day to commemorate the birth of Christ. Furthermore, no church has the scriptural right to incorporate the observance of Christmas as a religious and spiritual act. The New Testament authorizes no such practice. To presumptuously concoct and observe such manmade holy days is to sin against God.
The History of Christmas
The word "Christmas" comes from the Old English term Cristes maesse, meaning "Christ's mass." This expression was used to describe the worship service that was held on December 25 to commemorate Christ's birth. A Roman almanac shows Christmas first being observed on December 25th of 336 AD. This date was established in part, to compete with the pagan observance of "Saturnalia" which took place on December 17th. Also, an agreement was reached between the Western Catholic, Eastern Rite and Orthodox churches which connected December 25th to January 6th ("Epiphany" - the appearing of Jesus), resulting in what is now known as "the twelve days of Christmas." This tradition of Christmas spread rapidly and is now recognized by most countries throughout the world.
Those who wholly associate Christmas with Christ are badly mistaken. Christmas is the result of a compilation of several different religious beliefs and cultural practices. For example, some may think gift giving has always been patterned after the practice of the wise men in Matthew 2:11. However, this is not true. Early Christians had no such custom. It was actually the Roman pagan celebration of Saturnalia that inspired this practice. Interestingly, these pagans also originated the custom of decorating houses with greenery and lights. Scandanavian and Teutonic peoples of Northern Europe decorated trees and barns in order to scare away demons.
Among other items, certain plants have become religiously associated with Christmas. Holly is used because its prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion, and its red berries are said to represent droplets of the Lord's blood. Poinsettia plants are based upon a Mexican legend of a child who wanted to bring a gift to the village's manger scene, but was too poor to buy one. Legend has it that these plants first grew miraculously for him and their leaves were said to resemble the star of Bethlehem.
I observe these things, not to suggest that it is sinful to exchange gifts, string lights on your house, buy poinsettias or hang decorations on a cedar tree, but to point out that the observance of Christmas did not originate with God and is not taught in the Bible. This means that though one may celebrate Christmas day as he would Independence Day, or some other national holiday, he is not authorized to celebrate Christmas as a religious holy day.
Who Authorizes Religious Observances?
No man, woman, pope, church, synod, convention or eldership has the right to establish religious holy days and authorize their special observance. This is solely the work of God. He alone is qualified to authorize certain things to be done on certain days (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). When first century Galatian Christians began to depart from divine legislation and institute their own "holy" days, they were met with the apostle's sharp reprimand. Galatians 4:10-11 says,
"You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain" (NKJV).
Why was Paul "afraid for" these Galatian saints? It was because they were making their appeal to an obsolete standard of religious authority. According to Hebrews 8:13, the arrival and ratification of the "New Covenant" rendered the Old Covenant "obsolete." Thus, New Testament Christians are not authorized to practice Old Testament law. Doing so would cause them to "fall from grace" (Galatians 5:4). The Old Law was a "tutor to bring [men] to Christ, that they might be justified by faith. But after faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24-25). The key word in this passage is Christ. He has all authority and He is our authority in all matters "that pertain to life and godliness" (Matt. 28:18; Col. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3). Salvation is in His name (Acts 4:12).
But it may be argued that men do not appeal to the Old Testament for authority for the religious observance of Christmas, so how do the above principles apply? Perhaps another passage will help us to properly categorize these practices. To the saints at Rome, Paul acknowledged the zeal of his Jewish brethren, yet he said this zeal was "not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2). The next two verses explain their failure. Paul said,
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:3-4, NKJV).
Notice how the principle of Christ's universal authority extends itself in all directions and over all religious exercises. Christ's righteous standard is "revealed in the Gospel" (Rom. 1:16-17). By turning elsewhere for religious authority men reject this standard and are said to "establish their own righteousness." In effect, they establish their own religion in the process! They substitute their own standards and institutions in lieu of those established by Christ.
Christmas: A "Religious" Institution?
We shall now make the application of the above principles. Where did either Christ, His chosen apostles, or His inspired spokesmen and writers ever instruct men to observe Christmas? Where in the Bible, can one read about the establishment of "Christmas?" Where, in Holy Writ, can one read of early Christians commemorating and celebrating the birth of Christ? References to the birth of Jesus are certainly found, but where do we read of saints observing that day as a holy day? And in the absence of this scriptural authority, upon what basis do men arbitrarily establish a day of the year as the "birthday of Christ," then proceed to honor that day as such? Furthermore, if authority for the religious observance of Christmas were to be found, where is divine authority explaining and demonstrating how this day is to be commemorated and celebrated? So far, in my personal experiences in discussing this question with people, I have never heard any of these questions answered with scripture.
The Truth About Christ's Beginning
The Bible does not de-emphasize Christ's birth, but neither does it attach a deep religious significance to that day. Why is the Bible silent about when Jesus was born? After all, exact dates are given for many other things! Why does the Bible say nothing about the need for Christians to remember and honor the day of Christ's birth? Had God chosen to, He could have told us to remember Christ's birth just as easily as He told us to "remember" His death. I would propose two possible explanations for God not authorizing us to commemorate Christ's birth.
1. God wanted mankind to emphasize, commemorate and honor Christ's death, rather than His birth (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). It was through His death that Jesus would "draw all men to Him" (Jn. 12:32). It was through His death that Jesus offered redemption (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). And it was His death that provided the avenue of man's reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:6,8,10; 2 Cor. 5:14-21).
2. Christ's physical birth did not mark His beginning. In the case of ordinary humans, God forms their spirit with the formation of their body (Zech. 12:1). This was not the case with Jesus. His spirit preexisted His body. He was "in the beginning with God" (Jn. 1:1-3). Though the baptizer was older than Christ in physical age, yet Jesus preexisted John, and was eternally older than John (Jn. 1:30). The same was true of Abraham. Though Abraham lived 2000 years before Christ, Jesus preexisted Abraham by eternity (Jn. 8:58).
There was a priest/king named Melchizedek who lived in days of Abraham. The Hebrew writer compared him to the Son of God by saying he "had neither beginning of days, nor yet end of years" (Heb. 7:3). You see friend, Jesus has always existed and is always the same (Heb. 13:8). His physical birth did not bring Him into existence, it merely provided shape to His preexistent and intrinsic form. That birth gave Jesus the likeness and appearance of a man (Phil. 2:6-8). Though the Bible does call it a "birth," yet that birth was so very different from normal human births that it stands in its own separate classification: the class of incarnation! God became enveloped in flesh (Jn. 1:14; Matt. 1:18-23). Birthdays celebrate one's beginning: Christ had no beginning. By focusing upon Christ's alleged "birthday," as religious Christmas observers do, they detract from Christ's deity and exalt His transient physical nature. They ignore what the Bible teaches about Christ's real purpose for coming to the earth.
Those who celebrate December 25th as a religious holy day must admit that they have absolutely no biblical authority for doing so! Many will say, "Well, He had to be born on some day - we just pick December 25th as that day!" Beyond being admittedly presumptive, this claim really misses the point. We are not concerned over people believing that Jesus was born on some day: We are concerned that religious people have established that day as a religious holy day, and proceed to religiously celebrate that day without God's approval! This should raise some eyebrows, but I am afraid too many people have wandered too far from the scriptures to even be concerned about this at all. The important question is not what everyone else thinks and is doing, but what am I doing? What about you, dear reader? Are you participating in an unauthorized religious practice?
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