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What About Christmas?

What should a Christian response to Christmas be?  For some people this seems almost like a non-question, or a waste of time.  Some would say Christians should embrace Christmas wholeheartedly, since it is a Christian holiday.  However, there is a flaw to this reasoning.  Namely, Christmas or the celebration thereof, is not something that we get from a teaching in Scripture.  Now this does not mean that we cannot do it, but it does mean that we have to think a little deeper.

To me then Christmas falls into a different category then say a subject like salvation or the Lord’s Supper, which do have clear teaching concerning them.

What then should we do with it?  For things which God did not include in His revelation to us I believe that Christians must deal with these things through the scope of Romans 14.  By this I mean these are matters of opinion that should not be bound upon the conscience of all Christians.  With this in mind here are some guidelines that I have:

1.  I do not believe that churches as a whole should embrace Christmas as a religious holiday.  What I mean by this is that I would be uncomfortable with a church celebrating the holiday through a special service on Christmas Day or through the church sanctioning this as a religious holiday.  If  a church does this then they force upon the conscience of the people something that God has not.  To me this goes beyond the authority that the church has.

2. I think if an individual family or families want to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, then they are within their rights.  Romans 14 says that on issues were God has not given us teaching that each of us are to make our own decision.  The only sin becomes if we do something that in someway violates the conscience God has given us. If we decide to celebrate as a special religious day, then we do not force this view on others (especially others whom we know would have a problem with them), nor do we judge those who do not celebrate as such (the same is true from the reverse, those who decide not to do it should not judge those who decide to do it).

3. Churches have three choices in my mind in dealing with Christmas.  One is to reject it all.  Although I do not agree that this is the best idea I can envision scenarios where it could be a prudent path.  For instance if you are at a church where it would cause division or undue problems by acknowledging the Christmas season (usually through a Sermon on the Subject on the Sunday around Christmas), then I would say do not do it.

Two is to embrace the holiday completely.  My first point shows that I do not think this is a viable option either.

Third is the best in my mind.  In my mind churches can redeem the holiday in a way that would be beneficial.  In this I think we should recognize that the world is thinking about Jesus during this time and we can use this time as a chance to teach them about the Son of God. This to me would be similar to using a major news event to teach on a certain subject.  It just seems prudent to me.

In the spirit of the third option I will be talking about the importance of the incarnation (Jesus becoming flesh) next week.

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29 Comments

  1. Funny situation. My 6 year old son asked me last week “why do we have Christmas?” I replied “well, there are a lot of people that believe that December 25th is Jesus birthday, that is why it is called Christ- Mass”. He then asks me “Well, is it His birthday?”. I said “Nobody knows when exactly His birthday is, there is actually a lot of proof that it is not on December 25th. If someone wants to think about Jesus’ birth on Christmas or any other day, it is ok, and we are glad that they are thinking about Jesus”. He then pauses for a few seconds and says “I….. I think He was born on Christmas!”. Well Son, I may not be able to condemn you for esteeming December 25th as a special Holy Day to you and you cannot look down on me for not believing it is His birthday, but I do feel your argumentation was lacking hard evidence and was based primarily in emotion.

    Wesley you were right on, I may post some work I have done on the topic later.

  2. Really What it Comes Down to is this. (Notes from a lesson last year in Christmas).

    Individual Christians Have the Scriptural Right To Emphasize Certain Days Over Others as long as they do not violate 2 rules
    1. Nothing Sinful is Done
    2. It is not Bound or Forced Upon Others (Romans 14:5-6)

    One may choose to make up there own special days or even utilize ones that were left over from religious practices (As is the case in Romans 14). It would be wrong for me to demand that others celebrate the day with me, and it would be wrong if brethren condemned me for it.

    An indivdual(s) may even choose to take a certain day and use it to remember an event in scripture (such as the Birth of Jesus). Often times our Gospel Meetings, Lectureships, and VBS do this very thing.

    As a Christian I have the Scriptural right to celebrate secular events and days as well, as long as their celebration does not cause me to engage in sinful behavior. Just because a practice originated from sinners does not mean it is sinful today (Christmas Trees, Easter Bunny, Names of the Days of the Week “Thor’s”day)

    What Can We Conclude:
    – If a Christian chooses to engage in the traditional Christmas activities, that is his right.
    – If a Christian chooses not too, because it violates his conscience (because of its Catholic or Pagan roots) that is his right.
    – Even if a Christian chooses personally to remember the birth of Jesus on December 25th without teaching something the Scriptures do not teach, that is His right.
    – No one has the right to condemn either person because of them choosing to or to not esteem certain days.

    Side Note: Don’t get overly preoccupied with correcting everybody who does believe that December 25th is the exact day Jesus was born. Their interest in Jesus may serve as an opportunity for sharing the Gospel.

    Super Side Note: Many of the “Christmas Songs” are designed for praise and invoke the Lord’s name a lot. If we sing them play them on the radio etc, let us make sure we use them in a proper way and engage in proper worship. God’s guidelines for acceptable worship and reverence are the same for “Christmas Songs”.

  3. I do agree with the general idea, opportunities should be taken to teach the truth about the Lord on every opportunity, even during the Christmas season.

    One thing that I wonder about sometimes is the application of Romans 14. I’m not trying to chip away at the general application of the passage, because I do think that it has such and that the applications resides in the realm of individual liberties as you have suggested.

    The only point I would raise to add to the discussion is that when Paul was speaking about the keeping of special days in Romans 14:5 It would seem that he was speaking about the Jewish Christians observance of Jewish holy days. These had originated with God, and where commanded of Jews throughout the Law of Moses. Thus, as was their custom, Paul included, many Jewish Christians observed many of these feast days.
    However, I don’t think the application was to the pagan holidays that were brought in from pagan observance.

    Gentiles converted to Christ from pagan backgrounds with primarily Hellenic holidays and observances offered to the pantheon of Greek gods, they were taught to leave these behind because they now knew God who must be considered as supreme (Galatians 4:9-11, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”). Paul shames them for not preferring God and not shunning pagan observations.

    This seems to show that we must not worship or observe religiously or spiritually anything other than what the scriptures teach us to observe (Matthew 15:9, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men;” Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”).

    For instance, I do not see any reference in the scriptures that show that Gentiles took their pagan holidays and converted them to “Christian holidays.” In fact to me, it seems the opposite is true.

    “Christmas” is completely and totally man-made. Religious observance did not originate with God, thus when we celebrate it religiously (whether as a local church, or individually) we do so outside of the authority of Christ and without his approval. For we must do all things religiously by his authority (Col. 3:17).

    That is not to say that we cannot celebrate it as a national holiday where we partake in national, non religious traditions, as you’ve clearly shown. There is nothing wrong with having a tree, giving presents, being with family and friends, etc. provided that we do not force a “religious special day” connotation upon it.

    Anyhow, good article, and I do agree completely with the conclusion of the article we should use this opportunity to teach the world about the Lord, his church, and his salvation; This would include teaching that the religious observance of Christmas is outside of His authority.
    Incidentally, I’ll be preaching on that topic this coming week.

  4. Wesley

    December 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    My point is really not dealing with the idea of the special days at all. But rather the principle of Romans 14 that certain matters are left to individual judgment if God has not given us teaching on them.

    I agree that the church as a whole should not participate in Christmas as a group, because it would be binding a tradition on the group that we should not bind.

    I do think though individuals can use December 25th as a day to remember and teach about the importance of Jesus to their families.

    Hopefully, that distinction makes sense.

  5. I guess my question then speaks to the point of where we, as individuals, get the right to create on our own apart from biblical authority a yearly religious observance for anything?

    The only day Christians must observe religiously is the day we read of in Acts 20:7), which is the first day of every week On this same day, every week, we are to give of our means (1 Corinthians 16:2) Other activities like singing (Ephesians 5:19), teaching, and praying are done at such worship assemblies on the first day of every week And I know we are all in agreement there. Thus, at least in my mind, the regulative principal is seen, God has shown by approved apostolic example that the first day of the week is set aside for our observance. Yet, nothing is said of any yearly observance.

    The obvious truth is that there is no Scripture that teaches the religious observance of any special holidays but rather, “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Singing Christmas carols, displaying a nativity scene, taking part in public or private displays of traditional religious Christmas and Easter pageants and plays, etc. are outside what is allowed by biblical authority and should be shunned by Christians.

    As you stated, We can use these holidays as times to be good examples of what is proper religiously, by leaving out the religious aspects. Leaving out the religious content of the Christmas holiday is an obvious difference with those who incorrectly revere them.
    That will be the gist of my sermon on Sunday..why don’t we have nativity scenes, and Christmas pageants?

  6. Wesley

    December 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I agree Kurt that the church (as a collective local body) should not do those things. However, I still think individual Christians can do those things as long as they do not bind them on others, nor do they use them as an excuse to downplay the only religious special day we have, which is the First Day of the Week.

  7. WE as members of the one true Church can celebrate Christmas as a holiday without sinning as long as we don’t center it around the idea it’s the birthday of Jesus.I always viewed it as a universal party for kids.

  8. I’ve seen a lot of opinion, a reference to Romans 14 which is a passage about opinions, but precious little establishing authority for celebrating a religious holiday, whether as an individual or not. So now I ask for someone to do exactly that: establish the authority. Show me that God approves of the practice.

    Now, I will agree that there is authority to recognize Jesus’ birth on every day of the year. There is authority to sing songs about Jesus every day of the year. However, most of what happens is the continuation of practices rooted in ignorance and not truth. I see a lot more people defending people’s ignorance than I see addressing people’s ignorance. Now, if you emphasize to people that there is nothing wrong with it, then, my friends, that is exactly what people will hear, and they will continue in their ignorance. If, on the other hand, you point out why it is not based on truth, they might at least listen to you. Our emphasis is what determines what people hear. When we emphasize every possible exception and every possible excuse imaginable, we give people reasons NOT to listen and NOT to change. Make no mistake about it.

    These are only symptoms of people clinging to ideas rooted in ignorance and religious error. The more of it you condone, the more of it you can expect. I’ve been addressing it for years while many others shake their heads as if all this is a total mystery, when they themselves contributed to the problem.

    Ok. Rant over.

  9. Wesley

    December 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I think Romans 14 is used because in Romans 14 we are given situations were God has not said we have to do it or we do not have to do it. He has left it up to us. Either choice in those situations is fine as long as we do not bind our choice on others or look down upon others for making that choice.

    In fact Romans 14 even uses special days as an example of this type of choice, which you can either follow or not follow. Now most likely we can conclude those special days refer to Jewish holidays, but my point is there is nothing inherently wrong with a special day as long as you do not elevate it to the point that everyone has to do it.

    I also do not think it is wrong to openly discuss why the church as a group doesn’t have a special worship service on Christmas or a pageant or whatever (as this would go beyond what we are allowed to do). In fact I think it is a way of teaching the idea of authority for what we do.

    Thanks for stopping by although I think we are going to disagree on this one, I do think your desire to want to do what pleases God is honorable and I hope you realize I have the same desire.

  10. Kurt: great response you gave…I am doing some extra study time on this topic as I am a bit confused on a couple of things. My almost 50 yrs of hearing the Word preached and taught me one thing and now I see these other comments made ..

  11. Since Christmas is a man made holiday started by the Roman Catholic church and uses their man made doctrine to worship the Lord then if we did that also be it as the entire body or indiviuals wouldn’t Mark 7:7 apply? Vain worship?

  12. Connie,
    That is what I believe. If we celebrate a man-made holiday religiously, whether collectively or individually, publicly or privately, we do so without the authority of Christ.

    I agree that Romans 14 has application with regard to religious holidays, but I contend that those holidays under discussion are those held over from the Old Law. We can see the apostles involving themselves in such observances.

    My question is, by what scriptural basis do we have to create a holiday (either as a church or individually) that has not originated in the scriptures?

    For instance, we have no example of a Gentiles keeping an observance to some false god, and then just changing a few names and saying “We’re doing this for Jesus.” The fact is none exist but rather the opposite is true in Galatians 4.

    So to answer your question, I believe any religious observance, whether public or private, collective or individual, of a man-made holiday violates that and does not respect the authority of Christ.

  13. I didn’t read every comment word for word, so forgive me if I’m bringing up something that has already been discussed.
    I think Christmas is a good time to get people focusing on a correct view of Jesus. They are thinking about Him anyway, so it provides a good opportunity. However, I think the best use of the misguided attention given to Jesus is to turn the tables to talk about Biblical authority. Why don’t we celebrate it as the birthday of Jesus like the rest of the “Christian” world? Because the Bible does not command it. We do nothing outside of the authority of the Bible, and I think we have the opportunity to distinguish for people why the church is different – we go by the Book and only by the Book.

  14. Even if Romans 14 is dealing with religious holidays based upon God approved Jewish practices under the Old Law, we have to concede that they were not part of the new covenant. Thus, if they were not part of the new covenant, they were not currently authorized by God, and using your line of argumentation they would then be sinning.

    Hypothetical – what if I were to tell my family that on May 14th I want us to remember the feeding of the 5000. On that day we eat bread and fish, read the passages regarding this miracle and think about how great it is. I have now created a “holiday” or “special day”. Using Kevin’s logic and others, I have now sinned because I have created a man made religious holiday. I ask, is this not the same as having a themed VBS or Gospel Meeting to remember, learn about or celebrate a biblical event. Also, how does this differ from me deciding to think about and remember Christ’s birth on an arbitrary day like december 25th. Is it wrong just because in error others think that actually is his birthday?

    Look, I don’t have a nativity scene in my front yard, I don’t tell people it is Jesus’ birthday nor do I believe it is. But can we say it is wrong for one to personally remember, reflect and celebrate a biblical event on a certain day.

    Ho Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas

    Cliff

  15. To answer the question,
    The observance of the Jewish holy days were acceptable because the scriptures show that it was the case, They do not with the pagan observance and man-made days.

    Regarding your second question, I would say you have violated the scriptures if you have decided that this is a yearly religious “holiday” where in we need to observe the feast of the 5000. Certainly there is nothing wrong with us eating bread and fish, and studying and undersating it we should do the latter for sure. However, if we decide to make a yearly holiday or “holy day” of it then we have violated that for which there is authority. For Christ never commanded such.

  16. Also,
    Merry Christmas to you as well. =0)

  17. Kurt, I just don’t understand the difference. What if I make it a weekly thing where every Monday I read the book of Matthew, note it on my calendar as Matthew Monday, in my family devotionals we read from Matthew and I try to make my prayers centered around obeying the teachings of the book of Matthew. Is this now a religious holiday in which I am sinning by observing each week?

    Have not many congregations made Wednesday Nights a weekly “holy day” in which we study the bible and remember Christ.

    Our Vacation Bible School a few years back was based upon the theme of the creation. We studied the creation, sang about the creation and the kids did crafts about the creation. This was a congregational celebration of the creation (now we did not call it that, but that is really what it was). I want to be consistent Kurt, and I see inconsistencies if I were to condemn the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25th, but promote celebrating the creation on August 1st at VBS.
    Of course there is more baggage surrounding the Christmas holiday because of it’s history and popularity, but what is the real difference.

    Really taking your position I would have to say that only memorial activity authorized by God is the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, besides that we are never aloud to remember, study or even celebrate a biblical teaching or event. Well I guess most would be in sin whenever a preacher asks the congregation focus on a biblical event in his sermon, or a themed gospel meeting, lectureship or vbs that focuses on a biblical event or teaching.

  18. Love one another. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Whatever is of good report, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, think about these things. They will know we are Christians by our love. Blessed are the peacemakers. Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

  19. Wesley

    December 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Rene-I hope you are not misreading the discussion. I believe all the one discussing each other love one another. The goal for them all is to please God and this is a place where I want people to feel comfortable discussing Bible together.

    To the rest–Thanks for the discussion so far. I look forward to reading more. I’m still not convinced that it would be wrong for a family to use December 25th as a time to teach about the birth of Jesus, but I also think you should not do it if it causes you trouble.

  20. No, that is not my point. Simply doing something, regardless of the time frame is not the issue. What I am saying is we have not authority to create “holy day” ourselves.

    There are a number of things that I do that are very similar to what you described. In fact, I attend the the Guardian of Truth Lectures every year. I know it’s the same week every year, and we will dedicate our time to Bible study. But we have not declared it a “holy week” wherein we have certain things that we must observe each year in order to honor the Lord.

    I really don’t think that we are actually in disagreement. I’m not talking about a mere remembrance, but a collection of man-made rituals that we observe every year, week, day, etc… that we claim brings glory to God when he never commanded such.

    Let’s go back to your example regarding the eating of bread and fish. While there is nothing wrong with eating those things, if we set them up as “each year on March 15 we eat these as a sacred memorial to bring honor to the event, then we have gone outside of God’s authority and created an observance that he has not commanded, and thus we have sinned.

    My issue is not with Reading Luke 2, or considering the issues surrounded his birth, we should do that naturally when we study the Bible. But if we publicly or privately put together a series of rituals (lighting candles, or whatever) and make them as some sort of religious observance, then we have sinned and gone out of the authority of Christ.

    Anyhow, Rene, I understand that it is quite difficult to convey demeanor over the written page. I am not seeking at all to be argumentative or combative. Neither do I think anyone else is.
    I’m testing a thought that I had, to see if others can provide insight into what I’ve argued, to “test it.” (cf. 1 John 4:1).
    Solomon said “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
    These discussions, provided they remain focused upon the scriptures help each of us to have a clearer understanding of what the scriptures teach.

  21. Just a quick thought. In John 8 Jesus proclaims that he is the light of the world. In John 9 gives sight to a man born blind and brings him from physical darkness into light. In John 10 the text says that Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of Dedication, which is also known as the Feast of Lights. This is a feast that originated in the intertetestamental time. There is no authority for it. The text does not explicitly say Jesus was there for the feast, but he wasn’t exactly out there preaching against observing it, was he?

  22. Sorry about the spelling error. That should be “inter-testamental time.”

  23. You raise a good point.

    However, I will say that to some extent the Feasts of Dedication was a commemoration of a national event wherein the Macabees stormed the temple and recovered it. This can be read about in the Apocrypha.

    My understanding (and it could be wrong I readily admit), was that it was not “religious” per say. Even to this day, the Celebration of Hanukkah does not requires staying home from work, or fasting or any such thing.

    Of Course I got that from Michael Medved a conservative practicing Jew.

    Yet your point is still well taken, and one that bears more consideration on my part.

  24. It’s been a while since I studied these Jewish feasts. But from what I remember this wasn’t just a celebration of Jewish nationalism. Antiochus had desecrated the temple and was offering pigs to Zues on the alter of burnt offering. This feast celebrates the rededication of the temple. To the best of my memory it seems that there was very little distinction between civil and religious life for first century Jews. I’ll admit that I’m speculating based on my impressions of things I haven’t studied in a while. It might be interesting to see what Josephus had to say about the origin of the feast and what was involved.

  25. If we read the whole context of Rom. 14, these is about the danger of criticism, but in verse 20 and 21 we need to be careful of what we are doing, maybe it might cause another believers or Christians to stumble. In verse 23, If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

  26. Christmas is the one time of year where the Gospel is being proclaimed through song on almost every radio station and almost every public place that you go that has a stereo system. That in itself is awesome! If we celebrate Christmas as a gift giving holiday then we have dishonored God. If we celebrate Christmas because we are grateful for God sacrificing Himself to cover our sin, we are honoring God. Can we enforce or expect non-Christians to celebrate properly? No. Most Christians that study their faith know that we can’t exactly pinpoint the day the Christ came into the world. Can we force other Christians to celebrate? No. But I see no problem with a church celebrating or endorsing Christmas to its members. Is anyone that is a Christian actually offended by a corporate setting proclaiming the awesomeness of God through the birth of Jesus? The act of God becoming man is the reason that we are indeed Christians.

  27. Wesley

    December 20, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Matthew thanks for sharing. I agree that the church needs to use this time as a chance to help people better understand the truth about Jesus since they are thinking about Him anyway during this time.

    There is though a difference between teaching on the incarnation during this time period and upon churches sanctioning Christmas as a religious holiday. When the church at the congregational level not at the individual level does so then they are binding upon the conscience of people something God has not bound. And although we might think no one will be offended, there are many who are.

  28. Christmas is not a manmade holiday invented by the Catholic Church. THAT is a myth propagated out of anti-Catholic sentiment.

    December 25, 2BC is almost certainly not the date on which Christ was born. Rather, the evidence suggests that he was born on June 17, 2BC. However, December 25, 2BC, is almost certainly the date on which Christ was first worshiped as King. That’s the day on which the “star” which the wise men were following appeared to stop and stand stationary over Bethlehem, as the wise men approached Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

    That was the day of the first Christ Mass . . . the first Christmas.

    Here is the sermon I preached on this about 2 years ago (Right Click, and select Save Target As).

    http://www.steamboatchurch.org/sermons/LifeofChrist07comecelebratechristmas.mp3

    Enjoy!

    Grace and Peace,

    Joseph Peter Becker, PhD
    Minister
    Steamboat Church of Christ
    Steamboat Springs, CO

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