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Take Christ Out of Christmas

Good Evening. A Puritan’s Mind brings you the old time radio program The Wild Boar News Podcast from Sunny South Florida. Welcome, I’m Dr. Matthew McMahon.

There are many articles and papers written to show that Christmas, and other holidays like Easter, are thoroughly unbiblical, and are intended to sway the Christian community away from practicing such “man-made holy-days.” No doubt the authors of such papers have the best interest of the Christian Church in mind, and are not simply jumping upon the bandwagon of “reformed thought” in order to add another notch to their theological belt. However, when these articles begin to substantiate the claim that Christians should have nothing to do with the holiday of Christmas, the weightiest arguments they bring forth are two fold: 1) The appeal to the pagan roots of idolatry, and 2) the history and witness of the Christian Church.

First, writers appeal to the pagan roots of the holiday as a means to deter Christians from practicing such abominable vestiges even though the 21st century Christmas is not blatantly practicing the same rites as the Babylonians or druids of old once did. For instance, the Christmas tree is set up in some corner of the living room, decorated and lighted, and gifts abound and grow under the tree as December 25th draws near. The appeal is then made to Jeremiah 10:3-4 where idolatry is condemned. It says, “For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.” Here we see idolatry based in the practice of cutting down, setting up, and decorating a tree. Or they quote Jeremiah 2:20, “For of old I have broken your yoke and burst your bonds; And you said, "I will not transgress,' When on every high hill and under every green tree You lay down, playing the harlot.” Here the evergreen tree was used to promote false religion and idolatry. God was angered at the Israelites for their religious syncretism and their participation in these practices. Idolatry is certainly condemned by God and no Christian should ever be disobeying and transgressing the first table of the Law of God (commandments 1-4) by profaning the worship of God with idols.

The second appeal is made to the history of the church and its practices. Surely this is an important note to make, and that petition to such testimony is warranted. We could cite the reformers such as Luther and Calvin, the pastors of Geneva city-state, the Waldensen Confession, the Puritan Divines such as Edmund Calamy, Samuel Rutherford, James Durham, Increase Mather, Thomas Vincent, John Owen, Andrew Clarkson, Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, James Fisher, John Willison, John Brown, Robert Shaw (and many more), The Westminster Confession, the Directory of Publick worship, The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and their confession, and various other creeds and confessions. These diligent writers will make it known that the church did not practice this holiday until sometime after the 4th century, and show varied proofs that most opposed the practice altogether, condemning it out rightly. Here we see the siege to discourage the practice and participation of Christmas is usually based on these 2 points.

Before I give my own view, I would like to address the two avenues above which are the usual lines of reasoning in dissuading Christians from partaking in the Christmas holiday.

The first argument is certainly important. Christians are certainly never to participate in idolatrous worship. However, the case against Christmas on this point is not that Christians are out rightly bowing down to a tree and worshipping it, or profaning Christ by setting the Yule log on the fire, or desecrating the glory of God by exchanging gifts with one another. I have never met a Christian who blatantly setup a green tree in their home to practice idolatry. The argument presented in the first point above is not directed by those writers against people who setup idols in their home and bow down to them after supper for family devotions. Rather, the argument stems from the pagan practices which lie behind what Christians do with those Christmas trees, Yule logs, wreaths, etc. in days of old. Scripture everywhere condemns idolatry, but the argument that because something has pagan roots is no argument against Christmas. Why is this? Some may believe I am going to appeal to Romans 14 and the Christian’s liberty with holy days as the argument against this. But that passage does not address the situation rightly, and, as a matter of fact condemns such days. Rather, I appeal to 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. It asserts the following:

Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge.
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2And if anyone thinks that he knows
anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3But if anyone loves God,
this one is known by Him. 4Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to
idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other
God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on
earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6yet for us there is one God, the
Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things, and through whom we live. 7However, there is not in
everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat
it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
8But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better,
nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 9But beware lest somehow this liberty of
yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10For if anyone sees you
who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him
who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11And because of
your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 12But when
you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin
against Christ. 13Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never
again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

Did Paul have any problem eating meat sacrificed to idols? Not at all. His conscience was clear knowing that food “does not commend us to God”; whether we eat it or not. Trees do not commend us to God, nor do Yule logs, wreaths, or turkey and ham made for the Christmas occasion. These things do not make us better or worse towards God in and of themselves. Paul ate meat that was sacrificed to idols. He abstained from the eating of meat if it would cause those who would bock at the practice to stumble in their faith. Either way, eating or not eating, Paul did not defile his conscience by it. Shall we ask the question, “What went on in ceremonial rites which allowed these meat markets to offer meat sacrificed in this way?” We could go into the abominations of the pagans, their sacrifices, their temple prostitution, their wicked practices with other man-made Gods, in reality worshipping the devil, and the like. We could simply use our imaginations about this and in some cases our imaginations would not be graphic enough to consider what heathen idolatries occurred against the Living God. But Paul ate the meat. Even though the meat had pagan origins, he still ate it. Even though the cow or bull was offered as a sacrifice for devils, slain and drained of its blood, cut up and used in the ceremony, Paul still had no problem eating it. Paul’s determent to eat meat sacrificed to idols was the consideration of a weaker brother. If there was a weaker brother who could not handle, in his own conscience, the thought of eating or practicing such a thing, because Paul was the stronger and more mature Christian, free in Christ to eat what God had made, he still, nevertheless, would have abandoned the practice. He would not have abandoned eating meat sacrificed to idols because of the meat’s pagan origins, but because of his love to the brother in question.

Christmass (yes I spelled it correctly) cannot be condemned because it has pagan origins. Christmas, as pagan as it might be, and as many pagan ideologies it may possess, cannot be condemned because 1000 years ago or 500 years ago or 5 days ago someone bowed down to the tree and committed idolatry with it. (People hang picture frames through their home to display photos, made from wood – should that deter them since they knew it was once a tree, and someone 500 years ago worshipped trees?) The Christian is not bound by such instances if they are not bowing down to it, and their consciences are cleared before Christ because they have studied and thought through the implications and biblical/historical information on the subject, if that was all there was to it.

Secondly, the appeal to men may be helpful, but the opinions of men, no matter how renown they may be, should never be the basis of setting the Christian's conscience. The Christian conscience should be captive by the Word of God alone. However, Christians should always weigh and consider the prominent and distinct men of the church (the gifts of Christ to His chosen people) in difficult areas of theology and doctrine. It is certainly helpful and edifying to the soul to see what the councils, creeds, puritans and magisterial reformers thought. In the case at hand, most of church history is opposed to the involvement of the Christian in the celebration of Christmas. Even the city-state of Geneva in 1546 stated they would reprimand anyone who observed the day, believing it was a retreat to Romanism – the heretical monster they were breaking away from. (“Those who observe the Romish festivals or fasts shall only be reprimanded, unless they remain obstinately rebellious.” - Register of the Company of Pastors (Geneva, 1546)). However, the break from the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation is wholly another point to speak about in comparison to the Christmas celebration many desire to invoke today without any reference to the Catholic Church. In any case, the appeal to men cannot bind the conscience of the Christian, as helpful they may be in their exegetical prowess.

At this point you may wondering what my position is. It was needful to state the former arguments and positions before going onto what I believe is the crux of the argument against Christmas and other like “holy-days.” Knowing that one cannot utilize pagan origins, nor the opinions of men (perse), as arguments against the practice of Christmas, what biblical grounds would I have against it?

If Christ was taken out of the picture altogether, XMAS would be acceptable to the Christian. Like Father’s day or Mother’s Day, holidays to exchange gifts and have parties together with family and friends is quite acceptable. The contention that arises is when one places Christ within the Christmass scheme to use it as a day to commemorate and remember His birth, that it becomes a direct violation of the Regulative Principle of worship. Upon the violation of this principle of worship lies the ground by which every Christian should see Christmass as abominable. It is true that extreme debt, excess financial strain, Christmas party debauchery, a-whoring after material wealth, unbridled children demanding certain gifts and throwing tempter tantrums when they are refused them, and the like, also are added into the bag of those things which Christians should oppose during the “jolly season.” However, it is upon the principle of God’s command in worship that Christmas becomes detestable.

I'm all for Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, winter wonderlands, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, exchanging presents, eating candy canes, enjoying really good egg-nog, stuffing stocking, watching "Elf" with James Caan and Will Ferrel, or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with that classic sung by Burl Ives, as well as all the other holiday festivities. Why? Well, they have nothing, in the way I am explaining here, to do with Jesus Christ and the birth story, or the incarnation. They do not violate, in any way, the Regulative Principle.

It is necessary to explain, briefly, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and then also argue that high thoughts of Christ, or any kind of meditation on Christ, is worship – no matter how short or long that time is. First, the Regulative Principle teaches that worship is construed only by the direct commands of God in His Word. To allow into worship what is not expressly commanded in the Bible, whether that is for a day or for the regular Sunday service, is false worship. It is a worship fabricated by men, and this violates the principles of worship that God has commanded. For instance, if men say that drama or mime is acceptable in worship because God has not expressly commanded that it not be done, they are violating the Regulative Principle. God expresses states what He does command and does not need to expressly forbid what He does not. (That would take volumes.)

Scriptural examples abound for this principle. Genesis 4:3-5 says this, “And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” God did not accept what Cain brought, though Cain may have brought it sincerely. Sacrifices were to be of blood, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Cain’s heart was wrong, and his sacrifice was not what God had commanded of him.

Another example is in Leviticus 10:1-3 which is a cornerstone for the Regulative Principle. It says,

“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in
it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had
not commanded them. 2So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”” So Aaron held his peace.”

Here Nadab and Abihu offered something (strange fire) on the altar, but God had not expressly forbid them from doing so. God had only told them what they were supposed to do, not what they should not do as well. You may search all through the passage and never find one instance of God forbidding them not to offer this “strange fire.” Here we see God’s mind on the principle. God killed them for disobeying Him though God had not expressly forbidden the practice. This should cause all to stop and think about how we must be careful to know the mind of God on matters of importance such as worship.

Another example is in 2 Samuel 6:3-7,

“So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of
Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove
the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the
hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. Then David and
all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments
of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and
on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his
hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the
anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his
error; and he died there by the ark of God.”

Uzzah did not want to see the ark of God fall into the mud. It was toppling on the ox cart that they were using to transport it. God had expressly stated that they were to transport the ark with poles, not on an oxcart. Numbers 4:6 and 15 says,

“Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a
cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles…And when Aaron and his
sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the
sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to
carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.”

Uzzah did not use the poles expressly commanded by God; he used an ox cart. 1 Chronicles 15:13-15 states,

“For because you did not do it the first time, the LORD our God broke out
against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order." So the
priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD
God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their
shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the

Not only did Uzzah not use what was expressly commanded (the poles), rather, he used what he wanted (the ox cart). His transgression did not stop there.

Uzzah also touched the ark because he did not want the mud to defile the sacred object. But the Lord killed him because the mud was cleaner than Uzzah.

The principle is set in such passages above, and ratified in other passages such as Deuteronomy 4:1-2 which says, “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Also, Deuteronomy 12:30-32 says, “…take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” In these verses God is specific to inform the Israelites that they should not add or take away from the law, or sore judgments will come upon them. Two of the more poignant verses are from the lips of Christ and Paul. Jesus said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt. 15:8-9)” When men introduce their own ideas into worship, they have violated the Regulative Principle that Christ has given, even if Christ has not expressly forbidden it. Paul calls this “will-worship” in Colossians 2:23 which states, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, [translated literally “will-worship”] false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Here we see that self-imposed religion, or the worship of one’s own will, violates the principles God has expressly set, though the Bible may not expressly forbid such practices. Jeroboam did this very thing in 1 Kings 12:32-33, “Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.” God did not command this. Jeroboam took this upon himself to institute. This pertained to worship and violated the Regulative Principle.

Some may appeal here to the feast of Purim in the book of Esther saying that they imposed a time of worship. This is not the case at all. The feast of Purim was not worship. Esther 9:18, 26, and 28 state, “The Feast of Purim: But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness…So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them…that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants.” This was not worship. It was a day of feasting. It was a day of gladness, but not an institution of worship like Nadab and Abihu and their strange fire, or Jeroboam and his sacrifices. Some appeal to The Westminster Confession in their statement concerning lawful days of “thanksgiving” in order to appeal to a day of thanksgiving for Christmas. However, The Westminster Confession says the following, “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner. (WCF Chapter 21, Section 5; They use Esther 9:20-22 as a proof text for “and thanksgivings upon special occasions”, not for worship.) The Westminster Confession makes the distinction between worship which appears in the first part of the paragraph, and then separates other days of spiritual edification by the word “besides.” They are not the same, and appeal to them is unwarranted.

We see then that God has set the Principles by which sinful men may approach him, and any addition or subtraction to that institutes a self-willed worship which is abhorrent to God.

Secondly, we must define whether or not Christmass actually falls under the category of worship. Is setting aside a certain day, once a year to honor Christ’s birth, a violation of the Regulative Principle and worship? Apart from asking this question, the Christian should be the first to realize that giving gifts, Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, Yule Logs and the like, have absolutely nothing to do with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The closest in any of these is the giving of gifts, but we do not give gifts to Christ as the Magi did (which was for a specific purpose) but rather, we give them to one another. How is this honoring to Christ? I have yet found anyone who can justify any of these things in a lawful connection to Christ and His Word. It just does not exist. Instead, they are following, blindly, the Roman Catholic institution of the Christ-mass. Check your history....

In attaching homage to Jesus Christ and the honoring of His incarnation to Christmas, men are setting apart a solemn day of worship by their own accord. Churches go to great lengths to celebrate “the advent of our Lord”. They light candles, and confer with church tradition to make this a season where they especially remember His birth in the month of December. In doing this they are instituting a day, or series of days of worship (if there are special events ensuing) which are not instituted in Scripture and are additions to God’s prescribed rule of authority. The only day set by God in the Scriptures for solemn worship and remembrance of Christ in any way, is the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath. To create another day would violate the Regulative Principle. Men should never impose their ideas of worship on God and believe God will accept them.

Whenever Christians have thoughts of Christ or of God, they are beginning to engage in worship. Jeremiah Burroughs in his book Gospel Worship defines worship simply as “thoughts about God.” The interaction of the mind of man to the mind of God, to think His thoughts after Him, is worship. The opposite of having thoughts of God and worshipping Him, is to suppress and remove God from the thoughts; Psalm 10:4 states, “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.” The Christian is to have his thoughts fixed upon God. We are to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him every minute of every day – but there are also times of public and private worship which take place at God’s command. Colossians 3:2 states, “Set your mind on the things above…” Isaiah 26:3 says that the righteous’ “mind is stayed on You.” Meditating and thoughtfulness about God is worship. Formal worship, gathering together as a body of believers in a church setting to hear preaching and teaching, etc., is commanded of God to His people. Private worship is still worship, though it be done in the home. In either case, creating a day for formal worship, such as Christmas, is a violation of the principles of worship. If one were to take one day a month to meditate on the incarnation in their private devotions, there would be no contention. It is the formalizing of a specific day to honor Christ which is the problem. Public or private worship is still to be regulated by God’s Word and not the imaginations of men’s minds.

One final thought is important to add: If Christmas were wholly biblical, and centered around the worship of Christ, and the glorification and honor of God, why would the world enjoy it? The world loves Christmas. They revel in it. If it were something truly biblical, or something truly edifying to the soul, then they would hate it and would not be able to stand it. Isaiah 53:1-3 states,

“Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty
that we should desire Him. 3He is despised and rejected by men.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which the very purpose of the incarnation, is abhorrent to the world – they hate it. They reject the Gospel and despise Jesus. They do not desire nor love Him. But they love the holiday season. Some Christians desire to “reclaim” Christmas and put the “Christ” back in “Christ-mas.” But what the participating Christian has done is taken the world and adapted himself to it. He is to be salt and light, being transformed from the world, not giving into it. Not only does he break the principle of worship set in the Word of God by God Himself, but he also associates himself with the world; he adapts himself to their practices with a “Christian twist.” Moreover, we know that “friendship with the world is enmity toward God.”

It is true, that on account of the Bible’s direct witness to the Regulative Principle, most of the good theologians and pastors of the church throughout history have rejected such practices as participating in Christmas, or Easter, or the like, until we have happened upon our more theologically lazy century. Defining worship and the Regulative principle is of utmost importance, and no Christian should be theologically lazy about what God requires of them. They should study the subject diligently that they would be able to give an answer for the hope that lies in them.

1 John 2:15-17,

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of
the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but
is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who
does the will of God abides forever.”

This is Dr. Matthew McMahon signing off.

Keep checking back at A Puritan’s Mind – the series on Election and Reprobation has just been completed. Go to www.apuritansmind.com and click on “What’s New?” There you will find information on this 9 part lecture series. For more on Reformed and Puritan Theology that honors the Lord Jesus Christ, visit www.apuritansmind.com.