Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas: Christians Were Against It Before They Were For It Before They Were Against It

Let me give you a summary of Christmas, writing completely off the top of my head, which is bald. One, we can be pretty sure that Jesus wasn't born December 25th.  Two, there is no history of Christmas celebration until medieval times.  Three, Christmas originated with Roman Catholicism.  The pope essentially invented it to compete with, four, the revelry of pagan festivals revolving around Winter solstice.  He gave an alternative to offset what he considered the damage it did, would do, and had done.  Five, at the beginning actual Christians were against Christmas.  After the Reformation, when Protestants could take charge, they did away with it.  Six, the Plymouth colony did not observe Christmas.  Seven, early Congress continued to meet on Christmas, which was a bit of a protest against England, where Anglicanism was good with it.  Eight, Christmas grew in the United States, but it was influenced by secular notions like Santa Claus, sort of coming full circle to the revelry again.  Nine, Christmas became an American tradition.  Ten, Christmas is the only traditional observance of the birth of or the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Eleven, evangelical churches in the United States see Christmas as a time to exalt the coming of Jesus to the earth, the most important event in world history.

As I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, I never heard that Christmas was pagan or Roman Catholic.  I never paralleled any of the Christmas traditions with that.  I never heard of anything against Christmas until I was already a pastor (there was no internet at the time).  The first I heard it was bad was when a couple who had moved from Pennsylvania and started attending our church told my wife and I they were against Christmas trees.  We didn't have a Christmas tree our second Christmas in California because we thought it would be a stumbling block to this couple.

My family started going to church faithfully when I was three or four, and I never heard Christmas was bad.  We attended an independent Baptist church.  I never heard in school, in church, or from anyone that Christmas was bad.  My family moved to Watertown, Wisconsin and my dad went to Bible college and I started into a Christian school for the first time when I was 12 years of age.  For the next thirteen years in church, Christian school, Christian academy, Christian college, and Christian graduate school, no one told me Christmas was bad.  Nothing I read said it was wrong.  I didn't hear anything about it until this couple from Pennsylvania started attending our church.  As I think about how bad Christmas was, this was a very well kept secret that it was bad.

Since all of the above, I had never had anyone oppose Christmas to and with me in our church.  I had been asked about it a few times, because of something someone heard, but no one said we shouldn't celebrate it.  As Christmas came around, my biggest concern was not Christmas itself, but the secularization and commercialization of it.  It seemed like Christ was being taken out of Christmas. When I was young I heard that X-mas was a conspiracy, not knowing that the X was the first letter of "Christ" in the Greek alphabet, so it meant "Christ." It had never occurred to me that Christ wasn't in this season to begin with and that His being put into this season was a development.  I probably wrote three or four school Christmas programs exploring the theme of Christ being taken out of Christmas.

My only challenge recently against observing Christmas has come from a few outside of our church not from our area.  I have had to defend Christmas almost entirely in emails from people asking why we have anything to do with it.  I don't like being an offense to these people, but I'm not convinced that we can't take this traditional time of celebrating the incarnation of Christ and use it to extol the birth of Christ.  I have a long built up reservoir of Christmas good will with a lot of people to stamp out suddenly, and I don't have the conviction to do it.  I'm not ready to move for the armchair quarterbacks who want me to make life easier for them.

On the other hand, in our church is an elderly lady who is raising her grand daughter, who just started in the public school.  She went to the Christmas program there of her grand daughter and there wasn't one mention of Jesus or Christ in the entire program.  It was all about Santa and gifts and candy canes and Rudolph and Frosty and the like.  The state has removed Jesus as if it must to obey the Constitution.  It celebrates Christmas now.  The Congress goes home and doesn't keep working, but it can't mention Christ except in the word "Christmas," which most of you know is removed for Happy Holidays, whatever the "Holi" means.

I'm torn here.  I've got to defend Christmas and I've got to fight Christmas.  Both.  It seems like both of these actions, the defending and the fighting, place a lot of emphasis on Christmas.  Both of them are very serious about Christmas.  The secularists are very serious about keeping Jesus out and the pious are very serious about keeping Jesus out.  If I keep Jesus out, I'll please both of them, the former for their love for my love of tolerance and the latter for my anti-paganism and Roman Catholicism.  On the other hand, I'll displease all the people who see both positions as extreme.  Is it really that serious an issue?  My personal take is that secularization or commercialization is easily the biggest problem here.

If I regulate my worship by scripture, can I preach and sing about the birth of Christ?  Yes.  That's what our church does.  We do it a lot in December.

19 comments:

Terry Basham, II said...

https://vimeo.com/149594773

James Bronsveld said...

The secularists are very serious about keeping Jesus out and the pious are very serious about keeping Jesus out. If I keep Jesus out, I'll please both of them, the former for their love for my love of tolerance and the latter for my anti-paganism and Roman Catholicism.

That presents the dilemma precisely. My greatest struggle with this time isn't even so much the commercialization, but the covetousness that is displayed, promoted, and fed, even in our own circles and families. How can we say that we are focused on the birth of the Messiah while we engage (or come dangerously close to flirting with) in what the Scriptures call idolatry?

Jeff Voegtlin said...

I recently read these two articles about this topic. I thought they were interesting.

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Christmas/christmas.html

Maybe someone else will enjoy them.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello everyone.

Someone else sent me an interesting email about it that gave evidence of something around Dec 25. They were interesting articles and there is more evidence for early Christmas tradition than what I thought. I truly have not researched it. The first paragraph is off the top of my head from many years of reading here and there, but without ever really going after trying to find out in the best way possible. It has not and had not interested me, because the Bible doesn't say. However, I would say I'm more encouraged to celebrate a December Christmas from everything that I have seen in the articles linked, etc. I think it would be worth it to look at them.

Farmer Brown said...

As long as we can all agree anyone who celebrates Easter is wicked, I can look the other way on Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I believe a step in the right direction is for Christmas to be removed from the places we assemble. Each year many believers who are convinced by the scriptures not to practice Christmas are forced to participate in it through various observances within our regular services. I have found this to be particularly discouraging when I know this was not the case with those who feared God long ago

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous,

The Bible has very little to say about the places we assemble, don't you think? I think there is too much emphasis on buildings among believers to start with, most seeing it as part of a church growth philosophy. What in particular offends you about greenery, for instance? We decorate our building based upon the season, that is, we have seasonal decor for the sake of beauty -- around Thanksgiving we have Thanksgiving decorations, etc. We decorate our auditorium all the time. Do you want stark black and white like a Puritan? When Jesus came to the festival of lights, for instance, He didn't forbid it. He used it as an illustration. Are you against stained glass windows?

I'm sorry you're discouraged. I don't think of us as doing anything that special, but at most it seems just extra scriptural, like Paul is dealing with in Romans 14, a disputable issue.

Gary Webb said...

Our church & my family celebrate the conception, birth, & incarnation of our Savior as the greatest of all miracles & necessary for the accomplishment of Christ's work of redemption. Our church has never marked December 25 in any particular way, & we do not have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service unless that happens to fall on a Sunday or Wednesday. We do use our young people for a "Christmas Program" on a Sunday in December as a means of worshiping the Lord, explaining the doctrine of the incarnation, training our young people to serve in church through speaking & music, & providing a joyful celebration & fellowship among God's people. Often unsaved relatives will attend those services & hear the Word of God. We decorate our buildings with seasonal colors, which also happen to be easily used to explain the Person & Work of Jesus Christ. This year our pastors preached on the Sunday mornings in December on important Christological passages: John 1:1-18, Matthew 1:18-25, Hebrew 1:1-2:4, Philippians 2:5-18, Luke 1:26-38.
In my home we put up a Christmas tree, usually on the Friday of Thanksgiving. It has been a tradition since my children were small. It is accompanied by eating favorite foods & sometimes inviting other church people or family members over. When the tree is finished, we use the tree as a means to teach the doctrine of Christ = Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9, Rev. 22:14), Light of the World (John 8:12), King of kings (gold & silver ornaments), Lamb of God (red decorations, Ephesians 1:7), etc.
These celebrations make the doctrine of salvation clear to our family, church, & the unsaved. We do it with great joy in the Lord & appreciation for excellent music. It is OBVIOUS that the Bible does not command us to celebrate Jesus' birth or give us the exact date, but it is equally OBVIOUS that God the Father celebrated the birth with great fanfare, possible utilizing every angel in Heaven to announce this event. We are not really concerned whether it offends others, saved or lost.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Bro Webb,

I agree with everything you wrote. I think the Christmas issue is a faux issue that is big distraction to the bigger problem, that is, that the truth Jesus is missing. I just can't get whipped up into a frenzy on it. And I've tried. I don't understand the people who do.

I allowed Thomas Ross's post on Christmas songs. Anybody can critique that. It's worth thinking about, because the people who wrote the songs weren't inspired and they weren't necessarily even saved in every instance.

This should show people that we believe there are disputable issues, that is, non scriptural ones, where we think there will be disagreement. However, causing disunity in a church is not disputable. It shouldn't happen.

Farmer Brown said...

My previous comment on Easter was in jest (mostly), but I am curious as to how you treat Easter. What has been your preaching and teaching been on Easter? Do you have an Easter concert or message?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Farmer,

We sing Resurrection songs and preach resurrection sermons. I don't think this is as controversial because Jesus did rise from the dead at that time. And the KJV says the word "Easter."

Thanks. I got the humor, missed commenting.

Farmer Brown said...

Kent, you said regarding Easter, "I don't think this is as controversial".

This is interesting to me. I have heard a number of people preach strongly against Easter, one even going so far as to say you should not attend a service if you were visiting a church and they were recognizing Easter. The same people recoiled at the idea of shunning Christmas, even though the reasons they gave when they beat the drums against Easter applied to Christmas as well.

Rejecting Easter must not be as widespread as I thought. I do not celebrate either, but do not have a strong Biblical conviction either way. However, if you are strongly against one for (allegedly) Biblical reasons, you have to either be just as strongly against the other or admit it is not Biblical but personal preference.

Stephen Hollowood said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

I'm wondering if anyone has familiarity with, upon making a witnessing approach, being told "I believe this. I'm a Christian just like you even if I don't need to answer everything as deeply as you. We both celebrate Christmas, right?" I would like to know any thoughts on this as i believe there is a defect in my thinking.

Stephen Holoowood

Wylie Stivers said...

Christmas was born out of Mithraism and was also pulled from many other pagan religions and all came together via the pagan Roman Catholic Church. Are we to take part in paganism? What accord has Christ with Belial? What accord has light with darkness? Same goes with Halloween and Easter. Easter has nothing to do with Jesus or His resurrection. Easter is the English name for the pagan goddess Ishtar who was also Diana of the Ephesians and also has many other names in other cultures. If it isn't in the bible, then it was made up by man. if it was made up by man, then it isn't biblical. And by the way, Kent, the greatest event in the history of man was the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, not His birth. That is the crux of the body of Christ, we don't identify in His birth do we? No, on the contrary, we identify with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Wylie,

I'm going to deal with only one point in your comment, that being, the idea that the resurrection is a greater event than the incarnation. If you looked at the prophesies in the OT, there are not many about the resurrection, but many about the incarnation. I wouldn't deny the greatness of the resurrection, but if Jesus never came, He wouldn't rise from the dead. It's a moot point in that sense. You don't have to deny one to believe the other. You believe both. It seems that your point is that you want to diminish the incarnation, and think you're better for it, because you hate Christmas, making you superior to all those who adore the incarnation in December. I don't think that makes you better, but worse.

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thank you for this post. Do you think that somebody can say that he is excited about the Incarnation in December but does not celebrate Christmas because it is pagan and not commanded in the New Testament for the church, but then wish people "Merry Christmas"? Thank you for your thoughts.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Thomas,

That was a very loaded question. The point you're making is, I believe, that someone can't be excited about the incarnation if he says, "Merry Christmas," because Christmas is pagan and not commanded in the Bible. You're saying the two ideas contradict, the latter cancels out the former. I get that you are convinced that Christmas is pagan. I'm not convinced of that, so I look at it as a disputable matter. I don't think you should judge people in a disputable matter. Don't mention Christmas yourself. It won't bother me. You judge it like it is scripture, like scripture forbids it. I don't see it as clear cut as you. No one in my church thinks Christmas means Mithraism, Winter solstice, or a Roman Catholic holiday. Why don't any of them associate it with that? They think of it as a time to celebrate Christ's incarnation.

If I were to modify what I wrote above, it would be the part where I gave my summary off the top of my head, and maybe the title. Maybe Christians did celebrate in December, if you believe the articles linked by Jeff Voegtlin. I can't refute them. They seem pretty good. That does debunk the original Catholic celebration idea. Right now I'd say Christians commemorated it, then didn't, then did, then didn't, then did again. When they didn't, they probably had good cultural reasons. Right now, I don't think there are any. Pagans don't celebrate it now, so you would be joining them.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Sorry for misunderstanding your argument. I thought your post was admitting that Xmas was pagan and arguing that you are not celebrating it, only being excited about the incarnation in December. That was what brought up the question. If your argument is, on the other hand, that the day is Biblically warranted and/or justifiable, then it is easy to see the justification for "Merry Christmas."

Perhaps the paragraphs below could be clarified/rewritten, as I think it is possible that others also thought you were admitting the holy day was not warranted but that you were simply excited about the incarnation, based on statements such as:

One, we can be pretty sure that Jesus wasn't born December 25th. Two, there is no history of Christmas celebration until medieval times. Three, Christmas originated with Roman Catholicism. The pope essentially invented it to compete with, four, the revelry of pagan festivals revolving around Winter solstice. He gave an alternative to offset what he considered the damage it did, would do, and had done. Five, at the beginning actual Christians were against Christmas. . . . If I regulate my worship by scripture, can I preach and sing about the birth of Christ? Yes. That's what our church does. We do it a lot in December.


I think you indicated in your comment that the first paragraph might need to be rewritten. Perhaps some of the other sections of the post that seem to agree with the first paragraph could also be rewritten.

I am not aware of any evidence for Anabaptist celebration of Christmas in the ancient church period, in medieval times, or in Reformation or post-Reformation times. Through all those periods, it appears that they thought adding any festival days to worship not authorized in Scripture was unjustifiable. I did not see any evidence for true churches celebrating the holy day in the articles Bro Voegtlin linked to, or even nacent Roman Catholicism doing so for centuries after Christ was born. Indeed, the first article said that Christ was probably not born in the winter at all and that through the 3rd century what sources we have condemned such celebrations as pagan, with the earliest even proto-Catholic reference to December 25 as Christ's birthday being in the fourth century while earlier evidence did not even have that date on the radar. The second article has no sources, no citations, no bibliography, and no references to any resources that are the basis for its argument. It is not in the same category as the first article. I see no reason to conclude that resources from the Encyclopedia Brittanica to just about every other historical resource (and even the first article Bro Voegtlin linked to) is incorrect.

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your concern for Biblical worship.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Readers,

Take all that I've written at face value and Thomas's comment and then interpretation also at face value. Besides that, no more comment.