|Volume 19 Number 12 December 2017||
Edgar C. Beard
Christmas has long been a spiritual enigma, a veritable thorn in the side of those who respect Bible authority. Certainly, there is no biblical authority for celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. Where the Bible is silent, we, too, must be silent if we are to be true to ourselves and to our God (1 Peter 4:11; Matthew 15:9).
There is a growing tendency in the religious world today to bind upon Christians the traditions of men. When one refuses to accept those traditions, he is branded as peculiar, narrow-minded and legalistic. A case in point is the religious celebration of Christmas. Repeatedly we are barraged by the news media and religionists to “put Christ back in Christmas.” Frankly, Christ was never in Christmas!
Some scholars admit that they do not know the exact date of Christ’s birth. The Catholic Encyclopedia, (Vol. 3, pg. 726) states, “concerning the date of Christ’s birth, the Gospels give no help.” The Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 5, pg. 642) records, “The exact day and year of Christ’s birth have never been satisfactorily settled.” The Encyclopedia Americana (Vol. 6, pg. 623) concurs, saying, “…no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.” The Everyman’s Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, pg. 641) agrees and notes, “It is, however, certain that the time now fixed (Dec. 25) could not by any possibility have been the period of Christ’s birth, as December is the rainy season in Judea.” The following statement is taken from Vol. 2, pg. 276 of McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological & Ecclesiastical Literature: “The observance of Christmas is not of divine order, nor is it of New Testament order. The date of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the Bible or any other source.”
The early Christians did not know when Christ was born, for there is no record of a special date of it being observed. In the second century, a controversy arose over the reality of the human Christ. Some Christians began celebrating a feast day on January 6 as the baptismal date of Christ to prove that Christ was only a phantom nature and that He was a divine spirit only. To counteract this false practice, other Christians began to celebrate on January 6 and later on December 25 the coming into the world of the divine spirit as a physical entry—thus Christ’s birthday.
Exactly when this practice began is not known; however, “…in the year 354, by order of Bishop Liberious of Rome, December 25 was adopted” (World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. 3, page 1425). Other historians have assigned such dates as March 25, April 19 or 20, and May 20—six dates out of 12 months in which some people, at some time, somewhere have celebrated Christmas. In all probability, December 25 is not the birthdate of Christ because shepherds were tending their flocks in the field, and this would have been close to the growing season rather than winter.
The term or name Christmas is of Catholic origin. “The name is derived from the medieval Christes Masse, the Mass of Christ” (Encyclopedia Americana). Catholics had a special “mass” (their corruption of the Lord’s Supper) for Christ, and so they called it “Christ-Mass.” In time it was shortened to Christmas. The religious observance of Christmas is a mixture of Catholicism/Romanism, paganism and heathenism. I do not believe that the name Christmas, even though of Catholic origin, perpetuates the errors of this ecclesiasticism any more than when I use the terms Sunday, Monday, Wednesday or Saturday I am perpetuating a belief in the false gods after which they were named. These words no longer convey their exclusive earlier meanings, and thus, Christmas signifies to many of us no more than a holiday.
The use of a tree is also shrouded in oblivion. Heathens used it first. Gradually it became associated with the festivities of the “Christmas season.” About the same could be said of Santa Claus or St. Nick. Present-day gift-giving grew out of the custom of feeding the poor and contributing to the needy.
The emphasis of the New Testament is upon the death of Christ and the benefits we may obtain therefrom, not upon His birth. God has ordained that His people never lose sight of the appropriate celebration for the church every first day of the week—Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We remember His sacrifice, His cross, His death, His burial and His triumphal resurrection to assure our salvation (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29). The Gospel—the Good News—is joy! The world must be told that Christ is not a figment of one’s imagination, a ghost or a historical misnomer. He lived! Christ lives today!
I think it important that we notice a few facts about the birth of Christ. Christ was born of a virgin in the fulfillment of Prophecy (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). Christ was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1). Our Saviour was placed in a manger (Luke 2:7). Christ was named by God: Emmanuel, Jesus, Saviour, Christ the Lord (Matthew 1:21-23; Luke 2:11). Shepherds were in the field at night. Angels sang to them, and they came and saw Jesus (Luke 2:8-18). Wise men came from the East (bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh) to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-11). It is noteworthy that the wise men did not see Christ in the manger, but in a house (Matthew 2:11).
God did not leave us to guess what we are to do in worship. The Bible clearly indicates how and what Christians are to worship. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Christians are to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), pray (James 5:13-16; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18), give (Luke 6:38; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:6-9), observe the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29) and preach or teach (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:14-10, 42, 46). Nowhere does the Bible remotely suggest the religious celebration of the birth of Christ, and had God intended such, He would have made known the date and what to do in worship on that day (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).
I personally appreciate that there is a day observed by Americans as “Independence Day” and another as “Thanksgiving.” There is something wholesome and beneficial about these customs. There is nothing unscriptural about having turkey on Thanksgiving. The fact that it is NON-scriptural does not make it UN-scriptural. There is a distinct difference in being non-scriptural and in being unscriptural. Church buildings (meetinghouses), baptisteries, songbooks, etc. are non-scriptural, but not unscriptural.
Much of the custom of “Christmas” is non-scriptural. Anything connected with it that even borders on unscripturalness should be eliminated! Whatever is non-scriptural but not unscriptural falls in the class of Romans 14:13-23 and 1 Corinthians 8. Giving gifts, decorating a tree, putting on a red suit and cotton whiskers, giving parties, using bright lights and leaves of holly, non-religious Christmas cards and songs, and visiting relatives are a welcome release from the tensions of daily stress and improve human relations. The custom in itself serves a good purpose. We respect the opinions of others who differ on the subject, but will not be bound by them.
What should be a Christian’s attitude toward Christmas? We should attach no religious significance to this holiday season! We must teach our children that all religious traditions of Christmas are false! Using Christmas as a national holiday to exchange gifts and visit with family and friends is not wrong. It is an opportunity to strengthen family ties, teach unselfishness and promote cheer and goodwill as can be done on other occasions such as birthdays, etc. Finally, it is proof of the divinity of Christ to find Him so popular over 2,000 years after His birth that the civilized world wants to celebrate His birth, whether it knows the date or not. Thank God for our Lord and His coming into the world by virgin birth. We shall continue teaching His Truth, regardless of “Christmas.” Yet, December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus; it never has been, and it never will be!
[Editor’s Note: Observing a national holiday without attaching to it religious significance is possible in a society where, for instance, the secularization of Christmas and the religious observance of Christmas exists independently though parallel to each other. Such is the case in the USA. However, in societies where this distinction is not commonly recognized by a nation’s citizenry (such as in Asian and Mideastern countries), it is inadvisable for Christians to openly observe even a secularized Christmas (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Personal judgment and discretion regarding consciences and perceptions of others needs to be considered. Ultimately, we all want what is productive for the Lord’s church and the precious souls for whom Jesus came and died to save. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]
Seeing Him Who Is Invisible
The Bible explicitly says of Moses, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). It is earlier said of Noah, “By faith… being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7). The faith by which both these men (and others) operated is defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:1). In all three of these verses, the unseen has a significant emphasis. Enduring as a Christian is sometimes difficult, especially when all we consider is what we can see or at least what we think we see. Like Moses, we may have to face what seems an insurmountable hostile army and deliberately go against the orders of its furious commander. Like Noah, we may have to steadily do what the Lord says despite our limited understanding of God’s way and the possible ridicule of the masses. Like both of these men, though, any obstacle we face can be overcome by obedient faith!
The key to overcoming is to focus on “Him who is invisible.” Paul reminded us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). May we take comfort in knowing that God “will never leave you nor forsake you” and that “the Lord is my helper; I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:5-6). May we have courage to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-18). May we with confidence “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Jesus acknowledged to His disciples, “And you will be hated by all… But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Let us trust the invisible God to see us through!