15372[Covenanted Reformation] Re: Christmas a pagan festival? Maybe not
- Dec 27, 2006--- In email@example.com, trygvesson@...
> In a message dated 12/27/2006 11:58:24 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
> timmopussycat@... writes:
> "Tim-Paraphrasing Calvin in this context might leave a wrong
> impression since apparently 'he kept Christmas in Geneva to the
> consternation of the Scots'."
> Do you have a source and context for this? I see it brought out
> but few ever really document this or put it into it's historicalcontext.
Tim-Sure. A little googling found:
The Defense of Christmas
David J. Englesma
"Calvin looked askance at the celebration of Christmas in his day
because of the corrupting of that celebration by Roman Catholicism
(see I. VanDellen and M. Monsma, The Church Order Commentary,
Zondervan, 1941, p. 273).  He did not, however, flatly forbid it
as a transgression of the second commandment.  As I noted in my
review of Wulfert de Greef's The Writings of John Calvin: An
Introductory Guide (Baker, 1993), Calvin went along with the Geneva
church's observance of the four great feast days that did not fall on
a Sunday, including Christmas.  When the Council decided to
abolish these observances, Calvin wrote a correspondent that, if he
had been asked for advice, he would not have supported this decision
(see de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, p. 57; my review of this
book appeared in the September 15, 1994 issue of the Standard
This is the kind of wisdom that we defenders of the "regulative
principle" must demonstrate in our application of the principle, lest
we fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism and, thus,
imperil the principle itself.
On the same page a David W.Carson a critic of Englsma admits the
Several conclusions can be made from this survey of Calvin's
attitudes and practices with regard to the festival days:
1. It is true that Calvin did not consider the festival days per se a
violation of the second commandment in the way that he counted the
Mass to be, for example. But to infer from this fact that Calvin
approved of festival days is altogether unwarranted. There were many
things, festival days included, which Calvin considered corruptions
from pure, apostolic worship, yet not of such a serious nature that
they could not be borne with for a time to advance the cause of
2. Calvin did consider festivals to be "fooleries, gave advice not to
approve them, thought them occasions of superstition, held it
superstition to distinguish one day from another, or to esteem one
above another, [and] call[ed] them Judaical though kept to the honour
of God. "
3. Calvin never advocated nor sought the institution of such
festivals, and only complied with such actions under the most
desperate of circumstances, when the gospel itself was threatened.
Furthermore, in dealing with other churches, he always recommended
the abolition of festivals if it all possible, and thought them an
evil to be born with only when necessary for the progress of the
4. Because he did not consider them an absolute violation of the
second commandment, he was ruled by another principle when dealing
with them the edification of the church. Because he could not obtain
their removal without tumult that would have been harmful to the
progress of the gospel in Geneva, he submitted to that of which he
did not approve.
Whether we agree or disagree with Calvin's course of action, or his
views of the nature of the evil of holy days, it is most obvious that
only by a torturous wrenching of his opinions can he be made to serve
as an advocate for the institution and maintenance of holy days in
our modern condition. His principles of worship caused him to
consider them a corruption and a superstition. His own opinion and
advice was against them. Only he was restrained by a view of his
circumstances, that the tumult that would erupt would outweigh the
benefit gained by their abandonment. But we are not in his
circumstances today. We have no civil government from whom to fear
repercussions. We have no church made up of the entire body politic
of an unruly city. We have complete freedom to reform the church
according to its original institution. That was Calvin's ultimate
quest. And THAT is his wisdom for us today.
Tim-Or is it? Given that the evangelical church is as divided as it
is and given that, as will be seen below, Carson has not refuted the
idea that the regulative principle does not apply to extraordinary
festivals, the danger of an unnecessary division among Christians may
still outweigh the alleged danger of a supposedly unauthorized
Not to mention:
The Protestant Reformed Churches' practice of observing Christmas is
a long and honorable tradition in the Reformed Churches that trace
their spiritual descent to the Synod of Dordt.  Article 67 of the
venerable Church Order of Dordt (1618/1619) requires that the
Reformed churches "shall observe in addition to the Sunday also
This observance consists of a public worship service on December 25.
 The elements of this service are the same as those that make up
the congregation's worship on the Sabbath.  The minister preaches
on some aspect of the birth of Christ, usually, and preferably, the
history in the gospels.  The congregation hears the blessed gospel
of the incarnation and praises God with appropriate psalms in
 Objection against Dordt in this provision and practice is
invariably in terms of the "regulative principle" of worship:
observance of Christmas is not prescribed in Scripture.
 But this is a misunderstanding of the "regulative principle."
 This is evident from the fact that Dordt permitted, indeed
prescribed, observance of Christmas even though the great Reformed
synod was committed to the "regulative principle" as laid down in
Question 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Dordt saw no conflict
between the requirement of the second commandment that we worship God
only in the "way ... He has commanded in His Word" and the observance
of Christmas at a Reformed worship service.  The fathers of Dordt
saw no conflict because there is none.
 The "regulative principle" requires that the elements of public
worship the "how" of worship be those, and those only, that God
prescribes in His Word, whether the public worship be on the Lord's
Day or on some special occasion.  The "regulative principle"
certainly does not forbid the church ever to gather for worship on
another day than Sunday or on another occasion than the regular
remembrance of Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week.
 The Heidelberg Catechism explains the fourth commandment as
requiring that "I, especially on the sabbath diligently frequent the
church of God."  The Catechism does not say, "exclusively on the
 The Westminster Assembly likewise allowed for the observance of
days of public fasting and of public thanksgiving in addition to the
observance of the sabbath (see "The Directory for the Public Worship
II. The Standard Bearer, 15 March 1995
 The term "Christmas," according to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate
Dictionary, derives from a word meaning "Christ's mass."  From
this, nothing follows concerning use of the word by the true church.
 According to Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics (ed. Carl F.
H. Henry, Baker, 1973), the word "Sunday" is "derived from pagan
sources and denotes the day devoted to the sun" (p. 653).  This
does not rule out Christians meeting for worship on this day or using
the word to refer to the day on which they engage in public worship.
 There is no basis in Scripture for the Reformed churches'
commemoration of Christ's birth on December 25.  Neither is there
basis in Scripture for their observing a Day of Prayer on the second
Wednesday of March annually.  Nor is there such basis in Scripture
for services of public worship in observance of "notable
judgments," "some special blessing," and "days of public
thanksgiving," as allowed by the Westminster Assembly's "Directory
for the Public Worship of God" and as actually held by Presbyterian
churches in the Scottish tradition.
Tim-Carson does not address this point although the same
contradiction with which he charges Englsma is here present in the
 The Reformed and Presbyterian churches have the liberty to
observe these special occasions by worship services on other days
than the Lord's Day.  This is really our liberty. It is our
liberty in Christ Jesus.  The Belgic Confession asserts this
liberty in general terms: "it is useful and beneficial that those who
are rulers of the church institute and establish certain ordinances
among themselves for maintaining the body of the church" (Art 32).
 The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, in its day a Reformation
creed of standing, distribution, and influence, expresses this
liberty in specific terms:
 Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously
celebrate the memory of the Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion,
resurrection, and the ascension into heaven, and the sending of the
Holy Spirit upon the disciples, we approve of it highly (Chapter 24,
in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane,
Tim-Carson claims that granting liberty to the churches to observe
the Lord's birth, denies the liberty of the members not to observe
it. But this is incorrect. Members can stay away from the services on
that day. Tactful management of the difference "think and let think"
means that fellowship is not necessarily affected.
 That which churches maintaining the "regulative principle" do
not have liberty to do is to introduce into the worship service
itself, whether on the Lord's Day or on a special occasion, any other
element of worship besides those commanded by Scripture.  As the
Heidelberg Catechism explains, God requires in the second commandment
that we not worship Him "in any other way than He has commanded in
His Word" (Q. 96).
 The "regulative principle" of public worship does not care on
what day, in addition to Sunday, the church may gather for public
worship, or that the occasion may be celebrating the birth of Christ
or some notable judgment.  The concern of the "regulative
principle" is that when the church does gather for worship she
worships God only as He has commanded in His Word; using the
sacraments; publicly calling upon the Lord (which includes
congregational singing of the Psalms); contributing to the relief of
the poor; and doing all in spirit and in truth (see Heid. Cat., Q.
103; John 4:24).
 The Reformed churches that stand in the tradition of Dordt do
not accuse, and never have accused, their Presbyterian brothers and
sisters who stand in the tradition of Westminster of any wrong-doing
as regards their worship.  It is perfectly alright in our
judgment that the Scottish Presbyterians do not observe Christmas by
a public worship service on December 25, or any other date.  We
make no effort to bind their consciences.
 When, on the other hand, our Presbyterian brothers and sisters
accuse the Reformed churches standing in the tradition of Dordt of
transgressing the second commandment, because they do observe
Christmas, we warn them, "Beware, lest in applying the good principle
you 'fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism, and, thus,
imperil the principle itself.'"  This was, and is, my warning,
not to those who choose not to observe Christmas, but to those who
are inclined to charge Article 67 of the Church Order of Dordt, and
the Reformed believers adhering to it, with violation of the second
 You inform us what you would do, should any minister call for
the observance of Christmas: flatly refuse to attend.
 It may be profitable to you to know what I would do, if the
situation were reversed.  If the consistory decided to drop the
observance of Christmas by a special worship service on December 25,
I would acquiesce, although regretting the unnecessary giving up of a
delightful, edifying service.  If the consistory gave as its
reason, that it desired to avoid practical dangers, e.g., the secular
corruption of Christmas or the threat of Roman Catholicism, I would
still acquiesce, although believing the thinking of the consistory to
 But if the consistory gave as its reason for dropping the
observance of Christmas that the observance of Christmas is per se
violation of the second commandment, I would move heaven and earth to
restore the observance and, certainly, to attend an observance
 It is a precious principle with us Reformed of Dordt not to
allow our liberty in Christ to be infringed.
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