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15390Re: Christmas a pagan festival? Maybe not

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  • gmw
    Dec 30, 2006

      Whew! This discussion is getting Loooong! I must preface this post by stating that I'm having some difficulty here, in that I am trying to express my own views, explain Calvin's views (which I confessed were not exactly what mine are, though I think not so very far off), while condemning Christmas as it actually is now celebrated by practically the entire world, why trying to interact with Tim and his views, which I do not pretend to be identical to that of my neighbors who have the gaudy lights and giant inflatable snowman with the Santa hat on their front porch. And I'm sending this convinced that I probably misspoke (mistyped?) somewhere. But I'm giving it a go, now ain't I? LOL!

      >My dear Gerry-Thank you for your encouraging words. I consider you a

      >friend to me despite our different church principles. Do not
      fear
      >that I will forget our friendship during any discussion.
      You have
      >always conducted yourself as a Christian gentleman in
      debate and if
      >you ever fall from that level, I will seek to
      restore you to it in
      >the spirit of gentleness that Paul
      encourages he Galatians to acquire.
      >In addition I have found
      our discussions profitable as in "iron
      >sharpens iron"
      and not least already, in this discussion.

      Cool!

      (snipping stuff about our intentions in using Calvin, as this seems to have been taken care of).


      >> No, Calvin's rhetorical
      use of this question was to strongly imply
      >> that they had
      no good answer. The answer is NOT, "God told us
      > >it's
      Christmas,"

      >Tim-Calvin did not absolutely deny that
      we could celebrate the
      >nativity. Therefore he would say the EC
      told us that it is Christmas.

      Can I assume by celebrating the nativity you are referring to the annual celebration of the Nativity Festival, commonly called Christmas? I would hope all Christians in some sense "celebrate the nativity," and it would be wrong to suggest that all non-Christmas-keepers are un-celebratory of the birth of Christ.

      If indeed you refer to the annual festival day/holy day, commonly called Christmas, then we see in Calvin that –

      1). He demands an answer for where they got the idea that December 25th was Christmas.

      2). He calls them poor beasts, and reiterates that "poor beasts" is a fitting name for such people who have come to church for a special service on December 25th thinking it was Christmas.

      3). He calls them "as crazed as wild beasts" for thinking Jesus was born on December 25th.

      4). He says that they think they're serving God by coming, when what they are doing is more like honoring Satan.

      5). He calls the attempt to make December 25th a holy day making an idol out of the day.

      6). He tells his audience that their intent does not justify their actions, by telling the story of Saul's "worship" of God (which Saul says was his intent), which worship leads to the accusations of heresy, apostasy, and soothsaying.

      7). He says that if we seek to establish worship service based on our whim (which I perceive to be Calvin's answer to "Who told you it was Christmas?" It was whim and not God), we blaspheme God and create an idol, even if we think we're honoring God.

      8). He calls the worshiping of God "in the idleness of a holiday spirit" a heavy sin to bear, and one that encourages others to sin, thus lifting you to the "height of iniquity." (NOTE: Below you ask me to acquit God of this charge, given that God instituted rest days/festival days in the OT – here I simply point out that whether you agree with Calvin's statement on this matter or not, you cannot deny that this is what Calvin said. If he was alive, I would ask you to take up your objection with him. Since he is not, I shall do my best to answer your objection to Calvin's statement below).

      9). Calvin brings the audience back to the text he's preaching on (Micah 5:7-14), and exhorts from the Scriptures that we are not only to eliminate things that are bad themselves, but also those things that might foster superstition (like the observance of Christmas on December 25th, if context means anything).

      10). He explains that once you understand all that he said above, you will understand why Christmas, or Noel, is not being celebrated in this church. Those of you who came to get a special Christmas service on December 25th are just going to have to go home, because we're not doing it.

      Now, if Calvin said all of this regarding Christmas-keeping, and if we know from other writings of Calvin that he believed that holidays were "fooleries," and if he advised against approving them, and if he called them superstitious and things that foster superstition, if he believed them to be Judaical, then the Christmas-keeper can take little comfort in the fact that Calvin conceded to read from the nativity story, preach on the goodness which comes from Christ's birth, and serve communion on God's real holy day (the Lord's Day) – UNLESS, all that is being advocated is that it would be good that sometime near the end of the year one of the Lord's Day services focus on the birth of Christ. And again, if that is all that is being advocated, I may still say "you give too much heed to the days and the seasons, and you could just as easily, to avoid all superstition, do this in the Summer or in the Spring," but I suppose I would have no great quarrel, as no unlawful acts of worship are discernible therein.

      >
      Tim-If Englsma is right that Calvin elsewhere said celebrating the
      >
      nativity was not necessarily idolatry, than we must restrict his
      >
      charge here to how the Genevans were keeping it and not to the
      >
      question of whether to keep it.

      Unless I'm shown more material that I have not yet read, I believe that Engelsma can only make such a statement if by it he means simply that, at the end of December, Calvin allowed an ordinary Lord's Day service to focus on the birth of Christ (and that much quite possibly due to political or pastoral factors which we have not yet brought up). If Englesma means any of the things that Calvin totally shoots down (enumerated above), which seems to include most things that most Christians, with honest intentions to honor God, mean by "Christmas," then I must conclude that he is wrong. And certainly Calvin would not have approved of many of the modern practices associated with Christmas some of which were not yet prevalent in his day – one would labor in vain to find Calvin's approval of Christmas trees, mistletoes, and all that stuff.


      >Tim-Calvin's
      view of the RP may have been similar to that of the WCF
      >but
      unless he has contradicted himself over this issue, it was not
      >identical. Calvin according to Englsma does not condemn
      the nativity
      >festival itself as idolatry, the WCF does.

      Do you see any substantial difference between Calvin's doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship, and that of the Westminster Standards? Because I think one could line up, side by side, almost identical statements of the doctrine, with no real difference in meaning whatsoever.

      Calvin condemns festival days, as do the Westminster Standards. Calvin's concessions, it seems to me, are an attempt to make sure that the worship service in which they read of the nativity story, preach thereon, and partake of the Lord's Supper are NOT celebrated as a festival day, by deferring all these things to the Lord's Day (God's festival day).

      >
      Tim-then don't incoporate those 20th century abuses into your
      >
      argument against the nativty.

      I have NO argument against the nativity itself – I'm a Christian. I only have an argument against the annual holy day/festival celebration of it, TOGETHER WITH all of the trimmings now attached to it. I cannot go back and convince the church fathers to refrain from inventing and keeping a feast day, I can only implore my brothers and sisters in Christ to stop celebrating Christmas with all of its trappings of today. I think that you're warning me not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I believe that the light-up plastic baby "jesus's" should be thrown out too! This is NOT to accuse you, or the people of Geneva in Calvin's day, of advocating cheap blasphemous Christmas merchandise being set up in the front lawn. It's only to say that when we, today, speak of Christmas, we can hardly do so without dealing with what Christmas actually IS, here, today.

      >Tim-What
      difference is there between "today's Christmas" and "the
      >commercial racket".

      Nothing that I can tell. Bury it all.

      >Tim-Is
      not the best answer to abuse of a good thing the right use of a
      >good
      thing? Would you deny your brother the liberty of a beer because
      >he
      might get drunk?

      1). If he has a marked history of drunkenness, and therefore I have reason to believe that he is GOING TO GET DRUNK, then denying him the liberty of a beer may do him good.

      2). If everyone else in the room is getting drunk, the brother probably needs to put down his beer and leave, so as to not keep company with drunkards, nor to countenance them in their drunkenness.

      3). Otherwise, sure… go ahead and have a beer (or two, if they're good and you're thirsty).

      >In the same way is not the best answer to a

      >superstitious keeping
      of Christmas a truly Christian keeping of the
      >day?

      I'm not willing to grant that keeping holy days/festival days is like consuming alcoholic beverages. However, for the sake of discussion, let's use the comparison you suggest, granting for the sake for the sake of illustration that Christmas keeping is indifferent, then,

      1). If the person involved has a marked history of superstitious practices and idolatrous worship, then he ought to refrain from his liberty, lest it prove to actually be slavery.

      2). If others are stumbling into superstition and idolatrous worship practices over this liberty, then my brother ought to forbear his liberty for the sake of his neighbors.

      Therefore, even if Christmas-keeping were a thing indifferent, it ought to be forsaken, because many (most?) those who practice it, do have a history of superstitious practices and idolatrous worship, and our neighbors are stumbling into superstition and idolatrous worship over the issue of Christmas.

      Consider:

      "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan" (2 Kings 18:4).

      The Geneva Bible notes "That is 'a piece of brass': thus he calls the serpent by contempt, which even though it was set up by the word of God, and miracles were wrought by it, when it was used for idolatry this good king destroyed it, not thinking it worthy to be called a serpent, but a piece of brass."

      If such treatment was justifiable against something set up by God, and used by God to bless His people, once it becomes the occasion of stumbling into idolatry, what shall we say of something indifferent that has also become such a remarkable stumbling block to God's children? How much more of something that is not indifferent, but which is in itself superstitious and idolatrous?

      >Tim-If
      all restraint from regular work was "the idleness of a holiday
      >spririt" and "a heavy sin to bear" how
      will you acquit God from the
      >charge of leading his OT people
      into such "a heavy sin" by ordaining
      >the OT
      festivals? The answer you will rightly give is that they were
      >instructed how to keep those days. And I will reply; then
      let
      >Christians learn to keep the nativity and other festivals
      with the
      >same spirit that OT Israel was instructed to keep its
      festivals.

      As I've pointed out before, this opinion I mentioned, that tanking the day just because it's December 25th is idleness, a heavy sin to bear, etc., is Calvin's opinion. He preached it against Christmas-keeping. Your question then, ought to be posed to him. Yet since he is not here, but in the enjoying the eternal Holy Day, I'll say this in response: Not only did God tell the OT people how to keep the holy day, He also told them ~that they are~ to keep it. IF GOD COMMANDS A DAY OF RELIGIOUS REST, WE SHALL REST IN OBEDIENCE TO HIM, because He has commanded it. What we are to be doing during this rest, would also be commanded by God. And yet we have neither the command to keep Christmas, nor any direction as to how to keep Christmas. And so you reply, "let us keep the nativity [and apparently a host of other festivals besides] with the same spirit that OT Israel was instructed to keep its festivals.

      To which reply I reply, but "Who hath required this at your hand?" and "

      But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain."


      >>
      That's not what "Christmas" is, now is it?

      >Tim-Not
      to many people, but it could be to Christians. And if we are
      >going
      to celebrate it, that's what it should be.

      So then, if all that you are asking for is that Christians be given the liberty to read the nativity story, hear Gospel preaching about Christ's birth, and partake of the Lord's Supper, and that on the Lord's Day -- none of which things require "Christmas" – our only dispute is over the idea that this needs to occur at the same time of year that all manner of idolatry and blasphemy and debauchery are taking place in the name of Jesus' birthday.


      >>
      Tim-So why not ask him what he means and lead the resultant
      >>
      conversation into an evangelistic opportunity?

      Honestly, I cannot respond to each "Merry Christmas" with that deep of a discussion. I can't see that anyone has that kind of time – everyone's wishes me a Merry Christmas, ranging from Mormon's, to Roman Catholics, to people who don't make any discernible profession of faith during any other time of the year, and everyone in between. It practically makes the term meaningless, because it has a different meaning for everyone saying it. I usually keep it short to "Thank you for the sentiment, but I don't celebrate it." If I get a "why not?," then we talk.


      >Tim-Keeping
      a special service to remember the coming of the second
      >person
      of the Trinity into this world and the good that came thereby.

      On the Lord's Day? Special service meaning "reading the scriptures, preaching, and receiving the Lord's Supper"? Cool. Go ahead. No complaints from me on those things. Why the insistence that this be done at the same time when so much superstition and idolatry abound, called "Christmas" by the whole civilized world, though?

      >Tim-If
      the reminder of Christ's nativity does not make your heart
      >merry
      than there may well be something wrong with your spiritual
      >condition.

      The light up plastic baby-jesus nativity scene, complete with "the three kings," and angels floating overhead, certainly bring some remembrance of the coming of Christ, but it's mixed with grief as I behold this appalling display. Honestly, "Christmas" is more of a distraction from the birth of Christ than it is a proper holy remembrance of it. God tells us how to properly remember Christ and how to celebrate Him. He tells us in His Word. The same Word of God that is silent about Christmas, or about annually celebrating Jesus' birthday in any way whatsoever (even while he dwelt on earth), outside of allusions to his bar mitsvah.

      Tim-Right, that's Old English.

      Yes, English. That's what I speak. That's what people speak when they say "Merry Christmas," and it's what the Romanists speak when they refer to Christ-Mass, Michael-Mass, Mary-Mass, etc. And they mean "Mass" in the abominable way now too.

      > If one
      wants to claim that it is inappropriate to call the nativity
      >
      Christmas, one will need to demonstrate that the Latin fathers never
      > called the nativiy Christmas during this period.

      How about we just call it Nehushtan now.

      > Tim-It may be so
      understood by Roman Catholics, but RC's are not very
      > thick on
      the ground where I live.

      Not that this is at all fundamental to my position, but the Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the United States, nearly twice the size of the next denomination (Southern Baptists) – the third largest Roman Catholic population in the world next to Brazil and Mexico (where they celebrate Christ's Mass too!). You may not bump into too many, but they sit next to me in my office at work, live in my neighborhood, I'm not celebrating Christmas and I hope they stop doing it too.

      > As Englsma rightly notes " the

      > word "Sunday"
      is "derived from pagan sources and denotes the day
      >
      devoted to the sun" (p. 653).

      Actually, I call it the Lord's Day or Sabbath, and would that the next Reformation includes removing these monuments of idolatry too. So, the "why have you not advocated the changing of the name of the day" argument doesn't stick with me. It might for others, but not for me. For now, there is something civilly significant about maintaining the current system of identifying the day of the week, and my just need to be borne with – anybody recall a discussion on the names of the week days by Rutherfurd? I'm having trouble recalling where I saw this discussed.

      >Tim-ISTM that you are putting the words
      "various merriments" into my
      >mouth. If so, why?

      Because unless you spell out specifically what you're advocating in Christmas-keeping, and contrast it from other Christmas practices, I can only define "Christmas" by what it actually is, here, now, today.

      >Tim-If the church has the
      right to thank God for extraordinary
      >mercies received, then by
      parity of reasoning the church has the right
      >to offer, not
      compel, its members the opportunity of repeatedly
      >remembering
      so extraordinary a mercy as the coming of the Lord.

      How does parity of reason require that because the Church may occasionally observe fast days or feast days in response to God's providence, therefore permanent annual celebration of feast days may be instituted?

      The Church (and the state, for that matter) has warrant for occasional days of religious fast or feast, Judges 20:26; 2 Chronicles 20; Ezra 8:21; Jonah 3:5-10. Yet there is no warrant for instituting permanent annual holy days.

      Now, I see that Mr. Suden has taken up against this line of argument, so I will defer for the sake of saving me some precious time (Time I could use to take my decorations down... just kidding).

      >
      Tim-That's shorthand for everything and anything arising from the
      culture.

      Everything the whole world calls Christmas?


      >>
      Sadly, the world, and "the Christian
      >> world" at
      that, continues to support it.

      >Tim-True, but what is that
      to the truth of what the Christian world
      >should do.

      I know what Hezekiah would do! The Bible tells me that.

      >
      Although he stated in the sermon you cited that such would be done on
      > the following Sunday, he did do so on this "Christmas"
      as well.

      He tolerated certain things, while complaining against them (note: NOT APPROVING OF THEM, but tolerating them for a time, and for reason political and pastoral), gradually doing less and less (it appears) in acknowledgment of the nativity observance. So, if your point is only to say that Calvin reluctantly tolerated some things that the Scots outright condemned, I do not pretend this isn't true. But no Christmas keeper can turn to Calvin for support of Christmas-keeping, any more than he can turn to Westminster. Maybe in Geneva, depending on the time period you were there, your Christmas-keeping would have been tolerated, but it would not have been championed by Calvin. I'm not saying this is what you're asserting, I'm just wanting to make this point clear – Englesma appears to be trying to use Calvin to justify Christmas-keeping, which is just silly. That he reluctantly tolerated some things that he cried down and complained about, is about as much as I'll grant.


      >
      Tim-Once again, it has been a pleasure engaging in discussion of
      >
      difficult matters with you. Again, I thank you for setting a
      >
      remarkably high and inspriring standard of Christian courtesy in
      >
      disagreement, (and I hope some of your readers will learn from how
      >
      you conduct yourself in these discussions even if, like me, they
      >
      cannot share your eccliesiology).

      I'm humbled, and I thank you, my friend.

      > I trust the Lord will enlighten our

      > eyes where we are in
      darkness, give us encouragement to hold on to
      > what we have
      light to see, and if we cannot see alike then let us
      > hold the
      essentials of our faith in that winsome and blessed charity
      >
      that is the fruit of God's Holy Spirit in us.

      Amen.

      gmw.

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