Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

24 Dec

“Why do you celebrate Christmas?” my Muslim friend asked at our Grill a Christian event. “I mean isn’t it a pagan festival emphasising materialism? Surely it isn’t something God’s people should be involved in?”

The panel were flummoxed. They’d never really thought of Christmas in these terms. Had they been celebrating some worthless pagan festival all their lives?

Is the high point of the Christian calendar just a capitulation to paganism? Is it actually doing more harm than good? Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Let’s consider this according to three criteria: is celebrating Christmas biblical, is it helpful and is it sinful?

Is Celebrating Christmas Biblical?

There is nothing in the Bible that compels us to celebrate the incarnation in a certain festival. The only things the Bible tells us to celebrate are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, some groups refuse to celebrate Christmas as it is not in Scripture.

Is Celebrating Christmas Helpful?

However, just because something isn’t commanded doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Bible doesn’t tell us to have children’s talks, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.

So the question is: is Christmas helpful? If it doesn’t help us focus on Christ then it’s a wasted exercise.

Christmas is helpful in the following ways:

  • It celebrates an event in the life of Christ, and makes that event known to people across our culture.
  • The repetition of carols and scripture readings mean the message can be well remembered. Memorisation is always a plus.
  • It gives an opportunity to tell children the Gospel (which as a teacher, I have valued!).
  • It reminds us how blessed we are to have the Christ who the prophets longed to see.
  • It is one of the few times of year all Christians look at the Old Testament and see it isn’t an irrelevant book, but rather points to Christ.
  • It is a good tool for evangelism.

Is Celebrating Christmas Sinful

However, if something is helpful but sinful we should forget it. For example, a person may well find it helpful to pray to Mary, but that doesn’t mean it is something that should be done.

Anything can become sinful, and Christmas is no different. What we must consider is, is the very essence of Christmas sinful? We may list some sins that arise from Christmas, but each of them are not the essence of Christmas:

  • It drives many families into debt, because of excessive spending. This is true, but is not an essential part of Christmas. These people are just taking gift giving to an extreme and should be personally rebuked, rather than being a cause to end Christmas.
  • Materialism is often lamented at Christmas. However, I think this is a rather overstated case. All the Christmas programmes (especially the secular ones) say Christmas is about giving and family not materialism. It is a beautiful thing that in our culture we have a celebration where we give gifts to make our loved ones happy. To reduce it to materialism is undermining what is an incredibly helpful tradition. Moreover Christmas is a time when a lot of people give to the poor (i.e. Operation Christmas Child), that is not materialism!
  • Because of the emphasis on family, it may result in rejection of widows and singles. However, this rarely happens as people are especially careful at Christmas to ensure people are looked after.
  • Some would also say that telling your children about Santa is lying and thus evil. I’m not convinced that this fairy tale is an evil thing (“Santa is an anagram of SATAN” etc.) but even if it is, your family can have Christmas without Santa.
  • Some would question (like my Muslim friend) whether using pagan imagery in a Christian festival is Godly. For example, isn’t a Christmas tree a pagan sign of fertility? However, there is nothing wrong with redeeming a pagan idea in a Christian way. For example, the book of Proverbs uses a pagan form of literature (and perhaps even some pagan Proverbs) and views them in the light of YHWH’s covenant love for Israel. There are two criteria for it to be used. 1) It must be able to point to Christ. 2) It must not be a sin. Christmas meets both these points

Something like pornography can’t be redeemed. There can be no “Christian pornography” because the very essence of pornography is sinful. Yet there can be Christian speech, for even though speech often leads to sin, speech can be redeemed and used to preach Christ. Christmas is the same. Though sins (some grevious) may arise, they are not the essence of Christmas. Therefore celebrating Christmas is not sinful.

My Conclusion

I don’t think celebrating Christmas is essential, and in non-Christian cultures I wouldn’t encourage that it be instituted. Yet in our culture Christmas is incredibly important. I think any church that doesn’t celebrate Christmas is wasting a valuable evangelistic opportunity. Carol services, Christmas day services, Nativity plays: all such things can be great opportunities to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

Moreover, Christian families who do not celebrate Christmas are missing a great opportunity for mutual encourage. This is an opportunity to remind each other of the gospel and show love through generosity.

What do you think of Christmas? Do you celebrate it in your home?

(Picture “St. Nicholas church by Horrgakx under the Creative Commons Licence)

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19 Responses to “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?”

  1. ultimateparadox December 24, 2008 at 5:22 pm #

    Hi Tim!

    I share a love-hate relationship with Christmas. I love it because of some of the reasons you mentioned, especially the sheer number of ways a Christian family can work traditions (in the best sense of the word, ala perhaps Noel Piper’s book) which help remind adults, and teach children the amazing Gospel of the incarnation of a saviour to redeem, renew and rescue his people by his blood and resurrection. It’s also thrown up some of the finest hymns written in English (I personally love Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” best). While in our culture I think Christmas and Easter are golden evangelistic opportunities – Easter less and less so – I’d agree that it’s not something you should necessarily export to the (non-westernised parts of the) mission field.

    As an Anglican with an interest in Lutheranism I have a bit of a soft spot for the whole ecclesiastical calendar thing. I don’t think it’s something Churches should observe in their public worship because, like Cranmer, I think that it makes it hard to have a good sermon series going if you have to interrupt it every few weeks to preach Trinity Sunday or Michael and All Angels. Still, I think it’s a great way for families to teach children about the gospel, and it might be something I do if I have children in the future. Most of the main feasts (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension day, Pentecost and Trinity) highlight aspects of Christian doctrine and facets of the Gospel that simply going through 2 ways to live a thousand times with your children won’t bring out (Christ in the OT/His return, the incarnation, the work of Christ/mortification, the atonement and new creation, Christ’s High Preistly office, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity in the case of the ones mentioned). I guess the challenge if you don’t observe these kinds of things is to celebrate the gospel and pass it on to your children as much as people who do – that way whether we do or don’t use the ecclesiastical calendar we’ll all be seeking to outdo one another in rejoicing in the Gospel and faithfulness in our parenting, which can only be a good thing.

    At the same time, it can be very painful for me. One thing your post didn’t mention is the mass hypocrisy (in the sense of acting) of it all. It pierces me to the heart hearing my Mum sing “oh come, let us adore him” about a Christ she couldn’t care less about. I don’t think she’s alone – Christmas brings out a mass religiosity in people who for the rest of the year don’t give God a second thought. It provides evangelicals with a difficult path to navigate. We can’t play along with it all as though the sickly sweet sentimentalism and the worship of a God who more closely resembles Santa than the Lord God Almighty is alright. At the same time we can’t be so stern and condemning that the good news doesn’t sound like good news anymore or that people come away with a clearer idea that Christians are against the best party in the social calendar than anything about a much needed saviour.

    The problem really comes from the fact that there are two festivals going on at the same time here – one is a massive party where we eat, get together with our families, argue a bit, exchange gifts and generally amuse ourselves. The other is a Christian celebration of the birth of the Christ. Problems come because people have difficulty telling the two apart. Almost makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be easier to let the whole “Winterval” thing happen to Christmas in the public square. At least then we’d all be being honest with each other, and it’d allow for a lot more straight talk about what Christmas is.

    What do you think?

    Ed

  2. Richard December 24, 2008 at 6:44 pm #

    This is a question that has vexed me a great deal, I did not celebrated Christmas last year and will not this year.

    Christmas is certainly not of apostolic origin, Schaff notes that it was not celebrated in Antioch until 390 A.D. and this at the place that Christians were first called Christians!

    With this in mind, the authority of the Church is to engage in “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”, Christmas cannot be included in this.

    The Directory of Public Worship states

    “There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”

    The argument is simple, God alone can sanctify time (set it apart) and God has set apart the Lord’s Day for his worship. By not celebrating Christmas the Church is redeeming time, i.e. we are living in accordance to the calendar of creation, “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

    I must confess that I can see a good argument in favour of celebrating Christmas but until I can see a biblical one I must refrain from trying to be wiser than God.

    You may wish to have a read of this which presents a good case in favour of celebrating Christmas.

    Also look out for Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship and Worship: Reformed According to Scripture.

  3. ultimateparadox December 24, 2008 at 8:59 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your comment, and especially the helpful article you link to. I can kind of sympathise with you, but I don’t think your reply quite holds together – neither logically nor scripturally.

    For starters though, I’d add my agreement that the practise of commemorating the Saviour’s birth on December 25th isn’t apostolic – we find no reference to it in the canonical scriptures. Besides, if the apostles did commemorate Jesus’ birth, they’d much more likely know what his actual birthday was – for a number of reasons tied to the circumstances described around Jesus’ birth, it almost certainly wasn’t winter.

    For this reason, you are absolutely right in maintaining that it isn’t part of the “everything that I have commanded you” which forms the content of the great commission. No-one, and no church body has any right to force you to observe Christmas if you don’t fancy it. I’d hold, therefore, to what the article portrays as being the position of the reformers and the early reformation – it’s an area of freedom rather than duty. Not only should no-one force you to observe Christmas but – what is perhaps more appealing to our sinful hearts – no-one should look down on you in the slightest because you don’t. It’s here that the Regulative Principle is at its most useful – nobody is forced to do anything against their conscience which the scriptures do not explicitly command.

    It’s true that most worship services in the wider evangelical world (without needing to go further into the Catholic, Orthodox or liberal traditions) are distressingly deficient. Word and Sacrament are too often neglected. Rather trite plays and other things done more for the amusement than the edification of the congregation abound. The regulative principle is great here as well; it cuts out all the rubbish and puts what we both agree is essential back at the top of the agenda – the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, congregational singing and perhaps almsgiving.

    The problem I find with the Regulative Principle is that it seems to fail its own test – it isn’t ever explicitly commanded in scripture. What’s more, we have positive scriptural reason to think that Jesus celebrated a non-scriptural holiday. John 10:22-42 at the very least strongly imply that Jesus observed Hanukkah (which in the ESV is called the feast of Dedication). The Feast of Dedication is nowhere commanded in scripture; it commemorates the rededication of the temple after it was defiled by Antiochus Epiphanus as well as a number of matyrdom stories and a miracle about some oil. It’s mentioned in the Talmud as well as 1 and 2 Maccabees.

    This leaves the advocate of a strict form of the regulative principle in a hard dilemma: Either you say the regulative principle is valid and Jesus violated it (impossible) or it’s valid and 1 and 2 Maccabees are canonical (hardly likely to boost your reformed credentials, not to mention rather problematic when you look at what’s actually in them – doctrines like purgatory) or else you have to say that the scriptural basis of the regulative principle isn’t as firm as the Westminster Standards and the Directory of Public Worship might suggest.

    The logical thrust of your argument also misses the mark. It does conclusively demolish mandatory observance of Christmas – neither Tim, nor you nor I think there is anything essentially holy about December 25th which dictates that we observe Christmas then. Still, the argument you present seems to be in the form:

    a) Only God can sanctify time
    b) God has only sanctified the Lord’s Day
    c) Therefore, December 25th has not and cannot be sanctified.
    d) Therefore, the faithful should not spend December 25th in praise of God because of his mighty work of the Gospel, and in particular the incarnation.

    Proposition a is sound – I think we can all agree. I’m still working through it, but I have my doubts as to the exact nature of the correspondance between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. Still, for the sake of argument I’ll accept proposition b. From a and b, proposition c is absolutely right – there is nothing *objectively* holy about December 25th, which is why we can’t *mandate* the observation of Christmas. But proposition d doesn’t follow from proposition c. Just because December 25th is not objectively speaking a “holy day” does not in any way imply that you can’t use it to remember the mighty work of God in the gospel and in particular the incarnation. There’s nothing objectively holy about the hours of 6:30 until 8:30 in the morning, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t set that time aside in a regular way to read the Bible, pray about the day ahead and pray for friends. Likewise, there’s nothing objectively holy about any given weekend. That doesn’t mean that an individual congregation can’t have a practise of going away that weekend on a retreat each year.

    My worry is that on the basis of a pious sounding (failed and unscriptural) logical gambit, it is in fact the advocates of the Regulative Principle who attempt to be wiser than God by trying to flatten out adaptation to cultural variation rather than allow the apparent freedom allowed to us in the scriptures.

    It seems like you’ve thought this through quite a lot, and it can’t be the first time you’ve heard this kind of argument. I’d be interested to know what you think. If you don’t want to clutter up Tim’s blog (I don’t know how he feels about it) you can ask him my E-mail if you like.

    Thanks

    Ed

  4. Tim Wilson December 26, 2008 at 7:33 am #

    Ed, good to see you brother! Sorry I didn’t log on to approve your comments.

    My Pastor (who’s a Baptist so has absolutely no ties to a Church calender) has services for Harvest, Christmas and Easter. Why? Because at those three times if he has a service commemorating the event our modestly sized chapel is standing room only – filled with non-Christians. He says “I don’t think these celebrations are particularly important, but we’ll use what the culture gives us”.

    I think that’s the way it is. I’m not one of these “Put the Christ back in Christmas” people, who demand everyone sends cards with Jesus in a manger on. But equally I think we keep our version of Christmas (rather than Winterval) just simply as a tool.

    Whilst there is that hypocritical element, in some ways its impossible to prevent. This is why I think some form of introduction to songs is important, and unlike most Reformed-ites I like the idea of a (theologically minded) worship leader who will point us to aspects of the song or psalm to focus on. This should make it harder to do so.

    (As a side note my favourite carols are the original Hark the Herald (look it up on cyber hymnal), O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and What Child is this?)

    Richard, you are entirely free to celebrate whatever days you want but I do disagree with your logic.

    You say we should teach all that is commanded to us. Ages ago you sent me a sermon about how a Christian should approach watching movies. As helpful advice as it was, it didn’t achieve the Regulative Principle. Talking about passages of Scripture that deal with Incarnation do much more.

    You emphaise that we aren’t meeting on the Lord’s day. Well I really find Sabbatarians to be fighting a losing battle when I read this:

    “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.” Ro 14:5-6

    Even if we assume the Lord’s Day is helpful, nothing in Scripture prevents us from meeting on other days. I assume you’d have midweeks? Indeed, it is an example set for us

    “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” Acts 2:46

    So to have an extra meeting on December 25th for evangelism and focus on one aspect of God’s character can’t be sinful.

    Maybe the issue is that we don’t see the whole of Scripture’s commands. I personally hate the lectionary having had to deal with it in Methodism I’ve noticed how it skips any difficult texts (in 2 Sam 6 for example it skips the whole part where Uzzah gets killed!!!). But there is nothing to say lectionary and Christmas go hand in hand.

    At our church we work through various books in the Morning, Evening and Midweek services, and at Christmas its no different. Every year our Pastor plods through another chapter of Isaiah. We’re only at about 12 now (as he’s not been there long) but no problems arrive.

    The only other thing is “Well maybe it’s okay for the church to do but it’s pointless at home”.

    I only have a fiancee so I can’t testify for the family thing. But I know that certain events (Christmas, Anniversary, Birthday and even Valentine’s Day) give me a chance to Praise the Lord for what he’s done in mine and Nat’s relationship. I think a day like Christmas has that potential.

    As for kids, though I have no experience, I know repetition is great for kids. I assume keeping such events can help them to learn key truths about Jesus.

    I think it is keeping with the Spirit of Scripture to engage with our culture’s expressions of Spirituality and affirm what is true and correct what is false (i.e. Paul in Athens). I think it is keeping with the Spirit of Scripture to make the most of every opportunity or evangelism I think it is keeping with the Spirit of Scripture to use certain celebrations as a means of remembering acts God has done.

    So I think there is a Biblical argument even if there isn’t a verse. It’s like paedobaptism, Christmas isn’t sinful just because it isn’t found in a concordance (not that I’m a convinced paedobaptist but you catch my drift.

    However, having said all this I don’t think you should celebrate Christmas. If we take Ro 14’s view on the Sabbath we could also apply it (though indirectly) to Christmas. And later we are told it is a sin to act against conscience. If it is against your conscience do not celebrate it. Yet recognise it can be a useful tool for those of us who choose to use at as such.

    P.S. I think Christmas can be massively problematic in a different way: dodgy hermenutical and homiletical ideas that have become engrained in the Christian mind. I’m going to try and post on “Why “What can I bring him?” is the wrong question to ask” when I’ve finished my sermon on Genesis 3 this weekend.

    P.P.S. I have no problems with you cluttering up my blog if you wish.

  5. Richard December 26, 2008 at 1:55 pm #

    Ed, I think we agree on a great deal, I share the same concerns you do regarding the RPW, however I have decided to err on the side of caution.

    Tim, Regarding Romans 14:5-6 I would suggest a look at the context. Paul was writing (primarily) to Gentile Christians telling them not to judge their Jewish brethren for not being able to stop keeping Jewish ceremonial days. So I do not believe, and neither did the Puritans, that this verse legitimises the celebration of Christmas. It would be important to determine what precisely we mean by ‘celebrate’.

    Good point regarding Acts 2:46!

    Both of you, I believe that the Continental Reformed approach to be better than the Puritan, I commemorate Easter and Pentecost….Christmas is a tricky one and as I said above, this is a question that has vexed me a great deal. You have both given me some good food for thought.

  6. Richard December 26, 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    On a different track you may both enjoy: Rediscovering Mother Kirk: Is High-Church Presbyterianism an Oxymoron?

  7. Tim Wilson December 27, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    Hey Richard mate,

    Sorry for being confusing. I didn’t intend the use of Ro 14 to be saying it refers to Christmas. I was using it

    1) To say that I don’t really believe in “The Lord’s Day” as a day.
    2) To say I don’t think it’s right to do something that you aren’t fully convinced is sinful.

    However, if what you say is true an Ro 14 isn’t about “the Lord’s Day” but festival keeping then point 1 maybe invalid.

    Hopefully some poing I’ll get to read the article :)

  8. Richard December 27, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Tim,

    Compare “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14) with “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2).

    Now look at:

    “and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the LORD” (1 Chronicles 23:31 )

    “Behold, I am building a temple for the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual showbread, for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the set feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel.” (2 Chronicles 2:4)

    So I hope you can see from this what St. Paul was writing with reference to, i.e. Rom. 14 is not to do with the Lord’s Day but rather Jewish ceremonial law which some who converted had a big difficulty stopping.

    The best book on the issue of the Lord’s Day is Joseph Pipa’s The Lord’s Day.

    Also try this.

    God bless!

  9. Eshu January 4, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Judging by your discussion, the Bible wasn’t written with the intention of making these things clear. Sometimes you have to put the Bible down and resort to common sense, which is what I think Tim has done in the original post.

    Slight tangent here, but no one has mentioned Jeremiah 10:2-4.

  10. Richard January 4, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Eshu, whilst we should use common sense we should remember that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) and so our common sense is not always trustworthy. Was it the common sesnse of Nadab and Abihu that led to them offering ‘strange fire’ that God did not accept (Lev. 10:1-3)? See Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church

  11. Eshu January 4, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    Thanks Richard. I’m not sure I’d equate “common sense” with the heart. When I think of the heart, I think of emotional reasoning – eg: “It makes me feel happy therefore it is true.”

    You’re right to say that this is misleading as emotions do not generally show us objective truth.

    By “common sense” I mean choosing what is best for human beings, without resorting to convoluted theological arguments which do not apply to everyone.

  12. Richard January 4, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    Eshu, the Christian claim is that we know what is best for human beings by looking into the Scripture, so St. Paul wrote to Timothy “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Now of course we must eshew “convoluted theological arguments which do not apply to everyone” but we must also avoid painting an argument that we do not like as such in order to avoid it.

    In the context of the OP, the question we ought ask is not “What do I think” but rather “What does God think”? Then when we know what the question is we can delve into the Bible and find out what God says on this issue.

    You will of course note that Tim, Ed and I all agree that there is nothing inherent special about the 25th December and there is nothing inherently wrong about giving thanks for the incarnation upon such a date. We also all agree that it is important to discover what God’s will is in such a matter because we recognise that there is nothing more important than worshipping the God that redeemed us in a manner that is pleasing to him.

    God bless!

  13. Eshu January 4, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Eshu, the Christian claim is that we know what is best for human beings by looking into the Scripture…

    Which would be great if was obvious what God thinks. I think the minor disagreements here and the vast and increasing diversity of Christian beliefs shows that what God thinks is far from obvious.

    For that reason alone, I’d say that if God’s intention was to communicate to everyone in a clear an unambiguous way, he has so far failed.

    Anyway, back on topic, the reason I mentioned Jeremiah, was this quote:
    “Jer 10:2 – Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
    Jer 10:3 – For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
    Jer 10:4 – They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

    Which seems to imply the Bible is against Christmas trees, if not Christmas/Yule as a whole.

  14. Richard January 4, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Eshu, the minor disagreements here and the diversity of Christian beliefs stems from hermenutical differences which should be settled easily through rational discussion, but of course human beings are finite in their understanding and liable to err. So whilst God has communicated in a clear and unambiguous way humans are not perfect and liable to misunderstand the revelation that God has made.

    So does Jeremiah 10:2-4 imply that God is against Christmas trees? Well, no not really after all the context is disimilar. The issue in Jer. 10 is that of idolatry, the warning was about imitating the Babylonians by cuttig down treas to fashion as idols to worship. Hence verse 5 states

    “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
    their idols cannot speak;
    they must be carried
    because they cannot walk.
    Do not fear them;
    they can do no harm
    nor can they do any good.”

    This is reminiscent of Psalm 115 and Isaiah 40:18-20

    With whom, then, will you compare God?
    To what image will you liken him?
    As for an idol, a metal worker casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and fashions silver chains for it.
    People too poor to present such an offering
    select wood that will not rot.
    They look for a skilled worker
    to set up an idol that will not topple.

    What Jer. 10 does give us then, is not a warning against Christmas trees or even a warning against celebrating Christmas, but rather a warning about the perils (and stupidity) of idolatry and a solemn charge not to conform ourselves to the ways and customs of the World.

    Indeed, Jer. 10 could be used as a pretext to not celebrating Christmas but we ought recall that ‘a text taken out of context is a pretext’. :-)

  15. Richard January 4, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Of course, what a Christmas tree has to do with Christmas is beyond me. If we are going to celebrate the nativity of our Lord on December 25th what should we do? I would suggest:

    1. Give thanks to God for Jesus, “Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.”

    2. Read Questions 12-19, 35 & 36 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

    3. Read the nativity narrative in the Gospels.

  16. Eshu January 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    Richard,

    Why is it that your words are much clearer and easier to understand than those of God?

    …but of course human beings are finite in their understanding and liable to err.

    But you, presumably, have got it right? :-)

  17. Richard January 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm #

    Eshu, the approach that I take recognises that exegesis takes place within a community of faith and this community, the Church, has the following to take note of the words of Jesus in John 16:12-14, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” It is to that end that Paul notes in Ephesians 4:11-13, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

    Whenever we engage in exegesis, provided we recall that human beings are finite in their understanding and liable to err we are more likely to arrive at truth. The Bible can indeed be difficult to understand, the the essential message is simple:

    “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15)

    God bless!

  18. Tim Wilson January 6, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Okay my computer stopped alerting me to comments via email for some unknown reason. I’m well behind in this one. Let me read through and answer

    Actually I don’t need to. Richard is very wise and I couldn’t agree with him more. Moreover, Eshu your questions are very searching. I hope and pray that you find the answers in Jesus.

  19. Eshu January 7, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your answer. However, I probably didn’t make my question clear enough. Perhaps this is nearer what I meant.

    When other Christians engage in hermenuetical exegesis within a community of faith and come to a different conclusion from you, why is that? How can we objectively tell who is right?

    You said these differences “should be settled easily through rational discussion”, but I made the point about the myriad of Christian sects to show that this doesn’t happen. It seems Christians reading from the same Bible are not converging on the truth, but diverging.

    Thanks to you all for your patience and encouragement.

    Thanks for your simple message summary. However, if I take that as true, I would not be conducting a hermeneutical exegesis within a community of faith. I’d be accepting the words of men – both yours and that the the original writer.

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