‘Tis the Season for people to ask questions about why the church has put up Christmas trees, why we decorate with lights, and why we celebrate Christmas if it originated in paganism. The questions are fair, and those asking them are often diligent believers searching to honor God in their lives by not associating with evil. I once held the view that much of Christmas was anti-Christian, such as trees, Santa, lights, candy canes, and the date itself, and wondered why we celebrated it as believers. Asking these questions, and not just assuming things are true or fine because we’re told that as a church culture, is a good thing. Even in Scripture, when Paul came to the church at Berea they did not accept his teachings until they studied and were convinced by Scripture his message was true. Paul commends them for not simply accepting the message, but instead digging deeper to test all things by God’s Word: Acts 17:11: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
Scripture should be the authority on how we interpret and answer questions such as, “Should Christians celebrate Christmas?” While at one time I leaned toward the “No” end of the spectrum, additional study and biblical argumentation has pulled me toward the “Yes” end of the spectrum, with many arguments you often don’t hear when listening to those who simply explain the pagan origins. My goal here is not to argue that aspects of Christmas did not come out of paganism thousands of years ago, but instead to ask if those aspects should prevent us from celebrating Christmas in an appropriate way today. I will begin by addressing three arguments against Christians celebrating Christmas, and then give a series of arguments for Christians celebrating Christmas.
- The Date of Christmas is Associated with Paganism
Biblical scholars tend not to argue for December 25th being the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Personally (without going into details here), I believe September is the best argument from Scripture at this point. December 25th seems to clearly originate in paganism as the birthday of the sun god, as the days go from being short to being long again with the winter solstice. After a few hundred years, the church chose to adopt this day as a celebration of the Son of God being born, as opposed to the sun (which was worshiped by pagans) being born again each year. If the date originates in paganism, does that mean Christians should avoid it? Not necessarily. Here are a few things to consider:
- Scripture makes statements about observing holidays and the freedom of Christians in regard to special days:
Romans 14:5-6: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
Christians have liberty in Christ to make decisions about celebrating certain days, as long as they do it in a way that is honoring to God. John MacArthur, who is in favor of Christians using Christmas as a platform for the truth, says the following about Rom. 14:5-6: “According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day–including Christmas–as a day for the Lord.” MacArthur claims celebrating Christmas isn’t a matter of right or wrong, because Christ has given us liberty to choose which days to celebrate if done in an appropriate way.
However, Romans 14 isn’t the only passage which is applicable to this question; other passages speak of things which were originally used for pagan purposes that Christians can now partake in, such as meat sacrifices to idols. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that Christians have the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as long as it won’t cause another brother to stumble. Even when an animal is sacrificed to false gods it doesn’t make the animal somehow demonic and evil for a Christian to eat as food. Why? Because the false gods don’t exist. They have no power and the meat isn’t demonic because they used it in the wrong way. It also seems strange to say a false god has claim to a day and Christians should respect and not interfere with the day. Christians are not called to avoid the culture, or go along with the culture, they are called to bring change and transformation to the culture. If the devil tries to claim a day for a false god, what is biblically wrong with Christians taking the day, redeeming the day, and using it for the glory of God instead of a false idol?
- Broad principles reject an “avoid” mentality and instead embrace a “transform” and redemptive mentality.
Jesus wasn’t in the ministry of avoiding things which were unclean, He was in the ministry of taking that which was unclean and broken and transforming it. Matt Slick, of the Christian Apologetic Research Ministry (CARM), brings out a principle from the work that God does and applies it to Christians using a pagan date to celebrate Christmas. “The Lord, through His sacrifice, has cleansed us of our sins. He sanctifies what he touches. When we came in contact with Him, it is we who were cleansed. It is not Him who is defiled. The woman with the issue of blood who touched Jesus (Mark 5:25-34) was made clean. It was not Jesus who was defiled. Likewise, Jesus touched the unclean lepers and cleansed them (Matt. 8:3). Jesus came in contact with many people, and it was never He who was defiled. It was they who were cleansed.”
What if we saw December 25th as a day, created by God, that has been defiled by the paganism of the world, but Christians have the chance to redeem and refocus the day on the true God? Many claim nothing in Scripture says to celebrate the birth of Christ on a specific day, which is true. But setting aside days for remembering important events (such as Passover) is biblical, and while Christians should remember the virgin birth of the Son of God every day, having a seasonal platform from which to preach that message to the world is a golden opportunity.
Yes, December 25th originated at a pagan festival to a false god, and Christians chose to take that pagan day and use it as a platform to proclaim that the true God became flesh to save us. Nothing in Scripture prohibits this type of action on the part of the church. Many principles, in fact, support redeeming these types of days.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, where we’ll continue to investigate arguments against Christians celebrating Christmas, and part 3, where we’ll look into arguments for the celebration.
“Who has bewitched you?” Paul was seriously concerned that someone was leading the Galatians away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was pointedly questioning them, and strongly warning them to beware.
Beware being bewitched, Paul warned – understanding that there is not another gospel to be drawn away to, even if it appears that angels from heaven are presenting it. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn out of position in Christ. Don’t be misled by charm into evil doctrines. Don’t be fascinated, and deceived, by false representations claiming to be truth.
What is offered to bewitch the saints? What is offered to pervert the gospel? Emptiness. Things that beguile through enticing words. That cause us to question God and His goodness and His precious plan of salvation:
- Appealing to the flesh rather than the Holy Spirit
- Pleasing man rather than God
- Appealing to works rather than faith in Christ’s sacrifice for sins
- Back into bondage rather than freedom in Christ
- Glorying in the flesh instead of the cross
- Traditions of men rather than the truth of God
- Trusting in self rather than the Saviour
- The law rather than grace
Paul so strongly opposed false prophets, he put a curse on them! Read it yourself in Galatians chapter 1. Perverting the gospel is a serious crime in the kingdom of Christ. Those who attempt to bewitch followers of Christ anger God Himself. Jesus flatly stated that those who cause others to stumble in the faith would be better off drowned. Those who trouble the saints will bear their judgment, Paul wrote.
Paul warned the Galatians to not be otherwise minded. One of the Greek definitions of bewitched is to be put out of our wits. When someone is tempted to not obey the truth through false representations, they’re being pulled off the mark. And if we miss the mark, we also miss the prize. If we miss the mark by being bewitched, we risk tearing down the hedge of spiritual protection around our children, confusing and endangering them along with ourselves. What we reap, we sow. Beware being bewitched. And warn others with sincerity and humility to avoid the same trap.
If any within the Church are pulled off base by being bewitched, we are to lovingly restore them to the right path with meekness, exhorting them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free in order to escape being entangled with bondage. Jesus warned that if, having put our hand to the plow, we look back, we endanger our souls. Let’s watch out for ourselves and others lest the enemy devour any of us. Beware being bewitched.
This is the thirteen-hundredth (1,300) anniversary of the year of King Pelagius of Spain’s most famous battle; one which changed the course of European history. Because of his belief in the teachings of the Bible, he and a small band of Spanish Christians were able to demonstrate that a seemingly invincible enemy could be defeated. Without his courage and heroism, Spain may never have become a strong Christian nation since his time.
Beginning in 718 AD, an army of Africans and Arabs, under the banner of Islam, began their invasion of Spain. This army of Muslims had been conquering countries throughout Africa and the Near East since they began their “jihad” in the late 600s AD. They came across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa into southern Spain and were an unstoppable force that destroyed cities and towns wherever they went. A historian in 754 AD wrote that the Muslims “ruined beautiful cities, burning them with fire, condemning lords and powerful men to the cross; and butchered youths and infants with the sword.”
The objective of the invaders was to sow terror among the Christians so that they would either surrender without fighting or flee. The invaders slaughtered, cooked, and pretended to eat Christian captives, while releasing others who, horrified, fled and informed the people in Northern Spain that the Muslims were eating human flesh. In the face of such a fierce army the Christians had only two choices: acquiesce to Muslim rule or flee to the mountains, where they risked hunger and various forms of death.
Among the Christians that fled to the mountains was Pelagius (better known as Pelayo). He was born in 685 AD and died in 737 AD. He had survived that battle for the city of Guadalete. In Northern Spain the hold on the population by the Muslims was less than in Southern Spain, so there was less threat of attacks in that part of the country. Pelagius became the leader of a small Christian community at the foothills of the Asturian Mountains and was forced to pay tribute to the Muslim warlord in the area. Because the Muslim warlord chose to “marry” Pelagius’ sister, against his wishes (and those of his sister), Pelagius stopped paying tribute to the warlord. This resulted in the warlord sending troops to extract the tribute and to punish Pelagius.
Pelagius fled deep into the mountains with a band of Christians and set up a kingdom called Asturias in 718 AD. The Muslims were not willing to let this group of Christians survive, so they assembled an army of 180,000 men and surrounded the mountain stronghold of Pelagius. The Muslims chose a bishop who had acquiesced to Muslim rule to convince Pelagius that his cause was hopeless.
Pelagius replied to the bishop’s pleadings with the following words:
“I will not associate with the Arabs in friendship nor will I submit to their authority.” Then he made a prophecy (which was fulfilled over the next 8 centuries). “Have you not read in the divine scriptures that the church of God is compared to a mustard seed and that it will be raised up again through divine mercy?”
Pelagius and his fellow Christians held out in the mountain stronghold for four years suffering cold and hunger, but never giving up. Eventually the Muslims attacked the stronghold which was a small valley in the mountains. The Christians were able to surprise the Muslims by hiding in a cave at the rear of the Muslim army and were able to defeat them in this deceive battle. A second battle was launched a month later and again the Muslims were defeated. At this point they chose to leave the Christians alone. It was, as mentioned above, the first time the Muslims had been defeated and it stopped the spread of Islam from expanding into northern Spain and further into Europe and gave the Christians hope of taking back their country.
Because of the success of Pelagius, over the next 800 years (until 1492) the Christians were able to gradually push the Muslims further and further south until eventually they retreated back across the Mediterranean Sea and back to Africa.
If you went to church as a child, you’ve probably heard the traditional Sunday School version of David and Goliath. If not, it goes something like this…
The Israelite army was being challenged by a giant named Goliath. All of the soldiers were terrified of Goliath and no one would step up to fight him. Then, David, a young boy around 12 years old came to visit his brothers, heard about Goliath and got mad! David volunteered to fight the giant and everyone thought he was crazy! Saul finally agreed and offered David his armor, which was much too big for the boy. David looked like a little boy wearing his Dad’s t-shirt. So, he took the armor off and went to face the giant with his little slingshot and miraculously hit Goliath between his eyes and killed him. The moral of the story? You are never too small to be used by God!
It’s a great story, but is it really what the Bible describes? Well, not quite. Unfortunately, the Sunday School version, as well as the story that is portrayed on many children’s cartoons, takes a lot of poetic license.
Anointed to be King
The first time David enters Israel’s story is in 1 Samuel 16. In this chapter, the prophet Samuel has followed God’s instructions and traveled to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king. God told Samuel to set up a sacrifice so that he would not have to tell the people the primary reason for his visit. Jesse and his sons are consecrated and invited to attend the sacrifice and, upon their arrival, Samuel assumes that David’s oldest brother is God’s chosen one. He is rebuked by God for looking only at Eliab’s appearance. One by one, Jesse’s sons pass by Samuel and one by one, God says, “No.” This is where we pick the story up.
Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.”
And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:10-13)
Many people point to God’s words regarding Eliab, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature…” along with the fact that David was the youngest and was not called to join them with the prophet and assume that David must have been a young boy – too young to be considered. That, however, is just not in this text. There could have been a reason why David may have had to remain with the sheep or David might have been a bit neglected by his family and forgotten about. Similarly, Eliab’s stature does not imply that David – or any of his other brothers – was small. Eliab may have just been the tallest and most impressive of the brothers, the golden child so to speak.
Mighty Man of Valor, A Man of War
Right after this event, the Bible tells us that the Spirit of the Lord left King Saul and that a distressing spirit troubled him. Saul’s servants wanted to help and offered a suggestion…
Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.” Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him. (1 Samuel 16:16-18)
Saul’s servants referred to David as a “mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person.” These are hardly words that would be used to describe a child, or even a young teenage boy. Some respond to this by saying that the events were not written in chronological order and that this really happened after David fought Goliath. However, there is not only a lack of evidence for this argument, there are some indications that it could not be true. Tim Chaffey explains…
First and foremost, 1 Samuel 17:15 states, “But David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” So David regularly served Saul before his encounter with Goliath. Also, 1 Samuel 18:2, which immediately followed the battle with Goliath, states, “Saul took him [David] that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore.” Finally, chapter 16 shows that Saul and David were introduced to each other and that David became his armor bearer (v. 21), whereas chapter 17 shows no such introduction, indicating they knew already knew each other.
David Leaves Home
Subsequently, King Saul sent for David and, “… David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armorbearer. Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.” (1 Samuel 16:21-23) We know 2 things from this passage. (1) David became Saul’s armorbearer. (2) Whenever the distressing spirit came upon Saul, David would take a harp and play it. Both bring us to an easy conclusion that David moved into the palace and was required to be in the presence of Saul at all times. 1 Samuel 17:15 confirms that, “… David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.”
Too Young to Fight?
Next, we come to the story of David and Goliath. Israel’s army is gathered in the Valley of Elah, terrified by the Philistine giant, who twice a day issued this challenge…
Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us … I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. (1 Samuel 17:8b-10)
This had gone on for 40 days when David entered the camp to bring his brothers provisions from their elderly father. Here is where we find one of the most common misconceptions about David. Because only the 3 oldest brothers were with Saul, it is assumed that the other 5 brothers, including David, were all under the age of 20 (the age that men in Israel were required to enter military service). This theory makes sense until you look at all of the exemptions to military service that are provided in the Torah. Deuteronomy 20 lists the following reasons why a man who was over the age of 20 would be allowed to stay home from battle.
- He bought a new house and had not dedicated it.
- He planted a vineyard and had not eaten from it.
- He was betrothed to a woman and not yet married.
- He was fearful and fainthearted.
Deuteronomy 24:5 also instructs Israel that a man is exempt from service for 1 year following his wedding. It is apparent that David did not qualify for any of these exemptions, so it is safe to say that he was almost certainly under the age of 20. However, we should not read more into the text than what is written. We have no reason to presume that the rest of David’s brothers were too young to be at war. One or all could have simply been fearful or fainthearted. They were, after all, facing a giant that was terrorizing them. It is also quite likely when you are talking about a group of young men that at least 1 would have just built a new house that was not yet dedicated, planted a vineyard that he had not eaten of or become betrothed or recently married. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that David could have been as old as 19 years old – even right up to the day before his 20th birthday, which would better fit the description of David in 1 Samuel 16.
But, doesn’t the Bible say that Saul’s armor much too big for David? This is really just another unfortunate myth portrayed in many Sunday school lessons. Let’s look at the relevant verses in 1 Samuel 17:38-39.
So Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail. David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. And David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.” So David took them off.
David simply stated that he could not walk with the armor because he had not tested it. In the KJV, David’s words are translated this way, “I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them.” Testing or proving armor means to test it for defensive ability. David’s statement could actually indicate that he had some experience in battle.
Not a Boy
A second misunderstanding of this conversation comes from Saul’s words of caution to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” Some versions of the Bible use the word “boy” in Saul’s description of David, but that is not an accurate translation and creates even more confusion. The Hebrew word that is translated “youth” here can also be translated servant and can be used to describe a child, teenager or even a younger adult man, as was the case when it was used to describe Absalom in 2 Samuel 18:29 right after he was killed for attempting to take the throne from his father, David. At the time of Absalom’s death, most scholars believe that he was somewhere around 30 years old, give or take a couple of years.
In our day, slingshots are commonly marketed as children’s toys and that is how most in America view them. However, that was not always the case. In ancient times, slingers were skilled, deadly warriors who were employed by the Roman, Assyrian, Egyptian and Israelite armies (among others). Stones flung from their slings rivaled the velocity and precision of a handgun today. Most had been trained since childhood and had finely tuned their skill. In his book, Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization, Paul Kriwaczek explains how and why a sling worked so well. (emphasis added)
A sling works by increasing the effective length of a stone-thrower’s arm. Modern cricket bowlers or baseball pitchers can achieve maximum ball velocities of over 150 kilometres per hour. A slingshot as long again as the thrower’s arm will double the projectile’s speed, making the velocity of the bullet when it leaves the sling nearly 100 metres per second. This is already considerably greater than that of a longbow arrow, at only about 60 mps. Intensively trained from childhood onward, there is no reason to believe that a professional slinger could not beat 100 mps (meters per second) fairly easily and perhaps even begin to approach the muzzle velocity of a .45 calibre pistol round: about 150 mps. What is more, a smooth slingshot projectile has a far greater range than an arrow, as much as half a kilometre, because an arrow’s flight feather’s produce so much drag. The modern world-record distance for a stone cast with a sling was achieved by Larry Bray in 1981, who managed 437 metres, and thought in retrospect that he could surpass the 600-metre mark with a better sling and lead projectiles.
Without the myths, David’s victory over Goliath is a powerful testimony of God’s hand in Israel’s history. While faith is our primary goal when reading Scripture, we should not shy away from reason, logic and historical context. David was a mighty man of valor who had likely been trained in the use of a sling from the time he was a child. By faith, David surrendered his skills to God and was used mightily to defeat a man whose intention was to thwart God’s plan for Israel.
* All scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess I struggle to open jars. If Ben isn’t home to open it for me, the jar sits on the counter, mocking me. So I sincerely ask for the Lord’s help: “You know I can’t do this alone,” wrestle it under hot water, whack it around the rim with a knife handle, use my blue rubbery piece to twist on the lid with all my might until I hear that satisfying pop and hiss of released pressure. Then I sing my victory song, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done!” All this, by the way, is true.
Reading the Bible a few mornings ago, I read a verse that shook my spirit to the core: “…they repented not to give Him glory” (Revelation 16:9). Under the severe wrath of God during end times, wicked men were suffering intensely, yet they refused to repent, choosing to blaspheme rather than call on His name for forgiveness. “They repented not to give Him glory.” Whoa. Immediately another verse came to mind: “…they knew God, yet they glorified Him not as God” (Romans 1:21).
I sat on the porch swing trying to absorb what God was working into my mind and spirit. Are we to understand that when we confess and repent, we give Him glory? that we recognize His honor, splendor, majesty, authority, worth, and preeminence, evoking amazement in our minds to confess Him as God?
Of course! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He alone can forgive sin. It’s His glory to forgive us our sins when we humble ourselves, confess, and ask His forgiveness. It’s the hope within us! Jesus saves! To God be the glory, great things He hath done! The way is made, is well marked, and is open to all who will come and confess.
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:10). This verse does not promote “easy believism” but offers God’s radical call to salvation. The word confess here means to gladly acknowledge and agree fully, publicly, openly by giving praise that God raised Jesus from the dead with a deep conviction of the facts; confessing allegiance to Christ as Lord and Master. Remember that Paul is writing this to those in Rome who responded in answer to the preaching of the Gospel for salvation in Jesus. Did you understand “death sentence” as you read that? Which is what they faced for confessing publicly that Jesus is Lord instead of Caesar being deity. And they faced mockings, loss of business, and loss of family if they professed to believe that anyone was raised to life after suffering Roman crucifixion. No, not easy. Rather, persecution for confessing this new life in Christ. And they gladly confessed.
“What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We will only be able to enjoy God when we confess our sins to His glory. Then we can sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!”
What if we as Christians took this personally, as Daniel did when he prayed, confessing Israel’s sins to God’s glory? (Daniel 9) “If My people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). What if we took Him at His Word, called on His Name, confessed the sins of our nation, seeking His mercy, love, and grace as we pled His forgiveness for the lost and the healing of our land? And presented our repentance for our own lukewarmness within the Church? For His glory. To God be the glory. We know He can do great things when His people seek His face for His glory. And our victory song, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done!” will be a powerful and good confession!
Many Christians today believe that there truly is a “wall of separation between Church and State” and that the Church should not get involved in any kind of “political” activity, but should instead leave that to secular organizations. Their belief is based both on Scripture and what they have been taught in the school system and general society.
The Scripture that is often cited for this belief is Matthew 22:21, which states, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Also there is Romans 13:1, which states, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are chosen by God.”
Additionally, since the early 1960s, the Supreme Court has been restricting the role that religion plays in the “public square”, based mainly on the concept of “Separation of Church and State” (which does not appear in the Constitution). This separation idea has led many churches to shy away from anything that even appears to be political, and the vast majority of the Christian community is comfortable with this stance. It is fortunate for us that this has not always been the case. We need only look at the history of early America and the mid-to late-1700s to see how different the position of the Christian community was, and the critical difference this made to the founding of our country.
After a couple of generations were born in America, there was a decline in regular church attendance. Keep in mind that 99% of America’s population was Bible-believing Christians. There were various reasons for this decline, which we won’t go into here. God, however, had a plan, and He inspired evangelists to begin what would become the greatest revival the country has ever experienced.
Once the revival had succeeded, regular church attendance again exceeded 90%, and Americans were not willing to go to war against “God’s-appointed” ruler (King George III) without clear Scriptural basis. Fortunately, God’s Word was there to help the country. Because the Protestant Reformers in the 1500s had faced similar problems going against the civil authorities in many countries who were aligned, there were many writings covering this very issue.
In the Bible there are numerous recorded instances of Christians and Jews defying government authority, when and only when that authority is not acting within God’s Law. The instances include: the Hebrew midwives defying Pharaoh when he ordered them to kill the male children, Daniel and his companions in Babylon defying the Chaldean King who ordered them to worship him as a god and, in the New Testament, Peter and James, after the day of Pentecost, defying the Jewish Leaders and continuing to preach on the Temple grounds. All of these instances had in common that God’s Law had been violated and Christians and Jews chose to follow God’s Law instead of man’s.
American congregations were advised that in order to justify a “revolution”, they must be sure that the King and Parliament were, in fact, violating God’s Law. Such justification was found in the actions of the King who had chosen to not only be the executor of laws, but gave himself veto power over any law the colonial assemblies passed. Further, he also required all Royal Judges to swear loyalty to him and to follow his decrees and not those of the colonial assemblies. He became a dictator, and therefore was acting against the will of the Americans and violating God’s Law.
The Americans had tried numerous times to reach a compromise with the King, but he refused, stating the he “was born to rule and that the colonists were born to be ruled over.” (Which is a clear violation of God’s Law.)
The Americans stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence that the King had violated God’s Law and spelled out the long train of abuses that the king had perpetrated against the Americans. The Preamble reads, in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (emphasis mine).
to establish a Christian nation. Secularists point to quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and even George Washington in their quest to detach our nation from her Judeo-Christian roots. The quotes that they use are almost always taken out of context or sometimes even completely fabricated. But, if we simply read through founding era speeches, letters and other writings, it is easy to see that most of our founders would more easily fit the description of apologist.
For example, secularists claim that because George Washington used terms like Divine Providence and Supreme Being, he must have been a Deist and not a Christian. However, they overlook (or ignore) the fact that Providence was a term commonly used to refer to God during the founding era and for at least 2 centuries before. The Geneva Bible alone referred to God as Providence 144 times. Many sermons of the day utilized the word as well, including “Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” which was delivered by John Witherspoon on May 17, 1776. In this sermon, Witherspoon referred to Providence 10 times overall and twice in these opening sentences…
“THERE is not a greater evidence either of the reality or the power of religion, than a firm belief of God’s universal presence, and a constant attention to the influence and operation of his providence. It is by this means that the Christian may be said, in the emphatical scripture language, to walk with God, and to endure as seeing him who is invisible.
THE doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but to things the most indifferent and inconsiderable: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthings, says our Lord, and one of them falleth not on the ground without your heavenly Father; nay, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. It extends not only to things beneficial and salutary, or to the direction and assistance of those who are the servants of the living God; but to things seemingly most hurtful and destructive, and to persons the most refractory and disobedient. He over-rules all his creatures, and all their actions.”
Regardless of how many others used the term, Washington made it clear that he was, in fact, a Christian. On May 2, 1778, General Washington issued general orders to his soldiers at Valley Forge. Included in his brief statement were these words…
While we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion—To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian…
Later, when he resigned from his post as commander in chief of the Continental army, Washington closed his Circular to the States this way…
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks [original spelling] of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.
In March of 1785, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson traveled to France to meet with the ambassador of Tripoli in hopes of ending the attacks on American merchant ships. Tragically, the attacks would continue for more than 3 decades and 4 presidents. One of many treaties signed along the way was the Treaty of Tripoli. A small snippet from this treaty is used by atheists and secularists to defend their position that America was never a Christian nation. The quote is often incorrectly attributed to John Adams and is usually presented this way: “The United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” Apart from its context, this sentence seems like a death knell. But, context is everything. This is the full paragraph.
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] and as the said States [America] have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
As you can see, what it is quoted as a complete sentence is actually just a small part of a much longer sentence and it is clear that this was nothing more than an attempt to placate the Muslim nations and convince them that the United States had no interest in a holy war. Wallbuilders has an article on The Treaty of Tripoli that explains this quote in more detail here.
In addition to attributing the preceding quote to John Adams, revisionists label him as a Unitarian who rejected orthodox Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Below are just a few quotations from Adams that demonstrate that, in fact, Adams was a devout and outspoken Christian. (Read more about John Adams here; full bibliography including page numbers at the end of the article.)
“It is notorious enough that I have been a church-going animal for seventy-six years from the cradle.”
John Adams to Benjamin Rush on August 28, 1811, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor
“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were . . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . I will avow that I then believed (and now believe) that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813, Quoted from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, editor
“I have examined all [religions], . . . and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.”
John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on December 25, 1813, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor
“I think there is nothing upon this earth more sublime and affecting than the idea of a great nation all on their knees at once before their God, acknowledging their faults and imploring His blessing and protection.”
John Adams, correspondence originally published in the Boston Patriot, 1809, Letter XIII, Quoted from The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor
“The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy that ever was conceived upon earth. . . .The curses against fornication and adultery, and the prohibition of every wanton glance or libidinous ogle at a woman, I believe to be the only system that ever did or ever will preserve a republic in the world. . . . I say then that national morality never was and never can be preserved without the utmost purity and chastity in women; and without national morality a republican government cannot be maintained.”
John Adams to Benjamin Rush on February 2, 1807, Quoted from Old Family Letters, Alexander Biddle, editorThomas Jefferson is probably the most slandered founding father. Christians and atheists alike have attacked Jefferson’s religion, character and actions. David Barton wrote an excellent book entitled, “The Jefferson Lies,” which dispels commonly held beliefs about the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. One of the things that he covers in that book is the so-called “Jefferson Bible.” The lie that is spread is that Thomas Jefferson cut pages out of his Bible, removing things that he didn’t agree with. This is a myth at best and outright propaganda at worst. The truth is that Jefferson wanted to give the Native Americans an abridgment of the Bible that would introduce them to Biblical morality and be easy to understand. He titled the work, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. Extracted from the Account of His Life and Doctrines Given by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Being an Abridgement of the New Testament for the Use of the Indians, Unembarrassed [Uncomplicated] with Matters of Fact or Faith beyond the Level of their Comprehensions.” (See Defending The Jefferson Lies: David Barton Responds to his Conservative Critics.) This fits perfectly with Jefferson’s life as he used both his own money as well as federal funds to send missionaries to the Native Americans and build churches for them.
Furthermore, while Jefferson is held up as the champion of the “separation of church and state,” i.e. church should have no involvement in the state, much evidence exists that the only thing he was interested in was keeping the state out of the church and not the other way around. According to Wallbuilders, “Jefferson never promoted the concept of a secular state. While serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses he introduced a resolution for a day of fasting and prayer in 1774. As governor of Virginia he issued a proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving in November 1779. While President, he chaired the school board for the District of Columbia and authored its plan of education using the Bible and Watt’s Hymnal as reading texts. He also proposed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, which included using Federal money to build a church and support a clergyman. When he established the University of Virginia, he encouraged the teaching of religion and set apart space in the Rotunda for chapel services. He also praised the use of the local courthouse in his home town for religious services.” (See footnotes here.)
Jefferson wrote extensively about his Christian faith and the benefits of Christianity to society. Here are some examples.
“The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.”
Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse on June 26, 1822, Quoted from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904)
“The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.”
Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, September 27, 1809, Quoted from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904)
“I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others.”
Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803, Quoted from Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Grey & Bowen, 1830)
“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816, Quoted from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904)
Finally, like the others Benjamin Franklin is thought by most to have been a Deist. While certainly one of the least religious of the founding fathers, Franklin was no Deist. At one point the Constitutional Convention seemed doomed to failure, but on June 28, 1787, the 81 year old Franklin rose from his seat and spoke these words …
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other,”our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes and ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, some we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. ”Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service.
Benjamin Franklin had more to say about Christianity and a personal God.
“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and His religion as He left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see.”
Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790, Quoted from Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor
“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and guilding, lies here, food for worms. Yet the work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beatiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.” (FRANKLIN’S EULOGY THAT HE WROTE FOR HIMSELF)
Quoted from Works of the Late Doctor Benjamin Franklin (Dublin: P. Wogan, P. Byrne, J. More, and W. Janes, 1793)
“Whosoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.”
Again, most of America’s Founding Fathers could more easily be classified apologists than secularists since they spent most of their lives defending Christianity. Volumes more could be (and have been) written on the Christian faith of our founding fathers, but I will leave you with these words from John Quincy Adams,
In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior. The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.
During the Supreme Court session that ended on June 30, 2018, the Court chose not to hear, among others, two cases which were decided at the lower court levels with conflicting outcomes. Both of these cases had to do with prayer at public meetings. In one case, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it was constitutional for School Board meetings to begin with student-led prayers that were predominantly Christian. In another case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it was unconstitutional for a County Commissioners meeting to begin with prayers offered by the Commissioners themselves who were predominantly Christian.
As recently as 2014, the Supreme Court had ruled on prayers to open public meetings. In that case (Town of Greece v. Galloway), the Court ruled that “Americans should have the freedom to pray without being censored, even when opening public meetings.” However, the 4th Circuit Court decisions goes against that previous ruling. The Supreme Court has therefore let stand two decisions which are in conflict with one another.
The Supreme Court has become the final arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not. In the two cases they declined to hear, they let stand two lower court decisions which are in conflict with one another. The question then becomes: under what circumstances can a prayer (invocation) be given at a public meeting? The last case upon which the Court did rule is the 2014 case in which they said essentially that as long as there is an opportunity for people attending the meeting to “opt out”, and as long as the meeting format provides an opportunity for a variety of faiths to provide the invocation; then the invocation before a public meeting is constitutional.
It is unfortunate that these types of cases keep coming up, and the fault lies squarely with the Supreme Court and its unwillingness to provide a “general guideline” which covers all public meetings. The Court has chosen rather to rule on each individual case, causing confusion. They are “splitting hairs” on this issue. Therefore questions still arise such as: is it okay to pray at a public school event? Is it alright to pray at a school board meeting if members of the board pray or if a student leads the prayer? At City Council and County Commissioners meetings, is it acceptable to have clergy lead a prayer, or is it okay if a member of the Council or Board of Commissioners leads the prayer? The Court has arrived at different decisions on each of these instances or rejected cases that have been decided by lower courts that have ruled.
Prior to 1962 it was okay to pray in school and any other public meeting. Since that time it became “unconstitutional”. Similar issues have arisen with regard to the display of the Ten Commandments, with the Court deciding that some “versions” of the Commandment are “denominational” and therefore promote one religion over another and thus cannot be displayed on public land.
The Court has gradually moved toward eliminating God from the public square and the results are easy to see today. Other countries have followed suit and again the results have not been good. When God disappears from the lives of people, the population loses its sense of direction and priorities. It happened over and over again to the Hebrews when they got to Israel. Anyone who reads and understands the Old Testament knows what consequences befell the Hebrews.
The lessons in the Old Testament are clear and obvious. When people turn their backs on God, He will wait for a time to see if people repent and turn back to Him; but if not He will provide a “reminder”.
After much internal debate, I have decided for my first official adventure into my Apologetics series on World Religions, I would take a closer look at Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and their beliefs. I keep seeing and hearing discussions about JWs all over the place.
I recently had a special-needs friend make an announcement that she was now attending a Jehovah’s Witness meeting, after a lady knocked on her door and warned her she was going to hell if she didn’t join them at one of their meetings. This made me realize, even more, the importance of being able to understand these other worldviews.
Think long and hard about the last interaction you had with a JW when they knocked on your door or hit you up at the Walmart. How did you respond? Did you simply tell them you had a church and send them away? Or did you do something to plant that seed with them?
It’s my hope that by the end of this article you are able to engage in a healthy, hopefully productive conversation with them. Armed with a better knowledge of their basic beliefs, you should have a better idea of how to plant the seed with them during your short conversation!
What do Jehovah’s Witnesses actually believe?
First, some history! The Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded in the USA in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. Raised in the protestant church, Russell decided to take what he liked about the Christian faith and leave what he didn’t. In 1884 he founded the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) and these little pamphlets that they distribute door to door are held in the same esteem as the Holy Bible (of which they have their own translation, the “New World Translation”).
Russell first predicted Armageddon would begin in 1914. (Although he passed away in 1916, despite Armageddon’s failure to happen!) Several of his successors would also falsely predict the end of the world, occasionally leading to an exodus of JW members upon their failed predictions.
Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, had a moment of panic when his prediction of a 1925 Armageddon failed to happen and the church was approaching 144,000 members. This number is significant because, according to their belief, 144,000 faithful JWs will be admitted into heaven. Once their following surpassed that number, the beliefs switched a bit. Now, 144,000 will be admitted to heaven. The rest of the faithful members will live on Paradise Earth (The new Earth referenced in Revelation 21) where they will be allowed to live peacefully until they fall from grace and are booted. (Yes, you read that right – even in the “afterlife” JWs believe that we are able to lose our salvation and be kicked from Paradise Earth into the abyss.)
So here we are in 2018, several failed Armageddon dates later, and many more than 144,000 members. So what else does the JW faith believe?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses do believe in one God, much like Christianity. However, that’s about where our similarities end. They do not believe that the Holy Trinity is scriptural. They do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, in that God created him. But he was not God on earth.
In fact, they believe that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel. That his spirit was implanted in Mary, making him human.
They do believe that Jesus was born, lived, and died (on a stake, not a cross). They also believe that he was resurrected, although only spiritually and not physically. (This is important, because everyone else who has died is in a state of unconsciousness – awaiting the Armageddon when they will awaken and take up residence of the New Earth.)
Another variance between the JWs and Protestant Christians? JWs do not believe in hell. They believe that all spiritual beings who have passed are in a slumber, and those chosen to live on Paradise Earth will be awakened at the end of the world, and those who are not awakened will just rest in an eternal slumber.
So the next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on your door, what should you do?
Greet them with kindness! Like my mom always told me, “You get more flies with honey.”
Also, don’t bombard them with negative facts! No one wants their belief system to be attacked with anger, and made to feel less than. Sure, there are many discrepancies – but that’s NEVER a way to lead into a discussion!
One thing I have found true about nearly all of my interactions with JW members? They are scripted. Once you appear to be open to talking to them, chances are good that this will set them up for their memorized speech. This speech will often cover the depressing events around the world, God’s plan for Paradise Earth and that God’s name is indeed Jehovah.
One of my favorite approaches is to turn this into a dialogue and share with them some of the amazing ways I have seen God act in my life. What I was like before I was truly following God, how Jesus came into my life, how my life has changed, how much I enjoy my daily time with God.
This is giving them a glimpse into a reality that they don’t often learn about. (They learn that all those outside the JW organization don’t have hope, that we are all sad and striving to live up to an unattainable lifestyle.) You are giving them hard proof of God acting OUTSIDE their norm.
If you feel comfortable, and that the seed you’ve planted is starting to grow? Agree to take their literature – you can tell them you’re interested in learning a little more about their beliefs. (Hopefully you are! I know it fascinates me!) You can even invite them to come back and share more with you once you’ve had your chance to study!
Now here’s the hard part: Actually study! Take their literature and study it. Come up with solid questions, doctrinal differences. And be prepared to discuss those with them! Hopefully you’ll be watching seeds grow within them, as they discover more outside of their current view.
It’s my hope, that within this post I have introduced you to a few of the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and encouraged you to have a productive conversation the next time they knock on your door! We are, after all, called to be ready always to give a defense to our faith!
It was a grim and gruesome scene there on Golgotha. Two common thieves, caught in their crime and paying the price with their lives, were being crucified on either side of the sinless Son of God Who was also hanging on a cross. Blood dripped from their wounds into the dirt at the foot of the three crosses and groans came from nearer the top of these cruel instruments of death. Conversation swirled around the top of the hill and also between the men hanging there.
People standing around and passing by had cruel comments to make about the trio hanging on the crosses. Of course they had to be the worst of criminals to warrant being crucified; that would be a given in the minds of those at the scene. Then the Jewish leaders were there in all their pride and pomp. They had much to say against the Man on the middle cross. They accused Him of blasphemy: “If You are the Son of God, as You claim, come down from the cross!” “He saved others, but cannot save Himself. Come down now, and we will believe.” Let God save His Son, if, indeed, He is His Son, they scoffed. The thieves also repeated the things they heard from the throng at the foot of their crosses.
Suddenly evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work on that hill of desecration and death flashed out among those hanging there. Conviction lay hold on one of the thieves. Despite what he could hear the churchmen and priests and soldiers saying about Jesus, and the fact that Jesus was also being crucified, the thief rebuked his partner in crime for mocking the Man on the middle cross. “Hey, wait just a minute. We’re hanging here for crimes we committed. This is our just punishment. But this Man has done nothing wrong.” Recognizing and confessing his sin, he agreed with the sentence. In other words, he repented.
Then came one of the most amazing professions of faith recorded in the Holy Bible. Despite the sacrilege flowing on that hilltop, the thief recognized something holy. Someone like no one he’d ever come into contact with was bleeding to death on that next cross. Faith took hold, and he believed in the Man hanging beside Him. “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He believed and confessed Jesus. Salvation washed him white as snow. “This day you’ll be with Me in Paradise.”
Charles Colson observed that the two thieves who died on either side of Jesus represent you and me – all of mankind. We’re one or the other. “We either recognize our sinful selves, our sentence of death, and our deserving of that sentence, which leads us to repent and believe – or we curse God and die. What is your response?”
And make no mistake, a response is demanded of every human being. We each have a solemn spiritual choice to make that will determine the conduct of the rest of our lives and our eternal destination. The tale of two thieves is the tale of each of us. We’re either for Jesus, or we’re against Him, He told us. When we’ve believed in the saving power of the Man on the middle cross Who died to set us free, we are compelled to take the good news of the gospel to the lost among us. The answer we have to give is good news. Indeed, there is no other news or Name whereby we can be saved.