‘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.