This post is the second in a 3-part series in defense of Christians celebrating Christmas. In part 1, we began by looking into the arguments against Christians celebrating Christmas. To read part 1, please go here. We now resume the defense by continuing to look at other arguments against celebrating the holiday before we go into arguments for celebrating Christmas.
2. The Bible Specifically Forbids Christmas Trees.
Besides the date itself, the most cited pagan element associated with Christmas is the decorating of a tree during the celebration. Those who believe Christians should avoid Christmastime celebrations often cite a passage in Jeremiah as a clear association of Christmas trees with paganism in the Bible:
Jeremiah 10:1-4: “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, So that it will not topple.’”
Certainly the passage seems to be discussing decorating a tree with gold and silver and how the pagans do this as part of their practices, but if you read the entire passage in context, it has no relation to a Christmas tree. Here are the following verses which clarify the meaning:
“’They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.’ Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord (You are great, and your name is great in might), who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, And in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.”
There is absolutely no confusion in context that this is referring to the pagans who take a tree, carve it up and decorate it into an idol, not someone who takes a tree and uses it in a symbolic way to celebrate a holiday. In the passage, the tree is not left as a tree, it’s carved and chopped and shaped into an idol – there is no connection to Christmas trees. The entire point is these wooden idols are not real, they have no power, they are not like the living God. They are dead, weak, foolish, and worthless. Even if the passage did refer to Christmas trees, the command to Israel to not do the same thing is not because there is an inherent evil in Christmas trees and decorating trees, it would be because the pagans do it and God’s people (Israel) are not to be confused with the pagan nations surrounding them. Actually, many prohibitions in the Old Testament (cultural) are simply to keep Israel distinct from the pagan nations, such as the type of clothing they wear. But Christians today wear jeans without fear of their connection to pagan practices thousands of years ago (mixed fabrics), because jeans are not associated with paganism in the minds of those to whom we are trying to shine the light of Christ toward.
Now, you may say, “The Christmas tree originates in pagan practice even if Jeremiah isn’t speaking of a Christmas tree,” and you may be correct. Many cultures used the evergreen tree in different celebrations and festivals, but again, that doesn’t mean they have copyright on the tree. Actually, the Christmas tree wasn’t popular for most of church history; it was a later element in the Christmas tradition and quickly became part of it, even if it originated in non-Christian festivals throughout history. Again, the only biblical principle applicable to this topic is to avoid the appearance of evil and not confuse the world into thinking Christians and the pagans are no different. But one can convincingly argue that Christmas doesn’t do that today.
One doesn’t need to look far in Scripture to find symbols which were originally used to symbolize evil but are now used to symbolize good. The cross itself began hundreds of years prior to crucifixion of Jesus. It was a symbol of death, disgrace, and humiliation, yet the symbol has been adopted by Christianity to be a sign of salvation, life, and hope in Jesus Christ. Christmas trees, in the mind of our culture, is not a pagan symbol. Instead it’s a Christian symbol that reminds us of God becoming flesh and dwelling among mankind.
3. Other Aspects Originate in Paganism
As a side note, there are other aspects of Christmas that people claim originate in pagan culture, such as Santa Clause, candy canes, etc. Here is my approach to dealing with these topics and choosing which is appropriate and which are not. First, is the practice, object, or tradition associated with paganism in the minds of people today? Second, is it associated with Christianity in the minds of our culture and does it point people to the Christian message of God becoming flesh? If it’s associated with paganism, don’t do it. If it’s associated with Christianity, there is no issue with doing it, but every believer has the freedom to choose if they want to observe these days or not (Romans 14).
Santa Clause would be one example of something that doesn’t match either criteria mentioned above in the minds of our culture, though there is an interesting (and possibly correct) argument that the character originates in paganism. I choose not to include Santa Clause in our celebration of Christmas because it detracts from the true message, and also feeds false ideas that tend to deceive rather than promote imagination. (Another topic for another paper.)
I should note here, the above is the reason why I celebrate Christmas, but not Halloween in any traditional sense. The things associated with Halloween (death, ghosts, candy, blood, costumes, etc.) remain pagan in their appearance and in the mind of our culture. And so, while I can make a biblical argument for providing alternatives and using Halloween as an opportunity to reach out and share the gospel, I cannot celebrate the holiday along with our culture and in the same way. (Again, another topic for another paper. I simply wanted to include this as a side note.)
Finally, I am not here to defend every aspect of Christmas in the eyes of our culture. Commercial companies use Christmas as an opportunity to sell their wares, and the commercialization of Christmas can be rightfully disliked by Christians. However, the only reason to dislike the commercialization of the holiday is if it’s a distraction from the appropriate reason for celebrating the holiday: The birth of Jesus.
Please join us next time for part 3 as we look into arguments for why Christians may celebrate Christmas.
‘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.
Our culture has changed drastically recently, with many traditionally held beliefs now being questioned and overturned, even to the point where those who still hold true to those beliefs are seen as morally wrong. The most obvious area where this has occurred is in the realm of sexuality, beginning with the sexual revolution years ago and leading to the influential LGBTQ movement today. There has been progression from sex being seen by our culture as a sacred act reserved for a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, to teens being mocked if they haven’t had sex by the time they graduate high school, or earlier. Not only did the normalization of sexual relationships outside of marriage take hold in our society, but the created order of sex being between a man and woman is now rejected. Actually, the very lines and definitions that divide men and women are now questioned, but that’s another blog for another time.
Many in the LGBTQ movement claimed gay marriage wouldn’t lead to any other traditionally cultural taboo being embraced. They claimed there would be no slippery slope when the definition of marriage was opened and changed to include same sex marriage – but they were wrong. At this rate, the movement will not stop with the legalization of same sex marriage, but will continue to overthrow traditional, biblical standards and embrace relationships which are sinful and contrary to God’s plan. The arguments used to justify gay marriage – the often repeated “love is love” – can be used to justify other sinful relationships, too. If the definition of marriage, given by God, is removed as authoritative, why stop with gay marriage? If our argument is simply “love is love”, why is love limited to two people? Actually, many people have been asking this question for years, and have been pushing for legalization of non-monogamous marriages. Muslims in Italy right now are pushing for polygamy, men being allowed to marry multiple women (which many Muslims believe the Qur’an allows), and their legal argument is if homosexuality can be legal based on “love is love”, why can’t polygamy?
When God and objective moral standards are removed from the equation, why stop with homosexuality? Why not allow all types of “love”? In the past years, the American acceptance of polygamy has doubled, which can (in part) be attributed to the normalization of polygamous relationships in the media. Shows such as “Sister Wives” sparked the interest of millions of Americans, some of which asked the simple question, “Why can’t we marry more than one person?” The question is a valid one if our laws are simply based on our feelings. If “love is love” and objective standards are removed, polygamy would be a natural progression. Actually, why stop with one man and three women? Why not one man married to two women and two men, and why can’t these men also be married to other women? If absolute authorities are removed as the standard, such as the Word of God and morality as defined by God, why not? Love is love.
Actually, if love is love, why can’t someone marry him or herself? After all, our culture is obsessed with loving ourselves and being selfish and “me” focused, so why not allow people to marry themselves? Sologamy is the name given to self-marriage, and several people around the world have already taken part in these wedding ceremonies. Why not make it legal in America and give those people tax benefits? Why two? Why not one person married to him or herself, or five people together? Why is two the magic number?
The question is easily answered when God’s plan and purpose in creation and His Word are taken into account. However, when God and absolute authorities are thrown out the window, then who cares, love is love, isn’t it? Be prepared, just as the sexual revolution didn’t end with the normalization of casual, pre-marital sex, it won’t end with the legalization of gay marriage either.
Years ago, I came across a chart arguing that same sex marriage was not biblically wrong. The chart was shared by many of my Facebook friends, and by both Christians and non-Christians. My heart was saddened to see many of my Christian friends sharing the chart, not grasping the horrendous errors it espoused. After noticing similar charts show up again on my news feed recently, I determined that a response is in order. I encourage everyone to take a moment and familiarize yourself with the chart below, which I’ll address over a series of blogs in order to provide more depth than a single blog can.
The writer(s) of this chart are either ignorant of theology, doctrine, and Scripture (and logic), or are purposefully using fallacious arguments and twisted representations of Scripture to win people to their side, which no correct position would need. Let’s answer the question, “Why is homosexuality sinful?” and “Should gays should be allowed to marry?”
Our discussion will start with, “Because the Old Testament said so!”, and the inevitable response of, “The O.T. also says it’s sinful to eat shell-fish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork” and, “Should we still live by the O.T. laws?”
The creators of this chart are trying to remove the Old Testament as an authority today because several verses make it quite clear homosexuality is sinful:
Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.
While many try to discount these verses with a context change, they have failed (on every level) to justify those grammatical/contextual changes. The chart above doesn’t take that approach, but instead makes the sweeping implication that all Old Testament commands are irrelevant today, after all, many Christians eat bacon, which is banned by the Old Testament, right? Why is it okay to ignore those rules but not the homosexual rules? Haven’t all those rules expired? No.
The writers of the chart have either ignored or completely misunderstood basic Old Testament theology and the different types of laws given in the Old Testament. Why is it okay to eat pork but not murder? (Both are said to be wrong in the Old Testament.) Because the law dealing with pork is not the moral law given in the Old Testament, but a law specifically for Israel which was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Many laws were given to the nation of Israel to define their culture, or to guide the sacrifices during the O.T. time frame.
The cultural laws were meant to keep Israel separate from the pagan nations surrounding them. God knew if they mingled with the pagan nations, those nations would lead Israel away from Him. In fact, every time Israel ignored God’s command to stay separate from the other nations, those nations did lead them away from God. The cultural laws, and the laws governing sacrifice during the O.T., are no longer applicable to Christians today, because Christ has provided the ultimate sacrifice. Actually, the New Testament reveals this over and over, explaining the differences between these laws in several places, such as the book of Hebrews and Peter’s vision in Acts 10. However, there is another law given in the O.T. which is never overturned, which never expires, and is re-emphasized by Jesus and every writer of the N.T.: the moral law of God.
God’s moral law does not change, because it comes from the nature of God Himself, who is eternal and unchanging. Again, these laws are reiterated in the N.T., just as homosexuality being sinful is reiterated in the N.T., showing it was part of the moral law. In fact, if we look at the passages above in Leviticus, they are clearly defining moral behavior, and therefore never expire. The same passage which says homosexuality is sinful (Leviticus 18) also gives the moral law against incest. The passage in Leviticus 20:13 is clearly moral, too. Beginning in verse nine, God gives moral laws, such as not cursing your parents, not committing adultery, not lying with your father’s wife or your daughter-in-law, and, finally, in verse 15, the passage condemns beastiality. Is the author suggesting these laws have all expired? Is committing adultery now allowed by God? Or other sexual abominations such as beastiality? Clearly not.
The Old Testament is clear: homosexuality is sinful. Should we live by all the laws of the Old Testament? No, not at all, but no Christian was suggesting that anyway. This argument gives a false dilemma by claiming you either follow all the laws or none of the laws, which isn’t the case. The cultural and sacrificial laws expired with the coming of Jesus Christ, but the moral law is only reinforced by Jesus and will never change. So do I still think homosexuality is sinful because the Old Testament says so? Yes, I do. Does that make me a “sexist, chauvinistic, judgmental, xeno-phobic” person? No, it doesn’t. It simply means I love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth, even if many people will spew hatred in my direction for doing so.
David Hume once said: “Were a stranger to drop suddenly into this world, I would show him as specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewn with carcasses, a fleet floundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. Honestly, I don’t see how you can possibly square with an ultimate purpose of love.”
The question of evil and suffering has plagued the philosophical debate over the existence of God for thousands of years. Many see a deep incompatibility between the all-loving and all-powerful God of Scripture and the world of pain and suffering they observe. The argument goes something like this: If God is all-loving, He would desire to stop evil, and if God were all-powerful (both of which the Bible claims), He would have the power to stop evil. Therefore, since evil exists, the God of Scripture doesn’t. Many great answers have been given to this objection, from free will to justice. These answers have shown that there is no contradiction between Scripture and the world, but instead of regurgitating those typical (and good) responses, I’d like to take another approach for a moment.
Many agree that free will answers why evil and suffering exist, but the next question is often ,“If God knew Adam and Eve would sin and cause death and suffering, why create them in the first place? Why create a world that He knew would end up in pain and suffering?” When Hume looks at the world, He cannot reconcile God’s ultimate plan of love with his observations, but I want to submit to you that suffering and pain is the only way for God to make the greatest act of love. Scripture says:
John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The greatest love that someone can express to another is to die in their place, to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of another. Sacrificial love is the greatest expression of love, because sacrifice involves pain and suffering of some sort. Dying for someone requires pain and sacrifice of your life. Giving finances when you’re struggling requires extra work to make up the difference. Donating a kidney is a frightening surgery and painful recovery, yet these sacrificial actions express the greatest love.
Why then, would God look down the timeline of history, know that mankind would sin and cause suffering and pain, and still create the world? God knew that in the midst of that pain and suffering, in the midst of the evil brought about by man’s free will and sinful choices, God could show His greatest expression of love towards us by dying on the cross to save us and bring us back into a relationship with Him. Pain and suffering make the greatest expression of love – sacrificial love – a reality, which is why the Bible says:
Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
A God who is by nature love, would desire to express the greatest love possible to His children, and that love is possible because He created mankind, knowing we would sin, and knowing that our sin would give Him the perfect opportunity to love us beyond measure. Love is not only the purpose of the cross, it’s the plan and reason for creation. My prayer is that the world will see the love that pain made possible, and the gospel in which this greatest love was expressed to the world by its Creator.