Here is part two. Thanks to those who waded through the first one! 🙂
In considering whether or not it is falls within our Christian liberty to celebrate December 25th as Christmas- the day Christ was born- there is one text of primary importance. This is where we will begin- in Romans 14.
The book of Romans is fascinating on so many levels. Its body of teaching is rich and challenging. It was written by the Apostle Paul to a fragmented and hurting church in Rome divided along ethnic and theological lines.
The church in Rome had seen quite a turnover in terms of leadership and tradition because the Jewish Christians had been forced out by an edict of Caesar in 49 A.D. Upon their return they discovered that many of their Jewish customs were no longer honored by the Gentile Christians (who obviously had no background from which to appreciate them). This created a rancid atmosphere where neither the Jewish nor Gentile Christians wanted to accept each other.
Paul set out to correct this by writing this letter. Right away he condemns their practice of judging each other, leads them to see that neither Jew nor Greek have any claim to righteousness and that all are in need of the grace of Christ. He then beautifully teaches how it had always been God’s will for the inclusion of Gentiles into his kingdom.
In all of his teaching in this book he obviously had to deal with some of the stark differences between these groups based on background and tradition. One such set of teachings is found in chapter fourteen.
Apparently the dietary practices of some Christians were being called into question- as was the practice by some to keep special days holy. It would be easy to pinpoint these practices as wholly Jewish- after all- dietary laws and keeping special holy days were a major part of their heritage. And it may well be that they are who Paul had in mind. But it is also possible that some of the Gentiles abstained from meat and kept special days as well. Whomever he had in mind, Paul allowed for these practices in the context of Christian liberties.
From Romans 14 about keeping holy days and dietary practices:
A non-judgmental, accepting attitude is encouraged toward differences on “disputable matters.”
- Christians are at liberty to practice their preferences concerning diet and keeping special sacred days.
- But no practice of or opposition to these Christian liberties should become a stumbling block that could “destroy the work of God.”
- Everyone should work to make every effort to create a peaceful and edifying atmosphere- even if that means keeping particular beliefs between you and God.
All Paul asks is that we be “fully convinced” in our beliefs and practice them to the glory of God.
CHRISTMAS (AND OTHER HOLIDAY) APPLICATIONS
Now, taking the principles of this text to apply it to our study of Christmas we can conclude:
- That it does appear that Paul would allow a Christian the liberty to celebrate the Christmas holiday as a special, sacred day.
- But based also on his larger body of teaching and the fact that we should be “fully convinced”- he would want us to approach this celebration fully educated and with the proper understanding of the historical facts along with the proper perspective of what the “nativity” means in the overall life, ministry and story of Jesus.
- He would also warn us to be careful that our celebration of it- or even our opposition to the celebration of it- be tempered if it could run the risk of damaging the “work of the Lord.”
It all gets back down to our relationship with one another in Christ. Just like the Jews and Gentiles then, we will not always see everything alike. Therefore when it comes to “disputable matters” we must allow mutual respect and consideration to guide us in our expressions of Christian liberties and in our questions concerning these expressions. This includes the Christmas discussion as well.
CAN THE CHURCH CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
It has been the tradition of the Churches of Christ to not attach a spiritual meaning to Christmas. Does this represent the proper approach to this holiday- or are we at liberty as a body of believers to celebrate- to some degree- the religious aspects of Christmas? Here are the points at the heart of this discussion:
- We are not specifically authorized to do so in Scripture. The New Testament is silent when it comes to specifically celebrating December 25th or any day as Christ birthday.
- So many celebrate Christ as Christmas and fail to do so the rest of the year and end up with an incomplete picture of who Christ is and what discipleship to him means.
- Christ is now attached to a holiday that –in part- is based on consumerism and greed.
- Since Christ is on the collective mind of our culture already, it is a timely opportunity to share more of his story- beyond the manger- to hearts possibly more receptive to him than at other times of the year.
- How can any holiday that brings people back to a consideration of Christ be a negative?
- If the church ignores Christ at Christmas, but participates in the secular aspects of the holiday, what message does that deliver?
My short answer to the question of if and how a church celebrates Christmas is that it is a decision of that congregation’s leadership based upon their knowledge and understanding of that particular body and their community.
Obviously to embrace December 25th blindly as Christ’s birthday and to celebrate it while ignoring the full story of Jesus would be wrong, but ultimately all of the questions about Christmas will be answered in our hearts and in the hearts of those leading us. Whatever the conclusions- we must always be led by the principles Paul laid out in Romans 14.