Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Question about Christmas

A friend asked recently about churches of Christ celebrating Christmas. He noted that few celebrated and that some vehemently opposed it. He had mentioned the argument that celebrating Christians created "2 day Christians" but wondered still why it is so rejected by many of us. I've posted my response to him below. What do you think?

I find it difficult to defend the idea of "celebration" because "celebrate" means something different to different people.  Some believe that having a tree and giving gifts is celebration and it's wrong.  Others believe that having a nativity in the foyer and singing "Silent Night" and "Happy Birthday" to Jesus is wrong, but do have a tree and give gifts.  So what does celebrate mean to you?

The tendency that some have to become "2 day Christians" is probably secondary to the "speak where the Bible speaks" argument for most who think it is wrong to "celebrate" Christmas.  It is true that some make a holy day out of Christmas and believe that some sort of piety ought to exist on that day that doesn't have to exist on other days.  Same with Easter, as you mentioned. And Christians have no holy days that we are required to recognize (notwithstanding Sundays).  We don't have Sabbaths, Passover Days, feast days, etc.  Some feel strongly, then, that since Christ (through Paul) removed us from responsibility to Jewish holy days, and gave us no others to keep, then to create some is wrong.  "Be silent where the Bible is silent." So fundamentally, it is wrong to "add to the Bible."  The fact that some who do it develop into "2 day Christians" just piles on the problem. Those who don't celebrate understand "speak where the Bible speaks" to mean that if something isn't authorized, you can't do it."

On the other hand, some take "speak where the Bible speaks" to mean that if scripture doesn't forbid it, you can do it.  Therefore, if someone wants to declare December 25 as the adopted birthday of Jesus and celebrate it with Christmas songs, special services, nativity scenes, singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, decorating trees, and giving gifts they can.  They can't make it a requirement that everybody do it, but they can do it.

Though in Romans 14, Paul is addressing the Jewish holy days and Gentile involvement, I think his principle still applies.  If some have that as their tradition and want to continue it, don't judge them.  Jesus is their Lord and they do it unto the Lord.  They are not your servants, they are Christ's.  If some reject that tradition and don't want to do it, accept them.   Jesus is their Lord and they do it unto the Lord.  They are not your servants, they are Christ's. I believe those teachings can be applied to Christmas.

Principally, then, you will discover that some churches don't have nativity scenes and special service because, as you note, there are so who vehemently oppose it.  Those who would celebrate acquiesce for the conscious's of  those who can't.  Other times it's because those who can't have the decision making power.

At the May house, we "celebrate" by giving gifts, erecting trees and other decorations (we're green by the way), thanking God for the coming of Christ, and singing Christmas songs – spiritual and otherwise.  At South Yukon, we "celebrate" with Christmas parties, songs (even in the December assemblies), and sermons about the coming of Jesus.  Some churches and individuals, by the way, would be critical of my sermon choices for December.  As you note, this is a great time for reaching out.  "Help people catch the Spirit's fire while God is on their minds," I say.  I personally try to relate to the Christmas season without shoving the "celebration" in the face of those who reject it.

What do you think?  Is there a limit to appropriate "celebration" to you?


Clyde said...

The case of Christmas is a bad way we have shot ourselves in the foot as a brotherhood, imo. What I heard growing up is that we shouldn't celebrate Christmas because th world will get the wrong idea and think we believe that it is a biblical holiday and that Jesus was born Dec. 25th.
[Not that slowed down my family--we had a nativity scene and the whole deal in our yard.] Only years later did I realize that the world could care less what we (the Churches of Christ) think about Christmas.

What matters is that Jesus was born. It is good that people remember his birth.

Your comments on Romans 14 are on target, Richard (and I'd say AMEN! to the upshot of your whole post). But I have to say that it is a tragedy that so many in the CofC have judged up one side and down the other when it comes to looking down their noses and clucking their tongues over those who celebrate Jesus' birth. There are WORSE THINGS, a point that seems to be lost on such folks. And what it really reveals is a disconnect from what's really going on in warzone out there in the lives of real people who need all the help they can get to seek the Lord.

Okay, I admit I should have made this a post on my own blog insted of a diatribe comment-thesis. Too late! :-)

Bob Young said...

Thanks, Richard and Clyde for opening the conversation. The questions you raise demonstrate the need for rethinking the "principles" we use for understanding Scripture.

Especially in Romans 14 we have work to do--regardless of the specific topic/application. All of us tend to end up in one group or another regarding things we care about--looking down on others or judging others (one way to translate the two verbs that dominate the text).

As long as we demand inaction (in whatever realm) based on someone else's conscience, we will stymie the church with what amounts essentially to "veto power."

I long for the day when the corporate church can act without demanding every member be involved in every activity (based on individual conscience), and those who prefer not to be involved can graciously bow out without demanding the church kowtow to their individual preferences.

We have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate this (as Richard points out in the Romans 14 application) with regard to corporate activities centered around the Christmas season--caroling, sermons, songs used in worship... We are moving forward in these areas (perhaps).
Special Christmas Eve services? Presentation music, concerts, candles lighted, etc. (Well, we still have a way to go in trying to understand what to do when the Bible is silent!)

I enjoy reading your blogs--sorry I don't "kick in" more often. I know you understand. Merry Christmas!