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Celebrating Christmas and Easter - as Religious Holidays

Celebrating Christmas and Easter - as Religious Holidays

            Just as tensions can arise within Christians, pulling their hearts this way and that (see Rom. 7:19+), tensions can also arise among Christians. Recently, Christmas and Easter have brought these out. This article is written to explain.

What The Issue Is, And Is Not

            No members of the Churches of Christ doubt that Christ was born. None of us harbors uncertainty about the significance of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. No one questions the propriety of individual Christians either making a big deal out of Christmas and Easter for themselves and with their families, or of ignoring Christmas and Easter altogether.

            The important question is elsewhere, and has to do with whether we should turn some Sunday worship services into special religious celebrations of these days. This is done among Catholic Churches and some Protestant groups, as the advertisement below illustrates (some - not all - the celebration of Christmas and Easter is not without controversy among Protestants, with many early Protestant leaders rejecting both - www.phcmontreat.org/Exhibit-Christmas).

Come experience the wonder of Christmas with two of Christian music’s powerhouse vocalists. Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey will ring in this year’s holiday season on the Celebrate Christmas Tour...Experience the magic of Christmas right here at Central.

            A few Churches of Christ have followed this trend, as in the following.

Join one of our three campuses on Christmas Sunday to experience a time of Christmas reflection through a specially prepared video. A special Christmas service will take place at 11:00 A.M.

The Issue Beneath The Issue

            The tension beneath the tension has to do with two very different and contrasting approaches to the Bible. These different and contrasting views remain at the heart of our tensions. The view that has dominated, and that should dominate, is summarized in a question asked by Jesus: By what authority do you do this (Mk. 11:28)? This question emphasizes the need to have Bible authority for what we do (see Deut. 12:32, Jn. 4:24, Col. 3:17, I Thess. 2:13, Rev. 22:18-19, and etc.).

            The alternate view is that the Bible is just a jumping off point, and that we can add, subtract, multiply or divide as we see fit. According to this view, having Bible authority is not necessary. In fact, many who hold this view think that seeking Bible authority for what we do is an impediment to following whatever additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions that pop into their mind.

            These two very different views can be summarized as follows:

By what authority do you do this?
(i) We must have book, chapter   and verse authority for all that we do.

(ii) Having book, chapter and verse   authority is unnecessary,

and is even an impediment.

            These two views and the tension between them are nothing new. In fact, they have been around for so long that they have had official names since the time of the Protestant Reformation.

  • "The (i)regulative principle is a teaching...that only those elements that are instituted or appointed...are permissible...and that whatever is not commanded...from Scripture is prohibited."

  • "The (ii) normative principle...teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted."

            Buying backpacking equipment illustrates the meaning of these two principles, illustrates that these two principles are based in common sense, and illustrates that following different principles leads people in very different directions. Operating on one principle, Janie limits my equipment purchases with a "regulative" budget. Wishing to operate on the "normative" principle and without a budget, I would like the buy all kinds of ultralight tents, GPS PLBs, titanium sporks, and GORE TEX. We can easily see how husbands and wives operating on contrasting principles would reach different conclusions about backpacking, and other, purchases.

            As distinct as the regulative and normative principles are by definition, they typically do not show up so distinctly in everyday discussions. The normative principle often shows up as the question "What's wrong with it?" The regulative principle sometimes shows up as the question "What's right with it?"

            Just like husbands and wives, we can just as easily see how that congregations operating on the regulative principle and congregations operating on the normative principle would go in different directions. The pull between "What's wrong with it?" and "What's right with it?" is the tension being felt among and within Churches of Christ today. That tension has recently bubbled to the surface about Christmas and at Easter.    

Regulative Or Normative Christmas And Easter

            Allowing our thinking to be framed by the difference between (i) requiring book, chapter and verse authority for all that we do, and (ii) ignoring book, chapter and verse authority as unnecessary suggests a question of critical importance: are there any books, chapters, and verses that would cause us to celebrate Christmas and Easter as religious holidays?

            The answer is emphatically no. Again, no one doubts that Christ was born. No one doubts that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected. No one questions when individual Christians make a big deal out of Christmas and Easter for themselves and for their families. The question is whether we need to alter our worship services to incorporate Christmas and Easter into holy-day celebrations.

            Four other concerns enter the discussion:

  1. We already have Sunday set aside to focus on Christ, and especially on His death, burial and resurrection. Let no one suggest that we do not sufficiently honor Christ in our worship.

  1. New Testament writers discouraged the identification of holy days (Gal. 4:10, Col. 2:16-17).

  1. At a time when 70% of church-going people seldom or never study the Bible, we must be extra cautious about being overly influenced by the 70% who do not study, or by those who want us to become just another Evangelical denomination. Who is leading the fight to worshipfully celebrate Christmas and Easter, those who study their Bibles and who look for Bible authority, or those who look for reasons to ignore Bible authority?

 

  1. Are we prepared to turn ourselves over to all of the excesses of contemporary Christmas and Easter religious festivals? Example: in their 2014 Christmas celebration, a Woodlands megachurch rented zoo animals, including elephants, to parade their aisles in honor of baby Jesus' birthday.  

Conclusion: The Genius Of History

            George Santayana (1863-1952) was the influential philosopher who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." Santayana's saying emphasizes the importance of allowing the trials and errors of the past to keep us from trials and errors in the present. The application is that people, or groups of people, who do not learn from their mistakes, and also from their successes, will not make a lot of progress.

            Christmas and Easter are not new. The first "Christ Mass" was celebrated on December 25, 336 A.D. (christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/the-1st-recorded-celebration-of-christmas-). The First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) declared that Easter was always to be held on a Sunday (wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_controversy). Since those times, questions about when, how much, and etc. have been debated.

            Slowing to avoid all of these tensions, our brethren have typically tapped the breaks to distinguish between the personal and the social on one hand, and the congregational and the worshipful on the other hand. We have seen a difference between the decisions of individuals as they effect only themselves and the decisions about worship that effect entire congregations and said:

  1. When it comes to the personal and social celebrations of Christmas and Easter, knock yourself out. What you decide for yourself is for you to decide. Our brethren have typically celebrated a low-key Christmas and Easter, as part of our larger culture, and not as purely religious holidays.

  1. When it comes to congregational worship, let's leave Christmas and Easter to the personal and the social. What we decide congregationally in regard to our worship is not a personal decision. Leaving the celebrations of Christmas and Easter to individuals, our worship services on these days have looked exactly like our worship services on other Sundays.

            In addition to building our doctrine and practice on Bible authority, there is a lot more to be said about what we have said about Christmas and Easter. Maximum individual liberty and minimum congregational turmoil have been the result of an emphasis on book chapter and verse authority. Our brethren have maintained a remarkable level of unity and peace by asking "What's right with it?" That is, until recently.  

            As our Progressives continue to ignore Bible authority an add ceremonies to christen babies, other holy-day celebrations like Lent and Good Friday, women preachers, praise teams, and other practices that ignore Bible authority, we would do well to remember the unity that once prevailed and the reason for it.

           

            Just as tensions can arise within Christians, pulling their hearts this way and that (see Rom. 7:19+), tensions can also arise among Christians. Recently, Christmas and Easter have brought these out. This article is written to explain.

What The Issue Is, And Is Not

            No members of the Churches of Christ doubt that Christ was born. None of us harbors uncertainty about the significance of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. No one questions the propriety of individual Christians either making a big deal out of Christmas and Easter for themselves and with their families, or of ignoring Christmas and Easter altogether.

            The important question is elsewhere, and has to do with whether we should turn some Sunday worship services into special religious celebrations of these days. This is done among Catholic Churches and some Protestant groups, as the advertisement below illustrates (some - not all - the celebration of Christmas and Easter is not without controversy among Protestants, with many early Protestant leaders rejecting both - www.phcmontreat.org/Exhibit-Christmas).

Come experience the wonder of Christmas with two of Christian music’s powerhouse vocalists. Natalie Grant and Danny Gokey will ring in this year’s holiday season on the Celebrate Christmas Tour...Experience the magic of Christmas right here at Central.

            A few Churches of Christ have followed this trend, as in the following.

Join one of our three campuses on Christmas Sunday to experience a time of Christmas reflection through a specially prepared video. A special Christmas service will take place at 11:00 A.M.

The Issue Beneath The Issue

            The tension beneath the tension has to do with two very different and contrasting approaches to the Bible. These different and contrasting views remain at the heart of our tensions. The view that has dominated, and that should dominate, is summarized in a question asked by Jesus: By what authority do you do this (Mk. 11:28)? This question emphasizes the need to have Bible authority for what we do (see Deut. 12:32, Jn. 4:24, Col. 3:17, I Thess. 2:13, Rev. 22:18-19, and etc.).

            The alternate view is that the Bible is just a jumping off point, and that we can add, subtract, multiply or divide as we see fit. According to this view, having Bible authority is not necessary. In fact, many who hold this view think that seeking Bible authority for what we do is an impediment to following whatever additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions that pop into their mind.

            These two very different views can be summarized as follows:

By what authority do you do this?
(i) We must have book, chapter   and verse authority for all that we do.

(ii) Having book, chapter and verse   authority is unnecessary,

and is even an impediment.

            These two views and the tension between them are nothing new. In fact, they have been around for so long that they have had official names since the time of the Protestant Reformation.

  • "The (i)regulative principle is a teaching...that only those elements that are instituted or appointed...are permissible...and that whatever is not commanded...from Scripture is prohibited."

  • "The (ii) normative principle...teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted."

            Buying backpacking equipment illustrates the meaning of these two principles, illustrates that these two principles are based in common sense, and illustrates that following different principles leads people in very different directions. Operating on one principle, Janie limits my equipment purchases with a "regulative" budget. Wishing to operate on the "normative" principle and without a budget, I would like the buy all kinds of ultralight tents, GPS PLBs, titanium sporks, and GORE TEX. We can easily see how husbands and wives operating on contrasting principles would reach different conclusions about backpacking, and other, purchases.

            As distinct as the regulative and normative principles are by definition, they typically do not show up so distinctly in everyday discussions. The normative principle often shows up as the question "What's wrong with it?" The regulative principle sometimes shows up as the question "What's right with it?"

            Just like husbands and wives, we can just as easily see how that congregations operating on the regulative principle and congregations operating on the normative principle would go in different directions. The pull between "What's wrong with it?" and "What's right with it?" is the tension being felt among and within Churches of Christ today. That tension has recently bubbled to the surface about Christmas and at Easter.    

Regulative Or Normative Christmas And Easter

            Allowing our thinking to be framed by the difference between (i) requiring book, chapter and verse authority for all that we do, and (ii) ignoring book, chapter and verse authority as unnecessary suggests a question of critical importance: are there any books, chapters, and verses that would cause us to celebrate Christmas and Easter as religious holidays?

            The answer is emphatically no. Again, no one doubts that Christ was born. No one doubts that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected. No one questions when individual Christians make a big deal out of Christmas and Easter for themselves and for their families. The question is whether we need to alter our worship services to incorporate Christmas and Easter into holy-day celebrations.

            Four other concerns enter the discussion:

  1. We already have Sunday set aside to focus on Christ, and especially on His death, burial and resurrection. Let no one suggest that we do not sufficiently honor Christ in our worship.

  1. New Testament writers discouraged the identification of holy days (Gal. 4:10, Col. 2:16-17).

  1. At a time when 70% of church-going people seldom or never study the Bible, we must be extra cautious about being overly influenced by the 70% who do not study, or by those who want us to become just another Evangelical denomination. Who is leading the fight to worshipfully celebrate Christmas and Easter, those who study their Bibles and who look for Bible authority, or those who look for reasons to ignore Bible authority?
  1. Are we prepared to turn ourselves over to all of the excesses of contemporary Christmas and Easter religious festivals? Example: in their 2014 Christmas celebration, a Woodlands megachurch rented zoo animals, including elephants, to parade their aisles in honor of baby Jesus' birthday.  

Conclusion: The Genius Of History

            George Santayana (1863-1952) was the influential philosopher who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." Santayana's saying emphasizes the importance of allowing the trials and errors of the past to keep us from trials and errors in the present. The application is that people, or groups of people, who do not learn from their mistakes, and also from their successes, will not make a lot of progress.

            Christmas and Easter are not new. The first "Christ Mass" was celebrated on December 25, 336 A.D. (christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/the-1st-recorded-celebration-of-christmas-). The First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) declared that Easter was always to be held on a Sunday (wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_controversy). Since those times, questions about when, how much, and etc. have been debated.

            Slowing to avoid all of these tensions, our brethren have typically tapped the breaks to distinguish between the personal and the social on one hand, and the congregational and the worshipful on the other hand. We have seen a difference between the decisions of individuals as they effect only themselves and the decisions about worship that effect entire congregations and said:

  1. When it comes to the personal and social celebrations of Christmas and Easter, knock yourself out. What you decide for yourself is for you to decide. Our brethren have typically celebrated a low-key Christmas and Easter, as part of our larger culture, and not as purely religious holidays.

  1. When it comes to congregational worship, let's leave Christmas and Easter to the personal and the social. What we decide congregationally in regard to our worship is not a personal decision. Leaving the celebrations of Christmas and Easter to individuals, our worship services on these days have looked exactly like our worship services on other Sundays.

            In addition to building our doctrine and practice on Bible authority, there is a lot more to be said about what we have said about Christmas and Easter. Maximum individual liberty and minimum congregational turmoil have been the result of an emphasis on book chapter and verse authority. Our brethren have maintained a remarkable level of unity and peace by asking "What's right with it?" That is, until recently.  

            As our Progressives continue to ignore Bible authority an add ceremonies to christen babies, other holy-day celebrations like Lent and Good Friday, women preachers, praise teams, and other practices that ignore Bible authority, we would do well to remember the unity that once prevailed and the reason for it.