Every December I receive Christmas cards from well-meaning believers who love the Lord and want to encourage me in spiritual things by reminding me of the incarnation of our Lord. I am grateful for that. Every December I also receive what I call my anti-Christmas cards – from other equally well meaning believers who love the Lord and want to encourage me in spiritual things and seek to warn me about the potential dangers of the Christmas season. Over the years, I have received all kinds of literature, tracts, pamphlets, booklets, etc. which warn about the evil roots of many of the Christmas traditions. I am genuinely grateful for this too.
My goal in this series is to present the most basic REASONS WHY each side believes as they do. I want to present this material so that as believing brethren, we will understand each other better, and appreciate the perspectives of others, and why certain things which seem unimportant to you may be very important to another. When someone is different, there is a tendency to shun that person out of fear of the unknown. This is a form of xenophobia – not the fear of a foreigner, but the fear of foreign ideas. I want to demonstrate that there really is no need for either side to fear the other side. Ignorance is never helpful. It leads us to imagine things of others that are not true, or to listen to tidbits of information taken out of context – which could cause us to think evil of one another… and wouldn’t the devil love that! By God’s grace I intend to be fair to both sides; and not to be demeaning or insulting to either side, because there are godly, Christ honoring, Spirit-filled believers on both sides of this issue.
An odd thing could happen during this series. In presenting both sides honestly and fairly, some folks may choose to change their views on the subject. Some who celebrate Christmas may choose to stop once they learn of the roots of these traditions. Others who do not celebrate Christmas may chose to start once they hear the principles of Christian liberty from the epistles that relate to the subject. Imagine if everyone changed their views? We would still end up with two groups with two different convictions on the issue… and that’s fine with me. Others may become more firmly rooted in their presently held convictions, and that’s fine with me too. And I say praise the Lord to all of that!
I am not out to change anybody’s convictions on this subject. But I do hope to help people think about their convictions – and to think about why they believe what they believe. And I hope to help folks to make wise decisions based upon the facts and not feelings. I want folks to come to their own personal convictions and not hold them because this is what my church has always believed, or this is what all my friends believe, or this is what I have been pressured into believing.
And what’s worse – some believers practice that which they do NOT believe, and they do so out of guilt or peer pressure because they think this kind of behavior is expected of them. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Some folks practice that which they do not really believe out of fear: fear of being different; fear of seeming odd or not spiritual; fear of appearing holier than thou. Some practice that which they don’t really believe because they started the practice – and have since been convinced otherwise, and continue the practice out of fear of appearing to be a compromiser or a flip flop. This is a fear of men: being overly concerned about what men think of us rather than what GOD thinks of us. We are to be followers of Christ, not followers of men and their opinions. The fear of man bringeth a snare (Prov.29:25).
And as a result of practicing that which is not really their own personal conviction, they are constantly violating their conscience, and thus they experience guilt and shame. They feel like a hypocrite because they are being hypocritical. This is a real spiritual problem. This is why I am addressing the issue, not so much out of a concern for the issue itself – but what it seems to produce in believers.
I know because I’ve been there. There was a time when for years I did not celebrate Christmas. Gradually the Lord changed my mind and heart on the subject – and yet I was afraid to change my practice for fear of what others would think – and that was wrong! Perhaps others may be in the opposite situation – perhaps some are presently celebrating Christmas – and yet feel guilty because you believe the Lord is convincing you not to do so, and hence you too feel like a hypocrite and are living a lie on the subject.
This series is basically a call for honesty before the Lord: honesty with God and yourself (Heb. 4:12-13). I don’t care what your convictions are on this subject, but I want those convictions to be your very OWN. If they are not your own, they are not real, and when put to the test they will crumble.
Here are some issues that are far more important than the issue of Christmas itself. These issues deal with the heart & soul of our Christian faith:
- Do NOT be followers of men.
- Do NOT fear men. (Prov. 29:25 – It brings a snare! Submitting to the truth shall set you free.)
- Do NOT violate your conscience by compromising your beliefs. (I Cor. 8:10)
- Do NOT practice that which your heart condemns. (I John 3:20-21)
- Do NOT live in doubt. (Rom. 14:22-23)
These are serious spiritual failures that can occur on either side in this issue. Both sides have been guilty. Consider how Paul dealt with a similar issue that arose in both Rome and Corinth (I Cor. 8-10; Rom. 14-15). Instead of defending the particular practice of one side or the other, he attacked the wrong SPIRIT displayed by BOTH sides! (pride; hypocrisy; compromising their faith; judgmental spirit; unloving heart; etc.)
There has never been a controversy or squabbles among the believers here so far. I haven’t heard one discouraging word from either side. In over 20 years of ministry here we have never had a squabble over this issue. This subject so far has been handled in a mature, Christlike fashion. You folks are to be commended for that. Thank you. You are already practicing the virtues that which I hope to encourage and stimulate even more by spending time on these lessons. I may be preaching to the choir on this subject, but I have learned that even the choir needs to be reminded from time to time.
Some might ask, “If there has not been a problem, why bring it up? Aren’t you afraid of stirring up a problem where no problem exists?” There is always the possibility for an issue to simmer quietly in the background for a long time – and boil over later. This series is an attempt to avoid that from ever happening in the future – because it could. I’m a firm believer in the old proverb: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
It is possible for folks to be quiet and not say anything about an issue for various reasons. Some may be quiet because they may not even be aware that other Christians hold different convictions on the subject. Others because they are not really sure what the other side really believes. They have only heard little anecdotes, quips and quotes here and there. Ignorance on a subject often leads to trouble. Hence, I want to do my best in presenting both sides of this issue: fair and balanced.
There is another reason I want to discuss this issue. Some see these two different convictions in one church as an impending division. I disagree. I see it as a great opportunity to manifest Christ: His life, character, selflessness, and mind. If we all agreed on every single issue under the sun, then we would have no opportunity to put Phil. 2:4-5 into practice, and that would be a shame. This subject provides us with a great opportunity for teaching true Christianity: Christ in you – the hope of glory! We are told in Eph. 3:9-11 that men and angels are observing the local church to learn of the manifold wisdom and grace of God. This is a perfect opportunity for US to teach men and angels something about how the grace of God operates in the hearts of believers the age of grace. It is also a great opportunity for each of US to learn about the grace of God practically – experiential knowledge, not just head knowledge.
For those of us who have been attending Salem Bible Church for many years, you folks know that we have spent many months in study on the principles from the epistles which deal with the subject of differing convictions (Rom. 14-15; I Cor. 8-10). This is the dispensation of the grace of God. We are not under the Law but under grace as a rule of life.
Everything I am going to say on the subject of Christmas is being said in light of the teachings of the apostles from those chapters. My only regret is that while those are among the most important chapters for a believer in this age to know, they are also among the most abused and misunderstood chapters in the New Testament.
Some folks who are unfamiliar with those chapters may be lacking some fundamental and basic truths that MUST be understood in order to deal with the subject of Christmas fairly. This subject is a modern day illustration (though not an exact parallel) of the principles found in those chapters. This will be a “practical” on those principles. The principles are the first semester of this course; this material is the second semester of the course.
Some folks naturally will have a hard time understanding that when it comes to non-doctrinal and non-moral issues like this one, it is possible for believers to hold different views and both be right and for both to be acceptable before the Lord. Some folks can’t quite fathom how such a thing could ever be… but it is so. They demand that one side be right and the other side is therefore wrong. Celebrating Christmas (setting aside a day to consider the incarnation) is not a right/wrong issue.
It is also possible (in fact required!) that believers who have different views on a non-doctrinal subject like this be LIKEMINDED (Rom. 15:5-6). Romans chapters 14-15 deal with controversial issues that arose in the church at Rome. Some ate certain meats and some did not. Some esteemed days and some did not. Paul said that it was OK to hold differing convictions on those issues as long as the attitudes were right. Paul said to “receive them without disputings” (Rom. 14:1). He NEVER said such a thing when it came to a moral or a doctrinal issue. In a doctrinal or moral issue he said to rebuke them and then reject them… have no company with them – certainly not embrace them! (cf. Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10; I Cor. 5:10; etc.)
Paul first stated that it was acceptable to hold different views, (Rom. 14:1,4,6) and then he demands likemindedness. At first glance, this sounds a bit schizophrenic. However, the likemindedness that Paul demands is that each group manifest the mind of Christ in this matter and demonstrate childlike, selfless, humble, love – esteeming others better than themselves. The required likemindedness had nothing to do with the particular issues themselves (eating meat; special days; etc). Rather the likemindedness required of us is that we all demonstrate the mind (selfless attitude) of Christ (Phil. 2:3-5).
As we consider the issue of celebrating Christmas (or any other non-doctrinal/non-moral issue) wrong attitudes are to be avoided:
- Proud spirit — “Holier than thou” attitude; “I’m right and they’re wrong” attitude… (Prov. 6:16-19)
- Divisive spirit — “I’m of Paul; I’m of Peter” attitude… (I Cor. 1:10-13)
- Judgmental spirit (Rom. 14:10)
There are also right attitudes to foster:
- Honesty —Be honest before the Lord in your decisions. (Rom. 14:12)
- Selflessness — Let this mind be in you… esteeming others better than themselves… (Phil. 2:5-6)
- Humility (I Cor. 8:1) (be aware that knowledge tends to produce pride)
- Love — thinks no evil; believes the best about a brother. (I Cor. 13:5,7)
- Sensitivity — about convictions of others. (I Cor. 8:9-12)
- God-centered — done for the glory of God. ( Cor. 10:31) Whether you regard the day or don’t regard the day, do it as “unto the Lord” (Rom. 14:6). And whatsoever ye do, do heartily as unto the Lord… (Col. 3:23; I Cor. 10:31)
- Receptive — Rom. 15:5-7 – believers with different convictions on non-doctrinal and non-moral issues are COMMANDED to receive one another… (those who eat meat and those who don’t; those who regard the day and those who don’t.)
- Likemindedness — Rom. 15:5-7 – whatever our convictions on the individual issues, we are to have one mine and one mouth in glorifying God.
These principles should guide us. In fact, they are required of each of us. We have a choice when it comes to celebrating Christmas, but we do not have a choice about demonstrating Christlike virtues.