The Use of Scripture
We spent the last two Sunday evenings looking at the history of the celebration of Christmas and of a few of the Christmas traditions that have arisen. Believers who choose not to celebrate Christmas do so with good reason. When their arguments are based on history, (especially history that is so well documented), those arguments are powerful, clear, undeniable, reasonable, and in perfect harmony with the Word of God. Christmas has a checkered history and is tainted by its past. When believers look at the historic connection between Christmas celebrations and paganism and apostate Christianity and say, “I want no part of any of that,” I respect those opinions immensely when that principle is practiced consistently with other issues and practices which also have a tainted past.
But tonight I want to look at the Scripture verses that are used to support their arguments. This is where I became quite disappointed and disillusioned with the arguments. In much of the literature I have read, it was surprising to me how carelessly the holy Scriptures were used in trying to make their points. What we are going to look at tonight does not diminish the weight or the validity of their historic arguments. Regardless of how flimsy the Scriptural support for their case is, (non existent actually) the argument based on history is still legitimate – even compelling.
I am going to bring up this careless use of Scripture because I want folks here to base their decision (whatever it might be) on facts. I presented the facts of history and now I feel compelled to present the facts from Scripture. I am not picking on any person or writer in particular. I know that the men who wrote this literature did so out of sincere convictions and that they love the Lord. Our purpose is certainly not to attack a person. As a pastor, when church members come and ask me if Such & Such a Church is promoting idolatry, or if a young person asks if his daddy is an idolater because they have tree, it tells me that someone has been feeding them chaff. The subject needs to be broached.
Reading my pile of Christmas literature, it is easy to see why people are puzzled and why folks ask such questions. Consider some of the inflammatory language that is used against those who DO celebrate Christmas – expressed either explicitly or implicitly:
- “Walking like enemies of the cross.”
- “Given to the secular or the apostate”
- “A deceiver”
- “Naïve; ill informed; uninformed”
- “Worldly, self indulgent”
Using this kind of inflammatory and offensive language to describe those who recognize Christmas is not helpful. And I doubt if those distributing the literature have ever put themselves in the shoes of those receiving it, or have thought about how such language comes across. To be fair – BOTH sides have been guilty of offensive language.
I do not think for one moment that it was meant to be malicious – just a bit overly zealous in trying to make their point. To those distributing such literature we must ask: do you really mean to imply that your brothers in Christ who have a Christmas tree are involved in idolatry? If so, then the Bible forbids you from fellowship with them (II Cor. 6:14-17). If that is really your charge, then it is sin for you to worship with them. If those who celebrate Christmas and put up a tree are in fact involved in idolatry, then they are to be excommunicated from the congregation of the saints for the gross sin of idolatry. Do you really mean to imply that those who decorate their homes in December and put up a tree are “worldly and self indulgent?” If so, you are accusing them of being enemies of God (James 4:4). If that is truly what you believe, then approach your brother about his pagan idolatry and challenge him to repent. If he will not, bring those charges before the church leaders and call for their excommunication. If, however, that is NOT what you really mean, then perhaps you should think twice about handing them literature that makes such harsh and thoughtless accusations either implicitly or explicitly.
We are going to begin by examining some Bible passages that are often used to persuade believers NOT to celebrate Christmas. So even if you are not the least bit interested in the Christmas issue itself, this exercise will be profitable as a tool in hermeneutics.
“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
Virtually every tract, brochure, booklet, and web site article that I read on the subject of the Christmas tree highlights this passage. For example one tract quotes the above passage and states, “Please notice that decorated trees were not something that just sprang up after the birth of Jesus Christ… it was a pagan custom even in Jeremiah’s time to cut a tree down and decorate it.”
This passage sure sounds like the perfect passage to use to denounce the use of a Christmas tree.
Vs. 2 – it is the way of the heathen…
Vs. 3 – the customs of the people are vain…
Vs. 3b – they cut down a tree from the forest…
Vs. 4 – they take it home and decorate it with gold and silver… (all in capital letters in one tract)
Thus the argument is made: cutting down a tree and decorating it is EQUAL to the way of the heathen… cutting down a tree and decorating it is a VAIN heathen custom.
What Jeremiah states here is absolutely true of course. What these men did clearly WAS the way of the heathen and it is vain. God hates what they did. Therefore, (they would argue) if we cut down a tree and decorate it at Christmas time, we are following the way of the heathen, and God hates our practice too. That’s the argument that is made – and it is quite intimidating to many believers who look at the passage superficially without familiarity with the context. Who wants to follow the way of the heathen? Who wants to practice that which God hates!? Not I.
But what Jeremiah is blasting in this context has NOTHING to do with a Christmas tree or any other kind of decorated tree. He is clearly describing making IDOLS for the purpose of worship! In vs. 3, the woodsmen cut down the tree and then begin working on the tree with their axes – chopping off all the branches… etc. The tree trunk is then shaped into an image of a pagan deity with those axes… carved into a graven image…an idol. In vs. 4, they then “deck” it with gold. This word deck means to adorn or beautify. They “deck” this hunk of carved wooden (an idol) by overlaying it with gold and silver. This was a common practice. In fact, the golden furniture of the tabernacle was made this way… trees cut down, and then overlaid with gold. For example, in I Kings 6:23-28, the cherubim were made of trees, and then beautified by overlaying them with gold. In order to make the cherubim, the craftsmen had to follow the exact same procedure as is found in Jeremiah10:4-5. They cut down a tree and then decorated it with gold. In light of the fact that God COMMANDED that this procedure be followed in making the cherubim (images used in the tabernacle), it is clear that the procedure itself is not sinful. It is not the procedure that God hates.
What does God hate? He hated what they were going to USE that carved image for idolatry! The Lord hates devotion given to a graven image that belongs to Him alone. He is a jealous God. He hates the folly and idolatry in the hearts of the men who made the image.
Once the idol is made, Jeremiah ridicules the whole concept of a deity made out of wood and metal (vs.5). (Isaiah also ridicules idolatry in the same manner in Is. 40:19-20.) In vs. 6, Jeremiah continues the ridicule of a carved deity: there is NONE like the Lord! In vs. 8 he states that those who make idols are brutish and foolish. He then states that the Lord is the true God (vs.10). He is the LIVING God – as opposed to an idol – a piece of wood and metal! The true God made the heavens and earth – not the pagan gods, the graven images (vs.11). Jeremiah speaks of the “founder” who is confounded in vs.14. The founder is a goldsmith; metal worker; one who makes a graven image in a foundry, a metal work shop.
If the passage is read in context, there is no possible way to miss the point in this chapter. The subject matter is not obscure in the least. This is a chapter on idolatry. It has nothing to do with worshipping trees, but worshipping idols, which happen to be made of wood from trees. That is the ONLY connection. It has nothing to do with the heathen incorporating trees in their worship, other than their idol is made from a wood product. It certainly has nothing to do with Christmas trees – nor did it have anything to do with an ancient practice of heathen taking a tree in the house and decorating it, as many tracts imply. What these men did was evil. It truly was the way of the heathen: IDOL MAKING.
Compare this passage to a parallel passage in Isaiah 44:14-17. Isaiah is also speaking of idol-making (vs.9). They too formed a god out of a tree (vs.10). They made a fire and cooked on one half of the tree, and fell down to worship the other half (vs.16-17). What folly! They attributed DEITY to that tree and worshipped it. This is not at all what Christians are doing when they put up a Christmas tree.
It is not a fair use of Scripture to point to a passage that appears to be talking about decorating a tree, but in fact it is talking about making idols to be worshiped as a substitute for the Living God. When folks are given a tract denouncing the practice of Christmas trees – and they read a Bible verse that mentions cutting down a tree and “decking” it with gold & silver, it is easy to ASSUME that the practice Jeremiah is ridiculing is similar to decorating a Christmas tree today, when in fact, it is not. The appeal is made to similar sounding language, rather than its intended MEANING. Meaning is what I’m after… truth.
This is not a healthy method of Bible interpretation. A superficial reading of the text sounds like decorating a tree, but that is not the intent of the passage at all. I hope we are more interested in what a passage really means rather than what it sounds like on the surface.
There are 12 passages in the Old Testament that link trees to pagan worship. One brochure I read printed all 12 verses out word for word, even though the verses were nearly identical. The purpose was obviously for more impact – seeing the repetition in the Bible. For example Jeremiah 3:13 mentions the green tree in a very negative sense. When the verse appears in a tract denouncing the use of a Christmas tree, it is obvious the author is attempting to make a connection. However, the word “green” does not refer to a color. It speaks of freshness or that which is thriving and flourishing. The term is used of fresh oil. It is most often used of trees that are fresh, alive, and flourishing. It is used of fir trees, but also of bay trees and olive trees. The term “green tree” means a healthy, moist, luxuriant, living tree… not one that is dead or dried out. It said nothing about the species of trees. The Egyptians worshipped a palm tree, the Germans an oak tree.
In a brochure dealing with the subject of “Christmas Trees,” the repetition of the phrase “green tree” 12 times obviously leads the readers to assume that the green tree in the Bible is like the evergreen trees used at Christmas time, which is not so. It makes me uncomfortable when believers use (misuse) the Bible this way. Even though the passages may have nothing to do with the subject at hand, repeating them in this context is an attempt to give trees a bad image. It is a sort of guilt by association. The argument goes like this: Pagans used trees in their worship, therefore, there is something pagan about the use of a tree.
Another point to note here — in virtually every passage that speaks of the pagan use of green trees, the green trees were NOT the focal point. The context usually highlights the location of the trees on a high hill, in a wooded area, or under the shade and cover of trees. Pagans preferred to conduct their evil practices in a wooded area on a high hill. If the expression “green trees” was translated “moist trees” or “living trees” those passages would very likely NOT have been cited in order to denounce the Christmas tree. But why single out the trees? Why not the high hills? Pagans used caves in their worship too. It sounds impressive to cite 12 Bible passages where trees are linked to pagan worship, but that kind of logic would never hold up in a court of law. The fact that pagans chose to practice idolatry on top of high hills in a grove of trees says nothing about the modern practice of Christmas trees.
Is ancient idolatry involving a tree and the modern use of a Christmas tree a fair analogy? The real issue concerning the Christmas tree is not its origin (fuzzy at best) or the inclination of pagans to incorporate trees in their worship. The real issue has to do with the USE of the tree. Trees are not evil. God made trees and they are very good (Gen.1:31). They are to be subdued by men like the rest of creation and used for the benefit of man: in construction, heating, art, medicine, shade, food, beauty, etc. Even a grove of trees on the top of a high hill is good. But trees – like anything else can be used for evil. The issue is in each passage is what is the tree being used for? Let me share a reason why I don’t think the analogy that is being made is fair. The literature argues that Christmas trees are being used by believers today in a fashion similar to what the pagans used trees for. Purpose matters! If the purpose is the same, then their arguments against the Christmas tree are valid. God hates idolatry and always has. Without question, a tree CAN be used as an idol. If believers are using the Christmas tree as an object of worship – then they are dead wrong. That is idolatry.
This is the clear implication in so much of the anti-Christmas literature. For example, one brochure stated that “The New and Old Testament both censure the use of the evergreen tree as an aid to worship.” The author later noted that he could not see any difference between the Jews making and worshipping the golden calves (Ex. 32:5-6) and modern day believers who set up a tree in their home in December. The connection in the author’s mind was that both the Jews who made a golden calf and Christians who set up a tree in their home have “taken an image from pagan culture and incorporated it into the Lord’s religion.” Another similar brochure asked the question, “…Why do we need symbols such as lights, green trees, candles, gifts, etc. to remind us of Jesus Christ and Biblical truths?” My response to both is the same: We do NOT need such symbols. And more importantly they are NOT “aids to worship,” and I have never met a Christian who “incorporates them into worship.” They have nothing to do with our relationship to Jesus Christ or our walk with God. They are merely decorations! If such things were worshipped (as the Jews worshipped the golden calves) then of course, those arguments would be valid. But that is clearly not the case. In December our ladies decorate the church with poinsettias and put candles in the windows. But it is not an aid to worship – any more than the tulips are in the spring – or the corn stalks & mums are in the fall. They have no mystical, spiritual, or symbolic meaning whatsoever. They are simply decorations: no more; no less. Having them does not help us worship. Not having them does not hinder worship. They are not part of our worship. They are not aids to worship. They are completely irrelevant to our worship.
If there are believers who believe that they need a tree or a wreath as an aid to worship, then I agree that that thinking is wrong. I am in full agreement with the spirit of this literature in that it denounces the use of a Christmas tree as an aid to worship. In fact, I would take this a step further. You don’t even see a cross in this church. God is a spirit and is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. I am dead set against using symbols of any type as an “aid to worship.” But I am not convinced that that is what believers DO when they put up a Christmas tree in their home. I don’t know anyone who says they need it as an aid to worship. If they do, then they need to be corrected. But if not, then who am I to tell folks how to decorate their homes in the winter?
If the Christmas tree is NOT used as an aid to worship or as an idol, then the scripture verses used to denounce the practice of a modern day Christmas tree do not apply. Jeremiah 10 is denouncing trees used as idols. The 12 passages dealing with the green trees also speak about the practice of idolatry. Trees and decorations are not the problem; idolatry is. To simply label the Christmas tree as an idol and then list a long series of verses that condemn idolatry does not make the case. You could make the same case against golf, an automobile, or any number of things! You first have to prove that the tree is idolatry and that it is worshipped. To do that, one needs to know that which is knowable only to God, namely, the motive of a person’s heart. To simply say that a tree is an idol does not make it so. In my opinion, this is a critical gap in the argument against the Christmas tree. Scripture (rightly divided) does not support that argument.
Those who reject the celebration of Christmas and the associated traditions often use the Bible to demonstrate that God hates the traditions of men. The following argument is made:
- Christmas is a tradition of men.
- God hates the traditions of men.
- Therefore, God hates Christmas.
Their argument is worded much more eloquently, but, stripping away all the trappings, this is the basic point. It sounds quite logical, but this kind of thinking does not pass the test of logic. There is a huge leap in logic in this paradigm. And what’s missing invalidates the conclusion drawn.
First of all, it is not true to say that God hates the traditions of men. That is a careless misreading of the passages in the gospels. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines tradition as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior, as a religious practice or a social custom.”
Of course there are passages in the Bible in which (on the surface) it appears that God is denouncing the traditions of men. But does God really hate all the traditions of men? Does God hate the tradition of Thanksgiving, a day set aside to thank and praise Him for His goodness and bounty? Does God hate our missionary conference, which has become a tradition at Salem Bible Church? Does God hate your family traditions, such as going camping in August, going skiing in January, or reading the Bible every morning? Did God hate the traditions of the apostles, who were men? (II Thess. 2:15; 3:6)
Does the Bible actually say that God hates the traditions of men (Mark 7:8)? God hates the traditions of men IF they cause you to lay aside the commandments of God (Mark 7:8). The traditions of men are evil IF they cause you to reject the commandments of God (vs.9). The traditions of men are evil IF they cause you to make the Word of God of none effect (vs.13). It is not the tradition that is being denounced here; rather, it is the use of traditions as an excuse for rejecting God’s Word that is being denounced.
A parallel passage is used to support the argument in Matthew 15. God hates the keeping of man made traditions IF it causes us to transgressthe commandments of God (Matt. 15:3). God hates man made traditions IF they cause us to make the commandment of God of none effect(Matt. 15:6). Matthew 15:7-9 states that teaching the commandments of men is hypocrisy and vain. Clearly, the traditions of men were used for evil in this passage. And yes, God DOES hate traditions of men when they are used for evil. The fact that something is used for evil does not mean that it is itself evil. You can use a knife to peel potatoes or to kill someone. You can use money to help the poor or to bribe an official. You can use truth to help a man or to hurt him. You can use a car to drive a person home or run a person over. The fact that some men use traditions as an excuse to violate God’s Word does not mean that the traditions in general are bad. That is not what Jesus is claiming in these passages. That is a mis-reading of Scripture. It is wrong for man made traditions to take precedence OVER God’s Word… or cause us to neglect God’s Word… or cause us to violate God’s Word. Jesus is not denouncing tradition. He is denouncing disobedience!
We have some examples of man made traditions and special days that God seemed to approve. The feast of Purim was invented by men (Esther 9:26-32). The Jews ordained this feast and took it upon themselves to do so (vs.27). Esther the Queen confirmed it (vs. 32). It does NOT occur anywhere in the list of special days and feasts that God ordained to be kept. God never said to keep this day. It was clearly a man made tradition and one that exists until this day. One of the Jewish traditions is that the book of Esther is read in the synagogue – and the children all cheer when Mordecai’s name is read and boo and stamp their feet when Haman’s name is read. The feast is usually preceded by a day of fasting to commemorate Esther’s fast. There is NO indication that God was displeased with it at all.
Another example is the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah or the Feast of Lights). This commemorated the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Syrian despot Antiochus Epiphanes and the restoration of Temple worship in 164 BC (I Macc. 4:36–61). When the Temple was entered there was only one day’s supply of oil for the golden lampstand, but the oil was said to last for eight days. We don’t have any inspired record that confirms this miracle. The alleged incident occurred during the 400 years of silence, when God was not speaking or dealing with Israel during this period. Whether this miracle was based upon fact or fiction is beside the point. It became a special day of tradition for the Jews, and it was a tradition of men. Jesus may well have gone to Jerusalem on this feast day because He began His ministry with a cleansing of the Temple, which is what this feast meant to the Jews (John 10:22-24). The text doesn’t say it, but it seems to imply that there is an intended connection between verse 22 and verse 23. It was the Feast of Dedication (a day of remembrance about the cleansing of the Temple)… and Christ walked in the Temple area on that day. It appears that Christ took advantage of this man-made tradition… this man made special day to speak to a crowd of people and point them to Himself! God never instituted this day. It may even have been built upon a fictitious (or exaggerated) story, but it became a day to thank God for His care of Israel, and a day to commemorate a hero who cleansed the Temple. It was a national holiday in Israel with religious connections. Whatever its roots, Jesus seemed to take advantage of that day to tell men and women about Himself, and some believed (vs. 42).
I consider Christmas to be something similar to this. Like Purim and the Feast of Dedication, it is a man-made holiday with man-made traditions. Regardless of its roots, it is a day in which our country acknowledges (at least ostensibly) the birth of Christ. It is a national holiday. Many believers choose to take advantage of this national holiday to tell the lost about Christ! This is perfectly legitimate.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”
Men seeking to make a case against Christians “esteeming a day” to acknowledge the incarnation, have tried to make their case from Scripture (such as Jeremiah 10 and Mark 7). Now, from Galatians 4:10, another argument is made: those who observe days are guilty of the error Paul describes in the book of Galatians. Throughout one such article I read the author records for us why those who observe days today are wrong. All would agree that the issue Paul addresses in Galatians is a serious doctrinal error. Let’s take a look at the error in Galatians.
Consider what Paul says of those who “observe days”:
4:11 – Paul feared for them because they were in a spiritually dangerous position.
4:11 – Paul was afraid that all his labor among them was in vain.
4:20 – Paul stands in doubt of those who observe days. He doubts if they are ever going to make it as a believer; whether they will ever advance, grow, mature, and become Christlike.
4:9 – By observing days, they had turned back to the weak and beggarly elements which put them in the bondage of ceremonialism and legalism. This is serious business.
One tract that dealt with this passage assumed that believers who esteem the day of Christmas did so to “please God and improve their standing before Him by this special emphasis on certain days as being more holy.” It stated also that observing special days was a “symptom of spiritual impoverishment” and was “the way toward apostasy.” Of course, this is exactly right when applied to the issue Paul addresses, but these are extremely serious and incendiary charges to level against a believer who puts a tree up in his house in December. The tract also stated that observing special days is an “immature and carnal concept of a believer’s relationship to God.” In other words, it is soulish and fleshly instead of spiritual, and (by implication) so are those who esteem the day.
This is 100% true of the Galatian believers who observed days. And when you look at the charges leveled against the Galatians who observed days, it can be quite fearful and intimidating. I certainly wouldn’t want to be guilty of such things. That’s not the kind of Christianity I want. It is heresy.
Clearly the passages in Galatians were listed in such a tract so that the readers would make the connection between the Galatians who observed special days and the modern day Christian who celebrates Christmas. Then, all of the awful things said about the impoverished spiritual condition of the Galatians would be imputed to believers today who celebrate Christmas. I don’t doubt for one moment that those awful things were true of the Galatians who observed days. But I reject the use of this Scripture to make the point the author intended to make.
There is a glaring omission in this argument. Paul was not upset over the fact that these Galatian believers observed days. He was upset over the reason they observed days. Wherever the apostles went with the gospel, the Judaizers dogged their steps, trying to impose the Law of Mosesupon the new converts. Paul was outraged over this heresy (Acts 15:1-2). The Judaizers tried to force the new converts to submit to Jewish ceremonialism and ritualism, including circumcision and keeping the Jewish Sabbaths and holy days. In Acts 15:10 Paul spoke of their actions as putting the yoke of the Mosaic Law around the necks of believers. The heretical Judaizers taught new converts that if they really wanted to walk with God, they had to submit to certain Jewish customs and laws. This is what Paul was dealing with in Galatia: legalism. A modern day example of this heresy is found in the Roman church in which it is taught that Christmas is a “holy day of obligation” and that one cannot be right with God apart from observing this day.
The Galatians started off well, but somebody came by and bewitched them and caused them to no longer obey the truth (Gal. 3:1). They turned to the law, to its ceremonies and rituals, to its special days and circumcision as a rule of life. In Galatians 4:10, 21, Paul says that the Galatians who were observing days desired to be under the Law. Three issues continued to hound the believers in the early church because of the influence of these heretics:
- eating meat (Levitical dietary laws)
- circumcision (Jewish ritualism)
- holy days (Jewish ceremonialism)
Paul deals with these issues in Galatians. In Gal. 4:10, Paul denounced the believers for “observing Jewish days.” In Gal. 5:2-3 Paul denounced the Judaizers for forcing believers to be circumcised, implying that they could not be right with God apart from it.
The problem Paul faced in Galatia was the serious heresy of legalism. In addition to faulting the believers for “observing days” (4:10), the apostle also noted that in the process of observing days they had returned to the weak and beggarly elements of the Law (4:9), they had “fallen from grace” (5:4), and that they were therefore not obeying the truth (5:7). What these Galatians were guilty of was not a matter of Christian liberty, but was outright heresy! Those guilty of such charges were to be excommunicated from the fellowship if they refuse to repent. Paul wished they who introduced such teachings were “cut off” (5:12).
The damning charges Paul leveled against the Galatians are NOT true of believers today who of their own free will CHOOSE to observe a special day… or CHOOSE to eat meat or CHOOSE to be circumcised. There is a huge difference between willingly choosing to do something, and being REQUIRED to do it. That is the difference between law and grace… between truth and error. It is not a fair use of Scripture to accuse believers today who choose to celebrate a special day as if they were guilty of Galatian legalism. It is neither fair nor accurate.
In fact, Paul himself “observed days.” In Acts 18:18-21, he said he had to go to Jerusalem to KEEP THE FEAST. Many believe that this referred to the feast of Passover. In Acts 20:16, Paul wanted to keep the feast of Pentecost. The age of Law was over. Christians were no longer under the Jewish law. Pentecost was part of the Jewish ceremonialism which had become obsolete (Heb. 7:12). Pentecost was part of the “yoke” of the bondage of the law that the Cross had taken OFF the necks of believers. It was heresy to put a believer back under that yoke. However, in the age of grace, Paul “observed days.” Yet, the very same apostle was rebuking the Galatians for observing days. What’s the difference? The yoke! It was perfectly acceptable before God for Paul to observe Pentecost of his own free will. It would be heresy for him to force or forbid another believer to do so.
Paul also had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). How could Paul do such a thing? Is this the same man who was so outraged at the Judaizers for having the disciples circumcised (Acts 15:1,2)? What was the difference? The real difference was between the rule of life for the believer: law or grace. Under grace, it is perfectly acceptable to observe special days… but it is heresy to FORCE them on others. The same is true of eating meat and of circumcision. Neither are commanded or forbidden, but it is heresy to force or forbid such practices. The reason is it heresy is notbecause those three issues (meat; circumcision; special days) are immoral or wrong. The real problem was that of putting the yoke of bondage on the necks of believers. Law vs. grace was the real issue – not Pentecost or Christmas!
In the book of Galatians Paul uses harsh language in rebuking the Galatians for observing days, but it was not the FACT that they observed them. It was the REASON. If people observe a day of their own free will as an expression of grace, that is perfectly acceptable before the Lord. If people are compelled and coerced to observe a special day, then it becomes an expression of legalism. If people are forbidden to observe a special day, that too becomes an expression of legalism. It is the difference between truth and error. No wonder Paul uses such strong language. Therefore, it is not a fair use of Scripture to apply the harsh, intimidating language Paul used against the Galatian heretics against believers who of their own free will choose to observe or esteem a day. It is similar to leveling those inflammatory charges against those who choose to be vegetarians or who chose to be circumcised. “Observing days” was not what Paul was attacking in Galatians. He was attacking legalism: putting believers under the law as either a means of salvation or a rule of life. A compulsory observing of days was merely one of several expressions of that form of legalism.
In my opinion, this omission skews the entire argument made and renders the accusations invalid. It is not fair to say (or imply) that Christians who observe Christmas are in the “bondage of ceremonialism”, or to say that they are “spiritually impoverished” or that they are “on the way toward apostasy.” Those are serious charges of heresy. Charges of heresy were true of the Galatians. They are NOT true of well meaning believers today who choose to observe a day and do so as unto the Lord (Rom.14:6).
Besides, if we are to believe that Galatians 4:11 is condemning the FACT of observing days, and that those who observe days are guilty of the awful charges Paul leveled against the Galatians, then we would have to conclude that all the believers who celebrate Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July are equally guilty of the same heresy… IF Paul was attacking “the observing of days”. I would argue he is not. He is attacking legalism. And we all ought to stand opposed to legalism because it is heresy. Freely choosing to honor the national holidays of Christmas or Thanksgiving is a matter of liberty in Christ, and believers are to STAND FAST in their liberty (Gal. 5:1). Upon reading this, I’m sure that some folks will retort: Yah, but – Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day don’t have the tainted history and historic links to paganism that Christmas has. If you want to base your argument on history, your argument is perfectly valid and legitimate. But basing the argument on what Paul says about a legalistic, mandatory observing of days in the book of Galatians is not an accurate analogy.
Many born again believers continue to celebrate Christmas because they have not seen a credible Scriptural reason that indicates that they should cease.