Folks who choose not to observe Christmas on the basis of its tainted history have good reasons for their beliefs. Christmas has its roots in Babylonian paganism and in apostate Christianity. This is not disputed. The connection is based on undeniable and verifiable historic facts. Because of its tainted history, many believers choose not to participate in the day or in any of the associated traditions. This is a matter of conscience for them. Knowing its history, their conscience will not allow them to participate. They do not want to be associated in any way with that which has its roots in paganism or apostasy. I don’t blame them! I don’t want to be associated with paganism or apostasy either. They are absolutely right on that. It demonstrates a heart that truly wants to honor God by being separate from that which is deemed to be tainted or unholy. That spirit is to be commended. It is spiritually healthy for the Body when believers hate mixture with evil associations.
Other believers (myself included) though aware of its tainted history, still participate in good conscience. How can that be? One can easily understand how a believer could participate with such practices out of ignorance. But how can a believer who knows about its tainted past participate in good conscience? Doesn’t the knowledge of its past cause the conscience to be pricked? Not necessarily. Consider I Cor. 10:25. I have found this to be an extremely helpful land liberating principle. In context, Paul had been speaking about meat that had been previously offered in sacrifice in the idol’s temple (8:1). (Talk about a tainted past!) In I Cor.8:4, Paul states that the knowledgeable believers knew that the idol was nothing. These believers also knew that their relationship to God had nothing to do with what they ate, whether they ate this meat or not (8:8). Therefore, they were free to buy whatever meat they wanted in the marketplace, and need not be concerned about whether it had been part of a sacrifice for the pagan temple (10:25). They were to ask no questions for conscience sake. Paul’s advice here was to buy the meat and don’t bother digging into its past… into its tainted history. As it sat in the marketplace, it was just a piece of meat… no more, no less.
However, if you do dig into its past, you might unnecessarily provoke your conscience, raise unnecessary concerns, or cause doubt. The point: It’s ok to eat the meat, but if you dig and your conscience pricks you, then you may not eat. We live in a sin-cursed, corrupt earth. Virtually everything we begin looking into will be tainted somewhere along the line. The sweetest melons often grow on a manure pile. Some folks are able to mentally separate the sweet melon from its roots (in the manure) and enjoy the melon. Other folks investigate that melon and discover that the melon was connected to a vine, and the vine sent roots in to the ground, and the tiny fibers of those roots were sucking their nutrients out of cow manure. They were completely turned off and want nothing to do with that melon. To them it was unclean.
As a new believer, many such issues disturbed me. Like Martha, I was cumbered about many things until the Lord gave me rest, and put my conscience to rest. I struggled with certain issues:
- Do I want to buy products from a company that does business in South Africa? Am I supporting the ugly apartheid system in doing so?
- Do I really want to buy a shirt made in China, knowing that they use slave labor in that country?
- Do I really want to buy plastic products made by the Grace Company, knowing that they are polluting the environment?
- Do I want to buy Disney products knowing that they are promoting the gay lifestyle?
- Should I boycott products made in Libya because of their human rights violations?
When you go to the marketplace, if you dig deep enough into the history of ANY product, company, or practice, you are bound to come up with some disturbing dirt, with some repulsive connection, or some ungodly, pagan roots. On occasion this raises moral issues in the minds of some. Virtually everything in the cursed earth is tainted. And if we begin digging into everything, it will become a full time job… and we will not even be able to buy everyday goods at the marketplace. That is a slippery slope, and if you follow that way of thinking consistently, you will likely become entangled in the affairs of this life… and unnecessarily troubled about many things, like Martha.
Hence, Paul’s advice: don’t ask! Don’t unnecessarily stir up your conscience. It is possible to be overly scrupulous on certain issues. If you stir up your conscience, and it is pricked, then you may not partake of it. But if your conscience is not stirred up, then you may partake of it. Buy the meat, eat it, and enjoy it. It was probably a little cheaper too.
However, there were other believers who felt very strongly that such meat that had formerly been offered to idols should never be eaten. They dug into the history of that meat and discovered that (in the past) it had been offered to an idol in the pagan temple. Perhaps they used to attend that pagan temple before they were saved. They were aware of the ungodly, lewd acts that were conducted there by the temple prostitutes. Because this meat had been offered as a sacrifice in that temple, and because of their past experiences, their consciences would not allow them to eat it, and that is perfectly understandable.
Because their conscience has been pricked, they view eating that meat as tantamount to participating in its pagan past… an offering to an idol. A believer who is that sensitive to the issue and whose conscience is deeply pricked will probably never be convinced that the meat is OK to eat. He won’t hear of it. And by the way, it’s not our job to try to convince him to eat it, because it is also perfectly acceptable NOT to eat it. That believer is doing exactly what God wants him to do: to be sensitive to pleasing God and not violating his conscience.
Do you think Paul was being a bit shady here? Was he telling the believers to ignore something evil, and to “just do it” and don’t bother asking to find out if it’s right or wrong? Hardly. Paul was not dishonest or superstitious. He knew that eating that meat would not harm the godly believers who had a right concept of that meat. He knew that the meat itself was quite harmless and neutral. The fact that it had been in a pagan temple didn’t change the nature of the meat one bit. It was still just a piece of meat. And as long as the believers saw it as just a piece of meat, it was fine to partake of it. This was not a matter of right or wrong.
Apply this principle to say, putting up a Christmas tree. A tree is just a tree. Decorations are just decorations. Yes, they have a tainted past, but that doesn’t change the nature of the tree. They are not evil in and of themselves. As long as a believer views it from that perspective, there is nothing wrong with a tree – even a decorated tree. But other believers may look at that tree and see nothing but its pagan past. They have filled their mind with these thoughts, and therefore, that’s all they see. They don’t see a pretty, decorated tree. They see a pagan idol. To them it IS an idol. And by dwelling on its past, their conscience is pricked, and they view putting up a tree as participating in its pagan past. One believer sees nothing but a tree. Another believer sees its pagan roots. Looking at the same object, two believers can see two different things.
Rom. 14:14 tells us that nothing is unclean of itself (meat, days, trees, etc.). But, if a brother esteems that meat to be unclean (because of its pagan past) then to him it IS unclean… tainted. That is true even though there is nothing unclean in itself. He may not partake of it. To do so is to participate in that which he deems to be unclean, and that is sin! And as for the other brother who looks at that meat and sees something “clean” (harmless), if that is what he genuinely sees, then to him it IS clean. He may partake of it. Two brothers, looking at the same piece of meat and both have a different view of it – in fact opposite views. Their practice is to be in accordance with their beliefs. What they believeabout that meat is to determine whether it is clean or unclean for them. All depends upon how they see it.
Some believers are able to disconnect the meat from its pagan past in their minds and thus eat it and enjoy it. Others are unable to make that disconnect. Thus, it will always be tainted and unclean to them. (Remember the sweet cantaloupe grown on a manure pile?) Some folks are able to enjoy the sweet fruit and they don’t think about its roots. Other folks can’t get the thought of those roots (and the manure) out of their head… and couldn’t even think of eating that cantaloupe. The thought of where it came from caused them to lose appetite for it. To them it is unclean (so to speak).
Consider the subject of eating meat (apart from any idolatry). I was a vegetarian before I was saved, and that lingered for a while after I was saved. Some believers (with the best of intentions) were quite vocal and active in trying to coerce me to eat meat. They showed me Bible verses and twisted my arm to convince me that real Christians eat meat! They showed me I Tim. 4:4-5 where Paul said “every creature is to be received with thanksgiving and nothing is to be refused” and made it sound like I had to eat meat. However, the passage does not mean we have to eat meat, but we may if we so choose. (I have fully recovered from my vegetarian days.)
There are believers today who choose not to eat meat. When they look at a hamburger, all they can see is poor old Daisy the cow – with her big brown eyes, getting her throat slit. When they look at a stew made of venison, they see Bambi crying over watching his father get shot by the hunter. To that believer, (if his conscience condemns it) meat is unclean. But to another believer, that meat is delicious, and is perfectly clean, acceptable, and pleasing to the Lord. Two believers look at the same piece of meat, but draw very different conclusions, and their consciences send them different messages because of different life experiences. But once the conscience sends that message, they are bound to obey their consciences and must not violate it. Here we have opposite points of view and opposite practices. Who is right? Both are, if they do so as unto the Lord.
Another issue to consider is the fact that time changes things. The meat sold in the marketplace had likely been offered as a sacrifice to an idol in the pagan temple that morning. But when it is taken out of the temple setting and placed in a new environment, it takes on new meaning. It is no longer a sacrifice to an idol. It is just an ordinary piece of meat. And that change only took a few hours. Imagine how much meanings can change in 1500 years (from the time the Roman church baptized pagan customs into the church) until today! 5000-6000 years have transpired since its original Babylonian connection.
Symbols fade, change, and can even reverse meaning over time. Consider the meaning of the symbol formed by using your two fingers to make a V-sign. What do you suppose that meant in 1946? In that day, it meant Victory and implied support for the Allied troops. It was a sign of gratitude for the soldiers and a country that stood up to the rise of evil in Europe. It represented patriotism. What do you suppose the V-sign meant just one generation later in the late sixties in Haight Ashbury or in Woodstock? In that day, the victory sign became a peace symbol. It represented a disdain for soldiers and the war. It was the symbol used by those who sought to overthrow the establishment. It represented anti-war movement and disdain for America and its capitalism. It was the same symbol, but over time its meaning changed drastically. In just one generation, that symbol didn’t mean the same thing any more.
I am convinced that something similar has happened to Christmas, the Christmas tree and many of the Christmas traditions. The symbols of Christmas do not mean to folks today what they meant to folks 1500 years ago, or 4000 years ago. The connection and association no longer exists in the minds of people today. I doubt if any of my neighbors who saw a Christmas tree in my house ever thought, “I wonder if he is part of that ancient Babylonian mother/child cult?” Nor do any of them associate it with the Roman Catholic Church – because virtually everyone in the country puts up a tree. Its meaning has changed, and its association with paganism and apostate Christianity has changed over the years. When I (& many other believers) see a Christmas tree, it doesn’t shout “Unclean!” to me. I see it as clean, innocuous, just a winter decoration, not unlike the corn stalks, gourds, and pumpkins that are displayed in our house in November.
But that was not always the case for me. I used to see Christmas as “unclean!” And I can understand and appreciate why believers today are turned off by a Christmas tree. If you see it as “unclean” then to you it IS unclean. But please acknowledge that it is possible for another believer to see a piece of meat… or a tree, and to him it is clean, and thus he is free to partake of it. When that is the case, you have no right to imply that he is idolatrous for doing so. Nor should the believer who decorates assume that those who don’t are legalistic.
Over 5000 years have passed since the beginning of the symbols and traditions which eventually developed into some of our modern day Christmas traditions. Virtually everything has pagan roots if we dig deep enough. Apart from a tiny remnant that God has preserved through the years, the whole world has always been pagan and ANY and EVERY link back in history will have pagan connections somewhere: wedding rings; wedding ceremony; wedding cookies; wearing certain colors; etc… The real issue is not what these symbols meant 2000 years ago, but what they mean today. The historic roots of these symbols are not only faded, they are faded beyond recognition, except to a few students of history. Conscience, culture, life experiences, and our understanding of history all affect our convictions. The information that a believer possesses and believes to be true will affect his conscience, and thus his practice.
“Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)