Caution to Those Who Do Esteem the day
INDISPUTABLE PROBLEMS WITH THE SEASON
Some believers are concerned about the connections between Christmas and idolatry in the past. I am not so concerned about that. I am much more concerned with its connections to idolatry today. In Colossians 3:5 Paul states that covetousness is idolatry. It was idolatrous 2000 years ago, and it is idolatrous today. It is sin. Idolatry is giving honor to someone or something other than Christ. This ought to be a genuine concern of every believer today, and perhaps especially around Christmas time. Many stores do the lion’s share of their sales during the Christmas season. Many Christian families make most of their purchases during this season. It is easy to get caught up in all the commercialism and materialism of the season, and many believers do.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about Christmas (good, bad, or indifferent). But the Bible does say a lot about covetousness and materialism. It is a form of idolatry and the believer is commanded to flee from idolatry! Rather than taking out a sawed off shotgun and spraying buckshot at the whole season, it is better (and more Biblically accurate) to aim our attack like a lazar beam at the real culprit: covetousness. The Bible saysthat this is idolatry. We are always on much safer ground when we go by what the Bible actually says.
Materialism ought to be a real concern to us all, and perhaps at no time more than at Christmas time. This is one area where I think both sides on the issue of Christmas will agree. We are clearly warned the Word:
- Luke 12:15 – Beware of covetousness.
- Matt. 6:24 – You cannot serve two masters.
The real idol at Christmastime is not the tree, but covetousness, which can crop up in the heart of any one of us, at any time of year, but especially so in December. Beware. This is an ongoing danger whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
God has given all of us a certain amount of earthly resources (Luke 16:10-11). They all belong to the Lord, but He entrusts earthly resources to our care. God expects stewards to be faithful and wise in the use of material goods on loan from Him (I Cor. 4:2). Whatever we have is to be used for His glory. In a sense, the way we use money and earthly resources is a test. If we fail this test, why should God entrust true (heavenly) riches to us? If we pass the test by using earthly goods in a wise manner (taking good care of our property; wise, generous use of money; etc) then we will be given true riches in glory.
God expects us to be good stewards of the goods He has entrusted to our care. For us, this trust is put to the test at Christmas time. Will we spend beyond our means? Will we put so many purchases on our credit cards that we will not be able to pay it off, and hence, get zapped with large interest fees which annihilate all the great “bargains” we found… and find ourselves hopelessly in debt come January? Will we be so influenced by the world that we will feel compelled to buy our children more than is spiritually healthy for them, just to keep up with the Joneses, who just bought their sons an ATV, swimming pool, and large screen TVs?
It’s not a good idea to blame all this on Christmas. The real problem is SELF. Poor stewardship is not to be blamed on a holiday. If I’m a poor steward, that’s my fault. It becomes an issue of the heart – trying to impress people and to keep up with the Joneses. It is possible to stop celebrating Christmas altogether, but that isn’t going to cure this problem. If we are covetous in December, we will be covetous in April too. If we are poor stewards in December, we will be poor stewards in July too… if we don’t deal with our heart issue. Poor stewardship is an issue that Bible addresses directly. It is sin… disobedience. Don’t blame Christmas for your poor stewardship. That’s a cop out. Deal with the real issue: the issue of the heart. Some might feel that for them, one way to deal with covetousness is to stop celebrating Christmas. If the Christmas season is an occasion to the flesh for you, then make no provision for the flesh (Rom.13:14). That is perfectly legitimate if God so leads. But be cognizant of the fact that God does not lead everyone the same way.
JUDGMENTAL SPIRIT AND HARSH RHETORIC
Both sides of the Christmas issue have been guilty of this. Consider some of the language used in the “anti-Christmas” literature to describe believers who celebrate Christmas:
- Walking like the enemies of the cross…
- Given to the secular and the apostate…
- Satanic, vain, and blasphemous…
- Deceived… deceiver…
- Naïve, unenlightened; ill informed…
I think we’d all agree that this language is a bit harsh. At best it assumes that if the side B had just a little more light, they would see it the way side A sees it: not so! It is possible for believers to evaluate the same information, the same data, and draw very different conclusions. The literature that some folks have given me referred to Christian brothers as pagan; worldly; compromiser; idolater, and worse. These are terrible things to say or imply about a brother in the Lord. An idolater? If so, he should be excommunicated! The Lake of Fire is for idolaters according to John. Are you sure you want to accuse your brothers and sisters in Christ of idolatry, either explicitly or implicitly by the literature you distribute?
Another tract said that Christmas was “4-5 weeks of superficial, selfish, indulgence, and religious confusion.” There is no doubt that this is true of some people. But in that tract the obvious implication is that all believers who participate in Christmas are also superficial, self indulgent, and involved in religious confusion… which simply is not true. It is wrong to paint everyone with the same brush.
One piece of literature made the following argument: Celebrating Christmas is self indulgent. Not celebrating Christmas is self sacrificing. Which do you think is pleasing to God? That is a straw man argument, and not a valid means of making a point. It tricks people into thinking that if they want to please God they have to stop celebrating Christmas. That so-called logic has a huge hole in the center: it wrongly assumes that all who celebrate Christmas are self indulgent. That is patently false. It wrongly judges the motives of a brother. Judging a brother’s motives is forbidden. In fact, it is sin. Is it really true that those who GIVE gifts to others are self indulgent? What is your definition of self indulgence? I thought giving a gift was an expression of self sacrifice, not self indulgence! If we are giving in order to get, that is self indulgence, but we can never know a man’s motives, and we are not to judge motives. Another tract noted that it was even selfish to give to your own children because you get pleasure from it. Well, that’s true – but that’s the way it is supposed to be. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” If you are giving IN ORDER TO be blessed, then your motive is wrong. But to give to your children and to be blessed for giving is certainly not self indulgence. That’s the way it ought to be according to Jesus.
To paint everyone who celebrates Christmas with the same brush and to accuse them all of being self indulgent is neither kind nor true. Couldn’t the same argument be made (even more forcefully) that those who do not celebrate Christmas are self indulgent? What about the person who decides not to buy Christmas presents for others and keeps the money for himself? What if a person chooses not to buy Aunt Mille a scarf, and not to buy his father new golf clubs, and instead puts that money aside for a Caribbean cruise for himself, couldn’t we say that he was self indulgent? We could, but we would be wrong, because we have no right to judge a person’s motives. You simply can’t tell if a person is self indulgent or not by whether they celebrate Christmas or not.
Now let’s consider some of the language and accusations used by those who DO celebrate Christmas against those who do not. Those who do not celebrate the day have been labeled “Pharisees” and “legalists.” However, it is NOT legalism unless they believe that they are forbidden by God to esteem the day and are imposing that law on others. Such a slanderer shows ignorance about what legalism is. Read the book of Galatians – legalism is heresy. That is an extremely serious and incendiary charge. If it’s their choice not to celebrate Christmas, it’s their choice… and nobody else’s business.
On occasion, those who do not esteem the day are lumped together with the cults, because Jehovah Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas. What an awful thing: to associate a brother in Christ with the heretical cultist, just because he exercises his liberty and chooses not to celebrate Christmas. Using such language is offensive, outrageous, hurtful, and divisive. But more importantly, it is not true (Eph. 4:15).
That kind of harsh rhetoric (on both sides) is not Christlike at all. It is not speaking the truth in love. The devil must love to see such bickering among the saints: one side associating those who don’t celebrate Christmas with the cultic Jehovah Witnesses and the other side associating those who do with cultic Rome! This kind of childish behavior is not healthy for the Body of Christ. It is not accurate either. It is divisive, contentious, and is based on pride (Prov.13:10). That’s no way for a brother to treat a brother. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and love is kind. This kind of rhetoric is neither. Love believes the best of others. Thankfully I haven’t seen or heard any of that sort of behavior here. Let’s keep it that way!
But again, the real problem with this kind of rhetoric is not Christmas. The real problem is our tongue, and more importantly, the heart that moves the tongue to say what it says. The problem may be pride and a holier than thou attitude. If both sides would only deal with their own self righteousness pride, and sinful hearts and tongues, there wouldn’t be anything to argue about on this issue. We ought to let other saints live by the convictions of their own hearts to the glory of God and rejoice in it.
A HINDRANCE TO A HEAVENLY FOCUS
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col.3.1-2). The Bible says that we are to be looking unto Jesus. The Bible says that we are put our affection on things above. The Bible also says that we are not to be entangled in the affairs of this life (II Tim.2:4). We have to be involved to a certain degree in the affairs of this life, but we don’t have to become entangled. If we are so caught up in our involvement in Christmas programs and activities that our eyes are taken off the Lord, then Christmas can be a hindrance.
Let’s face it: Christmas CAN be a distraction. Too often we spend too much time at the mall, running here and there, to one party after another. If we are on six different committees at church and each one has a Christmas program, if the choir takes on more than they can handle, if the ladies’ banquet Christmas becomes all consuming, if the Christmas cantata obliterates all other church functions, then Christmas has become a spiritually unhealthy distraction. If our presents overshadow HIS presence, then Christmas is a distraction.
With the best of intentions, believers can allow Christmas (presumably a time to think about Christ) to take their mind off Christ and put it on other things. Remember Martha? She was serving Christ. She was so busy serving the Lord that she was actually distracted from her fellowship with the Lord (Luke 10:40). Martha wasn’t wrong for wanting to serve Him, but she was wrong for substituting busy service for communion. It is quite possible for believers to do this same sort of thing at Christmas time. That’s why I want to make sure that our December church calendar is NOT full to overflowing. It’s far better to have no Christmas program than to have one so elaborate that all those involved get burned out in the process.
But once again, the real problem is not Christmas… any more than the real problem for Martha was cooking a meal and doing housework. The real issue is one of focus. Martha wasn’t faulted for cooking the meal and serving the Lord. She was faulted for doing so to the exclusion of spending time with the Lord and fellowshipping with Him. Believers who serve the Lord by getting involved in Christmas programs are not to be faulted unless they are so busy serving, that it has a detrimental effect on their spiritual lives or their families. This is a serious problem with Christmas time that we all ought to consider: the sheer busy-ness of the season. The ever present danger is that we lose our single eye, focused on Christ. This is a danger all year long, and it is ultimately a heart issue. And it is possible to do away with Christmas altogether, and never deal with the heart issue.
The best approach is the fruit of the Spirit: self control. Learn to say a polite NO to some of those Christmas parties and holiday gatherings. Learn to be balanced in the things you sign up for in December. Don’t schedule so many get-togethers that you are too tired for your devotions… or prayer meetings… too burned out physically to take care of yourself spiritually! When that is the case, our earthly affairs have overshadowed our heavenly focus on Christ. Imagine being so busy with the activities associated with the incarnation that we don’t have time for the One who was incarnated! That’s the real danger, and I think we will all agree on that. So let’s be careful about those things!
TRIVIALIZING THE WONDER OF INCARNATION
Christmas is a time when many think about the miracle of incarnation: God became a man… the word became flesh (John 1:1,14). Whatever a believer may think about Christmas, the incarnation is still a wonder, and an integral part of our Christian faith. In fact you can’t be a Christian without believing that God became a Man in the person of Jesus Christ. This is central to our faith. Regardless of HOW it came to be, it is a fact that now in our land, in late December, people think about the incarnation. We choose to take advantage of that fact – and try to invite unsaved friends out to hear the REST of the story… not just the manger, but the cross, the empty tomb, and His enthronement in heaven!
But if as a church, we choose to use this season to present the gospel, we ought to be extra careful not to do so in a manner that trivializes theincarnation or the gospel message itself. This occurs in lots of various ways in our day and age. Christmas pageants have become elaborate programs – complete with dancers, live camels, professional actors, choreographers, surround sound systems, and dazzling visuals. This is what some have called the “show time religion.” (Some churches charge top dollar for their shows too!) Gospel presentations are now accompanied by a chorus of “Jingle Bells” and a Santa Clause to invite the kids to come forward and get a free gift. The gospel is a very serious and sacred message. It is not to be mixed together with or confused with that which is profane, secular, or silly.
AN INDISCRIMINATE USE OF CHRISTMAS CAROLS
We have some wonderful hymns in our hymnal that have as a theme, the wondrous incarnation of the eternal Son of God. Hark the Herald Angels Sing is rich in sound doctrine. Others, like Silent Night, are not so rich in doctrine. It is sweet and sentimental, but is lacking in content. Innocuous, but lacking in depth. Other Christmas carols, like O Little Town of Bethlehem present some unbiblical concepts such as Christ casting out our sin and being “born in us”. “O holy child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.” This is poor theology – confusing at best. When a person is saved, it is the sinner who experiences the birth (born again), not Christ. Some carols were written by very liberal theologians, and others by Roman Catholic priests. We should sing hymns that are doctrinally accurate, for we are commanded to sing with the understanding. (I Cor. 14:15).
Be a man or woman of conviction. Act on your convictions, whatever they are.
If you are convicted in a particular area – respond accordingly. Don’t blindly adopt, imitate, or pretend to hold the convictions of others. That’s being phony. Develop your own set of convictions, based on your honest understanding of the pertinent principles of Scripture. That’s being honest. I am happy to have folks in this church who are people of principle and conviction, and who live by their convictions, even if we don’t all agree in every area.
Be honest with yourself and with the Lord. Don’t hold to a set of convictions about Christmas just because you feel the pastor, or a Sunday School teacher, or your Christian friends expect you to. That’s not being honest. Seek to the please the Lord – not men. Don’t feel trapped into practicing that which you don’t really believe – one way or the other. Perhaps you feel it is wrong to do so, but you are afraid to upset the applecart, or afraid that you will be ostracized. That’s not being honest. Perhaps you feel it is OK to celebrate Christmas, but you have always been taught otherwise, and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… so you go on pretending to hold to a view you really don’t hold to. That’s not being honest either. If you have seen it one way all your life, have been taught one position all your life, and in the process of time, you honestly see it differently now, that’s ok too. Nobody’s going to look down at you for changing your view… not if you are being genuine and true to your conscience.
Just be HONEST. Prove all things. Don’t stubbornly hold on to views you don’t really believe. Search your heart. Ask God to search your heart. And then act in accordance with your convictions. It is hypocrisy to secretly believe one thing, and try to hide it by practicing another. Don’t live with a guilty conscience, knowing that your practice is being controlled by the pressure of men rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit. To violate one’s conscience is always SIN.
It is possible to take anything to the extreme – even Christmas practices. One side can become so busy spending all their time at the mall and Christmas parties that they don’t have time for Sunday School, prayer meeting, or ministering in the church… and the local church suffers as a result. On the other hand, those who don’t celebrate Christmas might be so turned off by the singing of carols or the least bit of decorations that they too avoid church in December and won’t return until the last poinsettia is dead. Either way, the devil has won a great victory – and what God is doing in the world – manifesting His Son through the fellowship of the Body of Christ – the local church suffers! Isn’t that a pity?! It’s ok to hold various views on such issues, but it is NOT ok to use that as an excuse to disobey Scripture: forsake not the assembling of yourselves together!