Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Some Thoughts About Christmas

It is seldom that I utilize the Sunday before the Christmas holiday to speak out against the unauthorized religious observances that are practiced by most churches on that day. I have no problem with pointing out this error, but often have another more pressing message to share.

However, from time to time it is important to note that Christ does not authorize the religious observance of Christmas, and such is not acceptable before God. Though many churches are organizing and participating in Christmas plays, cantatas, Nativity scenes, parties, etc., here at West Side we are not. The reason is simple. If there is a divine connection between the holiday and the birth of Christ, we should be able to turn in our New Testaments and find it. We cannot.

The question arises, when did men first begin to observe December 25th as the birthday of Jesus? A quick look at any reference work shows the origin not to be from God’s word, but rather from the 4th century. For example, note the following from Hastings Dictionary of the New Testament, on the Christian Calendar:

“We do not read of either of these days (Christmas and Epiphany) being observed as festivals in the 3rd century. The first mention of such a commemoration on 25th December is in the Philocalian Calendar, which was copied in 354 A.D., but represents the official observances at Rome in A. D. 336. We find the entry: ‘viij kal. Jan. Natus Christus in Bethleem Judae.” It is not indeed absolutely certain that 25th December was at that date observed as a feast; but it is highly probable that this was so, as the other days, commemorations of bishops of Rome and martyrs, seem to be noted in order that they might be observed.” (vol. 1, pg. 261)

Also, there is a pagan festival that has its observance on the same day. The winter solstice, (December 21st on our calendar, but December 25th on the Julian calendar which predated our own) is the date when the days begin to lengthen in the Northern hemisphere. As such, it was recognized as a day of great import to the sun-worshippers in Rome during the 3rd and 4th century. Pagans referred to that day as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”

Note the following quote from Hastings:

“But it is quite possible that when, in the 4th cent., the Christians began to observe the Nativity as a festival, they seized on the coincidence between the day as calculated by Hippolytus and the heathen feast-day, and Christianizing the latter as the Birth of the true Sun of Righteousness, showed a good example to the pagan world by making the day a true holy day.” (ibid, page 261).

You may observe that Hastings considers the adaptation of the Pagan holiday as showing a “good example”, and assumes that God has given authority for Christians to “Christianize” and to establish for themselves true “holy day[s].” Here we find the problem with the religious observance of Christmas. Some, unwilling to limit themselves to the will of Christ expressed in the New Testament, have taken upon themselves to establish new acts and days of worship. Time has passed, and with such passage this usurping of Christ’s authority has taken on a patina of orthodoxy. People today call for Christ to be put back into Christmas, when in reality the observance of Christ’s birthday was not even considered until 300 years after Christ’s death.

This being true, it is not surprising that many other aspects of Christ’s birth are distorted as well. The date itself is suspect, as it is not probable that Shepherds would have had their flocks in the fields at that time of year. Indeed, the custom of the Jews would necessitate the event to have transpired sometime during the late spring or summer.

Traditional observance of the day has included nativity scenes showing three wise men (while scripture is silent on the number, tradition has gone so far as to number and name the men), who met the Christ child in the stable, as he lay in a manger (rather, scripture indicates a time frame possibly 40 days after Christ’s birth, in a house. cf. Matt. 2:11-12). Other distortions, as well as the pagan origins of the Christmas tree, with the so called “Star of Bethlehem” put on top, and other man-made traditions, show clearly that the entirety of Christmas celebration has its origin in the mind of men.

The point is this, if God desired for us to celebrate the birth of Christ, he would have let us know in His word. He desired such an observance of the death of our Lord, and established a supper to commemorate that death (cf. 1 Cor. 11:26). We must “speak as the oracles of God” (cf. 1 Peter 4:11). We have no authority to establish religious institutions or holy days on our own authority.

In this we are not saying it is wrong to culturally and secularly observe a holiday. We can do so not only with Christmas, but also Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. So long as our observance is not religious, and our conscience is not violated, (cf. Romans 14:22, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves”), there is no sin in exchanging gifts, observing secular tradition, and visiting with family at these times. Just remember the law of love, that we do not, in this liberty, cause a weak brother to stumble. “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God” (Romans 14:21-22).

Authority and Christmas
(The following short article appeared on the front page of the same edition of Reflections)

We often are asked why we do not, as a congregation, observe the birth of Jesus on December 25th. While many are calling to “bring Christ back into Christmas”, we have argued that Christ never belonged there in the first place.

Our problem is not with remembering with great appreciation the wonderful event. The Christ child’s entry into the world signified “good tidings of great joy” (cf. Luke 3:10). The angel said, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (vs. 11). This we do often, as we contemplate not only our Lord’s birth, but also his perfect life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension back to the Father. Our problem is with any man (or group of men) who would take it upon himself (or themselves) to establish a religious holiday (holy day). Nowhere in scripture is there any authority for such a practice. It finds its genesis entirely in the mind of man. The Pharisees were one time guilty of establishing their own religious tradition. In response to their arrogance, Jesus said:

“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:7-9).

Let us be willing to limit ourselves to worshipping God in ways revealed in His Will.