My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

16 December 2005

more on Christmas

A guest post (!) from the most senior pastor, Dave Long, sparked by some recent comments on Christmas:

Celebrating the Tradition of Christmas

Dave Long – December 16, 2005

Are traditions wrong, evil or sinful? The answer is only if they violate Scripture, or if they claim to be equal to or above Scripture by requiring men to do something that the Bible does not require. Otherwise traditions can be a good thing. They help us celebrate things that are important – birthdays, victories, accomplishments. They build continuity from one generation to another. They bring people together. They build thanksgiving into our hearts for things that God has done.

Even traditions that are developed to counter sinful things in the world can be a good thing. On campuses across America students have a tradition of gathering together in dormitories for evenings of fun, relaxation and what is know as “partying”. Unfortunately these traditions are often drunken affairs filled with excess. A few years ago a group of Christians decided to capitalize on this worldly tradition by adapting it for Christ’s glory. So they developed their own tradition of “pizza night”. They threw dorm parties with free pizza instead of beer, with the only requirement for admission being that you came with at least one spiritual question. Ask your question and you got free pizza. Through the traditions and practices of man came a tradition for the glory of God.

Imagine what it would be like if Saturday afternoon college football games evolved into something similar to the old Roman gatherings where they slaughtered Christians. What if every Saturday afternoon, horrible ungodly things began to take place in stadiums across America. Now what if Christians decided that whenever the heathen gathered to practice their sport, Christians would gather to worship and pray for the world. Would that tradition of gathering on Saturdays be unacceptable because it is not required in Scripture? The answer is only if you were required to attend and it was declared to be mandated in the Scriptures.

In the same way, the tradition of celebrating Christmas is not an evil or sinful thing. It is a tradition of remembering and giving thanks for something that is wonderful and at the heart of our religion. Even if (and there is evidence that we have gotten it wrong and that Christmas is not a capitulation to the heathen customs of the world), but even if the tradition of celebrating Christmas did arise as a counter measure to the practices of the world, the tradition is not sinful if it doesn’t violate Scripture (and certainly remembering and giving thanks for Christ’s advent is not a violation of the Bible), and if it does not rise above the Bible and claim to have divine mandate. I have never known a church disciplining someone for having a conviction of not participating in the traditions of Christmas. We do need to be clearer in stating that Christmas is not a divine holy day, but rather a wonderful Christian tradition.

Traditions can be a great thing, even long and widely held traditions. Are there abuses? Absolutely! Our culture abounds in them. So there is great need for each individual and family and church to be careful to not violate the commands of God. But with that carefulness there is also great freedom and flexibility to enter into the tradition according to one’s desire and ability to use it for the glory of God.


Alicia said...

Thanks for posting that. It was well said.

What I go back and forth on is celebrating Christmas as a memorable & enjoyable family holiday or as a Christian holiday. I feel that I would be hypocritical inwardly if I claimed to celebrate Christ's birth that day but spent the day giving and opening presents, eating, and enjoying family and gifts as opposed to spending the day celebrating Him. This is for Christmas in general and not just this year (with the assumption that we have the blessing of Sabbath worship this year on Christmas).

I almost feel "safer" celebrating it as a family holiday with the things I mentioned above without pretending to celebrate Christ and not actually doing that. However, I know I can do things to His glory and out of thankfulness to Him and His presence in my life. I guess I question if I am really celebrating His birth by these traditions. How does one do that? If I am not, I can't claim to celebrate His birth. On the other hand, if I am not, I can change my focus to one that is on Him....and how do I fit these enjoyable traditions in w/o saying one thing and actually doing another? I'm not sure if that makes sense. I don't question the celebration of Christmas, but the motive to the celebration, I guess, and if an adjustment in attitude is recommended if the attitude is that of celebrating the fellowship of family on Christmas.

That may not make any sense, if so, my apologies. I hope I'm not seen as some heretic.

Alicia said...

P.S. Zach & I are also talking about this. I think I made him confused :-), but we didn't have too long to talk.

Jared said...

Alicia, I don't think you need to back away from saying that Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth. That's what's so great about many of our traditions: how clearly they celebrate Christ. The tree of life in the middle of winter (garden of Eden & heaven!), mistletoe as a sign of God's provision and grace (see and scroll down a little while), Santa Claus reminding us of the wonderful Saint Nicolas' tradition of pastoral help and gifts, reflecting the wonderful excessive grace of God in unnecessary and even extravagant gifts...

I don't think you need to retreat into making this merely a time with your family; it can be a wonderful, special celebration of Christ's birth, especially since so many traditions make sense only in that vain.

Anonymous said...

Traditions can and often are wonderful things, as long as they don't superscede what God's commanded us or what He's deemed as more important. Alas, (which has probably been mentioned) we humans have a long-standing tradition of graduating traditions to be massive sacred cows, not to be altered or defamed or ignored in any way. Exhibit A: the Roman Catholic church.

Personally, I love Christmas greatly -- as a celebration of Jesus and as a celebration of family and life. I recently did a sermon on a minor revelation I had over why people worldwide adore Christmas so much. I strongly feel it's because it touches something deep within us -- a desire to see heaven, to experience an unfallen world, to reconnect with God. After all, Christmas embodies many emotions and values that are among the best God has blessed us with in this world and the next: family, love, charity, sacrifice, happiness, love for strangers, miracles and, yes, worship. To the unsaved, Christmas can be a beacon to them showing them that all of life doesn't have to be full of the worst, most disgusting things... but instead, it can pull them toward Christ, desiring to experience all of those wonderful things Christmas has to offer, only eternally and far more powerfully. My two cents.

- Justin

David said...

A great post and a great point. My opinions are on my blog so I won't waste time retyping them. lol But a small point, The Roman Catholic church, officially, began Christmas around the 300s, I believe, and during this time they were the true church. In that, they were spiritually focused on Christ as a whole and weren't as many Rpers think of them today.

Alicia said...

I am settled on this now. Thanks for all the input.