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!"

15 December 2005

other notes

I was pumped to see that World magazine named an artist as its Daniel of the Year. Makoto Fujimura is a PCA elder who's a full-time artist in NYC. Read the article, then check out his website; apparently, his work doesn't carry the same power through photography as it does in person, but it's beautiful anyway.

Our college winter retreat is coming up and I'll be doing a workshop titled "Christ is King over the Arts." All I have for the workshop so far is that title...and now this article.

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I really liked this post by Catherine Gillespie about Christmas. I've had some of the debates before, but I'll summarize my opinion as such: although we are not commanded to celebrate the Lord's birthday, we aren't told not to. There are many wonderful reasons to celebrate Christmas and it can be done in a Christ-honoring way. It should not take precedence over the Sabbath, which is our ordained holy day. If some are led to not celebrate Christmas, good and fine. If others do celebrate it, Merry Christmas!

I've heard other pastors delight in not preaching a Christmas sermon near Christmas; this is, of course, their right, as we should not be bound to liturgical, church calendar. But why would I pass up an opportunity to speak about the incarnation of God into the world of man?

8 comments:

Kurt said...

"The Puritans had declared Holy Days theologically unwarranted, and as they began to gain the upper hand in the English Parliament, they moved decisively against both the public and ecclesiastical celebration of Holy Days. In 1642 Parliament outlawed the seasonal plays and pageants that proliferated around holy days and purposely met on every Christmas from 1644 to 1652 to show their disdain for what they felt was an unwarranted innovation that produced nothing but moral abuses. Finally in 1652 after the Triumph of the Puritan Statesman Oliver Cromwell and the beheading of Charles I, the observance of Holy days was "strongly prohibited" and ministers who preached on the birth of Christ on Christmas risked imprisonment. Shops were required to keep open and Churches were heavily fined for attempting to put up decorations."1 [Emphasis mine]

1. Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995), 8

- excerpt from "WHY DO PRESBYTERIANS OBSERVE HOLY DAYS?" By Andrew Webb, Providence PCA Mission Church

Apparently the Puritans didn't distinguish between corporate ecclesiastical "celebration" of Christmas and public "non-religious" observance of Christmas (or private observance for that matter). We may snicker, with our pluralistic thinking, at their attempt to "legislate morality" in their day, but that's not the point. The point is, what happened to their zeal to worship Jesus Christ in Spirit and in Truth, in us today? What has changed?

I couldn't help but recall an old Virginia Slims TV/print cigarette ad promoting women's "advance" in their freedom to smoke. It said, "We've come a long way, baby!"

I'm afraid we have.

Alicia said...

Thanks for the reference to Catherine's post.

Still thinking...........

Jared said...

Kurt - I believe your comment is unfair and reactionary. To infer that those who wish to celebrate Christ's birth are not zealous to worship Jesus in spirit and truth is unwarranted. Again, it's important to realize the difference between celebration and worship. This is important to those of us who believe that instruments in worship are not proper; throughout the OT, instruments were used quite often, but most often in celebrations, where they are still proper (the other times they were used were in conjunction with sacrifice, which system has been fulfilled in Christ). In other words, I do not suggest that Christmas is or should be a "holy" day; but this doesn't mean we can't celebrate it. The fact that the Puritans in parliament didn't differentiate well between what's proper in corporate worship and what's proper in the rest of life doesn't have any bearing on my thinking concerning Christmas.

And for parliament to tell ministers what they can and can't preach on...surely this is far worse abuse of worship than any misguided Christmas shoppers!

Different Puritans were wrong about plenty of stuff and I would include this in that bag.

Kurt said...

Jared - I believe your comment calling my comment "unfair" is unfair. :>)

You said, "To infer that those who wish to celebrate Christ's birth are not zealous to worship Jesus in spirit and truth is unwarranted.

I don't think so. "Zealousness" is a passionate pursuit of a thing that should include examining "why" we do the "thing." If we're honest, many Christians have not thoroughly researched the background of the Christmas "celebration." They have usually performed the rituals and practices as tradition, enjoyed them, and continued them. They may be "zealous" in their performance, but not in their research. I know. I used to be one of them. :>)

In addition, as with many disagreements, defintions of words are at the heart of the matter. According to Webster's 1824, celebrate means:

1. To praise; to extol; to commend; to give praise to; to make famous

2. To distinguish by solemn rites; to keep holy. From even to even shall ye celebrate your sabbath. Lev. 23

3. To honor or distinguish by ceremonies and marks of joy and respect; as, to celebrate the birth day of Washington; to celebrate a marriage.

So, I take it that when you refer to celebrate in a corporate worship sense, you are referring to definition #2; and when you refer to celebrate Christ's birth in a private sense, at home, you are referring to definition #3 - "To honor or distinguish by ceremonies and marks of joy and respect;

So, is it fair to say that putting up fir trees, decorating them, exchanging gifts, hanging up stockings to be filled with gifts, caroling, etc. are "ceremonies and marks of joy and respect to honor" Christ's birth? If yes, how did we arrive at honoring Christ in this way? Can pagan ceremonies and rituals "honor" Christ? What does Scripture say about honoring Christ with pagan/heathen practices?

If no, then why do Christians perform these rituals (just as unbelievers do) at this particular time of year? What are they "celebrating?" What is their purpose? Just to have "fun?" How does this relate to "observing" Christ's birth since we do both (seasonal rituals) and pay tribute to Christ's birth at this time of year?

Many questions. Have we truly considered these in depth?

You said, "And for parliament to tell ministers what they can and can't preach on...surely this is far worse abuse of worship than any misguided Christmas shoppers!"

If we understand God's ministers in civil government and God's ministers in ecclesiastical government correctly, they should be acting as a check on each other to prevent abuses, just as heads of families and ecclesiastical ministers also provide a check on each other, as well as heads of families and civil government, checking on each other, in their respective governments. Certainly, if the Reformers believed that Christ Mass (Christmas) was a Popish/Roman Catholic practice that compromised Scripture, civil authorities, acting to protect the people, needed to advise/admonish the ecclesiastical authorities when they stepped out of line.

Finally, if I am not mistaken, many preaching elders in the past, including Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and even John Calvin, himself, didn't feel the need to specifically address Christ's birth, on or around December 25, and, in fact, made it a point to continue preaching on whatever book of the Scripture they had been going through in the past weeks. Evidently, they didn't feel they were passing up any particular opportunity by not preaching about Christ's birth on that one day. :>)

David said...

Kurt, I think Jared has a point that you must take into consideration. You have the assumption that when Christians celebrate Christmas, they just DO the traditons that surround Christmas. That is not true, to blanket Christians like that is wrong. I, for one, do not celebrate Christmas without the understanding that I am celebrating my Lord's birth and that it was part of His life that has allowed me to have a personal relationship with him. The "pagan" ceremonies are only pagan when their purpose IS pagan. It is what the intention of each individual person is what God will look at, not what other people's purpose is.

I would also like to remind you that when the Roman Catholic church began Christmas, it was part the Church of Christ. It wasn't what Rpers think of it today.

Jared said...

Kurt,

Again, you imply and state things that you can't support.

First, you assume that those who celebrate Christmas do so without thought and examination. While this may be true for some, it is not true for most everyone I know (so, to answer the question you asked, "Have we considered these in depth?" I think the answer is yes). You also imply that in your research you have somehow found that Christmas is evil. I think the issue may be that your research doesn't go back far enough. If you focus on the over-reaction of the Puritans to Roman catholicism, you won't be getting an accurate picture of the history of the church's celebration of Christ's birth.

Second, although you correctly assess my usage of the word "celebration" (though I rarely use it in reference to corporate worship), you argue that Christ can't be honored by anything not specifically prescribed in worship. (Here I again dispute the idea that Christmas traditions are pagan rituals and not the other way around - others dispute this as well. See George Grant and G. E. Veith's work.) Anyhoo, the argument that Christ can't be honored by anything not specifically prescribed by Scripture is silly. While we hold stringently to the regulative principle in terms of corporate worship (we are to do only that which is prescribed by Scripture, to the exclusion of all else), to do so in the rest of life would be crippling. For instance, many Godly people have written poetry in honor and celebration of Christ, including Puritans. Such poems are not commanded; in fact, poetry has been used for evil purposes too (!). Does this mean that it can't honor Christ? Not at all. These things can and do honor Jesus Christ and the outrageously wonderful event of His birth. Most of the traditions we hold to powerfully point to different truths of the gospel.

Third, your statements about church and government aren't Biblically grounded. The RPCNA has specifically rejected the idea that government is a "check" on the church on page A-73 of the "blue book" by rejecting a portion of the WCF, 23.3. While the church has the duty to proclaim the Word of God to the government in terms of her affairs, we have no other authority over her. Likewise, it is not the job of the heads of families to keep "check" on the minister. This is congregational thinking, not presbyterian. The session and the presbytery is the Biblical "check" on the minister.

Finally, I previously stated that I have no problem with pastors who don't feel a "need" to preach on the incarnation around December 25. I don't feel such a need, either; what I do feel is a great sense of opportunity, that people come, excited to hear about the birth of the Lord Jesus as a man. I have the freedom to preach on whatever portion of Scripture I deem important and timely. Why would I pass this up?

While I hold little hope of changing your mind on the matter, I hope that those who read these conversations may understand more clearly the why and how of Christmas.

Kurt said...

David, thanks for your comments.

You said, "You have the assumption that when Christians celebrate Christmas, they just DO the traditons (sic) that surround Christmas."

Please re-read my previous post carefully. I gave two scenarios that Christians could be doing with traditions surrounding Christmas. Do you have any others?

You said, "I, for one, do not celebrate Christmas without the understanding that I am celebrating my Lord's birth and that it was part of His life that has allowed me to have a personal relationship with him. The "pagan" ceremonies are only pagan when their purpose IS pagan.

Based on your statement, I surmise that you do perform the traditions surrounding Christmas for the purpose of "celebrating my Lord's birth." Then I can ask you these questions: How did you arrive at honoring Christ in this way? Can pagan ceremonies and rituals "honor" Christ? What does Scripture say about honoring Christ with pagan/heathen practices?

Thanks for answering in advance. I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

You said, "I would also like to remind you that when the Roman Catholic church began Christmas, it was part the Church of Christ. It wasn't what Rpers think of it today."

Thank God for the Reformation! "Reformed and ever reforming."

Kurt said...

Jared,

Thanks for clarifying your position on these issues.

A couple of things.

First, please show me in my previous posts where I proposed "the argument that Christ can't be honored by anything not specifically prescribed by Scripture?" I believe my argument was (and can be supported by Scripture) that God does not want us honoring Him with pagan ceremonies and rituals.

Second, I'd appreciate internet links to articles/books on George Grant and G. E. Veith's work.

Lastly, you said, "I hold little hope of changing your mind on the matter"

Oh, ye of little faith!