Is Celebrating Christmas Wrong? Is It a Sin?
2 years ago
An Ask Pastor Kevin Response
Is Celebrating Christmas Wrong? Is It a Sin?
Q: Is it wrong or a sin to celebrate Christmas? Does the Bible teach it is wrong, specifically in Jeremiah?
This is a question that I have received recently again; however, I am asked this question at least annually. I appreciate the heart of the question. In an effort to love Christ well and follow God's direction in their lives, some choose not to celebrate Christmas as a matter of conscience. Typically these brothers and sisters-in-Christ have either read a specific passage or have been taught by others that the Bible teaches not to celebrate pagan holidays or cut down trees.
Why Would One Believe Celebrating Christmas Is Wrong?
Potentially, a Christian through reading the Bible comes upon a verse that seems to make celebrating Christmas wrong.
Most Christians with this question though of whether or not they should celebrate Christmas have been taught by a well-meaning Christian that it is wrong. Here is a sample of such teachings: A Man-Made Holy Day
It is absolutely unscriptural for the church to observe such things, in any way other than to offer the Biblical truth regarding the birth of Christ, or what the Bible teaches about evil spirits and life after death. Just as it was apostasy for the northern kingdom of Israel to establish its own "holy days" (1 Kings 12:32-33), it would be apostasy for the church to observe man-made holy days under Christ.
A Pagan Holiday
In fact, the Bible PROHIBITS this practice. The Bible expressly forbids celebrating holidays that are or were held by pagans. In other words, the BIBLE says we can NOT "Christianize" the pagan holidays. It is addressed in Deuteronomy 12:29-31.
The Roots Are in a Pagan Holiday
Many millions keep these days without knowing why—or where they originated. Most suppose that they are "found in the Bible" because they see millions of professing Christians observing them. Surely hundreds of millions of people cannot be wrong.
Or can they?
Here is what Christ said about the popular customs and traditions of this world: "IN VAIN do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men…full well you REJECT THE COMMANDMENT OF GOD, that you may keep your own tradition" (Mark 7:7, 9).
Pagan Customs Condemned
In fact, the pagan customs associated with Christmas are clearly condemned in the scriptures. Here is one of them: Jeremiah 10:1-4.
My Answer First, Then the Proof and Practical Implications to Follow Below
To be clear up front, I see no biblical warrant whatsoever for not celebrating Christmas (or Easter). Again, although I appreciate my brothers and sisters who seek to follow God's commands carefully and shy away from any celebration which would break a command of God, I believe it is unwarranted based upon the Scriptures. For those that choose not to practice it for conscience sake, that is fine of course. Each person must make up his or her own mind and live accordingly. That which is done not in faith is sin (Rom 14:23).
However, we must all realize that Christians differ over issues of conscience regularly. When that is the case, we seek to serve each other in wisdom. We most certainly do not hurl criticism, project sarcasm, or imply any type of Christian immaturity or weakness toward another Christian on either side of this belief of conscience.
Let me work through the four arguments presented above briefly.
A Man-Made Holy Day - 1 Kings 12:32-33
The context of this passage does not lend itself to any kind of application regarding celebrating Christmas. King Jeroboam instituted his own holy days where they were worshiping golden calves - those which brought them out of Egypt. This is abject heresy and of course is condemned. This is not what is taking place with Christmas; this passage does not apply to this discussion.
A Pagan Holiday - Deuteronomy 12:9-31 The passage in Deuteronomy refers to the Israelites as they take over the Land of Promise. As they conquer people, God forbade them to look at the pagan practices and seek to apply those customs in serving Him. Their religious customs under the law were already established, practiced, and were normative for daily living. They were not to add to this through adopting pagan practices.
In this incident, this text also does not apply for a couple of reasons. First, this relates to Israel and the law, not the New Testament Christian. Second, Christmas is a day set apart to celebrate the birth of Christ, to commemorate what took place as Jesus came to earth as God's gift to man. Christmas does not take a pagan holiday and seek to add it to the way we worship Christ. There is a difference between identifying a day that we celebrate the birth of Christ versus saying Christmas is a particular way you must worship Christ.
The Roots Is in a Pagan Holiday - Mark 7:7, 9
This passage is also taken out of context. Celebrating Christmas does not reject any commandment of God in order to keep a tradition. To use this verse in this way is an opinion looking for a verse to substantiate it. The Pharisees in this text manipulated the law of God for their own benefit. They followed their traditions instead of the Bible. They were accusing the disciples of lawlessness because the disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. To apply this passage to any real discussion of Christmas is lacking merit.
Further, some do question whether or not Christmas is steeped in pagan holidays and traditions. In other words, many point back to Christmas initially being a celebration on or around December 25th related to worshiping the sun god. These are interesting stories and may reflect that there was a celebration of the winter solstice. However, the evidence of such worship is inconclusive at best; this alone is not a reason to not celebrate Christmas. There is no direct connection between the practices. I commend to you this excellent article by Geoff Ashley regarding the history of pagan practice and Christmas.
Pagan Customs Condemned - Jeremiah 10:1-4
I have read one author that took each part of Jeremiah 10 to reflect on Christmas. The problem again hermeneutically is that it simply does not apply at all. The context reflects Israel's apostasy and judgement from God. These verses critique idolatry and affirm the Lord is Ruler over all (Jer 10:1-16). These verses clearly do not apply to Christmas. But they seem too to some!
"Do not learn the way of the Gentiles" means that the Israelites were not to learn or practice the Gentiles' false religious practices of idolatry. "Do not be dismayed at the signs in the heavens similar to the Gentiles" relates to how the Gentiles were in awe of astrology. Some assume that it means they were fretting over the shortened daylight hours. Dismayed does not have that sense here in the Hebrew; instead, it is referring to being in awe. "For one cuts down a tree from the forest" relates to the practice of making idols out of wood. They were not cutting down trees for Christmas trees. Instead, they cut wood in order to carve an idol. There is no legitimate text-driven, context-driven connection of "cutting a tree" to refer to a cedar tree. "They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple" again refers to idols not Christmas trees. They would cover the outside of these wooden idols with silver and gold plating. They would attach them to a stand so that they would not fall over as people worshiped them. This does not refer in any way to someone putting silver and gold ornaments on a Christmas tree that is in a stand so that it will not fall. (Although I have had Christmas trees fall that were in a stand. :))
Although this passage at face value may apply to some, with further study, it is solely related to making gold or silver-plated idols from wood they cut in the forest. This does not relate to Christmas trees in any way.
An Additional Passage - Colossians 2:8
Paul writes in Colossians 2:8, "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." This passage warns us to be careful with whatever we take from the world versus from the Scriptures.
Paul's concern revolves around the Christian's worldview. The warning for all of us should be taken as real. We do not want to adopt any practice or celebration that minimizes our worship of Christ because of worldly traditions or philosophy. Therefore, as we celebrate Christmas as Christians generally, we must protect our own minds and hearts here. We celebrate the birth of Christ first and foremost. All other Christmas traditions should pale in comparison to our worship of Christ. Christmas - for the Christian - is about Christ.
Therefore, based on Bible verses in context and with the conviction of not calling something a sin that the Bible does not call a sin, I would say celebrating Christmas as the day we celebrate Jesus' birth fits inside our Christian freedom, and, in fact, honors the Lord.
Let me suggest three very legitimate and appropriate ways you can respond to what I have presented here.
Choose to celebrate Christmas with you and your family in ways that honor Christ. This is my choice. We say "no" to Santa Claus. Our focus is solely on celebrating Christ, enjoying each other as family, and giving gifts in honor of the love of Christ and God's giving of gifts like His Son and eternal life. The world system does not point to Christ; therefore, I believe a distinction should be made here. Your primary focus should always be Christ; although, this does not mean you can't enjoy a Christmas movie, Christmas party, or pat your foot to some traditional Christmas music.
Choose to celebrate Christmas in minimalist fashion. Possibly you see that it is not sin but you just prefer to not go all out with your celebration. You may choose particular activities or practices that highlight giving, love, and Christ, but say "no" to other activities. In this case, your primary focus is on serving Christ and others during the Christmas season. The Christmas season becomes the avenue through which you "up your game" on serving.
Choose to not celebrate Christmas for conscience sake. If your conscience says "no" and you cannot celebrate "in faith," then do not celebrate it (Rom 14:23). To celebrate it with a burdened conscience would make it sin for you, although it is not sinful for others.
There are also three attitudes to consider as well:
If you celebrate Christmas and know of others who do not, do not flout it. Ask a question or two if you are truly interested in making sure you are doing things right; however, do not ask just for sport or the fun of it. In humble grace, respect the decision of the other person.
Regardless of which position you take, do not hold your position in pride or self-righteousness. The other person is as true to his or her beliefs as you. Assume the other person desires to honor God even more than you do - this should be an automatic assumption. Therefore, practice what you do with a clear conscience and appreciate the other person also desires to honor the Lord.
Under no circumstances should we look at a person who chooses differently than us with judgement. Heaven forbid that we would see ourselves as wiser, more obedient, and more holy than another person in this area. Pride looks at another person as immature and yourself as the mature person. Please, resist this temptation. Further, we should not call sin what God does not specifically call sin. The only sin in this instance is the person who judges others proclaiming that those others are in sin.
Regardless of Your Position ~ Enjoy and Celebrate Christ
Wherever you land in this discussion, enjoy and celebrate Christ. Share the good news of the virgin birth, sacrificial death, substitutionary atonement, and glorious resurrection. Take advantage of this time of the year where people seem more willing to discuss Christ by sharing the Gospel as you can.
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