Can A Faithful Christian Celebrate Christmas?
Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are taken from the King James version
During the Christmas season, questions invariably arise regarding the nature of the holiday and the Christian’s response to it. The many and varied questions usually derive from the one central question that serves as the title to this article. Before giving consideration to the question at hand, let us address some false accusations that are often made against the Lord’s church.
It is frequently asserted that churches of Christ do not think the birth of Jesus is important. Such could not be farther from the truth.
- The birth of Christ facilitated God’s plan of salvation for fallen humanity. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Obviously, had Christ never been born, the blood would not have been shed!
- The birth of Christ was in fulfillment of predictive prophecy. Hundreds of years prior to His birth, it was foretold Jesus would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), etc. Each prophecy came to pass exactly as foretold, irrefutably proving inspiration of the Biblical record (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16).
- The birth of Christ facilitated the abolition of the Old Testament law. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:14). Through His birth and sacrificial death, Jesus became, “… the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
Another false accusation is that we do not want to honor or remember Christ. I am aware of no religious group more conscientious of remembering, honoring, and serving Christ than faithful members of His church. In accordance with the teaching of scripture (Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Corinthians 11:23ff) and apostolic example (Acts 2:42; 20:7), we commemorate the Lord’s sacrifice every first day of the week by observance of the Lord’s Supper.
The matter of whether or not a Christian can celebrate Christmas lies in what one means by “celebrate.” If by “celebrate”, one means to enjoy the secular, non-religious aspects of the Christmas season, yes. In his book, “Piloting The Straight”, Br. Dave Miller noted:
“In days gone by, Christians understood that God permits participation in national festive holidays as long as unauthorized religious activity does not enter into the observance.”1
In answer to this query, the scholarly Guy N. Woods wrote:
“… it is not possible to determine in what month, or on what day the Saviour was born and inasmuch as there is neither precept nor example for its observance, faithful Christians do not keep it as a religious festival. While some today do regard it as such, many people consider it as no more than a holiday around which many family, social and national traditions have gathered, and there is in it for them no religious implications … Christmas, when thus regarded, is simply an occasion when gifts are exchanged, families get together, and hearts are warmed by the happy festivities.”2
If objection is rendered on the grounds that the holiday is of Catholic and/or pagan origin, one would then be compelled to explain their acceptance and continued use of the calendar whose days are steeped in similar objectionable origins. Sunday derives from the sacred day of the sun. Monday, the sacred day of the moon. Tuesday is the day of Ares (the Greek God of war). Wednesday is “Woden’s day” (a chief idol of mythology, Odin being the Norse counterpart). Thursday is Thor’s day (the Norse god of thunder). Saturday comes from Saturn (the ancient god of seed sowing). Consistency and intellectual honesty demands the person who objects to one object also to the other.
One must readily concede that the etymologies of these words have changed dramatically with the passage of time, their current meanings having little, if any, commonality with their pagan origins. Br. Miller remarks:
“Christians are not responsible for the connotations associated with the long-forgotten origins of a given practice. Rather, what God holds us accountable for are the current cultural connotations”1
If one so desires to erect a Christmas tree, decorate it with ornaments, string lights from their home, etc., purely for aesthetic enjoyment, what scripture do they violate?
Granted, Christians should be wary to safeguard their influence (c.f. Matthew 5:13-16; 2 Corinthians 3:1-2). One would be wise to refrain from any action that associates the Christmas holiday with unauthorized religious activities (i.e. “candlelight services,” “religious plays,” “angels,” “religious ornamentation,” “Christmas trees in houses of worship,” “nativity scenes,” etc.). To participate in things that attach and/or endorse a religious significance to the holiday is to go beyond that which is written (c.f. 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 John 9). With the erudite words of Br. David Lipscomb I heartily agree:
“We do not believe there is any harm in a social gathering and the interchange of presents and kindly offices among members of the church; but I would never make the impression it was done on the birthday of the Savior nor as a religious service.”3
If, on the other hand, by “celebrate”, one means the observance of the birth of Christ as a religious devotion, we must render objection. The word “Christmas” (a derivation of the proper name “Christ” plus “Mass” – a rite or commemorative ceremony) did not come into existence until the eleventh century (a thousand years after our Lord came to this earth). The truth is well stated by Br. Guy N. Woods:
“The observance of Christmas, as a religious holiday, did not originate in the apostolic age, and is thus without divine sanction.”2
Br. David Lipscomb noted:
“The Bible never authorized any celebration of the birth of Christ. To engage in worship not ordained by God is sin. This we regard as beyond dispute.” 3
Br. Dave Miller adds:
“As a religious holy day, it is unauthorized. Scripture repeatedly stresses religious observance of Christ’s death (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:26), but makes no provision for the observance of Christ’s birth. To observe Christmas as a religious activity is to identify one’s self with religious groups that worship God vainly (Matt 15:9). God wants his people to appear to the world separate and distinct from counterfeit religion (2 Cor 6:16-17).”1
If God had intended for His children to celebrate the birth of Jesus, surely He would have given clear and concise instruction to do so. We have no instruction. We have no apostolic example. The scriptures do not reveal the date nor the time of our Savior’s birth. As Br. Lipscomb astutely reminds us:
“About the only thing certain about the time of the Savior’s birth is that he was not born at Christmas time. This is regarded as certain.”3
Contrast this with the death of our Lord. Jesus Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20). We have clear apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). We have approved examples by the early disciples (Acts 2:42; 20:7). Faithful Christians honor, reverence, and remember Christ, not by commemorating His birth, but by observing His death in accordance with the teachings of scripture.
Be it noted that Christmas is not “religious” unless the observer makes it so (evidenced by the millions of atheists who celebrate the Christmas holiday; what deity do they seek to honor?). A Christian violates no precept or ordinance of scripture through the observance of non-religious activities but must exercise caution not to manifest a religious disposition toward the holiday. Can a faithful Christian celebrate Christmas? As a holiday, yes. As a holy day, no.
- Miller, Dave, “Piloting The Strait,” Sain Publications, Copyright 1996, Chapter 25 “Religious Holidays”, Page 258-261
- Woods, Guy N, “Questions And Answers Vol. 1”, Freed-Hardeman University, Copyright 1976, Page 203
- Lipscomb, David, “Questions Answered”, Gospel Advocate Company, Copyright 1921, Page 107