Evangelicals, the Bible, and Christmas
The Origins of Christmas
Back in the fourth century, Constantine “professed” Christianity, making it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The benefit to Christianity of this historical episode has been as dubious as Constantine’s conversion. (Constantine delayed his baptism until his death bed believing that baptism would wash away all his sins and wanting all of his sins to be covered just before death so he would go to heaven. After his conversion his power politics remained unchanged and the way he disposed of rivals etc., testified that his morality was little changed.) To accommodate the flood of nominal pagans entering the church now that Christianity was in favor, the Roman Catholic Church made a lot of adjustments. Pagan temples, loaded with the relics of pagan idolatry, became Christian churches. Statues of Zeus were renamed as statues of Peter. Statues of female deities were now adored as statues of Mary. And the great pagan festivals of the Roman world were renamed and incorporated into the church calendar of this bastardized Christianity. One such festival, the Roman Saturnalia, became Christmas.
A key part of this pagan festival was the rebirth of the sun god which was celebrated at midnight at the winter solstice. The Romans called it the birthday of the invincible sun. To facilitate the incorporation of masses of nominal pagans into the church, Rome taught that Christ was born at midnight at the time of the winter solstice. The pagans could keep their favorite festival and their pagan practices as long as they observed them in the name of Christ, as a celebration of his birth. Rome instituted a special mass, observed at midnight on December 25th to celebrate Christ’s birth. This is the origin of the term Christmas, a corruption of Christ’s mass. Now the Romish mass is in itself an exercise in pagan magic, superstition, and idolatry. Through the words of institution, Hoc est corpus meus, Latin for this is my body, (This is where we get the phrase hocus pocus, representing a magical incantation) the priest pretends to transform the elements of bread and wine into the actual physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, an exercise in pretended magic, that by a magical incantation such supernatural effects can occur at the instigation of and by the power of the priest. The priest then sacrifices the elements in a fresh sacrifice for the ongoing sins of the people. As such it is rejection of the once and for all sacrifice for sin that Christ made on the cross, and substitutes the sacrifices offered by the priests of Rome for the finished work of Jesus Christ. The elements, now pretending to be the body and blood of Christ, are raised for the adoration of the people. Such is the idolatry and superstition of this gross and unscriptural practice of Rome. The Reformers considered the Romish mass a blasphemy against Christ. Yet evangelicals are willing to adopt all this baggage and celebrate a pretended birthday of Christ on December 25th and call it Christmas, Christ’s mass, as if nothing is wrong. To compound this travesty of pretended worship of God and pretended honoring of Christ they add other accoutrements of pagan and Romish practice and traditions. They sing Silent Night Holy Night, a hymn composed by a Catholic priest, designed to be sung at a midnight mass, Christ’s mass, on Dec 25th to commemorate the birth of Christ just as the pagans commemorated the birth of the sun god at the same time in the same way. There is no Scriptural basis for the belief that Christ was born at night. And there is no basis for the belief that it was a silent night. It was so busy in Bethlehem that there was no room for them in any of the city’s inns. This was probably because it was the time of the Feast of Tabernacles and the city was crowded with pilgrims coming to nearby Jerusalem for the feast, as all the Scriptural clues to the timing of Christ’s birth point to that time of year. And of course December 25th is not holy in God’s sight, but only to the pagan sun worshippers of the ancient world, and to today’s deluded evangelicals. They also sing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, written by a Christ denying apostate, a Unitarian, who denied the deity of Christ, but perpetuated the notion that Christ was born on midnight December 25th. And when evangelicals are confronted with these things, what is their response? They say they don’t care. They say it doesn’t matter who wrote it. They say it doesn’t matter what the original meaning of the words were. They are celebrating Christ’s birth and that is what it means to them. This is of course the essence of America’s new faith in the post-Christian age, New Age religion. In that religion all that matters is sincerity. It doesn’t matter what you believe, or who you believe in, just that you believe, that you believe sincerely. You can adopt all these pagan practices and offer the words of infidels up to God in praise, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are sincerely celebrating Christ’s birth. In light of all the above how are Christians supposed to have a merry Christ’s Mass? What are Christians supposed to think when other professing Christians come up to them and wish them a merry Christmas? How are they supposed to respond when they get Christmas cards that wish them a merry Christmas? When informed Christians who are offended by these things attempt to discharge their conscience they are met with a range of reactions. These go from incredulity, to scorn, to anger. The truth of the matter is that although Christians have a right to be horribly offended, as God is, at these practices, it is those bringing these pagan customs into the church who take offense. I have seen people literally driven out of churches for questioning these practices. The truth is that most evangelicals would prefer to give up their Bibles and its teaching on this subject than to give up their attachment to Christmas. For Christians who love God and seek to worship him according to the Scriptures rather than by what pleases them, the Christmas season is a difficult one, marked by the scorn and rejection of other professing Christians. It is not a merry time!
The pagan practice of setting up “Christmas trees” goes back to ancient Babylon. They are mentioned in Jeremiah’s prophecies. There, the Lord speaking to Israel through Jeremiah, condemns the practice.
1Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. 5They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. 6Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Jeremiah 10:1-6
Notice three things here. First God commands Israel “Learn not the way of the heathen.” We are not to adopt pagan ways and heathen customs. We are not to “Christianize” them and offer them to God in worship. Secondly, God says, “For the customs of the people are vain.” God considers the customs of the heathen to be vanity. God condemns them. We are not to introduce them into his worship. These are both general precepts. Then God moves to a concrete example, the practice of ancient sun worshippers to set up an evergreen tree, decorate it, and render homage to it as a symbol of the sun god. The evening before the winter solstice, being the shortest day of the year was considered the death of the sun god. This was represented by the barren and dead Yule log, which was cast into the fire. Then the next day, as the days started lengthening again, the evergreen tree was set up. This represented the resurrection, the rebirth of the sun god. It was an evergreen tree to represent the everliving sun, the invincible sun god that would live forever. Now there is a direct lineage between this practice of ancient sunworshippers in Babylon, Egypt, and Rome, etc., and today’s Christmas trees. By two precepts God condemns this practice. Then by specific reference he condemns it again. Yet, evangelicals think nothing of setting these monuments of idolatry up in their homes. They even set them up in their churches. And while they do not worship them, yet it is reminiscent of the idolatry of Old Testament Israel. Repeatedly the prophets condemned Israel for committing idolatry under every green tree…under evergreen trees reminiscent of the everliving sun god.
We are living in a post-Christian America. Christianity has been driven out of the popular culture and banished from our nation’s public institutions. Prayer and Bible reading, long banished from the public schools, are systematically driven out of all public discourse. Christians are being marginalized and their views are being excluded from the marketplace of ideas.
So what is their response? Do we battle for the right to proclaim God’s truth? Do we maintain a struggle for the right to publicly preach the gospel to all men? No! What they do is to demand the right to set up displays expressing pagan customs and traditions that are condemned by the word of God. They want to set up manger scenes and Christmas trees in public places. Annually we go through this charade. Evangelicals take the right to set up Christmas displays as the touchstone of their right to express their faith publicly. They forget that in Cromwell’s England, and in Puritan New England, celebrating Christmas was a civil offense that was punishable by the civil magistrate as an act of idolatry. So Christian lawyers are recruited, briefs are filed, court cases are adjudicated, as Christians fight for the right to practice pagan customs. What a travesty of the Christian faith. The Battle of Trenton and Christmas. Most evangelicals consider themselves patriots. They love their country. The Biblical definition of patriotism is, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Frequently evangelicals seem to forget this and rather than condemning their nation for its sin and wickedness seem to operate on the principle, “My country. Right or wrong, my country.” And as we discus the issue of Christmas observance there is a historic incident that they ought to consider.
During America’s war for independence, for their historic and constitutional rights as free Englishmen against the usurpations of crown and parliament, they were fighting against long odds. They were battling Great Britain at the height of her power, when she was the superpower of the age. Their trust was not in the arm of flesh but in divine providence. They were a godly people who believed that God would vindicate their cause and uphold them in the unequal struggle. And their faith was sorely tested as there were many dark days in the long struggle when the outcome seemed not only uncertain, but seemed to portend certain defeat.
One such time was just before the Battle of Trenton. The Americans had suffered a string of defeats. Victory seemed impossible. Many were dispirited. The enlistments in Washington’s continental army were expiring. With morale down it was a real possibility that the army would melt away. If the Americans were to prevail something dramatic had to turn the situation around. The Americans desperately needed a victory. Washington decided on a bold strike. He would go over to the offensive. He would direct a surprise attack on the Hessian mercenaries garrisoning Trenton. And he decided to launch his attack across the Delaware on Christmas eve so as to strike the Hessians on Christmas morning.
Now it is important to understand that at the time most Americans did not observe Christmas. For starters two thirds of Americans were Calvinists at the time. And Calvinists at that time were still faithful to the Reformation. In that Reformation they had been delivered from all these Romish idolatries and superstitions and they rejected extra-scriptural holy days of pagan origin. In some of the colonies, especially in New England, it was actually illegal to observe Christmas and its observance was punishable by imprisonment. Unless it fell on a Lord’s Day, stores and businesses were required to be open to ensure that people did not clandestinely observe such pagan customs and bring God’s wrath down upon society. Only Roman Catholics, two percent of the population at the time, Episcopalians, another minority, and the Lutherans celebrated Christmas at that time in America. By contrast the Hessians were Germans. Almost all Germans celebrated Christmas whether they were Catholic or Lutheran.
And we all know the historic result. The Hessians, because of their feasting and carousing in the true spirit of Christmas as representing the continuation of the scandalous Roman Saturnalia, were in no shape to fight. The American soldiers were probably proud to show their contempt for this pagan Romish holyday by attacking on that day. And the Hessians were slaughtered. The Americans went on in the aftermath of the battle, to again prevail at the Battle of Princeton. Morale soared. Enlistments were renewed. And America went on to prevail in the struggle and humble the mighty British Empire.
This historic turning point in the war was due to the blessing of God. It was by a gracious providence that the Americans prevailed in the battle and went on to prevail in the war. However, it must not be overlooked how God brought about this victory. In his holy judgments he allowed the Hessians to be slaughtered in an unequal contest where they had no hope of victory. They paid a heavy price for their observance of pagan customs that God finds so offensive and condemns in his word. By contrast, God blessed the Americans who disdained to observe such heathen customs and trusted in God for their deliverance. It can be said, without too much exaggeration, that the Americans refusal to observe Christmas was a significant element in their triumph in their war for independence. As evangelicals ponder the history of their country this is something that they ought to consider.
Now evangelicals don’t really dispute any of the above facts about the nature and origin of Christmas. How can they? Historically the pagan pedigree of Christmas is undeniable. Instead they just ignore the facts and pretend that it doesn’t matter. They say it is what it means to then that counts, and to them they are merely celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. There are several problems with this approach.
First of all, it is not what it means to you, it is not how you perceive Christmas that matters. What matters is how does God perceive it. And God indicates in his word that he hates the customs of the heathen and that he rejects all idolatrous practices incorporated into his worship. When at Sinai the children of Israel worshipped God by means of a golden calf they were condemned for it. We are not to worship God according to the customs of the heathen but according to the way that he has commanded us in the Scriptures. When Cain brought a sacrifice to the Lord according to his own perceptions of what was acceptable he was rejected. To attempt to worship God and celebrate the birth of his Son by means of the customs of the heathen is offensive to God. He hates it and he rejects it.
Secondly, God has give us the means by which he has commanded us to celebrate the birth of his Son. He has instituted the Lord’s Supper where we have a memorial of Christ’s incarnation in the bread and the wine. Just as every Lord’s Day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, who arose on that day, so that we do not need to drag the pagan festival of Easter into the Church of Jesus Christ, so every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we celebrate the incarnation and the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Celebrating Christmas and Easter undermines the divine institution of the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper.
Thirdly, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to set apart a day and celebrate the birth of Christ. To do this on mere human authority is to deny the headship of Christ over his church. It is to presume that we can invent and devise holydays and worship practices that please us apart from any authorization by Christ the Head of the church. If God had wanted us to do such a thing and to set apart such a day he would have commanded us to do so. And he would have instructed us how to do it. And he would have told us what day to observe. The fact that evangelicals have chosen the great pagan holyday of the ancient world must be extremely displeasing to God. And of course God nowhere states in his word when Christ was born, a strong indication that he does not want us to celebrate his birthday. There is no precedent and little encouragement in the Scriptures to observe the birthdays of kings. The Jews never celebrated the birthdays of their kings. There are only two birthdays of kings mentioned in the Scriptures, Pharaoh’s and Herod’s. They were both murderous affairs with Pharaoh hanging his baker and Herod executing John the Baptist. To institute a celebration of Christ’s birth has proven to be a presumptuous affair, denying God’s prerogatives in his church, and constitutes an unauthorized introduction of pagan customs into his worship.
Evangelicals need to rethink their commitment to Christmas. As in the days before the Battle of Trenton, these are again dark days for America. In fact they are much darker. Then it was only a military struggle for physical control of the nation. Today it is a spiritual struggle for the soul of America. And we are losing that struggle. But then we ought not to be surprised. We have the same handicap as the Hessians. American Christianity is laden down with unscriptural practices and pagan customs not the least of which are the observance of Christmas and Easter. Reformation begins at home. Judgment begins at the house of God. It is hypocrisy to call others to repentance while we insist on practicing our own sins. As Christ said, we need to extract the splinter out of our own eye before we insist that our neighbor extracts the log out of his. Until American Christianity gets its own house in order its efforts to reclaim American culture for Christ will be in vain.