Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas - I

Every couple of years, a question comes up about celebrating Christmas. And I think through the latest reasons why not. (NOTE: I recognize that there are three topics I want to mention in this area. So, that the post is not the size of a dictionary, I am splitting it up into three posts.)

Recently, I read an explanation by one person -- a follower of Jesus -- about why his family does not celebrate Christmas. He mentioned several detailed reasons, but they could all be lumped into Christmas is cultural, not biblical. Its practices are pagan, not biblical.

And that is true. There is no "thou shalt celebrate Christmas." There is no "thou shalt hang stockings from the chimney with care." Christmas trees are possibly a druidic practice. (I have heard other stories too.) But, there is also no Easter, no Thanksgiving, no Labor Day, Memorial Day or Independence Day. (Thanksgiving is in the Bible, just not a day for it. The reason for Easter is in the Bible. So is the reason for Christmas.) There are holidays in the Bible. Should we be celebrating Passover and the Feast of Booths?

If "Christian" holidays have pagan elements, and we should not celebrate them, what about other elements of Christian practice that have pagan origins? (And I recently ran across a book that lumps Easter, and perhaps others, into this bucket. I haven't read the book -- just a short synopsis -- so I don't know all his reasons.)

The first century church did not have special buildings. They met on homes. They met in the sewers and catacombs of Rome. There is no command to the church "thou shalt build for me a special building to worship therein." Yes, there was a temple in the Old Testament. But God did not command it to be built.  (He did command the tabernacle to be built.) One morning David woke up and said, "I live in a really cool house, but the people worship in a raggedity old tent. I should build a temple to honor the Lord." And what was God's response? "I never commanded anyone to build a temple for me. But this desire reveals your heart, that you desire to honor me before the world. Go ahead. Knock yourself out."

No Christian building was created until Constantine became the Roman emperor.  He commissioned Christian "temples" to be built.  Because that's what you did to honor the god you worship. (There is no definite information that Constantine became a follower of Jesus. Many believe he just gave lip service to the Creator of All, like he did the other gods. )

With the buildings, other practices were introduced. They created an order of worship. There is no order of worship in Scriptures. There are encouragements about things to do and how to do them. But there is no where in Scripture that says you have to sing, pray, teach, collect the tithe or give announcements. There is also no where that says it is wrong to do any or all of them.

The Bible does say we should practice baptism and the Lord's supper. There is no instruction about frequency.  There is no instruction about methods. Should the bread be unleaved, rye or whole wheat? Should the wine be red, white or nonalcoholic? Big cup? Little cups?  Intinction?

At one point, a Greek philosopher said that a person was not cool unless he could orate well. The better the delivery, the cooler the person.  The church has accepted this "pagan tradition" to the point that churches are graded based on the delivery of one person. Decisions to participate/identify with part of God's family is based, often, on the performance of one person, one time. Judgments of the worth -- maturity,  character,  fruit, spiritual effectiveness -- of part of God's family are based on the performance of one person. (There was obviously instruction given. However, the focus dwells too much on the "glitz" factor, and not enough on the accuracy and relevance of the information.)

Scripture says leadership in God's family is based on character, faithfulness to God,  and effectiveness with people. Now, there is an assumption that getting a particular type of training qualifies someone to lead God's people. Such training might qualify someone to be an accountant or a programmer, but not to guide people to live in love and faith.

Church government was organized more along the lines of an extended family, using consensus and wisdom of experienced people.  Many churches are organized and governed with ideas from the Roman Empire and modern business.  In Scripture,  one man is not given the authority to run the whole show or define the vision.

The point of part I is simply: if we are going to get rid of stuff in the church that has its origins or outward expressions in pagan culture, we will need to go a lot further than just which holidays and how to celebrate them.

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