|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Some Bible-believing Christians agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who say that it is a sin to celebrate Christmas. What does Scripture say?
A reader writes: "Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate no holidays except Easter and weddings, and especially not Christmas. I can see that the "fruit" of the JW life is joylessness in this and other areas as well. Beside the fact that Christmas proves that God keeps His promises, can you point me to Scriptures that debunk the JW's misinterpreting and adding in their own rules and regulations on this? Thank you."
Key Passages and Principles
A key passage for the Christian in this regard is Colossians 2:16-17 - "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are shadows of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." Romans 14:5 and Galatians 4:10 express a similar thought. In all three cases Paul is referring to the efforts of legalistic Jews to make Christians conform to Old Testament regulations about feast days and other things that were fulfilled, and done away with, in Christ.
But the underlying principle is this: In Christ under the New Covenant, there are no such rules and regulations, and no one has the right to impose any arbitrarily.
There is also an issue of authority in these matters. The early church honored the first day of the week rather than the Jewish seventh day as the Lord's Day, under apostolic authority (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, Revelation 1:10). This was not an arbitrary matter.
Other days were honored as well, but we have no direct evidence of apostolic authority for those commemorations. Church history tells us that believers began celebrating the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ on specific days at a very early stage. I live not far from an area in southeastern Pennsylvania where many businesses owned by Protestant Christians are closed on Ascension Day, 39 days after Easter Sunday. The churches in that area hold special services on Ascension Day, which focus on the promise of Acts chapter one that "this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Ascension Day commemorations are unheard of in most other places among American Protestants, even among those who commemorate Christmas and Easter, but it is still the practice in this locality covering a few Pennsylvania counties.
What About Christmas?
Let me address the issue of Christmas observance specifically. Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only ones who condemn it. Some Bible-believing Christians agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses cult in saying that it is a sin to celebrate Christmas. Both these Christians and the cultists cite a number of reasons, including the alleged pagan origin of the day, the secularized and syncretistic nature of most such celebrations in our time, and the etymology of the name: "the mass of Christ."
I can already see my mailbox filling with irate letters from those who disagree, but the simple, Biblical fact is this: It is not a sin to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December each year. His entrance into the world was an occasion of great rejoicing and celebration, because it signaled a new and central phase in God's plan of redemption. Mary and Elizabeth praised God in anticipation of His birth (Luke 1:39-55). At His birth the angelic army of God sang for joy (Luke 2:8-14). The shepherds to whom the angels had appeared made the news of Christ's birth widely known (Luke 2:17). Simeon and Anna, who had both anticipated the coming of the Messiah, blessed God and gave thanks when they saw the Christ child (Luke 2:25-38).
The fact that Christmas is celebrated on what has been, at various periods in history, a pagan holiday is irrelevant. The fact that Rome has perverted it as the "mass of Christ" is also irrelevant. Bible-believing Christians who celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December are neither pagans nor Romanists. They do not worship pagan gods. They do not - if they observe the day properly - engage in pagan practices. They do not seek to crucify Christ afresh as Rome does. On the contrary, by observing the day in a proper way, they honor and exalt their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, specifically His coming in human form so that He might pay the penalty for sin, once for all, and provide a righteousness that can be imputed to sinners who have no righteousness of their own.
It is true that in our time December 25th is, for the majority, a pagan or syncretistic holiday. But a genuinely Christian observance of Christmas does not include conduct and practices unworthy of the Lord. Love and gratitude for our Savior is a proper motivation for celebrating His first coming. The fact that non-Christians or even some Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday or in an ungodly way is not a reason to do away with Christmas. The problem is not the date, but the behavior.
It is also quite true that no one knows the exact date of Jesus' birth. But this fact does not argue against setting aside a day to celebrate His birth, any more than not knowing when Christ will return diminishes the value - indeed, the Biblical necessity - of looking eagerly for His appearing.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with observing Christmas as a celebration of a very important event in our salvation. But Christ must be the center of the celebration if it is to be truly Christian.
Some believers may choose not to celebrate Christmas. Biblically, that is their right. I believe it is also their loss. But in keeping with the principle given to us in Romans 14:5-6 and elsewhere, the thing of vital importance is for both Christians who celebrate Christmas, and those who do not, to honor their Lord (Romans 14:5-6) and not be motivated by legalism (Colossians 2:16-17).
Jehovah's Witnesses: Legalism on Steroids
For any group, whether a cult such as the Jehovah's Witnesses or even people within the true body of Christ, to say that it is wrong to celebrate certain religious holidays, as well as birthdays, Thanksgiving Day, and other national holidays (as long as those celebrations do not involve other kinds of sin), and to require people to adhere to such man-made rules on threat of disfellowship, has no basis in Scripture at all. In fact, the Bible in principle speaks against it.
All of these kinds of prohibitions came into Watchtower Society teachings through its governing body of about a dozen men. They claim to have a direct link to revelation from God, and to be the only ones who can interpret the Bible. They take for themselves the authority to set up rules and regulations for the ten million Jehovah's Witnesses around the world. The Jehovah's Witnesses' hierarchy relies on an extensive system of informers within their ranks to turn in people who violate these man-made rules so they can be disciplined by the leadership.
This is legalism on steroids! It controls people based on fear. It values a lifeless conformity to an ever-lengthening list of man-made do's and don'ts over a living conformity to Christ by the direct guidance of His authoritative Word and Spirit. "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage" (2 Peter 2:19). Paul spoke against the legalists at Jerusalem "who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Galatians 2:4).
What is God's instruction to the true Christian? It is truth in proper balance: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage... For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:1, 13).
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