Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is Christmas Christian? - Part XIV

Continued from Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII, and Part XIII.

Q. 15. You have suggested that there is warrant from the Bible for such annual festivals that commemorate the historic acts of God's work of redemption for us. Where?

Answer. God has established the seasonal cycles for the purpose of religious festivals. A careful and literal reading of Genesis 1:14-15 will make this clear.
Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate between day and night, to be signs, to designate religious festivals, and to mark days and years.
The third purpose listed here has to do with "religious festivals [mo‘adim]." The Hebrew word mo‘ed is used consistently throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to religious festivals and feasts (over 200 times). Had he not fallen, Adam would have eventually figured this out. But he fell. When Yahweh redeemed Israel, his first-born son (Exod. 4:22), he gave to his people a festival calendar synchronized with the seasons of the year (Lev. 23).

Now, there is a sense in which the Church in Christ is restored to her Adamic lordship over all of creation, what God intended for humanity in the beginning. She has the right and power to establish festivals and feasts in conjunction with the symbolic dimensions of creation. She sees how God has done so in the Old Testament, when the people of God were children and were put under a schoolmaster to teach them the ABC's (Gal. 3:23-4:1-7). Now with one eye on the details of the old world's annual festivals and the other eye on the world-changing events of the incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ she exercises her wisdom, according to the biblical principles and patterns established by God, to institute new annual celebrations keyed to these great redemptive events in the life of Christ.

Surely Pastor Rob Rayburn is correct:
Now if you interrogate the Scripture as to whether God's people ought to celebrate the great events of their salvation with special feasts and holidays, the only answer that you will ever get is "YES! BY ALL MEANS, YES!" We are commanded in the Bible to remember the great works of God by which he has redeemed us from sin and death. These great events are to be kept alive in the consciousness of both the individual believer and the church. God taught his people in ancient times that one very important way to do that was the keeping of annual feasts commemorating those events (Sermon, Nov. 28, 1993, Faith Presbyterian Church).
Pastor Rayburn has expanded his argument in his recent sermon Is Christmas Christian?

There's a smidgen of hyperbole in this, but Martin Luther's comments are worth noting:
We therefore have and must have the power and the freedom to observe Easter when we choose; and even if we made Friday into Sunday, or vise versa, it would still be right, as long as it was done unanimously by the rulers and the Christians. Moses is dead and buried by Christ, and days and seasons are not to be lords over Christians, but rather Christians are lords over days and seasons, free to fix them as they will or as seems convenient to them. For Christ made all things free when he abolished Moses. . . We know that we shall attain salvation without Easter and Pentecost, without Friday and Sunday, and we know that we cannot be damned--as St. Paul teaches us--because of Easter, Pentecost, Sunday or Friday (On the Councils and the Church, 1539).

8 comments:

RJS said...

Even if you were correct that the "third purpose listed here has to do with 'religious festivals [mo�adim]'" that still does not justify the keeping of a day not set apart by God himself.

Recall Jeroboam:

"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense." (1 Kings 12:26-33)

Note what God's response was:

"And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out." (1 Kings 13:1-3)

Needless to say that all this came to pass.

Jeff Meyers said...

There is no prohibition in the Law against celebrating significant events in addition to the major feasts. None.

The Jews created the feast of Purim and there was no divine command to do so in the law.

Jesus attends a festival that originated during the inter-testimental period but does not say a word about it (John 10:22). If it was such a monstrous evil for the Jews to commemorate Macabean restoration of the Temple, then why didn't he denounce it as Jeroboam-style wickedness?

Jereboam's sin is liturgical idolatry that serves a political end. This is hardly the same thing as singing hymns and remembering the birth of Christ!

Brian said...

May I add a comment for "rjs" continuing on Pastor Meyer's last comment? . . .
The story of Jeroboam continues to appear as an argument against celebrating "Christian Holidays", but I believe it completely misses the heart of the issue. Jeroboam puts his "feast" in place to encourage God's people to break covenant, not to keep it; versus 26-27 tell us plainly that Jeroboam is serving a political end. He sets up a feast that is intentionally antithetical to the Lord's feast in Jerusalem.
When a pastor leads his congregation at Christmas Eve service, Good Friday service, etc. it is not to replace the weekly Sabbath but to encourage his congregation to keep the Sabbath, to give them a deeper and richer understanding of the covenant they are within.
Chapter XXI, paragraph XI of the Westminster Confession seems to encourage, if not command, worship in our homes on a regular basis apart from just the Sabbath. Often a father, in my short experience, will pick a topic to cover from the Word, and/or with a Psalm, and with prayer. On a smaller scale this seems to possibly be the same issue, just with in the "family" realm.
How do we work that out?

Jeff Meyers said...

I'm sorry, Brian. But if you cannot add things to God's commandments. You cannot as a father set apart days or parts of days for extra-Sabbath worship. That would detract from the Lord's Day and be a man-made celebration.

Oh, and seriously, your point about Jeroboam is exactly right. He set up his altar and feasts to replace the altar in Jerusalem and the calendar feasts in Judah.

RJS said...

Jeff,

"The Jews created the feast of Purim and there was no divine command to do so in the law."

This was something completely different. The modern day equivalent would be July 4th or VE day.

As Brian Schwertley has pointed out:

"There is almost no resemblance between Christmas and Purim. Purim consists of two days of thanksgiving. The events of Purim are: “joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. . . and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor” (Est. 8:17; 9:22). There was no worship service. There were no levitical priestly activities. There were no ceremonies. The two days of Purim have much more in common with Thanksgiving and it’s dinners than Christmas. Purim is certainly no justification for Christmas services. Purim resembles the special days of thanksgiving which are still allowed, and not the religious and ceremonial holy days of the Levitical system. In fact, the Westminster divines used Purim as a proof text (Est. 9:22) authorizing days of thanksgiving.38

"Purim was a unique historical event in Israel’s salvation history. The festival was decreed by the civil magistrate: the prime minister, Mordecai, and the queen, Esther. It was agreed to unanimously by the people. The occasion and authorization of Purim are inscripturated in the Word of God and approved by the Holy Spirit. The biblical imperative of no addition and no subtraction applies to man-made law and worship. It most certainly does not forbid the Holy Spirit from completing the canon of Scripture and instituting new regulations."


Also when you say "Jesus attends a festival that originated during the inter-testimental period" which are you refering to? The celebration of the recostruction of the temple? Again there is no correlation.

RJS said...

Brian,

The reason given as to why God was displeased with the acts of Jeroboam is that "he had devised of his own heart".

Note later in chapter 16 we read "But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the LORD, and did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger with their vanities."

With respect, your argument is a complete non sequitur for even if the pastor's intention is "to give them a deeper and richer understanding of the covenant they are within" it does not follow that the pastor is allowed to invent days he has devised of his own heart. That is the same sin of Jeroboam and Omri.

There is indeed a duty of family worship but that would be governed by the regulative principle also. The father may pick a topic to cover from the Word, and/or with a Psalm, and with prayer but again what does this have to do with the argument regarding the keeping of extrabiblical holy days and/or festivals devised by your own heart?

As a pastor you are to teach your flock "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20) and Christmas is not a part of this.

Jeff Meyers said...

I wasn't making a straight-line argument from Purim to Christmas. It's just an example of the Jews celebrating a feast day that's NOT commanded in the Law. Not everything someone "devises in his heart" is automatically wicked and a violation of God's word.

Oh, come on. It's what Jereboam "devised in his hear" not simply that he devised something. This wooden way of applying the Bible is not helpful.

RJS said...

Jeff,

As I noted in my previous comment. You are falling foul of Non sequitur because you are unable to draw a line from Purim to what you wish to do because they are not comparable.

The devising of Jeroboam's heart was the root cause of the idolatry. It is not wooden but simply takes Scripture at what it says on this very simple point.