25 December 2011

Christmas as a Federal Holiday...the Implications (Part 3)

Of course if I accepted the premise of Christmas I would go much further and celebrate all 12 days of Christmas ending on 6 January with Epiphany. That's the origin of Happy Holidays or Holy-days. Evangelicals, completely ignorant of Church history have embraced Catholic principles without even understanding them! Christmas was a cycle of days not just 25 December. Of course to the Orthodox 6 January is a bigger deal. Why isn't that a Federal Holiday? If it's okay to celebrate 25 December, then you certainly cannot argue against the other 11 days or any part of the liturgical calendar, civilly or theologically.
You've already abandoned the Sufficiency of Scripture, so that's hardly the issue. Now it's just about preference and tradition...hardly objective realms of discourse. Or maybe economics....letting people take all that time off work could get expensive! And we sure wouldn't want anything to hinder our profits because that's what's really important right?

Personally as I talked about in another article, I'd rather do it all. As I once again stood the other day in St. Michaels, the Byzantine Rite Catholic (or Uniate) Church, smelling incense, and feeling like I was in Ruthenia...I thought...I would love this! My flesh yearns for this.

But I'd have to abandon the Bible...no small issue.

It's both tempting and repulsive. I was trying to explain this to my kids as I showed them the iconostasis and explained how the area behind is like what?....they got it..."The Holy of Holies," one of them said. The Jewish-ness, the Judaizing of Catholic and Orthodox worship was quite clear to them. And then we looked at the Paganizing elements...the icon veneration, the altars, the chapel to the Virgin. We looked at the stained glass window of Sacralist heroes...Olga, Chrysostom, and the more nuanced Cyril and Methodius. Missionaries? Diplomats? Both? Another time.

So is recognizing 25 December and not the other holy days...an establishment, a state recognition of Protestantism? Low-church Protestantism? Would Colson's Evangelicals and Catholics together (ECT) alliance crumble in light of that, if it was ever formally stated? Would all the Baptists go for it? They celebrate Christmas but try telling them you celebrate Epiphany. They'll start hyperventilating.

Leaving Scripture behind we set a heavy and burdensome yoke on our shoulders. That's what all this leads to. Binding our consciences and actions to man-made rules and traditions.

Matthew 15 says:

8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

9  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

We are free, not under bondage. We are not under obligation to keep the Jewish days as we're told in Colossians 2:

14  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;

15  And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

16  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Some invert this and use this passage for license to keep these very things but in a Christian form....we're not judged as we keep meats (as in Lent) or in drink (as in Baptist Prohibition) or in respect of a holyday (as in Christmas) or in the new moon (as in Easter) or of the Sabbath (as in Sunday or so-called Christian Sabbath)....

But the context is clearly a rejection of the Jewish particulars...they're fulfilled and gone. The Messiah has come! Good news indeed! We don't have to follow the Old Covenant Law any longer!

But likewise, our freedom extends to being free from the commandments of men as the Matthew passage teaches. We have a sure word that teaches us in 2 Timothy:

16  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Perfect or complete. Thoroughly as in nothing lacking. The Scriptures give us all we need. We don't need to make up new holydays in order to worship. They don't strengthen our faith. They don't aid us in worshipping God. Do you like it? Sure...these things are very pleasing to the flesh. I like Eastern Orthodox worship, but if I embrace it, I'm rejecting the message of these verses in the New Testament. Liking something, or feeling good about something is not a safe criteria to trust in.

Not adding to Scripture is trusting that God has (like He says here) given us ALL that we need. Colossians 2 again:

20  Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

21  (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

22  Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

23  Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

All our innovations are nothing more than self-imposed religion, fleshly endeavours that seem wise but are at best misguided, and at their worst quite dangerous. In 1 Timothy 4.3 we read that worshipping God by abstaining (an innovation) from things He has not commanded us to abstain from...in order to worship. These flesh pleasing bodily exercises not only profit little...they can be demonic.

I'm subjecting you to ordinances some would say...thou shalt not celebrate Christmas, right?

No, that's framing it wrongly. I'm saying we're free from man-made traditions and if you understand that... it's glorious. I'm not the one trying to impose practices for worship, or give traditions authority. I'm saying...just follow the Bible, and if I do so...I'm free to refuse your innovations.

But I don't consider them a burden! That's how some argue. I enjoy it!

I would too, but it means turning aside from the Sufficiency of Scripture. It means that if we can do it because 'we like it' if 'liking it' is the authority...then Protestantism in every form is heresy. At that point the Church is either ruled by Magisterium deciding and interpreting tradition as in Roman Catholicism or...we might as well have a Charismatic free for all. Just do whatever you like. It's called every man doing what's right in his own eyes....it's nothing new.

Because if Christmas is right, then so is Epiphany, and you need not stop there. The Reformation was sinful and schismatic. I know Luther had no problem with Christmas. Luther's arguments regarding tradition and authority and contradictory and self-defeating. The Reformed saw this but now their descendants have largely abandoned several key planks of argument for what their Spiritual forebears were doing in the 16th century.

In the end, on a social level, I don't care what holidays people celebrate. In the Church I don't really care what individuals do in their homes. But in Church, in the fellowship, in the meeting...that's different.

Again I appreciate the Campbellite Church of Christ on this point. They wouldn't dream of introducing Christmas into the Church meeting...it's clearly not in Scripture. Individually, they do it at home. I agree it can be argued as being inconsistent, but if it's a form of hypocrisy...at least it's a more thought out, nuanced, and sensitive form. They have at least grasped a principle that many others have sold out to either cultural acquiescence, or the need for cultural relevance and transformation. And in other cases, as I said in another Christmas piece, they praise their forefathers and the confessions and creeds they produced (building the tombs of the prophets)...but then slay (abstractly) those who come today bearing their argument.

Evangelicals are right on one thing. Christmas is indeed a powerful symbol of much larger circles of conflict and argument. It's a small thing that points to larger issues. For them it's a focal point symbolic of the Culture War in its entirety.

To me Christmas represents (in one issue) the entirety of the primary theological conflict of Church history....the sufficiency of Scripture....the standard for authority...the Church's relation to the world, conquering? syncretizing? or living as Pilgrims?

I know 95% of the people reading this kept Christmas this year. Therefore I know most readers don't agree with me. That's okay. No one agrees with me 100%. But you must wrestle with these questions.
And for the handful of folks that agree...I hope you've found this helpful. There are MANY arguments to employ and angles to consider. The last time I 'did' Christmas was in 1994. I have no regrets and as the years pass I feel vindicated and I can assure you it's quite interesting (as an outsider) watching the whole frenzy descending upon American culture every year. I feel bad. I see a lot of people in terrible bondage.

4 comments:

Cal said...

I suppose I'm somewhat torn on this issue. Here's my perspective:

Yes Christmas is Romish, it is some weird leftover from a whole contrived, unscriptural liturgical calendar developed by a combination of innovation, pagan synthesis, and adding to the Gospel. It is not a "Holy-day".

Yet we worship in Spirit, it doesn't mean we do whatever we want, but there is freedom to study as one wills the Scripture and take the Eucharist/Supper with brothers and sisters.

I can understand a psuedo-liturgy, focusing on a certain area of Scripture because of context of the world. It is not making a calendar but when it is winter, and the natural world is falling into death, one can read the story of the Incarnation and realize that such as we were in the dead of winter, cut off and lost, that God came for us. I hope this isn't confusing, I'm not advocating a liturgy but it can become implicit in how we interact. When one dies, we can reflect on the hope of resurrection. When we see Spring coming, we can reflect on being New Creation, on the coming New Heaven and New Earth.

Now this isn't something I necessarily do because I'm erratic, but something to consider. Now I think this is what some mean when they say they celebrate 'christmas'. Not the huffy, puffy americana-evangelicals, but those who count it not Holy but a day to remember the Incarnation. Not because they can't other days, but because the opportunity allows it and an avenue to the insanity to say, you can stop and find Peace on Him who will remove your heavy burdens.

It is actually sort of weird. Paul was a Greek to Greeks and a Jew to Jews, and we are..'christian' to the 'christians'? Is that possible?

Now I'm not even one for celebrating "holidays" (using the common phrase, if you allow me). I'm not even big on my own birthday, just another day. But I get roped into some of it out of respect for family and I'm not willing to be a 'Scrooge'. Submitting myself willingly, Paul didn't need to shave his head but he did so to reach others. It gets really murky because there are Christians and 'christians'. It really is the Apostasy and has been for centuries!

I suppose it comes to being graceful to those who want to celebrate some little cultural baubble. Like holiday, Christmas, though it has Christ in the name, has nothing to do with Him. I get told 'Merry Christmas' by Pagans and Atheists, I don't think they're pondering the theological significance of the child born in Bethlehem.

Maybe I should take to the streets to advocate that the government recognize Festivus and assign it a place with thanksgiving and fourth of july, and the rest of the secular calendar.

Some thoughts from a fellow pilgrim,
Cal

Protoprotestant said...

Brilliant.

Seriously. We don't agree BUT...there's some good wrestling on your part...and I hope on mine too.

I understand the seasons of life and the desire to integrate the emotive aspects of all that. Believe me I do.

Like I said....I'd love to go along with it all. But...then I'm certainly not going to waste my time attending a PCA congregation. I'm going where I can dive into it...smells, bells, kneelers, maybe even some icons.

But that's just me.

What I appreaciate about your comments is that you're truly thinking about it. Usually I get the impression that most people are just saying....I want to do it, so there, you can't stop me, and if you don't like it then go away.

But that's kind of problem when that's within the Church meeting. Not quite communion is it?

I'm quite impressed and want to ponder more your final three sections. That...is probably the biggest argument.

A pragmatic built on love.

Christians to Christians! That's a keeper. I'll have to share that with a friend. I'm not joking, you may be on to something there.

No, I'm not a Scrooge but it's amazing how people won't just let us be. They force it on us. We've tried in years past getting together with family and trying to be non-participants in some of the festivities. It doesn't work very well...and that's when I had one infant. Today with four adolescents, I wouldn't want to do it.

I'm Scroogish in my arguments here...not in person. EXCEPT when I encounter an Evangelical on a mission. Then yes, I'll deliberately poke at them. Happy Kwanzaa just to get them upset. Actually I hope it generates conversation. Most aren't interested, just pretty hostile.

A Christian rejecting their vision is much worse than a hostile pagan. People like me are a threat. We might get people to disengage from the Christmas war!

No the pagans are pondering anything. This is something I try and explain to my kids. The lady at the store is not trying to be confrontational. She really doesn't care whether we do Christmas or not. She's just being nice...be nice back. Smile and say thanks to their "have a nice Christmas."

And that's what I do.

It's kind of like if we entered a more fascist mode of saying our farewells...hey, have a nice weekend and God Bless America!

I would say...thanks and smile, but I'm not going to return the God Bless America.

I hope I don't come across as a jerk in these Christmas posts. I don't think anyone would accuse me of being unfriendly or unsociable. I'm a loner at heart, but I must say I'm pretty good about talking and getting along with people. I can be right friendly while disagreeing with you....(extra beaming smile)

Festivus....you've got my vote!

Please keep the thoughts coming........

Cal said...

I don't see the counting of the days as setting the ball rolling towards the incense, icons, elaborate architecture etc.

I do also think all of that stuff is fascinating, and yet, it is in that morass that the Gospel is lost and turned into something else. Are there Christians among the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox, I definitely like to think so but it is in spite of what the traditions heaps on them. I certainly don't point at it and say "That's where you'll find the Spirit of Messiah".

Anyway, I'd contend that nature (climate, weather etc.) and culture can effect what we study and consider in our communion. Again, I don't do any of this because I just kind of fall into something that I want to study or read about.

Besides the examples above, climate does effect us. It does not make seasons Holy, but Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall all remind us of certain aspects of reality. I don't think this is pagan or nature-worship, but it is recognizing the Creation as Creation. So in America, we can appreciate in winter the coming of God-with-us, but I think if I see Australians doing the same in December, we've lost it. It has become tradition-day setting.

For Culture, and this would be the real shocker, what if Christians living in Israel, or Long Island, reflected on the crucifixion during the time of Yom Kippur. The Judaica practicing Jews (as being Jewish does not mean Judaism) are trying to atone for sins, we as the Church can reflect on the fact, well what does atonement mean? The Cross was sufficient once and for all etc. Wherever believers be, part of their worship could be in response to what is happening. Parallels could be drawn in how Paul instructs certain age groups to be taught something specific. Same principle perhaps?

I like your phrase, pragmatic love. And always, wisdom. See how I can call it psuedo-liturgical? But it is not hanging on officially passed calendars, but interacting with society. Not transforming it, but not being ignorant to it either. Salt and Light?

I also understand about the whole pressure to not abstain if you involve yourself at all. Sometimes you don't want to go into a theological discourse with a bunch of blank faces thinking you're just a jerk or someone pissed in your coffee. Yeah I can eat dinner, I can even share gifts, but please don't ask me to put up or decorate some obnoxious tree. Who is it even for? Did Jesus ask us to chop down forests for decorations?

The fact that I've only been a believer for almost 2 years now gives me some hindsight to what is suspicious. I can see a clear break with my past, and the fact that I was an able bodied participant in the ceremonies always keeps my ears perked.

Protoprotestant said...

Haha, I was reading your comment and thinking but what about Cape Town where it's 80F on Christmas...but then you addressed it by referencing Australia.

Regional liturgical calendars?

I could be wrong but I think one of the arguments for liturgy is that everyone's always doing the same thing.

I've often said to my wife...how nice it would be to be an RC. You could go anywhere and pretty much always know what you're going to get. Especially pre-Vatican II.

Doesn't mean it's right. But wow, in a fleshly sense that's super-appealing.

During Yom Kippur...interesting. I've suggested instead of meeting on Sunday in Israel we'd meet on Saturday...in Pakistan on Friday.

That's pragmatic.

Now, letting their practices affect or shape ours......mmmmmmmmmmmmm, I'm a little uncomfortable.

I know we don't and frankly can't live in a vacuum, but to what extent to we interact with regard to our meetings? I don't know.

I don't like it when people say we need to do Father's day sermons in June because everyone is thinking about that. I tend to say...so what?

But...I will admit...the Sunday after 11 September. How could you not address that in some form?

I'm not sure there's a hard and fast answer to this.

You can call it pseudo-liturgical. That's probably a good term. We do interact. My kids are learning all about the liturgical calendar.

Why? I want them to understand what's happening around us..at church, in society, at the grocery store on Ash Wednesday when all these people are walking around with ash on their foreheads.

And because I'm teaching them Church History. It's quite difficult because you have to teach them how to parse out Biblical Christianity and Christendom. It's not easy, but they're starting to get it.

Next to last paragraph:

We tried going to dinner with my wife's family. We're trying to spend time with them and all that. They knew we don't do the thing, but then next thing you know I'm getting wrapped presents dumped in my lap.

Now I feel like some dopey jerk and I wish I hadn't come. So much for spending good time. I'm trying to accomodate and be polite but I'm forced to conform.

It's kind of like when you ask someone not to take your picture and they do it anyway. Thanks. Why don't you just spit in my face while you're at it?

I suppose from their standpoint in giving the gift they're dumping coals on me as per Romans 12. But these are folks who have just never thought about it. Christmas, Apple Pie, Flag, Cross.....all go together. My sister-in-law when she first heard we would not be participating in the holiday also known for wassailing declared:

Well in the last days some will depart the faith.

What do you do with that?

Wow Cal, 2 years. Your grasp of things and ability to reflect is pretty impressive. You haven't been riding the 'got saved by going down the aisle/easy believism bus'...that's for sure.

I was much the same. I felt like I had wasted my youth and I wanted to learn....like crazy. I volunteered to drink the firehose. I'm just now (I hope!) beginning to acquire some wisdom. That was over 16 years ago. I was baptized in October 1995 in Italy. I can't tell you how that just blows my mind. My life before that time is something of a hazy dream.

Just a week ago or so I talked with a friend from my pre-conversion days. It was wierd. I'm not the same person because this person I used to really connect with...was like talking to someone from another planet.

I think that's a good thing.