21 December 2016

Christmas: Obfuscation and The Lord's Day Gambit

I have to confess this was an argument for Christmas I had not encountered before.

It obviously pains these gentlemen that neither their tradition, hermeneutic nor their professed commitment to Sola Scriptura will afford them an open embrace of the Christmas holiday.

The truth is that in terms of Sola Scriptura, the keeping of days, let alone 25 December... has no leg to stand on.

What was unique about this somewhat frustrating discussion was the way they brought the Lord's Day into the equation.

While I was once a vigorous Westminster Sabbatarian, I abandoned that position long ago. Seventeenth century Reformed Scholasticism was many things, and can be admired from certain vantage points but their grasp of Redemptive-History was shall we say, somewhat wanting.

The retention and necessary modification of the Decalogue that produced the Reformed Sunday Sabbath or Lord's Day is a spurious argument based on a Non-redemptive-historical understanding of both the Covenants and the Law of Moses. The Westminster Confession's teaching on the Three-fold division of the law is fundamentally flawed and this plays out in its expression of what it identifies as the 'Moral Law', namely the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment is retained as part of this claimed Eternal construct but then promptly modified from the Seventh to the First day without Scriptural warrant. The argument is flimsy at best. The Sunday Sabbath is a child of philosophical speculative deduction and when based on its premise... it becomes something of a necessity.

Unfortunately both the premise, the grounds of the premise and thus the conclusion are flawed... as is the whole of this podcast discussion.

Nevertheless it does contain some items of interest, especially for those who take Sola Scriptura seriously and wrestle with the issue of Christmas and the host of other questions surrounding it.

One of the main arguments considered is the question of celebrating the nativity of Christ. This is said to be mandated. Christians must acknowledge this and it is argued that in acknowledging it, praise and adoration are necessary responses. It is then insinuated that special times might be set apart for this practice.

If I might frame this in a slightly different manner, the real issue with regard to the nativity of Christ is the reality and wonder of the Incarnation. Do we need separate special times to celebrate this? One of the guests seems to think so.

And yet Scripture has already provided the answer. We celebrate the Incarnation every time we worship... especially when we celebrate the Lord's Supper. Now, the fact that most Churches have a low view of the holy rite and fail to include it as part of their regular worship is another issue. But even if (for the sake of argument) it was celebrated infrequently, certainly every congregation does it at least a few times a year. Does that not meet the suggested requirement? There's no case to be made for something like Christmas. This is an invented problem fed by a desired conclusion.

Is the problem a lack of New Testament provision or perhaps it's a failure on the part of Church leaders to properly expound the signs and seals given to us by the Spirit as revealed in the New Testament?

To ponder whether or not Christmas can be considered like a non-Sunday or non-Lord's Day service is merely to expand this exercise in question begging but brings us no closer to the relevant issues at stake.

Nowhere does the New Testament teach a 'high' worship on Sunday or that it is somehow 'obligatory' and yet other days are not. These are contrived categories.

Reformation Day and Thanksgiving Day services are also appealed to as examples of special non-Sunday worship but in all honesty it must be admitted these 'special' services are also without warrant. They are cultural accommodations, concepts and categories unknown to New Testament worship.

In fact this whole notion of differing types of services is without warrant.

Christians should of course be gathering with the Church as often as they can. Obligation isn't really part of the equation. Certainly there should be desire, and yet this podcast discussion strays into this odd territory of optional non-obligatory 'special' services... a house of cards that (apart from everything else) quickly collapses once the Lord's Day assumption is dispensed with.

Even with the assumption, the trajectory of the conversation is without merit and there's a reason why Scripture cannot be appealed to and largely isn't. The whole discussion is extra-Scriptural and speculative.

This is why the real question is never approached. What do the Scriptures say? There's no spirit of 'Ad Fontes', let alone Sola Scriptura.

Are these questions the fruit of Biblical study? Are these questions that the text raises and that we must therefore wrestle with? Is this not an exercise in seeking justification for these traditions? It would seem they already have established the desired conclusion viz. Christmas celebration, and now they're looking (painfully) for Scriptural justification.

Because of this, their quest for Biblical support is futile.

The New Testament heartily rejects not only Jewish holy days but certainly man-made holy days, rites, rituals and exercises in piety. Christmas represents all of these elements and explicitly borrows from paganism. The fact that it no longer carries pagan meaning for today's participants is beside the point. As those renewed in our minds and with Scripture as our authority, all questions concerning the life of the Church and the believer are considered in its light and are placed under its authority.

Using the Lord's Day as a way to separate worship services into obligatory and what we might call secondary status is a clever ploy but exegetically indefensible, as is the whole of the Church calendar upon which Christmas rests.

On a practical level I must ask... what are they afraid of? Will people leave their congregations if Christmas celebration ceases or is discouraged? Will people refuse to follow their leadership because Christmas is so dominant in the culture?

At that point I must ask... what sort of leaders are you? What sort of congregations do you have? Should we be afraid to be counter-cultural? Are we afraid to be considered odd and peculiar?

Though the issue did not come up in this particular discussion I must say I am convinced that in addition to the various pragmatic concerns which govern the thought of paid denominational clergy there is the additional assumption and desire for cultural relevance and impact. Being so out of the mainstream is (in a worldly-wise sense) an admission of defeat. It is willingly consigning one's self to obscurity, almost like self-imposed exile.

If the Church can't even begin to wrestle with easy questions like Christmas, what will happen when the real questions come to the fore?