‘Tis the season to spout folly. Look around the ‘Net and you’ll find people forbidding you to celebrate Christmas — for mostly spurious reasons. Though there ARE problems in many celebrations of the day (that’s another post), I’d like to answer some silliness that appears at this time of year. We’ll start with this post on the “Christ-Mass” argument.
“We Shouldn’t Celebrate the Christ-Mass”
This argument says that the very name proves we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. It is obviously a Catholic holiday, a celebration of the Catholic Mass, which is an idolatrous perversion of the Lord’s Supper.
I am in complete agreement with this assessment of the Catholic Mass. The Lord’s Supper is a commemoration (“This do in remembrance of Me,” He said). It isn’t a re-sacrifice of our Lord’s body and blood; His sacrifice was completed once, and that is sufficient. The Roman Catholic Mass is a horrible twisting of a wonderful commemoration of our Lord and His death. If this holiday is indeed a celebration of the Catholic Mass, we shouldn’t do it.
Learning from the Dictionary
Unfortunately for those who make this argument against Christmas, the English name doesn’t prove what some people want to make it prove. A simple look in the dictionary can help here. The word “Christmas” comes from Late Old English, dating to 900-1066 AD. Yet, the birth of Christ was widely celebrated by the fourth century, at the very latest.
A mostly apostate Middle Ages church, in one language on one island in Europe, used the name “Mass” for a false version of the commemoration of our Lord’s death (the Lord’s Supper). We still celebrate Communion, and are right to do so. We do not adopt their false doctrines, but their errors do not prevent us from celebrating a commemoration.
If that same group also put that name on a commemoration of His birth which Christians had celebrated for centuries, that does not make it wrong to observe the holiday. The name Roman Catholics gave it is irrelevant. We must not adopt their false doctrines, but their errors do not prevent us from celebrating a commemoration.
Historically, this argument would only have any chance of making sense if the origin of the name and the origin of the holiday coincided. That the holiday preceded the name by over 500 years renders the argument ridiculous.
The Error of Doctrine by Etymology
II Timothy 3:16-17
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.
The Scriptures provide all the doctrines we need to be completely equipped to serve the Lord. They are complete. I’ve never found where Scripture teaches us to determine right and wrong by figuring out the etymology (origins) of the word by which a thing is known.
Whatever the origin of the name, it does not mean the Catholic Mass today. I checked multiple dictionaries — they only mention the Catholic Mass in describing the origins of the word, not in what it means today. People sing, “I’ll be home for Christmas” — they don’t mean they will be having Mass at home. They don’t celebrate Mass around their Mass tree, and they aren’t giving Mass presents. It simply doesn’t mean the Catholic Mass anymore, if it ever really did.
If our teaching of right and wrong is based on the etymology of words, rather than their meaning, we practice doctrine by etymology. That is something for which Scripture gives no basis, and thus it violates the sufficiency of Scripture.
Truth is Not Confined to One Language
The holiday is called Navidad in Spanish and Natale in Italian, Natal in Portuguese, names meaning “birth.” In French, it is Noel, perhaps from words for “news” or “birth.” In Latin, it is Nativitatis (“birth”), in Greek Christougenna (“Christ’s birth”), in German Weinacht (“holy night”).
All these lands had the Gospel, and their believers celebrated the holiday, before English even came into existence. People in these countries would be mystified at the suggestion that a word derived from Late Old English has any bearing on what they should do.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
God does not have one set of truth for one group of people and another truth for another group. His truth is for all people of all languages. The “Christ-Mass” argument is entirely language dependent, and not all believers speak a language that uses a form of “Mass” in the name. There is a unity of truth for all believers. Any teaching which is dependent on the wording of a particular language fails the doctrinal test of the unity of truth across all peoples and languages.
The “Christ-Mass” argument is historically and doctrinally bankrupt. A person could perhaps say we should use a different name for the holiday, but the argument has no merit at all when claiming it is wrong for believers to observe a commemoration of our Lord’s incarnation. God’s truth is true in any language.
The best to say for someone making the “Christ-mass” argument is they haven’t thought it through very well. We can appreciate their zeal to honour the Lord in all things. We can applaud (and join) their willingness to behave differently from the world. We are not to be “conformed to this world,” so we certainly will be different in the things we do, and value. But we don’t have to respect the “Christ-Mass” argument. Don’t deck your halls with folly.
Flawed Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #2 “It is Pagan/Catholic!”
Misused Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #3 “God Didn’t Command It”
Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #4 “It’s the Wrong Date”
Still later, an interesting historical note on the Puritans and Huguenots:
Puritans, Huguenots, “Christ-Mass,” and “Immanuel’s Day”