Misused Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #3 “God Didn’t Command It”

We’ve seen a silly reason to abandon Christmas (the “Christ-Mass” argument), and a flawed one (the “pagan / Catholic syncretism” argument).  I’d like to turn to a reason with a better foundation — the “God Didn’t Command It” argument.  The problem is not the argument itself, but rather that it is misused / misapplied in this case.

“God Didn’t Command It”

Leviticus 10:1-2

1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.
2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

We don’t have the right to do whatever we want in worship.  God is a holy and awesome God, and a casual “anything goes in worship” attitude is completely wrong. Just because I like something doesn’t make it good.  My likes, and my motives, are not the measure of pure worship.

If God didn’t command us to do something, either directly or in principle, it has no place in worship.  God is the One who determines what is acceptable worship, and what is not.  He may not kill us for presumption, like Nadab and Abihu, but just because He is patient does not mean we can just do whatever we want.

Freedom in Incidentals

Though we have no right to decide how we worship God, there is freedom in what we could call “incidentals.”  The Bible says to meet to worship, but never said where to meet.  Some met in houses, some in the temple, some in synagogues.  The place is left up to us.

The Bible doesn’t say to establish a set time to meet for teaching and worship, but there is nothing wrong with setting a time — it is an “incidental.”  We’re told to sing, but not how many songs to sing.  We are told to take the Communion cup “as often as ye drink it,” but we aren’t specifically told how often to do so.  We aren’t told to sit in a circle, or in rows, or to stand or sit while singing.

Biblical principles influence decisions on incidentals, but much is left to us.  The Gospel is for people of all nations, and things appropriate in one culture may be inappropriate in another.  The “God didn’t command it” argument should not be pressed on incidentals.

The Content of “Christmas” Worship

It is obviously right to teach on the birth of Christ.  The Incarnation (God becoming man) was a major theme in Old Testament prophecy (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Malachi 5:2, etc, and implied by prophecies of suffering — Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, etc).  Both Luke and Matthew devote two chapters to events around His birth, and Hebrews 2 and other places stress the significance of the Incarnation.  The truth of the Incarnation is a key test of a true or false spirit (I John 4:1-3).  If there is no Incarnation, there is no real Christianity.

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

It is right and proper to teach by singing any Biblical truth.  No one can object to worship, including teaching and singing, focused on the birth of Christ and what it means for us.

Traditions as Teaching Tools

Scripture endorses the use of traditions as aids in teaching, especially for teaching children.

Exodus 13:7-10

7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.
8 And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.
9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.
10 Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.

God gave Israel an annual celebration (Passover) to help teach future generations of a wonderful work He had done for them.  He also told them to write His Word on their doorposts (Deuteronomy 6:9) and wear a fringe on their clothes (Numbers 15:38-39).  These were to remind and teach.

Unless a tradition was directly established / commanded by God, such as the Lord’s Supper, it has no authority — but that does not mean traditions are bad.  Every new year, on the first Sunday, we have a testimony service.  Everyone has a testimony of something God has done in his/her life in the past year.  No one has to follow our tradition — it is just a tradition, one way we remind ourselves to give thanks.

God endorses traditions as teaching aids and as reminders of His many blessings.

Commemorations

I’d written most of this series before I stumbled on the Wikipedia definition of Christmas, to which I linked in my last post.  It used a word I’d already included in the draft of this post, a “commemoration” — something done to remember a person or event.

God endorses commemorations, repeated celebrations to honour or remember something from the past.  He commanded many Old Testament commemorations, such as Passover (mentioned above) and other annual feasts (Leviticus 23).  In the New Testament, Christ established the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper — “this do in remembrance of Me.”

John 10:22-23

22 And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.

Can we have commemorations God did not command?  The Scriptures say yes.  God did not command Purim.  The Jews began on their own, and Mordecai told them to keep doing it (Esther 9:17-32).  God recorded it in the Scriptures so they would know to keep on — those who started it obviously weren’t doing wrong to start a new commemoration.

Was Christ wrong to go to the temple for the feast of dedication (Hanukkah), as recorded in John 10:22-23?  Of course not.  God not only told His people to use commemorations, He permitted and endorsed some commemorations that He did not command.

Commemorations, unless directly commanded by God, are incidentals.  They are merely one way to obey His commands to teach and to remember.

God Didn’t Command Christmas!

It is true.  He didn’t. No one has to celebrate Christmas.

God did command us to teach Christ’s birth and its importance.  He commanded His people to use traditions as teaching tools, and to hold commemorations.  He endorsed some commemorations (Purim and the feast of dedication) which He had never commanded.

Celebrating a commemoration of Christ’s birth is an “incidental.”  It is a tool, an aid to remembering and teaching — and a kind of tool the Scriptures clearly endorse.  The Word became flesh, God with us, to save us from our sins.  We can obey God’s command to remember and teach it, using an annual commemoration as the Jews did in the time of Esther, or we can obey by remembering and teaching in other ways.  The remembering and teaching are not optional — the “incidental” by which we do so is.  But the Feast of Dedication was acceptable to Christ, so the celebration of His Incarnation is acceptable for His followers.

If you choose to celebrate Christmas, don’t let anyone forbid it because God didn’t command it.  It is a good principle, but they are misusing / misapplying it.

Related: Happy Feast of Purim!

Previous:
Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #1 “Christ-Mass”
Flawed Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #2 “It is Pagan / Catholic!”

Next:
Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #4 “It’s the Wrong Date”

Solid Reasons to Scrutinise Christmas

 

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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36 Responses to Misused Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #3 “God Didn’t Command It”

  1. Pingback: Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

  2. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    I have a question, some observations, and finally a quotation.

    The question:

    Would your argument support/allow for bringing in the entire Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican calendar with its feast days, fast days, liturgy, and so on–as long as such days were not explicitly forbidden? In terms of historical theology, your argument is exactly that of those who opposed the Regulative Principle of worship–the Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans–and it was argued against by those who believed in and loved the Regulative Principle of worship, namely, the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians.

    Some observations;

    1.) Lev 10:1-2 explicitly defines the regulative principle of worship–whatever is not commanded is forbidden; “strange fire” is defined as “which he commanded them not” (contrast Lev 9). (For readers ignorant of what I mean by the Regulative Principle–and I am NOT assuming the author of the post is ignorant of this terminology–please visit: http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/ and learn about the foundation of a Biblical, Baptist doctrine of worship.) Bro Gleason, you are exactly right when you affirm: “If God didn’t command us to do something, either directly or in principle, it has no place in worship.” That, I suspect, is the end of any man-made festival-days in the church, however.

    2.) What are called “incidentals” in this post are classically called “circumstances.” However, circumstances are things that are necessary for the practice of the elements of worship but are not themselves worship. If we are to hear preaching from the Word, we need to assemble somewhere and either sit or stand, so chairs or pews are appropriate as circumstances, but they are not themselves worship. If we are to obey the command to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, having a song book is a circumstance of worship. Circumstances are regulated by general Biblical principles but they are not themselves worship.

    It is totally invalid, however, to say that a set festival-day, December 25’s Christmas, is a necessary circumstance of worship. A holiday/holy day on December 25 is in no way a necessary accompaniment of any element of NT worship. The only way this “incidental” argument gets off the ground is by fudging the distinction between elements of worship and circumstances.

    3.) Most of what you call “traditions as teaching aids” are actual things that were required–not optional–for God’s people in the Old Testament. The Passover does not help your case unless you are going to argue that Christmas is commanded in the Bible–which you do not.

    4.) In relation to your arguments that the people of God have authority to institute in the worship of the church traditions that are not in the Bible, your specific examples are dealt with very well by the quotation which I am going to put in below, so I will not repeat what has already been said very well. I will simply point out that this affirmation would create a contradiction with Lev 10:1-2 and the many other passages of Scripture that say exactly the opposite of this (cf. the discussions at faithsaves.net/ecclesiology).

    5.) The passage (which you, commendably, do not specifically cite–perhaps you see that it doesn’t help your case) that allowed me to hold on to Christmas for a while was Romans 14. However, I came to see that passages such as Romans 14:5-7 by no means grant permission to churches to establish any festival days, much less heathen ones. Romans 14:5-7 is speaking about the specific Old Testament feast days specifically ordained by God for Israel in the Old Testament. If a Christian Jew wished, in his own home, to continue to celebrate the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc., he had the liberty to do so, although keeping the Old Testament ceremonial law was evidence of a weak faith (Romans 14:1). If a Christian Jew no longer wished to do so, as the Gentile Christians did not, that was absolutely acceptable. Romans 14:5-7 is not about giving churches liberty to legislate festival days, but about Jews who have a weak faith and unnecessary scruples in their consciences keeping the specifically ordained Old Testament feasts in their homes. Note that the Old Testament festival days were clearly not being celebrated in the church, for the church recognized the New Testament truth that they are fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17) and are not for this dispensation. If Romans 14:5-7 does not justify the church’s celebration of feasts specifically ordained by God in the Old Testament, how much the less does it justify the celebration of heathen festivals such as Christmas in the church? Once my Romans 14 argument was gone, I no longer had a leg to stand on in keeping Christmas.

    6.) I was recently deeply convicted in relation to this matter of not adding or taking away from pure worship while reading the account in the OT of the building of the temple. God cares about the purity and detail of His ordained worship so much that He even describes what the sockets of the doors looked like in the temple, with tons of other “minor” details (cf. 1 Kings 7).

    7.) Furthermore, when a church celebrates Christ-Mass, it is not a matter of Christian liberty. it is not like whether he likes a football team or a soccer team. The celebration is not at all optional. The entire congregation must see the Christmas tree. The entire congregation must hear the “Merry Christmas,” the tracts with “Christmas” on it, the proclamation that December 25 is the birthday of Christ (when it is not, but of Mithra), etc. The entire congregation must have their children taught in junior church that Christmas is good. Sunday School teachers must teach that it is good. Choir members must sing Christmas songs about Christ being born in winter, about three wise men, and other nonbiblical and unbiblical legends. Anyone in church leadership must say not a word if he rejects man-made holy days because he loves Christ and pure worship. Any member of the church who wishes to worship the Lord only in the way commanded in Scripture will be strongly stigmatized, viewed as divisive, etc. if he says a word to the contrary, and even if he simply keeps silent the burden is oppressive. He will also be viewed as unspiritual if he does not promote Christmas outreaches, pass out tracts with everyone else promoting Christmas, etc. Can he teach his children that all additions like Christmas to God’s ordained worship are idolatrous and still be accepted in the church? No. Could he say that he doesn’t like the football team the Packers or the 49ers and still be accepted? Yes. The two are not at all the same; the one truly is optional, the other is not at all optional. He will be viewed as very rude if he does not return dozens of “Merry Christmas!” greetings. He must be viewed, as best, as a “weak brother” if he rejects man-made holy days, based on the misinterpretation of Romans 14 above. Is this Christian liberty, or is it the tyranny of forcing a Catholic holy day never ordained in the NT on the congregation of Jehovah and the consciences of the people of God?

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, thank you for your note about typos. I’ve corrected the ones I noticed, though I have not proofread carefully — if there are any you see that I’ve overlooked, I’ll be glad to correct them.

      Lord willing, later today I will go through your follow-up comment with the lengthy quote and get it at least cursorily checked for typos as well, and then publish it. Also, Lord willing, I will respond in some detail here, though that is unlikely to happen today.

      I will just briefly note that if our church engaged in such behaviour as you’ve described in point #7, I would consider it a violation of the Baptist distinctives of the priesthood of the believer and individual soul liberty. As I have stated, the Scriptures do not tell us to observe this commemoration, and I am persuaded it would be unscriptural to force (directly or through pressure) believers to observe it.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, to keep this manageable (and also since I lack time to answer all at once), I’ll reply in pieces.

      First, before getting on to your specifics, to avoid confusion, I want to define what I mean by “celebrate Christmas” and what I teach.

      Within the church, I do not mean Christmas trees, etc. I mean a day or week in which hymn singing and teaching focuses on the theological truth of the incarnation and the Scriptural records related to His birth. In our church, it primarily means gathering on 24 December, outside the regular meetings of the church, when those who wish can gather to sing hymns related to these Biblical truths.

      Within the home, “celebrate Christmas” means different things to different people. If various traditions which have grown up around 25 December are adopted in the home, they should be consistent with the Biblical principles outlined here: https://mindrenewers.com/2012/12/18/solid-reasons-to-scrutinise-christmas/.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      First, the question. “Would your argument support/allow for bringing in the entire Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican calendar with its feast days, fast days, liturgy, and so on–as long as such days were not explicitly forbidden?”

      The regulative principle must reflect the problem of the Old Testament feasts. Romans 14, even limited to Levitical feasts, refutes the simple statement, “What is not commanded is forbidden.” A Biblical view of the principle must permit some things that are not commanded, or Romans 14 doesn’t make any sense. These feasts were for remembering, giving thanks, and teaching Biblical truth. Therefore, I understand the principle as permitting a day set aside to remember, give thanks, and teach on things we should be Scripturally teaching, within the context of preaching the whole counsel of God.

      Perhaps I could then answer your question by giving some specifics to illustrate:
      1) I could NOT set aside a day for an unbiblical “saint” — we teach Scripture, not “saints” and silly stories.

      2) I COULD plan a day to focus / teach on Gabriel’s appearances to Zacharias or Mary, but I could NOT make it a recurring event because teaching all of Scripture leaves no time for a day every year on that.

      3) I COULD use a day or more to teach on lessons / doctrines drawn from the Scriptural record of a saint. I could NOT make it recurring, for a day every year would be out of balance with teaching the whole counsel of God, and it would exalt a man to say a recurring day is set aside for him. Every day is the Lord’s.

      4) In the spring I COULD say, “Jesus was likely baptised this time of year. Next week, we’ll give His baptism special focus, in our hymns and teaching.” Given the many important doctrines involved, I could even do this on a recurring basis.

      5) I COULD but WOULD NOT set aside a recurring day to focus on timeless truths (rather than historical events), such as the Tri-Unity of God. It may be permitted, but would risk confusion and so would be poor teaching.

      In our culture, commemorations of historical events are common and understood. Annual reminders of foundational events are good teaching tools, for they underline our belief that these are actual historical events, something Scripture strongly emphasises.

      We are required to teach Scripture and to give thanks. Annual commemorations are permitted for this purpose (as long as they are actually for this purpose, rather than for empty ceremonialism or for idolatry), even if they are not commanded (as the OT feasts were not commanded to believers in Rome).

      Thus, my understanding of a Biblically applied regulative principle would not permit most of the liturgical calendar.

      I see no events in history so earth-shaking as the incarnation and death / resurrection of Christ. Thus, I believe there is merit to setting them apart and confine any recurring observances to those historical events. While other commemorations would be permitted by Biblical application of the regulative principle, I do not believe it would be wise or effective teaching, lest other events be seen as having comparable importance.

      I trust that answers your question. I am unlikely to be able to respond to your observations until sometime next week. I trust you will have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Your Observation #1: “1.) Lev 10:1-2 explicitly defines the regulative principle of worship–whatever is not commanded is forbidden; “strange fire” is defined as “which he commanded them not” (contrast Lev 9).”

      I’ll just note that a regulative principle defined explicitly by Leviticus 10 can only be proven Biblically to apply to Old Testament tabernacle / temple worship involving sacrifices. A traditional application of the regulative principle excludes Old Testament worship elements from New Testament worship — but if there is a divide between OT and NT worship, we should seek a NT definition of the principle regulating NT worship.

      Observation #2: re: “incidentals” / “circumstances”. Suffice to say I chose “incidentals” for reasons having to do with general readership.

      You said: ” Circumstances are regulated by general Biblical principles but they are not themselves worship” and “The only way this “incidental” argument gets off the ground is by fudging the distinction between elements of worship and circumstances.”

      The Scriptures give no clear distinction between elements of worship and circumstances, and as a result there are significant disagreements on this point. (If the principle is defined by Lev. 10, it says nothing about distinguishing between circumstances and elements.) The regulative principle becomes almost self-defeating when defined with sharp distinctions and strict definitions of circumstance and element, for it tells us to do only what Scripture says but it is built on distinctions Scripture doesn’t define.

      Furthermore, as John Frame has noted (though I do not endorse everything he says), the element / circumstance division (Frame uses “substance” and “accidents” terminology but it is little different) is Aristotelian, not Biblical.

      To condemn a day set aside to remember the incarnation of Christ as violating a Biblical distinction between elements and circumstance, it is, I believe, necessary to give a Biblical definition of that distinction.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Continuing in reply to #2.
      “It is totally invalid, however, to say that a set festival-day, December 25’s Christmas, is a necessary circumstance of worship. A holiday/holy day on December 25 is in no way a necessary accompaniment of any element of NT worship. The only way this “incidental” argument gets off the ground is by fudging the distinction between elements of worship and circumstances.”

      To meet on a specific day for a specific God-ordained purpose on an ongoing basis is not fudging the distinction between elements of worship and circumstances. Many churches do this on a weekly basis when they meet together in a mid-week meeting for a particular purpose — often prayer or Bible study. The time of the meeting is merely a circumstance / “incidental.” It could be on Woden’s Day (Wednesday) or Thor’s Day (Thursday). 🙂 It doesn’t matter.

      Re: #3: “3.) Most of what you call “traditions as teaching aids” are actual things that were required–not optional–for God’s people in the Old Testament. The Passover does not help your case unless you are going to argue that Christmas is commanded in the Bible–which you do not.”

      The point was that the reason was given for the traditions — to teach, to remind. Yet there are many other things we are supposed to teach and remind.

      Your argument here is bound to fail in the face of reality. Human beings are creatures of habit and traditions will exist. Every church has them. Every person has their traditional way of doing things, every family and organisation has traditions. The Bible does not tell us to use a pulpit. Or to stand on a platform to preach. Or a lot of other things that are traditionally done in a lot of churches. It doesn’t tell us to set up our pulpit in the centre of the church at the front, yet that is what we do in our church to emphasise the centrality of Scripture. It is a tradition which is used for teaching which God did not command. We can either adopt traditions which have a meaning and use them for teaching or we can drift into meaningless traditions.

      Re: #4. This is merely a question, using the classical terminology, as to what is “elements” of worship and what is “circumstance.” I am not proposing that we are free to adopt new elements of worship, but rather that the distinction between element and circumstance is not rigourously defined in Scripture and that the definitions you propose are at the very best, problematical.

      Re: #5. I certainly WOULD argue that Romans 14 applies in principle. It is much broader than feast days, there are several things described in the passage. Verses 7-8, 12-14, and 21-15:2 are much broader in principle than any of the specifics mentioned. I have not addressed Romans 14 in these articles for the simple reason that it cannot refer to something which is wrong, and I am responding, in these articles, to reasons sometimes (often?) given for believing that Christmas is wrong. If I am mistaken, and those reasons are sound, Romans 14 could not apply. Since I find those reasons inadequate, I believe it does apply in principle, but it would have been inappropriate to bring it into these articles.

      I believe Romans 14 is very freeing in what is done privately, but tends towards being very restrictive in what is done in the church, not merely in elements but also in regard to circumstances. We must not violate verse 13 and tempt our brethren to fall foul of verse 23.

      Re: #6, I agree, yet there are many things He hasn’t detailed for us in NT worship.

      Re: #7. If our church did as you describe, I would consider it a violation of Romans 14:13 and many other passages. We had, for a time, a man in our church who objected to celebrating Christmas. I taught on the meaning of the incarnation of Christ, or one of the passages describing His birth or events related to His birth, on the final Sunday before 25 December. We announced a Christmas Eve service which he did not intend (nor did about half the church). We taught the Biblical principles involved to others, and we taught him to be gracious if someone who didn’t know gave him a card or wished him a “happy Christmas.” There is no reason this should ever be a point of division or compulsion / tyranny, and if someone believes it is, as you stated, “a Catholic holy day,” whether they are correct or mistaken, they should never be put in the place, in their church, of feeling compelled to take part in that which, for them, is sin (Romans 14:23).

  3. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Here is the quotation. I do not endorse everything the Presbyterian author believes, but this is a great quotation on the particular passages you employ to justify man-made festival days in the worship of the NT church:

    Another popular argument is that Jesus celebrated Chanukah because he was present at its celebration according to John 10:22-23. “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch.” Does this passage of Scripture prove or even imply that Jesus accepted and participated in human traditions in worship? No. There are many reasons why such a view must be rejected. First, one cannot ascertain from the text if Jesus even celebrated the Feast of Dedication. The passage does not say that Christ went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of dedication, but merely that he was in Jerusalem at that time. Many excellent commentators (e.g., Hengstenburg, Meyer, Weiss and others) argue that Jesus had been staying in Jerusalem since the feast of tabernacles. Second, there is nothing significant regarding our Lord’s presence in Jerusalem at the time of this feast, for it was not a feast that occurred only in Jerusalem. Chanukah was celebrated throughout the whole nation. John is not making a statement regarding Jesus’ attitude toward Chanukah, but is merely giving an historical setting to the addresses that follow. Third, even if Christ went to Jerusalem to be there during the feast, the chapter as a whole indicates that he went there to teach. Gillespie writes:

    [W]e must remember, that the circumstances only of time and place are noted by the evangelist, for evidence to the story, and not for any mystery. Christ had come up to the feast of tabernacles (John 7), and tarried still all that while, because then there was a great confluence of people in Jerusalem. Whereupon he took occasion to spread the net of the gospel for catching of many souls. And whilst John says, ‘It was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication,’ he gives a reason only of the confluence of many people at Jerusalem, and shows how it came to pass that Christ had occasions to preach to such a multitude; and whilst he adds, ‘and it was winter,’ he gives reason of Christ’s walking in Solomon’s porch, whither the Jews resort was. It was not thought beseeming to walk in the temple itself, but in the porch men used to convene either for talking or walking, because in the summer the porch shadowed them from the heat. Others think, that whilst he says, it was winter, imports that therefore Christ was the more frequently in the temple, knowing that his time was short which he had then for his preaching; for in the entry of the next spring he was to suffer.103

    There is not one shred of evidence that our Lord participated in any man-made rituals. (Note: Paul preached at the Areopagus [Ac. 17:22ff.], not because he had a favorable attitude toward Greek philosophy, but because it provided an excellent evangelistic opportunity.)

    Fourth, Jesus’ presence does not prove that he celebrated the Feast of Dedication, for the celebration of Chanukah did not involve any holy convocations. Further, it was not a religious sabbath in which people were required to cease from their labors.

    Fifth, most commentators who speculate regarding the apostle’s mention of the feast argue that here Jesus dedicates himself to death (cf. Pink, Lightfoot, Stachen, etc.). In other words, the mention of the feast points to Christ, not human tradition.

    Sixth (as noted above), one should never choose an interpretation that violates the analogy of Scripture. It is exegetically irresponsible to read into a text what is not there (eisegesis) and then use that speculative interpretation to overthrow the many clear passages of Scripture which unequivocally condemn human traditions in the religious sphere. Such a procedure is nothing more than self-deception, excuse making and a grasping after straw.

    Another argument (that Jesus countenanced human traditions in worship) is based on the idea that our Lord gave his blessing to two Jewish ceremonies that were likely added after the close of the Old Testament canon. These rituals were associated with the feast of Tabernacles. It is argued that Jesus’ strategically placed statements (that played off these ceremonies) prove that he did not condemn such human traditions. A brief examination of these passages will prove that such a conclusion is unwarranted.

    This first passage is John 7:37-39. “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” F. F. Bruce give an explanation of the festival as it would have been celebrated in Jesus’ day.

    The festival lasted eight days, and on the eighth day was ‘a holy convocation…a solemn assembly’ (Lev. 23:36; cf. Num. 29:35ff.; Neh. 8:18). When the people thanked God at the celebration of Tabernacles for all the fruits of the past year—vine and olive as well as barley and wheat—they did not forget his gift of rain, apart from which none of those crops would have grown. An association of this festival with adequate rainfall is implied in Zech. 14:16f., and although the ceremony of water-pouring, well attested in connexion with Tabernacles for the two centuries preceding AD 70, is not mentioned in the OT (with the doubtful exception of 1 Sam. 7:6), it was probably of very considerable antiquity. This ceremony, which was intended to acknowledge God’s goodness in sending rain and to ensure a plentiful supply for the following season, was enacted at dawn on the first seven days of the festival. A procession led by a priest went down to the pool of Siloam, where a golden pitcher was filled with water, and returned to the temple as the morning sacrifice was being offered. The water was then poured into a funnel at the west side of the altar, and the temple choir began to sing the Great Hallel (Pss. 113-118).104

    Jesus made his statement on the eighth day when no water was poured by the priests. Many commentators believe our Lord purposely timed his statement to dramatize and emphasize the need for true spiritual life-giving water.

    The second passage is John 8:12. “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world, He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” Some commentators believe that Jesus’ statement regarding “the light of the world” was a purposeful comparison of himself to the large brilliant golden lamps that were placed in the Court of Women and were lit at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles.

    There are a number of reasons why the idea that these passages prove that Jesus accepted and approved of human traditions in worship must be rejected. First, neither of the passages in question say that our Lord approved of man-made traditions. The idea that Christ approved of human additions is simply assumed with no textual evidence. Is it not wise to follow what the Bible says instead of rejecting what it says in favor of what it does not say? Second, a theory, hypothesis or speculative interpretation should never be used to overturn the clear teaching of Scripture. The whole idea that Jesus was setting forth his approbation of human traditions is an argument from silence. It is not founded upon the text but on the uninspired Mishnah which was composed by unbelieving Jews in A.D. 189. (Commentators are not in agreement regarding these passages. In fact, most commentators do not believe that our Lord was comparing himself to certain rituals but rather was comparing himself to events in the book of Exodus (the water from the rock [Ex. 17:6; Nu. 20:7-11] and the pillar of fire [Ex. 13:21-22]).105 Perhaps we should heed Hengstenberg’s comment. He writes: “It is needless to spend time in forming hypotheses, externally accounting for the saying of our Lord, by the rising of the sun, the kindling of the lamps in the temple, etc. If anything significant of this kind had taken place, the Apostle would not have left us to guess about it.”106 Third, even if Jesus did make his statements to coincide with certain Jewish rituals, it does not mean that he approved of man-made additions. If a pastor (who happens to be anti-Christmas) passes out gospel tracts at the shopping mall in December, or preaches in the mall and refers to Christ’s work of redemption as a gift from God, it does not mean that he approves of Christmas. One should be careful not to read something into a passage that is not there. Fourth, a more logical and scriptural inference from these passages is not that he was approving of their additions but rather that he was teaching that the law and the prophets did not point to silly rituals but to himself.107 Contrary to modern popular opinion, Jesus was neither a Pharisee or a papist.

    But what about the argument that says, “If Jesus was a strict regulativist, would he not have physically attacked the priests and Levites of the temple who were adding to God’s word as he had earlier done with the money changers?” The argument that Christ would have attacked the priests and Levites if he believed in the regulative principle is based on an ignorance of Scripture. Jesus did not come to earth as a civil judge (cf. Luke 12:13-14; John 8:1-11). His opinion of Pharisaical additions to God’s law was well known through his teaching (e.g., Mt 5:17-6:8; 15:2-9; 23:1-36; etc.). If Jesus became angry and resorted to whips every time he encountered sin, he would have had little time to preach the gospel, which was his primary didactic mission. Further, the priests and Levites were not common merchants or money changers; they held positions of authority. If our Lord had attacked them, he would have: (1) been committing an act of revolution; (2) precipitated a riot at the temple; (3) prematurely endangered his own life and the lives of his disciples; and (4) possibly even been arrested by the Roman authorities. Jesus dealt with apostate priests and Levites in A.D. 70; however, while on earth he respected lawful governing authorities (cf. Mt. 23:2-3; Ac. 23:1-5). The opponents of the regulative principle are once again grasping after straw.

    6. The “Feast of Purim” Argument
    Perhaps the most popular argument in support of human traditions in worship is based on the Feast of Purim. It is argued that the Jews without any command or special revelation from God made up their own holy day; therefore, the church can make up its own holy days such as Christmas and Easter.

    There are a number of problems with this argument. First, this argument assumes without evidence that Purim was a special holy day like Christmas. The biblical text makes it abundantly clear that Purim was not a special religious holy day but rather was a time of thanksgiving. The events of Purim are: “Joy and gladness, a feast and good day…and of sending portions to one another, and gifts to the poor” (Est. 8:17; 9:22 kjv). “There is no mention of any religious observance connected with the day.”108 There were no special worship services, there were no ceremonies, there were no Levitical or priestly activities. Also, Purim—unlike Christmas and Easter—was not an admixture of pagan and popish monuments and paraphernalia with the religion of Jehovah. Purim should not be compared to popish holy days, such as Christmas, but to special days of rejoicing such as Thanksgiving day. The Westminster divines (who were champions of the regulative principle) used Purim as a proof text (Est. 9:22) authorizing occasional days of thanksgiving (cf. Confession of Faith 21.5, proof text a).

    Second, Purim did not come about because the people or church officials got together and decided to make up a holy day. It came about because of 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). Religious leaders had nothing to do with it. After the civil decree, it was agreed to unanimously by the people. Thomas M’Crie writes:

    Did Mordecai, in proposing it, act from the private notion of his own mind; and, in confirming it, did he proceed entirely upon the consent of the people? Or was he guided in both by divine and extraordinary counsel, imparted to him immediately, or by some prophetic person living at that time? That the vision and the prophecy were still enjoyed by the Jews dwelling in Persia, cannot be denied by those who believe the canonical authority of this book, and what is contained in that of Ezra. We have already seen reasons for thinking Mordecai acted under the influence of the faith of Moses’ parents, from the time that he proposed his cousin Esther as a candidate to succeed Vashti the queen. There can be no doubt that he was raised up in an extraordinary manner as a saviour to Israel; and in the course of this Lecture we have seen grounds for believing that, in addition to his other honours, he was employed as the penman of this portion of inspired scripture. From all these considerations, it is reasonable to conclude that the feast of Purim was not instituted without divine counsel and approbation. Add to this, that the decree of Esther confirming it, it is expressly said, in the close of this chapter, to have been engrossed in this book, by whomsoever it was written.109

    Note, the occasion and authorization of Purim are inscripturated in the word of God and approved by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Purim itself satisfied the requirement of the regulative principle as biblically defined.

    Third, the notion that Purim proves that men are permitted to make up holy days whenever they desire cannot be true, for if it were, Scripture would contain a blatant contradiction. Not only would it contradict the passages which teach that we are not permitted to add to what God has authorized (e.g. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5; etc.); it also would contradict the book of Kings where God condemned King Jeroboam for setting up a feast day “in the month which he had devised in his own heart” (1 Kgs. 12:33). Not even kings have authority to make up their own holy days. M’Crie writes:

    To seek a warrant for days of religious commemoration under the gospel from the Jewish festivals, is not only to overlook the distinction between the old and new dispensations, but to forget that the Jews were never allowed to institute such memorial for themselves, but simply to keep those which infinite Wisdom had expressly and by name set apart and sanctified. The prohibitory sanction is equally strict under both Testaments: ‘What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.’

    There are times when God calls, on the one hand, to religious fasting, or, on the other, to thanksgiving and religious joy; and it is our duty to comply with these calls, and to set apart time for the respective exercises. But this is quite a different thing from recurrent or anniversary holidays. In the former case the day is chosen for the duty, in the latter the duty is performed for the day; in the former case there is no holiness on the day but what arises from the service which is performed on it, and when the same day afterwards recurs, it is as common as any other day; in the latter case the day is set apart on all following times, and may not be employed for common or secular purposes. Stated and recurring festivals countenance the false principle, that some days have a peculiar sanctity, either inherent or impressed by the works which occurred on them; they proceed on an undue assumption of human authority; interfere with the free use of that time which the Creator hath granted to man; detract from the honour due to the day of sacred rest which he hath appointed; lead to impositions over conscience; have been the fruitful source of superstition and idolatry; and have been productive of the worst effects upon morals, in every age, and among every people, barbarous and civilized, pagan and Christian, popish and protestant, among whom they have been observed. On these grounds they were rejected from the beginning, among other corruptions of antichrist, by the Reformed Church of Scotland, which allowed no stated religious days but the Christian Sabbath. 110

    (from http://www.entrewave.com/view/reformedonline/sola_5.htm)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, first let me preface my remarks here by saying that I’ve grown over recent years to have significant appreciation for your scholarship. And I am fully aware that you did not write the article you’ve quoted here. But I am surprised that you would commend it.

      I will focus here on the Feast of Purim.

      1. There is no Biblical warrant for assuming that Mordecai was a prophet, or if he was, that he wrote prophetically in his letters to the people instructing them to keep the feast of Purim. This is pure and simple speculation. If God had wanted us to believe that this was prophetic instruction, He could have told us. The Scriptures are sufficient, and they do not tell us that this was a God-given command.

      2. If the words of Scripture mean anything, Esther 9:17, 19, & 23 tells us that the Jews had already begun the celebration of Purim before the letter from Mordecai arrived.

      3. Esther 9:27-28 states that “the Jews ordained” — thus, the authority for this was not in Mordecai, who had no authority to dictate a continuing observance, but in the people themselves who decided it. I know of no parallel in Scripture where God directly commanded something and it says that people “ordained” to do it.

      Therefore, I cannot accept that this observance was commanded by God. The Jews chose to do this. Mordecai sent them a letter, whether as a governor or simply as one of the elders of the people, instructing them to keep it, but the people are the ones who chose to make it an ordinance or requirement. That this was in keeping with the providential working of God is obvious, and it clearly has divine sanction by its inclusion in Scripture. But there is no basis at all to suggest this was anything other than a decision by the people in the first place, and a decision by the people to make it a continuing observance.

      We must not let our theology (in this case, a particular view of the regulative principle) drive our exegesis. We must exegete the passage and then form our theology based on what Scripture actually says.

      As to this: “Note, the occasion and authorization of Purim are inscripturated in the word of God and approved by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Purim itself satisfied the requirement of the regulative principle as biblically defined.”

      This is extremely disappointing. The occasion and authorisation were NOT inscripturated in the Word of God at the time it was first instituted. I do not see how that kind of statement can be taken seriously.

      Now, as to the question of whether Purim was a “special holy day like Christmas.” I don’t know how Christmas is celebrated where you are or have been. But I’ll say this — giving gifts, giving to the poor, feasting, a day of joy and gladness, and thanksgiving all sounds familiar to me. If that’s not religious, well, I’m not sure how you can give thanks without giving thanks to God, and I don’t see how you can have joy without the Lord. I don’t see how you can feast without doing so to the glory of God, and giving to the poor is a religious duty.

      And while there is no suggestion that the Feast of Purim as described in Esther involved any congregational worship meeting, I can’t imagine that the Lord would have said it would have been disobedient if people wanted to meet together on that day to read the Book of Esther and give thanks together. I can’t imagine that He would have said it was wrong to teach on the Book of Esther on the preceding Sabbath.

      I don’t see how this can be made “non-religious.” And I don’t see how doing the same things to commemorate the Incarnation is worse than doing it to commemorate the deliverance described in Esther.

      As to the objections in this article:
      1. We are not to add to God’s commandments. I agree entirely, and anyone who tries to command someone to keep this observance (or any others which He has not commanded) is adding to His commandments. I am not doing that, and as stated previously, any church that does this, by direct command or pressure, is in violation of those Scriptures.
      2. Jeroboam was setting up feasts in opposition to the feasts of Jehovah, commanding the people to keep them, and forbidding people to keep the true feasts. There is no comparison between that and what happened at Purim, where a feast was set up in addition to the true feasts (not in opposition to them), and the feast was begun and agreed to by the people.

      If we are going to accept the Scripture for what it says, this is what happened.

      1. At Purim, the people of the Jews had a feast.
      2. Mordecai and Esther endorsed it and said it should be an annual observance. In all probability, since it says they went on as they had begun to do, the first suggestion to make it an annual observance came from the people rather than Mordecai or Esther.
      3. The people chose (“ordained”) to accept the suggestion and make it an annual feast.
      4. It was then included in Scripture, demonstrating God’s blessing and approval, and thus showing that it came to pass by God’s providential working through His people.

      Any Biblical understanding of the regulative principle has to take this into consideration, rather than change what happened. I can think of no other reasonable way to do it than to see that the elements of worship (giving, rejoicing, thanksgiving) are “elements” and the date on which they chose to do it (Purim) is an “incidental” or circumstance. And I see nothing in Scripture that says dates are not circumstances (using the classic terminology of the regulative principle).

    • Jon Gleason says:

      As to Hanukkah, and whether Jesus celebrated it.

      First, the point is sound that the Scripture does not specifically say that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.

      Second, however, it is speculation, and actually quite doubtful that Jesus merely stayed in Jerusalem from Tabernacles to Hanukkah. The hostility of the Jews was pronounced by this time (John 8-9 makes this very clear). John 7:1 almost certainly refutes this idea. I see no basis for assuming, in light of that, that Jesus would have stayed in Jerusalem for 2 1/2 months. He returned to Jerusalem in the winter for some reason. We cannot say that He returned specifically for the purpose of Hanukkah, but those who speculate He stayed have no basis for saying this, and the Scriptural evidence all points to the contrary.

      Third, the feast is specifically mentioned, and as Edersheim notes from contemporary Jewish writings, it was observed in the Temple itself. We are told that Jesus walked and talked in the Temple at the time when this feast was taking place. There is not a hint of rebuke in either His words or in John’s words at this time. There was no need to mention it as a historical note, since winter is also mentioned. There is no clear reason for it to be mentioned, and Jesus’ presence in the Temple at that time to be mentioned, unless He had gone there for that purpose. That does not prove that He had gone their specifically for that purpose, but it fits better with the alternative.

      Fourth, His teaching at this time fits with the event commemorated by the feast and the way the feast was observed. John 10:27 is a rebuke for their failure to hear, but the following words testify to God’s special care for His people, which fits with the event they were remembering.

      And this is recorded in John, which has light as a major theme. Light was a major part of their observance of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication, and it is in John that Jesus presence in the Temple at these times is mentioned. If John’s mention of Jesus presence at this time is not an endorsement of the Feast, it is certainly NOT a condemnation. The normal, ordinary reading of the passage is that Jesus was there for the feast, and the perspicuity of Scripture teaches us to take the normal, ordinary reading without compelling evidence to the contrary. Since giving thanks to God and remembering His protection and special care for His people was the purpose of the feast, and since those are things He commanded, the only evidence against the feast is a view of the regulative principle that makes annual commemorations an element of worship rather than a circumstance.

      But as I’ve noted, the Scripture gives no real evidence for the view that annual commemorations are an element rather than a circumstance, and there are certainly reasons to doubt that God sees them that way.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      As to the final paragraph in the article above:
      “There are times when God calls, on the one hand, to religious fasting, or, on the other, to thanksgiving and religious joy; and it is our duty to comply with these calls, and to set apart time for the respective exercises. But this is quite a different thing from recurrent or anniversary holidays. In the former case the day is chosen for the duty, in the latter the duty is performed for the day; in the former case there is no holiness on the day but what arises from the service which is performed on it, and when the same day afterwards recurs, it is as common as any other day; in the latter case the day is set apart on all following times, and may not be employed for common or secular purposes. Stated and recurring festivals countenance the false principle, that some days have a peculiar sanctity, either inherent or impressed by the works which occurred on them; they proceed on an undue assumption of human authority; interfere with the free use of that time which the Creator hath granted to man; detract from the honour due to the day of sacred rest which he hath appointed; lead to impositions over conscience; have been the fruitful source of superstition and idolatry; and have been productive of the worst effects upon morals, in every age, and among every people, barbarous and civilized, pagan and Christian, popish and protestant, among whom they have been observed. On these grounds they were rejected from the beginning, among other corruptions of antichrist, by the Reformed Church of Scotland, which allowed no stated religious days but the Christian Sabbath. 110”

      I would certainly object to 25 December being viewed as more holy than other days, or the view that it may not be employed for common or secular purposes. I would not countenance the false principle that it has a peculiar sanctity. I would not agree with impositions over conscience, as I have stated in other responses, nor do I endorse superstition and idolatry.

      All of this simply describes what sinful people do with anything. They even corrupt marriage. They corrupted the Lord’s Supper, turning it into an idolatrous practice. The fact that sinful people turn an observance into a surfeit of sinfulness says nothing about the merits of the observance, and everything about the sinfulness of people.

  4. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thanks for the comments. I will await your further responses before saying much more here. Perhaps you can explain in more detail why Romans 14’s allowance for Jews to celebrate–in their homes, not in the church–festivals that God specifically commanded and ordained in the OT can in any way justify celebration by Gentiles and Jews, in the church, not in the home, of festivals that God never commanded or ordained. I confess I don’t see how the latter follows in any way from the former.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Dear Brother Ross, I do not understand home worship to be completely unregulated. Therefore, I believe a Biblical understanding of the regulative principle must encompass home worship as well as church worship, though specific applications may of course be different.

      Do I take it that you are not opposed to home observance of Christmas?

  5. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thanks for the comments. I will await your comments on the Purim and Hanukkah explanation above.

    I am sorry that you believe that Romans 14 refutes the idea that whatever is not commanded in worship is forbidden, for that is the definition of the Regulative Principle of worship, as well as the plain definition of “strange fire” as “which He commanded them not.” Thus, to defend Xmas, one must discard the historical foundation of Baptist worship, advocated in both non-TULIP Baptist confessions such as the Orthodox Creed and TULIP Baptist confessions such as the London Baptist Confession.

    I also wish to point out, before I hear the rest of what you have to say, that your argument that the Regulative Principle applies only to tabernacle/temple worship is also specifically dealt with at http://www.entrewave.com/view/reformedonline/sola_5.htm, the same article I cited earlier.

    Also, I don’t know what material by Frame you are referring to, but I trust that you are aware that John Frame, as a member of the PCA, has a strong vested interest in weakening the Regulative Principle of worship, as his denomination practices everything from rock n’ roll to “interpretive dance” in its “worship.” Frame’s article in the Westminster Theological Journal was given a great response in “Some Answers about the Regulative Principle,” T. David Gordon, 55:2 (Fall 1993) p. 322-331. I commend the response to you if you have only read Frame’s attack on the RP.

    What one does in the home is certainly not completely unregulated, but it is not as strict as in the church, I believe. I would still not celebrate Xmas in my household because I believe the case it is a pagan holy day is much stronger than what is made out in post #2 here, but I have not yet commented on that, because this matter of #3 here is the central issue.

    It appears that your position on Romans 14 would allow the church to celebrate the Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Booths, Day of Atonement, and all the other Jewish festivals, and your statements above would also allow the Catholic festivals of the Ascension, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, Lent, etc. into the church–as long as they are only “expedient” and not explicitly forbidden (the Anglican/Lutheran position). Am I correct?

    While the words “element” and “circumstance” are not in Scripture, the concepts are inevitable. It is obvious that in, say, the Lord’s Supper the element of worship is partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine while whether one uses plastic cups or some other sort of container for the juice is not worship but a necessary circumstance of worship. That is the element/circumstance distinction.

  6. Thomas Ross says:

    Pages 1-24 of The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas, Brian Schwertley (at http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/) deal just about not at all with Xmas in particular but with the issue of the Regulative Principle–the argument that it is the teaching of Scripture, and nothing but Sola Scriptura applied to worship, is, IMO, compelling. Of course, 24 pages is too long for a blog comment, but I would highly commend it to you, and would be happy to see what you have to say about it if you review it on your blog. Here is a much briefer presentation of the Biblical doctine that whatever is not commanded in worship is forbidden:

    Nine Lines of Argument in Favor of the Regulative Principle of Worship

    by Dr. T. David Gordon

    A. Argument from the Limits of Church-Power (Bannerman makes this argument well)

    Brief description of the argument. The Church is an institution; instituted by the positive command of the risen Christ, and authorized by Him to require obedience to His commands and participation in His ordinances. The Church is given no authority to require obedience to its own commands, and is given no authority to require participation in ordinances of its own making. The Regulative Principle of Church-Government lies behind the Regulative Principle of Worship.
    Sample of relevant texts–Mat. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 1:24; Rom. 14:7-9
    B. Argument from Liberty of Conscience (Ed Clowney makes this case well)

    Brief description of the argument. To induce people to act contrary to what they believe is right is sinful. Further, God requires us to worship Him only as He has revealed. Therefore, to require a person, in corporate worship, to do something that God has not required, forces the person to sin against his/her conscience, by making them do what they do not believe God has called them to do.
    Sample of relevant texts–Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13
    C. Argument from Faith (John Owen makes this argument compellingly)

    Brief description of the argument. Where God has not revealed himself, no faithful response is possible, by definition. And, without faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, God cannot be pleased by worship which is unfaithful, that is, worship which is not an obedient response to his revelation.
    Sample of relevant texts–Rom.14:23; Heb. 11:6, and entire chapter.
    D. Argument from the distance between the Creator and the creature (Calvin and Van Til drive in this direction in all of their writings; and, interestingly, so does Barth)

    Brief description of the argument. God’s ways and thoughts are above ours as the heavens are above the earth. What makes us think we can possibly fathom what would please God?
    Sample of relevant texts–Isa. 40:12-14 Deut. 29:29; Isa. 55:9; Prov.25:2
    E. Argument from the character of God as jealous

    Brief description of the argument. God’s character as a jealous God is introduced into texts which prohibit certain things (creating images) in the worship of God. Thus, the prohibition of creating graven images or any other likeness of anything in heaven or earth is grounded in God’s character as a jealous God, and thus is not grounded in some peculiarity of the Sinai covenant.
    Sample of relevant texts–Ex.20:4-5; 34:14
    F. Argument from those passages where piety is described as doing exclusively what God wishes.

    Brief description of the argument. In many passages, the wicked are described not as doing what is contradictory to God’s will, but what is beside His will. Similarly, the pious are described by their trembling in God’s presence, by their doing exclusively what God wishes.
    Sample of relevant texts–Isa.66:1-4; Dt.12:29-32; Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15; 15:3-22
    G. Argument from the severity of the temporal punishments inflicted upon those who offer to God worship other than what He has prescribed.

    Brief description of the argument. There are places where people offer worship to God, in an apparently good-faith desire to please Him, yet they do so in some manner not prescribed by God, and His punishment of them is severe.
    Sample of relevant texts–Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam.13:8-15
    H. Argument from the sinful tendency towards idolatry (Rom. 1).

    Paul’s point in Romans 1:19ff is that the human race, in its revolt against God, has “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Further, this is not due to ignorance, but to moral defilement: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks?” cf. Thomas E. Peck, Miscellanies, vol. I, pp. 96-97: “Man, then, is incompetent to devise modes of worship, because he knows not what modes are best adapted to express the truth or the emotions which the truth is suited to produce.”

    I. Argument from Church History

    Brief description of the argument. Church history amply demonstrates that fallen creatures, left to their own devices, inevitably produce worship which is impious. Especially the Reformation, as an historical movement, bore testimony to the corruption which creeps slowly into worship when worship is not regulated by the revealed will of God.

  7. Thomas Ross says:

    Thanks in advance for your response(s). I will probably give you a chance to give your comments, which may be multiple responses, I suspect, before saying more here.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thank you, Brother Ross. It may take some time, between work and other responsibilities, this blog is not my highest priority, and due to the fact that I have readers who live in places where they have no church, comment discussions are not even my highest blog priority.

      I do wish to give some responses, but they may not be quick in forthcoming.

  8. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thanks for your recent response about Purim, and your kind words about my scholarship. The main point of my response is:

    1.) The simple fact is that there is no evidence that the Jews even went to the synagogue on Purim. A festival ordained by a civil magistrate that didn’t even involve going to the synagogue can justify something like (here in the US) feasting, sending portions to others, etc. on July 4, or Labor Day, etc. but it provides no evidence whatever that the church can celebrate man-made holy days. The very same lovers of the Regulative Principle, those Baptists, Puritans, Congregationalists, etc. that rejected Xmas into the 20th century never had any problem with Thanksgiving Day here in the USA. The Westminster Confession even cites Purim as an example of what the civil magistrate can do, but those who wrote the confession would never, ever have allowed Xmas into their congregations.

    2.) The above is conclusive, in my view, against the Purim argument against the standard explanation of the RP, that “strange fire” is “what he commanded them not.” However, I also would not dismiss the possibility that Mordecai wrote Esther (and thus was a prophet). We know that the book of Esther stresses God’s providence–the words “God,” “Jehovah,” etc. are totally absent from the book, but His hidden hand is everywhere in it. It would not be fair to expect Esther to have a statement like “God directed Mordecai under inspiration to do X” when the word “God,” and everything directly miraculous, is deliberately excluded from the book to emphasize God’s amazing providence.

    Purim simply doesn’t mean that the NT church can restore the feast of Tabernacles, Day of Atonement, etc.–much less that she can take heathen festivals or at least supposedly innocent ones like Xmas, and institute them.

    One other response–the point in 1 Kings 12 is not merely that Jeroboam’s feasts were opposed to the feasts of Jehovah. Nor did he command them not to celebrate the true feasts in 1 Kings 12 (although he did suggest it was inconvenient). The point is that whatever is ordained by man in the worship of God is “strange fire,” and the root of all idolatry is the violation of the Regulative Principle, the addition of any human innovations whatsoever to God’s worship. Note:

    26 And Jeroboam SAID IN HIS HEART, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:

    27 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.

    28 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.

    29 And HE SET the one in Bethel, and the other PUT HE in Dan.

    30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.

    31 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.

    32 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 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.

    33 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.

    Thanks again.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross,

      I know I still have many other things to which I need to respond to you. I think you’ve already explained your positions. This is my attempt to A) restate them and B) apply them to situations we’ve not discussed directly, so as to be sure I understand them. Please let me know if I have misunderstood.

      1. If I understand your argument, the Regulative Principle does not preclude private celebration of a day commemorating and giving thanks for some work of God, one-off or annually. Thus, the “God didn’t command it” argument only applies to church observance. (Private observances could possibly be sinful in other ways, obviously, but do not fall foul of the RP.) Is that a fair description of your position?

      2. A. It would have been good for Jews, on the first Purim (though not yet inscripturated / commanded), to meet in a synagogue to thank God together. I think you would say a one-time day of thanksgiving would have been acceptable.
      2. B. Suppose they said, as leaving the synagogue, “This was a wonderful day. Let’s meet on this day every year, to give thanks to God for this deliverance.” I believe you would say that would have been wrongly establishing a religious observance.

      3. Re: the Feast of Dedication. There was nothing wrong with the Jews instituting a civil feast. But it should not have been observed in the temple or synagogue, nor should there have been any annual special meetings of thanksgiving (in temple / synagogue) to commemorate God’s deliverance on that day. I believe this is your position.

      4. Again re: the Feast of Dedication (civil feast). Would it have been wrong in the synagogue, on the sabbaths preceding and during it, to teach on God’s promises to protect His people, His purpose for protecting them (to bring the Messiah-Saviour), His complete faithfulness, His power over the nations, etc? In other words, to use synagogue gathering/worship to teach on Biblical themes related to a civil feast? I think you would say this would have been wrong, because it would be making the civil feast part of corporate worship?

      5. A. You believe it is wrong for American churches to hold a service of thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day every year. One-time thanksgiving services are permitted, annual ones are not.
      5. B. Is it wrong in America, on Sunday (and/or a regular midweek service) before Thanksgiving Day, to teach on thankfulness and to sing hymns of thankfulness, such as “Come Ye Thankful People Come”? I think you would say this is wrong?

      6. I believe you would say:
      A. the civil observance of Remembrance Sunday here in Britain is acceptable for Christians who wish to observe it.
      B. it is wrong for me, on Remembrance Sunday, to wear a poppy on my lapel while preaching, because it is bringing a civil observance into church worship?
      C. it is wrong in our church on that day to give thanks for our freedom and for examples of self-sacrifice which illustrate and helped us understand the greatest Example of sacrificial love?
      D. it is wrong for me, on that day, to preach on the following text and its true meaning in Christ? John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
      E. it is wrong for our church, which usually observes the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of the month, to observe it on the second Sunday of November to emphasise that we especially remember our Lord?

      Please clarify.

      • Thomas Ross says:

        Dear Bro Gleason,

        I want to think about what I say before replying, but I wanted to briefly clarify first–and I don’t have time right this moment for more than a brief comment, namely, that it is not wrong to preach on the incarnation at the end of December or any other time of the year, to give thanks at any time of the year, etc. I don’t know what Remembrance Sunday is in Britain.

        Thanks.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Brother Ross, you can read about Remembrance Sunday here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_Sunday

        To follow up on your preliminary answer, is it permitted to preach on the incarnation at the end of December every year, knowing that people are observing a private remembrance in their homes at that time of the year? Or is that bringing a private / civil remembrance into church worship?

  9. Jon Gleason says:

    Brother Ross, I think I’ve answered fairly substantively most of your objections / comments above. I do not necessarily expect you to agree with my comments, but I’ve laid out why I do not find your objections compelling. I do not see why it is acceptable for humans to choose a weekly time to meet together in mid-week for purposes which God has ordained, but it is not acceptable for them to choose an annual time to meet together for purposes which God has ordained. Since God has commanded us to teach and remember the incarnation / birth of Christ, and since we are to teach each other in our singing, I do not see any reason that we cannot decide to meet together, as individuals, families, or even as a church, for those who wish to, to sing and teach of these events. I do not see any reason we cannot choose our time of doing so, whether it be spring or winter.

    As you have noted elsewhere, if this could be shown to be an idolatrous observance, that would shed different light on the matter. But as we’ve both mentioned, that is another argument and another article.

  10. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    I am sorry that I have not had time (at least so far) to make any comments on the other portions of your study on Christmas. I have recently posted the article here:

    http://faithsaves.net/christmas-tree/

    on the question of whether a church meeting house should have a Christmas tree. I wouldn’t mind hearing your comments on it if you have a chance. If you do not, I definitely understand. Thank you.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, I agree entirely with your conclusions, though not with some of your lines of reasoning. You have cited Encyclopedia Britannica as evidence of the pagan origins of Christianity. Even they have backed away from definitive assertions on this topic. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/115686/Christmas. They also say the Biblical account of Noah’s flood comes from the Gilgamesh Epic. “The primitive polytheism of the Mesopotamian versions is transformed in the biblical story into an affirmation of the omnipotence and benevolence of the one righteous God.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/416799/Noah

      We don’t accept their story on the Flood, I don’t see any reason to accept their story on Christmas.

      As to the Jeremiah passage, it is obviously referring to a tree which is being made into an idol. As far as I know, no one worships a Christmas tree. Even if someone did worship trees in the past, they are dead idols and a tree is a good gift of God. There is nothing wrong with having a live tree in a sun-room in your house, for instance, or a dead one brought in as a decoration for a time, either.

      Your third point, that the tree must never be a stumbling-block, is interesting. I doubt many Christians would be tempted to worship a tree if it were present. It is hard to see how believers would be tempted to sin by its presence. However, Romans 14:15 is compelling, I believe. There are certainly many Christians who believe that observing Christmas, and the use of trees, is sinful, and they would certainly be grieved by the presence of a tree, even if they weren’t personally tempted to sin. I cannot see any way to overcome this problem. To me, the use of a Christmas tree in a meeting place of the church necessarily fails the test of Romans 14:15, and I could not endorse it on that basis alone.

      I also agree that there are many lost people who believe the use of trees to be pagan, and so its presence might be a hindrance to some in hearing / receiving the Gospel message. This also would preclude it, in my view. So on two grounds, at least, I agree with you that this is not appropriate, in that it could hinder the Gospel and it could grieve believers.

      I don’t agree with you that “the Christmas tree is a religious symbol.” If I did, I would agree with you as to its inappropriateness as a religious symbol, and thus would not accept it in the meeting place of the church. However, since it is not a religious symbol, I also believe it serves no profitable purpose in the meeting place of the church, and as I’ve noted above, I believe it has potentially serious drawbacks. I see no reason to bring something like this into our church hall.

      I am sure there is much more that could be said, but I am very busy with work as well as ministry these days. We do not share the same view of the observance, and so of course we do not entirely share the same reasoning on this narrow aspect of it, but we certainly draw the same conclusions.

      • Thomas Ross says:

        Dear Bro Gleason,

        Thank you for your reply. I’m not expecting to have a lot of time to comment here, but I just wanted to point out a few things.

        1.) I certainly do not believe Christianity has a pagan origin. It has an indubitable Divine origin. I think that was probably just a slip of the pen in the reply and you meant to say “Christmas.”

        2.) I tried to look at the article you cited from the Encyclopedia Britannica, but I could only see a small portion of the article at the link. I would also point out that there is a big difference between the slim to non extant evidence for what the Encyclopedia says about Noah and Gilgamesh and the affirmation that far, far later historical events, ones for which there is a great deal more historical fact and less presupposition, such as the rise of the Christmas holy day, are inaccurate in the Encyclopedia because of its non-Christian presuppositions that determine its view of Noah’s Flood. Furthermore, in both its affirmations on the Flood and on Christmas it is following the dominant scholarly position; the evidence for rejecting the majority, though, in terms of historical-critical criticism of Scripture, JEDP, etc. is much stronger than it is for rejecting the dominant scholarly position on the rise of Christmas.

        3.) If you have a chance, I would be interested in seeing your argument for why a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. I cannot see how that position can be defended without denying that Christmas is religious and the tree is a symbol of Christmas. If you don’t have time to elaborate, though, I understand.

        Thanks again.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        Brother Ross,

        1) Ha! You are right, slip of the pen. The best kind of errors are the ones that are so stupid everyone knows they were just dumb mistakes.
        2) The Noah article illustrates my point — I don’t trust Enc Brit’s historical interpretations and conclusions, and I certainly will not let things they say influence my belief and practice, nor cite them as an authority that should influence the belief and practice of others. I believe this is unwise on your part. Leaving them out of it entirely, however, you are allowing ancient extra-Biblical history a role in decision-making that I do not grant, and I believe in practice it violates the sufficiency of Scripture to which we both hold.
        3) Trees are not a religious symbol, because no one thinks they have any religious significance nor are they intended to remind anyone of any particular religious beliefs. They are a tradition that has arisen as part of a civil holiday which is observed at the same time that some Christians remember the Incarnation of Christ. The danger with trees and other such traditions is confusion, not idolatry. See my closing point in this article: https://mindrenewers.com/2012/12/18/solid-reasons-to-scrutinise-christmas/

        If you can tell me the religious significance of a Christmas tree, I’ll reconsider that statement. I would say the only real religious significance it has is that it is part of a set of traditions which can encourage generosity and thinking of others (good), but can also encourage materialism, greed, and covetousness (bad).

  11. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    I have responded briefly to your comment about paganism in part 2 of what you wrote here:

    https://mindrenewers.com/2012/12/11/flawed-reasons-to-abandon-christmas-2-it-is-pagancatholic/

    Here is the pope explaining the religious significance of the Christmas tree:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/news/features/index.cfm?recnum=34135

    Here are what godly men in the past thought of them–pagan

    I have real difficulty seeing how Christmas can be a merely civil celebration. If Christmas is not “Christian,” but merely civil, then I suppose the entire Catholic calendar can be not Catholic, but merely civil also.

    Thanks.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Well, Brother Ross, I’m not surprised when the Pope tries to adopt something popular and give it Roman Catholic significance. That’s not very compelling to me. I can completely understand someone saying, “Well, if the Pope claimed it I want nothing to do with it.” I would entirely respect that position and encourage the person who believes that way to remain true to it. But I would have a very hard time finding a Biblical principle or command that tells us to avoid something simply because a false teacher claims it has significance in his heresy.

      There is clearly a civil celebration that has nothing to do with religion. I don’t think Frosty the Snowman has any religious significance, even if some Pope or some Baptist preacher tries to use that silly tradition as a jumping-off story for a sermon (which I’m sure has been done some time, Baptist preachers have committed many abominations in the pulpit).

      It is undoubtedly true that at times in the past people have used trees for pagan purposes. They have also used food for pagan purposes, and worshipped cats, but we don’t say someone who owns a cat has a religious symbol in their house. If a believer lived in a culture where cats were considered deities, they would probably feel it was wrong to own a cat, and might speak strongly that no Christian should do so. That would hardly be normative for Christians living in a time and place where cats are simple household pets.

      The Lord told Israel to beware of the gods of the people round about them. He didn’t warn them about ancient gods which nobody worships anymore. The greatest dangers around this date are the gods of the people around us. They are not worshiping trees, but money, materialism, hedonistic pleasure and excess, etc. I firmly believe that is where the force of our warnings should be directed, for those idols can find places in the hearts of believers, too, if we are not vigilant.

  12. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thanks for the reply. I just realized that the “godly men” part of the comment above seems to have disappeared somehow, and I don’t know remember where I got it. I think I will leave it at as it is. Thanks.

  13. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Good day. I trust that the Lord is blessing your church and your family. If you have the time, I would be interested in hearing your comments on the articles below on Xmas trees in church and on Xmas carols that teach false doctrine. I am not sure if you would agree or disagree with their conclusions, although in the tree article I highly suspect you would not agree with all the reasons supporting the conclusion. Anyway, if you have time to share your thoughts, I’m interested; if not, I understand (and I may not have time to respond to much also).

    Here are the articles:

    http://faithsaves.net/christmas-tree/

    http://faithsaves.net/christmas-carols-lie/

    Thank you very much.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, thank you for the comment. I’ll respond to the Christmas tree article first, and begin by noting that I agree with the conclusion, but not necessarily with some of the logic.

      First point, “the church would need to prove that Christmas is not a pagan holiday,” followed by your assertion that it is a pagan holiday. As I’m sure you’ll know from our discussions on this, I’m not ready to grant Encyclopedia Brittanica any authority on the matter. But I’m not sure the burden of proof should be so stated, in any event. I do not believe God calls us to become expert on what may or may not have been pagan in the past. This response also applies to your second point.

      Your third point, on its own, concludes the matter for me. “The Christmas tree must be shown to never be a stumblingblock.” I might differ somewhat on the “never.” I believe the warnings about stumblingblocks that we see in Scripture are fairly local. That which you might be free to do in one circumstance, you cannot do if you know it will be a stumblingblock to a brother. I would go further, it would be wrong to do it if it is likely to be a stumblingblock to a brother. I do not think our Lord wants us to be so bound up that we can never do anything that could ever be a stumblingblock to someone somewhere. So perhaps you have overdrawn the principle somewhat.

      But the application of the principle to the tree is quite clear and appropriate to me. There is little doubt that there are many for whom this could be a stumblingblock. And why would we want to risk that in a church, even if we know certainly there are no church members for whom it would be a problem? Do we want to hinder a person who might come in to visit? All that just so we can have a decoration?

      As to your fourth point, as we’ve already covered in these discussions, we do not have the same view as to the need for specific authorisation of commemorations. I believe God specifically authorised the principle of commemorations and that there is reason to believe He granted freedom (as in Purim and the Feast of Dedication) to institute commemorations by agreement. I recognise that you do not agree on that point, but as a result we differ on your fourth point. Nevertheless, your fourth point would be valid, I believe, if there was not unanimity within the church on observing Christmas. If the church is not agreed, there is certainly no Biblical sanction that would require those who disagree to partake in such a commemoration, and it would be a violation of Christian love to observe it in a way that compels or pressures church members to do so. The presence of a tree would in such a case obviously be a serious violation.

      I disagree rather strongly with this: “One might object that the Christmas tree is not a religious symbol designed to strengthen the believer’s spiritual life,[4] but only a decoration without religious significance, comparable to whether a church building has a blue or red carpet, metal or wood doors, or some flowers in a bouquet somewhere in the building. Such a notion, however, cannot be sustained by an honest person. It is essentially to deny that a Christmas tree has anything to do with Christmas, anything to do with Christianity (or, more properly, with corruptions of Christianity), or anything to do with religion.”

      I believe exactly that. A Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, and has nothing really to do with Christianity at all. It is merely a decoration. It is a tradition of unknown origin which grew up around the essentially secular observance which has grown up in our society and is celebrated on 25 December. If I believed it were a religious symbol, I would agree that it has no Biblical warrant and thus has no place in the church.

      But I also do not believe it has a place in the church as a mere decoration, for another reason, and that is confusion. I refer you to the last couple of paragraphs of this article: https://mindrenewers.com/2012/12/18/solid-reasons-to-scrutinise-christmas/. There, I say that there are effectively two observances which occur on the same date, a remembrance of the birth / incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a secular holiday which is about family gift-giving, decorations, holly and ivy, etc, etc. To confuse the two can lead to many errors.

      If someone wants to put a Christmas tree in their church’s meeting place, they have fallen prey to that confusion, and they risk leading others into confusion as well — and out of confused thinking springs error.

      So whether one holds (as you do) that a Christmas tree is a religious symbol, or as I do that it is a mere decoration, it has no place in the meeting place of the church. It is either adopting a religious symbol without Biblical warrant or spreading confusion.

      Much of this is ground we have already covered in this discussion, of course. Certainly, your article is well-written and consistent with the theology and practice you’ve expressed on this topic previously, even where we don’t entirely see eye to eye on it.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      On to the Christmas carols topic. First, I would note that Christmas carols are not unique in this, multiple well-loved hymns have even more egregious statements than many you’ve cited.

      But since you’ve asked my opinion, I’ll add that we compiled our own hymn book. In most of the cases you cited, the hymns in question did not make our hymnbook, often for the reasons you’ve cited. Hymn by hymn, then.

      “As with Gladness Men of Old” — not in our hymnbook, and for the reason you’ve cited. I will note that the error does not impact the doctrine of the hymn, which is generally quite good, but it appears in more than one verse, and we chose to discard this.

      “Away in a Manger” — we left out the verse to which you object, and for the reason you gave. I did not, however, object to “stay by my cradle,” because all singers will understand that this is intended to be inclusive of children rather than exclusive of adults in those whom the Lord stays with. But the rest of the verse is cheap emotionalism and the line about “no crying He makes” runs the risk of subtly undermining the complete humanity of our Lord.

      “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” we left out for the reasons you cited.

      “I Wonder as I Wander” was never considered for our hymnbook. If it had been, it would have been rejected for the reasons you gave and others. “If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,” etc is simply emotionalism and violates the Biblical instruction that our singing should be teaching one another.

      “In the Bleak Midwinter” — now, this is an interesting case. It isn’t in our hymnbook, though it was considered, and for the reason you’ve given. But I believe the hymnwriter was not talking about the weather or the calendar. I believe she was talking about the cold, hard, dead condition of the earth without the Saviour. For that reason, I would consider using the hymn on occasion. But I did not want it in our hymnbook, because many would not understand the symbolism the poet was using, and thus I believe it can only be used properly if that symbolism is explained. There is no way to ensure that will happen if you just put it in your book. So we left it out. But I think Christina Rossetti would be disappointed by your description and say you’ve missed her point.

      “Oh Christmas Tree” — I’ve never heard this one in any church, and hope never to.

      “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” — I don’t really know this hymn. One would have to examine the rest of the hymn to see whether your criticism of the one line is as problematic as you say. I’ll also note that there is a difference between a hymn actually teaching error and a hymn having lines which leave room for false teachers to exploit. This sounds to me like the latter. But as I said, I don’t know the hymn.

      “Silent Night” — we chose a less-common translation which does not have the problem you mention, for the reason you gave and one or two other reasons.

      “The First Noel” — this is not in our book. It was my understanding that “Noel” is from the Latin for “birth” (as is the Spanish Natividad) and that the “first noel” was the first announcement of the Saviour’s birth. Thus, I think your first criticism is misplaced, but we left the song out because of the extensive historical inaccuracies you mentioned.

      “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” — this one is in our book. I think your criticism of the “seated on the ground” is misplaced. It is not relevant to the message of the song, which is sound, the Scripture does not tell us they were not seated, and it is far more probable that they were sitting than that they were, for instance, doing calisthenics. Some of the things you’ve cited in other songs are directly contrary to Scripture — this is one that speaks on something where Scripture is silent, but it does not do so in a way that will lead anyone into any error. However, your point on “seraph” is a good one. Next time we reprint, which happens from time to time as the books wear out, I’ll plan to change that to “angel”.

      There are several versions of the second verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The one we use is, I believe, more commonly used here in Britain than the one you cited in your article. It is absolutely one of my favourite hymn verses:

      True God the Son, Light from Light Eternal,
      True Son of man born of the Virgin’s womb;
      Eternal One, begotten, not created.

      There are many other popular hymns that could use some scrutiny. Love Divine, When the Roll is Called up Yonder, and Arise, My Soul Arise are just a few that made it into our hymnbook only after I made some changes. Others just didn’t make the cut at all.

  14. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thanks for the reply and the comments. I agree with what you say about the carols almost 100%,; the one thing that surprised me was the affirmation that the shepherds sitting on the ground is OK because, although it is not in Scripture, it is not a false doctrine. I would be interested in the justification of our being able to sing, as “the word of Christ,” things not in the Word such as shepherds “all” sitting down when the angels came, types of animals in the manger not stated in Scripture, etc.

    Is your hymnal available for churches other than yours, and is it available as a Word and/or PDF file? I have a number of hymnals on my website at http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/, and would be interested in looking yours over to possibly add to the collection if it seemed appropriate.

    You are certainly right that Xmas carols are not the only songs that have unscriptural elements; “normal” hymns can do so also, although I think the Xmas carols have a higher percentage of non and unbiblical elemenst, and, as I’m sure we would both agree, we shouldn’t sing either set of unscriptural lyrics to the holy, holy, holy Lord.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, one of the reasons we composed our own hymnal was because we wanted a book with hymns, with Psalms, but also with some good quality Scripture songs where we sing the very words of Scripture (not the paraphrases that we see in the Psalters). So I want to say that I think it is important and valuable to sing the very words of the Lord.

      But I also believe the inclusion of “hymns” in the things we are instructed to sing is a specific endorsement of human compositions. And every human composition is going to fall short in some way or other. In other words, I believe the Scriptures endorse the singing of imperfect songs, without specifying the precise limits of imperfection in human compositions. So where do we draw the line?

      I exclude false doctrine. I exclude things like silly sentimentality (as in “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,” etc), because it gives a false picture of our God and our faith, and thus at its essence is false doctrine. I also exclude things that contradict Scripture (“On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,” is contra I Thess. 4:17, for example).

      But when something is not doctrinal error, and is an incidental detail that could well be true, that does not break my threshold of what is acceptable. I would prefer that it not be there, and would understand and respect a tighter threshold, but I do not believe it is grounds to reject a song which we value.

      As to our hymnal, perhaps I should just send you an email about that, since the answer to your question isn’t straightforward and is unlikely to be of interest to other readers.

      As to whether the carols are, percentage-wise, worse than other hymns, I doubt they are, really. There are some pretty horrible hymns out there. I just think people filter hymns more carefully than they do carols, which seem to get a pass due to sentimental reasons. But too many people filter neither….

      I’ll write you about the hymnbook, Lord willing.

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