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”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!