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New Horizons

December, 1998: Celebrating Christmas?

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The Observance of Christmas

There is no argument against having a church calendar or observing "sacred days" in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or general Protestantism. It is only in the Reformed branch of Protestantism that the question has arisen. Simply stated, the question is this: should (or may) our churches do anything special to mark the notable events in Jesus' life when the Christian church in general, along with secular society, commemorates those events?

For example, should the pastor preach on the birth of Jesus in December, as the rest of Christendom and our society move toward Christmas? Should the session schedule a Christmas Eve service or a Good Friday service? Is a sermon on the resurrection of Christ appropriate on Easter Sunday? Or are such things at least permitted? Read more

Is Christmas Scriptural?

I want to thank the Committee on Christian Education for remaining faithful to the Orthodox Presbyterian tradition of respecting minority views that are firmly rooted in Presbyterian and Reformed history. I therefore gladly avail myself of the privilege to express myself on the subject of Christmas.

It is seldom understood today that there was a time when such days as Christmas were generally regarded as lacking any warrant from Scripture. But listen to the careful statement of Idzerd Van Dellen and Martin Monsma in The Church Order Commentary (Zondervan, 1941). Under the heading of "The Original Position of the Reformed Churches regarding Special Days," they say this on page 273: Read more

Redeeming the Holiday

Have you ever thought about how much of the year is directly or indirectly affected by the year-end celebrations we call Christmas and New Year's (grouped together in "season's greetings")? Now that the reds and greens of the holiday season no longer wait for Thanksgiving to pass, but quickly move in and push away the oranges and blacks of Halloween, and can easily extend into mid-January, it turns out that as much as 20 percent of our year is taken up by this season. If you are like me, you quickly get tired of all the garishness and commercialism of the holidays, yet put up with it, longing for simpler times when family and friends would gather around Christmas trees and sing carols by the crackling fire.

It shouldn't come as a big surprise that much of this season is anything but Christian, even though Christmas is celebrated by most Christians. Christmas was imposed on the Christian world by an act of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. After Constantine's conversion, he wanted nothing to do with the celebration of Saturnalia and the winter solstice of late December, where for many days the pagans would celebrate until the days started becoming longer again. For a superstitious bunch of people, this was very important, and the revelry and debauchery of that celebration would not readily be given up by the officially "converted" pagans of ancient Rome. A quick compromise was in order, and the celebration of Christ's birth was superimposed on the pagan holiday. Read more

A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy

During my studies at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, I was often asked by students, "Are you Orthodox?" It always felt awkward to be asked such a question. I thought of myself as doctrinally orthodox. I was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. So I thought I could claim the word orthodox.

But I did not belong to the communion of churches often called Eastern Orthodox, but more properly called simply Orthodox. I was not Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Antiochian Orthodox. As far as the Orthodox at St. Vladimir's were concerned, I was not Orthodox, regardless of my agreement with them on various doctrines. Read more

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