Ten Reasons Why Christians Should Not
Observe Religious Holidays
As Christians we believe that
I. The Bible is God-breathed, without error, and unfailing; it is all that we need for life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35; Isa. 55:11; 2 Pet. 1:3).
II. God’s Word, as delivered to His holy prophets and apostles in the Old and New Testaments, is the only foundation for the beliefs and practices of Christ’s Church (Eph. 2:20; cf. Luke 1:70; 24:44-47; John 1:14; 5:46).
III. Any religious teaching that is not found in the Bible (explicitly or implicitly) does not come from God; it is not Christian; it is not Biblical; it is not binding on Christians. (Deut. 4:2; 12:29-32; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; Jas. 3:1; Rev. 22:18-19)
In addition to these foundational principles, let us consider ten reasons that Reformed Christians from generations past did not observe religious holidays:
#1. Religious holidays bind the consciences of men where God has not bound them. They are based on tradition and superstition, not God’s Word (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:8, 9, 13; Col. 2:16-17). Today most professing Christians observe holy days and seasons that God never commanded us to observe, and they judge other Christians as being less faithful or holy if they do not keep their manmade religious holidays. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that the Christian’s conscience is bound to the Word of God alone.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist preacher, delivered a sermon on December 24, 1871, in which he declared that the observance of religious holidays and seasons is based on superstition and not on God’s Word:
We have no
superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the
present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not
believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or
in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for
observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its
observance is a superstition, because [it’s] not of divine authority.
Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although
there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. . . .
See also: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 6 (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Thess. 2:2).
#2. Religious holidays distort the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Churches that center their worship and preaching around religious holidays found on liturgical calendars fail to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” as God intended (Acts 20:26-27). Instead of proclaiming God’s Word straightforwardly and giving due proportion to all its teachings, they distort the Gospel by giving undue emphasis each year to the particular events emphasized by their humanly-devised liturgical calendar.
#3. Galatians 4:9-11 prohibits Christians from observing religious holy days and seasons. John Calvin comments that the false apostles Paul confronts in Galatians sought to fill the minds of God’s people with “wicked superstitions.” Their observance of religious holy days and seasons corrupted the worship of God, made void the grace of Christ, and suppressed believers’ freedom of conscience. Calvin argued that the Gospel was of no value any more to those who consider “holy days to be part of the worship of God just as the false apostles did.”
Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, Calvin asked, “. . . what sort of Christ or what sort of gospel does it retain? So far as respects the binding of consciences, they enforce the observance of days with not less severity than was done by Moses. They consider holidays, not less than the false apostles did, to be a part of the worship of God, and even connect with them the diabolical notion of merit.”
The observance of so-called Christian holidays is even worse than some of the practices of the Judaizers. John Calvin explained that the Judaizers and their followers “wanted to observe days which had been appointed by the law of God” under the old covenant, but today churches “command days to be kept as holy which they have rashly stamped with their own seal,” but which God never instituted in His Word.
G.I. Williamson, a Presbyterian
pastor in the OPC, once pointed out:
See Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 50 & 51. Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 108 & 109.
#6. The Fourth Commandment prohibits Christians from observing religious holidays and seasons (Exod. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15). The fourth commandment requires us to sanctify or keep holy to God such set times as He has appointed in His Word. Only the first day of the week, or the Christian sabbath, is commanded for Christians to observe. No other religious holidays are set apart by God in His Word. As the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1646) emphasized, the only day that God has authorized as a holy day is the Lord’s Day: “There is no day commanded in the scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”
See Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 58. Westminster Larger Catechism, question 116.
#7. Religious holidays violate the Biblical (“Reformed”) regulative principle of worship. God’s Word teaches that Christians are only to worship God in the way that He has commanded or “prescribed” in His Word (Deut. 4:2; 12:29-32; Rev. 22:18-19). For the Church to continue to set aside religious holidays constitutes “will-worship” or “self-imposed worship” or “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23).
The Westminster Confession of Faith in its first chapter, section 6, on “The Holy Scriptures” tells us that “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” is found in God’s written Word, “unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” Is the celebration of religious holidays in accordance with this Biblical view of the authority of God’s Word?
The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches in chapter 21, section 1, on Christian worship that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed [commanded] in the Holy Scripture.”
In his commentary of Jeremiah 7:31, in which the Lord condemns the Jews for doing that “which I did not command, nor did it enter My mind,” Calvin wrote:
We hence perceive that there is no end of sinning, when men give themselves up to their own inventions; for God surrenders those to Satan, that they may be led by the spirit of giddiness and of madness and of stupidity. Let us therefore learn ever to regard what God approves: and let this be the very beginning of our inquiry, whenever we undertake anything, whether God commands it; and this course ought especially to be observed with regard to his worship; for . . . religion is especially founded on faith, and faith is based on the word of God. . . .
This reason ought to be carefully noticed, for God here cuts off from men every occasion for making evasions, since he condemns by this one phrase, “I have not commanded them,” whatever the Jews devised. There is then no other argument needed to condemn superstitions, than that they are not commanded by God: for when men allow themselves to worship God according to their own fancies, and attend not to his commands, they pervert true religion.
The observance of religious holidays adds to God’s Word the inventions and imaginations of men. God warns against this in the strongest of language throughout His Word. Consider Deut. 4:2; 12:29-32; Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 16:36-40; 1 Sam. 13:9-13; 2 Chron. 26:16-19; Jer. 19:5; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 7:7-8; John 4:22-24; Col. 2:20-23; Rev. 22:18-19. The Bible forbids the observance of humanly-invented religious holidays in Christian worship, as they were not instituted by God in His Word.
See also: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, paragraph 6 and Chapter 20, paragraph 2 (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Thess. 2:2; Jas. 4:12; Rom. 14:4; Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor. 7:23; Matt. 23:8-10; 2 Cor. 1:24; Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:20-23; Gal. 1:10; Gal. 2:4-5; Gal. 5:1; Rom. 10:17; 14:23; Isa. 8:20; Acts 17:11; John 4:22; Hos. 5;11; Rev. 13:12, 16-17; Jer. 8:9).
#8. The observance of religious holidays constitutes religious syncretism, the mixing of true and false worship and true and false religion, which is strongly condemned in Scripture (Deut. 12:28-32; 2 Cor. 6:14-16). God’s people are warned in the strongest of language not to worship Him in the way that pagans worship their gods. He adds, “whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do, you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:30-32). Most religious holidays come from ancient pagan religions and were later adopted and “christianized” by the Roman Catholic Church. Since they were not commanded by God in His Word, they are not of divine origin. The observance of such holidays is thus a superstition, which integrates false religion into Christ’s Church.
#9. Church history condemns the observance of religious holidays. The apostolic church and early church did not observe man-ordained religious holidays. Historically, Reformed and Presbyterian churches were opposed to the observance of all religious holidays, except for the Lord’s holy day, the Christian Sabbath, Sunday. John Calvin, John Knox, Ebenezer Erskine, the Puritans, and American Presbyterians opposed such holy days and seasons, as did many Bible-believing Christians throughout the centuries. The Directory for Public Worship of the Westminster Assembly did not allow the observance of religious holy days and seasons, nor did the version used by Presbyterian denominations in America prior to some time in the 1900s.
John Calvin expressed the idolatrous tendency of such holidays and seasons as Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent in his commentary on 1 Timothy 4:1-2:
Accordingly, although Papists laugh at us, when we censure their tyrannical laws about outward ceremonies, yet we know that we are pleading a cause of the greatest weight and importance; because the doctrine of faith is destroyed, as soon as the worship of God is infected by such corruptions. The controversy is not about flesh or fish, or about a black or ashy color, or about Friday or Wednesday, but about the mad superstitions of men, who wish to appease God by such trifles, and, by contriving a carnal worship of him, contrive for themselves an idol instead of God. Who will deny that this is revolting from the faith?
. . . it is not an error of small importance, or one that ought to be concealed, when consciences are bound by the contrivances of men, and at the same time the worship of God is corrupted.
Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6; 20.2).
#10. God’s Word itself and Jesus
Christ Himself appear to condemn the observance of religious holidays.
God’s Word, as written by His holy apostles and prophets, appears to condemn the
observance of religious holidays by Christians, as can be seen in the writings
of Moses (Exod. 20:4-6, 8-11; Deut. 4:2; 5:8-10, 12-15; 12:29-32), Hezekiah (2
Kings 18:3-6), Josiah (2 Kings 23:2-7ff), the apostle Paul (Gal. 4:9-11; Col.
2:16-23), and the apostle John (1 John 2:15-16; Rev. 22:18-19) among others.
I end my quote here, as I fail to concur with Ms. Wiens’ ideas as to what Calvin might think of modern-day Presbyterians’ observance of Lent.
I believe that if Calvin were alive today he might ask modern-day Presbyterians who desire to reclaim Roman Catholic practices to no longer associate his name with their religion. He would insist that the light of the Protestant Reformation has been virtually extinguished. He would insist that the embracing of “mystery, ritual, and awe” among modern-day churches is evidence of their spiritual darkness. He would boldly and vehemently call upon us, with his characteristic logic, reason, and zeal, to reform ourselves and our churches, striving to conform our doctrine and worship, our faith and life to the Scriptures alone.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and
Ephesians, trans. Rev. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 125.
Copyright © 2009 Wabash Bible Ministries. All rights reserved.