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Chapter 3: The Biblical Arguments Against the Observance of Church Holidays


I.
 
  Binding the Consciences of Men


The church’s decision to observe various holidays such as Christmas and Easter binds the consciences of men where God has not bound them.  This form of false worship is clearly prohibited by Scripture. 

Jesus said regarding the Pharisees, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9, NKJ). 


Similarly, Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . .
You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. . . .  thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down . . .” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NAS).  "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men. . . .  All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. . . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NKJ).

The Reformers taught that all teachings and practices must be tested by the teaching of God’s infallible (unfailing), inerrant (free from error), inspired (God-breathed) Word.  Only God is infinitely wise and knowledgeable.  Protestants have historically affirmed that the Bible is not only the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God, but also the sole written revelation that rules the faith and practice of the Christian community; God’s Word alone can bind the conscience.  We call this doctrine “the sufficiency of the Scriptures,” believing that God has revealed “everything pertaining to life and godliness” in His Word (2 Pet. 1:3).  Thus, Scripture is the only rule for the church’s faith and life.  Sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone,” was in fact one of the five key principles (“solas”) of the Protestant Reformation.  The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses this teaching when it declares, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (1.6, emphasis added; cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Gal. 1:8, 9; 2 Thess. 2:2). 

The eminent 19th century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge explicates this doctrine in his Systematic Theology

    
All that Protestants insist upon is, that the Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the consciences of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures.  This excludes all unwritten traditions, not only; but also all the decrees of the visible Church; all resolutions of conventions, or other public bodies, declaring this or that to be right or wrong, true or false.  The people of God are bound by nothing but the Word of God. . . .

    Nothing is more common among Protestants, especially in our day, than the attempt to coerce the conscience of men by public opinion; to make the opinions of men on questions of morals a rule of duty for the people, and even for the Church.  If we would stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we must adhere to the principle that in matters of religion and morals the Scriptures alone have authority to bind the conscience.[1] 

This understanding of the Christian’s liberty of conscience is similarly taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

God alone is Lord of the conscience,(1) and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word; or beside [in addition to] it, if[2] matters of faith or worship. (2) So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience:(3) and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.(4) (WCF, 20.2; emphasis added) (1)James 4:12; Rom. 14:4. (2)Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29; 1 Cor. 7:23; Matt. 23:8,9,10; 2 Cor. 1:24; Matt. 15:9. (3)Col. 2:20,22,23; Gal. 1:10; Gal. 2:4,5; Gal. 5:1. (4)Rom. 10:17; Rom. 14:23; Isa. 8:20; Acts 17:11; John 4:22; Hos. 5:11; Rev. 13:12,16,17; Jer. 8:9.

Does the church’s observance of religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter bind the consciences of men where Scripture has not bound them?  Yes.
Pastors and elders who authorize the observance of church seasons and holidays are guilty of will-worship or “self-imposed worship” (Col. 2:23, NIV).  They overstep the authority granted to them by God, for He has never commanded us to observe a day commemorating Jesus’ incarnation:

    
Pastors and elders who do authorize a Christmas service abuse their office.  The pastor and governors of a church receive their authority from God.  They are responsible to rule the church according to the Word of God.  When pastors and elders authorize a special Christmas service, they do so on their own authority, because there is no warrant from the Word of God to do so.  Therefore, in this one point they act no differently than the pope or a bishop.  They intrude a human invention into the church.  Those in the church who refuse to take part in a pagan-popish festival day, who refuse to worship God according to man's imagination, who refuse to worship God without divine authorization, are forced by the church leadership to remain at home instead of attending the public worship of God.  Thus, in this point, many presbyters act like popes, prelates and tyrants over God's flock, because they take away the freedom we have in Christ to worship God as one body publicly "in Spirit and in truth" on the Lord's day.[4]


Instead of worshipping by the Spirit of God, according to the Word of God, and to the glory of God, those who impose their human traditions (i.e., their wills) on the worship of the Church (thereby binding the consciences of men) govern and worship by the will of man, according to the word of man, and to the glory of man. 


But some would counter that the church has the Christian liberty to observe Christmas and Easter.  Some would argue that Romans 14:5-6 “provides us with the liberty to decide whether or not to observe special days,” including Christmas.[5]  Do we not have the Christian liberty to celebrate Jesus’ birth?  G.I. Williamson, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), responds to this objection:  

     I do not think that the strictest Reformer ever questioned the right of an individual to celebrate the birth of Christ at a time—and in a godly manner—of his own choosing.  I certainly do not question this right.  If you want to exchange gifts, or read Luke 2, or sing “Silent Night” on December 25, then I have no quarrel with you at all.  What I ask in return is that you will not quarrel with me when I stand with the great Reformers. . . .  What I question is not your personal right of Christian liberty, but the right of the church in its corporate capacity—whether on a denominational or congregational level—to designate an annual date to commemorate the birth of Christ

     Since no one knows the day of the year on which Christ was born, and God has deliberately not told us the day, no one has the right to invent a date to substitute for what God has not given.  The popes of Rome, of course, have claimed this authority—that’s how it came about that December 25 was set aside.  But as for me and my house, we cannot in good conscience submit to such man-made impositions.[6]

Kevin Reed agrees that the Church has no right to institute holy days and seasons, for God has not granted the Church “a legislative power to enact new observances besides those given in scripture.”[7]  

II.                  Distorting the Gospel

A second argument against the observance of church seasons and holidays is that they distort the Gospel.  That is, the observance of these holy days blurs the Gospel message, as revealed in Scripture.

The Apostle John says, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a). 
James asks, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).  Michael Schneider argues that the observance of Christmas blurs the line of demarcation between the Church and the world:

The religious aspects are the worst part of Christmas.  There is no more pointed illustration of the contrast between cultural religion and biblical faith than Christmas.  Christmas promotes an imitation gospel that actually keeps the world from understanding the true gospel.  Christmas presents a substitute gospel that the world can easily live with.  To the world, the Christian message is simply "love, peace, the spirit of giving, the feeling of good will."  That stripped-down "gospel" gives men just enough inoculation to keep them from understanding the true gospel.

The world loves Christmas because Christmas promotes a sentimental picture of a baby in a manger.  Christmas keeps Jesus a baby in the manger.  Jesus is misrepresented by Christmas.  The gospel is misrepresented by Christmas. Christmas is the one time an ungodly person can be religious safely.  Most people like to do something religious every once in a while to ease their conscience and convince themselves that they are really a pretty good person after all; and Christmas affords them the perfect opportunity to do that.  It's perfectly safe for the most pagan person to join in the Christmas spirit.  You can have the Christmas spirit without having the Holy Spirit, without having the mind of Christ.[8]

    Furthermore, the observance of church holy days and seasons is not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For nowhere in Scripture does God command us to or imply that we should worship Him in accordance with a pattern of events from the life of Christ.  This practice has pagan, not Biblical, roots:  
  

    
The idea of honoring someone's life piecemeal (this event, that event) comes not from the Bible but from pagan emperor worship.  In fact, the only birthday celebrations recorded in the whole Bible are those of Pharaoh (Gen. 40:20) and King Herod (Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:21).  Both birthday parties ended in murder, Herod's in the murder of John the Baptist.[10]

Because the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the entire sixty-six books of the Holy Scriptures, to devote an inordinate amount of the church’s worship and teaching to the annual observance of a pattern of events from the life of Christ is to fail to proclaim faithfully “the whole counsel of God” (cf. Acts 20:27).  Perhaps this is the reason why the Reformers tended to preach a running commentary through the Bible.  Perhaps Calvin thought it best to preach verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter through the Word of God, lest he neglect to preach “the whole counsel of God” and the entirety of the Gospel message, as it is found from Genesis to Revelation.  He feared God and thus feared being held guilty of men’s blood if he were to shrink from declaring to them the whole will of God (Acts 20:26-27). 

Schwertley notes the worldly deceptiveness of the Christmas holiday:

     Christmas is not biblical.  Christmas is not of God.  It is a lie . . .  If Christmas were biblical, and if Christmas were commanded to be observed in the Bible, would the world love it so?  Absolutely not!  The world would hate Christmas.  "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:14).  Does the world love the Lord's day, the Christian Sabbath?  Of course not.  The world hates it.  Does the world love and obey the resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords?  No!  The world hates Christ.  The world does love a plastic or clay baby in a manger.  A plastic baby is not very threatening.[11]  

Is Christmas really a lie?  Yes, for church leaders refer to Christmas as Jesus’ birthday, even though no one knows the day on which Jesus was born.  The only thing we do know is that it is extremely unlikely that he was born in the month of December!  In Luke 2:8 we read that shepherds were “staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.”  In Israel shepherds have never slept out in the fields with their flocks in December, for it is much too cold.  During the winter they lead the flocks out in the day and bring them in at night:

    
It is common knowledge that shepherds in Palestine came in from the fields before winter.  The rainy season in Judea began in late October or early November.  The shepherds would bring their field flocks into the villages before the beginning of the rainy season.  Therefore, Christ was born before the first week of November.[12]

Does Brian Schwertley go too far when he refers to the observance of church holidays and the pagan calendar of “holy days” as “a Satan-inspired tool to habituate whole cultures in covenant rebellion”[13]?  Perhaps not.  For from Creation God has intended that man shall labor for six days and rest for one.  This Sabbath principle is given in summary form in the fourth commandment of the Decalogue.  Although under the old covenant God instituted various special days, seasons, and festivals, these have been abrogated under the new covenant, and no such special days or seasons were instituted in the New Testament to replace them.  Indeed, church seasons and holy days distort God’s truth, blur the Gospel message, impede the work of God’s kingdom, and pervert the purity of Christ’s Church.
 

III.                Galatians 4:9-11

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and yearsI fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11, NAS, emphasis added).

Galatians 4:9-11 is appealed to by many of those in church history who opposed the observance of church holy days and seasons.  What are its implications for our discussion?  In Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul is warning of the bondage of legalism—binding the consciences of men where God has not bound them by adding requirements to the pure Gospel of God’s grace.  He writes in Galatians 1:6-9:

   
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (NAS)

In Galatians 4, Paul expresses his fears for the Galatian Christians.  Do they understand the Gospel of God’s free grace?  Or are they deserting God in order to follow those false teachers who were preaching a counterfeit gospel?  Indeed, the Gospel was being distorted by those who wanted to bind their consciences with various burdens.  These false teachers said that they needed to be circumcised and observe special religious days, months, seasons, and years.

The editors of the New Geneva Study Bible comment regarding this text:

      To accept circumcision as necessary for salvation is to turn back from the liberty of grace to the bondage of the world with its times and seasons (v. 10; Col. 2:8, 20-22), whether these times be Jewish or Gentile. . . .  Before their conversion, the Galatians were in subjection to the “elements” of a pagan world: its false gods, its astrology, its seasonal rituals.[14] 

Thus, Paul here refers both to the Jewish holy days, months, seasons, and years that God commanded them to observe under the old covenant and also to  Gentile “times and seasons.”  Before their conversion, the Galatians were subject to pagan “seasonal rituals.” 

John Calvin, provides a brilliant exegesis of this passage, which I will quote extensively below: 

When he [Paul] calls the ceremonies [e.g., circumcision, holy days and festivals] beggarly elements, he views them outside Christ, in fact, opposed to Christ.  To the fathers [of the old covenant] they were not only wholesome exercises and aids to godliness, but efficacious organs of grace.  But their whole strength lay in Christ and in the appointment of God.  The false apostles [of Galatia] on the other hand neglected the promises [i.e., that these were mere types, fulfilled in Christ’s coming] and wanted to oppose them to Christ, as if Christ alone were not sufficient.[15]

So what exactly is Paul condemning?  Calvin notes that Paul is not condemning the ordinary observance of seasons (that is, the division of time into its seasons—winter, spring, summer, fall—and days—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, . . .):

     The order of nature is fixed and perpetual.  How are months and years computed but by the revolution of the sun and moon?  What distinguishes summer from winter, or spring from harvest, but the appointment of God—an appointment which He promised to continue to the end of the world (Gen. 8:22)?  This common observance serves not only for agriculture and public affairs, but even touches the government of the Church.[16]


It is perfectly valid for Christians to observe the days and seasons of nature (i.e., autumn, winter, Tuesday, Friday) in an ordinary way:

     When we today make a distinction of days [in terms of our secular calendar], we do not lay a snare of necessity on the conscience, or distinguish between days as if one were more holy than another, nor do we set them up as religion and the worship of God.  We merely give heed to order and harmony.  Among us the observance is free and void of all superstition.[17] 

So in Calvin’s Reformed church, there was no religious or superstitious attachment to days and seasons.  There was no binding of the conscience or distinguishing between days as if one were more holy than another.  Rather, the Genevan church merely “gave heed to order and harmony” when they employed the secular calendar.[18]  

What sort of observance, then, did Paul reprove in this passage?:


     It was that which would bind the conscience by religion, as something that was necessary to the worship of God and which, as he [Paul] says
in Rom. 14:5ff, would make a distinction between one day and another.[19]


Calvin goes on to explain that what Paul condemns is the observance of holy days.  That is, Paul is condemning the observance of religious holidays!:


      When certain days are represented as holy in themselves, when one day is distinguished from another on religious grounds
, when holy days are reckoned a part of divine worship, then days are improperly observed.[20]

In celebrating Christmas, Easter, and other religious holidays, is this not exactly what the Church is doing?  The Church today is distinguishing Christmas and Easter from other days on religious grounds.  They are making these holy days a part of their worship services.  Calvin says that this is exactly what Paul condemns! 

Calvin then raises the concern we previously discussed, namely, that the observance of religious holidays distorts the Gospel:

     Some are surprised that Paul should be so upset by the observance of days as to call it a subversion of almost the whole Gospel.  But if we carefully and rightly weigh the whole, we shall see that he had just cause.  For the false apostles not only attempted to lay the Jewish bondage on the neck of the Church, but filled their minds with wicked superstitions.  To force Christians to submit to Judaism was in itself no small evil.  But it was a far more serious mischief when they set up holidays as meritorious works, in opposition to the grace of Christ, and claimed that God was to be worshipped and propitiated in this way.  When such doctrines were received, the worship of God was corrupted, the grace of Christ made void and freedom of conscience suppressed.[21]


Although most Evangelicals today surely would not intend to “set up holidays as meritorious works,” the same transgressions indeed apply to the modern situation.  For as we discussed previously, to claim that God is to be worshipped in a way not prescribed in Scripture (by observing man-made holidays—especially those observed on the Lord’s Day when all Christians are commanded to participate in corporate worship) is to corrupt the worship of God and suppress the freedom of conscience of other Christians.  Calvin leaves no doubt as to what it was specifically, in the worship of the Roman Catholic church, which he believed to be contrary to the Word of God: 


      Do we wonder that Paul should be afraid that he had labored in vain?  For of what value would the Gospel be any more?  Since that same description of ungodliness is now supported by the Papacy, what sort of Christ or what sort of Gospel do they hold?  So far as binding the consciences goes, they enforce the observance of days no less severely than Moses did.  They consider holy days to be part of the worship of God, just as the false apostles did, and even connect them with the devilish concept of merit.[22] 

Lest someone latch onto the last three words of Calvin’s quote, in order to dismiss the relevance of his comments for our present discussion, I must emphasize that Calvin’s case against the Roman observance of holy days does not rest solely on the meritorious aspect ascribed to those days by Rome.  Rather, “the devilish concept of merit” that the Papists connected to these religious holidays merely exacerbated their other ungodly practices of binding the conscience, enforcing the observance of holy days, and considering holy days to be part of the worship of God. 

Yet, perhaps there is even an element of Rome’s “concept of merit” to be found in modern Protestant holiday observances.  For does not the average church member consider their participation in Christmas and Easter worship services and related events as a sort of Christian duty?  Would not the average American Christian feel some pangs of conscience if they intentionally avoided observing Christmas and Easter or avoided attending the special services held by their church?  Would not the average American Christian look down upon other Christians as being “less spiritual” if they chose not to observe these church holidays?  When the church sets apart days as holy, which God has never commanded (and therefore distorts the Gospel—as discussed above under heading II), it should not be surprising if church members attach some concept of merit to them.  Such is the tyranny of legalism.

Yet, in contrast, if God has established a holy day, what room is left for human boasting?  Just as God’s grace is displayed through His sovereign work of redemption (Eph. 2:8-9), so also His grace is displayed through His sovereign ordaining of His holy day (i.e., the Lord’s Day) for us to observe.  Man’s sinful tendency to seek to be saved by his own good works was evidenced in the Pharisees’ attempts to be justified by observing the works of the law, which included fastidious sabbath observance.  Yet, Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, reminded the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  Jesus created the Sabbath for man’s benefit.  Yet, man sought to turn His gracious gift into a yoke of bondage and a cause for human boasting.  Indeed, there is no limit to the depths of man’s depravity.[23] 

Calvin further argues that the Roman Catholic observance of church holidays (which they derived from the pagans) is even worse than the practice of the false apostles whom Paul condemns:

The Papists therefore must be held as much to blame as the false apostles.  They are, in fact, worse.  Those men wanted to observe days which had been appointed by the law of God [for the Old Testament period]; but the Papists command days to be kept as holy which they have rashly stamped with their own seal [i.e., which were never instituted by God at any time in redemptive-history].[24]  

IV.               Colossians 2:16-23 

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a [Jewish[25]] Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . . .   Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:16-17, 23, NIV, emphasis added)

Colossians 2:16-23 is another text appealed to by many of those in church history who opposed the observance of church holy days and seasons. 

In brief, the “religious festival,” “New Moon celebration,” and “Sabbath day” mentioned in this text all refer to those sacred Jewish festivals and days that were previously ordained by God during the old covenant dispensation.  As the apostle Paul has argued in Galatians and Colossians, circumcision, the dietary laws, and the religious festivals of the Jews were typological in nature.  They were shadows of the things that were to come, but their reality is found in Christ.  Type has given way to antitype.  The ceremonial law has been set aside by Christ’s coming, rendering such regulations null and void.  Christians are under no obligation to be circumcised, observe religious dietary laws, or observe religious holidays.  Therefore, for the church to require continued observance of religious holidays is legalism and distorts the Gospel (cf. Gal. 4:9-11).

John Calvin, in his commentary on Colossians, explains that Christians are no longer to observe such religious holidays:

    . . . we do not by any means observe days, as though there were any sacredness in holidays, or as though it were not lawful to labour upon them, but that respect is paid to government and order—not to days. . . .  The reason why he [Paul] frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner absent.[26]

For the church to continue to set aside these days as holy would also constitute “will-worship” or “self-imposed worship” or “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23).  The editors of the New Geneva Study Bible explain the significance of this “self-imposed worship,” which Paul condemns:


     God accepts worship offered according to His will revealed in Scripture, not religious exercises done at the dictate of presumptuous human whim
(Matt. 15:9).  The idea that God must be worshiped only in the way He has instituted has had a profound influence in Reformed churches.[27]  

John Calvin further explains the significance of “self-imposed worship” or “will worship”: 

      We are not in this matter to stand either by our own or by other men's judgments.  We must listen to the voice of God, and hear in what estimation he holds that profanation of worship which is displayed when men, overleaping the boundaries of His Word, run riot in their own inventions.  The reasons which he assigns for punishing the Israelites with blindness, after they had lost the pious and holy discipline of the Church, are two, viz., the prevalence of hypocrisy, and will-worship (Gk.
evqeloqrhski,a) meaning thereby a form of worship contrived by man.[28]

Is it not presumptuous for us to think that God wants us to set apart days and seasons as holy, which He has never ordained?  Is it not presumptuous for us to hold special worship services and to establish special days and seasons to observe various redemptive-historical events in the life of Christ?  Does this not constitute “will-worship” or “self-made religion” or “self-imposed worship”—a form of worship contrived by men? 


V.                
The Second Commandment

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exod. 20:4-6, NIV)

In analyzing how the second and fourth commandments of the Decalogue apply to our discussion, I will make use of the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  Both of these documents explicate the implications of the Ten Commandments.  As the Ten Commandments (also known as “The Ten Words”) are a summary of God’s law, it is appropriate to draw out their manifold implications from other texts in Scripture.  I will provide commentary only with respect to those portions of the catechism questions and answers that are relevant to my present discussion.[29]


WSC 50  What is required in the second commandment?
A.     The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.(1) Deut. 32:46; Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42.

WSC 51  What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images,(1) or any other way not appointed in His word.(2) (1)Deut. 4:15-19; Exod. 32:5,8 (2)Deut. 12:31,32.


WLC 108  What are the duties required in the second commandment?

A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word;(1) particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ;(2) the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word;(3) the administration and receiving of the sacraments;(4) church government and discipline;(5) the ministry and maintenance thereof;(6) religious fasting;(7) swearing by the name of God, (8) and vowing unto him; 9) as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship;(10) and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.(11) (1)Deut. 32:46,47; Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 6:13,14 (2)Phil. 4:6; Eph. 5:20 (3)Deut. 17:18,19; Acts 15:21; 2 Tim. 4:2; James 1:21,22; Acts 10:33 (4)Matt. 28:19 (5)Matt. 18:15-17; Matt. 16:19; 1 Cor. 5 throughout; 1 Cor. 12:28 (6)Eph. 4:11,12; 1 Tim. 5:17,18; 1 Cor. 9:7-15 (7)Joel 2:12,13; 1 Cor. 7:5 (8)Deut. 6:13 (9)Isa. 19:21; Ps. 76:11 (10)Acts 17:16,17; Ps. 16:4 (11)Deut. 7:5; Isa. 30:22 [see also Ex. 34:13; Num. 33:52; Deut. 7:25-26; 12:2-3]


The second commandment requires us to maintain purity in our worship of God.  It requires us to receive, observe and keep purely and completely that religious worship and those ordinances that God has appointed (or “instituted”) in His Word.  It also requires us to voice our disapproval, detestation, and opposition to all manifestations of false worship.  And, according to our place in Christ’s church and the calling that God has given to us, the second commandment requires us to labor diligently for the removal of all false worship and all monuments of idolatry.[30]         


WLC 109  What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, (1) counseling,(2) commanding,(3) using,(4) and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; (5) tolerating a false religion;(6) the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever;(7) all worshipping of it,(8) or God in it or by it;(9) the making of any representation of feigned deities,(10) and all worship of them, or service belonging to them;(11) all superstitious devices,(12) corrupting the worship of God,(13) adding to it, or taking from it,(14) whether invented and taken up of ourselves,(15) or received by tradition from others,(16) though under the title of antiquity,(17) custom,(18) devotion,(19) good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever;(20) simony;(21) sacrilege;(22) all neglect,(23) contempt,(24) hindering,(25) and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.(26) (1)Num. 15:39 (2)Deut. 13:6-8 (3)Hosea 5:11; Micah 6:16 (4) 1 Kings 11:33; 1 Kings 12:33 (5) Deut. 12:30-32 (6) Deut. 13:6-12; Zech. 13:2,3; Rev. 2:2,14,15,20; Rev. 17:12,16,17 (7) Deut. 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:21-23,25 (8) Dan. 3:18; Gal. 4:8 (9)Exod. 32:5 (10) Exod. 32:8 (11) 1 Kings 18:26,28; Isa. 65:11 (12) Acts 17:22; Col. 2:21-23 (13)Mal. 1:7,8,14 (14)Deut. 4:2 (15)Ps. 106:39 (16)Matt. 15:9 (17)1 Pet. 1:18 (18)Jer. 44:17 (19)Isa. 65:3-5; Gal. 1:13,14 (20)1 Sam. 13:11,12; 1 Sam. 15:21 (21)Acts 8:18 (22)Rom. 2:22; Mal. 3:8 (23)Exod. 4:24-26 (24)Matt. 22:5; Mal. 1:7,13 (25)Matt. 23:13 (26)Acts 13:44,45; 1 Thess. 2:15,16

The second commandment forbids us from worshipping God in any
way not appointed in His Word.  This is the essence of the “Reformed regulative principle of worship,” as is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21, paragraph 1.  It forbids all superstitious devices and all corruptions of pure worship.  It forbids us from adding to or subtracting from the religious worship that God Himself has instituted.  Whether these additions or subtractions were “invented and taken up of ourselves,” or received by church tradition, or received by an appeal to antiquity or to custom or to our own good intentions, they are still forbidden by the second commandment.  Also, the second commandment forbids us from opposing the worship that God has appointed (e.g., the observance of the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day).  

Michael Schneider provides his own application of WLC 109: 

    
Since Christmas was not instituted by God, it should not be approved or tolerated in the official practices of the Church.  Ministers and church officers are not being true to their ordination vows, if they encourage or tolerate Christmas observance in their congregations.[31]

It is not enough to appeal to church tradition or to the practice of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, or other non-Reformed churches.  It is not enough to appeal to the pragmatic benefits to be gained by the observance of Christmas and Easter.  Nor will an appeal to public opinion polls be sufficient to justify the practice.  If God has not ordained for us to celebrate religious holy days such as Christmas and Easter as a part of the worship of His church (either explicitly or by “good and necessary consequence”), then such observance is forbidden by the second commandment.   

VI.               The Fourth Commandment

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exod. 20:8-11, NIV)

The fourth commandment will be discussed, in detail, in Part 2, Chapter 5, “A Biblical Alternative.”  In this chapter, let us merely consider the import of the fourth commandment for the observance of church holy days and seasons.  Kevin Reed, citing George Gillespie, demonstrates how the observance of church holidays undermines the true distinction of the Lord’s day: 

“Upon holy days they enjoin a cessation from work, and a dedicating of the day to Divine worship, even as upon the Lord's day.”  In fact, “let it be observed, whether or not they keep the festival days more carefully, and urge the keeping of them more earnestly, than the Lord's own day.”  “. . . And whereas they can digest the common profanation of the Lord's day, and not challenge it, they cannot away with the not observing of their festivities.”[32]

Samuel Miller, professor of church history at Princeton Seminary, shares Gillespie’s concern: 


      The observance of uncommanded holy-days is ever found to interfere with the due sanctification of the Lord's day.  Adding to the appointments of God is superstition.  And superstition has ever been found unfriendly to genuine obedience.  Its votaries, like the Jews of old, have ever been found more tenacious of their own inventions, of traditionary dreams, than of God’s revealed code of duty.  Accordingly, there is, perhaps, no fact more universal and unquestionable, than that the zealous observers of stated fasts and festivals are characteristically lax in the observance of that one day which God has eminently set apart for himself, and on the sanctification of which all the vital interests of practical religion are suspended.  So it was among the Israelites of old.  As early as the fifth century, Augustine complains that the superstitious observance of uncommanded rites, betrayed many in his time, into a spirit of irreverence and neglect towards those which were divinely appointed.  So it is, notoriously, among the Romanists at the present day.  And so, without any breach of charity, it may be said to be in every religious community in which zeal for the observance of uncommanded holy-days prevails.  It is true, many in those communities tell us, that the observance of holy-days, devoted to particular persons and events in the history of the Church, has a manifest and strong tendency to increase the spirit of piety.  But if this be so, we might expect to find much more scriptural piety in the Romish Church than in any other, since holy-days are ten times more numerous in that denomination than in the system of any Protestant Church.  But is it so?  Let those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear, decide.

    . . . the observance of days, not appointed by God, has ever been found to exert an unfriendly influence on the sanctification of that holy-day which God has appointed.[33]


The way in which the observance of church holidays inevitably denigrate the holiness of God’s appointed Sabbath may be seen in the way in which many employees and students expect a vacation from their labor on such days, especially on such days as Christmas or Good Friday.  For example, when I was a student in high school, I informed my public school authorities that I could not attend school on Good Friday, for this is a religious holiday of the Christian religion.  They thought I was absurd.  (Apparently no student in this relatively liberal town in Indiana had ever requested Good Friday off before, even though the public schools in central Illinois observed Good Friday as a holiday when I was in elementary school.)  Yet, I reasoned, if Jewish students do not attend school on “the high holy days” of their religion, why then should I attend school on the day in which my church observes the crucifixion and death of her Lord and Savior?  Although my school was hesitant to grant my request, they obliged to give me the day off.  I spent a significant portion of that Good Friday in Bible study and prayer.  Yet, in retrospect, I do not believe that I had the right to request that day off.  (I might also add that during the high school years I regularly spent a significant portion of the Lord’s Day working on homework, watching television, and doing what pleased me, as I did not understand that Sunday was a holy day.  Although I claim full responsibility for my regular profaning of the Sabbath day in this and other ways, I should also note that the Presbyterian church where my family regularly attended never provided me with any instruction in regard to the observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, or “the Christian Sabbath”.)  

As we have seen, there is a tendency to esteem church holidays above the Lord’s Day.  Because such special days and seasons, which God has never instituted, are grounded in falsehood and lead men to violate the Sabbath, we should not be surprised if the devil, who is the father of lies, is also joyously celebrating them and using them to his own wicked ends. 

 
VII.             The Reformed Regulative Principle of Worship


The Reformed regulative principle of worship teaches that worship is only to include those things that are prescribed in Scripture.[34]  The Westminster Confession of Faith defines the regulative principle in chapter 21, section 1:

     But 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 in the Holy Scripture.[35]  Deut. 12:32; Matt. 15:9,10; Deut. 15:1-20; Exod. 20:4,5,6; Col. 2:23.

Historically, those things “prescribed in the Holy Scripture” have been understood to refer not only to explicit commands of Scripture
but also to good and necessary consequence (i.e., a particular worship practice or ordinance that can be inferred from many passages of Scripture) (cf. WCF, 1.6).  Dr. Robert L. Reymond, who I regard to be one of the most brilliant systematic theologians of modern times, explains in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith:

       According to the Reformation principle of worship (which is only the Reformers’ application in the area of worship of their principial sola Scriptura position), true worship may include only those matters which God has either expressly commanded in Scripture or which may be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence (such as infant baptism),[36] while false worship is anything done in worship which God has not expressly prescribed.[37]

Important Scripture passages to consider in regard to the regulative principle  include 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; Mark 7:7-8; John 4:22-24; and Col. 2:20-23. 

It is not within the scope of this book to develop the case for the regulative principle.  Robert L. Reymond and others have provided a good defense of the regulative principle regarding worship, so I refer you to their works for further study.[38]  In his Systematic Theology, Dr. Reymond concludes: “For its own spiritual health and well-being then, the church must continually bear in mind the importance of this regulative principle in all that it does in its worship of God”[39].

Although we are not going to develop the biblical arguments supporting the regulative principle here, we will provide a few quotes from others to help shed some light on it. 

Religion . . . if it be pleasing and acceptable unto God, must have his own commandment and approbation for a warrant.  Otherwise, it cannot be but odious in his presence, as a thing repugnant to his express commandment, saying, “Not that which appears good in thy own eyes shall you do to the Lord your God, but what the Lord your God has commanded you, that do: add nothing to it, diminish nothing from it.”[40]

In arguing for the regulative principle, Knox appeals to Deuteronomy, chapters 4 and 12, which teach that it is unlawful to add to or subtract from that worship that God has instituted in His Word. 

 The regulative principle of worship applies to the observance of ecclesiastical holidays, because festivals days are not ordained by God but rather are of human invention.  G. I. Williamson notes that Christ’s Great Commission supports this exclusion of church holy days:

     1. When Jesus sent his apostles forth, he commanded them to teach converts to observe all things that he had commanded (Matt. 28:20).  He did not authorize them to add to—or to take from—what he had commanded.  And I believe that they faithfully did what Jesus told them to do.
     2. It is quite evident from the apostolic writings that there was no such day as Christmas in the apostolic churches.  They did not have it for the simple reason that this was not one of the things that Jesus had commanded.
     3. The question, therefore, comes down to this: were the teachings and practices of the apostles sufficient to establish the practices that Christ himself authorized for his churches?  The modern church quite obviously says no.  But men such as Zwingli, Knox, and Calvin said yes.  I believe these men were right.[41] 

In obedience to the Great Commission, the Apostles taught the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), which did not include Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter, for these days were not among those things commanded by Christ.  Williamson notes the relevance of Christ’s and the Apostles’ teaching for the church today: 

      So, the one who understands “the true meaning of Christmas” (or Good Friday, or Easter) is precisely the one who realizes the human origin thereof.  And in order to honor Christ as the only King and head of the church, such a person will not observe these man-made additions to what our Lord commanded. A person such as this may be out of step with a very popular custom.  The important thing is that he will be in step with Christ and the Apostles.[42]

In order for the church in our day to see genuine spiritual revival and reformation, she must first rediscover sola Scriptura and the corollary “regulative principle” regarding worship.  Robert Reymond writes,

      Reformed Christians must convince this generation that their tradition’s “regulative principle” regarding worship should be the governing principle of all Christian worship, that is to say, that Christians must do in worship only those things which God commands, clearly perceiving that “what is not commanded is forbidden” and just as self-consciously rejecting the dictum that “what is not expressly forbidden is permissible” (see again Gen. 4:4-5; Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 16-17; 2 Chron. 26:16-19; Jer. 19:5; Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:6-13; John 4:22-24; 14:6; Col. 2:20-23).  This approach to worship will produce a worship that is biblical, spiritual, simple, weighty, and reverent.  It will produce a worship centered upon God, substantial and life-transforming.  It will prohibit a worship that is superficial in character, complicated by ritual, stimulated by props, and flippant in tone.[43] 

VIII.           Syncretism

A final biblical argument against the observance of church holy days and seasons is that such observance constitutes religious syncretism.  The syncretism of true and false worship, of divinely-instituted worship and self-imposed worship (or “self-made religion” or “will-worship”), is exactly what God repeatedly condemns throughout the old covenant Scriptures.  Israel’s spiritual adultery elicited God’s righteous anger, and it led to their repeated chastening throughout old covenant history.

In the Old Testament, the people of God were warned against adapting practices of worship from the pagan religions (i.e., from the world):  “Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?' "You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.  "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Deut. 12:30-32, emphasis added)

Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul warns: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’”  (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).  Syncretism (the mixing of the beliefs and practices of true and false religion) is dangerous and rapidly can turn a true church into a false one. 

Is the observance of religious holidays a form of syncretism?  Yes, for whenever man’s traditions are integrated into the worship of God, worship no longer remains pure.  Worshipping God according to man’s devising erects a false god, which stands in opposition to the God of Holy Scripture, who commands us to worship Him according to His Word alone. 

The pagan and Roman Catholic origins of such church holidays as Christmas and Easter may further lead to syncretism in worship.  (See Appendix B, “The Historical (Pagan) Roots of Christmas and Easter,” for a more detailed account of the origins of these holidays.)  Christmas, for example, began as a pagan festival, as Schwertley notes:

     The day, the tree, the exchanging of gifts, the mistletoe, the holly berries all originated in the idolatrous pagan festivities surrounding the winter solstice.  The compromised, apostatizing Roman church took what was pagan and attempted to Christianize it.[44]

Schwertley provides a biblical case for why Christians should not participate in festivities involving Christmas trees, yule logs, mistletoe, holly berries, and other such items of pagan origin.[45]

However, I disagree with Schwertley, insofar as Paul teaches that just because something is of pagan origin or use does not make it unclean.  Yet, while it is okay to eat meat that was offered (by others) to idols, Paul warns his readers to abstain from eating it rather than causing a weaker brother to stumble (cf. 1 Cor. 10:28-29).  In the same way, I would tend to think that it is permissible for Christians to have yule logs, trees, mistletoe, holly, and ivy in their home during the winter months, as long as they do not attach any superstitious notions to them AND as long as this does not become a cause of stumbling for other believers who might attach pagan, superstitious attachments to them.  I am not aware of any evangelical Christian who “worships” a Christmas tree, mistletoe, or the Easter bunny. 

However, on the other hand, ancient pagan religions are making a comeback in our day, especially in Europe.  Thus, many of these objects that are harmless, in and of themselves, may increasingly regain pagan, superstitious meaning for many in our culture.  If that should occur, then Christians will need to reconsider their possession of such objects, as their conscience dictates. 

 

The Real Issue 

The real issue is whether you obey God or men.  Do you take God at His Word?  Do you fear God?  The Bible teaches that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).  If we are living in rebellion against God’s law, we need to fear His wrath and punishment and the curses He promises those who disobey.  We need to repent and turn to God, to follow Christ and His Word alone.  If we are faithful to obey God’s law, He promises to bless us abundantly and grant us eternal life with Him in heaven.

Should Christians be people with a strong work ethic who live for Christ, serve Christ, and devote themselves diligently to His service?  Or should Christians be people who live for pleasure, riches, and the things of this world?  In considering whether or not or how we should observe even secular holidays, we ought to take 1 John 2:15-17 seriously.  Here God warns us against worldliness:

    “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

The apostle John warns that if we love the world and its things, we should question our salvation.  Do we have the Holy Spirit and know Christ’s love?  “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  “For all that is in the world . . . is not of the Father but is of the world” and the god of this age, who is Satan.  Do you want to live for this world and pass away with it to hell, or do you want to do God’s will and live forever with Him in Paradise?  John clearly articulates three things that are of the world:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Clearly, both religious and secular holiday observances appeal to these.  Halloween costumes, candy, and decorations, Christmas ornaments and lights and decorations, Advent candles, Easter bunnies & colored eggs—all these appeal to the lust of the flesh and the eyes.  And the rejection of God’s Holy Day, the Lord’s Day, Sunday, and the exchanging of days of man’s invention for God’s Holy Day is rooted in the same rebellious pride that shut the devil and all his demonic host out of heaven forever. 

In Galatians 6:7-8, the apostle Paul warns: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  God is not mocked.  This is no joke.  If you sow to your flesh, you will reap corruption and eternal death.  If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap everlasting life with Christ in heaven.  Take God at His Word.  Obey His commandments, including the commandment to keep the first day of the week holy.  Refrain from doing what God has prohibited. 

What happens to someone who rejects what God has commanded or adds humanly-devised traditions that God has not commanded?  God warns in Revelation 22:18-20: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

Just as God forbids Christians from observing circumcision as a religious rite, so it is with holy days.  If you observe holy days, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal. 5:2).  Except for the sabbath day, which is part of God’s eternal moral law, He warns us not to observe “days and months and seasons and years” as holy (Gal. 4:10). 

Do you fear God?  Are you tired of all the rituals, special programs, decorating, buying and selling associated with holidays?  Then, give them up.  Deuteronomy 30:17-20 says:

     "But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 "that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

Choose the way of Christ, the way of life and freedom.  Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6).  "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1) 


Conclusion

As the Southern Presbyterians affirmed in their 1899 declaration, “there is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary, and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[46] 

Scripture warns us in the strongest of language against adding to Christ’s Church religious beliefs and practices that God has not commanded in His Word (Deut. 4:2; 12:29-32; Rev. 22:18-19).  In this chapter, I have demonstrated that there is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter (or other church holidays).  There is no explicit or implicit command to celebrate such holy days and seasons.  In fact, there is no mention in Scripture, at all, of such holy days.  Nor are there any examples of such days being observed under the new covenant.  The Apostles never give us the slightest hint that the early church observed Christmas, Lent, Transfiguration Day, Good Friday, All Saints’ Day, or any other ecclesiastical holy day or season. 

On the contrary, there is warrant in Scripture for the prohibition of such holy days.  In Galatians 4:9-11, the apostle Paul warns that continued observance of holy days, seasons, months, or years now under the new covenant amounts to legalism.  Scripture teaches that such observance is conducive to false worship or “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23).  Such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith (and therefore was condemned by the Protestant Reformers, the Reformation and post-Reformation confessions, and Reformed Presbyterians until the 20th century).  Not only does the regulative principle of worship prohibit such observance, but more generally, the Scriptures forbid Christ’s church from binding the consciences of men where Christ has not bound them.  Such observance distorts the simplicity and purity of the Gospel message, and it leads to idolatry and syncretistic worship, integrating human tradition (i.e., “the traditions of men”) with Biblical worship.  For these reasons, the church should not celebrate any holy days or seasons, except for the Lord’s Day.  

This is not to say that everyone who celebrates Christmas, Easter, or manmade holy days is not saved.  Only God knows a person’s heart, and setting apart days as holy is not the unpardonable sin.  All Christians have sinful inclinations, for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard (Rom. 3:23).  A Christian may celebrate these holidays out of ignorance or with the most sincere, godly motive of seeking to do what he genuinely believes is pleasing to God.  The culture and most churches exalt such holy days and seasons as “high holy days” of the Christian religion.  Yet, God’s Word teaches us that it is not God’s will for us to celebrate such holy days, and therefore the informed Christian should not continue to set apart such days for a religious purpose.  The Christian’s conscience must be held captive to the Word of God alone.  Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  If a professing Christian knows the truth about what God thinks about holy days and rejects God’s Word, if a Christian surrenders “the liberty by which Christ has made us free” so that he may be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1), if a Christian gives up his Christian liberty and submits to legalistic teachings, then he must question whether he has the Holy Spirit and is saved.  If you know the truth, then the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

Is Jesus the reason for the season? 
No, He definitely is not.   Sin is the reason for the season.  The sinful, idolatrous hearts of men—which John Calvin referred to as “idol factories” (fabricum idolarium)—they are the reason for the season. 

May God deliver us from our sinful desire for a sensual, external religion—a religion that pleases the senses, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).  For he is not a true Christian “who is one outwardly”; he is a true Christian “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29).  May God deliver us from our idolatrous desire to re-make God in our own image; rather may we seek to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2).  May we be careful to observe all that God has commanded us to observe, neither adding to it or taking away from it in anything (Deut. 12:32). 

________________________________________________

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871; reprint, USA: Hendrickson, 1999), 1:183, emphasis added. 
[2]
“Most editions of the Westminster Confession of Faith published today place a comma instead of a semicolon after ‘Word’ and replace the ‘if’ with ‘in.’  This is a corrupt version of the original text, traceable to Dunlop’s 1719 edition, which implies that the Westminster divines intended to limit freedom of conscience from the doctrines of men that are in anything contrary to God’s Word only to the spheres of faith and worship.  Such a conclusion flies in the face of their conviction that the conscience is ever bound, as an absolute universal principle, to obey God in every sphere of life; it is never bound to go contrary to his Word.  What they intended to say is that in matters of faith and worship, the conscience is not only free from what is contrary to God’s Word but also free from what is “beside” it, that is to say, free from things not stated in the Word nor deducible by good and necessary consequence from it.” (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998], 869, n. 6, emphasis added.)
[4] Brian Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas” (Lansing, Michigan, 1996), 22-23, electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.reformed.com/pub/xmas.htm, emphasis added. 
[5] For example, John MacArthur (or his staff) makes just such an argument at Grace to You: online questions and answers, electronically retrieved 10 December 2001 at http://www.gty.org/IssuesandAnswers/archive/celebrate.htm
[6] G.I. Williamson,  “Is Christmas Scriptural?”  Electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at http://www.apuritansmind.com/Christmas/WilliamsonChristmas.htm, emphasis added.  Elsewhere commenting on Romans 14:5-6, Williamson argues that

    . . . we must not judge people to be unbelievers merely because they are weak.  Many people today, even in Reformed churches, fail to make the Bible alone their rule of practice, when it comes to the observance of special sacred days.  They allow themselves to be influenced by other things such as feelings, peer pressure, and tradition.  We who realize that there is no basis for the observance of these special sacred days should be patient with such people.  We should not presume to judge them.  God alone is their judge.  But (and this is the vital point) we should never allow them to impose their weakness on the whole Church.  Yet this is exactly what has been happening in recent times.  The weak have been insisting that the whole Church go along with their weakness. . . .  

    By all means let us have patience with the weak.  If he feels that he ought to observe Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter, let him do so.  But remember that he is weak.  Remember that he is even weaker than the people in the Church of Rome were in Paul’s day.  They at least had the excuse that they felt obliged to do something God had formerly required.  That is something the weaker brother of today cannot say regarding Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter.  So, above all, let him not impose his weakness on the Church so that it observes such humanly invented days.  (G.I. Williamson, “On the Observance of Sacred Days” [Havertown: New Covenant Publications Society, n.d.]).


[7] Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed, Christmas: A Biblical Critique (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993), 38.   
[8] Schneider, Christmas, 18. 
[10] Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” 17, emphasis added.
[11] Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” 20. 
[12]
Ibid., 19. 
[13]
Ibid., 20.
[14] New Geneva Study Bible, ed. R.C. Sproul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1854, emphasis added. 
[15] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance and trans. T. H .L. Parker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 77.  
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid., 77-78. 
[18] It should be noted that, in practice, Calvin’s theology and exegesis of Scripture may have been compromised by allowing some degree of Christmas observance in the church at Geneva.  Similarly, in regard to the Lord’s Supper, although Calvin argued strongly that the sacrament should be observed at least weekly, it was observed less frequently in the Genevan church.  The state’s control of the church during Calvin’s day and the unspiritual, unbiblical influence that this inevitably had on the church may be partly to blame for this.  In fact, Calvin may not have had the power or influence to enforce what he believed to be true. 
[19]
Ibid., emphasis added. 
[20]
Ibid., emphasis added.  Based on Calvin’s extant writings, we are uncertain as to whether Calvin accepted the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath.  However, nothing in his Galatians commentary forces us to conclude that he necessarily includes the Lord’s Day among the “holy days” that he believes are herein condemned.  Rather, it appears that his focus is on the religious holidays that were invented by the church, without Scriptural mandate.  If Calvin did reject the holiness of the first day of the week (as some contend), then I believe he was in error.  (Yes, even John Calvin was fallible and subject to doctrinal error—although he was definitely one of the finest theologians in the history of the church.)  However, we must not rush to judgment, for theologians such as the late A.A. Hodge of Princeton Seminary have shown that Calvin did in fact believe in the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath.    
[21] Ibid., 78, emphasis added.
[22]
Ibid., emphasis added.
[23] Since the Fall in Eden, human beings habitually exchange “the truth of God for a lie” and worship and serve “created things rather than the Creator” (cf. Rom. 1:25, NIV). 
[24] Calvin, The Epistles, 78, emphasis added.  Cf.  Joseph P. Duggan, “Should Christians Celebrate the Birth of Christ?” The Presbyterian Reformed Magazine 5:3 (1990), 126-130.  In this same vein, G.I. Williamson points out:

    . . . the people in Galatia could at least prove that the days they observed had once been appointed by God.  Christians today cannot show that God ever appointed Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter.  When Christ came, the ceremonial system passed away.  Included in the ceremonial system were annual sacred days.  For the Galatians to go on celebrating these days was, in effect, to act as if they were still waiting for the Messiah to come.  Yet even so they could at least claim that the days they were observing originated by divine institution.  Christians can make no such claim for their sacred days.  If Paul, then, was afraid that he might have labored in vain among the Galatians because of what they did, what would he say about people today who observe special sacred days God never commanded? (“On the Observance of Sacred Days” [Havertown: New Covenant Publications Society, n.d.])


[25]The setting apart a portion of our time for the worship and service of God, is a moral and unchangeable duty, but had no necessary dependence upon the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath of the Jews.  The first day of the week, or the Lord’s day, is the time kept holy by Christians, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection.  All the Jewish rites were shadows of gospel blessings.”  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the New Testament, Colossians New Modern Edition Database.  Vol. 8.  [Hendrickson, 1994], emphasis added.)
[26]
John Calvin, Commentaries on The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians.  ed. and trans. John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 192.  
[27] New Geneva Study Bible, 1888, emphasis added. 
[28]
John Calvin, Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 1:189, emphasis added.   

[29] I strongly encourage my readers to examine carefully each portion of the answers to the Catechism questions quoted and to look up the proof text references, which were provided by the Westminster Assembly divines.
[30] This particular statement was especially convicting for me [the author of this book].  A prayerful consideration of this aspect of my duty as a Christian, and, in particular, as an elder, overseer, and shepherd of the church of God (Acts 20:28), in accordance with the second commandment, encouraged me to press forward in writing this book. 
[31] Schneider, Christmas, 63. 
[32] Ibid., 39.
[33] Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1835), 77-78. 
[34] Morton H. Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim:  The Decline of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., as Reflected in its Assembly Actions (Jackson, MS: Premier, 1973), 97.  John Calvin similarly stated that “whatever is not commanded, we are not free to choose” (Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, ed. Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], 2:118). 
[35] Emphasis added.  See also Larger Catechism, Questions 108-9; Shorter Catechism, Questions 50-51. 
[36]
“Both the “regulative principle” of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith (I/vi) permit deductions to be drawn from Scripture by “good and necessary consequence” in matters of faith and practice.  Infant baptism is one such “good and necessary” deduction because the New Testament prescribes no repeal of the Old Testament command to give the covenant sign to covenant children.  (Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 870, n. 8.)
[37]
Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 870. 
[38]
Robert L. Reymond,  A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 868-877.  In addition to other Reformed systematic theologies, the following paper sets forth the regulative principle fairly accurately and also applies it to the subject of church holidays:

    Brian Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” (Lansing, Michigan, 1996), electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at http://www.reformed.com/pub/xmas.htm, 1-13. 


Also, readers may want to consult the following rebuttal of Steven M. Schlissel (of Brooklyn, NY)’s articles against the regulative principle: 

      Brian Schwertley, “A Brief Critique of Steven M. Schlissel’s Articles Against the Regulative Principle of Worship,” electronically retrieved 12 July 2001 at
http://reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/schlissel.htm


[39] Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 872. 
[40]
John Knox, “An Answer to a Letter of a Jesuit, Named [James] Tyrie, by John Knox” (1572), The Works of John Knox, vol. 6, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1855), 488, author’s translation.  

[41] G.I. Williamson, “Is Christmas Scriptural?”.  Electronically retrieved 14 October 2001 at   http://www.apuritansmind.com/Christmas/WilliamsonChristmas.htm
[42] G.I. Williamson, “On the Observance of Sacred Days” (Havertown: New Covenant Publications Society, n.d.).  Furthermore, Samuel Miller notes the practical ramifications of abandoning the regulative principle with respect to holy days, which includes the introduction of superstition and disorder into the church:

     It being evident, then, that stated fasts and festivals have no divine warrant, and that their use under the New Testament economy is a mere human invention; we may ask those who are friendly to their observence, what limits ought to be set to their adoption and use in the Christian Church?  If it be lawful to introduce five such days for stated observance, why not ten, twenty, or five score?  A small number were, at an early period, brought into use by serious men, who thought they were thereby rendering God service, and extending the reign of religion.  But one after another was added, as superstition increased, until the calendar became burdened with between two and three hundred fasts and festivals, or saint’s days, in each year; thus materially interfering with the claims of secular industry, and loading the worship of God with a mass of superstitious observances, equally unfriendly to the temporal and the eternal interests of men.  Let the principle once be admitted, that stated days of religious observance, which God has no where commanded, may properly be introduced into the Christian ritual, and, by parity of reasoning, every one who, from good motives, can effect the introduction of a new religious festival, is at liberty to do so.  Upon this principle was built up the enormous mass of superstition which now distinguishes and corrupts the Romish Church.  (Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1835], 77, emphasis added. 


[43] Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 872. 
[44] Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” 20. 
[45] See Schwertley, “The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas,” 14-16. 
[46] This is a direct quotation from the declaration issued by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) in 1899 (Minutes, Presbyterian Church U.S. [1899], 430; Alexander’s Digest [1922], 847, as quoted in Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim, 98, emphasis added.). 


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