Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a noisy minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes. Before the rise of social media, these debates seemed a little vaguer and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But social media gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Many people feel the need to state their opinions firmly, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.

Secular Objections to Christmas

Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).

When you peel back the layers, you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid Christophobia (hatred of Christianity).

Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said, if you’re ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t consider us a genuinely Christian nation any longer; however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.

If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday.

I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas, and you shouldn’t either.

If talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection.

Christian Objections to Christmas

Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.

There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. While I believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas beliefs are not founded on concrete facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.

Indeed, we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And it’s improbable that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And my response boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So, what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed-upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate, Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things about Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.

It’s true the Bible never specifically commands us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The word Christmas is not in the Bible. And again, my response is a disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and entirely on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24Matthew 2:1-23Luke 1:26-66Luke 2:1-40John 1:1-16). In each of these passages, angels and people celebrated the birth of Jesus. Many Old Testament prophecies revolved around Jesus’ birth (Genesis 22:18Numbers 24:17Isaiah 11:1Jeremiah 23:5-62 Samuel 7:12-14Micah 5:2Isaiah 7:14Psalm 72:9-10Jeremiah 31:15Hosea 11:1Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say many Scriptures affirm the celebration of Christ’s birth, and none forbidding it.

Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable verification methods (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals, this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use daily. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans, and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.

The Christmas Tree Debate

The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern for Christians. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because two Bible passages can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten, verses three and four:

“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees to create idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping handmade idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would indeed be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE and on verse four HERE.

A Christian Objection to Commercialism

The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.

The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority exposing people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.

Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories.

A Most Wonderful Time to Witness the Oneness

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15John 1:1John 1:14Philippians 2:6-71 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14Matthew 1:22-23) means “God with us.” Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the most precise translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:

“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ

What kind of deity would send a coequal deity to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (1 Timothy 3:16).

Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen, Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him, causing Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? In verse six, Jesus’ most famous response is where He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:

“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”

Jesus clarified that because you have known Me, you know the Father, and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation. But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication, so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:

“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”

Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.

Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us, a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”


Podcast | Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

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You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2)

This is an extension of my recent post You Cannot Be A Church Leader If. The interest was strong and the feedback intense so today I’m adding a few to the list.

12. You cannot be a church leader if you do not have a burden.

The apostle Paul described his burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews as a bitter sorrow and an unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love, a burden goes beyond concern, it is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. It is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.

13. You cannot be a pastor without a Divine calling.

This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. Having said that, I know many people who were called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the necessary theological framework for each point, but this is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles including Paul, and Timothy. Jonah is particularly interesting because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first and God went to great lengths to take him to his field of evangelism.

14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.

Many people have knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information, wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. Couple points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership the more critical wisdom becomes.

15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.

16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.

17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry as well. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was highly visible for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants, lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. Although, God does give confirmation of anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.

18. You cannot be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.

Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s approval. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.

19. You cannot be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.

Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. This goes back to my point in part one of this post regarding submission to spiritual authority. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via unification and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church looking for someone to validate their personal ministry, eventually they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their own ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from pastor, to preacher, to teacher, to evangelist, to musician, to singer, to youth leader, and on and on.

20. You cannot be a church leader without the ability to lead.

This one is going to rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who lacked the ability to lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the true “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed) promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that in our rush to start new churches we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into. One caveat, I do believe that if God truly calls he does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their own desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, and the neck in conjunction with the head, and so on. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.

21. You cannot be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:20-22).

True servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind they are still safe (i.e. saved). When spiritual leaders traverse in the gray areas their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant but it bears repeating because of its importance.

What would you add to this list?

 

 

What You Should Do After the Storm

Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-6

35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.

If it had not been for a storm Jonah would still be a backslider and all the people of Nineveh would be lost. If it had not been for a storm Elijah would not have known Elisha. If it had not been for a storm Peter could not have walked on the waves. If it had not been for a storm the disciples would not have witnessed the miracle of peace as Jesus spoke gently into a wild situation. If it had not been for a storm Paul could not have preached the Gospel on the island of Malta. When we come out on the other side of a storm we can say of God as Job did, “He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).” So, even though storms are frightening, and they are painful, and they are unpredictable, they are necessary for our spiritual growth.

Storms have a way of sending people to their knees in prayer. Nobody has time for prayer but when the waves start crashing people suddenly have a little room in their schedule for time with Jesus. Everyone is content to let Jesus sleep in the back of the boat until danger strikes. We’re all content with the “this” and the “that” until pain comes crashing in on us like a tidal wave and then we’re all in the back of the boat screaming, “Master, carest not thou that we perish (Mark 4:38)?

It’s been my experience that most people instinctively turn to Jesus during the storms of life, and much of what we do in church and around church is designed to help people stay strong through the storms. We sing and preach about dancing in the rain and praising in the storm. All of that is good and necessary; but what about after the storm is over?

I think sometimes we put so much emphasis on the storm itself that we forget about life after the drama. We spend so much time being afraid and reactionary that we don’t have any strength left once it’s over, and it will be over! The gospel of Mark spends five entire verses describing the storm and how the disciples were afraid and then Jesus gets up and simply says, “PEACE, BE STILL (Mark 4:39)” and the whole thing is over just like that. Storms are no big deal for Jesus. He is far more concerned about our lack of faith than he is about the storm (Hebrews 11:6).

What I find most noteworthy about this whole story is not the storm or that Jesus calmed the storm or that Jesus was angered by their lack of faith or that they marveled. It’s what did not happen that makes me sit up and take notice. These disciples who were a part Jesus’ closest inner circle did not worship Him or offer up a word of thanksgiving even after He miraculously calmed the tempest. Wow. I think that’s a big deal and I think it was a big deal to Jesus as well.

It sounds strange to say it out loud, but I’ve witnessed more people slip away from a right relationship with God in the good times then in the bad times. It’s almost as if the waves push us into the arms of Jesus but the calm lulls us into a state of complacency. We might experience fewer storms if we could remain focused on the Master in the good times.

Take King Saul, for example; God gave him a great victory over his most dangerous enemy and immediately afterwards He allowed rebellion to take root in his heart (1 Samuel 15). His downward spiral didn’t happen during the battle it happened after the danger had already passed. His worship is where the corruption first became apparent. When the process of backsliding begins it is usually first manifested externally in our worship. With that in mind, here are three things that we must do after the storm is over.

1. OFFER THANKSGIVING. After Jesus healed the ten lepers in Luke 17 He sent them off to show themselves to the priest. And then the unthinkable happened, only one of them returned to thank Jesus after realizing that he had indeed been healed. That one leper was immediately made whole by Jesus. In other words, he was not only healed of the leprosy but of the previous effects of the leprosy.

Some people will never see another miracle until they learn how to be thankful for the first miracle. Those other nine lepers made it through a storm, but they forgot that Jesus is more than the Lord of the storm, Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). Jesus wants more than our frenzied cries of desperation He demands our gratitude (Psalm 100:4).

2. BUILD AN ALTAR OF SACRIFICE. I think we can all agree that Noah endured a genuine, big time storm. After he made it through to the other side he provided an example for us all to follow; he quickly built an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord (Genesis 8:20-21). God was so moved by this gesture that He promised to never again smite the earth with a storm of that magnitude. If you want to avoid going through the same type of storm over and over again start building an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord. In this New Testament era, you should present your body as a living sacrifice unto the Lord (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15).

3. GIVE HIM WORSHIP. When the disciples got out on the other side of the storm they were immediately approached by a man who was literally possessed with not one or two but by a legion of demons (Mark 5:9). A man so tormented, so outcast, so messed up that he lived among the tombs. He terrorized the towns nearby.

They tried to bind him with ropes and chains, but he could not be bound. They tried to subdue him, but it was humanly impossible. Ironically, the world tries to fix bondage with more bondage, but He who the Son hath set free is free indeed (John 8:36)! The townspeople could hear this wild man crying in the tombs and cutting himself (that’s how unbearable his physical and spiritual agony was). This man was unwanted, he was wild, he was an embarrassment, he was demonic, he was sinful, and yet when he saw Jesus afar off he ran and worshipped him. Ironically, it took a messed up, tore up, broken up man who was possessed with a legion of demons to show those disciples what to do after the storm is over.

Psalm 107:29-31
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!