There have been some very ugly fights between Christians who observe Christmas as a Christ-centered celebration or those who don’t celebrate it. Who’s right?
I have actually heard other believers call fellow believers, pagans. Yes, that came from the mouth of another Christian, so I thought the word pagan needs some definition because the word originally meant “region delimited by markers,” but that’s not what we think of when we say the word pagan. Today, we use the word pagan to refer to anything that is outside of our own religious belief system. If it’s not what we believe, then it must be pagan, and to a point, that’s true. Christianity is not pagan, but like all other religions, and even the secular world, pagan things have infiltrated their ways into all of our lives, but we can carry this pagan label too far. Strictly speaking, or by definition, a pagan is someone who holds religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions, so anyone outside of their own belief system, is considered pagan. Christians see paganism is anything that is not Bible-based, but we can carry this paganism cleansing too far. For example, a wedding ring is a pagan symbol of fertility, so does that mean that every married couple is worshipping the god of fertility by wearing their wedding rings? In ancient times, paganism was sheer hedonism, or the relentless pursuit of sensual gratification and self-indulgence, and seeking and pursing pleasure to the point of exclusion of everything and everyone else, and sexual ceremonies were a major part of pagan religions as there were dozens and dozens of temple prostitutes. That’s true paganism, historically speaking.
The Apostle Paul has some very good words on learning how to live with the differences that we all have (Rom 14). He knew we all have different backgrounds, parenting styles, skills, abilities, and belief systems, but we all agree on the main things; the divinity of Christ, His sinless perfection, and that He is coming again to judge the world in righteousness, but then we can get into splitting hairs where it’s not really necessary. A person is saved by faith alone in Christ alone, and their salvation is not affected because they don’t understand everything. To one person, something may not be a sin, but to another, it may be, so as Paul said, what is not of faith is sin…to that person (Rom 14:23). We can’t say what that looks like for our neighbor, but we can, and in fact, must say something when our brother or sister gets into “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal 5:19-21). It is our Christian duty to go to our brother or sister (Matt 18:15-20), but when we get into areas that are non-essentials, we can get into our judges robe and sit in the jury box and very easily hand out convictions, however, that is not our place.
God is the Judge
The Apostle Paul tells us that we shouldn’t be in the business of condemning over non-essentials. He writes, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom 14:1-5). I am glad, and aren’t you glad, that we won’t stand before others on judgment day. For us, our sins have already been judged in Christ, but after His return, He will hand out rewards to those who have been faithful. The point is, we’re not our brother’s judge over whether they think or believe (or have proof, some have said) that Christmas is pagan or not. Again, just about everything in this world have pagan fingerprints all over it. Ringing bells was a part of pagan worship. They rang bells to “wake up” or get the attention of the gods, so does that mean that churches are participating in pagan practices when they ring their bells on Sunday morning? Are they trying to get the pagan gods attention? And, lighting candles were the pagan’s ways of driving off the cold and forces of darkness (whatever that was), so is lighting candles paganist? When I hear church bells in our small town, I don’t think, “Okay, it’s time to get up and start worshipping the pagan gods of (fill in the blank),” but rather, “It’s time to go and worship God.” When I placed my wife’s wedding ring on her finger, I didn’t think of the goddess of fertility. It was special moment, and the ring represents the unbroken circle of our love; till death do we part. Paganism was the last thing on my mind, so for those who desire to participate in Christmas, good for you…and for those who don’t, good for you too. Just don’t let this become a war within the Body of Christ, the church. It’s not godly and it’s not Christ-like.
Babies and Bathwater
Remember, even some of the things the apostles wore were also worn and used by pagan priests in their worship. I don’t believe the apostles would give up their cloak just because the pagans wore them or I doubt they were ever thinking about paganism while wearing them. Intent is everything. Yes, we’re told to “Come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4), but that verse is frequently taken out of context because it has to do with Babylon and the system of sexual immorality and greed (Rev 21:9-24), so “Come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4) has absolutely nothing to do with someone observing Christmas.
No Offense Necessary
As we have read, there are simply hundreds of pagan relics left over in the world, and many of these have seeped deep into our culture, and even into religion, but God looks at our thoughts, motives, and intents (Heb 4:13) more than just our outward actions. He is interested what we think. If we celebrate birthdays but our brothers don’t, then let us not impose our beliefs on them, but those who don’t observe birthdays should not be imposing their beliefs on those who do want to celebrate it. Imagine a pot luck meal in the first century church, which was primarily Jewish, and then someone brings in roasted pork. Would they remember Jesus’ words, that, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean)” (Mark 7:18-19). Of course, that person shouldn’t have brought pork to a predominantly Jewish crowd, and even though it was okay for him to eat pork, it is not good to unnecessarily offend those who do not eat pork. So, why are so many Christians who don’t observe Christmas, offended by those who do, and why are some believers who observe Christmas offended by those who don’t’ observe it?
We must be careful of judging other believers who participate in Christmas and those who don’t. If you are fully convinced in your mind about observing Christmas, then there is nothing wrong it. For you, it is not sin, but for those who don’t observe Christmas, that’s not sin either, so brothers and sisters, let us not range in war against one another…especially over things that are not essential to our salvation, and things that are not obviously sins (Gal 5:19-21). If it’s not sin for them, it’s not our right to say it is. Let us remember that “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord” (Rom 14:5-6), so “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14:10), and that judgment seat is a one-seater! There’s only room for God.