I know for a lot of folks, this is something of a non-issue. But coming from the weird and wonderful world of Strict & Particular Baptists, it is a question that has a certain history and still remains live in certain quarters. There are certainly those who resolutely refuse to celebrate Christmas whilst others cannot possibly grasp why they would make that decision.
The thought of not celebrating the incarnation, and standing out as weirder than normal on the one time of year when non-Christians might actually think about the very Christian things we spend the rest of the year hoping to get them thinking about, seems insane to many. But for others, the celebration of Christmas is pagan, or Anglican (which, to a certain brand of dissenter amounts to the same thing), or forbidden by the Bible itself.
As Tim Challies noted in this recent post:
God’s people aren’t commanded to celebrate Christmas. In fact, God’s people aren’t commanded to celebrate any holidays (i.e., holy days). We most certainly have the freedom to do so, but we also have the freedom not to. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike,” says Paul. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Throughout church history, Christians have stood in both camps. Mature Christians have treated Christmas as a Christian holiday; other mature Christians have treated it like any other day.
Now, Tim’s argument in his post is to say that we must be careful not to bind the conscience of others believers who think differently to us on Christmas. Some celebrate to the glory of God; others don’t celebrate to the glory of God. Tim wants to call us to a bit of Romans 14:1-12 charity. And I don’t disagree with him at all. I think we ought not to bind people’s consciences and tell them – as though scripture demands it – that our position is the Biblically mandated one. This is not a matter of scriptural fidelity.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop us looking and assessing which position is best. We can charitably and graciously permit others to reach whatever conclusions they may about Christmas – without dismissing them as lesser Christians – whilst still advancing the case that, in our view, it is best to celebrate or not celebrate (as is your particular position).
For me, I think it is better for Christians to celebrate Christmas. I don’t mean ‘better’ as though that means biblically mandated, of course. It is a matter of wisdom. But better does mean better, as in preferable or (potentially) wiser. So why I do I think it is best for Christians to celebrate Christmas?
First, to not celebrate may inadvertently communicate something unhelpful to our friends and neighbours in our particular culture. We can talk about the Bible’s focus on having a yearlong posture toward remembering Christ if we want, we may even (quite rightly) be doing just that in our church each week. But you can bet your bottom dollar the world outside the four walls of our building don’t know that.
The inner workings of the average Evangelical church are a mystery to the overwhelming majority of people who have no thought for them, have never set foot in one and seem to have no intention to ever do so. Our daily and weekly posture toward Christ just isn’t on their radar. The only time Christ is even tangentially on their mind is Christmas (and maybe Easter). It, therefore, communicates something not especially helpful if, the one time of year everybody at least nods to the birth of Christ, the only people they see actively eschewing it and doing nothing are the church who supposedly love and honour him the most.
Second, I think we miss a real evangelistic opportunity when we eschew Christmas. The rest of the year (if we are into events and that sort of thing) we end up trying to find hooks onto which we can hang our evangelistic works. Resources abound on how major events can be used for the purposes of proclaiming the gospel. We hold quiz nights and English classes, soup kitchens and film events. You name it, we try and take it and tack a gospel talk onto it that is tangentially related (and, for the record, I’m not saying that’s wrong – if it’s bearing fruit for the gospel, more power to your elbow).
But at one of the only time of year in which people aren’t looking for the evangelistic hook, but are coming in specifically for the purpose of engaging with the coming of Christ, it does seem perverse to turn that down because there are no holy days or we don’t like the Church calendar? Truth may be there are no holy days but, if the world thinks there are and wander into my church as a result, if we have any evangelistic inclination whatsoever, is it wise to neglect such an opportunity? We don’t have to fashion any hook because people are already coming in to hear the very thing we want to talk about! The coming of Christ into the world necessitates some discussion of why he came into the world which is precisely the message of the gospel we want to tell people the other 51 weeks of the year. It is surely best to take the opportunity while it is there.
Third, I am often reminded of Dick Lucas’ call not to be weirder than we have to be. Fact is, Christians are weird and such will it always be. There are necessarily some beliefs and views we hold that will make us weird in the world’s eyes. His comment was principally aimed at the sphere of evangelism where we can, sometimes, do what is unnecessarily odd and then claim we are being persecuted – or people aren’t listening to us – because the message is odd when the truth is closer to us being unnecessarily weird.
But I think Lucas’ comment has application beyond our evangelistic technique. The church doesn’t exist in a vacuum and we can’t hive off our evangelistic endeavours from our other activities, as if our hospitality and services of worship and other things don’t all impact on how people view the church (and, by proxy, Christ). When we are unnecessarily harder, or weirder, than the Bible calls us to be in any given area – particular when such things will be viewed by the community outside, this has an apologetic impact. For this reason, the celebration of Christmas would seem to fall into this category.