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Question and Answer

Christmas and the Regulative Principle

Question:

My family has been struggling with the issue of the proper Christian attitude towards Christmas. I saw that you briefly addressed the issue in a previous question and answer. You acknowledge in your answer that Christmas is nowhere commanded in Scripture but you do not address how the regulative principle of worship relates to Christmas. In attaching homage to Jesus Christ and by honoring his incarnation on a specific day of the year whether in church or family observance, men are declaring a solemn day of worship by their own accord. The only day set by God in the Scriptures for solemn worship and remembrance of Christ is the Lord's Day. Isn't creating another day a violation of the regulative principle?

Answer:

It is always encouraging to hear of Christians "struggling" to be faithful to Christ in every area of life. As was said in the previous answer re: "Christmas Celebration," "The OPC does not have a position on the celebration of Christmas."

It is important, in answering this controversial question, to distinguish between private and public practice. The regulative principle applies to the worship and government of the church, not private practice. Westminster Confession of Faith 20:4 states:

... 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.

The regulative principle forbids adding symbols or ceremonies not expressly commanded in Scripture when they have religious significance attached to them. Each local church session (minister[s] and elders) must decide how to apply the regulative principle to their worship service. For example, if we attach religious significance to creches and Christmas trees, then they would be deemed inappropriate in the place of public worship.

Regarding preaching, it is never wrong, and is usually wise, to preach on the subject of the incarnation, since it is, in some fashion, on the minds of the general populace, and especially the mind of the church. We should encourage regular preaching on the great events of redemptive history. There is nothing wrong with attaching those to certain seasons, as long as we do not demand that preachers preach on certain topics or texts at certain seasons or that we forbid them to preach on those texts at other times. I always preach on the incarnation on the Lord's day before Christmas day. In our congregation we do not have a special service on Christmas or Christmas Eve, but many sessions deem it wise to do so.

On the matter of special days of worship, while the Lord's day is the only mandated day of worship, this does not forbid churches from gathering for worship at other times as deemed wise by the local session. Such gatherings would not be required in the same way the keeping of the Lord's Day is.

The Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5 addresses this in the context of enumerating the elements of public worship:

The reading of Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of Psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

Family gatherings are in an entirely different category. Family and private devotions are regulated by God's Word in that no elements or means of worship invented by men are to be used, e.g. rosary beads. But unlike public worship all the elements are not required at any one time, and several would be forbidden. Without a minister of the Word present, preaching, benediction, and the sacraments could not be administered. Family gatherings, whether for worship or festivity, are informal and not subject to the same regulations as public worship.

Thus, Christians have the freedom to treat Christmas day as merely a time for family gatherings and gift giving. On the other hand a family might choose to read the Scripture narratives of our Savior's birth. This is a matter of Christian liberty. The church, as the church, is not commanding something other than the Lord's Day for public worship.

While we should consider the dangers of the covetousness involved in much of the modern commercialism surrounding Christmas, it would seem that giving and family festivity is a healthy enjoyment, allowed and even encouraged by Scripture. "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17). "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving...." (1 Tim. 4:3). The degree of religious importance a Christian may attach to Christmas or any holiday is a matter of liberty as long as he does not seek to impose his or her view on other Christians.

Our "proper attitude" toward those with whom we differ on this subject is also a very important concern of Scripture. This is sometimes sadly neglected by those of us with strong convictions. While strong convictions are very important on important matters, we sometimes forget that not all of our convictions are in that category.

If the Regulative Principle is being undermined then the issue needs to be humbly addressed to the leadership of the congregation. In our approach we should be open to growing in our understanding of how to apply the principle, and not just going to teach the leaders. However, what one does privately, as long as it does not transgress a moral commandment or principle of God's Word, is a matter of Christian liberty, love, and prudence. We must be very careful in our attitude toward others, both Christians and non-Christians, with whom we may disagree over this issue to exercise forbearance, love, and kindness. The Bible commands this in the strongest terms.

Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.... But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." (Rom. 14:3-6, 10)


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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