Happy Holy Days?

I once heard a Reformed Baptist say that there are roughly 52 holidays (holy days) on the Reformed church calendar, and they all have the same name: the Lord’s Day. This assertion struck my funny bone at the time, but it has progressively become a reality for me over the years. As one grows in one’s delight in the Sabbath, all other days seem to pale in comparison.

It is written on the heart of man to set aside a day when he wishes to worship or esteem something or someone. God has written it on our hearts, just as He wrote all of the other Ten Commandments on our hearts. Innately, man knows it is proper to set aside time for the Object of his worship. In the book of Exodus, we are told:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Exod. 20:8-11; NASB).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, many Ceremonial Laws were added to the Moral Law, including many feast days and special sabbaths (some of which did not even occur on the seventh day). These were meant to be days of rest, not resting in idleness or in some mystic form of meditation, but resting in the Lord. Other cultures and religions besides have conjured up their own holy days to be observed in accordance with their own religious calendars.

In the Greek Scriptures, we learn that the whole of the ceremonial law pointed to, and was fulfilled in, Christ. As such, there is only one day still binding on Christ’s subjects for His worship: the Sabbath. Some Christians have argued that the Sabbath is no longer binding, but that Christ is our Sabbath rest. Reformed Baptists respond that the Lord was always the focus of the Sabbath, so their argument has no foundation.

Others throughout church history have added to the church calendar holy days that were never commanded by God for His worship. These days include Christmas, Resurrection Day, All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve, Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. These all have their roots in biblical truth (some more, some less), but none of them were commanded by God in Scripture.

“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 imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (The Baptist Confession, 22.1).

I am not saying that Christians are not free to make a commendable use of these days in good conscience. What I am saying is that they are not holy days (holidays) in the biblical sense. Only one day fits that bill. Thus, when these days take precedence over the Lord’s Day, whether in our observance of them or in our preparation for them, we might stop ask the Lord if we have chosen to prioritize our time contrary to how God has ordained. To put it more simply, the Lord’s Day should be more precious to us than any other “holiday” man may observe. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Side note: I was sick in bed and couldn’t attend church this past Lord’s Day, but I probably don’t need to tell you where I stand on churches closing their doors on the Lord’s Day merely so that God’s people can spend time with family on Christmas morning.

Trappings of Tradition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it?

The Facebook page “Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day” has 10,000 likes.  Apparently, if you shop on Thanksgiving, you are forcing people to have to work and needlessly keeping them from their families. The right thing to do, according to the page, is to rest on that day, focus on giving thanks for what you have, and don’t frequent stores that offer unnecessary services. If I step into CVS for some of their ECB deals Thanksgiving night, am I a cruel, heartless being?

When Thanksgiving appears, Christmas isn’t too far behind. I have not watched “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas“, but I did read the discussion guide here. Part of Question 7 states,

Our children need to taste and see and hear that we are children of this King. Our traditions are one of the primary ways that this amazing reality is communicated from generation to generation. Embrace all of the gift giving, the advent calendars, the Christmas Eve dinners, and everything else that communicates that ‘The Earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains’ in concrete and embodied ways.”

Blogs and discussion groups abound with ideas on what to do for Advent, claiming that by doing these things I will create meaningful memories for my children. If I don’t fill my kids with sugar and deck them halls with red, green, silver or blue, have I deprived my children forever?

Is there something wrong with you if you don’t follow tradition?

Growing up Roman Catholic, my family knew how to celebrate in the winter months. The advent wreath was brought out and the candles lit every evening at supper whilst we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Stockings were hung on the stairway on December 5th, as St. Nicholas would come the next day bringing some toys, an ornament, tangerines and walnuts. The next week we trekked to the Christmas tree farm to pick out the tree and lug it home. While it was being decorated, other Christmas ornaments were hung on red velvet ribbons tacked to the top of the bow window, and a nativity (or two) would be arranged. A few presents would be placed under the tree at Christmas Eve, and all would be allowed to open one. The next morning, more presents would appear under the tree from Santa Claus. We would open some, pause and go to Mass, then come back to finish reveling in what we received. Twelve days later was the feast of the epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day.  Whoever bit into the walnut hidden in a cupcake was crowned that year’s king.

Later when I became a Christian, married, and had children of my own, the traditions of my youth hovered before me like the ghost of Christmas past. What traditions should I keep? How was I going to ensure my kids had a Christmas full of wonder and magic? When could I get everyone still enough for a photo for the cards? Wouldn’t I be Puritanical if I didn’t celebrate the season?

If this time of year brings an undue amount of pressure for you, here is a sanity-saving tip that I have come to know: if a holiday event brings you stress and pressure, then don’t do it.

Let me repeat: if a holiday event brings you stress and pressure, then don’t do it!

It is truly that simple. Breaking the trappings of tradition can be difficult, but once done, the freedom is thrilling. The doctrine of Christian liberty is such a precious doctrine to study. Usually we hear it summoned as a defense for various holiday celebrations. Yet let’s remember that it also offers freedom from holiday celebrations.

 God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also. -LBCF 21.2

So if you want to exercise good stewardship on Thanksgiving by shopping, do so without guilt. Christmas presents do not have to be around a tree, it may be advantageous to avoid mentioning Advent, and children are able to wonder at the Incarnation without a nativity. (Besides how nativities violate the 2nd Commandment, but that’s a post for another day.) Most Puritan children probably grew up just fine without even celebrating Christmas.

In our family, we might decorate a tree this season; we haven’t done it every year. My children enjoy receiving presents, but they will be the first to tell you Santa Claus is not real. And if I get to it, we’ll send a newsletter to friends and family. It’s not a big deal. After all, traditions come and go, but the Word of the Lord lasts forever.



For a thorough treatment exploring Christian liberty and the Christmas issue, listen to Al Martin’s series on Christian Liberty and Christmas.