September 21, 2017

“Churches of Christ Change Approach to Christmas”

Mike Willis

The title of this article was taken from an article by Bobby Ross, Jr.  in Christian Chronicle (December 2005). The Christian Chronicle article relates how churches of Christ have changed their approach to Christmas in recent years. Ross says that in the past “mistletoe was welcome, but mangers certainly were not.” Churches of Christ scrupulously avoided the religious celebration of Christian. But now he observes,

In recent years, though, many churches have become much more willing to reflect on the story of Jesus’ birth at a time when the world is focused on him, the Chronicle found in a query of more than 100 ministers and members nationwide (1).

Following that statement, Ross relates interviews with several associated with institutional churches of Christ. Jim Hackney, from the Keller, Texas church is quoted as saying, “Visitors come to our church on Christmas expecting to hear about the birth of Jesus. We don’t disappoint them. It’s too important to reach out in a positive way at that time” (8). John Free, elder of the Sunny Hills church in Fullerton, California says, “So Christmas carols are sung in our worship service on the Sunday closest to Christmas, and the sermons typically focus on that part of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” (8). Glover Shipp, former longtime missionary who is an elder at the church in Edmond, Oklahoma comments, “To celebrate Christmas without Christ, making Santa the chief person in it, doesn’t make sense” (8). Ross also quoted a couple of people who think the church should not participate in the religious celebration of Christmas.

Along the same line, brother Dan King sent me an ad which appeared in the November 26th issue of the Nashville Tennessean. It was an advertisement of the Pegram Church of Christ. They advertised that Rubel Shelly would speak on November 27th but then included an announcement of a special service for Sunday, December 4th. It reads, “South Cheatham Choral Society, December 4, 3:00 p.m. Enjoy Christmas songs—old and new—including a percussionist, flutist and pianist. A great way to get into the holiday spirit!” Yes, I would agree with brother Ross that churches of Christ are changing how they react to Christmas! The Pegram church not only participates in the religious celebration of Christmas, it also is sponsoring a service using mechanical instruments of music. Things are changing rapidly in the institutional churches as many of them are transitioning into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism.

But things are changing among us as well. Twenty-five years ago, church bulletins nearly always contained an article around Christmas and Easter about unscriptural holidays. Today such articles are rare. How long has it been since you heard a sermon about unscriptural holy days where you worship? My judgment is that some of us have bought the same line as our institutional brethren: “Visitors come to our church on Christmas expecting to hear about the birth of Jesus. We don’t disappoint them. It’s too important to reach out in a positive way at that time” Have we changed our preaching to keep our visitors coming back?

Denominational folks have had special Christmas services for a long time. Many of their pageants can be seen on TV, other presentations occur in various local churches and nativity scenes are frequently presented on church lawns. This year a couple of churches in our area have announced that they will conduct their special Christmas services on Saturday so that they can cancel their services on Sunday, December 25th. Steve Poe, the preacher for the Northview Chrsitian Life Church in Carmel, Indiana, explained why they decided to cancel their Sunday services on December 25th saying, “We value family life, and Christmas is probably the biggest family day of the year. . . .We want to honor and encourage that with our congregation and also our volunteers. We feel we’re not respecting that by asking volunteers to serve on Christmas.” This special “holy day” which man has created has gotten to be so important that this church decided to cancel God’s divinely appointed day for worship.

A Reminder

The purpose of this article is to remind us of the necessity of emphasizing the fundamentals of the gospel. Peter emphasized the need to re-teach the fundamentals of the gospel when he said, “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Preachers and elders need to remember that we constantly have a turn over in membership—young people growing into maturity, people moving in, growth in spiritual maturity of the ones who are members, etc. Old truths need to be re-stated; one must not assume that “everyone knows this” and not preach on it.

The issue about Christmas is the issue of whether man has the right to establish a holy day for the church to observe or has God revealed how he wants men to worship him. In the Old Testament, the northern nation of Israel had a king named Jeroboam who made many changes in Old Testament worship. He moved the place of worship from Jerusalem to Dan and Bethel, appointed priests of every tribe, set up a calf at the two sanctuaries, and made new holy days. “And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made” (1 Kings 12:32). One could argue that, so long as one worships God, what difference does it make which day the feast is observed? However, the biblical historian succinctly says about Jeroboam’s changes in Israel’s worship, “And this thing became a sin” (1 Kings 12:30). So significant were the apostasies which Jeroboam introduced that the historian made this assessment of several of Israel’s subsequent kings, “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:34; cf. 16:2, 19; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29; etc.). The point is that God has revealed to man how he wishes to be worshiped and man does not have the right to change divinely revealed worship.

The New Testament draws upon the principles revealed in the Old Testament. Jesus said about the changes which the Pharisees made in their teaching and worship, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Worship that is authorized by man rather than by God is sinful worship. Paul spoke about humanly devised worship being “will worship” (that is self-imposed rules) that had no value to God (Col. 2:22).

Those warnings in Scripture about adding to and detracting from divine revelation need to be taught to a new generation.

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11).

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds (2 John 9-11).

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Rev. 22:18-19).

Whether the teaching is done in December, April, or July is of little consequence, but the teaching needs to be done so that this generation of Christians will recognize that man sins when he creates holy days for the church, whether those holy days be Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Thanksgiving.

Truth Magazine Vol. L: 2 January 2006