By Johnny Stringer
Elsewhere in this issue of Truth Magazine there appears an article by Brother K.E. Clayton, in which the author contends that Christians should not engage in even a non-religious celebration of Christmas or Easter. Having been requested by the editor to review Brother Clayton’s article, I am submitting for your consideration my thoughts regarding his arguments. Let it be understood that I respect Brother Clayton’s opinion in this matter and his right to abstain from any type of celebration on these holidays. I would not encourage anyone who feels as our brother does to celebrate Christmas in any fashion. In fact, as long as one holds this view, I would urge him not to celebrate and thereby violate his conscience (Rom. 14:23).
If I understand our brother’s view, he believes that it is possible to celebrate these holidays as national holidays, without attaching any religious significance to them. He places the matter in the realm of expediency, saying that “you must consider the expediency of participating in such activities, even though you are free to celebrate these days as holidays rather than holy days.” His contention is that by any kind of participation, we damage our influence. Let us now proceed to discuss, paragraph by paragraph, his efforts to support his view.
He begins his article with some comments regarding the necessity of modifying our behavior at times for the sake of our influence with the people among whom we live. This is absolutely true, and the passage cited by Brother Clayton (1 Cor. 9:19-23) supports the proposition. It should be noted that the question regarding a practice is not merely whether or not it is contrary to someone else’s convictions, but whether or not it would actually hinder our efforts to convert him. The salvation of souls is the ultimate aim, as is seen in such expressions as “that I might gain the more,” “that I might by all means save some,” and “for the gospel’s sake.” This is also clear from 1 Cor. 10:23-33, where Paul says that he would not eat meat when doing so would cause another to consider him an idolater and thus damage his reputation. He clearly shows that the reason for the forfeiting of such liberties as eating meat was that such action might be a stumbling block (offence) that would hinder the salvation of the other person (note especially verses 32-33). Having observed that there are times when we should conform to society’s customs, Brother Clayton correctly points out that there are times when conformity is wrong (Rom. 12:2).
In paragraph 2 Brother Clayton speaks of the paganistic beginnings of these holidays, but acknowledges that these paganistic connotations no longer remain, though the denominational world in general places religious significance on these days. I fully agree that it would be utterly sinful for the Christian to make such celebrations a matter of religion; I also agree that it is possible to observe these days as national holidays without attaching religious significance to them. This past December 25th, I did not consider myself to be engaging in a religious activity while I was gorging myself with turkey and dressing.
In paragraph 3 Brother Clayton expressed confusion over whether or not these are national holidays or national holy days. Of course, in current usage the word “holiday” does not refer merely to holy days, but to many days which are in no sense considered to be holy by anyone. Our government has no authority to declare any day to be a holy day, but it has declared Christmas to be a national holiday. One can observe Christmas because our government has declared it a holiday, or one can observe Christmas because his false religious beliefs declare it to be a holy day. It is true, as our brother points out, that many professed Christians consider it a holy day. But it is also true that many skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and infidels celebrate Christmas merely as a national holiday. Whether an individual celebrates it as a holy day or not is dependent upon that individual’s own thinking as he celebrates. Is he, in his own mind, visiting relatives, eating turkey, exchanging gifts, hunting deer, or doing whatever he does on December 25th, because he thinks it is Christ’s birthday and he considers these to be religious activities which honor the birth of Christ? As Brother Clayton admits, it is possible for an individual to observe Christmas as a holiday, and not a holy day.
In paragraph 4 Brother Clayton said, “In certain areas of the world, one’s influence can be seriously harmed by celebrating the holidays of Christmas and Easter.” I cannot deny this statement, for I have not lived in all areas of the world; hence, I cannot speak of the effect on one’s influence these practices would have in all areas. I can only say that if there are certain areas of the world where the celebration of Christmas would damage my influence, I have never been in those areas. If I ever am in such an area, I will not celebrate. Having lived in Texas, Florida, Indiana, and Arkansas, I am convinced that this is not true of those areas. I am convinced that my non-religious celebration of Christmas has never hindered the salvation of any soul. Otherwise, I would have quit. Brother Clayton proceeds in this paragraph to compare those of us who participate in non-religious celebration of Christmas, but oppose religious celebration of it, with a man who opposes $200 per plate fund-raising dinners, but attends one when given a free ticket. The man, it is pointed out, would be hypocritical and would be ineffective in his crusade against such dinners. There is a difference, however. The man attending the dinner is participating in something he opposes, hence is hypocritical. I am not opposed to putting up a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, visiting relatives, or eating turkey, hence I am not hypocritical when I engage in these things. It is not necessary to refrain from things which we do not oppose in order to show people what we do oppose. They can be taught the distinction.
In paragraph 5 it is affirmed that when we celebrate Christmas in a non-religious way, we present a stumbling block to the new convert who is unable to do so. It is argued that the new convert may be unable to celebrate without thinking of it as religious activity in honor of Christ’s birth, so that when we influence him to celebrate Christmas, he may stumble back into idolatry. Surely we should not want to be a stumbling block to any new convert. However, this is no reason to make a blanket statement regarding the observance of Christmas. When one is in a specific situation where he fears his celebration would influence someone else to stumble, he should not celebrate. But I have never been in a situation where such was the case. I believe that new converts generally are able to see the distinction between religious and non-religious observance of Christmas, if such is carefully explained to them.
In paragraph 6, Romans 14 is discussed. Brother Clayton asserts that in a case when a brother celebrates Christmas, even though another brother has conscience problems with the practice, the one who celebrates is wrong to do so. It is affirmed that in such a case, one should refrain from celebrating, in deference to the weaker brother. This is not necessarily so. It would be so only if one’s celebrating would cause the other brother to stumble. Nowhere do the scriptures teach that we must refrain from every practice that would violate someone else’s conscience. I have known Christians who would violate their consciences by celebrating Christmas, but my celebrating in no way caused them to stumble. Continuing his discussion of Romans 14, our brother says that the celebration of Christmas is not parallel with the eating of meats which is dealt with in that passage, because of the fact that Christmas is considered by many to be a part of “Christian” doctrine, whereas the eating of meats was not. It should be noted, however, that circumcision was considered by some to be necessary for salvation in Christ; but the fact that some observed it as a religious act which was a part of Christianity, did not mean that Christians could not practice it for non-religious reasons. Moreover, some today consider resting on Saturday to be a part of Christianity. Does this mean that I should refrain from resting on Saturday? Certainly it is true that many rest on Saturday for non-religious reasons; but it is also true that many celebrate Christmas for nonreligious reasons (atheists, for instance).
In paragraphs 7 and 8 Brother Clayton argued that a refusal to celebrate Christmas will aid our efforts to teach others the gospel. He says that while he was in high school, if his friends who were Christians had not celebrated Christmas, he might have asked them why they did not, and thereby been converted earlier than he was. He says that his refusal to celebrate has led many to ask him his reasons, and that this has led to fruitful discussions. I can only say that his high school friends could have taught him the truth regardless of whether or not they celebrated Christmas. He says that they did not appear to be any different to him. This is a poor commentary on them. If refusing to celebrate Christmas was required before there was any discernible difference between them and others, then they were surely failing to let their lights shine! I agree that “non conformity (Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor. 6:14-18) brings forth its fruits;” but this does not mean we should abstain from things that are not sinful, just for the sake of being different. If we simply abstain from those things that are sinful, we will be plenty different; we do not have to abstain from things permissible. Refraining from a permissible practice in order to attract attention, arouse curiosity, and provoke questions, is hardly the only way to gain opportunities to teach the gospel. Actually, I fear that if I were to refrain from any celebration, I would give others the impression that I considered any kind of celebration to be sinful, hence would lead them to a false view of my convictions. We do not have to be more strict than truth in order to teach the truth.
In Brother Clayton’s concluding paragraph he quoted Paul’s warning to the Galatians about their observance of days. I do not understand why he quoted this passage, for he has already admitted the possibility of non-religious celebration . of the holidays under discussion in his article. Paul was obviously here speaking to the Galatians about their observance of days as a matter of service to God-a part of their religion. He was not speaking of non-religious observances.
In conclusion, let me say that I have never met Brother Clayton, but I believe he has written out of sincere conviction. I appreciate the spirit manifested in his article. Although I disagree with him, I respect him for his apparent dedication and the manner in which he stated his convictions. I hope the readers will not consider our articles to be a wrangle, but merely two brothers in Christ discussing their views on a controversial subject.
Truth Magazine XXII: 1, pp. 27-29
January 5, 1978