By Mike Willis
Our society has an attitude toward worship that teaches that God is obligated to accept whatever worship we offer to Him. Some in our society devise their worship to please themselves and then expect God to accept it.
This concept is contrary to everything God has revealed about worship. God has revealed how men should worship Him. Men please God in worship when they worship according to the revealed pattern of worship. Whenever man steps outside the pattern of divine worship, he displeases God.
A past generation of Christians heard many lessons on this theme and understood the dangers of changing the worship of God. I am not so sure that is the case today. During the Christmas season just past, I saw several references to liberal churches of Christ participating in the celebration of Christmas in one manner or another. The 14 December 1986 issue of Bering Today, published by the Bering Drive church in Houston, Texas contained the following notice:
Our Christmas Celebration This Sunday
This Sunday is our Christmas Celebration. A number of wonderful, uplifting activities have been planned for our church family to enjoy together.
CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PARTY for all children, 9:45 to 10: 10 a.m. in the Children’s place.
MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE at 10: 15 a.m. “Born in a Manger To Sorrow and Shame,” Bill Love, Speaking.
CHORUS PROGRAM: “A Christmas Rose,” immediately following morning worship.
CHRISTMAS DINNER – catered by the Table Servants Ministry
COLLECTION DAY for food and money for our Outreach Christmas Baskets. . . .
From the Central News Bulletin (21 December 1986), published by the Central Church in Nashville, Tennessee, the following is taken:
Children Enjoy Christmas Party
The children of the Central church, including those of our members and all the children who ride the buses, enjoyed a very happy occasion last Saturday afternoon when they met at the church building for the annual party . . . . The highlight of the occasion was the presence of Santa Claus . . . .
The Tennessee Magazine (November/December 1986), published by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, announced that on 18 November 1986, the Main Street Church of Christ in Springfield, TN would present a Christmas Demonstration on “A Time To Enjoy.”
The 6 November 1986 issue of the Gospel Advocate contained a dicussion of the celebration of Christmas from two points of view. Thomas W. Franklin wrote that the celebration of Christmas was as unauthorized in worship as instruments of music. However, he recommended that “the best way to handle Christmas, Easter or any other unauthorized and non-biblical special day is to ignore it and continue with our regular worship and teaching programs” (p. 668). He criticized the practice of using the Sunday before Christmas as a day to “lambaste the observance” of Christmas because it develops “negative views toward the church” (p. 660). Hence, his point of view was to say nothing about the practice and continue with the regular program of worship.
Larry Stalley wrote an opposing point of view. He observed that “just because something is not commanded in Scripture does not mean it is prohibited.” Then he added,
Fourth, when my daughter asks for a piece of bread, I don’t give her a stone; when she asks for a fish, I don’t give her a snake (Matthew 7:9,10). Why is it that when people want to rejoice about Christ’s birth during December, many in the chruch try to discourage it by their comments and teachings? Visitors come to church asking for a sermon about Jesus, but instead many are given a stone. One man who visited the church on Christmas Sunday wanted to hear an appropriate sermon regarding Jesus. Instead, the preacher spoke on adultery. He told himself he would never come back; he had asked for fish and had been given a snake.
Personally, I believe we abuse opportunities when we don’t take advantage of “the spirit of Christmas.” Instead of drawing people nearer to the Lord, we often repeal them by our anti-Christmas spirit and our negative approach . . . . By no means should anyone make the observance of Christmas a commandment (Galatians 4: 10), but on the other hand, no one should prohibit its celebratory spirit by all the people because of the lack of commandment (Colossians 2:16; Romans 14:4-6).
Neither editor Furman Kearley nor query editor Guy N. Woods made any comments about either article.
In addition to this, I noticed in this year’s bulletins a conspicuous absence of articles which show that the religious celebration of Christmas is an unauthorized practice which is a perversion of worship. In the past, gospel preachers used this occasion to teach Christians that the denominational celebration of Christmas was an invention of men which renders worship vain. This year, I saw only two or three such articles. Does this lack of teaching in the bulletins reflect a similar absence of this teaching in the pulpit? If so, what lies ahead for us is what our liberal brethren are presently facing – the first acceptance of the religious celebration of Christmas in their corporate worship. We need to be reminded of the danger of tampering with divinely revealed worship.
Examples of Worship Which God Rejected
1. Cain’s worship. Genesis 4 reveals the instance when Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God. Cain “brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord” (4:3) and Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (4:4). Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith” (Heb. 11:4) and “the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Gen. 4:4). One can only do something “by faith” when he has a revelation from God and obeys the revelation communicated to him (Rom. 10: 17). Hence, Abel’s worship was accepted because he offered his worship according to the pattern God revealed to him. Cain’s worship was rejected by God.
2. Nadab and Abihu. The Lord revealed that the priest was to take fire from the altar of burnt offering to light the incense on the altar of incense (Lev. 16:11-14).
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2).
Though these men offered worship, their worship was not accepted because it was not according to the pattern revealed from God. Tampering with divine worship is serious business, as shown by God’s immediately smiting these men with death.
3. Jeroboam (1 Kgs. 12:25-33). When Jeroboam lead the Ten Northern tribes in rebellion against Rehoboam, he instituted another kind of worship. He established worship places in Dan and Bethel, instead of Jerusalem. He brought in idols made of gold in the image of calves. He made priests from every tribe and changed the feast days. “And this thing became a sin” (1 Kgs. 12:30).
Jesus Taught On Worship
There are many who gather around a manger on December 25th to reverence baby Jesus who have no interest in hearing what the adult Jesus taught about worship. In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus warned against perverting divine worship with the traditions of men.
1. He distinguished the traditions of men from the commandments of God (Mk. 7:7-8). He apparently thought that men could distinguish the two.
2. He stated that those who teach the traditions of men make hollo w pretenses of worshipping God and render their worship vain. He said, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from men. Howbeit in vain do they worship men, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk. 7:6-7).
3. He observed that men will lay aside the commandments of God in order to keep the traditions of men (Mk. 7:8). Men have a greater allegiance to their own inventions than to the revelation of God.
4. He observed that men make void the word of God through their traditions. Men’s traditions released men from obligation to obey the commandment of God (for examples, note the action and purpose of water baptism, observing the Lord’s supper, etc.).
Consequently, Jesus commanded that men worship God according to the revealed word of God rather than departing from the word of God in order to follow the commandments and traditions of men.
If Christians ever begin to look upon the religious observance of Christmas as a harmless practice of the word, they will soon decide to join the world in observing the day in worship to God. When that occurs, Jesus’ teaching regarding worship will have been rejected in favor of the commandments and traditions of men.
Sometime, brethren, whether it be in December, January, or July, we must teach our world, our children, and the brethren the danger of perverting the worship of God. In order for a generation to grow up seeing no harm in the religious observance of Christmas, all that must occur is for those of us who know better to fail to teach on the subject. What have you heard lately on this subject?
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 3, pp. 66, 86-87
February 5, 1987