It may seem strange to begin a study about Christmas with Paul's words in Colossians 3:17. However, the connection will become apparent as we progress in our study. In this passage Paul teaches us that whatever we do in word or deed is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
It is not hard to understand the significance of the phrase "in the name of the Lord Jesus." In Acts 4 we read of Peter and John (after healing the lame man) being brought before the rulers, elders and scribes to explain what they had done. We see the significance of the phrase "in the name of" by reading verse 7. "And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?'" The word "power" comes from the same Greek word that is used in Matthew 28:18 where Jesus said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." The word translated "power" in Acts 4:7 in the NKJV is translated "authority" in Matthew 28:18 in the NKJV. When the rulers of the Jews ask Peter and John "by what power" have you done this? They were asking "by what authority have you done this." But notice, that they also ask, "by what name, have you done this?" Notice the little word "or" between the phrases "by what power" and "by what name." By using the little word "or" the Holy Spirit is teaching that the authority and the name are equal to each other. We conclude that when Paul was inspired to write in Colossians 3:17, "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus," that he was saying, "do all by the authority of the Lord Jesus."
The point is this: anything we teach ("whatever you do in word") and anything we practice ("whatever you do in deed") is to be done by the authority of Christ. This is why the apostle John said, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). The one who does not abide in the doctrine (teaching) of Christ is the one who violates Christ's authority. He is not abiding by the teachings of Christ, and John says that he does not have God. This means he does not have God's approval or fellowship. It was Jesus who said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). It is not enough to simply call on the Lord's name. We must obey the Lord's will.
Another verse that teaches this principle is Revelation 22:18-19: "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." This passage teaches that we must not change God's will in any way. We must not leave off or change any command the Bible teaches, and we must not add any requirements that are not authorized by God's word.
Peter said, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). The oracles of God is the word of God. The word of God is the Bible. We are not to speak anything else -- teach anything else -- but the Bible. That means everything else is to be left out.
All of these passages teach us that we must only speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent. We must not practice that which the Bible is silent about. We must only teach and practice what the Bible teaches (either implicitly or explicitly).
This leads us to the purpose for writing this article. On the 25th of this month, many will be celebrating a day that has been designated by man as Christ's birthday. Our study is going to be dealing with the question: "is it right for Christians to celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day?"
Many times when we ask such a question many will say, "Don't you believe in Christ?" And we answer, "of course we do." Then some ask, "Do you mean you think it's bad or wrong to remember the significance of Christ's birthday?" And we answer no, not if we do it in harmony with the teaching of the New Testament.
THE ISSUE IS ONE OF AUTHORITY
The real issue is often ignored or dismissed by those who celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day. I certainly am not taking the position that it is wrong to study about and preach about the birth of Jesus Christ. It is one of the most significant events in the history of the world. But that is not the issue. The issue is really very simple. The issue is one of authority. The issue is simply this: "Where does the New Testament teach us to celebrate the birth of our Lord as a religious holy day?" I know that many people believe that Christmas is in the Bible, but if you read the Bible for yourself you will not find Christmas mentioned even once. There is no implication that first century Christians ever celebrated the birth of Christ as a religious holy day. There is no command, no example, no implication that it is right for us to celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day.
Let's begin our discussion of the issue by studying Matthew 21:23-27.
The significance of this verse is this: One must have authority for what he does in religion. The chief priests and elders were not reprimanded because they asked Jesus where His authority came from. It was a good question. They were reprimanded because they were hypocrites. They had rejected John's immersion and hence rejected the authority of God, and now when it serves their purpose they ask for authority.
The question in reference to John's immersion should be ask of everything that men practice today: "Where is it from? From heaven, or from men?" Where is the authority for celebrating the birthday of Christ? Is it from heaven or is it from men? The implication in the question is this: if it's from heaven, then it must be obeyed. If it originated with men, it must be rejected.
THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
Did the celebration of Christmas as Christ's birthday originate with God or with men? If it originated with God; if He commands us to observe it; if He teaches in the New Testament that we are to remember Christ's birthday as a religious holy day, then it would be wrong not to celebrate it. However, if it originated with men; if God gave no command, example, or implication that we are to celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day, then it must be rejected.
In answer to this question let me first point out, that the Bible was completed some time during the second half of the first century, before 100 A.D. Did the celebration of Christ's birthday as a religious holy day begin then? There is no indication that it did. There is no teaching in the Bible that suggests it. There is no indication at all from secular history that it began then. We must understand and accept that there is no direct statement, no example, no implication that anyone in that time practiced the celebration of Christ's birthday as a religious holy day.
Is there any way to find out when Christmas began? Yes, secular history records the beginning of Christmas. I would like to point out that the information I am about to give you came from a public library. You can go to any public library and research it and check it out for yourselves. In fact I would urge you to do so. Don't just take my word for it.
From the World Book Encyclopedia we have the following: "The first mention of the celebration of Christmas occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman Calendar, which indicates December 25th as the day of observance" (Vol. 3, page 408). According to this information, the celebration of Christmas did not occur until the fourth century. This is almost 300 years after the Bible was written. It's no wonder the New Testament has nothing to say about Christmas, seeing that this evidence indicates that it originated after the New Testament was completed.
Now we ask the question: "Can Christians celebrate something as a religious holy day without any authority from the New Testament?" The answer, of course, is found in Colossians 3:17: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." We cannot do something in the name of the Lord (i.e. by His authority), unless we have implicit or explicit teaching regarding it in the New Testament.
We now ask the question, "who originated the idea of Christmas being Christ's birthday and that it should be celebrated as such by Christians?" Encyclopedia Britannica, "At some point before A.D. 336 the church at Rome established the commemoration of the birthday of Christ." (Vol. 5, page 704). Who is the church at Rome? It is the Roman Catholic Church. It Is not surprising that many of the denominations have taken a religious holy day originated by the Roman Catholic Church and made it their own. After all, most modern denominations today came from the Roman Catholic Church. What is surprising is that many members of the church of Christ have taken up this celebration whose only authority is that of mere men - the Roman Catholic Church.
The next question we want to ask is: Why choose December 25th? From the Merit Students Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, page 477 we have this statement: "About 350 A.D. Pope Julius I declared that December 25th was the date of the nativity." I want to ask the question: Why did Pope Julius I choose December 25th? Of all the dates that could have been chosen why this date? What evidence do we have that Jesus was born on this date? It is very significant that the Bible does not tell us the day or month that Jesus was born. Surely, if God is pleased with us celebrating Christ's birthday, He would have told us what month and on what day to celebrate it. He surely would not have left us in the dark concerning that kind of vital information.
According to what I could find out about the climate in Israel, the winters are moderately rainy and cool. More than likely the shepherds would not have been out in their fields during the latter part of the month of December. So why was December 25th chosen? Encyclopedia Americana p. 666:
Now what do we learn from this quotation? First, the date of December 25th was not chosen because of any facts available that it was the day of Christ's birth. Second, it was chosen because there was already some pagan festivals going on at that time. This article further says: "It is held by some scholars that the birth of Christ as 'Light of the world' was made analogous to the rebirth of the sun in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts."
My friends, December 25th was chosen, not because there is any evidence that Jesus was born on that day, but to make a religious holy day (which is not authorized by the Bible) to be more meaningful to pagan converts.
It is interesting that as I did my research for this lesson, that not one source ever claimed any Bible authority for the celebration of Christmas as a religious holy day. Our Lord set forth no authority for celebrating His birthday. If we celebrate His birthday we go beyond what is written. We fail to abide in the doctrine of Christ. We add to God's word. The only conclusion we can come to is that we cannot please God when we celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day, simply because there is no authority for it.
WE MUST NOT CELEBRATE ANY RELIGIOUS HOLY DAYS
It is quite significant that the New Testament never authorizes any kind of religious holy days. We are all familiar with the observance of religious holy days of the Israelites. There was the Passover, the feast of tabernacles, new moons, etc... But it is significant that Christ never once commanded Christians to keep any holy days. Religious days - holy days - are not a part of Christianity. In fact, Paul said to the Galatians, "But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain." (Galatians 4:8-11). Paul shows that the observance of the days, months, times and years were a part of the weak and beggarly elements that held them in bondage. If that was true then, why isn't it true now?
I might add that these refer to religious observances. Paul is not talking about secular observances such as the fourth of July, but religious holy days. The reason for this is that the Old Law with it's religious holy days has been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15). [For further study on celebrating religious holy days under the Christian dispensation please see, Christianity and Holy Days]
Someone might ask, "does this mean that we are not to do anything at Christmas?" Does it mean that we are not to exchange gifts, put up a tree, decorate our houses and all the things that go with this time of the year? My opinion is this: If one does not put any religious significance to the things he does. If he does not do such things like put up a nativity scene, send out cards that have religious symbolism attached to them, put the star at the top of the tree, sing "Christmas carols" that deal with Christ's birthday, and does not put a stumbling block before someone by what he does, and treats the day and season as he would treat the fourth of July and other such days, then he can do those things that are normally done otherwise on this day: exchange gifts, put up a tree, decorate his house etc...
The sin is placing religious significance on something that God never put religious significance upon or of misleading others to celebrate this day as a religious holy day. The issue again, is one of authority. God never authorized us to place any religious significance upon December 25th, and He never authorized us to celebrate Christ's birthday as a religious holy day.
DOESN'T FREEDOM IN CHRIST
This is an argument we are hearing more and more from our fellow Christians. I just want to say something here. Compromise is the order of the day in the Lord's church. There are so many members of the church today who have no concept whatever concerning how God authorizes, or who evidently do not believe that God's authority is needed for what we teach and practice. There are many who do not respect the silence of the Scriptures. As a result of this lack of knowledge, and the desire to be accepted by other religions, some of our brethren are compromising and celebrating Christmas as a religious holy day.
One of the arguments they use is based on Romans 14. But there is a very important difference concerning those things Romans 14 deals with and Christmas. Romans 14 deals with practices that were once authorized under the old law (the eating of meats and the observance of certain days). But what we must understand is that Christmas is not parallel with those things. Christmas has never been authorized by God! The things mentioned in Romans 14 were once authorized. Yet, when Paul wrote the book of Galatians he warned them not to observe days. Why? Because they were a part of the Old Law.
It is my personal conviction that God allowed the Jews a certain amount of transition time to realize that those things He had authorized under the Old Law were done away with under the New Law. When the Judiazers begin to teach the Gentiles to keep the law of Moses and be circumcised, then the apostles taught against that. These circumstances are no longer true today. We have the completed written word. We are now in the full-grown stage of the church, we are no longer in the childhood stage as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13. When the book of Romans was written they were still in that childhood stage of the church. We have the completed word and it would not be right for a Jew or anyone else to put religious significance upon a day today.
Romans 14 nor any other passage gives the Christian the right to observe Christmas as Christ's birthday or as a religious holy day.
One thing we need to point out is this: Although God never told us to celebrate the birth of Christ, He has authorized us to remember His death. However, we do not do this just once a year. Every first day of the week we come together to remember and proclaim the death of Jesus our Savior and Lord just as New Testament Christians did in the first century (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 11:17-26). It is interesting that many of those religious groups who put so much emphasis upon a celebration of the birthday of Christ fail to recognize this great truth about His death day.
Our plea is that everyone teaches and practices those things that are authorized in the Bible. To simply do that and only that which the New Testament teaches us to do. That's the infallibly safe way and the only way to be sure to please God.