R.C. Sproul Jr, Christmas and the 2nd Commandment

Like R.C. Jr. stated in his latest Kingdom Notes we too rejoice that God sent His Son!  In like manner, as R.C. is grateful for the Puritans and the good they did for the Kingdom of Heaven, we are grateful for R.C. Sproul Jr and the good he has done for the Kingdom of Heaven.  However, like R.C. disagrees with the puritans on Christmas, so must we disagree with R.C. on Christmas.
I agree with so much of what R.C. stands for and what he has given the church in this generation.  The entire idea of being “simple, separate, and deliberate” for the sake of the Kingdom is something that resonates within my very being.  So it is with inner turmoil that I even voice a dissent.  I will endevor to be as gracious as possible, while still seeking the truth on this important matter.  I have been asking questions on the issue of Christmas for several years as evidence by the postings from last year on December 25th and the summary post in march.
There are many points to this fairly deep theological discussion, many of which I have mixed feelings about.  But for this posts there are two points I’d like to address.  These are two particular items that seem to be ignored by my Presbyterian friends, which I would welcome an answer to.
First, the puritans where not alone in their rejection of the holiday. The Scotch-Irish Presbyterians where in league with them, along with many other reform minded groups.  In fact according to many of the articles and videos studied most of these groups did not embrace Christmas until the mid to late 1800’s; the obvious exceptions being the Anglicans and Lutherans.  (See section 6 on this article for one reference.)
Secondly, no one seems to address the issue of the second commandment as it relates to this subject and the regulative principle of worship.  Specifically I am thinking of the 109th question in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 109 What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden are all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any pretence whatsoever.

There seem to be some pretty strong points here against Christmas or other church sanctioned holidays that I have not seen my Christmas celebrating friends address.
I’ll grant some additional complexity to the issue as we look at jurisdictions or spheres of authority.  How do we answer the question of Christmas as it relates to family government, church government, and civil government?  Each of these are distinct jurisdictions created and ordered by God.  As such, he speaks to how each of these should operate.
I think most of those in the reformed faith would agree the civil government does not have the authority to establish a religious holiday other than specific days of fasting and thanksgiving.  If I remember my David Barton studies correctly this was a 3 day debate in the Continental Congress when it finally concluded in the affirmative, specifically and only, for days of fasting and thanksgiving.  In the story that David Barton relates the body drew heavily from the book of Ester, and ultimately concluded the matter with the following resolution: (- which I quote more for the separation of church and state folks than for the Christmas discussion.)

IN CONGRESS DECEMBER 11, 1776.
WHEREAS, the just War into which the United States of America have been forced by Great-Britain, is likely to be still continued by the same Violence and Injustice which have hitherto animated the Enemies of American freedom:
And, whereas it becomes all public Bodies, as well as private Persons, to reverence the Providence of GOD, and look up to him as the supreme Disposer of all Events, and the Arbiter of the Fate of Nations:
Therefore the CONGRESS hereby RESOLVE,
That it be recommended to all the States, as soon as possible to appoint a Day of solemn Fasting and Humiliation, to implore of Almighty GOD the Forgiveness of the many Sins prevailing among all Ranks, and to beg the Countenance and Assistance of his Providence in the Prosecution of this just and necessary War.  The Congress do also in the most earnest manner recommend to all the Members of the United States, and particularly to the Officers civil and military under them, the Exercise of Repentance and Reformation; and further, do require of the said Officers of the military Department, the strict Observation of the Articles of War in general, and particularly that of said articles which forbids profane Swearing, and all other Immoralities; of which all such Officers are desired to take Notice.  It is left to each State to issue Proclamations fixing the Day that appear most proper for their several Bounds.
Extract from the Minutes,
CHARLES THOMPSON, Secretary.
Hartford: Re-Printed by EBEN. WATSON.

All of that really to say the civil government can not “Biblically” declare a religious holiday other than days of fasting and thanksgiving. 
In the matter of family government, I’ll readily grant that a father has the right within his home to set aside special days throughout the year to help catechize his family.  The question for each head of household would then be one of wisdom and prudence in what he is communicating and the time he is communicating it.  It seems that by choosing December 25th to study the incarnation he would be promoting the publicly understood and culturally normal idea of the holiday.  There is a strong possibility that no matter what truth was read or stated it would appear the culture was driving it because of the events taking place outside of the home.  But all of this seem to me to be a matter of conscience for the heads of household to wrestle with.  As R.C. said we would not require one to violate their own conscience for the sake of conformity in this matter.  (There is a great summary of the challenges for the heads of households in this matter and additional considerations here.) 
This does lead us to the final sphere of authority, that is the church.  How is it that a church could have a Christ-mass service such as the Romans do and not infringe upon a man’s conscience who descents from embracing these very activities?  We are absolutely commanded to attend church and to partake of the divine benefits of the teaching of the Word and of the sacraments practiced.  What then becomes of a man who for matters of conscience does not wish to embrace the culture of Christmas but finds his church, his very place of worship, decorated in the themes or participating in the practices that he finds objectionable?
The second objection in this sphere goes back to the regulative principle and how God commands us to worship him.  If we are free to impose devices of our own choosing within the church service then why do reformed churches not practice drama and other such follies in the midst of a church service?  (We will let alone the traditional Christmas plays that take place during the normal weekly church service in much of American Christendom today and just focus on those of a reformed belief that embrace the regulative principle of worship.  See this post if this idea is new to you.)  If we are free to add seasonal decorations of Christmas trees and holly then on what grounds does one deny strobe lights in the church?  If we are free to leave off our normal order of service to focus on a specific seasonal theme or aspect of the Scriptures in December then what rule is there to keep us faithful the remainder of the year?  Why not just adopt the entire Roman church calendar?  Lastly, where are we a) commanded or allowed to set the time of Christ’s birth and b) commanded or allowed to make a hollowed day out of it, as a person, a church, or a civil government?  I’m sure there are other aspects of the 2nd commandment to be considered, but I’d be happy if someone could just answer these few questions.
I’ll close with yet another thing we agree with R.C. Jr. on.  We agree that indeed there is “something worth celebrating in the birth of Jesus”.  However, we would say that God’s Word commands us to celebrate it 52 times a year in our regular Lord’s Day service.  It is also true, as R.C. said, that God does not “require” us to celebrate a special day as the day of his birth.  However, the real issue, that R.C. does not address, is that neither does God command it.
While we may be confused by our Presbyterian brothers who seem to depart from orthodoxy in the matter of Christmas, we still are very excited about the good work they do.  Specifically I would give an endorsement to anything R.C. has recorded or written.  If you don’t have the basement tapes, I think no library is complete without them.  If you have not read R.C.s books then I would recommend that you get some as soon as possible.  If you are a home school family I couldn’t recommend a more encouraging book than, “When You Rise Up, A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling“.  And by the way, just for the record, I don’t think I have seen someone do as much justice to the santa hat as R.C. does.  Simply as a winter fashion statement, it works for R.C.

3 Comments

  • horlbecks says:

    We’re a young family and have been struggling with Christmas for 2 years now. It’s a tricky subject to talk about b/c a lot of people can’t separate themselves from their traditions. We’ve simplified so that we basically have a family worship time (talking about the birth of Christ) on Christmas Eve now (no decorations or any of the traditional stuff from when I was a kid), but yeah… should we do it at another time of the year instead? Sometimes I wonder if I’m making too big a deal of things, and where does our freedom in Christ come in… especially in light of Romans14… ? I’d love to hear some more of your thoughts on Christmas… at times I feel like I’m having a crises of faith over this issue! We love reading your blog, it’s always a blessing.

  • jweiher says:

    So, do you celebate the Resurrection of Our Lord (certainly we celebrate this every Sunday as that is the impetus behind Sunday morning worship in the first place) at the time of Easter either at the appointed Sunday in the Western Church or during the Eastern Orthodox celebration of Easter? Just curious as to whether or not you regard the Resurrection and the Incarnation differently in terms of celebration.

  • Sheena says:

    Hello! Been dipping into your blog every now and again and am interested in your last couple of posts. I have not scrutinised them in detail but just want to encourage you in your ‘searchings’
    I am from a Scottish presbyterian background and do not celebrate Christmas- nor do the majority of people in our church.
    Here is a link to an article on our church website explaining our stance in more detail: http://www.fpchurch.org.uk/Beliefs/Should_Christians_Celebrate_Christmas.php
    Keep up the good work I enjoy your blog.

Leave a Comment