Let us “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
Unscriptural religious celebrations displease God.

The only prescribed day of remembrance for Christians is the Lord’s day, the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus asked His followers to remember Him by partaking of a meal (1 Corinthians 11:24). New Testament Christians met each Sunday1 to partake of the Lord’s supper and commune with the body and blood of Christ.2 This assembly was not to be neglected (Hebrews 10:24, 25).

The religious observance of other days, however, is condemned by Paul: “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly3 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 4:9-11).

Why this stern admonition? Their observance of special days was a return to weak and worthless principles. We are not told exactly what days they were observing. Maybe false teachers had persuaded them to celebrate Jewish holidays, or perhaps they had reverted to observing pagan holidays.


Many unscriptural religious holidays are celebrated today.

Their observance is considered a matter of course by many. I once read in a periodical: “I am writing this six days after Easter. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ celebrated that day!”

Are people who do not celebrate Easter unbelievers? According to Paul, observing special days is a return to weak and worthless principles of the world!


Christmas and Easter are based on human tradition.

Christmas probably has a good influence on the world. On Christmas Day in 1914, during the fighting of World War I, spontaneous truces occurred at places along the lines. German and English soldiers laid down their weapons for a day and celebrated Christmas together in no-man’s-land. But afterwards, the fighting resumed.

Paul was happy even when people with false motives contributed to the spread of the gospel: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). This of course does not mean that he sanctioned their falseness. Likewise, Christians can be grateful for any good influence Christmas has on the world!


Christmas and Easter are of pagan origin.

Although Christmas and Easter bear witness to the historical existence of Jesus and to the hope and joy He brought to earth, they are in essence pagan festivals that have been adopted by the Roman Catholic Church.4

The first mention of “Christmas” (Christ’s Mass) being celebrated on December the 25th was in AD 336. Shortly thereafter, Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December. The Bible, however, does not tell us to celebrate the birth of Jesus and does not even tell us the date of His birth.

Nor are we told to celebrate His resurrection on a yearly basis. Easter Sunday is not the day of the year that Jesus rose from the dead. It is a day selected by the Roman Catholic Church that varies from year to year. Without embarrassment, Protestants use the Catholic date. Orthodox churches have their own dates for Easter. Faithful Christians celebrate the resurrection by partaking of the Lord’s supper every Sunday!


Unscriptural worship is not acceptable to God.

Some realize that the so-called Christian holidays are not found in the Bible, but they are of the opinion that such traditions are innocent or even useful.

At the time of Christ many Jews had a similar idea. They worshipped God on the basis of traditions. But Jesus said to them: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).

Why was Jesus so harsh? He told them: “You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

People do the same today.

Most of those who flock to church on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Christ (something God has not commanded) have never been born again of water and the Spirit (something God has commanded5). They were “christened” as babies without their knowledge (something God has not commanded) rather than being immersed in water on the basis of personal faith (something God has commanded6). Many of those who have been immersed, were not baptized “for the remission of sins” as commanded in Acts 2:38.

Such worship is vain. “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).

Most of those who flock to church on Easter Sunday for a yearly celebration of the resurrection (something God has not commanded) do not observe the Lord’s supper each Sunday (something God has commanded7).

Catholics participate in an idolatrous perversion of the Lord’s supper. They worship a piece of bread (the Host) that, at the ring of a bell, supposedly has become the physical body of Christ. The priest sacrifices Christ anew in a so-called “bloodless offer,” whereas Christ was sacrificed “once for all” (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:26, 27). The people eat the bread, the priest drinks the wine. The celebration of Mass is not the Lord’s supper prescribed in Scripture.8

When people observe traditions and reject the word of God, their worship is in vain.

Someone who worships God according to human commandments, may have words of praise on his lips but his heart is far from God. Human traditions are sometimes impressive - for people that is, but not for God. God is not pleased when people worship their own way rather than according to His word, when they exalt their own will above the will of God. This is condemned as “will-worship” or self-gratifying religion in Colossians 2:23.


God’s word is normative.

When we worship God we are not free to do just anything we feel like doing. Paul wanted believers at Corinth to learn “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

“Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9 RSV).

In our service to God we may do only what God has instructed us to do. Easter and Christmas are not from God, but are from man; these holidays are not from above but from below. God has never asked us to celebrate such days. When we do so, we exalt the traditions of men above the word of God.


The Scriptures are a complete guide for serving God.

“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). Thus, anything that is not part of the knowledge of Christ does not pertain to life and godliness.

Since Easter and Christmas are not part of the doctrine of Christ, their celebration does not pertain to life and godliness. Someone who religiously celebrates such days has returned to the weak and worthless principles of this world.

The Scriptures are a complete guide for those who want to serve God. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15).

The Holy Scriptures can make us wise for salvation. We must remain within the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). We may not go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). Only if we abide in the word of Christ are we truly His disciples (John 8:31).

Paul continues: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

The Scriptures equip you for every good work. If in your worship you do something that has not been prescribed for Christians in the Scriptures, you are doing something that is not a good work.

Easter and Christmas have not been prescribed for Christians in the Scriptures. Their religious celebration is not a good work but is a return to the weak and worthless principles of the world.


Jewish holidays are not part of the Christian faith.

To avoid confusion it must be clarified that the Jewish festivals mentioned in the Scriptures, such as Passover, Pentecost and the Sabbath, are not part of the Christian faith. Because false teachers tried to make Jewish holidays binding for Gentile Christians, Paul wrote to the brethren at Colosse: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16, 17).

No condemnation was allowed for not celebrating the Jewish festivals that were only symbols of the spiritual reality Christ would bring.

Jesus, for example, is our Passover lamb. Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8). Jesus is our Passover Lamb, not one day per year, but every day. Our unleavened bread is sincerity and truth.


There is a difference between personal practices and religious celebrations.

According to Romans 14:5, 6 optional practices on certain days were comparable to eating or not eating meat. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”

What is the difference between the personal practices on certain days that are allowed here, and the celebration of religious holidays that is condemned in Galatians 4:10?

In the first instance it is an acceptable personal choice. March the 4th has meaning for me because I was baptized on that date. I know a brother from Panama who fasts until 6 p.m. each Sunday. In Ghana I met Christians who pray every morning at 6 a.m. Some have a “quiet time” for prayer and Scripture reading. These are choices of individuals within a Scriptural framework.

In the second case it is the celebration of certain days as a matter of faith or religious ritual! We may eat and drink. We may have a feast. But when the Corinthians had a feast in connection with the table of the Lord, they were condemned for departing from the pattern Christ laid down.9


May Christians observe non-religious aspects of religious holidays?

It is definitely wrong to celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus because it is not His birthday, and He never asked us to celebrate His birth!

Through the centuries, however, Christmas has become a cultural holiday celebrated largely on a non-religious basis. Many traditions have developed that have no religious meaning whatever. Even atheists celebrate Christmas!

Among Christians who want to follow the Bible, some believe they should not participate in activities that have any relationship whatever to Christmas. They should not violate their conscience.

Others believe they can observe non-religious aspects of a holiday while omitting religious aspects. This is a personal matter and various circumstances could influence what might or might not be acceptable.

Few would object to Christians having a special dinner on Christmas Day. Other non-religious traditions might be observed as well. Many of us have fond memories of joy and love in the family circle at Christmas time. My parents never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. Yet the house was decorated, we exchanged gifts and we had a joyous time together.

If a Christian decides to celebrate non-religious aspects of a religious holiday, he should avoid religious symbols and activities.


What have we learned?

Unscriptural religious celebrations displease God. The only prescribed day of remembrance for Christians is Sunday, the Lord’s day! The religious celebration of other days is condemned by Paul. We must avoid all unscriptural forms of worship because God does not accept them. Christmas and Easter may not be celebrated religiously because they are based on human tradition, not on the word of God. The Scriptures are a complete guide for serving God. Thus, religious service must be limited to what is prescribed for Christians in Scripture. Jewish holidays are not part of the Christian faith. There is a difference between optional Scriptural practices and unscriptural religious celebrations.

“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 4:9-11).

Let us “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.

Endnotes


1 See Acts 20:7. Sunday is the first day of the week.

2 See 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17.

3 Beggarly means impoverished or worthless.

4 Christmas replaced the Roman Saturnalia that celebrated the return of light after the shortest day. Easter replaced spring fertility festivals that celebrated the return of life after winter.

5 Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

6 Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

7 See Acts 20:7.

8 See 1 Corinthians 11:23-27.

9 See 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.

Published in The Old Paths Archive
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