It is interesting, albeit sad, that so many of our churches today make a big deal of holidays that Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and other non-Christians can observe, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and most recently Sanctity of Life in January and even thay for the whole month, according to some.
It was 1963 as I recall when I submitted to our college newspaper a piece titled “On the Observance of Lent” and they published it. Perhaps that was surprising because the college was very fundamentalist and my piece was in favor of such observance. I wish I still had a copy. After Sinclair Ferguson’s recent excellent piece in The Aquila Report about observing Christmas I almost wrote Dominic Aquila something commending Sinclair’s article and perhaps adding more with the aim of seeking publication in The Aquila Report. But just now seeing Bill Godfrey’s lambasting of Lent I was impelled to submit this piece despite being in the throes of intensive work on an article dealing with commentaries on Judges.
When I was at Faith Seminary (PA) in 1966 a student raised significant opposition to the presence of a Christmas tree in the lobby. His argument was that there’s nothing in the Bible about observing Christmas and certainly not about such trees. Faith and the Bible Presbyterians (for whom it was the Seminary to attend) were super-separated ecclesiastically and to a great degree culturally as well, but clearly not separated enough for some students. I was shocked by the opposition to such a token of observing Christmas which was long-established at Faith, and then appalled by the silliness of the ensuing controversy. (BTW the late Dr. Allan A. MacRae described that student to me once as someone with a lot of brains but no common sense.)
Protestants, and definitely we Reformed, as well as Anabaptists and some others have facilitated secularism. E.g., Christmas was not even an official holiday in the USA until 1870, owing to the Reformed (largely Puritan) influence in particular. Massachusetts had a state-supported church until 1833 and only in 1856 made Christmas a state holiday. (The first state to do so was Louisiana in 1830.) But it was employers not churches who lobbied for the 1856 decision, owing to worker burnout from the lack of holidays, and that was on top of working typically a lot more than 40 hours in a week.
The Bible has much to say about special days, such as those commemorating noted events. I am Reformed but cannot fathom the opposition to Christmas. In fact, imagine how secular society could be affected by widespread use of the “church year” so that days such as Ascension and Pentecost were holidays. Yes, Satan would try to see that observances were corrupted in some way, at least to the degree that they could not be suppressed. But of course what Satan and anti-Christianity folks may try is never a reason to do nothing or diminish Christian observances.
I am forever grateful that although my mother in her later years would downplay Christmas that she and Dad always saw that we had a tree, carols, gifts, a wreath in the window, etc. (She also in later years would downplay Easter, the other Christian holiday we Presbyterians, Baptists, etc., observe. She would say “Every Sunday is Easter” to which my unspoken reply was “If every Sunday, then in a sense no Sunday.”) Sadly, our independent-fundamental church had no visual indication even of Christmas except maybe poinsettias as the flowers, and there was no Christmas-related service apart from that on the preceding Sunday. We did have a 3-hour, 3-part New Year’s Eve service.
It is interesting, albeit sad, that so many of our churches today make a big deal of holidays that Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and other non-Christians can observe, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and most recently Sanctity of Life in January and even that for the whole month, according to some.
Dr. Jim Pakala is Library Director at Covenant Seminary in St, Louis, Mo.