Shall We Observe Holidays?


Today (the day upon which I write this essay) is Maundy Thursday. Tomorrow will be Good Friday and this Sunday is Easter.

In the liturgical calendar, each of these days has a special significance. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, Good Friday the crucifixion, and Easter Sunday the resurrection. Christians have observed these dates for centuries, along with others such as Palm Sunday (commemorating the Triumphal Entry), Annunciation (commemorating Gabriel’s visit to Mary), and Christmas.

Some Bible-preaching churches observe all of these days, while others observe only the most important. A minority of Christians have refused to observe any of them. For example, many Puritans believed that observing Christmas was an instance of will-worship, and they rejected it entirely.

The notion of will-worship grows out of the so-called Regulative Principle. Perhaps the most fundamental rule of worship in the Reformed tradition, the Regulative Principle was adopted wholesale by both the Anabaptists of the continent and the Baptists of England. In brief, the Regulative Principle states that churches are permitted to employ only those elements of worship that are authorized in Scripture.

The Regulative Principle is what led many of the Reformed (including the Puritans) to reject the observance of days like Christmas. The New Testament nowhere instructs churches to observe the day, and it nowhere depicts its observance. The same would be true of other holidays like Maundy Thursday and Annunciation. Since the observance of these days is not authorized in Scripture, they were thought to be merely the product of human invention and self-assertion. After all, worship that is not required by God can only be offered to please the worshippers, which means that the worshippers are really worshipping themselves. This act of self-assertion is what the Reformed (following Col. 2:23) refer to as “will-worship.”

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I Will Raise it Up


Many children raised in Christian homes do not understand the meaning of Resurrection Sunday. They might choose the correct answer on a multiple-choice test, but most would flunk an open-ended question (“Why do we celebrate Easter?”). Open-ended questions provide the best measurement of understanding.

Fortunately, some of these kids will later appreciate the meaning of the holiday. They will learn that Easter is not about bunnies, baskets and ham, but the resurrected Savior. There were no bunnies at the tomb as far as we know. The women may have carried baskets, but we know that Jesus never tasted ham.

Similarly, Jesus’ disciples understood many of His teachings only in retrospect. After the resurrection, the disciples finally understood that He had to die an atoning death and then be raised.

In Luke 24:25-27, the resurrected incognito Jesus discusses matters with some disciples hiking the road to Emmaus:

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (NIV 2011)

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Keeping Christ in the Holidays Takes Little Effort

From the Dec. 2010 edition of the Body Builder, a newsletter published by Highland Park Church, Kokomo, IN. Used by permission.

A number of America’s holidays have Christian overtones, particularly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Because these holidays originated as times to celebrate God’s graciousness to us, it is not all that difficult to restore their original spiritual meaning. This will happen only if we value doing so and are willing to expend a bit of energy. I would like to share some considerations and suggestions.

My first consideration is that we become comfortable with the secular. As followers of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves in the world, though we are not of the world. This means we must walk the tightrope of participating in our society and its decent (good or neutral) ways, while at the same time refraining from its wrong ways.

Gift-giving, decorations, Christmas cards, rich treats, a Christmas tree, touring light displays, or gorging oneself with a Christmas meal are all part of the fun. Secular is not necessarily evil, but secular is not enough.

My second consideration is that we remind ourselves that we are not enslaved to traditions that may negate a truly blessed Christmas. We need not incur amazing debts or keep up with our siblings by matching extravagant gifts. Although most of us want Christmas to be a family time, we are free to dissent from family customs when those customs are offensive or counterproductive to our own families.

My third consideration is that we do not expect lost people to appreciate the real meaning of Christian holidays. Although the origin of Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving is religious, the Bible nowhere mandates these holidays; in fact, Christians did not celebrate Christmas until centuries after the time of Christ.

I believe God’s children should consider keeping Christ in Christmas, but they should not scold unbelievers who fail to do so. The annual “Christmas War” in our society is really an American/religious rights issue, not a biblical one.

Just as Christians who cannot even list the 10 Commandments often fight hardest to keep them posted in courthouses, so many Christians who gripe about others taking Christ out of Christmas do little to keep Christ in their own family celebrations. This sometimes frustrates me, I must admit. Rather than scolding lost people, maybe should begin sharing the gospel with them.

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The Resurrection Body of Christ the Lord, Part 11

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.

by John C. Whitcomb, Th.D.
crossOur salvation by God’s infinite grace will be fully manifested when we behold our resurrected Savior in glory. Thus, “it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11, KJV).

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