(Read Part 1)
The book of 1 Corinthians addresses many issues, although the primary emphasis is upon the believer’s eternal salvation, which one receives by Divine grace through faith in Jesus Christ. One issue mentioned is the matter of “things sacrificed to idols” (8:1), a subject that was given meticulous consideration. Within the Greek culture of 1 Corinthians, families often participated in religious sacrifices. Sacrificial animals would be offered in pagan temples, and only a portion of the meat was burned in those rituals. The remaining meat would be sold at a cheaper price in the marketplace.
Greece was experiencing a famine during the time in which 1 Corinthians was written. Consequently, many of the secondhand cuts of meat would be purchased by some Christians, and may also have been necessary as a result of economic challenges that prohibited one from purchasing more costly products that were sold directly at market. The issue was whether Christians, who had forsaken a life of idolatry for faith in Jesus Christ, could eat meat offered to idols. The question would be whether to eat such meats would be to participate in idolatry, and thus involve worship of idols (cf. Acts 15:29).
The fundamental truth with regard to idolatry is that it is stupidity. The truth is that idols are not gods because “there is no God but one” (1 Cor 8:4). The world may boast its “many gods and many lords” (1 Cor. 8:5), yet Christians know that the Creator God (who is triune as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the only Lord who exists (vv. 5-6). The Biblical revelation concerning the matter is unambiguous: “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (v. 8).
With such knowledge of God’s exclusivity, it is easy to understand why some Christians did not hesitate to eat “things sacrificed to idols” (1 Cor. 8:1). These believers were not concerned because they regarded such religious ceremonies as insignificant. Scripture affirmed such conclusions and theology to a certain extent. The Corinthian believers inferred that Christianity’s monotheism (belief in one God) precluded the existence of other gods, and therefore, negated the significance of pagan sacrifices.
Similar to the Corinthian experience, some Christians believe that observing any form of Christmas is partaking in pagan traditions. What should be the Christian’s attitude toward the observance of Christmas? Scripture provides warning against those who “forbid . . . and advocate abstaining” (1 Tim 4:3).
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. 4:4-5)
The historicity of customs and holidays does not constitute them as inherently good or evil, which was the exact folly that the early church encountered in many different respects. The New Testament epistles contain numerous admonishments that instruct believers how to eat meat “sacrificed to idols” (1 Cor. 8:1) because “we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Cor 8:8). Similarly, neither circumcision nor heeding the Mosaic Law (including the Sabbath) “will . . . commend us to God.”
Observing (or the lack thereof) “days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10) cannot grant us either godliness or ungodliness. Righteousness is only received by having a vital union with God and that by grace through faith in Christ alone. Of course, some individuals celebrate Christmas as a holyday rather than a holiday, and thus it is celebrated to satisfy religious expectations. To observe Christmas as a holyday is foolish because the flesh cannot perfect anyone (cf. Gal 3:3). However, if families observe Christmas as a social or holiday festival, there is little or no religious correlation; consequently, there is not any consideration that one could enhance their spirituality. Observing holydays is contrary to New Testament practice (either as a pagan rite or religious mass), and observing holidays is inconsequential. To observe Christmas as a family event, which celebrates the birth of Christ, does not contribute to one’s spirituality, nor is one practicing paganism by observing the day (unless, of course, one is actually engaging in pagan worship).
The issue is one’s motivation, that is, the reasons for observing Christmas, or choosing to abstain. While the ancient druids used trees as a worship component, they also had many doctrines and practices similar to Christianity, so to be consistent should those things also be rejected? Moreover, the druids considered the oak to be sacred, not the pine tree. Indeed, they used oak to construct their shrines, and yet almost every Christian home contains oak furnishings. Should the church thus ban the usage of oak? The answer is obvious. Why then does one seek God’s favor by banning Christmas trees? Nothing in this world has inherent power to accomplish either good or evil; rather,
That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. (Mark 7:20)
The etiology (origination) of something is not what defiles someone or makes a thing inherently evil. Our customs and traditions are neither inherently good nor evil because they lack the power to transform our lives. Righteousness only comes through the sovereign working of God. Scripture provides the best conclusion regarding the subject of this article. Isaiah 1:10-20 contains God’s words to his people who were more focused upon the outward requirements of the Mosaic ritual, as opposed to receiving the righteousness that only He can provide. When grace is refused, there is nothing remaining except judgment. Therefore, this Christmas season, in addition to each and every day, “let us reason together” and receive God’s Divine righteousness, which is only received by grace through faith (Isa. 1:18). The Christian life begins “by the Spirit” and is perfected by “those who are of faith” (Gal 3:1-9).
Dr. Ron J. Bigalke serves as the Georgia state minister for Capitol Commission. He also pastors a church plant through Biblical Ministries Worldwide and has taught for Bible colleges and seminaries—serving as a research associate with the University of Pretoria (missions and ethics project). He is a frequent contributor and editor for various publications through Eternal Ministries, Inc., writes for Midnight Call magazine and is general editor of the Journal of Dispensational Theology. It is with great enthusiasm that we include him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Midnight Call Magazine ([December 2015]: 17-20).
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