Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Christmas and Easter Directive

As our Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Methodist members have settled into our Puritan traditions after splitting from their former denominations for various reasons, we now will begin the Christmas and Easter directives in the US Puritan Church and in our Puritan affiliates over seas.

Protestants have not always celebrated Christmas and Easter. 

Separating themselves from the Roman Catholic Church practices, Protestant Reformation leaders were generally critical of the existing “feast and saint days” of the Roman Catholic Church. For good reason, they are unscriptural and of pagan origin.

The celebration of Christmas became a point of contention among many Protestants. Reformation leader Martin Luther permitted the continuation of certain Catholic feast days, including Christmas. Henry VIII allowed Christmas to be kept in the Anglican calendar.  Other reformers, including John Calvin and John Knox, preferred to worship only where specifically commanded in the Bible.

It was only in the 19th century with the beginning of the "Ecumenical Movement" that Protestants outside the Lutheran and Anglican traditions began to allow Christmas celebrations.

As Puritans it is important that we hold strictly to the scriptures and to Christian traditions.  We are not to hold to the traditions and celebrations of pagans.  Our Savior was clear in this:

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me;  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Matthew 15: 6-9

Note that  in the first two centuries of New England, and then the USA most people did not celebrate Christmas.  Strange as this may sound, Protestant Christians outside Lutherans and Anglicans in New England (Pilgrims/Puritans, Congregationalists, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, Reformed Episcopals, and Presbyterians) did not celebrate Christmas.  In fact, it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681.  Even after the American Revolution, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution.

Christmas did not become a US national holiday until after the Civil War by then President Grant's declaration in 1870 and then approved by congress the following year.

Christmas and Easter are not Christian holidays and they are not to be celebrated in Puritan churches.

Christmas has never been celebrated in the Puritan Church for four reasons.

First, Puritans do not believe that Jesus was born in either December or January. The Bible does not give a specific date. Luke 2:8-11:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Facts point to Jesus’ birth at approximately the beginning of  May when shepherds with their flocks would begin to spend the night in the fields. The countryside around Bethlehem experiences the coldest weather during the months of December and January. Hence, to keep them warm at night, flocks are herded into protective shelters.

A second reason: The only event Jesus specifically instructed his followers to commemorate was his death, not his birth, and this was to be done as a simple communion meal. (Luke 22:19, 20) Note, too, that the Gospels of Mark and John are silent about Jesus’ birth.

 A third reason: There is no historical evidence that the early Christians celebrated the birth of the Christ. But they did memorialize his death. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) It was not until more than 300 years after Jesus’ birth that Christendom officially began to observe Christmas on December 25.  Our Puritan ancestors had an act of parliament passed that banned Christmas celebrations in England. In the United States, the Massachusetts General Court did the same, “There is no biblical or historical reason to place the birth of Jesus on December 25.  Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.”

That brings us to a fourth reason: The unsavory origin of the celebration itself. The roots of Christmas can be traced back to pagan Rome with its mixture of festivals for honoring the agricultural god Saturn and the sun god Sol Invictus, or Mithra.  As noted by Puritan bishop Cotton Mather, “Like many pre-Christian customs and beliefs, the old feast commemorating the yearly return of the sun was rededicated to the birth of Christ.”

In view of the foregoing, can you see why Puritans refuse to celebrate Christmas?

A word now on Easter.

Luther at first was apprehensive about allowing Easter to be celebrated.  He had strong personal feelings against Easter because of its pagan and also occult roots.  In the end he relented to the demand of German congregations wishing to "have something to enjoy for all the labors of the past year and feast on the bounty of our hard labors." Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Henry VIII issued a royal warrant making Easter an Anglican celebration in 1534 in the Act of Supremacy which split Anglicans from the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Church of England with the Crown of England as the "Defender of the Faith and head of the Church".

Easter, like Christmas, was not a Protestant celebration until well after the dawn of the 19th century.  Easter was adopted by Methodists in 1847 in order to "Become more conformed to other denominations" Methodist Book of Order  Presbyterians in 1866 to "Thank almighty God for the victory of the Union." Book of Worship  By the Convention of American Baptists in 1870 for the same reason.

The celebration of Easter is not based on the Bible. If you look into its history, though, you will see the true meaning of Easter—it is a tradition based on ancient fertility rites. Consider the following.

  1. Name: The Westminster Religion Encyclopedia says: “The English name Easter is of Druid origin; the Anglo-Saxon priest Venerable Bede in the 8th century derived it from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre.” Others link it to Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess who had the Babylonian counterpart Ishtar.
  2. Hares, rabbits: These are symbols of fertility “handed down from the ancient ceremonial and symbolism of European and Middle Eastern pagan spring festivals.— Catholic Encyclopedia of Symbols.
  3. Eggs: According to The Oxford Dictionary of Religion, the hunt for Easter eggs, supposedly brought by the Easter rabbit, “is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite.” Some cultures believed that the decorated Easter egg “could magically bring happiness, prosperity, health, and protection.”—Traditional Festivals.
  4. New Easter outfit: It was considered discourteous and therefore bad luck to greet the Scandinavian goddess of Spring, or Eastre, in anything but fresh garb.”— The Book Nordic Practices.
  5. Sunrise services: These have been linked to rites of ancient sun worshippers “performed at the vernal equinox welcoming the sun and its great power to bring new life to all growing things.

    There is no doubt that the Church in its early days adopted the old pagan customs and gave a Christian meaning to them. Cotton Mather
    The Bible warns against worshipping God by following traditions or customs that displease him. (Mark 7:6-8) Second Corinthians 6:17 states:
    Separate yourselves,’ says the Lord, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing. 

    Today, Independent Baptists, Reformed Presbyterian General Assembly, Free Reformed Churches in America, and the Church of Christ still refuse Christmas and Easter celebrations in their churches.