Shall the Churches Observe Christmas?
In regards to the December 15 1994 Standard Bearer I appreciated “The Reformation and Family Worship” and look forward to the remainder of it. On the same topic, are there any plans to review K. Pracek’s Family Worship: Biblical Truth, Historical Reality, Practical Necessity, as recently published by Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary?
As for the article entitled, “Grieve Not,” in reference to the Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 2, 86, 87, does the Holy Spirit “often” or “always” sanctify through consciousness of gratitude?
Also, how do we harmonize the “Observance of Christmas” with:
1. The emphasis of Scripture (Bel. Conf. 7)? Luke is the only gospel that actually tells us of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:1-20). Matthew only mentions it briefly (Matt. 2:1), the others not at all. Yet all four gospels speak at some length of His death and resurrection.
2. HC, Q & A 96? Who hath required it at our hands (Is. 1:12)? Scripture only commands us to remember Christ’s death and resurrection, not with observing the Romish holydays of Good Friday and Easter, but by celebrating the Lord’s Supper and observing the Sabbath on the first day of the week rather than the seventh.
3. HC, Q & A 80? That “Christmas” is a corruption of Christ’s mass, “an accursed idolatry,” would seem to taint the matter from the outset.
4. VanDellen and Monsma’s The Church Order Commentary? They state that compromise with the civil magistrate, rather than consistency with the Heidelberg, was the reason why the Romish feast days were included in Article 67 (pp. 273, 274).
5. A denial of common grace? Christmas cannot be both biblical and universally popular with the un-believing world unless common grace is true.
6. The Appendix to the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for Public Worship which says, “Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued”?
If we cannot harmonize the observance of Christmas with the above (which is essentially the thrust of the booklet Christmas: A Biblical Critique), is it not presumptuous, rather than protestant, for the Reformed to continue to do so?
Jewish Dreams, Puritan Hope, Reformed Ostrich
What is referred to as “Jewish Dreams” in the January 15 issue of the Standard Bearer has been elsewhere described as the “Puritan Hope.” The longing which filled the breasts of generations of godly men for well over 200 years in the British Isles and in America is swept aside with the stroke of a pen by the esteemed editor of the Standard Bearer, with what is almost akin to an anathema on the concept of post-millennialism being even mentioned in Protestant Reformed circles.
Ever since the rise of Reconstructionism, in the minds of many Protestant Reformed writers, postmillennialism has been inextricably bound up with this movement. Concern amounting to paranoia is displayed whenever the subject arises, and ghosts appear in the form of “earthly kingdoms” and “world dominion,” like skeletons from the proverbial cupboard. Perhaps we need reminding that while Reconstructionism has been around for a few decades, post-millennialism has been around for centuries.
The editor appears to make the amillennial view of prophecy a matter of dogma and attempts to support his contention from the Reformed creeds, quoting Heidelberg Catechism Q. 52 & 123 and Belgic Confession Articles 27 and 37. In fact, none of these passages relate to the subject under discussion (except perhaps Q. 123, where the clause “till the full perfection of thy kingdom take place” could be interpreted in a postmillennial sense! Cf. the Westminster Larger Catechism’s answer to the same question: “In the second petition [which is, Thy kingdom come] … we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated and throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances…”). Moreover, the statement that “it [i.e., the amillennial position] is the stand of the confessions that bind Reformed and Presbyterian churches and Christians today” is manifestly untrue. The editor cites two creedal statements which do have a bearing, however, namely the Second Helvetic Confession and the Savoy Declaration, but proceeds, arbitrarily, to accept the former while rejecting the latter. Again, we need to remind ourselves that it was precisely because the framers of the Three Forms of Unityand the Westminster Standards recognized that the matter of prophecy was of secondary importance, was subject to a degree of speculation, and did not form part of the substance of the Faith, that they omitted reference to eschatological matters—other than the major events of the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment—in their creeds.
Another concept that receives the anathema of the editor is the suggestion that the return of Christ might not be imminent. Scorn is poured upon the idea that history could have several thousand years yet to run; instead, we are confidently informed that “the kingdom of the beast will come. Indeed it is coming now. Its features are distinct in a lawless society, an apostate church, and a uniting world of nations” and we must “Be prepared for the Antichrist!” Having, in the recent past, called the bluff of Harold Camping, perhaps the editor needs to take heed lest future generations call his bluff over the attempt to condense all prophetic history into a single span that finds its fulfillment in his own short lifetime.
Furthermore, belief in a future Antichrist implies that the editor does not believe with the Westminster Confession of Faith that: “the Pope of Rome … is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God” [XXV:vi]. In this—according to lain H. Murray—he is at variance with all the Reformers. Murray speaks of “the unanimous belief that the papal system is both the ‘man of sin’ and the Babylonian whore of which Scripture forewarns (II Thess. 2; Rev. 19)” and says that “In the conviction of sixteenth-century Protestants, Rome was the great Antichrist, and so firmly did this belief become established that it was not until the nineteenth century that it was seriously questioned by evangelicals” [The Puritan Hope, p. 41].
Certainly, the second coming of Christ is the universal “hope” of all Reformed Christians; it always has been and always will be. But why should this preclude a desire to see the kingdom of God advanced and Christ glorified here on earth (Ps. 46:10b). If what the editor says is true, then why preach, why evangelize, why take part in missions, why do anything at all? Why not in fact just become a Reformed ostrich?
Do preaching, evangelizing, missions, and other labor by the church depend upon the “hope that a majority of humanity will soon be converted” and that the world will soon be “Christianized”?
Will the church that lacks this “hope” become a “Reformed ostrich”?
Is the church of Augustine a “Reformed ostrich”? that of Luther? that of Calvin? that of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession? that of the Bullinger of the Second Helvetic Confession? that of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck? that of Herman Hoek-sema? Amillennialists, all.
Might there be other motives than that of a “hope that a majority of humanity will soon be converted,” not only for doing “anything at all,” but also for doing everything possible, and then still more?
Might not such motives be obedience to Christ the Lord (Matt. 28:18-20; I Cor. 9:16); the gathering of the elect out of all nations (II Tim. 2:10); giving a witness to all nations so that the end may come (Matt. 24:14); and sheer love of the Lord Jesus and His precious Name (John 21:15-19; Phil. 1:15-21)?
Does the apostle say, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season… for the time will soon come that a majority of humanity will be converted and the world will be ‘Christianized'”?
Rather, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season … for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But … do (thou) the work of an evangelist” (II Tim. 4:1-5).