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Observance of Christmas

I wish to thank you for your October 15, 1994 issue on “The Reformation and Worship.” I found it a blessing and a challenge and have already made one change in our approach to worship because of it. Thanks!

But, I am also writing to ask two questions. I recently received a mailing from the Presbyterian Heritage Publications of Dallas, Texas. In it they list a booklet, “Christmas: A Biblical Critique,” by Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed.

This booklet begins with Pastor Schneider’s sermon, “Is Christmas Christian?” in which he challenges hearers to consider the unbiblical nature of Christmas celebration. Reed follows with an historical essay, revealing Reformed and Presbyterian opposition to the holiday in the past.

This booklet is in contrast to what was a brief reference to Calvin’s attitude to Christmas in a recent issue and your December 15, 1993 Christmas edition.

My two questions are these:

1. Have you ever dealt with the position that this booklet presents in your magazine? If so, I would appreciate receiving copies if possible.

2. If not, I would appreciate knowing how you would answer the view of the above-mentioned booklet especially in view of the fact that you have not been afraid of challenging what you see to be unbiblical practices or views.

(Pastor) Ronald Johnson

Amesbury, MA

Response:

I have not seen the booklet that you mention.

The Protestant Reformed Churches’ practice of observing Christmas is a long and honorable tradition in the Reformed Churches that trace their spiritual descent to the Synod of Dordt. Article 67 of the venerable Church Order of Dordt (1618/1619) requires that the Reformed churches “shall observe in addition to the Sunday also Christmas . . . .”

This observance consists of a public worship service on December 25. The elements of this service are the same as those that make up the congregation’s worship on the Sabbath. The minister preaches on some aspect of the birth of Christ, usually, and preferably, the history in the gospels. The congregation hears the blessed gospel of the incarnation and praises God with appropriate psalms in congregational singing.

Objection against Dordt in this provision and practice is invariably in terms of the “regulative principle” of worship: observance of Christmas is not prescribed in Scripture.

But this is a misunderstanding of the “regulative principle.” This is evident from the fact that Dordt permitted, indeed prescribed, observance of Christmas even though the great Reformed synod was committed to the “regulative principle” as laid down in Question 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Dordt saw no conflict between the requirement of the second commandment that we worship God only in the “way . . . He has commanded in His Word” and the observance of Christmas at a Reformed worship service. The fathers of Dordt saw no conflict because there is none.

The “regulative principle” requires that the elements of public worship—the “how” of worship—be those, and those only, that God prescribes in His Word, whether the public worship be on the Lord’s Day or on some special occasion. The “regulative principle” certainly does not forbid the church ever to gather for worship on another day than Sunday or on another occasion than the regular remembrance of Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week.

The Heidelberg Catechism explains the fourth commandment as requiring that “I, especially on the sabbath . . . diligently frequent the church of God.” The Catechism does not say, “exclusively on the sabbath.”

The Westminster Assembly likewise allowed for the observance of days of public fasting and of public thanksgiving in addition to the observance of the sabbath (see “The Directory for the Public Worship of God”).

Calvin looked askance at the celebration of Christmas in his day because of the corrupting of that celebration by Roman Catholicism (see I. VanDellen and M. Monsma, The Church Order Commentary, Zondervan, 1941, p. 273). He did not, however, flatly forbid it as a transgression of the second commandment. As I noted in my review of Wulfert de Greefs The Writings of John Calvin: An Introducto y Guide (Baker, 1993), Calvin went along with the Geneva church’s observance of the four great feast days that did not fall on a Sunday, including Christmas. When the Council decided to abolish these observances, Calvin wrote a correspondent that, if he had been asked for advice, he would not have supported this decision (see de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, p. 57; my review of the book appeared in the September 15,1994 issue of the Standard Bearer).

This is the kind of wisdom that we defenders of the “regulative principle” must demonstrate in our application of the principle, lest we fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism and, thus, imperil the principle itself.

—Ed.

The Electing Love of God

Each month we receive the Standard Bearer with joy, for in your articles and news you describe so beautifully the heart of the gospel, the five points of Calvinism.

Had it not been for the electing love of the triune God “… before the creation of the world . . . in that in love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ…,” I personally would never have sought Him. Only by a dramatic conversion by which He suddenly stopped me in my headlong flight from the influence of a godly father and mother in a covenant home and through Christian education in Holland, MI—only through His will in Christ have I become a minister of the Christian Reformed Church for the last 39 years.

It is with pleasure that we recall the daily noon lunches with Homer Hoeksema in the little “dungeon” of Calvin College on Franklin Street.

How often we as a family above the hardware store on Washington Square would discuss the issue of common grace. It was with admiration and affection that we followed the leadership of Prof. Herman Hoeksema those years long ago when Rev. Peter Jonker Jr., his seminary classmate, would tell us in catechism of his brilliance and godly erudition.

May God in His grace continue to bless the Standard Bearer, the seminary, and the Protestant Reformed Churches.

(Rev.) Nicholas Vogelzang

Executive Director,

Christ for Russia

Aurora, CO