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A Call for Tolerance on Christmas and Easter

We believe that Christians are free in Christ to celebrate Christmas — or they may avoid it, keeping in mind that whatsoever is not of faith is of sin (Romans 14:23).

We have always held the Scriptures in the highest regard. In Luke 2:10-11, an angel of God describes the birth of Jesus as "good tidings of great joy for all the people." Since it was appropriate for angels to rejoice at the birth of Jesus (verses 13-14), we believe it is certainly in keeping with the message of Scripture for Christians to do so.

Following the apostle Paul's instruction in Romans 14, it is important that Christians respect one another's views on this subject and not judge one another. Neither those believers who celebrate the birth of Jesus, nor those who don't, are more righteous or more evil than the other.

Some Christians avoid Christmas celebrations for conscience sake. There is no sin in their abstinence. Others devote themselves to worship, and celebrate with thanksgiving the miracle that God sent his Son into the world for our salvation. We can all learn to say with Paul: "Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.... Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Romans 14:6, 10).

Love, not command, is what motivates many Christians to celebrate during the Christmas season. They love their Savior and they love their families, and the Advent season provides an opportunity for them to express both. Similarly, love motivates some Christians who choose not to celebrate Christmas. They also love their Savior and their families. Their discomfort with the Christmas celebration is based on their desire to avoid taking part in something that defiles their conscience.

Can we respect one another's views, and follow Jesus' command that we love one another? I believe we can. The fact that non-Christians or even some Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday or in a profane way is not a reason for all Christians to avoid Christmas. No matter what the holiday or holy day, some will observe it for the wrong reasons, or get involved in ungodly conduct. These are not reasons for everyone else to avoid those same holidays.

The fact that many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in December or January does not mean that all Christians must do so. After all, there have been faithful Christians throughout the centuries who never celebrated Christmas.

Every pastor should provide meaningful worship opportunities during the Advent season for members who want to celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God. Many people will be thinking about the birth of Jesus, and pastors can build on those thoughts and direct members to the spiritual significance of his birth. Whether his birth actually happened in December is not important—what is important is that we can build on the thoughts that are seasonally common in December, just as we usually use Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity to discuss thanksgiving.

Not every member has to participate, nor to observe Christmas at home. That is a personal matter. Some Christians celebrate Christmas with traditional customs, while some celebrate it without traditional customs. Some avoid it altogether. Those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not should seek to honor Christ (Romans 14:5-6).

All our annual occasions should serve to draw us into a closer walk with Christ. They are opportunities to preach Christ, celebrate Christ and drink deeply of the living waters. May God grant us peace and unity as we live together in his grace and obedience.

A note about Easter:

Christians should remember Christ's resurrection, just as we remember his death. The two go together. As we know, the New Testament does not require Christians to commemorate the resurrection in any particular manner or on any particular day. Yet millions of Christians throughout the centuries have found it helpful to do so. And the Bible does not forbid them to do so.

Some churches stigmatize their members against celebrating Jesus' resurrection. Often, this is based on accusations made without investigating to see whether they are true. Rhetoric about pagan customs in northern Europe, for example, is irrelevant, because Christians were celebrating Jesus' resurrection long before northern European customs were involved.

It is not a sin to celebrate the resurrection, and not a sin to use to the word Easter, no matter what its origin. It is not a sin to gather at sunrise to worship our Savior. Easter is the spring celebration of Christians honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is not a time when Christians honor Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess.

I do not think we can be "neutral" about celebrating such a key event in our Savior's life, such a key event in our own salvation. Christians are not neutral about the victory over sin and death that Jesus won. So I encourage Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some may choose to do it one day, some on another, some perhaps on several days each year. Wonderful! Let good news be celebrated!

It is not a sin to eat chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits, or to eat eggs that have been colored and dyed. These things are no more pagan today than the names of the days of the week and month are. The same logic that one might be offended by the word "Easter" would suggest that the same person should be offended by "Sunday," "Thursday," or "Saturday." Whatever pagan associations these names may have once had are now gone. No one suspects that egg-dyers or egg-hunters are worshiping other gods.

I encourage people to celebrate Jesus' resurrection, but I am not exhorting people to immerse themselves in customs that have little or nothing to do with the resurrection. But neither do we superstitiously have to avoid Easter eggs and other customs. Some Christians choose to avoid such things; others see no harm in participating in them. Different people will "draw the line" in different places, and here I ask that we live in peace with one another. Differences do exist, and emotions can run high on this issue. So seek peace and pursue it. Those who participate in all the Easter customs need not flaunt it; those who refuse do not need to make a big deal about it.

Each of us must answer to the Lord, for it is to the Lord that we live and die — and we are not called to judge the Lord's other servants. We are each called to do the work God has called us to do, and we are to do it whether or not the other person is doing what he or she is supposed to be doing. We need tolerance, not mutual criticism. We need grace, not more legislation. Let's celebrate and worship together!

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