12 December 2012

One Day a Year

by Frank Turk

Since you mention it, this is a reprinted post from my neglected and un-sanitized blog from a few years ago, and I thought it was worth sharing since most of you have never prolly read it before.  Here are 5 loosely-associated thoughts about the Christmas season:

[1] It is frankly bizarre to associate what happens these days on December 25th (and the 4-ish weeks prior to 12/25) in the English-speaking world with Roman Catholicism in the theological, ecclesiological, or worshipological senses. That is: there's nobody I know who's celebrating Christmas because the day itself turns out to be more holy – except, of course, some Catholics. The rest of us are considering that Christ, in order to die for our sins in accordance with Scripture, had to be born. Which leads me to ...

[2] ... the obvious objection that taking a day and setting it apart to reconsider the birth of Christ is making something holy which God does not – it's a sort of Regulative principle objection. But here's the problem: if one doesn’t read the whole Bible every day and think about the whole thing every day, one is doing by default what one is criticizing others for doing with intention.

You know: you can't mull over the whole of biblical and systematic theology in any kind of thorough or even careful way in the 14 hours you're awake one day and then repeat the process again tomorrow and (for example) hold down a job or take a bath. So breaking the particulars of Biblical and systematic theology up over time – for example, into 52 weeks like the Heidelberg Catechism, or into a "church year", or into a daily reading plan – makes practical sense.

Because you have a human brain with human constraints, you're going to cause each day to be different in some way because you really don’t have a choice. The question turns out to be whether or not you're going to have an intentional way of, as the Bible says, being transformed by the renewal of your mind, or if you're just going to sort of stumble through it.

[3] And then the question comes up, "well, are you saying I must celebrate Christmas? Isn’t that legalism and violating my Christian liberty?" I think the fair comparison – the clear-sighted comparison – is to evangelism, because ultimately that's what I am talking about here (which we will get to in a minute).

You know: when you're standing in the waiting line at the Olive Garden with your family or whatever, I have no qualms saying that you should talk to someone there and try to get the Gospel in as much as it is possible. You should. My guess – and you can argue about the statistics behind this guess if you're that kind of person – is that someone in that waiting line is a lost person who has a sin problem that ends up being a hell problem, and is someone the Gospel is given to be declared to. If you believe in hell and in the only savior of men, you should find a way to talk about the Gospel.

Should. Expresses obligation, propriety, or expediency. Disciples of Christ have an obligation to express the Gospel. Even at the Olive Garden, which may or may not have some historical association with the Roman Catholic church particularly by being an Italian restaurant [sic].

Now, if that's true – and I'd love to see the person who's willing to say that Christians do not have this kind of obligation – how much more obvious is this same obligation on a day which, in the English-speaking world, bears the name of Christ and the whole world is frankly stopped because of it. Last year I published a harmony of the Gospels here at the blog – what if we intentionally gathered as families with both the saved and the sinners and read something like that rather than treating the day as if it's just another day, just like every other day, even though Wall Street and the banks are closed and everyone is frankly looking for something to do?

Opportunities like that don’t just fall out of the sky, especially in a post-Christian culture.

[4] And to connect the dots here between [2] and [3], one might say, "well, cent, I actually do read the Heidelberg Catechism to my kids and we follow the three forms of unity, so my obligation to bringing up my children in the way they should go – evangelizing them, if you will – is taken care of, so your beat-down on me for not observing this day is uncalled for."

Yeah, no. And pay attention, because this is where you imaginary objectors really get my goat.

Paul said this:
    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
and again:
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I agree with you that one perfectly "lawful" means of doing your Christian life is the consideration (as in our example) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Where I part company with the imaginary objector is that you are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and you have a really big problem if Rob Bell understands something which you do not.

I want you to imagine something: imagine that the whole English-speaking world stops for one day – and by "stops" I mean that there's not even any sports on the TV worth mentioning. Everybody stops working for one day. And for the most part, everyone has this yearning to be with family – even the most weird feel like this day bears some kind of meaning in that it would be good to be with family just this one day.

And on that day, the disciples of Christ get up in the morning, read Heidelberg Catechism Week 51 (ironically, "about the Lord's Day", speaking of holding one day above another), and wander off to work to show those idolatrous Catholics we don't bend a knee to the Pope, carn-sarn it.

Let me suggest to you that this is not only an avoidance of a right-minded "should" for a sort of smug and intellectually-selfish "ought", but it is completely tone-deaf to the real spirit of Christ who became flesh and took up residence among us, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, who has made God known.Christmas is the opportunity to make God known, people – particularly, to make Christ known. You have the liberty to do that in an obscure or untranslatable way, and you have the liberty to do that in a public and sort of lavish and joyous way – one which reflects your personal response to this God who poured Himself out, took on the form of a servant, allowed himself to be laid in a feeding trough, and came to die for people who deserved themselves to be put to death.

You can play baseball when the sun is shining, or you can play your PSP in your basement and wonder why you don’t know any real people. What you can't do is pretend that your liberty is more valuable than spending your liberty on your responsibilities.

[5] And that leads to my last point (because this is page 3 in WORD), which is to make it clear that what's at stake here is the declaration of the Gospel of God to the lost by all means possible. That's the real "culture war". You have to consider what it means to have a public faith at some point in your travels through sanctification.

Some people want to tell you that the only meaningful way to have a public faith is by church-community and church-worship. That is: somehow the only way, or perhaps the most efficacious way, of demonstrating a public faith is in liturgy in community. And we have to grant something here: depending on what you mean by "liturgy" and "efficacious", and depending on how important you rate the Lord's table and baptism, they have a point.

But if our worship stops at the last pew in the chapel, so to speak, we're just fans. We're not playing the game: we're just watching it.

You are called to do more than watch the game, reader. You are called to run the race, and fight the good fight, and be someone who's not just shadow-boxing in vain. You are called to be a spectacle for the sake of the Gospel, and that doesn’t happened behind closed doors.


R.C. said...

Most excellent piece Frank. I wrote an ask rc on the legitimacy of celebrating Christmas last night. If all the few who read me where subsumed under all the cajillions who read pyro I wouldn't have had to write mine. When you are not disagreeing with me, or worse, yelling at me, you are amazing. Which puts me in doubt about those other times. Of course, was about to write you off when you described Olive Garden as an Italian restaurant, but then you had me again at sic. Hope you and your family are having a joyful Advent season.

FX Turk said...


FX Turk said...

RC: heh.

DJP said...

Absolutely splendid. I'll be tweeting from it all day.

Tiana said...

Wonderful. I'm agreeing with you and convicted at the same time. I will note that you have obviously never been a mom. The bathtub is perhaps the perfect place to contemplate systematic theology. Many Blessings!

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, indeed, and not only talking to someone at the Olive Garden, but actually taking someone to the Olive Garden.

...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Tom Chantry said...

One Star Hater is a Grinch? I didn't see THAT one coming.

BFR said...

"Bethlehem was the opening gambit in the last campaign of a long war."

The greeting of Merry Christmas is an act of war whereby the faithful declare that there is a new and Ultimate sheriff in town, Who is now King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that all men everywhere are commanded to repent and believe. Herod got it; many of our brethren do not.

I commend your post, and recommend "God Rest Ye" by Douglas Wilson as further treatment thereof.

Michael Coughlin said...

This is my favorite post of your ever that doesn't have anything to do with Star Wars or comic books.

Well done, Frank. As an "avid" evangelist, I am always looking for opportunities to share the gospel and you hit the nail on the head with your depiction.

Marie said...

Huzzah! Someone post it on Puritan Board!!!

FX Turk said...

I just wanted to add as a footnote that while celebrating Christmas is in no way following the Pope, if following the Pope on twitter following the Pope?

That's a great way to get the true anti-papists riled up.

FX Turk said...

Michael - I love your avatar photo. You look actually joyful and, if I might add, like a lot of fun. We should all be so blessed in countenance.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Sounds like you might be saying it is our >calling< to celebrate Christmas evangelistically.

/transparent attempt to sow discord among the blogthren

But seriously, are you saying it is wrong to "regard not the day," it can't be done "unto the Lord," and the only option is to regard it?

What about those who (mistakenly) think it is syncretism or erringly believe the regulative principle requires them to avoid Christmas like the plague? If they can't do Christmas in faith, it is sin, is it not? Am I misunderstanding Romans 14?

Do our evangelistic efforts need Christmas, anyway? Isn't the power in the Gospel, and not in Christmas? Isn't the underlying premise of this post that somehow Christmas is going to make evangelism more effective, so we'd better grab the bull by the horns? If so, I can think of lots of other things that would (humanly speaking) make evangelism more effective....

Or am I just reading-comprehension challenged, and missing your point?

Obviously, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity, when people who never think about Christ might even sing, "True God the Son, Light from Light eternal...." Who knows what impact that has on the unbelieving heart?

So yes, you are right, if we can observe Christmas with a clear conscience, we should use it evangelistically. But not everyone can, you know, and I have this feeling (it's not a CALLING, it's a FEELING) that a lot of those people manage to please the Lord even without Christmas. If I'm right, this article is rather uncharitable to them, isn't it?

Maybe I should just say "Merry Christmas", shut up, and go prepare my Christmas sermon or finish my series debunking the flawed reasons people give for abandoning Christmas....

Barbara said...

Frank, I just want you to know that your Christmas article "Not That Kind of Girl Anymore" has become the traditional Christmas Dinner table reading at my house over the past several years. It is precious to me on many levels.

FX Turk said...


You didn't read this post at all, did you? Because I did answer these questions already.

FX Turk said...

Barbara - that is part of my favorite series on Christmas which I have written. Thanks for reminding me of those posts.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Frank. Sorry if I missed the point. I wondered, which is why I asked if I was missing your point. Not sure why you are bothered if a guy who apparently missed the point asked if he has.

But really, "didn't read the post at all"?

#3 seems to me to compare Christmas to evangelism, and thus make it a requirement to obedience. Yes, or no? My question is that I don't see where you've squared that with Romans 14 at all, particularly when correlating verses 6 and 23. Unless I'm totally clueless (which does happen), verse 23 tells us that the person who has doubts (misplaced though they are) about Christmas would be sinning to engage in Christmas-oriented evangelism. If you've answered that, please point it out so I can repent appropriately.

Thus, my questions. Forgive me if I'm obtuse in my reading, or haven't asked the questions clearly.


trogdor said...

What's often left unsaid about Romans 14 is that the weaker brother (1) is flat-out wrong, and (2) at some point needs to grow up into a mature Christian on that matter. Weaker-brother-ness should not be a perpetual state, and certainly nothing to be trumpeted as if it's a badge of honor.

At most, it should be a temporary state, generally soon after conversion, when the implications of salvation and the new life in Christ are being worked out. If one persists in this state, that means they either aren't bothered to think about the issue, or their thinking is wrong. Either way, it's poor discipleship, and it should not persist year after year.

This particular issue is guaranteed to come up every single year. It's not something a disciple of Christ can ignore and hope it never comes up again. To keep putting off thinking about it year after year is a problem. To keep coming up with the wrong answer every year is a problem. Whether you want to call that 'disobedience', I don't particularly care. I would probably go with 'immaturity', but there's significant overlap in those terms anyway.

Anonymous said...

Trogdor, not everyone would take that view of Romans 14, but in general, I agree.

I still can't reconcile this post with that passage. The stronger is not to despise the weaker, he is to avoid tempting a brother to stumble, etc. We're supposed to be patient and teach to strengthen the conscience, not encourage them to ignore their conscience.

This post doesn't say, "You need to learn what the Scriptures really say about those things about which you are concerned, and become stronger." It instead implies you need to blow off the weakness of your conscience and get evangelising with a Christmas theme.

One topic of Romans 14 is meat. Paul is very clear that meat is meat. So he's not condoning wrong thinking. I just did a series of posts on wrong thinking about Christmas. We >should< be trying to help sort out wrong thinking.

But this seems an end-run around the problem. The problem isn't evangelism. It is confused thinking, a false doctrine of discernment by origins, and a misuse of the regulative principle. You don't solve that by telling someone to get evangelising.