New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
Reading this reminds me of Proverbs and its call to Wisdom.
Proverbs 26v4 and 26v5 are a complete contradiction, until one recognises the context of what is being said. In the areas you cited (“Christmas observances, dating practices, Covid masks and vaccinations”) what is a wise response in one case, may not be a wise response in others.
As a younger Christian, I prayed a lot for “God’s will” in a matter - assuming there was a set answer that applied in every situation. Not the wrong thing to do, but now I find myself praying for what, in a particular situation, is a wise response. And while outward appearance does matter, what I’ve seen too much over the years is a sound Biblical principle pushed in its application to the point of diminishing returns. The dating-v-courtship arguments of twenty years ago are a well-remembered case in point!
Reminds me of this quote from Spurgeon:
“This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under Heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas day! There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin. Doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred! However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas days in the year — for there is work enough in the world — and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas is really a gift to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the Incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those—“Who with more care keep holiday the wrong, than others the right way.” The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day and leave its superstitions to the superstitious!”
I’ve always appreciated the “who with more care keep holiday the wrong, than others the right way.” It tempers the way I think about rejecting things.
If you’re going to reject celebrating Christmas on the grounds of the regulative principle, for example, then great. But be careful that you don’t step into a self-righteous pride that thumbs its nose at Christians who celebrate Christmas in simple, sincere conscience. Do we want to be people defined by what practices we condemn, or those which we actually walk in? Shall we fool ourselves and say we have no Christmas practices, when in fact we’ve made it our Christmas practice to condemn our brethren every year around December 25th?
I’ve known folks who reject Christmas with such self-righteous fixation, where they read something from Spurgeon or Calvin or the Puritans one time, and now they discredit all Christmas-celebrating Christians as near-heretics. They think they now own the corner market on all matters of theology. Truly, I find myself wishing such people had never read anything at all, and had simply continued celebrating Christmas just as they did their whole lives. The “knowledge” they’ve gained has done nothing but puff them up and led them astray from the path of godliness. I wish they’d get off their high horse and sing Jingle Bells.
On the other hand, there are some folks who hold Christmas with such a vain sentimentality that exposes the fact that their faith itself is merely sentimentality. They love baby Jesus in the manger the same way they love egg nog, and lights, and gingerbread houses. And they love they warm feeling of getting all their family to go to church with them once a year. For folks like this, it is good that they would be challenged on their notions of Christmas, and why they keep it.
For so many Christians though, who hold fast in Spirit and in truth to a sincere and living faith, they celebrate Christmas deliberately, as they’ve been taught to do by their fathers – both in the home, and in the church. They’ve never even entertained the thought of Christmas not being a thing, and why should they? It’s the world and the church as providence hath dealt them. And in simple and sincere faith, they keep it. Concerning such brothers, I ask myself, is this so bad? Is this the great dragon of our day which deserves so much of our theological passion? How much energy would I do well to commit to persuading such a brother to abandon his Christmas practices?
“We do not wish to be classed with those—‘Who with more care keep holiday the wrong, than others the right way.’”
On a related note, I know that it is only “custom” or “tradition” to mark Advent - but then, there are good reasons for doing so.
Question begging brother. Not all providences concur with precepts, and faith has the revealed will of God for its guide, not naked observances.
Here is the tension point. Do we have as much zeal for first table law as we do for second table law? The answer I everywhere receive is a resounding absolutely not, and don’t you dare point it out, and don’t you dare say anyone else is wrong, and if you do you’re a legalist and an externalist. Moses, Phinehas, Samuel—they would all scandalize the majority of the reformed church today.
Here’s an excellent sermon on the topic of holy days.
You may misunderstand what I was getting at. I wasn’t actually making a sincere argument in what I was saying about the way many folks keep Christmas, but rather just reflecting on why things are the way they are.
I happen to be of the camp of rejecting Christmas, and would be happy to see reformation on the matter. But I’ve also seen that there is a great need for caution in the matter. I have seen too many folks make their anti-Christmas position into its own sort of Christian wokeness. In their zeal to tear down one high place, they create for themselves another that’s far worse – a seat of self-righteous pride.
Better is the ignorant man who keeps Christmas in a sincere faith than the arrogant man who rejects Christmas and thinks himself super spiritual for it. That’s the only point I set out to make for the purposes of this discussion. I’ll leave the full bore Christmas debate to you if you’d like.
Ok. Certainly a unique way to reflect.
Yes, we must all join in reforming this non-holiday. Follow our lead; we preach and talk and sing about the incarnation as it was at the beginning. About all the glorious humility of Bethlehem’s manger, the inn without vacancies, John welcoming Jesus while both still in the womb, the shepherds, the astronomers from the East, the slaughter of the innocents, the angels singing, the angels announcing, Joseph’s protection and care for this little baby who did not abhor the Virgin’s womb…
Such a perfect non-holiday to lift up motherhood, manhood, working men, stars, evil rulers, personhood of unborn, giving gifts to honor our Lord’s incarnation…
If one wanted to, I suppose these themes could find any other non-holiday of the year to be preached, sung, and told. Then no one could accuse us of any “mixed confession,” as our neighbor put it at our dinner table when explaining why he and his wife and children would not pray with us when we asked God’s blessing on the food. I thought it would be churlish of me if I’d talked to him about his principles. Still, I might observe that his mother (the kids’ grandma) was at our table, also, and after her son had said his piece, she turned to the children and said, “Now kids, fold your hands and close your eyes—we’re going to pray.”
If I remember correctly, he was the new pastor of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church which, in our little town of 1,500, had many hundreds of members as well as no reputation for joy, love, or any Gospel witness. What they were known for was keeping far removed from anyone who was not a member of their sect.
Merry Christmas to all of you who are willing to receive it. Smile.
Years ago I read this when I made a principle of never preaching anything about mothers or fathers or military or new years or…
From the Good Doctor in his work Preaching and Preachers:
Any Christian who does not respond to a sermon on the Nativity had better re-examine his whole position in Christ. If you yourself as preacher cannot still be moved by a sermon which just deals with the facts and details of the death of our blessed Lord on the Cross on Calvary’s hill, if you do not feel as if you had never preached it before, and if you are not as moved by it as you have ever been, I say again that you had better examine your foundations. And the same is true of the people. So these special occasions have great value in this respect, that they, in a sense, compel us to go back, and to remind ourselves of these things which after all are the fundamentals on which our whole position rests.
I go even further; I believe in using almost any special occasion as an opportunity for preaching the Gospel. So in addition to what I have mentioned I have always taken advantage of the first Sunday of a New Year in this way. You may ask, ‘What is the difference between the first of January and the thirty-first of December?’ And of course in a sense you are right. That is the purely intellectual attitude. To it all days are the same. But to the average person there is a difference. New Year! the time for making resolutions. Of course we know that it is nonsense and that it will lead to nothing. People do it every year and probably do not remember their resolutions even for a week. Nevertheless they do this. ‘But,’ you say, ‘what then is the point of paying any attention to that?’ Once more that is the theoretical view-point.
But we must not take these theoretical views, as I have been trying to show; we have to assess our congregations and our people, and we must deal with them as human beings. Remembering that ‘he who winneth souls is wise’ we must take advantage of anything and everything that will bring home the truth of the Gospel to people. So when you start a New Year there is an obvious opportunity of reminding people of the fleeting nature of life. We all tend to forget this; you can be so interested in great theological and intellectual and philosophical problems that you tend to forget that you are going to die. And the people, immersed in business and pleasure and the family, and ‘the affairs of this life’ are equally forgetful.
Here, then, is an opportunity made for you, presented to you, to bring home to all the fleeting character of life in this world, and to remind them that none can afford to sit back as spectators or as critics of preachers and preaching. You can remind them that they are involved in all this, and that you are not addressing them on some theoretical subject, but dealing with the most vital matter of all, and that, whether they like it or not, they are moving on to an inevitable and unavoidable end, and that the Final Judgment is coming. A preacher who does not take advantage of these things is a fool, and is not fit to be in a pulpit.
I shall never forget my sense of disappointment a few years back when I had the following experience. Being somewhat over-tired I took a rest at the change of the year and went to a service conducted by a young minister on the first Sunday morning of a New Year. To my utter astonishment he began his sermon by saying, ‘Well, you remember that last Sunday we were dealing with such and such a verse; this Sunday we go on to the next verse.’ He made no reference whatsoever to the New Year or to any of these matters at all. I felt sorry for him, sorry that he was capable of missing such an opportunity. Apart from anything else these special occasions help to make our work easier-they are opportunities made for the preacher.
Anything that happens in the world, anything striking, any phenomenon, is something we should always take advantage of. I remember reading of an incident in the life of John Fletcher of Madeley, that great and saintly man who lived two hundred years ago. He was a
vicar in Madeley in Staffordshire, in England. Suddenly there was a terrible disaster on the River Severn. The Severn Bore that year was bigger than usual with the result that large numbers of people were drowned as the result of the flood. This catastrophe led John Fletcher to preach a remarkable sermon in which he made frequent references to that tragic happening and which led to tremendous consequences. I also remember reading how at just about the same time, incidentally, a number of those great preachers of that eighteenth century made use of the earthquake that took place in Lisbon, in Portugal, in 1751.They all took advantage of such events. They did not preach on the earthquake as such but they used it to bring home to the people the fleeting nature of life, and to enforce their call to repentance. An earthquake makes people think, as does a tornado, or hurricane; and so they give the preacher an opportunity. ‘Because thine heart was tender’ is the favourable comment on King Josiah in the Old Testament; and we remember the lines of the hymn, ‘Saviour while my heart is tender, I would yield my heart to Thee’. There are times when our hearts are tender, and we are more likely to respond. It is the essence of wisdom, it is indeed but common sense, that we should take advantage of all these things. Though you may have planned out the greatest series of sermons the world has ever known, break into it if there is an earthquake! If you cannot be shaken out of a mechanical routine by an earthquake you are beyond hope!