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‘Christ’ in Christmas?: Churches of Christ and the holiday season


For many members of Churches of Christ, Christmas once meant decorated trees, colorfully wrapped gifts and Santa Clauses all around — but definitely no mention of baby Jesus.

Mistletoe was welcome, but mangers certainly were not, in a fellowship that marked Dec. 25 as a secular holiday but purposely never sang “Joy to the World” after about mid-November.


Related: What about Christmas?


In recent years, though, many congregations have become much more willing to reflect on the story of Jesus’ birth at a time when the world is focused on him, The Christian Chronicle found in a query of more than 100 ministers and members nationwide

“We in the Churches of Christ have long held that we have it ‘right’ according to the Bible,” said Lantz Howard, youth minister for the Bright Angel Church of Christ in Las Vegas. “Well … the Gospels do talk about the birth of Jesus.

“I am sure that God the father of Christ was jumping for joy on that day,” Howard added. “So we, too, can jump for joy.”

Jim Hackney, minister for the Heritage Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, said Churches of Christ “missed out on a lot” by not observing Christmas in any kind of religious way.

“However, over the years, we have been able to change that,” Hackney said. “Visitors come to our church on Christmas expecting to hear about the birth of Jesus. We don’t disappoint them. It’s too important to reach out in a positive way at that time.”

But some remain steadfastly opposed to connecting Christ with Christmas.

Glynna Hartman, a member of the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, has been known to walk out of service to avoid singing “Silent Night” at Christmas after ignoring it the rest of the year.

A Christian for more than 60 years, Hartman blames churches’ increasing comfort with Christmas on “secularism creeping into a congregation.” While her family exchanges holiday gifts, she refrains from calling it “Christmas.”

“I am very careful about using God’s name and Christ’s name because I don’t want to put it in vain,” she said.

E. Dean Kelly, minister for the Highland Home Church of Christ in Alabama, said he has no problem preaching about Jesus’ birth 52 weeks a year. However, if it’s in the holiday season, he’ll stress that Christmas is not a biblical holiday, he said.

Instead, Kelly said he explains that Christians are told to celebrate the savior’s death, burial and resurrection with the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.

“I am grieved that so many are being drawn into thinking like and imitating the denominational world around us,” Kelly said. “It is a fact that we are not told to celebrate the birth of Jesus, though it is a very important fact of Scripture.”

But he said, “To keep a holiday as a civil and personal holiday is not unscriptural nor sinful — unless we cause ourselves to offend our conscience.”

FOR PAGANS OR PREACHERS?

Christmas, or “Christ’s Mass,” was adopted in the fourth century by Roman Emperor Constantine to encourage a common religious festival for Christians and Pagans.

Growing up in Caldwell, Idaho, John Free said his parents and grandparents taught him that Christmas was “something for Catholics and the denominations that did not embrace the idea that the silence of the Scriptures was to be respected as much as the precise words of the Scripture.”

But Free said the Sunny Hills Church of Christ in Fullerton, Calif., where he serves as an elder, views Christmas as a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth and tell his story.

“So Christmas carols are sung in our worship service on the Sunday closest to Christmas, and the sermons typically focus on that part of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke,” hesaid. “There is usually a disclaimer that we really don’t know when Jesus was born, but that is about as far as we go to reassure our more conservative members.”

Glover Shipp, a former longtime missionary who is an elder for the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma, said he has mixed feelings about how to approach Christmas.

“To celebrate Christmas without Christ, making Santa the chief person in it, doesn’t make sense,” Shipp said. “However, it may not make sense to bow to the mixture of Pagan and Catholic traditions about Christmas.”

HEY, IS THAT AN EASTER DRESS?

Amy Smith, office assistant for the Nashua Church of Christ in New Hampshire, recalls that her family didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter as religious holidays. Her mother would make her a new dress around Easter, she said.

“But I wouldn’t wear it for the first time on Easter Sunday, so as not to confuse my friends that I might be celebrating Easter,” said Smith, who likes that her congregation embraces both holidays as opportunities.

Lora Isenberg, communications director for the Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills, Mich., said she, too, experienced the “don’t talk about Jesus” approach.

“I’m grateful to be worshiping at a church now that takes a different approach and uses this holiday to celebrate Jesus’ birth and, in turn, reach out to the community,” Isenberg said.

As a boy, Tom Riley, minister for the Canyon Church of Christ in Anthem, Ariz., sold enough Christmas cards to earn a tool belt one year and a BB gun the next.

“For some of my most devout Christian customers, I knew to show them the secular cards,” Riley said. “Santa and Frosty hit the spot.”

These days, Riley’s congregation goes Christmas caroling, and he said he has “developed a voracious appetite for study of the birth of Jesus around Christmas.”

“People want to celebrate what God did,” he said. “So I’ve tried many ways to use Christmas as a time of beautiful, simple, low-pressure outreach.”

Christmas decorations adorn the North Central Church of Christ in Indianapolis, where minister David Mangum said he develops messages themed around Jesus’ birth.

Similarly, the church focuses on moms on Mother’s Day and Christ’s resurrection on Easter, taking advantage of the calendar to reach the culture, Mangum said.

“I have long considered that it is not ‘unscriptural’ to read Luke 2 in December,” he said. Suggesting that it is “just makes us look more quirky, not more faithful.”

  • Feedback
    In the article, some argue for “observing Christmas”, and yet do not provide Scriptural authority for doing so? Some brethren refused it. But in the opinions for it, all I read was unfouded opinion. This thinking is the result of relative thinking, not objective thinking.
    If Christmas was observed and taught by Christ or His Apostles, these people should give Book, Chapter, and Verse, or at least some inferrence for authority to observe Christmas. Nothing is there, just like nothing is there about instrumental music in worship. Yet some Churches of Christ are moving to the instrument. Why? With what Biblical Authority? (Col 3:17).
    What did Jesus say in Matt. 15:9? Observing Christmas in the Church is “the doctrine of men”.
    Niles Hissom
    Pleasant Valley Church of Christ
    New Martinsville, WV
    USA
    December, 25 2012
    God has told us what he wants, no one can change it and be sure our salvation is intact. If you’ve paid attention the 1st day of the week (Sunday) is designated in scriptures to celebrate His death, burial, and resurrection. You, nor catholics, protestants can fine an actual date for His birth, so why concern yourselves with his birth. Remember God’s thoughts are above ours. He does not think as we do and then turn around and lie about it. Spoken in Love as a Christian. Thanks for listening.
    Mary E. Jones
    38th Street Church of Christ
    San Diego, CA
    USA
    December, 15 2011
    The Feast of Dedication arose during the inter-testamental period, so we have no Biblical authority for it, must like Purim. Yet John chapter 10:22 implies that Jesus was taking part in Hannukah.
    brian
    echo lake church of Christ
    westfield, nj
    usa
    December, 6 2011
    The Feast of Purim in Esther was not authorized by God, but was certainly an event that all good Jewish people celebrated to remember the time when Jews got relief from their enemies (Esther 9:22). In fact, Esther may have even been written to explain the origen of Purim (since so much is written about it). I don’t really know anyone who thinks Jesus was born December 25. But I get very excited every time I think about the very special gift of Jesus. So hey, if the stores & media want to jump on board once a year, I’ll take it!Don’t you think our world could use a good shot of Jesus at least once a year. Or do you think the U.S. is doing just fine without any excess attention being given to the coming of our Savior? Love to all.
    Barrett Vanlandingham
    Fort Gibson Church of Christ
    Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
    USA
    December, 5 2011
    I believe that we can take part in holiday activites as long as we don’t go beyond scripture. We have freedom in Christ to do centain things but when it causes someone to stumble we have gone to far. We should be concern about our borther or sisters spiritual welfare, and even those who are not members of the body. Giving up our right to take part in any event is more important than any holiday.
    Minister Otis Grayson
    Jefferson Ave Church of Christ
    Birmingham, Al
    Jefferson
    December, 4 2011
    This is for all to read including ministers, elders, and so on. The reasons given for celebrating christmas are just as GOD said in the bible. many will fall away from the truth and follow doctrines of men rather than of GOD. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me in 1 Corinthians11:24-26.Doing and excepting strange in the church dipleases GOD and with the churches that follow or people in the church do you realize you abandon the truth and become a part of that religion and customs whether attend thier worship service or not. We don’t need such things to introduce GOD or JESUS to people as he is everywhere. This is just like the people abandoning Moses in the desert and stated melting gold to worship images.Hold fast true christians.
    Linda St.Julian
    Church of Christ East 1st Street
    Cleveland, Texas 77327
    USA
    December, 3 2011
    My concern with the adoption of Christmas as a religious holiday within the church is that the “holiday” as celebrated in denominations has created a concept for many that coming to church on Christmas and Easter is good enough. No service, no time of year should be elevated to mis-guide some into this misunderstanding. Every Sunday is the most important day of the year and yet Dec 25th gets elevated higher and higher incorrectly, to the detriment of many souls.
    Jeff
    151st Street
    Olathe, KS
    USA
    December, 3 2011
    There’s a tremendous buildup all through the Old Testament that God is sending a Saviour. Although we are not told to celebrate this event, I cannot see why this should not be an occasion for celebrating God’s faithfulness.
    Teresa Nystrom
    Mountain Ave. Church
    Tucson, AZ
    United States
    December, 3 2011
    I think we should be trying to find more ways to celebrate Christ and any aspect of His life, not fewer. There are many of our practices that came from traditional religion both Catholic and Protestant. The celebration of Christ is at the core of the gospel. Any interpretation of scripture that conflicts with that is a misinterpretation. If other churches have “outstripped” us on this, let’s thank them for letting us learn from them.
    Bill Long
    North Atlanta
    Atlanta, Ga
    usa
    December, 2 2011
    The Bible says to make the most of every opportunity. Would we be happier if the world was celebrating Hitler’s or Stalin’s birthday? The only thing that would be wrong with the Christ part of Christmas would be insisting that one MUST celebrate Christ’s birth at this time in a Christmas way. Preaching on the birth of Christ at this time of the year is making the most of the opportunity and is no different from a preacher “forcing” another Christian to listen to a sermon on another subject on any other Sunday of the year. I bet this wouldn’t be much of any issue if half of our neighbors were Muslim.
    Victor Barviks
    The Riga Center Church of Christ
    Riga, Latvia
    Latvia
    December, 2 2011
    I think Romans 14 is fairly explicit—we shouldn’t pass judgment on one another for celebrating or not celebrating a holiday, so long as each has decided to “honor the Lord” through his actions, and so long as one’s actions do not cause a brother to stumble. It seems this is not a salvation issue, but rather one of the many freedoms we have in Christ.
    John
    Waterford Church of Christ
    Clarkston, MI
    USA
    December, 1 2011
    I think it would be appropriate to celebrate the birth of the Lord’s church. The Day of Pentecost is pretty well known, and that was an important event that we talk about often. I believe the church includes those who honor one day over another along with those who do not.
    David
    Springbrook
    Renton, WA
    USA
    December, 1 2011
    The Gospels certainly talks about the birth of Jesus but it does not teach us to celebrate it on Dec 25. each year. We may as well set our own dates to celebrate His baptism, ascension and other important events which were characterized by the physical revelation of the presence of God n His Heavenly Host
    Amos
    Osu Church of Christ
    Tema, –
    Ghana
    December, 1 2011
    I was raised in a strict “King James version” Church of Christ. We focused on what was sinful…shorts, clapping and saying Jesus was born on Christmas and Heaven forbid you bring a NIV to church!!
    As I have gotten older (27 is not that old, but you know), I have learned so much more about God’s love and what worship and honoring Him is all about. Yes, we are called to celebrate His death, burial & resurrection. However, all over the world people celebrate birthdays. How else would we know that Methuselah lived 969 years? Why would that matter if celebrating birthdays were not acceptable? Some people may view my comment and say that I am not being silent where the Bible is silent. But I say, what is the harm of celebrating His birth?
    Amanda McCary
    Central Church of Christ
    College Station, TX
    USA
    December, 1 2011
    I do not have an issue with celebrating the “holidays days” as long as they are taught as “doctrine and commandments to be obeyed” nor bound upon anyone in any manner. I design and deliver sermons that are in some way related to the “mind set” of the season when individuals minds are on the particular thought – so I “exploit that particular thought process” rather than discourage someone from coming back and learning more correctly the way of the Lord.
    Gavin G. Coriell, m.S. Ed, minister
    Antioch Congregation of Castalian Springs TN
    Lebanon, TN
    USA
    December, 1 2011
    I think it is sad when Churches of Christ think they have to go to the way of the world, we are to remember Christ death, burial and Resurrection each and every Sunday, not one time or two times a year, it’s time Christians get back to the truth in the bible did everyone forget the vs in Revelations about not adding to or taking away from his word. Are we taking away from his word by making one day a celebration when we are to be remembering him every first day of the week. People are changing to what the world wants but in the end when the final day is here if we are not worshiping our lord in the right way are we going to go to heaven? Is doing it the worlds way the right way or is doing it God’s way the right way?
    Sheryl Couch
    Anthony Church of Christ
    Attica, Ks
    USA
    December, 1 2011
    awesome!
    rhonda
    concord
    st cloud, fl
    usa
    December, 1 2011

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