‘Christ’ in Christmas?: Churches of Christ and the holiday season
For many members of Churches of Christ, Christmas once meant…
What do you teach your kids about Christmas? It’s a question I have pondered through pretty much all of my adult life, and one I have had many conversations about. On one hand, there’s Santa — the jolly, old guy everyone loves. And on the other, there’s Jesus — our Savior.
It’s a subject I’ve found many in Churches of Christ are simply uncomfortable addressing.
I don’t remember many conversations about Christmas, mainly just that we know Jesus wasn’t actually born on Dec. 25. After college, when I began working and had more experiences around people from other religious backgrounds, I began to question what I would someday teach my own children.
Around the time my son was born, I set out in search of a more solid answer. I read my Bible, asked ministers, elders, Christians whom I believed to be wise — what did they teach their families?
Many just said, “Oh, we don’t know when Jesus was born. We should celebrate him every week, not just once a year.”
On Facebook, a friend posted her concern for Christians celebrating the birth of Christ. Through more conversations, she said since we are only instructed to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection that she would rather not join in a worldly holiday and risk her own salvation in doing so.
One friend pointed to Romans 14:5-6: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.”
Others mentioned taking this time of year, a time when so many are open to hearing about Jesus, as an opportunity to reach the lost.
I learned that I have friends who tell their kids up front that Santa … umm … well, that he’s not who he says he is (you get what I’m saying). They don’t want the magic of Santa to someday be confused with the faith of a Savior we cannot see. Others buy full in to the holiday — Santa, the decorations, the gift buying, etc. And then there are those, most from outside Churches of Christ, who spend this month of the year talking about Advent, Christmas Eve services and the birth of Christ.
I came away from that season more confused than when I started.
Recently, the question of what to teach my children resurfaced in my mind. As I again began searching for information on the topic, I noticed we here at The Christian Chronicle have said very little about the subject over the years. In fact, the only article I could find was from 2005.
So I went back to Facebook and asked the question again.
Wayne Newland, a member of the Greater Portland Church of Christ in South Portland, Maine, said he sees things today much different from the churches he attended as a child 80 years ago.
“Those of us who ‘grew up in the church’ remember when little or no attention was paid to Jesus’ birth, let alone at Christmas time,” Newland said. “Newer folks cannot understand that.”
The congregation he now attends doesn’t shy away from singing Christmas-themed hymns in December. They usually have wreaths on the front doors and welcome Christmas-themed events.
“Personally, I understand that we have freedom in Christ to exercise our faith as seems right and beneficial (1 Cor. 6:12; Col. 2:16; Gal. 5:1). I try to attend at least one Christmas Eve service each year at a church in the area,” Newland said.
Jay Kelley, from the Austin Street Church of Christ in Levelland, Texas, said since Christmas Eve is on a Sunday in 2017, his congregation will host an abbreviated service to allow members time to travel to be with their families.
“I guess you could say we recognize Christmas as a cultural holiday and a time for families to get together and people to reconnect,” he said, “but we don’t see it as a special day to worship the Lord.”
While he agrees the holiday can open the door to more conversations with those seeking to find the Lord, he says we should all be cautious of “special days.”
“Paul warned the Colossians in 2:16 and the Romans in chapters 14-15 about the danger of enforced holy days. Observing cultural traditions, even those that started out as religious festivals, are one thing. Incorporating them into the worship of the church is quite another,” Kelley said.
Thomas A. Pruett, from the Northern Hills Church of Christ in western South Dakota, said, “Christmas and Jesus aren’t mutually exclusive here, and we’ll mention the two freely together.”
“Jesus is Lord of all days,” Pruett pointed out, “including days which some people may view to be about Him or not.”
Stephen Puckett, from the Melbourne Church of Christ in Melbourne, Fla., said he also grew up in a church where Christmas was celebrated with the “secular, materialistic” version of the holiday and no mention of Christmas at church. The congregation he’s a part of now encourages a focus on sacrifice and giving.
“The Magi brought gifts to honor and praise the newborn savior,” he said. “We often use Christmas time as an opportunity to raise money for our missionaries, our food pantry … and any special need for the particular budge year we are in that brings glory to God in the doing.”
Scott Elliott, from the LaGrange Church of Christ in LaGrange, Texas, said those who celebrate Jesus’ birth are following an example from the Bible.
“We do not know when Jesus was born, but the Bible does record his birth and it records angels, shepherds and wise men celebrating this birth,” Elliott said. “This is a biblical example of people celebrating the birth of Jesus.”
Ultimately, he added, we have to make up our own minds about what we will or will not celebrate.
“According to Romans 14:5-6, we have the freedom to celebrate Christmas as long as we honor the Lord,” he said. “What we do not have the right to do is pass judgment on other Christians who choose to celebrate or not celebrate this holiday,” Elliott said.
As I compare the opinions I received six years ago to those I received recently, one thing I notice is that members of Churches of Christ seem more open to the idea of allowing Jesus to be a part of this season. As some said, if it can open a door to a conversation, we shouldn’t slam that door.
As for what I’ll teach my children, my husband and I are still working on that.
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