Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Origen Against the Innovation of Christmas? Check your sources!

January 6, 2016

I came across the following statement, which immediately sparked my interest (source):

Speculation on the proper date began in the 3rd and 4th centuries, when the idea of fixing Christ’s birthday started. Quite a controversy arose among Church leaders. Some were opposed to such a celebration. Origen (185-254) strongly recommended against such an innovation. “In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world” ( Catholic Encyclopedia , 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, “Natal Day”).

I tend to agree with the overall point of the author of the page, namely that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation that lacks any authentic apostolic tradition. Nevertheless, I thought that the patristic quotation would be very interesting, if indeed Origen were against the celebration of Christmas.

There are, however, a number of problems with this citation. First, the citation is not to any of Origen’s works, but to the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” a secondary source. Thankfully, one can look up this secondary source (link to “Natal Day” entry).

Second, the work of Origen being cited is his Homilies on Leviticus. We don’t have the original Greek of this work. Instead, we have Rufinus’ Latin translation. Moreover, this work is one that Rufinus himself acknowledged heavily editing. Accordingly, while this may be Origen, it might instead be Rufinus. Moreover, Rufinus translated this in the early fifth century. Thus, if this expresses Rufinus’ views, it may represent a fifth century view, rather than a third century view.

Third, the context of the discussion is not the celebration of Christ’s birth by his contemporaries. In other words, Origen’s words (or Rufinus’ words) were not addressed as a correction to his contemporaries.

Fourth, while Christ’s birth is mentioned in the homily, it is mentioned as the sole exception to the standard case. In other words, applying the logic of Origen/Rufinus may cause us not to celebrate our own birthdays, but it would not similarly require us not to celebrate Christ’s birthday.

For those interested, I’ve posted a modern English translation of the text and the Latin original, as well as some related quotations from the same homily at my “Ancient Voices” blog:

On Celebrating Birthdays and Original Sin
Unique Conception of Jesus
Original Sin and Infant Baptism

– TurretinFan

Response to "Christmas Wars"

April 18, 2013

Steve Hays has a post called “Christmas Wars,” about objections to Christmas (link to post). As a non-celebrant of the day, I thought it would be interesting to review his identified objections and his responses to the objections.

1. Constitutional Objection

As far as I know, Steve’s right about this.

2. Genetic Objection

Steve has two responses here. The first isn’t really argued, so I’ll pass over it. The second is that the meaning of the holiday is properly defined other ways than by its origins. That’s certainly true, at least to a degree.

Yet I think that the response misses the objection. The objection is, in essence, that Christmas is tainted by its pagan roots. Thus, partaking in the celebration is partaking in paganism. The reasoning would be from the issue of meat offered to idols. We are not to partake in the ceremonies of the heathen. If pagan origin of the holiday means that those participating in it are participating to some degree in a pagan religious celebration, they should not.

Incidentally, I think the weakness of the objection lies in the argument that the co-opting taints the holiday. Isn’t that rather like saying that Reformation Day is tainted by Halloween? I don’t really buy that.

3. Calendrical Objection

I don’t buy Steve’s first response here, which is that it is “dubious” that Jesus was not born on December 25. We really have no good reason for thinking that December 25 is the day of Jesus’ birth. The best Steve can do here is to say that there is not iron-clad proof that December 25 was not the actual day. Based solely on the fact that the Bible does not tell us the date, there’s about a 99.7% chance that it was not December 25. That’s hardly “dubious.”

Steve’s second response is that the objection is irrelevant. In other words, who cares if it is really Jesus’ birthday? This is a stronger objection, but of course the holiday is sold (by ditties like “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen”) as being important because it is Jesus’ birthday.

4. The So-Called Puritan Objection

I don’t think Steve accurately represents the Puritans’ views here. The objection he identifies is the objection that it is “wrong to observe any (religious) holiday that isn’t commanded in Scripture.” I’m not sure he could find any Puritan actually saying that.

Steve’s first response is to allege that this is a false dichotomy. Perhaps it is, at least as stated – but I don’t think the Puritans would state it that way.

Steve’s second response is to allege that the observation of the Lord’s Day would also fall prey to this objection. A full response would require a lot of detail, but suffice that the Puritans did believe that the Lord’s Day is a religious holy day commanded by Scripture.

5. The “Baptist” Objection

I agree with Steve’s responses.

6. The Commercialization Objection

I agree with Steve’s responses.

7. The Politically Correct Objection

I agree with Steve’s responses.

8. The Ethical Objection

I agree with Steve’s first response, to wit that Christians can adopt less than the full package of “Christmas” customs. As to his second and third responses, I disagree. You shouldn’t lie to your kids – and while kids may be upset that they were not lied to, one should not lie in order to avoid alienating one’s kids, since a good end cannot justify an evil means.

– TurretinFan

Triablogue and Christmas

December 21, 2010

I’ve noticed that there are a number of Christmas-related posts over at Triablogue (link to said posts). I admit I have not read the posts carefully (and some are just for fun), but I have not seen any advocating the idea that the church is permitted to make December 25 a holy day of obligation or arguing that God has requested that we honor Jesus’ birth with a holiday. If Triablogue were to hold those positions, I would find it pressing to engage with their posts.

I trust that both non-Reformed and Reformed members of Triablogue would agree with me that no church has the right to impose on the conscience a duty to celebrate Christmas, and that God has nowhere indicated that he wishes to be worshiped by an annual feast of the nativity. Since we agree on those core principles, and since I am so busy with other things, I’m quite willing not to defend the Puritan position that I hold (because it’s Biblical, not because it’s Puritan).

In fact, I would not have even thought to mention their posts at all, had not one kind reader privately messaged me indicating that he believed Triablogue’s posts were directed at me in some way (something I could not find in my quick perusal of the tagged Triablogue posts).

If the Triabloguers wish to keep the day to the Lord, let them do so.


Response to Benedict XVI on Christmas

January 9, 2009

No, Benedict XVI did not visit this humble blog. No head of state (to my knowledge) has visited this blog. Nevertheless, on December 31, 2008, Benedict XVI provided some comments that are (perhaps) worth addressing:

The birthday of Christ, which we are currently celebrating, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, even as we pause to contemplate the child in the manger, our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother, who with her ‘yes’ made the gift of Redemption possible.
This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations. The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary’s divine maternity are indissoluble realities. The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other.


A few counter-points:

1) To say that the birthday of Christ is “suffused with light of Mary” is to miss the significance of the Incarnation. The significance of the Incarnation is about Christ, not about Mary. Surely, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Christ, but when He was born and laid in a manger, the shepherds came to see Him, not Mary and Joseph. Mary bore witness to the events that happened, but she was not what the shepherds came to see. When the Angel announced, it was “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Unto whom was born Jesus? Did the angel say “unto Mary”? No! The angel declared “unto you” (pluaral, i.e. the shepherds) this child was born. What was the sign? A child bathed in Marian suffuse light? No! A child lade in the manger. Mary did wrap up Jesus and lay him in the manger, to be sure – but they shepherds were not directed to Mary but to Jesus. The angel mentioned Jesus, but not his mother.

2) To say “our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother” provides some important insight. It is possible to turn one’s eyes from Jesus to other things. When Mary is the one to whom we turn our eyes from Jesus, this should be to our shame.

When the shepherds arrived, their eyes had an opposite path: they found Mary, and Joseph, and at last they found the babe in the manger. And when they had seen it, what did they talk about? They talked, says Luke, about the child – “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Did they mention Mary and Joseph? Probably so – they mentioned the manger too no doubt – but the focus was on Jesus – not on Jesus and his mother.

3) To say “who with her ‘yes’ made the gift of Redemption possible,” is to perpetuate a legend. Scripture does not tell us Mary said “yes” to anything. To be the mother of our Lord was not offered to Mary as a queen, but announced to her as servant, a handmaiden. She was certainly a willing servant, but she was not offered a choice. Instead, Scripture tells us that the Angel came and said: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

“Thou shalt!” It is an imperative. It is not a question. It is not, “Would you mind?” It is an imperative – a command. Mary didn’t disobey, but she wasn’t given a choice. It is not as though Mary had anything voluntary to do with conceiving anyway. She was not a man whose physical consent is required for conception. In conception she was acted upon – not against her will, but not with any cooperation on her own part.

Mary’s first response was not, “Yes, you may,” but rather “How can this be?” Once it was explained, Mary did accept the fact, not by saying, “yes,” but by stating: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Mary recognized her place as servant (handmaid) of God. She did not stand there “making things possible,” she resigned herself (not gloomily, but humbly) to her task. She was assenting, but her assent was not necessary for God, but for herself.

4) “This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations.” In one sense, this is backwards. One of the reasons for the popularity of Christmas in Catholicism is its appeal to those devoted to Mary, since it is one of the few feast days involving her in some way. Surely there is a baby in the manger, and Joseph is hanging about someplace, but Mary is often the improper focus of attention.

In another sense, of course, the real reason for celebration is Jesus escape from Mary’s womb! His separation from her. We are not told that the shepherds bowed down, but if they did, they did not bow down to a woman holding a child, but to the child himself in the manger. Kings of the earth have thrones, but our King was in something used for the animals.

5) “The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary’s divine maternity are indissoluble realities.” Mary’s maternity is of Christ, the God-man. But Mary is not the mother of Christ’s divine nature – she is only the mother of his human nature. Before you call me a Nestorian, consider something:

Mary gave life, in some sense, to Jesus – and Pilate took that life away.

But Pilate could only take away what Mary gave: Pilate could kill the God-man, but Pilate could not kill God. Even so Mary could not give what Jesus already had: his divinity. Jesus does not derive his divinity from Mary, only his humanity. His human relationship of son to Mary does not communicate to the Trinity, just as Jesus death did not communicate to the Trinity.

Truly Mary was the Theotokos – she carried the God-man in her womb – but Mary was not the Mother of Christ’s divinity. When Jesus was conceived, it was only his humanity that began to be. Jesus was before Abraham, whose daughter Mary was. To say that Mary had “divine maternity” is to confuse categories and to misunderstand the true mystery of the hypostatic union.

6) “The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other.”

There is no parity between Jesus and Mary. Jesus is Mary’s Saviour, just as Jesus is the Shepherds’ Saviour. Mary is the handmaid, but Jesus is the King. Luke seems to suggest that the account we have of the shepherds is partly provided by Mary. She treasured the memories of her Savior’s youth and, we are led to think, relayed them to the evangelist. In that sense, she helps us to understand Jesus better. But there is nothing mysterious about a virgin. What is mysterious is the fact that she is pregnant – that she gives birth to a son without knowing a man. It’s a Christological mystery, not a Marian mystery.

Benedict continued:

In such times as ours, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him. It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence.

Even though quite a few dark clouds are gathering over our future, we must not be afraid. Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God. This great hope gives us strength to face and overcome the difficulties of life in this world. The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings.

(same source – elipsis in source)

1) “It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him.”

The star that lead the wise men to Jesus was not Mary. Our hope is not in Mary – she is not our star of hope. Our hope is in the Lord alone.

Psalm 31:24 Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Psalm 33:22 Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.

Mary was our fellow human being. She was created as we are. She was only human, not divine, though she bore the God-man in her womb.

2) “It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence.”

It is the Word of God that leads men to Jesus. Mary has passed out of this world. She no longer acts in it directly. Yes, some of her words are provided to us in Holy Scripture, but she herself has gone on. The Holy Spirit leads men to Jesus, not Mary. It is the outward call of the Gospel, and the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit that saves.

The answers about human existence are to be found in Scripture, not in Marian devotion. Scripture, beginning in Genesis, teaches what man is to believe concerning God and the duty God requires of Man. It explains the purpose of our existence – to worship our Creator-God.

3) “Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God.”

This misses the point that Scripture makes. Our greatest hope is in Christ himself – in his person and work on the cross. Our greatest hope is not in the life to come. Our greatest hope is in God, not in what God gives.

4) “The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings.”

No. The token of God’s promise is the Holy Spirit, not the maternal presence of Mary. She is not present, she is absent. She has gone on to be with her Savior in heaven. What is at the front of so many churches is a painting or statue – it is not Mary. This may seem obvious, but it is important. Mary is no longer among us. She does not have a presence here.

And Mary was a mother to Jesus and to Jesus’ brethren, and like a mother to John, but she is not our mother. We were not in her womb, and we did not care for her in her old age. She does not have a redemptive relationship to us. She is not our Savior, and she is not our Mediator: we have one Mediator, Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong. She was important to Jesus coming into the world, yet so likewise was Pilate important in murdering Christ, without which we would not be saved. You will say, “But any Roman governor would have sufficed!”

I answer you, “Likewise, so would any virgin of the line of David have done in Mary’s place, if it had pleased God.” Mary was greatly blessed, not greatly deserving. Mary’s relationship to Christ as mother is unique biologically, but not unique spiritually.

Jesus himself stated:

“Who is my mother, or my brethren?” And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”

Mary did the will of God, yes. And Mary is a part of the story of the nativity of Christ, certainly. But Mary is not to be religiously venerated for her role. She is a handmaiden of the Lord, not the Queen of Heaven.


Mortal Sin of Not Observing Obligatory Holy Days Debate

January 3, 2009

It hasn’t been (I’m not sure whether it is over yet) a formal debate, but there are a series of posts back and forth that started with my rejection of the idea that it is mortal sin not to treat Christmas as a holy day, my affirmation of Christian liberty with respect to regarding days as either alike or holy, and my condemnation of the Roman position as legalism – a sort of modern Judaizing that appoints new supposedly mandatory holy days with even less authority than the Judaizers.

Here’s the index (so far – if it progresses, I’ll try to udpate):

TurretinFan 1 “To the Lord, I will not be Celebrating Christ’s Birth” (link)

Bellisario 1 “Why Protestantism is Theologically Dead! Christ is born! Glorify Him!” (link)

TurretinFan 2 “Bellisario and Rome vs. Paul the Apostle on Christian Liberty” (link)

Bellisario 2 “Defending Christmas- Answering the Spiritually Dead! Romans 14:6 What it really means.” (link)

TurretinFan 3 “Bellisario vs. His Own Imagination on Christmas” (link)

Bellisario 3 “Roman’s 14 :Holy Days and Answering the Un-identifiable One. II” (link)

TurretinFan 4 “Bellisario Swings Again” (link)

Bellisario 4 “Refuting TF once again. The Fallacy of the Apostolic Age” (link)

TurretinFan 5 “Bellisario Burying Himself in the Carcases of More Straw Men” (link)

Bellisario 5 “Turetin Fan’s Crippled Minded Theology on the Apostles Part I” (link)

TurretinFan 6 “Bellisario – Authority Discussion” (link)

Bellisario vs. His Own Imagination on Christmas

December 27, 2008

Bellisario has a new post, in which he ferociously battles positions that have not been presented (link). The straw flies in every direction, but I thought I’d do a quick response (well, it started as a quick response … it ended up a bit long) to his post:

MB: “I wanted to answer the un-identifiable one and how he uses his foolish twisting of Sacred Scripture to reject honoring Our Lord’s Incarnation.”

TF: Rejecting Christmas as a holy day of obligation is not a rejection of honoring the Lord’s Incarnation. Bellisario either is unable to think clearly or has decided to use his imagination in place of the actual arguments I set forth. (See my previous post addressing the silliness of his calling me “un-idententifiable.”)

MB: “He uses Roman’s [sic] 14:6 to justify himself in doing so.”

TF: I do proclaim the truth of Romans 14, but not to reject honoring anyone but the legalistic church of Rome.

MB: “Is it about Christian liberty as this guy says?”

TF: Ah, so Bellisario has now remembered what this is about – Christian liberty, not “reject[ing] honoring Our Lord’s Incarnation,” as he so dishonestly put it.

MB: “Let’s look at this passage and see what Saint Paul is really saying.”

TF: This, of course, is what Bellisario ought to have done at once. But, at least he is doing it now. Let’s see how he does:

MB: “In this passage of Scripture Saint Paul is not talking about whether or not we should attend or not attend a day of worship as if Sunday or any other day is as good as another to worship God.”

TF: This passage is not dealing with the issue of the weekly sabbath. Nevertheless, this passage is dealing with the celebration of other holy days, such as existed both in the pagan world of Paul’s day and in the Old Testament economy of grace. For example, as I pointed out in my last post, the Old Testament called for a yearly feast of booths, which reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt.

MB: “He is referring to the many Jews of his day who were keeping old Jewish observances such as seventh day Sabbath laws etc.”

TF: MB is a bit confused here. The Sabbath was a creation ordinance, like marriage. It predates Abraham and is not distinctly Jewish. It is not the Sabbath, but the other Jewish holy days that were among the practices that Paul had in mind. He may also have had some of the pagan holy days in mind, but it seems less likely, since abandonment of those holy days would have been natural for Christian converts.

MB: “We can tell this because this passage starts off with the Jewish dietary laws, and the Church Fathers interpreted it the same way.”

TF: The legalism of the Judaizers was the primary error being addressed, doubtlessly. Nevertheless, it is not only Judaizing legalism that is condemned by Paul’s words – he does not limit his comments on diet and days to the Jews, but words his liberating doctrines generically. We’ll get to the church fathers issue in a bit.

MB: “This passage is really referring to works of the law in reference to the Jews just as Saint Paul does throughout his writings, which are also misinterpreted by the heretics to mean all works.”

TF: As noted above, yes – the legalism of the Jews is a primary target, but Paul’s words are not limited to their legalism. In fact, Paul doesn’t actually explicitly even mention the Jews in the chapter. The issue of how “heretics” (anybody who disagrees with Bellisario’s church) supposedly misinterpret Scripture is a topic best left for another post.

MB: “To prove it lets look at Saint Chrysostom and how he interprets this passage.”

TF: You know, it is interesting. When Bellisario and I were debating Sola Scriptura, Chrysostom’s word was not viewed as “prov[ing]” Sola Scriptura. But now, supposedly, Chrysostom’s interpretation becomes imbued with magical imperviousness to error (something that goes beyond what even Chrysostom would have wanted).

MB: “It is not even close to what this guy is trying to prove from it.”

TF: I wonder how many commentaries MB has actually read. Oftentimes, Scripture is like a jewel. One commentator may comment on 5 of the facets, another may comment on 3 of those and 3 others. And a third commentator may catch 2 of the first, 1 of the second, and 2 more not noticed by the first two guys. Scripture is quite rich with meaning, which is why its careful study is so profitable. Chrysostom (or any commentator for that matter) is likely to notice those facets that are most relevant to his day and age, with less emphasis on those facets that are so blindingly obvious that no one of his day misunderstands them. Or contrariwise, if a misunderstanding is prevalent enough, it could help a commenter miss the implication of a particular text. The fact that Augustine notices one thing, and Ambrose another, does not mean that one of them is an heretic. But let us continue on …

MB: “Chrysostom says in his homily on Romans in the 4th century the following in regards [sic] to this passage,

Ver. 6. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. And, He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.
He still keeps to the same subject. And what he means is about this. The thing is not concerned with fundamentals. For the thing requisite is, if this person and the other are acting for God’s sake, the thing requisite is (these words are repeated 3 manuscripts), if both terminate in thanksgiving. For indeed both this man and that give thanks to God. If then both do give thanks to God, the difference is no great one. But let me draw your notice to the way in which here also he aims unawares a blow at the Judaizers. For if the thing required be this, the giving of thanks, it is plain enough that he which eats it is that gives thanks, and not he which eats not. For how should he, while he still holds to the Law? As then he told the Galatians, As many of you as are justified by the Law are fallen from grace (Gal. v. 4); so here he hints it only, but does not unfold it so much. For as yet it was not time to do so. But for the present he bears with it (see p. 337): but by what follows he gives it a further opening. For where he says,

Ver. 7, 8. For none of us lives unto himself, and no man dies unto himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord, by this too he makes the same clearer. For how can he that lives unto the Law, be living unto Christ?

TF: And that is where MB stops quoting Chrysostom. Well, Chrysostom does mention the legalism of the Judaizers, and rightly so. Likewise, Chrysostom makes application of the text to the Judaizers who wanted to make folks follow the old laws. All this, of course, is perfectly harmonious with what I had said. It simply does not provide the further application to the innovation of holy days of obligation, or the particularly heinous abuse of asserting that it is a “mortal sin” not to regard such days as holy.

Indeed, Chrysostom, without using the word liberty, affirms Christian liberty, noting that what is important is thanksgiving. He doesn’t apply this text to the problems of modern Romanism, but is that any surprise? He did not have a time travel machine.

MB: “To use this passage does not give anyone anyplace individually the right to set his or her own worship schedule as if he were his own Church.”

TF: Ah, another of Bellisario’s imagined enemy positions. The “right to set his or her own worship schedule” position was not presented by me, and isn’t the position I’ve been advocating. Instead, what I’ve been advocating is the idea that Christians are free not to regard these man-made feast days (such as Christmas, or All-Saints Day, or the like) or to regard them, as they wish. Scripture says so, and it is only legalists, such as Juadiazers and papists, that deny it.

MB: “It is plainly aimed at the Jews and the works of the law.”

TF: Plainly aimed at them, perhaps, and yet not limited to them. In fact, as noted above, the Jews aren’t specifically mentioned in the chapter. What is truly absurd is to suppose that the Old Testament laws given by Moses with respect to days and meats are not binding but that brand new laws are binding! How bizarre! The former had the authority of God, the latter have only the authority of man. If observance of the former is not mandatory, much less so is the observance of the latter.

MB: “To use this passage to justify rejecting Church liturgical celebrations is a false interpretation. Let me continue.”

TF: Really? Suppose that a church is run by Judaizers? Suppose they impose the days and dietary restrictions of the Old Testament economy? Surely then even the belligerant Bellisario would have to acknowledge that the Scripture “plainly” (his words) condemns such. Furthermore, the explanation for why the Christian need not follow the days and diets of the Old economy is that no man is to judge another in days and meats, and that we are to give thanksgiving to God whether we are working or worshiping. Only intentionally ignoring the explanation of the text could lead to a conclusion that churches which Judiaze are condemned, but churches that invent new dietary restrictions and new holy days are approved. But we will let Bellisario continue:

MB: “The Church in her authority can have a variation in Liturgical Calendars.”

TF: The whole concept of “liturgical calendars” isn’t found in the New Testament. Presumably MB is simply repeating what he thinks his church’s position on the subject is. This is not entitled to any weight for us, since it is not founded in God’s revelation.

MB: “This means that each Church, not each individual can have variations in liturgical schedule.”

TF: That may be MB’s church’s position, and it does seem to be the practice Catholicism that different national churches and churches of different rites have variations in their calendars. On the other hand, such differences have nothing at all to do with what Chrysostom said and such differences have nothing at all to do with what the text of Scripture says.

MB: “That does not mean that each church can arbitrarily remove Christmas from their liturgical calendars.”

TF: Again, MB is just talking about what he thinks his church’s position is.

MB: “Sure the day may be different, such as Easter is different on the old calendar from the new most of the time for example.”

TF: Again, this has to do with MB’s perception of his own church’s laws. The reason for the difference in the calculation of Easter between the “East” and the “West” is that the celebration of Easter, as an annual holiday, was not an Apostolic tradition, although it became a widespread custom very early on.

MB: “This passage is not really in reference to this, but could be later interpreted to be referring to the spiritually weak in faith accusing other churches of not following their liturgical calendars, as sometimes happens today between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church over Easter.”

TF: Of course, it is not really in reference to that, as the explanation provided in the text proves. The explanation in the text indicates there are no Christina obligatory feast days, and no Christian obligatory fast days. For Romanism to claim that a man is committing a mortal sin by not going to Easter mass or by eating meat on a particular Friday, is to violate the Christian liberty God through Paul in Scripture gives to the believer. It is not freedom from the old diets and calendars to bondage to a new set of diets and calendars, but into liberty.

MB: “There are numerous other passages of Scripture that prove that there are appointed days of worship by the early Church. Read 1 Cor 16, Acts 20:7, Rev 1:10 for example.”

TF: There is one day of appointed worship, namely the weekly day of rest. It is appointed by God, not “the early Church.” Acts 20:7 refers to this weekly observance:

Acts 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

So does 1 Corinthians 16:2

1 Corinthians 16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

So does Revelation 1:10

Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

The Lord’s day, a creation ordinance, is the only perpetually binding day that obliges the believer to cease from work and worship His Creator and Redeemer. These verses tend to prove that, especially Revelation 1:10, which mentions “the Lord’s day” as though it were one – not one of dozens throughout the year, or as though it were a church-innovated holiday.

MB: “So once again we see this passage when read in context is not an excuse for each individual to decide whether or not to worship Christ in his incarnation individually. It was written primarily for the Jews of the time.”

TF: It wasn’t written primarily for the Jews of the time, it was written primarily for the Romans, see the Title of the Book, or verse 7 of the first chapter of Romans, from which the title of the book was perhaps obtained. Furthermore, although it was primarily addressed to the immediate problem of Judaizers trying to impose those holidays, the explanation provided provides a shield against the modern legalism of Rome, which tries to imposes fasts and holidays on its members, in violation of this passage.

MB: “Next lets look at the age long persecution of Christmas by the Protestants to really get an idea of where this guy is coming from.”

TF: Persecution of Christmas? One has to chuckle at the personification of Christmas in order to make such an inane rhetorical claim.

MB: “In England the Catholics were persecuted so harshly that certain Christmas carols were invented to communicate Catholic doctrine at Christmas time because of the hatred of the Catholics celebrating Christmas. One of these carols is the well known 12 days of Christmas. Another example is when the people of Ireland placed lit candles in their windows at Christmas so that passing priests would know that the people wanted to have Mass celebrated in their homes. Once again the likes of the English crown persecuted the Catholics in Ireland.”

TF: The harshest treatment of Irish papists was probably under Cromwell’s reign, but he did not take the crown, styling himself “Lord Protector of England.” In any event, criticism by the papists of the “persecution” (so called) of their fellow-papists in England and Ireland is like someone with Ebola pointing out that his neighbor once came down with bad case of chickenpox. The old saw about those in glass houses being careful springs to mind.

MB: “The English Puritans had a hellbent hatred for Christmas and went to all lengths to destroy it. During the brief Calvinist reign in England, they forbade the celebration of Christmas, even going so far as to force shops to be open! This is how sick these sub-defectives were in their hatred for Our Lord’s incarnation.”

TF: Shops open on Christmas! How sick! How terrible! What a travesty! People working and doing business on that day, just like in the time of the apostles, before anyone began to celebrate Christmas as though it were a holy day! What a revolting, disgusting concept. I mean, assuming one does not want the purity of the Apostolic church, of course. Otherwise, it sounds quite excellent – men glorifying God by industry, working with their hands.

Notice how Bellisario misrepresents the Puritans. He claims that they hated the Lord’s incarnation. He makes the same false claim about me. For Bellisario, if one rejects the legalism of Rome, one must do so not because one loves to worship God as the Apostles did, but because one hates the Incarnation. What utter and complete blindness! Notice how he calls them “sub-defectives” and yet his own reasoning is full of pronounced errors. He cannot appreciate that rejection of Christmas is not a rejection of the Lord’s Incarnation.

MB: “Now the last argument is that Christmas is a new invention and that it was taken from the pagans and it has nothing to do with real Christian worship.”

TF: It is an invention. It is not new. The best explanation as to the choice of the day is that it was taken from the pagans, especially since it happens to fall about the time of the winter solistice. As Benedict XVI pointed out, on 21 December 2008, “The very placement of Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when the days in the Northern hemisphere start to become longer.” (sourcelonger version)

MB: “This is quite absurd, since the history of the Church speaks otherwise.”

TF: Church history confirms that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation unknown to the apostles. Furthermore, while the celebration of Christ’s birth starts to come about in church history, it doesn’t start out at the end of December. Finally, even when it gets celebrated in the end of December, it doesn’t become obligatory for a while longer. Furthermore, one really has to wait a while to hear some legalist begin to proclaim that it is a mortal sin not to celebrate Christmas. In fact, the more one explores church history, the more one discovers just how much Rome has accreted new traditions on old traditions until what we have now would not be recognizable to those of 500 years ago, just as theirs would not have been recognizable to 500 years previous, and so forth. But to return to the simplicity of the Apostolic worship of God – that’s something MB regards as “sub-defective” and evidence “hatred” of the Lord’s incarnation.

MB: “We have Christmastide being celebrated in the early Church and scholars think that the celebration of Epiphany (originating in the East), which included the nativity and modern Christmastide themes, was celebrated as early as the second century.”

TF: “Scholars” think all sorts of things. Scholars are pretty much unanimous, though, that Christmas was not instituted, known of, or approved by the apostles.

MB: “The oldest manuscript that we have in the west dates from AD 336. It shows the liturgical celebration on December 25th and is in the Philocalian calendar.”

TF: One has to know a bit about the Philocalian calendar to appreciate the irony of MB’s citation of it, after claiming that the celebration day has no pagan roots. The Philocalian calendar has several sections. Although in the calendar of martyrs there is a December 25th entry for the birth of Jesus is Bethelehem Judah, in the civil portion of the calendar December 25 is marked “Natalis Invicti,” the Birth of the Unconquered (Sun). Naturally, the winter solstice, from which point the days begin to grow longer in Rome, coincides with the birth of the imagined sun god, whose feast had become an ingrained part of Roman life, to the point of being on the civil calendar. While many seek to dispute the idea that December 25 was selected for this reason, the Philocalian calendar is evidence that supports the idea that the date was simply taken over from the pagans in Rome.

MB: “The Apostolic Constitutions (c AD 380) mandated the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th, and his Epiphany on January 6 to give a united day to the celebration of the Incarnation throughout the Church.”

TF: The Apostolic Constitutions were horatory (instructional) not prescriptive (legislative). They give advice, not laws. They are obviously pseudographic (they claim to be written by the Apostles, but they are not), and they were rejected by the Trullan Council in 692. There certainly were churches that used them as the basis for church legislation, but they were unknown to the Western church for most of the middle ages. Again, history is not Bellisario’s friend, but his enemy.

MB: “Once again every Church throughout the world is living and interpreting the Scriptures different than these modern “Protestant” heretics.”

TF: The celebration of Christmas was not based on interpreting Scriptures, as though Scriptures require such a celebration. Furthermore, even once people widely began to celebrate the birth of Christ, they appear to have done so voluntarily, not under obligation or threat of mortal sin. Even if we find such a concept as early as Aquinas (and I cannot recall specifically where even he asserted that failure to communicate on Christmas is a mortal sin), we would still identify such an innovation as medieval in origin, not part of the early church teachings, and certainly not based on Scriptural interpretation.

MB: “Although the day in the early Church was not explicitly celebrated on Dec 25th, the Incarnation was a day of liturgical worship by the Church since its earliest time.”

TF: This false statement is rebutted by historians, and even by MB’s own previous claims that it was celebrated as early as the “second century.” The earliest time, would, of course, be the time of the apostles.

MB: “Once again Saint Paul is not to be understood as to not arguing over whether we should be celebrating Christmas, but possibly what day we should celebrate Christmas.”

TF: Ha ha ha. This ties into MB’s claim that the passage is really directed to the Judaizers, but we can now interpret it some new way. Paul is generically addressing the kind of legalism found both in Judaism and modern Romanism – a legalism that hangs ones salvation on not eating certain things and following certain feast days. If Paul had said that the Passover doesn’t have to be celebrated according to the Ancient calendar any more, but can be celebrated whenever – then perhaps there would be application to newly innovated holy days. But Paul says that believers have the freedom to regard or not regard days, giving thanks to God, and to eat or fast, giving thanks to God.

While MB is busy complaining that my explanation goes further than Chrysostom’s, MB tries to take the text in an entirely different direction, to justify the liturgical disunity that exists within Romanism.

MB: “There is a big difference. To interpret Saint Paul in a manner allowing each individual to decide for himself as whether he is going to go to church on Sunday or any other Holy Day is ridiculous and one must really stretch the text and twist it to get this meaning from it.”

TF: With respect to the Lord’s day, such an interpretation would be erroneous, because we must not set one part of Scripture against another. But with respect to holy days, it is not only not ridiculous, it is the true sense of the passage – for individual people are in mind who may celebrate the Passover or the feast of booths, or whatnot, or may not celebrate those ancient Israelite traditions, in the New Testament administration. The passage makes sense against the Judaizers only when applied to individual believers. This teaching against legalism, however, is not convenient for Bellisario, and consequently it is dismissed as ridiculous.

MB: “He is clearly telling the Jews that it must not be a work of the law.”

TF: He’s not speaking to the Jews, he’s speaking to the Romans. He’s warning them of the errors of legalism, which errors were first presented by the Judaizers. However, in chapter 14 Paul doesn’t specifically mention that group, but speaks generically. Furthermore, Paul isn’t (here) specifically addressing the issue of whether such celebrations should be works of the law. It’s just not there.

MB: “Meaning that we should not celebrate that day as a work of the law in and of itself.”

TF: That’s not at all what Paul is saying. Paul is speaking about Christian liberty either to regard or not to regard days, and to eat or avoid eating various foods. Thus, for example, later in the passage, Paul states (placing a boundary on Christian liberty):

Romans 14:13-15
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

MB: “This is clearly not the case with Christmas, nor was it Saint Paul’s intention as we just read in Saint Chrysostom’s homily on it.”

TF: MB claims it is “clearly not the case with Christmas,” but the teaching of Rome is that to fail to obey their law to go to mass on Christmas is to engage in mortal sin, which amounts to a fall from grace, and essentially a loss of salvation. That’s the same basic error as the Judaizers made, except that the Judaizers had the sense to point to customs that were not of merely human origin, such as Christmas. The justification for Rome’s legalism, consequently is even less than that of the Judaizers. Chrysostom picks on the Judaizers, but if he could see Rome today, his pastoral message would (we have every reason to expect) point out that they are violating the Apostle’s words in Scripture.

Furthermore, if Chrysostom failing to mention something is really the standard for that “something” being error, then why does MB provide an interpretation that is not found in Chrysostom? But, of course, it is not absurd to see new applications to the commands of Scripture, which is why we are not locked in by what Chrysostom happened to mention in the portion of his homily that was recorded and passed down to us.

MB: “Isn’t it funny how heretics will throw Scripture verses at the Church not even knowing what they mean?”

TF: It’s quite sad to see how fanatical papists will ignore what Scripture says in order to try to justify their church. It’s quite sad that they will refuse to carefully consider what Scripture means in order to determine whether their church is in error – particularly on an issue such as this, where the error of legalism is glaring. At moments it may be humorous to see just how wildly illogical the arguments are, but at the end of the day it is quite saddening to see such fanatical devotion to the pope and his doctrines over the Scripture.

MB: “Just reading the Scriptures and interpreting them as you see fit is not real Christianity.”

TF: It truly is not, and yet that is what we have seen from Bellisario. He reads the Scriptures (or at least tiny parts thereof) and tries to interpret them to make them fit his church’s position. Real Christianity is diligently searching the Scriptures to see what they say: letting Scripture interpret Scripture.

MB: “You have to live the Scriptures and unite yourself to Christ in His Church.”

TF: Living Romans 14:6 can include not regarding holy days (or regarding them). So, the only question is, “Is a church that denies Christians their Romans 14:6 rights, a church of Christ?” If we determine whether a church is Christ’s by comparing its doctrine to Scripture, we can give an answer. If we refuse to compare our church’s doctrine to Scripture, we cannot know whether we are following the false teachers that Scripture warns will come.

MB: “The Scriptures are to be lived in the Church by the Church.”

TF: And when a church contradicts Scripture, it shows its own fallibility. When it refuses to submit itself to Scripture, it shows its arrogance. When it tries to impose legalism, it shows itself to be preaching another gospel.

MB: “The un-identifiable one will always be on the outside looking in until he decides to repent and follow Christ.”

TF: Christ is my Lord. Therefore, whether I live, I love to the Lord, and whether I die, I die to the Lord. Consequently, whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s, which is the very reason he was incarnate, died, and rose, that he might by my Lord. Bellisario would know this, if he would read Romans 14 carefully, humbly asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate his reading of the Scriptures so that he could investigate whether the doctrines I speak of are of the Lord or of man, and likewise whether the doctrines of his church are of divine or human origin.

MB: “Is this legalistic that the Church provides us with a liturgical calendar to follow so that we may immerse ourselves in the life of Christ and become more Holy through Him and the Sacraments of the Church? I think not!”

TF: It is not for providing a liturgical calendar that I have been criticizing Rome for legalism: it is for insisting that Christians are obligated to follow this calendar or commit mortal sin. Having a liturgical calendar may be a very handy thing, and – while it is prone to abuse – it is not inherently legalistic. Bellisario’s battling his imagination again.

MB: “And I think it is the one who is spiritually dead who makes such accusations at the Church.”

TF: Since I make different accusations than those he attributes to me, I’ll just let his judgment of spiritual deadness (essentially the same false judgment made by Judaizers against those who refused to celebrate the old liturgical calendars) lie.

MB: “The Church provides these things to us because we need them and because it is our spiritual hospital so to speak.”

TF: The Apostles didn’t need them, and didn’t appoint them. Does Bellisario think that his church is wiser than the Apostles (frankly, considering how little he cares for what Scripture says, I’m afraid to imagine what his answer might be).

MB: “Do the healthy need a hospital?”

TF: The great Physician is not the church calendar, but Christ himself. The best revelation of that Physician is not the church calendar, but Scripture. Thus, Basil the Great compared Scripture to a pharmacy, from which everyone get the medicine they need.

MB: “Woe to those who think they are spiritually sin-proof for they are really spiritually dead!”

TF: So saith Bellisario, but John the Apostle says:

1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

MB: “Those who oppose the authority of Christ are those who think they don’t need help, those who think they they know better than Him.”

TF: Legalism is not “help,” but Scripture is. Let God judge the heart, but let it be clear that while Bellisario is placing faith in the teachings of his church, I am placing my trust on the God of Scripture, the God taught in Scripture, the God of liberty.

1 Peter 2:15-16
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

MB: “It is not a legalistic obligation we are following, but one of love towards Christ.”

TF: It is possible for a person to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to fast from certain foods out of love for Christ, or not to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to eat food out of love for Christ. Romans 14:6 makes it clear that all four of these things are possible. What is legalism is insisting that holy days (beyond, of course, the Lord’s Day) must be observed, and particularly insisting that a person who refuses loses their salvation. That is rank legalism, of essentially the same kind promoted by the Judaizers.

MB: “The Church knows that those who immerse themselves in the Holy Days will reap rewards of grace from God because those that love God want to be with Him on these most Holy days of worship.”

TF: I could sarcastically comment that “reap[ing] rewards” sounds absolutely nothing like legalism, but perhaps it would be more helpful for me to note that saying “The Church knows” is not really an argument for something. The Scriptures don’t teach that doctrine, and the Apostles didn’t teach it either. So from whence did Bellisario’s church get this knowledge? The most obvious answer is that it comes from their imagination, or simply from Bellisario’s imagination – since perhaps his church never makes such a claim.

MB: “It is love that the real law is based on, not legalistic transactions as you have in Protestantism.”

TF: The law is one of love: for God and our neighbor. That is the teaching of the Reformed churches. Bellisario’s confused comment regarding “legalistic transactions” appears to be the result of Bellisario not understanding forensic imputation, and confusing “juridical” with “legalistic.” Nevertheless, an explanation of those problems in Bellisario would exceed the scope of this already-long post.

MB: “This is what is condemned in Scripture.”

TF: Actually, what is condemned in the first part of Romans 14 is insisting that other people observe holy days or eschew certain foods. It doesn’t address legal concepts of the covenants of grace and works, at least not in a direct manner.

MB: “We don’t have to look very far as the “Reformed” church looks at Christ and salvation as getting your ticket punched at the train station.”

TF: No, that’s not the Reformed soteriology. Bellisario seems to be even less familiar with Reformed soteriology than he is with history, for him to be making a claim like that. But, correcting Bellisario’s errors in that regard will have to wait for another day.

MB: “Talk about legalistic nonsense.”

TF: This sentence is the result of Bellisario confusing “legalistic” with something else. What exactly he has in mind, it is hard to say.

MB: “I will close with this beautiful Arabic Christmas Carol from You Tube! It is truly amazing! Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

TF: The refrain from the eastern liturgy is already addressed in my previous post (link). And, of course, the beauty of the Arabic Christmas Carol is neither a particularly salient or important issue.

In conclusion, I encourage the reader to carefully read and consider Romans 14 (link). Consider what it says, and recognize whether it permits a church to require observance of particular diets or religious holy days.


Response to Nick on Christmas Observance

December 25, 2008

In response to my previous post (link), Nick has provided some comments:

There are many “home based” non-denominational churches that apply your logic and in effect take away any common day of worship for Christians. The “Lord’s Day” on Sunday is no more binding than say Saturday or Tuesday worship. On top of that, any form of weekly worship is technically not binding, so someone could argue for one day a month.

This logic played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays.

Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.

I answer:
a) It’s not “my logic,” it’s a question of what Paul says. If Paul (in inspired Scripture) says that we don’t have to observe holy days, then we do not.

b) Even if people start from that Scriptural principle, and try to undermine the Lord’s Day, that doesn’t make the Scriptural principle invalid. People have been misusing Scripture for thousands of years, but Scripture remains true.

c) Part of the problem for those who try to apply this text (not this logic) to try to avoid keeping the Lord’s Day holy, is that in doing so they must place Scripture against Scripture. Not so, of course, for arguing that we have Christian liberty not to celebrate the birth of Christ.

d) It is rather absurd to argue that it is an exegesis of Paul’s epistle to the Romans that has “played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays.” Actually, the stripping of Sunday of religious significance in the “secular world” has been mostly accomplished through arguments for the total separation of church and state. It has also been accomplished through an abandonment of Scripture in favor of hedonism. If there has been abuse of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, it is a contributing factor only at the lowest level. Mostly, the Lord’s Day has been appropriated by men because they are unwilling to acknowledge the creation ordinance of one day of rest in seven, wishing to have all seven days for themselves.

e) Towards the end of the comment, we have something close to an argument (much closer than we saw in Bellisario’s post (critiqued here)):

Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.

Let’s examine what those verses actually say:

Acts 15:28-29
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

i) These verses certainly don’t say that the church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to. I think Nick has recognized that they do not, which is why he said they “show” rather than “say.”

ii) These verses do not provide an example of Christ’s being bound to engage in any practice. In fact, these verses provide a prohibition. What is interesting, though, is that these verses say that this is the outer limit of the burden to be placed on Christians: “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”

iii) The things with which Christians are burdened in Acts 15:28-29 are “necessary things.” Although Nick thinks that these things are not intrinsically sinful, that’s not quite what the verse says. Paul elsewhere provides other instructions that help to inform these commands:

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

1 Corinthians 10:23-31
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. 25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

In view of those passages, we can understand the prohibition provided. While eating certain foods is not sinful, appearing to participate in paganism is sinful because it leads the pagans astray.

iv) Those giving the command in Acts 15 are not simply the church, but the apostles. To assume that because the apostles did something, therefore the church can do something is to make an unwarranted assumption. The unique authority of the apostles was testified by sign gifts, such as the ability to raise the dead. The church (if we are to equate the apostles and the church) no longer raises people from the dead, no longer cures people by having a shadow pass over them, and so forth. Those extraordinary gifts have ceased, and the apostles have gone to be with the Lord.

v) Furthermore, the command in Acts 15 has the authority not only of the church, but more importantly, of the Holy Spirit. It is explicitly stated that it “seemed good to the Holy Ghost.” This command was provided during the time of inscripturation, while all the things necessary to salvation were still in the process of being written down. These apostles had the prophetic gift. In this case, they were appealing not to their own authority as church leaders, but to the Holy Ghost’s authority. Even the so-called Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged that public revelation has ceased. When Trent spoke, it did not claim to have new revelation from the Holy Ghost.

vi) Perhaps, most importantly, the command in Acts 15 is properly viewed as a release! As hard as it may seem to modern observers, Christians did not immediately recognize that the ceremonial law of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ. Recall that even after Acts 15 and even after Simon Peter had received a vision from God and seen the conversion of Cornelius, he didn’t fully appreciate that the dietary laws of the Old Testament had generally been done away in Christ.

Acts 15:28-29, which merely prevents us from appearing to join in with pagan worship, is actually a release: it is actually a proclamation of liberty, with only a small reservation of “necessary” restrictions.

vii) Furthermore, even if all of the above were wrong, the restrictions identified in Acts 15 do not relate to the observation of holy days. Even supposing the church can bind the conscience, the church cannot contradict Holy Scripture, and Holy Scripture gives Christians freedom with respect to the observation of holy days, either to observe them to God, or to omit observation of them to God.

So, in view of these things, we can reasonably reject Nick’s conclusion that Acts 15 provides warrant for “the Church” to bind the consciences of people in respect to holy days.


Bellisario and Rome vs. Paul the Apostle on Christian Liberty

December 25, 2008

In a previous post (link), I quoted the words of Holy Scripture penned by Paul the Apostle:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

and I noted that I will be exercising my Christian liberty and not specially regarding December 25, 2008, even while Rome imposes on the consciences of its members, contrary to Scripture.

One of my readers brought to my attention a response that Mr. Matthew Bellisario provided against Paul’s grant of Christian liberty (link to Bellisario’s post).

Bellisario titles his post: “Why Protestantism is Theologically Dead! Christ is born! Glorify Him!” It’s a strange title for a very strange post. Not only does his post not go on to establish any sort of theological deadness, his post makes lots of assertions without any supporting arguments.

As for “Christ is born! Glorify Him!” — the declaration is true, and it is not only proper to glorify him, but mandatory. Nevertheless, Jesus nowhere asks us to glorify him by commemorating his birth. Jesus was more focused on us expressing our love for him, not through invented holy days, but through obedience to his commandments:

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Bellisario begins and ends his post with the same refrain. The reason is apparent to anyone familiar with “Byzantine Catholicism” (as in “Eastern Rite,” not an insult). The refrain is the eastern equivalent to the “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” found in the Roman liturgy. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either refrain, and there is nothing particularly relevant either. The main reason to cite such a refrain in a post such as Bellisario’s is as a rallying point to the liturgy of his church: an appeal to the emotions against reason and Scripture.

Bellisario continues his post: “I ran across a sad writing by A “reformed” Protestant today and once again I had to shake my head in disbelief.” Sadly, Bellisario does not recognize the irony of his own profession of disbelief. It is, after all, the words of Scripture that Bellisario does not believe. Bellisario does not believe that to the Lord I will not be regarding the day, but that is what Scripture says.

Bellisario continues: “This un-identifiable person chose to use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation.” I don’t give out my name or address, but it’s not hard to identify me by my pen name, which is how most people identify me on the Internet. More importantly, however, note Bellisario’s characterization of the matter: “use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation.” The idea of “skip[ping] out” implies a duty that doesn’t exist. One wonders whether Bellisario would think it right to say that he “uses Sacred Scripture to skip out on going on pilgrimage to Mecca.” Hopefully, he’d see how foolish a statement like that is. God does not command us to go on pilgrimage to Mecca or Rome, or to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord does not ask us to remember his birth with a commemorative holiday or a special liturgy.

Bellisario again: “Without the wonderful incarnation of our Lord all of us would have no Easter, and therefore none of us would have an advocate with the Father to enter into eternal life.” The incarnation is wonderful, and without it we would not have the cross, the resurrection, or the resurrection. We (Reformed Christians) commemorate the Resurrection every week, by meeting on the first day of the week, rather than the last day of the week, following the apostolic example.

Bellisario again: “This is another example of why Protestantism is Theologically Dead!” It’s a triumphant assertion (I didn’t add the exclamation point), but it hasn’t been supported by any rationale.

Bellisario again: “This person chooses to act as a pagan, and yet uses Sacred Scripture to act as one.” This is about as close as Bellisario comes to trying to back up his assertion. The argument is totally implicit: apparently in Bellisario’s mind, not regarding the supposed day of Christ’s birth is “act[ing] as a pagan.” Yet Paul (in Scripture) unequivocally grants us the liberty to do just what I’m doing. Apparently if I don’t take a sharpie and black out part of what Paul wrote, I’m “theologically dead” in Bellisario’s eyes, and acting like a pagan.

Ironically, celebrating at the winter solstice is what looks a lot more like what the pagans did. Not celebrating is not acting like a pagan … but Bellisario is blind to this sort of irony, as he muddles on:

Bellisario: “Here is what this person says on his blog. The hair stands up on my arms when I read it, because something like this can only be from the Devil.” I’ve seen some remarkable appeals to authority from papists, but this appeal to arm-hair as a diviner of demonic origination is a new one. Bellisario’s hairy arms may well have tingled, but my post was strictly a legitimate, apostolically approved, expression of the liberty that I have in Christ.

I had written:

As an exercise of my Christian liberty, I will not be celebrating Christ’s birthday on December 25, 2008. I will not be attending a “mass” or any substitute thereof. I do not plan to set aside any business concerns that would interfere with such religious exercises.

Instead, by engaging in worldly employments and recreations, I will not treat that day as holy. This is my Christian liberty, as Paul explained:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Having quoted my words (and those of Scripture that I myself quoted), Bellisario continues: “He then goes on to accuse the Catholic Church as being legalistic in telling people that Christmas is a Holy day of obligation!” Except for the fact that he erroneously refers to his church as “the Catholic Church” (a popular, but inaccurate title for it), his claim is correct. I do so accuse Rome of violating Romans 14:6 by trying to make Christmas an obligatory holy day. But does Bellisario have any answer beyond bodily functions?

Bellisario states: “This is comical since this is anything but legalism if one really understands what is happening at Mass and what our Lord has done, and continues to do for us.” This, of course, doesn’t answer the issue of legalism. It wouldn’t answer it if the issue were what transpires during the Mass, or what Christ has done or continues to do, because it doesn’t explain, it just asserts. The issue, however, in this instance is not the idolatry of the Mass, the perfection of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, or the unique mediatorial role of Christ. Those are all important issues, but they are not the issues presented here. What is presented here is the alleged creation of an instance of a judgment of “mortal sin” for failing to observe a holiday that Scripture specifically grants Christians the liberty not to observe.

Let’s get more specific. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” explains:

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.


Notice that the alleged result of the commission of a “mortal sin” is, to paraphrase, a loss of salvation. It is remediable, but if it is not remedied, it can land a previously “ok” person in hell. Thus, we may loosely say that the holy days of obligation are imposed on the conscience of members of Catholicism as a condition of salvation. That’s legalism: the creation of conditions for salvation.

Bellisario, perhaps because his arms were still bothering him, or because he is so busying wagging his head in disbelief, does not seem to be aware of the issues of legalism associated with holy days of obligation, and does not have an answer beyond assertion.

Bellisario continued: “There are many who twist the Sacred Scriptures to their destruction and he is another one.” In this particular instance, Bellisario’s condemnation is ironic. The accusation of twisting Scripture to one’s destruction comes from Scripture, but in this instance Scripture condemns Bellisario.

Maybe it was a bit unfair, but I quoted only the most relevant portion of what Paul said. Perhaps I should have given Bellisario warning to avoid doing exactly what he did. Paul wrote, in context:

Romans 14:3-13
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

(emphases added)

Notice how Paul specifically orders Christians not to judge their brethren in regard to these things. Yet, Mr. Bellisario seeks to judge and throws out accusations of Christian liberty being of demonic origin and my own statements being twisting of Scripture. Furthermore, he judges me and those who would join me in exercising our God-given liberty as “skip[ping] out” on worship. Mr. Bellisario truly seems to be one step short of explicitly saying, “Paul was wrong – Christians must celebrate Christmas.” I have assumed here that Bellisario considers what he calls “Protestants” to be “separated brethren” as they are identified in post-Vatican-II Catholicism. Given his hostile tone, one could draw a different conclusion, but I’ll pass on such speculation at this time.

Bellisario continued: “I have actually witnessed “Protestants” using Sacred Scripture to excuse abortion! Yes folks thats [sic] right. This person who will not identify himself then closes by trying to persuade others from not going to honor our Lord on Christmas as well!” The first sentence (and possibly the second, though it is not clear whether it supposed to provide emphasis to the first or third sentence) is not relevant to this post at all. Intentional abortion of unborn children is murder – and there is no escaping that conclusion. It may be that “Protestants” have misused Scripture to try to justify it … but the abuse of Scripture is nothing unique to “Protestants,” as we have seen from Bellisario’s own abuse of 2 Peter 3:16. Moving on to the third sentence, Bellisario’s reference to the fact that I don’t say what my name is doesn’t really have anything to do with the post. I don’t rely on my name or credentials, but on Scripture. It is Scripture (not me) who gives liberty, while Rome and Bellisario attempt to impose bondage.

The final part of Bellisario’s sentence, and the only really salient part of the section, demonstrates that Bellisario has missed Paul’s point. It is not necessary to observe holy days to honor the Lord on December 25. We can, and should, honor the Lord both when we choose to observe such days, and when we choose not to observe such days. Neither is inherently dishonoring to God, which is why Paul says what he says.

Bellisario continues: “Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from the infant of Christ?” Christ was an infant, but he is not an infant any longer. One might suppose that Satan would take delight in the worship of Rome, in which Jesus is treated like a perpetual infant, while his mother is exalted to the practical level of a goddess. If I could have nickel for every blog that has used the expression “Mary Christmas” in the last week or so … and while some of those may have been honest misspellings, quite a few were not. Satan may delight in the idolatry of the Mass, and in the false hope that Rome gives those who attend to the observance of man-made holy days. But that is not the point.

The point is that Bellisario’s argument is not with me at all, but with Paul. If Bellisario is right, what could Paul’s comment about people acceptably not regarding days mean? One can just see a Judaizer now, spouting this same nonsense (slightly modified), saying “Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from God’s redemption of Israel by not dwelling in a booth one week a year (Lev. 22:42-43)?” And at least the Judaizer would be pointing to a feast of indisputable divine origin! Bellisario is lauding an ancient human tradition, whose practice in the 1st and 2nd centuries is unrecorded (that I know of – and poorly recorded if it is recorded at all). But both Bellisario and the Judaizer are wrong, because it is not Satanic to fail to observe the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus – just as it is not Satanic to fail to dwell in a booth one week out of the year in the New Testament era.

Bellisario continued: “Who hated the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior enough to insult Him by not going to honor His incarnation?” A better question is: who hates the Lord Jesus so much that he refuses to listen to the Words of Scripture and the commands of Jesus’ apostle? Bellisario’s challenge to the doctrines of Paul is problematic, not my exercise of Christian liberty. Christ has not asked us to honor his incarnation with a holy day, and Christ is not insulted when we work on December 25 (assuming, for the moment, that it does not fall on the Lord’s Day, which is the case this year).

Bellisario’s entire argument (if we may even call it an argument) rests on his unstated premise that there is something more holy about regarding the day than about not regarding the day. In this, his argument is not with me, but with the Apostle Paul.

Bellisario continued: “It is unbelievable, and once again proves what you get with Scripture Alone and every Tom Dick and Harry constructing their own man-made religion from it.” On the contrary, Bellisario’s argument against Scripture is exactly the sort of thing one would expect from a person who refuses to let Scripture judge their church. His position is one of Sola Ecclesia. He is blind to the fact that it is “Christmas,” which is innovated, and he is unable to engage the text of Scripture that gives Christians liberty not to observe such holy days. Hopefully this post will help him see that both the dogmas and discipline of his church need to be evaluated by Scripture, to see whether they are the true gospel or another gospel.

Bellisario wrote: “I think I will go twice this Christmas to Mass and the Divine Liturgy to honor my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this Holy Day of His birth.” If the Mass were not full of idolatry (which is a separate subject), this would not necessarily be objectionable. There is nothing problematic about spending the entire day going to service of worship after service of worship. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating Christ’s nativity on December 25.

Bellisario wrote: “As for the pagans who wish to reject Our Lord’s birth because of their hatred for the real Gospel, let them be anathema, since they have already committed spiritual suicide.” The real Gospel is that taught in Scripture. The real Gospel is the gospel preached by Paul. The real Gospel does not call us to celebrate Christ’s birth with an annual feast day, or with mandatory services of worship. The real Gospel does not teach the category of mortal sin (as distinct from venial sins) and does not teach that man’s salvation depends on obedience to the law (or to man-made regulations). Paul, a preacher of the true gospel, wrote:

Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

To the message Paul gave (in two epistles, no less), we (the Reformed) are obedient.

On the other hand, we also reject Bellisario’s misrepresentation of our position. We do not reject the Lord’s birth. We affirm the reality of the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. We affirm the marvel of the incarnation. Bellisario seems to be confusing the obligation to celebrate the birth with the birth itself. Or perhaps he is just ranting, who knows.

All that remains of the post by Bellisario is a link and a repetition of the refrain from the eastern liturgy. Bellisario never backs up his harsh claims against Reformed Christianity, fails to interact with Paul’s explanation of why we Christians have this liberty that Rome (and Bellisario) seeks to deny, and manages to misrepresent the Reformed position, while dragging in irrelevant material.

Hopefully, this response will serve to illuminate both the weakness of the Roman position and the weakness of the tactics used to defend the indefensible.

Let us Glorify the Born, Humbled, Executed, Risen, and Exalted Savior!


To the Lord, I will not be Celebrating Christ’s Birth

December 24, 2008

As an exercise of my Christian liberty, I will not be celebrating Christ’s birthday on December 25, 2008. I will not be attending a “mass” or any substitute thereof. I do not plan to set aside any business concerns that would interfere with such religious exercises.

Instead, by engaging in worldly employments and recreations, I will not treat that day as holy. This is my Christian liberty, as Paul explained:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Rome has tried to bind the consciences of its members by employing, for example:

Canon 1246
1. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

Canon 1247
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.

(emphases added)

As explained at the link (link), “Since a ‘grave cause’ is needed to excuse one from this obligation it would be a serious or mortal sin to willfully skip Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, as the Church has always taught.” Thus, Catholicism legalistically seeks to bind the consciences of its members to observe holy days that Scripture does not require.

In fact, Scripture gives Christians the freedom that I will (Lord Willing) be exercising to use the day for God’s glory through an absence of regard for the day. I would like to encourage my readers to consider doing the same.

Don’t get me wrong, if you choose to celebrate Christ’s birth tomorrow, there is nothing inherently or intrinsically wrong with that. It is also your liberty to do so, and I won’t tell you that it is a serious sin to do so. That’s the other side of the Romans 14:6 coin.

Whether you choose to celebrate Christ’s birth or not, may December 25, 2008, find you being edified and grown up in the knowledge of the Incarnate Word.


The real Turretin: On Christmas

January 23, 2008

I stumbled recently across this post, in which the author (about 80% of the way through the article) transcribes the real Turretin’s view on Christmas. (link) Obviously, I don’t share the views of the articles’ author, even if I do share the views of Turretin, Calvin, etc., whom he cites.

Also, by the way, I enjoyed the title of his blog: “Autonomy is Madness.” How true that is!

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