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Monday, December 23, 2013

Can the Pagan Customs of Christmas Really Be MADE Acceptable to God?

Many people today readily admit they already know that many origins of Christmas customs are often attributed to paganism. They know that pagans started some of these holidays and celebrations, and they may have corrupted some customs. (See: Christmas - It's Origins And Associations) But the standard reasoning seems to assume that a believer can make the holidays Christian.

It is just this kind of rationalization that prompts some to feel that, despite the pagan origins of Christmas, it is not wrong to heartily join in these celebrations. This holiday and it's traditions, they say, can be observed for the Lord. They may even point out, for example, that Paul wrote to the Romans, `He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord' (Romans 14:6). (Click HERE for a closer examination of this Scripture.)

They may reason that their perspective gives these holidays a godly purpose. Pagans may have offered these holidays to their idols, but if they offer them to their God then, therefore, they are God's days. After all, they may feel that they need celebration in their lives. So they become convinced that they need rituals, traditions and excuses to gather together.

Even though they may be totally unaware of it, these people are willing to accept any reasoning to keep these enjoyable traditions and will convince themselves with this emotional appeal. Most of these people will find a reason to keep on doing what their hearts desire no matter what evidence or Bible proofs are provided for them (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Prov. 28:26, KJV, NASB).

This article, however, is written for those few who are willing to examine both sides of an issue and (in spite of the inclination of their hearts to follow enjoyable traditions) truly desire to follow God's word as expressed in the Bible.

Can the Pagan Customs of Christmas Really Be Made Acceptable to God?

We must accept God's word over the desires of our hearts and the traditions of men. And we must learn from the lessons found in the Bible concerning the disastrous results of man following his heart's desire (and his own "reasoning") instead of obedience to God's word. For instance, Adam knew God's word concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He knew absolutely that he was not to touch it at this time - this was God's command to him. And yet, the desires of his heart allowed false reasoning to convince him that this forbidden knowledge was in his best interests. (Gen. 2:15; 3:1-6)

Another example of "reasoned" disobedience to God's word: Moses was up on Mount Sinai for so many days that the Israelites feared that he must have died. So they made an idol in the shape of the golden calf that they had known all their lives during their Egyptian slavery. They made sacrifices to it and called it the very same God who had brought them out of Egypt. Even Aaron built an altar in front of the calf in order to have a festival to Jehovah.

(The highly-respected New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1984, Tyndale House Publ. tells us that this golden calf was intended to either actually represent Jehovah or, possibly, to act as "a pedestal over which he [Jehovah] was enthroned." - p. 504.)

Now God had commanded them to have only one God, Jehovah. So this festival and idol were really intended in His honor (or so they reasoned in their hearts). They were taking pagan religious customs and "making them clean and holy"! The only problem is, worshipers of the true God don't decide for themselves what is right or wrong in God's eyes. This is exactly the same terrible sin that Adam and Eve committed.

On the next day during the festival (to "Jehovah") God's wrath against such disobedient ones was partially fulfilled and thousands died. (Ex. 32.)

We may well understand the reasoning of the Israelites and their desire to fall back on customs and ceremonies that they had grown up with in Egypt and felt secure and comfortable with. But the whole point of this example is that they expressly disobeyed Jehovah's clear commandment (Ex. 20:4) and reasoned in their own self-deceiving hearts that they could make this action "clean and holy to God" by giving the pagan idol Jehovah's name and making the pagan celebration solely in HIS honor. Compromise, then, should have brought them the best of both worlds. Instead it brought the wrath of the only true God and death!

"The whole narrative of the golden calf (Ex. 32) reveals the extent of the contrast between the religion which stemmed from Mt. Sinai and the form of religion congenial to the unregenerate heart. These religions, we learn are incompatible .... it is a most significant thing that when Israel turned to idolatry it was always necessary to borrow the trappings from the pagan environment .... whenever the kings of Israel and Judah lapsed into idolatry, it was by means of borrowing and syncretism." - New Bible Dictionary, p. 504, Tyndale House Publ., 1984.

So Israelites didn't reject their God openly, but continued to "worship" him by adding (or reverting to) pagan customs in God's name. They "made" these customs, celebrations, etc. clean and holy to the one true God (or so they reasoned). But it was never acceptable to Jehovah who demanded pure, untainted worship.

Notice what the leaders of the only true religious organization on earth at the time of Jesus were doing. Jesus said to them:

"`Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." You have let go the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.' And he [Jesus] said to them: `You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!'" - Mark 7:6-9, NIV.

How many times has it been heard how hundreds of millions of members of Christendom can "make" pagan celebrations and customs pleasing to God? The emotional attachment to celebrations and customs we have grown up with can be understandable. There can be a strong desire to keep observing such things that have delighted us for so long and have provided feelings of security and bonding to loved ones all our lives.

Certainly the Israelites in their terrible hour of need at Mt. Sinai, when all seemed lost, understandably yearned for such things. And yet their reasoning is identical to that of those who wish to "make" pagan Christmas celebrations and customs pleasing to God.

But the only real consideration must be: Is it pleasing to God? Is it truly in line with His Word? We can know only by examining His word, the Bible! Obviously the Israelites learned that such reasoning was terribly wrong and worthy of death. They learned the hard way what Jesus emphasized to those religious leaders of his time who were also "setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" - These later Israelites would lose the opportunity for eternal life also, because of their reasoning and traditions of men.

Martin Luther wrote,

"Thus we, although having the right faith, fall into new disbeliefs. This is what the devil brought about in olden times when he misled the children of Israel from the temple at Jerusalem to innumerable other places. It was all done in God's name, and with every appearance of sanctity; all the prophets preached against it, and were martyred for doing so. But, nowadays, no one preaches against it...!" - p. 458, Martin Luther, Selections From His Writings, Dr. John Dillenberger, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961.

Moses concluded with this clear warning by Jehovah: "See that you do all that I command you; do not add to it or take away from it." - Deut. 12:32. In other words, we are not to decide what is good and evil in God's "food" for us! We must, unlike Adam, the Israelites, and those who wish to "make" pagan Christmas celebrations and customs pleasing to God, obey all of God's word in spite of what we want in our hearts or what seems "reasonable" to us.

"The pillars and the asherah were both forbidden to Israel [and they were both frequently returned to time and again by the Israelites] .... The asherah was wooden, as we learn from its usual destruction by burning (Deut. 12:3; 2 Ki. 23:6), and probably originated from the sacred evergreen, the symbol of life. The association of these with Canaanite fertility practice sufficed to make them abominable to Yahweh [Jehovah]." - New Bible Dictionary, p. 504.

Notice how exclusive the worship of God must be: "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips." - Exodus 23:13, NIVSB.

Yes, idolatry includes anything even associated with pagan gods. This would even include merely speaking their names in a conciliatory manner or raising an asherah pole, symbol of the sacred evergreen, (even if you "cleansed" it by using it in a ceremony "honoring" Christ and calling it a "Christmas Pole," for example).

"In the New Testament the word ... (idololatria), afterwards shortened occasionally to ... (idolatria) [`idolatry'], occurs in all four times, viz., in 1 Cor. 10:14; Gal. 5:20; 1 Pet. 4:3; Col. 3:5. In the last of these passages it is used to describe the sin of covetousness or 'mammon-worship'. In the other places it indicates with the utmost generality all the rites and practices of those special forms of paganism with which Christianity first came into collision." - Encyclopedia Britannica, p.71, v.12, 14th ed.

Notice how strongly this idolatry (which includes "all the rites and practices of ... paganism") is condemned in the NT: Rev. 21:8; Gal. 5:20, 21.

Even in the first century of Christianity many of those who believed themselves to be Christians let their hearts and "reason" seduce them into making certain pagan practices "clean" for Christians. Notice this quote from the Roman Catholic Bible The New American Bible (1970), St. Joseph edition: footnote for Rev. 2:14-15 -

"Like Balaam, the biblical prototype of religious compromisers..., the Nicolaitans in Pergamum and Ephesus accommodated their Christian faith to paganism."

And notice how strongly this was condemned by Jesus: He would come and "fight against them with the sword of [his] mouth"! (Rev. 2:16)

Which View is Correct?

So are the few Christians who say "we must keep our religion unspotted from the world and worship God in truth with the pure worship He has commanded" correct in not mixing any paganisms into their religion? Or are the many who say "I can `make' pagan customs and ceremonies into acceptable Christian offerings on the altar of true worship" really correct?

Even Martin Luther tells us,

"The world and the masses are and always will be unChristian, although they are all baptized and are nominally Christian. [True] Christians, however, are few and far between, as the saying is. .... [True] Christians are always in the minority and are in the midst of non-Christians." - Martin Luther, p. 371.

"Wide is the gate and broad [easy-going, appealing] is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow [not so easy-going, not always appealing to the heart of many - Jer. 17:9] the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matt. 7:13-14, NIVSB.

The `many' spoken of here are actually self-deceived "Christians":

"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he [the `few' above] who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" - Matt. 7:21-22, NIVSB.

Yes, these are people who really believe they are Christians. They believe they have taught God's truth in Jesus' name to others. (Footnote for Matt. 7:22 in NIVSB: "prophesy. In the NT this verb primarily means to give a message from God, not necessarily to predict.") They call Jesus "Lord" and did many things in his name. But these many "Christians" have deceived themselves and have not truly done the will of Jesus' Father in heaven. They are rejected by Jesus Christ: "Away from me, you evildoers!"

Many rejected the pure religion of Jehovah in OT times by mixing in various paganisms and "making" them clean to Jehovah. Only a relative few of them kept their religion as pure as Jehovah had commanded.

The same thing has occurred, as predicted in the NT above, in the Christian religion down to today. In spite of the Bible's clear counsel, only a few of those who believe they are Christians are actually on the Narrow Road that leads to eternal life. Many others think they can do it their own way - they, like Adam and Eve, want to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. The results must be, as for Adam and Eve, what is at the end of the Broad Road: Destruction.

"Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them [f.n. in NIVSB says `In spite of the remarkable privileges given to Israel, they failed to obey God, thus incurring his displeasure. Of the adults who came out of Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter Canaan.']; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: `The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.'" - 1 Cor. 10:5-7, NIVSB.

The NIVSB f.n. for 10:7 tells us the last sentence by Paul is a quote that refers to the golden calf incident of Ex. 32. So here the Apostle Paul also uses the example of the golden calf to warn Christians about mixing paganisms with true religion!

But Paul continues - "Therefore, my dear friends [Christians in the first century Corinth congregation] flee from idolatry." And the NIVSB adds in its footnote for this verse: "flee from idolatry. Like that described in Ex. 32:1-6." Paul concludes with, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" Footnote in NIVSB: "arouse the Lord's jealousy. By sharing in pagan idolatry and worship." - 1 Cor 10:14, 21-22.

And in his second letter to these Christian Corinthians Paul again warns against ANY compromise with pagans and paganisms:

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial [`Satan' - f.n.] .... What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? .... `Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you...says the Lord Almighty.' Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." - 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, NIVSB.

The footnote for 6:16 says,

"agreement ... between the temple of God and idols. There can be no reversion or compromise with the idolatry they have forsaken for the gospel."

So, how is it that the pure "unleavened" Christianity of Paul's time has deteriorated into the pagan-saturated religion of Christendom today?

"If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by paganism." - The History of Christianity, Eckler.

"Christianity did not destroy Paganism; it adopted it" - The Story of Civilization: Part III, Will Durant.

Yes, God has always demanded that our "sacrifice" to him, no matter how small, must be pure and untainted. The principal was laid down repeatedly in the OT. E.g., "Do not sacrifice to the LORD [Jehovah] your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him." - Deut. 17:1, NIVSB, (Cf. Lev. 1:3,10; 3:1). Even in "grain offerings" when the grain was made into flour and baked before it was offered, there was to be absolutely no leaven or "yeast" in that offering. The leaven, then, was figurative of an impurity, comparable to a defect or flaw found in an impure animal sacrifice, and made such a flawed sacrifice detestable to God.

So, can we get away with a tiny bit of "leaven" in our "sacrifices" to God today? No more than we can get away with a tiny drop of cyanide in a glass of pure drinking water. Paul tells us of a saying that makes that very point:

"Have you never heard the saying, `A little leaven leavens all the dough'? The old leaven of corruption is working among you. Purge it out, and then you will be bread of a new baking. As Christians you are unleavened Passover bread .... So we who observe the festival must not use the old leaven, the leaven of corruption and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread which is sincerity and truth." Further explaining, Paul says: "you must have nothing to do with any so-called Christian who leads a loose life, or is grasping, or idolatrous.... You should not even eat with any such person." - 1 Cor. 5:6-8, 11, New English Bible.

No, God still tolerates absolutely no "leaven" mixed into the Christian "sacrifice" of true worship. "I the LORD do not change." - Malachi 3:6, NIVSB.

Note the example of the golden calf. It was made from the gold jewelry of the Israelites themselves. Obviously the Israelites were not allowed to keep that pagan image of the calf no matter how they "cleansed" it or "gave it a Godly purpose"! But surely they could recast that extremely valuable gold back into jewelry or even into utensils properly used in the worship of Jehovah!! But no, in spite of its great material value, it must never be used again by God's people in any form, for any purpose! - Deut. 9:21. What could be a more obvious demonstration of the exclusive devotion required by God and the lengths God's people must go to to ensure pure worship? We must not knowingly "purify" and "reuse" anything that has been made for paganistic false worship!

So, if pagan ceremonies, customs, god names, etc. are really mixed in with ceremonies, customs, etc. that we use to honor God and Christ, they are not merely unacceptable - - - they are detestable to God! We must completely get away from these unclean things and not even "touch" them! "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." - 2 Cor. 6:17.

Those who "make" pagan celebrations and customs pleasing to God are clearly, tragically, terribly wrong when they say things like: "My perspective gives these holidays a godly purpose. Pagans may have offered these holidays to their idols, but I offer them to my God and, therefore, they are God's days." If a holiday or custom is being deliberately participated in by a Christian, it must have absolutely no known pagan religion associations.

Related Articles:

Christmas - It's Origins And Associations (Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)

Christmas Customs—Are They Christian? (w00 12/15 pp. 3-7; Watchtower Online Library)

Can a Pagan Holiday Be Made Christian? (w07 12/15 pp. 8-9; Watchtower Online Library)


Defend Jehovah's Witnesses