Reformed Theologians on Christmas Observance

What eminent Christians have had to say about Christmas.  We cite Beza, Calvin, Knox, Melville, the Mathers, M’Crie, Spurgeon and Williamson amongst those who upheld the Christian testimony against veneration of days.

 

Calvin, ‘Tracts’ Vol. 1:

“The mockery which worships God with nought but external gestures and absurd human fictions, how could we, without sin, allow to pass unrebuked? We know how much he hates hypocrisy, and yet in that fictitious worship, which was everywhere in use, hypocrisy reigned. We hear how bitter the terms in which the prophets inveigh against all worship fabricated by human rashness. But a good intention, i.e., an insane license of daring whatever man pleased, was deemed the perfection of worship. For it is certain that in the whole body of worship which had been established, there was scarcely a single observance which had an authoritative sanction from the Word of God.

We are not in this matter to stand either by our own or by other men’s judgments. We must listen to the voice of God, and hear in what estimation he holds that profanation of worship which is displayed when men, overleaping the boundaries of His Word, run riot in their own inventions. The reasons which he assigns for punishing the Israelites with blindness, after they had lost the pious and holy discipline of the Church, are two, viz., the prevalence of hypocrisy, and will-worship (ejqeloqrhskeiva), meaning thereby a form of worship contrived by man. “Forasmuch,” says he, “as the people draw near me with their mouth, and with the lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men; therefore I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid,” Isa. 29:13-14. When God stirred us up, a similar or worse perversity openly domineered throughout the Church. While God, then, was thundering from heaven, were we to sit quiet?”

 

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (subscribed by John Knox, John Craig, James Melville, and a host of others), ‘Letter to the Very Eminent Servant of Christ, Master Theodore Beza, the Most Learned and Vigilant Pastor of the Genevan Church’ (1566):

“This one thing, however, we can scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession [Second Helvetic] concerning the “festival of our Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Ghost upon his disciples,” that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles have prescribed.”

 

General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, ‘Articles to be Presented to my Lord Regent’s Grace’ (1575):

“That all days that heretofore have been kept holy, besides the Sabbath days, such as Yule [Christ-mass] day, Saint’s days, and such others, may be abolished, and a civil penalty against the keepers thereof by ceremonies, banqueting, fasting, and such other vanities.”

 

Increase Mather, ‘Testimony Against Prophane Customs’ (1687):

“The Apostle condemns the observation of Jewish festivals in these days of the New Testament, Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16. Much less may Christians state other days in their room. The Gospel has put an end to the difference of days as well as of meats. And neither the Pope nor the Church can make some days holy above others, no more than they can make the use of some meats to be lawful or unlawful, both of which are expressly contrary to the Scripture, Rom. 14:5,6. All stated holidays of man’s inventing, are breaches of the Second and of the Fourth Commandment.  A stated religious festival is a part of instituted worship. Therefore
it is not in the power of men, but God only, to make a day holy.”

 

Samuel Miller, ‘Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolic Constitution of the Church of Christ’ (1836):

“We believe that the Scriptures not only do not warrant the observance of such days [i.e., “holy” days], but that they positively discountenance it. Let any one impartially weigh Colossians 2:16, and also, Galatians 4:9-11; and then say whether these passages do not evidently indicate, that the inspired Apostle disapproved of the observance of such days.”

 

Thomas M’Crie, ‘Lectures on the Book of Esther’ (1838):

“There are times when God calls, on the one hand, to religious fasting, or, on the other, to thanksgiving and religious joy; and it is our duty to comply with these calls, and to set apart time for the respective exercises. But this is quite a different thing from recurrent or anniversary holidays. In the former case the day is chosen for the duty, in the latter the duty is performed for the day; in the former case there is no holiness on the day but what arises from the service which is performed on it, and when the same day afterwards recurs, it is as common as any other day; in the latter case the day is set apart on all following times, and may not be employed for common or secular purposes. Stated and recurring festivals countenance the false principle, that some days have a peculiar sanctity, either inherent or impressed by the works which occurred on them; they proceed on an undue assumption of human authority; interfere with the free use of that time which the Creator hath granted to man; detract from the honour due to the day of sacred rest which he hath appointed; lead to impositions over conscience; have been the fruitful source of superstition and idolatry; and have been productive of the worst effects upon morals, in every age, and among every people, barbarous and civilized, pagan and Christian, popish and protestant, among whom they have been observed. On these grounds they were rejected from the beginning, among

other corruptions of antichrist, by the reformed church of Scotland, which allowed no stated religious days but the Christian Sabbath.”

 

Spurgeon, from a sermon preached on 24.12.1871:

“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.”

 

G. I. Williamson, ‘On the Observance of Sacred Days’:

“Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are Romish sacred days. By this we mean that they have their source in Roman Catholic tradition, rather than in Scripture. . . . [T]here have been times in the history of the Reformed churches when the truth on the subject of sacred days received reverent attention. Already, before John Calvin arrived in Geneva at the time of the great Reformation, the observance of Romish sacred days had been discontinued there. This had been done under the leadership of Guillaume Farel and Peter Viret. But Calvin was  in hearty agreement. It is well known that when these traditional days came along on the calendar, Calvin did not pay the slightest attention to them. He just went right on with his exposition of whatever book of the Bible he happened to be expounding. The Reformers, Knox and Zwingli, agreed with Calvin. So did the entire Reformed church of Scotland and Holland. At the Synod of Dort in 1574 it was agreed that the weekly Sabbath alone should be observed, and that the observance of all other days should be discouraged. This faithful Biblical practice was later compromised. But that does not change the fact that the Reformed churches originally stood for the biblical principle. The original stand of the Reformed churches was Scriptural. That is the important thing.”

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