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The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?

Should a Christian church bring a Christmas tree into its meeting house?  To answer the question “yes,” rather than “no,” the following Biblical criteria must be met.

First, the church would need to prove that Christmas is not a pagan holiday.  God declares:  “Take heed to thyself that . . . thou enquire not after [false] gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).  Believers are not to adopt pagan practices in worship.  If Christmas is a pagan holiday, then churches ought not to have Christmas trees in their places of worship.

However, Christmas is clearly a pagan holiday.  The Encyclopedia Britannica demonstrates that Roman Catholicism adopted the festival from pagans and heretics[1] who held special celebrations to worship the devil on the 25th of December.  The Lord Jesus Christ was confounded with the sun god of Mithraism and worshipped on the winter solstice, the Day of the Unconquered Sun.  Many other sources demonstrate that Christmas is pagan.[2]  Since Christmas is a heathen festival that developed out of the religious syncretism of the Whore of Babylon, Roman Catholicism (Revelation 17), churches ought to keep Christmas trees out of their places for worship of the Holy One, God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Second, the church would need to prove that having a Christmas tree is not a heathen custom.  God commands:  “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not” (Jeremiah 10:2-4).  Since Christmas is a pagan holiday, having a Christmas tree is a pagan custom, and the church is not to follow the way of the heathen.  Furthermore, the very passage where God’s people are warned against the adoption of heathen ways gives the example of a heathen custom that, on its face, sounds very similar to what is done with a Christmas tree.  If even the brazen serpent specifically authorized by Jehovah (Numbers 21) needed to be destroyed because it came to be associated with false worship (2 Kings 18:4), how much the more must any symbol or representation be rejected that is not only without any Divine warrant, but clearly associated with heathenism?  Before a church can bring a Christmas tree into its place of worship, it would need to demonstrate both that Christmas is not a pagan holiday and that the Christmas tree has no connection whatsoever with heathen customs.  Since neither of these things can be done, Christmas trees must be rejected.

Third, the Christmas tree must be shown to never be a stumbling block.  If the tree causes even one believer to offend, or disturbs the conscience of even one Christian, it would be better to put a huge rock around one’s neck, jump in the ocean, and drown then to place such a tree in the church meeting house (Mark 9:42; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13).  Furthermore, if a Christmas tree hinders even one unconverted person from entering the kingdom, then Christ pronounces an awful woe upon any who would bring it into His house (Matthew 23:13).  However, it is clear that Christmas trees both cause offense to many Christians and hinder many lost people from coming to Christ.  Christians who are aware of the pagan and Catholic roots of the Christmas holy day, or who understand the Biblical requirement that all elements of worship be specifically ordained by Christ for His church, will be troubled when they see a monument to idolatry in the place they have come to worship their holy Redeemer.  If they suppress the testimony of their conscience or come to conclude that God does not, after all, care all that much about how He is approached in worship, a great evil will have been wrought in their spiritual life.  Likewise, many lost people, especially within certain groups that recognize the error of Christmas despite cleaving to other false doctrines, will find the presence of a Christmas tree in a church meeting house objectionable.  Such people might conclude that the Christians who can countenance such things cannot possibly have the truth, and consequently reject the gospel because of the Christmas tree.  Nor does the fact that other lost people like Christmas trees change the problem with the tree as a stumbling block.  Christ never commanded His church to see what many people in a community like, and then bring such things into His holy house.  Nor are people converted because they see and hear things that they like; they are converted because of the supernatural, re-creative efficacy of the Holy Spirit transforming their hearts and renewing them to repentance and faith through the instrumentality of the pure gospel set forth in the Word of God (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:25; John 3:3; Hebrews 6:6).  Clearly, nobody has ever been born again because a congregation brought a Christmas tree into its place of worship.  Rather than seeking to please the world, the church must live by faith and seek to please Christ, trusting Him to bring the lost into His kingdom.  Indeed, He promised that His servants will never be universally accepted (Luke 6:26).  While compromising Biblical principle to tolerate or adopt the Christmas tree may increase a church’s popularity with the ungodly world, the Lord never told His children to seek for popularity.  He did, however, forbid His people from placing unbiblical stumbling blocks in the way of others.  Since the Christmas tree causes both believers and unbelievers to stumble, and it never has and never will bring about the true conversion of one soul, it has no place in the church of Christ, regardless of the degree of its general popularity.

Fourth, and most fundamentally, the church that wishes to have a Christmas tree must demonstrate that Christmas is a festival specifically authorized by God in the New Testament for Christ’s congregation.  The Lord Jesus, the Head of the church, has authorized His spiritual Body to observe only whatever He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  Christ’s church has no authority to create holy days or festivals of its own devising.  False worship, “strange fire,” is defined as whatever God “commanded . . . not,” and offering false worship is an offense Jehovah views as worthy of death (Leviticus 10:1-3; contrast Leviticus 9).  In worship, the rule is “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).  The foundational Biblical truth that in worship whatever is not commanded is forbidden[3] requires the rejection of the Christmas tree unless specific Biblical warrant for the Christmas festival can be found, warrant such as that found for the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).  Unless Christmas can be found in Scripture alongside of the elements of worship such as preaching (2 Timothy 4:2), singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:18), baptism (Romans 6) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11), it must be rejected under Christ’s fearful stricture:  “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).  Since the Christmas holy day is not found in the New Testament, and, indeed, it only came into existence centuries after Christ founded His church, the festival and all of its symbols such as the Christmas tree must be rejected as “will-worship,” worship originating not with God, but as “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:22-23).

Likewise, if the church is to bring Christmas trees into its assembly, it must demonstrate that the Christmas tree is a symbol of worship specifically authorized by God for New Testament worship in Christ’s church.  The Lord Jesus has instituted specific symbols for His church.  He has authorized the immersion of the believer in water, symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior and the Christian’s union with Him in those saving acts.  He has authorized the breaking of bread and partaking of the fruit of the vine, symbolizing Christ’s broken body and shed blood.  Only the Head of the church has the sovereign prerogative to institute symbols in His worship.  He is jealous and zealous for the purity of His worship (John 2:13-17) and brings to bear His righteous fury against those who institute any worship or religious symbols of their own devising (Exodus 20:4-6).  That nobody bows down in front of or prays to a Christmas tree is not enough to justify its presence in the church.  The fact that nobody prays to the holy water or incense in Popish meeting houses does not justify their presence; since they are not specifically authorized elements of worship, they are forbidden.  The Christmas tree is a religious symbol, one designed to turn men’s thoughts to God in a manner of human devising.  Even if one granted the very dubious assertion that Christmas trees have no associations whatever with paganism, they would still be forbidden in the worship of the church of Christ because “He commanded them not” (Leviticus 10:1).  God’s Spirit supernaturally strengthens the Christian’s spiritual life through the means of grace that He has ordained, such as preaching, teaching, reading, and meditation on the Word (2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:17), prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 11), and Biblically-based exhortation from other believers in the church (Hebrews 10:24-25).  The Lord has not given any warrant whatsoever for the idea that the Christian’s spiritual life can be strengthened through the religious symbol of the Christmas tree the way they indubitably are through the ordained symbols of baptism and the Supper.

One might object that the Christmas tree is not a religious symbol designed to strengthen the believer’s spiritual life,[4] but only a decoration without religious significance, comparable to whether a church building has a blue or red carpet, metal or wood doors, or some flowers in a bouquet somewhere in the building.  Such a notion, however, cannot be sustained by an honest person.  It is essentially to deny that a Christmas tree has anything to do with Christmas, anything to do with Christianity (or, more properly, with corruptions of Christianity), or anything to do with religion.  Someone who took bread used in the Lord’s Supper, spat on it, trampled it under his feet, and then announced, “I reject and detest what this stands for!” would be universally recognized as making a terrible statement of hatred of and rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ and His religion.  A person who did the same thing with a Christmas tree would similarly be viewed as making a statement about his abhorrence of a particular form of religion.  Someone who did the like with an American flag would be expressing his rejection of the United States.  If someone took a bouquet of flowers, or a blue carpet, spat on it, and announced, “I reject and detest what this stands for!” he might be viewed as mentally unstable, but he would not be viewed as making a statement of hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ; on the contrary, people would not know what he was talking about when he said the carpet or flowers were a symbol that stood for something.  It is obvious that the Christmas tree is intended to be a Christian religious symbol, as the Passover Lamb was to Israel in the Old Testament, and the fruit of the vine is to the church in the New.  Since it is intended as a Christian religious symbol, and since it is not specifically ordained by God in the Bible, it must be rejected.

Should the church bring a Christmas tree into its meeting house?  Clearly, the answer is “No.”  The church should reject Christmas trees because Christmas is a pagan holiday.  The church should reject Christmas trees because having Christmas trees is a heathen custom.  The church should reject Christmas trees because they are a stumbling block to both believers and unbelievers.  The church should reject Christmas trees because Christ never authorized Christmas as a festival day for His church.   The church should reject Christmas trees because the Christmas tree is not authorized in the New Testament as a religious symbol.

Similar considerations come into play when considering whether a Christian home ought to have a Christmas tree.  Pure and holy worship, and a rejection of all idolatrous and unauthorized practices, ought to characterize the Christian home as well as the Christian church.  The question is not what one’s relatives will like best, but what the Lord Jesus desires, for it is His presence that sanctifies the home.  His blessing, not the applause of relatives, is what is needful.  Godly men must lead both their churches and their homes in preventing any compromise to Biblical principle.  They must not allow Christmas trees entry to the dwellings or the hearts of either their congregation or their family.  If they have already found their way into either place, they must rise up and remove them, fearing only the immortal God, not mortal people (Matthew 10:28-39).

[1]               See http://faithsaves.net/encyclopaedia-britannica-on-christmas-and-epiphany/.

[2]               See the sources at http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/.

[3]               The Regulative Principle of worship, concerning which see http://faithsaves.net/ecclesiology/.

[4]               One might perhaps object that the Christmas tree is indeed a religious symbol, but not one that is to strengthen the believer’s spiritual life.  However, Biblical religious symbols are indeed ordained by God as means to strengthen grace in His people.  It is a great sin to be coldly unmoved when the Lord’s Supper is being observed, as it is to fail to rejoice in the blessed truths of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and the believer’s union with Him during a baptism.  If the Christmas tree were indeed a Christian symbol that was pleasing to God, then it would be an instrument in the hands of the Holy Ghost to stir up the believer’s faith and love for Jesus Christ, and it would be a great sin to neglect the grace pictured and applied by the Father through Christ by the Spirit through the Christmas tree.

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