Statement on Christmas

A CJF Ministries Position Statement
By Dr. Gary Hedrick

Our founder, Charles Halff, wrote a booklet in the 1960s in which he expressed his view that Christmas is essentially pagan and therefore should be avoided. However, he and the ministry board didn’t incorporate this view into our doctrinal statement and he never insisted that everyone here at CJF Ministries agree with him. In fact, he was well aware that virtually everyone else on our staff celebrated Christmas and he was happy to give them the day off each year to be with their families. He also gratefully received many Christmas cards and gifts each year from friends and supporters all over the world. But to him, Christmas was just like any other day. On any given December 25th, you could find him at the office reading mail, writing letters, and working on our publications (except in years when it fell on the Sabbath, or Saturday).

We respect believers who do not celebrate Christmas—and we want to be considerate of their views and sensitivities. We appreciate folks who have backbone and who take a stand for the things that are important to them. At the same time, however, we recognize that equally committed Christians may hold other views. Christmas is a subject where good and sincere believers should be able to agree to disagree, and do so with tolerance and a spirit of humility. The Apostle Paul said, “[Let] nothing [be done] through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3).

Up until a hundred years or so ago, Christmas was commonly associated with the Catholic Church and its liturgical calendar—which includes Christmas among other feasts and observances. The English word “Christmas” itself derives from Christ-mass in the Catholic tradition. It was this close association with Catholicism that prompted the early Puritans to criminalize Christmas in 17th century Massachusetts (in Puritan communities, anyone caught celebrating Christmas was subject to arrest, trial, and a substantial fine upon conviction). In the 20th and 21st centuries, however, the celebration of Messiah’s birth has entered more into the evangelical mainstream and most people don’t consider it a Catholic observance anymore. Hardly anyone today would suggest that celebrating Christmas identifies a person as a Catholic.

Personally, I like the approach of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was one of Dr. Halff’s favorite old-time preachers. Spurgeon preached against the paganism and “popery” of much of the traditional Christmas observance, but he didn’t reject Christmas altogether.  In fact, he often preached sermons about the birth of the Messiah around December 25th.

On the Sunday before Christmas in 1857, for instance, the title of Spurgeon’s sermon was, “The First Christmas Carol.” In it, he said, “I hope that all through the week you will have a truly merry Christmas by feeling the power of these words, and knowing the unction of them: ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men.’” He encouraged his congregation in London to take advantage of the holiday as an opportunity to tell others about the great Gift that God gave the world at Bethlehem, and to make it a time of joy, family get-togethers, and warm, Christian fellowship. I respectfully submit that we can do the same.