Every time we mention Christmas or Easter in this Newsletter, some of our very best friends write us a word of caution, pointing out the pagan origins of these holidays. We do not dispute the fact that there were pagan holidays at these times of year. (The very name Easter is derived from Ishtar or Astarte, a pagan goddess.) Nevertheless, when we celebrate the Incarnation or the Resurrection, we do so in honor of the Lord, and not in honor of any pagan deity.
Implicit in the thought that it is wrong for believers to celebrate Christmas and Easter (or more appropriately, the Incarnation and Resurrection Day) is the notion that by doing so, a believer could inadvertently be venerating a false god. It is not possible to worship, venerate or give allegiance by mistake. In order to venerate an idol or false god, one must be conscious of that idol or god and believe in the validity of addressing worship to it.
In New Testament times there were some who claimed that by eating meat sacrificed to idols a person committed an act of idolatry. The Apostle Paul addressed the questions of a believer’s liberty in eating such food and which days were to be regarded as special. In Romans 14:5-6 he wrote, One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord; for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
Some believers have had impossible burdens placed upon them by others who used the practice of guilt by association. So what if pagans had a holiday on December 25? It does not mean that those who celebrate Christ’s birth on that day are being pagans. If that were so, the accusers would need to be consistent about other calendar names as well. They would need to change the names of the weekdays, because each of the weekdays is named after a pagan god. For example, Saturday is named for the god Saturn and Sunday is so called because of the veneration of the sun.
And what about the names of cities? According to the thinking that proclaims Christmas and Easter wrong, believers should not live in Phoenix, since that city is named after a mythological god. Furthermore, many other sites in this country, such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Yosemite, etc., bear Native American names which have totemistic significance. Should we shun those places? Carried to its most logical boundaries, such thinking soon becomes absurd. That kind of logic would forbid anyone from eating any category of food that was ever offered to any kind of idol on an altar, because thereby one might be venerating the idol to which such food or spices had been offered.
In short, guilt by association does not work. A person can only be guilty by intention. Some fine Christians are expending far too much energy and effort to “set other Christians straight” on these arbitrary matters. Such energy would be better used to proclaim the gospel. When we come into the presence of Jesus, He will set us all straight about many things. In the meantime, we have forgiveness and liberty in Him, so let’s get on with getting that message to those who need to hear it.