Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Christmas letter

With Christmas around the corner and the (welcome) interruption to our normal patterns of life for a few days, I am finding it increasingly hard to write new posts to my blog. So, I plan to take the next two weeks off and hope to return to regular posting after the new year.

Following is a letter I recently sent to the family of Grace Baptist, whom I serve. It expresses my desire for everyone who knows and loves the Lord Jesus.


Dear Loved Ones,

This time of year provides lots of opportunities to stop and reflect on the months that have flown by and to think about the ones that, if the Lord wills, we will live to see in 2006. Every review of the past testifies to the truthfulness of the hymn-writer's words based on a letter from the Puritan pastor, Samuel Rutherford,

With mercy and with judgment my web of time He wove,
And, yes, the dews of sorrow were lustered with His love.
("The Sands of Time Are Sinking")

One cannot live without some regrets. The presence of sin in the world and in our hearts means that we have not yet finished a day in which everything we did was exactly right. But one cannot live as a Christian without thanksgiving that overshadows the sorrows. Don't you find it to be true that, when you look back over your life, you see many reasons to praise and thank the Lord for His grace and goodness to you? We see how He has been faithful in keeping His promises and gracious in dealing with us kindly.

Past mercies help undergird our present hope for the future. As we consider God's ways with us over the last twelve months, we are encouraged to trust Him for whatever He brings into our lives in the year ahead. As we consider how the Lord has helped us thus far, we are strengthened in our faith to depend on Him as we move into the future. Past grace guarantees future grace.

The foundation of this hope is found in what I believe is the greatest promise in all the Bible--Romans 8:32. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Paul is saying to us, "Look back at all that God has done in giving us Jesus Christ." He did not spare Him, which is a calculated way of reminding us that He did send Him to the horrible death on the cross. God "delivered Him up" to that painful and shameful death so that we, His people, could have our sins forgiven and lives transformed.

If God did not spare even His Son in order to provide for us, how can we think for even a moment that He would fail to give us anything we need in the future? The cross of Jesus Christ guarantees that God will graciously provide for us all that we need both in this life and the life to come. That is why Jesus Christ came to earth. That is why He was born.

So as you celebrate Christmas, with whatever traditions and activities that you and yours enjoy, take advantage of the opportunity to praise God afresh for the great, what Paul calls the "unspeakable," gift of His Son. If you have Christ you can be sure that, from your heavenly Father's kind hand, you have and will have everything you need.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas!

In Christ,

Pastor Tom

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cooperation--Baptist style

The Baptist Faith and Message makes several good points on cooperation that are worth highlighting.

1. Each local church is autonomous and no other ecclesiastical organization may exercise authority over it.

2. Each association and convention is autonomous and holds no authority over local churches.

3. Cooperation is right and good for members of local churches. I find it interesting that the BF&M says that "Members of New Testament churches should cooperate..." (emphasis added) rather than simply "churches should cooperate." I doubt that the framers of that statement meant anything signficant by that wording, but it does at least give the impression that individual members of churches are primarily, if not exclusively in view with the encouragement to engage in cooperative efforts.

4. The nature of the cooperation being encouraged is not defined other than to note that any organizations that emerge from such cooperation are "voluntary and advisory bodies." Participation in any specific cooperative effort or organization is voluntary.

5. The organization of "associations" and "conventions" is encouraged, "as the occasion arises." What such occasions might be is left undefined.

A group of Baptist churches in Kansas recently determined that such an occasion had arisen and, in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Baptist Faith and Message, formed a new Baptist association. The Spurgeon Baptist Association of Churches is committed to the doctrines of grace and seeks to manifest the glory of God in cooperative efforts of like-minded churches. They are recognized by the Kansas-Nebraska State Convention of churches. And they are open to churches from other associations.

I believe that what is taking place in Kansas is a harbinger of the future of Southern Baptist church life. More churches will increasingly see the need to "organize such associations as may best secure the cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God" (BF&M). In the past such associations were formed around doctrinal commitments and geographical proximity. Over time, geography came to trump theology and associations (at least in modern Southern Baptist life) became almost exclusively defined in terms of location, not belief.

The reason that geography was so important was for the purpose of communication. In days before telephones, getting together to consult with fellow "messengers from associating churches" was costly both in time and money. Today, with phones, fax machines, email, commercial air travel and video-conferencing, the limitations of geography have been largely (albeit, not completely) overcome.

In the future I expect that we will see many more Baptist churches forming associations like the Spurgeon Association. With a shared doctrinal foundation and philosophy of church ministry, such associations may well take on the vibrancy and usefulness of Baptist associations of a by-gone era. The Baptist Faith and Message encourages this effort.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Baptist Faith and Message on Cooperation

The Baptist Faith and Message has become much more prominent in Southern Baptist life over the last six years. With its revisions that were adopted by the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention it has been used as a standard to help define the doctrinal borders of official SBC agencies and institutions. Article 14 addresses the issue of cooperation and makes some very good points that need to be taken seriously by SBC churches and leaders.

I am providing the full text of the article in this post, along with part of an exposition of it by Professor Mark Terry of Southern Seminary. Read carefully the wording of the article itself and also the insightful comments of Dr. Terry. In the next few days I want to comment on this article and show the way it provides some helpful markers for churches that want to cooperate thoughtfully with other churches in kingdom work.

Article 14 of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says this:

Cooperation

Christ's people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ's Kingdom.

Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.


Mark Terry's exposition includes these comments:

Each Southern Baptist church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Christ. These churches, though, may decide to cooperate with other like-minded churches to provide for mutual encouragement and the advancement of God's kingdom through evangelism and missions.

Since the 1600s, Baptists have formed associations. An association is a group of churches that voluntarily join together for fellowship, encouragement and missions. Churches are the members of the association, but the association does not rule its member churches.

Churches may also choose to form a convention. In the United States, Southern Baptist churches have organized both state conventions and a national body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Churches comprise the membership of state conventions and the SBC. They join voluntarily and may withdraw voluntarily.

Conventions exercise no control over the churches. Each level is autonomous. Thus, an association cannot dictate to a church or to the state convention. Of course, the reverse is true as well. A church might be a member of one body but not another, though that is unusual. Associations and conventions are governed by votes cast by messengers sent from member churches.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Local church autonomy and missions support

"Tom,

Thanks. I'm a younger pastor (28), and it sounds like you've got us figured out...."

-Pastor Brian

I don't know if I have younger pastors figured out or not, but I used to be one (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), I have many friends who fit that profile and I have ongoing conversations with many in that category.

One of them is a friend who pastors in Indiana. A couple of years ago their Southern Baptist church decided to change the way that they financially support Southern Baptist missions and causes. They had specific reasons for their decisions. I did not agree with my friend's reasoning though I do understand it and certainly recognize their right, as an autonomous church, to make such a decision. Their local Director of Missions (DOM--in Southern Baptist life this is a person who serves an association of churches) did not see it this way and brought charges and false reports against my friend and the church he serves. The DOM wrote letters and made contacts with SBC agencies and institutions seeking to discredit this church and pastor. His actions were unethical and shameless. And the response of many of the denominational employees he got involved was not much better.

Here is part of the motivation behind the church's action to redirect their giving. The church became increasingly disillusioned with the associational leadership and with some of the activities and doctrinal positions promoted by the state convention. In addition, the church wanted more of its money given to Southern Baptist causes to make it to the international mission field (the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana voted to keep 72.82% of all Cooperative Program receipts for the year 2004). Consequently, the church decided to cut their financial support for the local association and the state convention and to send money directly to the International Mission Board of the SBC.

For doing this they were threatened, maligned and misrepresented by denominational employees. Their pastor was deceived and treated very unfairly. In fact, the things that were said about and done to the pastor and church simply confirmed the worst fears about denominational bureaucracy in the minds of some members. Though no one has told me this, my guess is that the actions of denominational employees have probably innoculated this church from ever again participating in the Cooperative Program (CP). All because they exercised their autonomy to see that more of their money made it to international mission fields.

Granted, this is an extreme case, but it does illustrate the mindset that many denominational employees have about local churches and the CP. Kevin Morse speaks for many in a response he made to my last post, "I'm beginning to feel like the CP has stopped being a resource for the benefit of the local churches in the convention. Rather, we have become a resource for the CP." As this feeling spreads, support for the CP will wane and no amount of cheerleading, carrot-dangling or intimidation can prevent it.

Cooperation is based on trust. And trust is a fragile thing. It is hard to build and easy to break. Yet cooperation is a vital to the advance of the Gospel in the world. If it does not exist within a local church, not much can be accomplished. If it does not exist between churches, that which could be accomplished together will not be done. History has many testimonies of great good that has resulted from the cooperation of churches who are committed to a common cause. Many of those testimonies can be found within our own Southern Baptist heritage and show how extremely useful the CP can be. If we hope to see vital, fruit-bearing cooperation in the future, then we must honestly face the fractured trust of the present. This will require some hard self-evaluation on the part of denominational leaders. And it will require some intense listening to the concerns of local churches.

No one is asking, but if the question of how to address the diminishing support of the CP among Southern Baptist churches were posed to me, I would respond by calling attention to these very realities. Lack of enthusiasm for the CP is not a financial issue. It is not a loyalty issue. It is not a motivational issue. It is a trust issue. Address the reasons--many of them very legitimate--that more and more churches are having difficulty trusting the denominational machinery. Ask churches. Listen carefully to their responses. Field tough questions. Give honest answers. Where mistakes have been made, admit it. Where sin has been committed, repent. Where viable alternatives exist, acknowledge them and be willing even to explore them. All of this will go a long way to rebuilding the kind of trust on which cooperation thrives.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cooperative Program Allocation

Gene Veith wrote a few weeks ago in WORLD Magazine that, on average, about $.02 of every dollar given in a Protestant church offering goes to overseas missions. Southern Baptists have done better than most in funding the spread of the Gospel overseas through the collaborative effort of the Cooperative Program. Veith's article, however, made me do a little analysis of how Southern Baptist missions giving typically works.

Many if not most Southern Baptists do not understand how money given to (or through) the Cooperative Program (CP) is actually allocated. This is partly due to the large number of agencies, efforts and ministries that are funded by such gifts and partly due to a lack of education about the CP. More and more churches and pastors--especially young pastors--are beginning to question the way the CP works. While their questions are sometimes misconstrued as a lack of loyalty, I have not perceived them that way at all. People simply want to know what they are paying for. Christians especially should be concerned about careful financial stewardship and part of such stewardship is knowing where your money is going.

In many respects the CP is an ingenuous tool that enables a large number of churches to stand together in supporting people and efforts that could not be well supported (if at all) by individual churches. Theological education, ethics and religious liberty concerns, missions efforts in North America and missions efforts beyond this continent are all supported by Southern Baptists via this mechanism. These causes are all administered through the national Southern Baptist Convention offices which are based in Nashville. Most moderately informed Southern Baptists have some awareness of this.

What is not so readily known, however, is the fact that the bulk of money that is given to the CP by local churches goes to support Baptist state convention work and ministries. These efforts often include colleges, children's homes, church planting and other such concerns.

For example, in my own state the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) keeps 60% of money that local FBC congregations give to the CP (If you want to see the percentages of other state conventions, click here). That means that 40% makes its way to Nashville, to be disbursed by the Executive Committee according to budget allocations adopted annually by Southern Baptist messengers. The 2005-2006 allocations stipulate that 50% of all money that does finally make it to Nashville via CP gifts go to the International Mission Board. The North American Mission Board receives 22.79% Most of the remaining money (21.64%) goes to "Theological Education Ministries" (primarily, the 6 Southern Baptist Seminaries).

Here is what that means: if Bob puts $100 in the offering plate at Happy Southern Baptist Church (HSBC) in Punta Gorda, Florida and if HSBC has allocated 10% of their undesignated receipts for the "Cooperative Program missions," then 10 of Bob's dollars gets sent to the Florida Baptist Convention offices in Jacksonville. Of that, $6 of his money stays in the state for various concerns like those mentioned above and $4 gets sent to Nashville, Tennessee. Once there, $2 gets allocated to the International Mission Board for overseas mission work. A little less than $1 goes to mission work in North America and a little less than that goes to support theological education. In other words, of every dollar that Bob gives, about $.o2 goes to overseas missions (assuming HSBC has no other avenue for contributions to missions efforts).

Most Southern Baptists do not realize that this is the way it works because the Cooperative Program is typically promoted as a great way to fund international missions. According to the cpmission website, however, only 36% of the money given to the CP actually made it to Nashville and only 18% of all the money given went to support overseas missions. The lion's share of the money--about 63% on average--is used by state conventions.

As a younger generation of Southern Baptists begin to understand how this works, expect to see a shift in how local churches allocate their money that is set aside for mission work. Some will diminish CP giving in order to increase their giving to support international missions.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What Christmas Church Closings Indicate

What I find even more disturbing than churches actually cancelling their Lord's Day services are the reasons that are being given to support their decisions. So far, what I have read or heard (from both the internet and our local media) as justifications for shutting down Christian churches on Sunday, December 25 can be grouped into several categories.

Convenience
The kind of production that Sunday services require in some larger churches is simply too difficult and involved to ask the staff and volunteers to do that on a holiday as important as Christmas. If it did not incovenience so many people to hold Lord's Day services, then, according to some of the reasons being given, some churches would opt to stay open on Christmas.

Pragmatism
Some church leaders simply faced the facts that their members are simply going to stay home that day, regardless of what is scheduled with the church. A local Christian radio station manager for WAY-FM made it clear this morning that he was going to spend the day at home with his family, no matter what. He even interviewed his United Methodist pastor (who plans to hold a scaled down service on that Sunday) as a way of showing that his plans should not be "judged" by anyone who disagreed with him. Another pastor in our area said that when polling his congregation it became apparent that many simply planned to skip church that day. So instead of facing the embarassing reality of the low level of commitment that exists in the church, he decided to cancel it.

Just desserts
Another line of reasoning sounds something like the old McDonald's commercial: "You deserve a break today..." People work so hard for 364 days a year (or 51 Sundays a year, as a variant rationale goes) that they deserve not to have to go to church on December 25. Those who have made this case sound like worshiping with God's people is such a pain and burden that no one should begrudge getting out from under that load on a day as special as Christmas. One pastor, commenting on Saddleback's planned shutdown indicated that since that church does so much good, no one should question their decision to take a Sunday off. After all, even Walmart shuts down on Christmas, why shouldn't a church have the same prerogative?

Family values
Familes ought to be together. There are so many pressures that pull them apart, especially during the Christmas season, that it is the least that the church can do to shut down on the Lord's Day in order to promote family togetherness. This is actually viewed as a noble decision, rooted in love for families.

Evangelism
One church even argued that since very few unconverted people are expected to attend on that Sunday, it would not be cost-effective to hold services that day. The reasoning goes like this: since the church's main responsibility is to reach lost people, if they will not come on Christmas, then we will not waste our time and energy at putting on a service.

I am sure that there are other stated reasons and I am sure that many who have offered variations of those I have mentioned above would like to elaborate or refine their comments. Be that as it may, the obvious, glaring omission in all of these excuses is any appeal to the Word of God. It is as if the decision whether or not a church should gather on the Lord's Day is purely subjective. I have mentioned this before but it applies again here--wouldn't it be helpful if someone along the way stopped and asked the question, "Does God have an opinion on this?"

Does God care if a church cancels its worship service on the Lord's Day because it falls on December 25? If He does, then shouldn't we listen to it and heed it? If He doesn't, then let those who advocate canceling Lord's Day services say so plainly. They should say something like this: "We are canceling Lord's Day worship services and God doesn't care one way or the other. The Bible has nothing to say about this. We are completely free to do this."

The kind of reasoning that is coming out in defense of church closings has more in common with the world and its ways than it does with the Bible. And this is further evidence of how far American evangelicalism has fallen away from basic, biblical Christianity. At some point, like Machen did in the early 2oth century with liberalism, we are going to be forced to admit that what passes under the banner of evangelicalism simply is not Christian, no matter how many Christian trappings are retained.

Our only hope is reformation and revival.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Christmas IRONY

Several (Michael Spencer and Kevin Hash, among others) have pointed out the interesting announcements that are coming from some of the high-profile megachurches in America: they are cancelling their worship services on Sunday, December 25! The internet is beginning to be abuzz about this. An article from the Lexington Herald-Leader states:
The list of closed congregations on Christmas Sunday reads like a who's who of evangelical Protestantism: Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago area's largest congregation; Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; and Fellowship Church near Dallas. (read the whole article or another article that quotes David Wells' response)
One of my first responses is, Can We Do That? Obviously we can, but should we? The rationale being given by "megachurch officials" (don't you love that designation?) is that the decision "just makes sense" in today's hectic world. People are so busy. Lifestyles are so packed full of demands and presssures. Shutting down church on Christmas is just a way of giving people a break.

Of course, a question that begs to be asked is this: If this is sound thinking that is "family-friendly" in December, why not incorporate it at other times of the year? Easter tends to be a big family day for many folks. Perhaps churches should not meet that Sunday either. Then there is Super Bowl Sunday! It is getting harder and harder (so I hear) to make adequate preparations for the big game--and halftime shows!!--if 2 or 3 hours of the morning are taken up with church. Along with cancelling Sunday evening worship services that day, it would sure be convenient (read "family-friendly") to cancel morning worship, as well. The same could be done for Independence Day, Memorial Day, President's Day, Columbus Day, Armistice Day, Pearl Harbor Day (that's today; rats! too late for this year), May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Immaculate Conception Day (tomorrow), Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, Flag Day, Thanksgiving and several others that I am sure simply escape my mind at the moment. In fact, if megachurch officials put their heads together, I bet they could come up with a schedule that would allow people to get by with attending Sunday worship services maybe only twice a year. Since Christmas and Easter are out, what about Halloween and April Fool's Day (assuming, of course, that the witches and atheists won't mind).

Ah, but here is the real dilemma that is raised by these December 25 cancellations: are the churches that are doing this banning or celebrating Christmas? It is very important that we know the answer to this question. Otherwise, how will we know whether to boycott or applaud them?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas Irony

Over the next 3 weeks nearly everyone will be talking about Christmas. Schools will close and stores will stay open longer as everyone makes plans to celebrate the most widely observed holiday on our calendar.

Of course, for many (perhaps most) Americans, Christmas is simply an excuse to spend money they don't have on toys they don't need and to do it all under the guise of observing a religious holiday.

In some ways there is a great deal of irony associated with Christmas. Think about it. Our society still regards Christmas as a very religious day and many people who rarely, if ever go to church, will make a point to attend some kind of religious service in connection with the holiday.

But, nowhere has God instructed us to celebrate the birth of Jesus on an annual basis. The irony is that millions of people will erroneously think that they are doing something that pleases God by entering into a celebration which He has not commanded.

Don't get me wrong. I am not among those who think that celebrating the birth of Jesus is sinful because the Bible doesn't command it. I believe that Christians can observe the birth of their King in a way that honors God. There certainly was a celebrative announcement of His birth by the heavenly host two thousand years ago.

But, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that we can blatantly disregard what God has clearly called us to be and do for 364 days a year and then somehow, by celebrating one holiday which He has not commanded us to observe, we can thereby gain His favor. There is the tragic irony of typical American thinking about Christmas.

It is also ironic the way that most Americans go about celebrating Christmas. Let's be honest, for most of us in the USA, Christmas has become an excuse to imbibe the spirit of covetousness that lives within us all. The most blatant displays of materialism in our culture are centered around Christmas.

Don't you find that ironic? Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, gave up all the wealth He enjoyed as the eternal Son of God, and impoverished Himself in order to become a man. He didn't have a home to call His own; He had to be loaned a boat from which to preach, and when it came time for Him to die, He had to be buried in a borrowed tomb.

Jesus said that life is not found in number of possessions that you own. He told us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but in heaven. Yet, the holiday that celebrates His birth provides the most consumeristic, materialistic season of the year. It's ironic.

Again, please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing sinful about giving or receiving gifts. But there is a real danger that comes from focusing too much on the gifts that are given or received.

Many of us are very aware of this. We feel the tension. Parents of young children especially feel it. Their kids see the TV commercials, read the newspaper advertisements and see the billboards and store displays. They know that XBox is the hottest new video game system on the market. The pressure of our consumeristic culture combined with the passions of children who have been inundated by multi-million dollar ad campaigns that target them often prod parents, even Christian parents, to cave into the into the materialism of our age...because it's Christmas!

We must be diligent not to fall into this trap of regarding the birth of Christ more as consumers than Christians. One of the best ways that I know to do this is to take the opportunity to ask the question, "Why Christmas?" This is a great approach to take with the children in our homes and neighborhoods and, in the right context, it can lead to evangelistic conversations with adults, as well. Try to get people to think beyond the holiday to that which occasions it. "What's behind all the manger scenes and Christmas carols?" "Where did they come from?"

Even in our post-modern, post-Christian society there is a good possibility that your conversation partner will bring up the name of Jesus. If he doesn't then you can and you can push the question toward the evangelistic bull's eye: "Why was Jesus born?" "Why did God do it?"

The Apostle Paul gives us a one sentence answer to this question in 1 Timothy 1:15, and it is a sentence worth memorizing. In 25 English words he gives us a wonderful summary of everything the Bible has to say about the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ. As we enter into the Christmas season, this sentence can particularly become a great tool not only to help us in our witnessing but also to rescue us as we feel ourselves being drawn into the craziness and busyness of the next few weeks, Materialism cannot abide long where fresh thoughts of the incarnation and atonement live.

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."

Thomas Bilney was one of the first Reformation martyrs in 16th century England. In 1520 he enrolled at Cambridge where he studied church law. As an ardent Roman Catholic, he repeatedly sought out a priest to hear his confession and to seek forgiveness. But none of his studies brought him peace. Known as "little Bilney" because he was short, one day, against the orders of church officials, he purchased a Latin translation of Erasmus's Greek New Testament. And behind locked doors, out of fear of being caught, he began to read. Soon he came across these words of Paul to Timothy. Listen to his description of what happened:

I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Timothy 1. "It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief...." This one sentence, through God's instruction and inward working ... did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that even immediately I seemed unto myself inwardly to feel a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that "my bruised bones leaped for joy" (Psalm 52). After this, the Scripture began to be more pleasant unto me than the honey or the honey-comb. (from Foxe's Acts & Monuments).

Bilney became a leader of a group of theologians who met at the famous White Horse Inn in Cambridge and who gave themselves to advancing the cause of the Reformation in England. He was ultimately arrested and burned at the stake as a heretic in 1531. In the good news of this one verse, he discovered something that so utterly transformed his life that he was willing to die for it.

It made his "bones leap for joy." Now that's what I call the Christmas spirit!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Spurgeon on Christmas

JM asked about Spurgeon's view of Christmas. I like Spurgeon on this subject because he does not fit easily into either of the simple pre-cut molds that tend to dominate those with strong opinions on whether Christians should even acknowledge, much less celebrate Christmas. In one corner you have those who give a resounding "NO" to this question. After all, the Bible does not even hint at celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ annually. Furthermore, Christmas is an adaptation of a pagan festival and "what hath light to do with darkness?" In the other corner are those who seem to think that anything less than an all-out celebration of Christmas--even by those who are not Christians--is an assault on our faith and one more indication of how godless our culture has become.

Spurgeon's views are considerably more nuanced than either of these. He is clear that Christmas is not a biblical holiday and so minces no words in criticizing the attempt to equate it with vital Christianity. He sometimes ridicules and chides the observance of Christmas as a "popish festival." This point of view is what is most often quoted when Spurgeon and Christmas come up. For example:

On Sunday morning, December 24, 1871, entitled, "Joy Born at Bethlehem," Spurgeon began his sermon with these words:
"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 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. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior's birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. ... It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. ... Probably the fact is that the "holy" days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless since, the current of men's thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men's superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son."

He had little patience with his Protestant brethren who made much of the day out of religious devotion. Yet, Spurgeon was far from a Scrooge. Nor did he think it some violation of Scripture to utilize the inevitable emphasis of the season to preach the incarnate Christ. So it is easy to find sermons on the birth of Christ that he preached around Christmas time.

In December of 1855 he preached on "The Incarnation and Birth of Christ" from Micah 5:2. His opening words were these:

THIS is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

"Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way."

In the same vein Spurgeon preached a message entitled, "Mary's Song," based on Luke 1:46-47 (#606, MTP). In it he says,

Observe, this morning, the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a "Merry Christmas." Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word "merry." It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one's mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, "They began to be merry." This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart's desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be "merry." Mary's heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, "Glory to God in the highest," while we sing "On earth peace, goodwill towards men." Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior."

Finally, someone sent me this quote several years ago. It certainly sounds like Spurgeon, but I have not been able to document it. If you know where it comes from, please let me know. Whether he said it or not, it expresses the sentiments of my own heart very well.

"Now a happy Christmas to you all; and it will be a happy Christmas if you have God with you. I shall say nothing to day against festivities on this great birthday of Christ. We will to-morrow think of Christ's birthday; we shall be obliged to do it, I am sure, however sturdily we may hold to our rough Puritanism. And so, 'let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavend bread of sincerity and truth.' Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus; do not live to-morrow as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting to-morrow, celebrate your Saviour's birth; do not be ashamed to be glad; you have a right to be happy. Solomon says, 'Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.'
"Religion never was designed to make your pleasures less."

Recollect that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem; let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given. I finish by again saying, ---

"A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL"

That is my wish, as well.

The Boycotts are Working!!! We Are WINNING!!!

"Great News! Walgreens Says 'Next Year Will Be Different!'"

That was the headline of the December 1 email I got from the American Family Association (AFA). Because of the efforts of those who threatened boycotts, Walgreens got the message. And they are not the only ones. Lowe's also got the message and has replaced "Holiday Trees" signs with the obviously biblical and theologically correct designation of "Christmas Trees."

The AFA email states, "Your actions are bringing good results! We are hearing that many retailers are re-thinking their banning Christmas. Keep up the good work!" Banning Christmas! Just who do those retailers think they are? Even USA Today is sitting up and taking notice of this advance of Christianity through the intimidation of retailers (HT: Stan). If we all pull together and really work hard, maybe by next year we will be able to coerce every major retailer not only to advertize "Christmas specials" in December but also to set up manger scenes at the doors of their stores. That will really show them!

And...after we get finished dealing with Lowe's and Walgreens and others of their ilk who tried to "ban Christmas," I hope some American evangelical will be spiritually courageous enough to lead the charge against Charles Spurgeon and all those Puritans who decried Christmas in their day. If we are going to take America back for Christ(mas) then we need to be warned against all those who refuse to make of this holiday what our great nation has made of it over the last 200 years!

As a Christian, all of this has really put me in the holiday spirit!