Arminian Today

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How Did Famous Arminians Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas brings up different emotions for me.  On the one hand, I have fond memories of Christmas as both a boy and an adult.  I have appreciated Christmas over the years.  Yet on the negative side is watching my own boys grow up in a culture where Christmas means one thing: presents.  Lost is the focus of the incarnation of God.

As a history buff, I am also torn on Christmas itself.  The practice of Christmas, as we know it now, is really the product of 19th and 18th century practices coming from Germany and England to the United States and because of the economic power of the United States, the practice of Christmas as focused on gifts and stuff is by in large an American edition to the holiday.  While both Germans and Brits did give gifts to each other in the late 19th century, the excessive nature of gift giving is a largely American focus.  Santa Claus, as we know him today, is the product of advertisement from 1931.  The really St. Nicholas was a bishop who was at the council of Nicaea and tradition tells us that he punched Arias for his blasphemy toward the deity of Jesus Christ.  Not the picture of Santa Claus we think of today!

When it comes to Church History, how did early Arminians celebrate Christmas?  I am only speculating based off information from that era and not off direct statements from Arminians themselves.

Let us begin with Arminius and the early Remonstrants.  No doubt they would have followed the Calvinist tradition of rejecting Christmas.  John Calvin had made Christmas illegal to celebrate in Geneva and Calvin viewed the day as more pagan than divine.  Calvin, like all the Reformers, viewed the Catholic Church as corrupt and vile. Calvin viewed the popery as the antichrist.  Calvin viewed the various Catholic holidays as having nothing to do with the gospel.  Calvin then rejected the Catholic celebration of Christ’s Mass (or Christmas).  Arminius, who studied under Calvin’s son-in-law and successor, Theodore Beza, would have likely rejected Christmas for the same reasons.  Arminius wrote much like Calvin on the popery and he too viewed the Catholic church as corrupt and he called her “the great whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:5-6).  I suspect that Arminius would not have celebrated any Catholic holidays and neither would the Remonstrants.

By the time of John Wesley, England was a mixed bag when it came to Christmas.  The Puritans had sought to end the day called Christmas and even sought to officially change the name to Christtide.  The name didn’t stick.  The Puritans, like the Reformers, viewed themselves as Protestants and not Catholic and wanted nothing to do with the Catholic holidays.  The Puritan in 18th century America made it illegal to celebrate Christmas in many of their towns in New England.  They allowed “the strangers” (non-Puritan immigrants) to practice Christmas but only in their own homes.  The Puritans made sure to work on Christmas as to show they were not resting or celebrating with the Catholics.  In this environment, John Wesley came.  Wesley likely would have been in-between having strong love for the Church of England and his love for the Puritans.  Wesley never condemns the holiday but we find no record of him practicing it either.  Yet his brother Charles wrote Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which would become a theologically accurate hymn for Christmas that is sung even today by Catholics.

I suppose that we could bring up other Arminians in the past and show their views on the day.  What would Adam Clarke say?  Clarke opposed Charles Wesley’s organ playing in church so I suppose he would oppose Christmas in the church.  In his Bible Commentary Clarke notes in passing that Jesus was not born on December 25th and reasons that He was born possibly around late September since the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks (Luke 2:8).  Clarke makes no mention of Christmas.

Richard Watson likewise makes no mention of Christmas in his Theological Dictionary.  Watson does mention that Catholicism is heretical and unbiblical so it is safe to say that he would not have regarded Christmas with fondness.  Watson also takes aim at the heretical Catholic mass.

Today all Arminians that I know of have no trouble with Christmas.  The day has become a day to remember and ponder the birth of the Son of God.  I agree with Arminius and with others before me that the day is likely the day that Jesus was born on nor is a Christian less a Christian if they don’t celebrate Christmas.  In our day the birth of the Lord Jesus has largely become a day of giving of gifts, commercialism, Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.  The glory of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus has been either completely ignored by the secular or watered down by the Church.  I have often joked with my wife that it is the one time of the year that secular radio plays Christian songs and Christian radio plays secular Christmas songs.  It is the one time of the year that Christian radio will play Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and secular radio will play a secular artist singing “Silent Night.”

The reality is that Christmas does cause us, no matter who we are, to atlases acknowledge Jesus.  Militant atheists want to deny that Jesus even existed yet Christmas points to the biblical reality that Jesus did in fact live and the world continues to acknowledge this.  Secularist want to remove Jesus from Christmas and, like Easter before it, make it about children and about more stuff (greed).  Yet the incarnation of God (John 1:14) is still there.  While December 25th was probably not His birthdate, the reality of the birth of the Son of God drives unbelievers and sinners mad.

In my estimation, Christmas is neither good nor evil.  It is not biblical but it does point to a biblical reality: that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35).  Jesus was born to die (Matthew 1:21).  He came to shed His blood for our salvation.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus should cause us to worship and adore Him for what He did for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11).

The world has no problem with the Baby in the manger.  They have a problem with their sins and with the Judge of all the earth (Romans 1:18-21).  While the unbelieving world will celebrate the birth of the Messiah this December 25th, we disciples are looking to Hebrews 9:27-28 and we declare the Jesus is Lord!

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/23/2014 at 4:30 PM

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