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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

You Know it is Christmas (When All the Pharisees Come Out)

Nov 28, 2015

They have a real sense of their own self-importance. They think they are spiritually superior to others. They will judge and condemn others for doing things that they won’t do, or for not doing things that they do. They are purists, but follow manmade rules of purity.

They are, in a word, Pharisees. And let me tell you, Pharisees are alive and well in today’s church just as much as they were back in the days of Jesus and his ministry. And they are a plague today just as they were back then. In addition to having the typical “holier-than-thou” attitude, they are legalists, trying to force all believers to observe their manmade rules and regulations.

I say all this because we know Christmas is coming early – I have already had to deal with these misguided brethren who attack you and condemn you if you dare to mention the ‘C’ word. I have already had to unfriend some whackos who insist that if we celebrate the birth of Jesus we are on a par with devil worshipers.

christmas 8They really are arrogant, clueless wonders who would make the Pharisees of old real proud. Indeed, there is nothing at all virtuous or Christlike about these confused believers who actually gloat and revel in their ignorance of all things theological, biblical, and historical.

They simply demonstrate their lack of humility and Christian grace. And covering up their ignorance with pseudo-spirituality is all very off-putting as well. I grow a bit tired of such folks to be honest. They are purists who condemn fellow Christians, and they are new legalists, the very sort that Paul and others regularly condemned.

I of course have written up in detail why we are not antichrists if we actually celebrate our Lord’s birth at Christmas: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/12/christmas-of-pagan-origins/

And sadly we get the same lunacy from these misguided folks at Easter time, so I have written that up in detail as well: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/03/29/easter-of-pagan-origins/

But every year at these two times they come out of the woodwork like clockwork. Folks you never hear from all of a sudden emerge in rage and self-righteousness as they condemn you for actually being thankful that Christ was born. As I wrote in those two articles, of course we reject the consumerism and materialism, and celebrate these days for what they actually are all about.

But that does not stop these Pharisees from going on the attack. To be honest, I am so over these folks. If they actually studied things a bit, instead of relying on some nutjob conspiracy theorist on a YouTube video somewhere, they would see that they are completely out to lunch on these matters.

But no, their minds are made up, and no amount of evidence – both historical and biblical – will change their minds. They simply emote their way through life, attacking everyone and everything, instead of using their minds for the glory of God.

As such, most of these folks are unreachable, and I advise against wasting too much time with them. But for those who are open, and are asking honest questions about all this, then let me say a few more words (in addition to what I have already written in the above two articles).

A simple reading of Scripture should really put an end to all this foolishness. Just one verse should suffice, but I realise that Pharisees prefer the traditions of men over the clear teachings of the Bible. What about Colossians 2:16 for starters: “Therefore, let no one judge you because of what you eat or drink or about the observance of annual holy days, New Moon Festivals, or weekly worship days.”

Umm, does it get any more clear and straightforward than this? This really should be the end of the matter. It is crystal clear that Paul thinks such days are a non-issue, and we should never be judging our brothers over such matters. And Paul speaks to this in various other places.

For example, these purists and legalists need to read Romans 14 as well. Over and over again in this important chapter Paul tells folks not to let others judge you in regard to what you eat, what days you observe, and so on. As Romans 14:5-6 says,

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

And of course the entire book of Galatians is all about this. In it Paul takes on the legalists and Judaisers big time. The epistle has rightly been called an epistle of liberty or freedom. The whole theme of the book is that Christ has set us free from manmade laws and regulations, and we should not allow anyone to put us under new restrictions and burdens.

Indeed, Paul offers the strongest words of denunciation for such people, even saying that those who seek to do this should be “accursed” (Gal. 3:1-14). He uses some of his strongest language of rebuke for these legalists. Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7).

He calls them “foolish” and says they have been “bewitched” (Gal. 3:1). He even had to publicly rebuke Peter over these matters (Gal. 2:11-21). And he is forced to ask this question of the problematic Galatians: “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).

And the overarching theme of freedom in Christ is also forcefully proclaimed and celebrated. As we read in Gal. 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

In Gal. 2:4-5 he speaks about some of these battles of slavery versus freedom: “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

But these new legalists do not seem to like freedom in Christ, and want to put us all under new yokes of manmade legalism – all in their spurious efforts to remain “uncontaminated” from the world. Well I have news for these guys: the only way they will be so “pure” is if they move into a cave somewhere.

Every day they “contaminate” themselves with worldliness and paganism. When they fill the car with petrol, they may well have a pagan taking their money. When they deal with a checkout chick at a grocery store, she may be a Satanist. When they buy a loaf of bread they may be doing business with a raving New Ager.

We cannot avoid coming into contact with pagans and imbibing, at least indirectly, with all sorts of non-Christian practices, beliefs and activities. That is what we would expect as we live in a fallen world, and seek to reach out to our non-Christian neighbours. As one US friend said elsewhere:

“Once again the season has come in which legalistic Christians try to come off superior to everyone else, by harrumphing that “Christmas is pagan!” If you choose to be paranoid, you can find pagan connections in ANYTHING. The first violins were invented by pagans, so if you allow a violin to be played in church, you’re a pagan. Potatoes were first cultivated by pagans, so if you eat a potato, you’re a pagan. The Latin alphabet was created by pagans, so if you WRITE anything using the alphabet that the English language uses, you’re a pagan.”

Quite so. Let me conclude by saying that if you think I am pushing antinomianism or license here, you obviously know nothing about me. In my 3500+ articles, I would have penned hundreds arguing for a holy, cruciform life, warning against lawlessness and license.

As always we must find the biblical balance, and avoid unbiblical extremes. The idea that we can live like the devil because we are saved by grace is one such extreme to be avoided at all costs. But so too is the new legalism that would put us all under bondage of manmade rules and regulations. Both are wrong and both must be avoided like the plague.

In sum, let me say this with the full authority of Jesus and Paul: If you want to celebrate the birth of our Saviour at Christmas, go right ahead. If you don’t want to, that is fine as well. But what is not fine is to judge and condemn your brothers and sisters in Christ if they do that which differs from your own convictions on this matter.

As soon as you start judging them and condemning them for their choices, you are no longer walking in love or Christian grace. You have then become a Pharisee, and for that, you need to repent.

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17 Responses to You Know it is Christmas (When All the Pharisees Come Out)

  • Thank you, Bill, that’s very helpful.

  • Good article Bill.

    I like Christmas and especially Easter. It is the one time people may consider going to Church. A one admits or imply it is for tradition. Another I know a convinced atheist actually goes to a Christmas service (for me I am amazed), but these are good times as this may be the only time many people will hear Gods Word and to hear how he sent His Son to die for our Sins.

  • Christmas is celebrated, focused in christ , Easter the resurrection of christ to be celebrated . Yes as you said Bill . We don’t celebrate paganism . It’s all to do with christ . He is the reason for the season . He is the reason we live ! Yes last year may got aggressive and said you celebrate it your of the devil . Glad a pastor stood up and spoke in saying we celebrate because of christ ! He’s the Savior of the world . Many do get aggressive with laws but they forget we are christ centered in all we celebrate . Christmas is about Christ . So its to other’s get over the religious beliefs and acknowledge christ . Celebrate Jesus Christ ! Not paganism it’s christ . In christmas . We don’t do mass . We do christ !!

  • Well written, Bill.
    I think another fad of the new Pharisees is the KJV-only movement. As if Satan wants us to read the Bible in our own language rather than an archaic one! *facepalm*

  • All the days of the year belong to the Lord. Yay for turning a pagan holiday into a Christian one!

  • Happy Christmas, Bill.

  • While I appreciate your views as expressed above, Bill, I wish to state an alternative view.
    First, let me make clear at the outset that I do not necessarily endorse the views of those rather rabid extremists who outlaw not only Christmas but Easter and the Christian calendar in general. Indeed, I have written a book, currently with the publishers, Wipf and Stock, entitled, “Through the Christian Year with Charles Wesley: 101 Psalms and Hymns”, which will like be available early in the new year. So I have sympathy with the classic Christian calendar, albeit not wedded to it, since it is the legacy, not of Scripture, but of Christian tradition.

    What I do not have sympathy with is the rank commercialism, secularism, and pagan jollity and mythology (Santa Claus, reindeer, and the like) which comes with the festival. I’m sure most here would agree with that in principle; however, it has become so rife, so crass, and so rampant that I and my wife have come to the conclusion, “Let the pagans and the world have their “Christmas”; it was originally theirs, and it’s theirs again.” We will observe the festival by withdrawing as much from the world as we possibly can.” That means no decorations, no presents, no gorging, etc. – none of that. We will give some presents to our grandchildren, but otherwise we will give extra to Christian organisations for their work in lands where persecution and poverty reign.

    I appeal to all on this board to rethink their commitment to Christmas, reject its crass materialism, have nothing to do with its unfruitful works of darkness. Observe the day if you wish, by all means, but observe it unto the Lord, not with the trappings of the world and its secular jollity.

    For too long Christians have gone along with this. The lesson came home to me some years ago when I went for the midnight shop at Chadstone shopping mall, and at midnight I saw this huge, surging mass of people, each with armloads of merchandise, pushing and shoving to get this and that item from wherever. I thought, “What in the name of all that’s holy does this have to do with the birth of Christ?” Answer: nothing whatever! I have never forgotten that vision, and from then on I resolved to opt out. It is nothing less than the modern manifestation of making the temple of God into a place of business (cf. John 2:16).

    No, Marita, I cannot say, “Yay for turning a pagan holiday into a Christian one!” Whatever it might have been in the past it is a pagan holiday again.

    I fear in what has become “the silly season” Christians have forgotten the counsel of the Preacher,
    “The heart of there wise is in the house of mourning,
    While the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
    It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
    Than for one to listen to the song of fools.” Eccl.7:4-5
    In other words, forget the frivolity and nonsense, and get serious!

  • While I drive my bus I sing (make a joyful noise to the Lord). I don’t know Jesus’ actual birthday, so I sing Christmas Carols all year (only ones that honour the Lord). Anybody who sits too close to the front is likely to hear the Gospel. How would the Pharisees cope with that?

  • Sorry Bill,
    I find difficulty with this piece of yours.
    I find it rather ironic to admonish fellow believers by noting freedom with Holy days (Colossians 2:16) when these folk don’t wish to celebrate a Holy day!
    I’m not saying some people don’t stray beyond their authority in this liberty, but do highlight the points raised in comments on your earlier post linked. There are concerns sincere believers have over the Christmas Holy Day and to mark all such as Pharisees, even if responding out of some frustration, seems hypocritical given the Liberty being inferred.
    Jeremy

  • Come on, Bill, I like your articles but this one sounds a bit like you are offended over the very same thing you accuse the “Pharisees” of?

    To be clear, I do not have an issue with celebrating the birth of our Saviour but the man in the red suit and his reindeer’s – no way.

    Satan loves it when Christians get into these kinds of arguments as it has nothing to do with the coming Kingdom. No one will lose their salvation by celebrating or not celebrating Christmas.

    You wrote “A simple reading of Scripture should really put an end to all this foolishness. Just one verse should suffice, but I realise that Pharisees prefer the traditions of men over the clear teachings of the Bible”

    I would say that celebrating the birth of our saviour is a “tradition of men over the clear teachings of the Bible” as well? Not sure you will find any requirement to celebrate His birth in the Bible.

    Romans 14:5 One person considers some days more holy than others, while someone else regards them as being all alike. What is important is for each to be fully convinced in his own mind.

    This principle for dealing with doctrinal and practical disputes must be balanced with;

    2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living;

    Where Scripture gives a clear word, personal opinion must give way. But where the Word of God is subject to various possible interpretations, let each be persuaded in his own mind while at the same time outdoing one another in showing respect for each other

    (Rom 12:10) Love each other devotedly and with brotherly love; and set examples for each other in showing respect.

    Otherwise keep up the good work Bill.

  • Thanks guys. The purpose of this article was rather straight forward of course: I don’t mind if folks celebrate Christmas, and I don’t mind if they do not. What does concern me and many others is the ugly judging and condemning by some on those who take a differing view. If it were not for such ornery Pharisees, I would have not even bothered to write this piece. That some of you want to criticise me – even with lengthy comments – is perhaps simply illustrative of what I have been saying here: some folks seem to want to make a big deal out of all this, even though Paul says we should not.

    And some of my critics have obviously not even bothered to read carefully what I wrote. I of course never said that everyone who does not celebrate Christmas is a Pharisee. And as is plain to see, in both my pieces I clearly stated that biblical Christians will obviously reject all the consumerism and materialism that has become attached to the day. Shooting down straw men does not an argument make. But I have said what I wish to here, and there is no need to belabour all this. Indeed, I have moved on already, and feel no need to keep arguing about this ad nauseam ad infinitum. But thanks for your thoughts.

  • I made the mistake of agreeing with someone on just one tiny facet of the Christmas issue. It was really very small. Next thing I know, I’m in the doghouse for posting how to make a Christmas Tree out of fabric that requires no stitching. Wow! I’d no idea how radically pagan that seemed and how I was on a fast track to hell. People can really get ridiculous…….

  • Bill, I reread you article and think it is a superior piece on this issue. Really, it’s an indication of how soft or hard it is to be a Christian in any given nation, when you consider the various views on this subject. I once read that Christians in China pray for us in the USA, that we might be able to stand fast when persecution hits, because we aren’t used to the trials and hardships of fierce persecution by the state. If we are caught up in judging our fellow believers over a holiday/Holy Day Season of celebration, it would seem our earthly state as a believer is a very soft one. I mean, if I’m in peril of my physical life for the name of Christ, I hardly have the time or inclination to worry about my brother displaying a Christmas tree in his front window….

  • Another good article Bill.

    Merry Christmas, however you chose (or not) to celebrate it.

    Personally, I see it as an opportunity to share what Christmas is truly about, especially with unsaved family who are not open to hearing about Jesus at other times of the year.

  • Thankfully I was not indoctrinated in a load of man made traditions.
    If someone was taught to believe that a pagan ceremony is part of Christianity as a child; it is next to impossible to break through that indoctrination. Unless it becomes a stumbling block there is no point trying. If it is an issue, God will point their heart to seek the truth for themselves.
    The Jehovah’s witnesses have in turn made a tradition of not celebrating anything, so just another denial on the opposite end of the spectrum.
    Every mainstream church will preach the connection between the OT blood of the Lamb and the NT blood of the Lamb. Yet if you advocate that the Passover is the true celebration/remembrance you are a pharisee?? Lol
    I guess then the ultimate pharisee may be the one who advocates that Christianity is Judaism converted into universalism (Catholicism) at around 300AD.
    Jeshua came to fulfill Judeo law, not for one letter of it to pass away.
    My belief is that Christmas should contain a Mass for the Christ; of course this is very literal(fundamental). Knowing that I will feel very much like giving presents after such a joyous Mass I see no problem pre purchasing some gifts. As they are gifts I see no problem with wrapping them up to make them look more special. I would also love to have a nice meal with those I care for on such a special day.
    What I dont want to do is spend the day alone.
    So if there are any Christians who dont want to celebrate this holiday I pray they will have some nice company to share a meal and fellowship with.

  • Bill, does Jeremiah 10 (KJV) mean a Christmas tree is idolatrous?

    1 Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

    2 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.

    3 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.

    4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

    5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.

    6 Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.

  • Thanks Jo. Of course not. As I wrote in my earlier piece:

    And what about things like Christmas trees? Jeremiah 10:2-4 is often – and foolishly – cited as proving we cannot have such ‘diabolical’ things in our homes. But of course this passage was written 500 years before the birth of Christ, and has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas trees.

    One of the most common ways of making idols to worship back then was to chop down a tree and carve out of it your favourite god. What in the world does that have to do with decorations at Christmas time? Nothing whatsoever of course. Pagan idolatry was what Jeremiah had in mind – not Christmas trees.

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/12/christmas-of-pagan-origins/

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