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.
They 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: https://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: https://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.