Does Christmas belong in Worship?

Charlton Rhinehart

Many churches of Christ include some aspects of Christmas in their December worship in our current age, and many congregations of the Lord’s body still do not. Which is right? Does it really matter? What about scripture? What about growth? What about reaching the lost? What about spirit and truth? All of these are thoughts to consider on the subject, and yes – it matters.

The basic argument is something along these lines: There is no “Christmas” mentioned in the Bible, there is no celebration of Christ’ birth annually by the scriptural church, therefore Christmas should not be something brought into the church’s worship. Granted most all the members of the church celebrate some American-type traditions of Christmas at home such as a tree, lights and Santa Clause for their children; but for some the line is drawn at the church and rather or not to include the religious aspects of Christmas in worship, and this is a major offense to those who do incorporate the two. I am sure this whole issue looks foolish to the world of various denominations and community churches, but until you have studied the importance of biblical worship, then you cannot comprehend how important this issue is to us.

The other side of the argument in the church is fairly common also, for those who want to include Christmas in the church, first the concern with scriptural worship is acknowledged because we all come from the same basic understanding of the restoration. Then the shift is made that it is Christ’ birth that we are talking about, and the scriptures make a big deal about that. Who are we to suppress the teaching of the birth of Jesus? Next we address the lost, how many are looking for truth this time of year through the birth of Christ, and the fact that we are missing out on those opportunities because we do not include Christmas in worship and in our church efforts. These congregations will then modify the sermon to be about some aspect of the birth of Christ, there will be several of the songs replaced with the usual Christmas themed church songs already in our mainstream song books. We stick a tree out in the foyer and we give away some hams to the poor that we talk about but never have seen. But through all this we keep in mind that we are still seeking a simple worship as seen in scripture, so an extravagant Christmas program is not what any of us are comfortable doing.

So which way is right? Truth be told it seems neither side is very far apart. The progressive side is just a different but still biblical lesson away, and even a few scriptural songs from the progressive side is nearly all that separates us. The reality however is that these two congregations are very different, and these details matter to God and must matter to us.

All the details of the restoration matters to us, because we know that they matter to God. We know the structure of the church is vital, I am writing to the members of the church so I feel no reason to explain. But we know there is no way we can substitute our structure with the common pastor or headquarters of our society. We know that our teachings of salvation cannot be ignored, all of the plan of salvation is truth that is absolute and necessary. We know that worship matters, far more than we would have ever thought, but we know what happened to Uzzah at the ark, to the houses without blood over the doors at Passover, to Nadab and Abihu, or with Cain and Able’s sacrifice. We know the importance of the measurements of Noah’s ark and of the instructions of Solomon’s temple. We know why Saul’s sacrifice was wrong and that it is better to obey than to sacrifice. We know why Naaman had to wash in the Jordan and not the rivers of Damascus, we know why the blind man had to wash in the pool of Siloam, and we know about Ananias and Sapphira. We know about the pattern of the tabernacle in the Old Testament, and we know about the pattern of the apostles pertaining to the church as the Spirit guided them into truth.

We know our responsibilities to worship in spirit and in truth and we know that appealing to the lost by compromising those things is absolutely no excuse. We know that a sermon on the birth of Christ is right, but we also know that to do so on the closest Sunday to Christmas is deceiving to our visitors, our youth and ourselves. We cannot let ourselves compromise any of our teachings for the sake of pretending to be a group that we are not. If a visitor is really looking for a Christmas service, do we really think that any of us can compete with the world’s churches? They have plays and solos, they have instruments and stage lights, they have choirs and a live manger scene, the sky is the limit when there is no guide to go by. Even the most liberal congregation of us who still clings to our name for whatever reason cannot offer those things. We have something far greater to offer, we have truth, the truth of the scriptures, the truth of biblical worship, the truth of the church of the bible and freedom from the distractions that pseudo-christianity spends their focus on.

If Christmas is mentioned in the church’s worship then let it be because we are addressing the truth about it. If we want to speak on the birth of Christ because it is on everyone’s mind then so be it, but let’s make it clear in the same lesson that we are not doing so because we are incorporating Christmas into our worship. Christ died for the church, if we are going to be that church then we will be different, we will follow the pattern of the apostles and not the pattern of the world and it’s divisions of Christ. Even if we knew the exact day of Jesus birth it would make no difference, if the church of the bible did not practice it in their worship, then neither can we. We don’t have to be rude about what we believe, we don’t even expect the world to understand us without studying with them deeply, but we’ve got to be the pillar of truth, and we cannot be that by pretending to be someone else.

“You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” Galatians 4:10-11 NASB

In Vain Do They Worship Me, Teaching As Doctrines The Precepts Of Men.” Mark 7:7

Christian Meditation?

Charlton Rhinehart

Meditation has become somewhat popular in our western culture, it has always been a major part of oriental cultures, but Americans are starting to catch on too. Think of how many exercise classes incorporate some element of meditation now. The same is true in various types of counseling and therapy, and of course there are many spiritual or religious movements using meditation. Meditation is a major part of many religions and it is also a fundamental part of Christianity, but the meditation spoke of in the Bible is very different from meditation of the world’s religions.

Recently I was in a group where we were being spoken to by a public speaker who was also a practicing Buddhist. While her religion was not at all the focus of her subject, she still began her talk by having us participate in some meditation (something that I knew came from her religion and culture). She began by having us close our eyes, to focus on our breathing, to forget about our concerns, and mostly to relax. It was a nice way to pull us in, a nice experience to relax some, but I couldn’t help but be on guard a little knowing where the practice comes from. The experience had me thinking, what is meditation? How could it be good or bad? Is it right to do or is it just a waste of time to distract us from what we should be doing?

Meditation is spoken of many times in scripture, mostly in the Psalms. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessed man who keeps his way from trouble, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and nightPsl 1:2 NASB. Notice what the mediation is upon and what this meditation must be like. It is a focus on the law of the Lord, a concentration on those things and it is this man’s joy – his delight. Perhaps this reminds you of Psalm 119 where the word of God is praised in the longest chapter of the bible, it is also where we find the word meditate many times again. “I will meditate on Thy precepts…” v. 15, “… I will meditate on Thy statutes” v.48, “…that I may meditate on Thy word” v.148. Many other Psalms use the term also, such as 143:5, “… I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the works of Thy hands”. It is easy to see what is being described, to meditate is to think upon a particular item. This last passage even gives us an alternative term to help us understand it – to muse on the subject or to be consumed in thought and focus on these aspects of the Lord; particularly His commands and desires for us, the power of Him and His creation, or the eternal aspects our minds struggle to comprehend. This is what meditation is, it is focus, deep thought, concentration, and reverence toward what God has revealed. What good is the word of God if we never meditate on what it means? How can we ever respect the authority of God if we never meditate on His power? Meditation is a key aspect to the man of God under the Old or New Covenant, if we truly are thinking on and concerned with what God has said, what he has done, and what He will do, then we are meditating on Him.

In contrast, the meditation of the world’s religions is far different from the meditation we find in scripture. Perhaps a decent summary of the world’s meditation would be a way to simply relax, to set aside stress and connect with the spiritual things as we imagine them. There is a mindless aspect to this worldly meditation. As I looked further into the meditation of the Buddhist and similar religions, their meditation was described as a way of setting all these concerns aside in order to focus on one thing. I thought for a moment that there is something similar there we could relate to, that in order to focus on one thing, (such as the law of God), we must lay aside our other concerns. But when you consider the ultimate goal of their meditation – nirvana, it is evident that progress, conclusion and understanding from this thought process is not the goal. Nirvana in the Buddhist religion is the hard to reach point of meditation that reaches the peak of total emptiness, it is to be completely apart from your concerns or even your own awareness of who you are, unaware of your situations that might take your thoughts away from this mental place of perfect freedom. Its goal is not focus on any particular item, but rather just the opposite – it is the achievement of forgetting about everything for a moment. This may sound great to the person in need of a vacation, but it is in stark contrast to the sober and alert Christian of the New Testament (1 Pet 5:7, Acts 20:28), and it also isn’t the way of the Psalmist who is concerned of the devil’s snare and the Lord’s teachings (Psl 1). The meditation of the Buddhist or Hindu is a way to simply escape their current problems rather than face what needs to be done by God’s instruction. It offers no more than a drug or drink of alcohol, a simple escape for the moment and a way to avoid seeking the truth which is true meditation.  

Meditation is an important part of our Christian walk, without it we will never apply what God has taught us, we will never appreciate what we have been given, or acknowledge the power that God holds. Biblical meditation is far different from the meditation that the world shows us and it nearly the complete opposite of what the other religions have made it to be. As usual, the God of the Bible stands in obvious contrast to the gods of the world, and He differs in meditation too.

The book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and you will have success.Joshua 1:8