Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy Holidays, Bah, Humbug!

During the recent Holiday Season, our brothers and sisters in Christ down the road from the Cathedral at First Baptist in Dallas stirred up some controversy over greetings during Christmas. You may have heard about it. Upset that more and more businesses were using the more politically correct “Happy Holidays” as opposed to the more traditional “Merry Christmas,” the pastor at First Baptist decided to take action. The Church produced on the website a list of the “Bah Humbug Businesses” that used the generic Happy Holiday greeting. They also listed businesses that used the clearer Christian Merry Christmas. They left it up to their members to decide who to patronize, godless materialists, or, well, you get the point.

This action generated the kind of heated discussion that one could predict with all sorts of people chiming in on whether it was appropriate to take such an action. The argument from First Baptist’s perspective seemed to be one of witness, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and of evangelism, there may be some out there who don’t know that Jesus is the reason for the season.
What I found interesting was in a completely different direction.

My grandmother was a Baptist and my earliest exposure to the Christianity was in a Baptist Church thanks to her. Back in those days, as my Grandmother carefully explained to me, Baptists didn’t celebrate December 25th as a special day, neither did they go around bubbling “Merry Christmas.” A little knowledge of History goes a long way in expressing why this was so.

Baptist historically believed, as did most Calvinist, that the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th was a Catholic late innovation that is not justifiable on the basis of Scripture. It should go without saying that nowhere in the Bible is December 25th mentioned as the date of Jesus’ birth. In the reforms generated out of Geneva in the 17th Century, Protestants tried to reform the Church basing all teaching and corporate life “solo scriptura” on the scriptures alone as the authority.

The Calvinist folks in the Church of England were called “Puritans” because they wished to purify the Church from such papal and medieval trappings. Puritans attempted to change the Church from within, but when Anglicans decided to retain certain traditions which seemed godly if not directly provable by scripture, many puritans became disenchanted. In the 1640s, they lead a revolt, indeed a civil war, that led to the execution of the English King. He was replaced by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of England. The puritan revolt was also a strongly democratic revolt, but Oliver soon imposed a dictatorial rule over England. It can be argued that England as an Empire with its world dominating navy began under his rule. Under his rule, the Puritan clergy and perspective was given free reign. And one of their first acts was to eliminate and forbid the practice of Christmas. No government officer or official could go around with Merry Christmas on his lips unless he be boiled in his own pudding and have a holly sprig stuck in his heart. Christmas did survive, but mainly among the peasants and poorest of the nation. The civil celebration of Christmas, indeed the very use of the term “Christmas” was eliminated from public life.

They did have a point. The word Christmas, after all, comes from the two words “Christ’s Mass.” Well, with Cromwell’s death, and the brooding negativity and joylessness of Puritans having dominated all life, the English Parliament restored both King and English Church along with all of its elaborate celebrations including Christmas.

Puritans and their descendants including Southern Baptists, however, never relented of their position that Christmas was both papal and even pagan in its origins. Hence, here is the origin of my Grandmother’s position, and the position of most Baptists till about 30 years ago.
Then a historically counter-intuitive thing started to happen. Many younger Baptist clergy noticed that Christmas was still around and, even in its highly commercialized existence, it created an evangelistic opportunity. Consequently, they began holding Christmas Eve services, having living Christmas trees singing carols, and some even instituted pageants retelling the Luke account of the Birth of Jesus, yes with manger, donkeys and all. After all, as the argument went, people might be wrongheaded about Christmas, sentimental to a fault, and Christmas might be commercial to a sinful degree, but people do think about Christmas, celebrate it, so why not squeeze juice out of this lemon and make some evangelistic lemonade? Personally, I think their spiritual mothers and fathers would be stunned by this action which is, after all, a betrayal of all they once fought for. But, hey, I am not a Calvinist and it is not mine to say.

This recent development, however, brings us back to our friends down the street. My question is not whether taking on political correctness was the thing to do. My question is how far they have compromised their own tradition. Now, ironically, First Baptist has become the defenders of saying “Merry Christmas,” by which we commend one another to the celebration of Christ’s Mass on December 25th.

Of course, some of you will want to say that as an Episcopalian I am only mad because Baptists are trying to steal our franchise, and you might be right. However, I still think it worthwhile to point out the ironic contradiction in their actions. There is also something more.

I am happy having folks say Happy Holidays to one another and don’t feel it my duty as a Christian pastor to correct them when they do. There are two reasons for this. First, there are other Holy Days for other religions during this time of year, and I am not comfortable with any group of Christians believing we have the right to force our particular celebration upon non-Christians. Second, there is enough soberness, humbug and mean-spiritedness in our world today. If there is a time of the year when even atheist can join in “Happy Holidays,” and we can join with them in providing toys for needed Children and clothes to keep them warm, then I think the world a bit brighter place for it. After all, isn’t the bottom line of all this that “the light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it?” I think this attitude more in the gracious spirit of the person whose birth we Christians remember at this season of the year.

Feliz Navidad,
Dean Kevin

10 comments:

Sarah said...

Hmmmm . . . I'm afraid there's a bit of "revisionist history" going on here about Baptists and Christmas, although perhaps the specific church your grandmother frequented was an odd throwback.

As noted by this brief history -- by an actual Baptist and the Executive Director of The Baptist History & Heritage Society -- of their celebration of Christmas: "By the 1890s, however, Christmas celebrations were common among Baptist congregations. Rather quickly, Christmas evolved into a time of special music and events within many Baptist churches. This rapid transformation took place even as churches and denominations alike were adopting models of organizational and operational efficiency that characterized the business world at the turn of the twentieth century."

It was prior to the 1890s that Christmas was frowned upon by Baptists -- although the article points out even several exceptions to that general rule:
http://www.baptisthistory.org/bhhs/bsb/bsb2010_12.html#first%20story

Regardless, not celebrating Christmas was certainly not "the position of most Baptists till about 30 years ago" as anyone who grew up in the South amongst Baptists and their Southern Baptist churches can recall.

So that brings us to First Baptist in Dallas, who were celebrating a 120 year old Baptist Christmas tradition, rather than "compromising" their own tradition [unless we're going to accuse all churches of "compromising" their own tradition if they're not doing the same things as, say, an arbitrary 130 years ago].

I obviously don't know First Baptist of Dallas's reasons for posting the businesses that used "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays." But I think it's a *great* idea to let the people speak through how they spend their money on whether they like the one greeting or the other. I commend First Baptist for posting that list -- it's good to know and have clarity on where different businesses stand on that, since it's one of the symbols of the growing differences between the syncretists and those who value specificity. And as we have seen in the past several years -- businesses do get the idea when their customers [or non-customers] let their voice be heard.

I'd be far far more inclined to frequent the Islamic business who wished me a Happy Ramadan, or of course the other business that wished me a Merry Christmas, over the one who says "Happy Holidays" and every year, I take more and more note of which is which and try to put my money where my mouth is.

RE: "I am happy having folks say Happy Holidays to one another and don’t feel it my duty as a Christian pastor to correct them when they do."

Nor do I feel it my duty to correct folks saying "Happy Holiday." Far better to simply support and encourage those who use Merry Christmas. Hence, my interest in First Baptist simply posting the two lists. Good stuff and I'm glad they did so.

RE: "I am not comfortable with any group of Christians believing we have the right to force our particular celebration upon non-Christians."

Greeting someone with the words of your own particular celebration is not "forcing" anything at all on non-Christians, any more than a Muslim greeting me with Happy Ramadan or a Jew with Happy Hannukah. I welcome both and will gladly respond with "and a Merry Christmas to you!"

RE: "I think this attitude more in the gracious spirit of the person whose birth we Christians remember at this season of the year."

Certainly an interesting thought.

You got me thinking, even if we don't agree.



Happy New Year!

Sarah

Dean Kevin said...

Sara,
Nothing really revisitionistic if you read your own quote. "By the 1890's . . . was becoming," hardly means that Southern Baptists in the south had eagerly embraced this practice especially in my Grandmother's (and my own home town baptist) Church where they did not acknowledge December 25th as Christmas.

As to the other points, we probably do have a difference on opinion as to whether it was a good thing for First Baptist to do this. I think it was not and seemed, as I said, mean spirited.

Sarah said...

Hi Dean Martin -- RE: "if you read your own quote." "By the 1890's . . . was becoming," . . .

. . . Hmmmm . . . that was no quote of mine. ??? I did not use the words "was becoming."

I was responding to this comment right here: "Hence, here is the origin of my Grandmother’s position, and the position of most Baptists till about 30 years ago."

I wasn't aware that "about 30 years ago" was prior to the 1890s when "Christmas celebrations were common among Baptist congregations." That's the quote I took from the brief little history from the Southern Baptist historian. I recognize that your grandmother's church must have been an odd anomaly amongst Baptist churches, but First Baptist in my home town has always outdone even the Episcopalians in Christmas things -- I suppose in keeping with the rather brief 120 year tradition that was established by the time of the 1890s for Baptist congregations.

But if that is your position -- that "most Baptists" did not acknowledge Christmas "till about 30 years ago" as opposed to the position of the Executive Director of The Baptist History & Heritage Society that by the 1890s Christmas celebrations "were common among Baptist congregations" then there is nothing that I can do about it!

It just seemed a rather strained way to get to your primary point which seems to be that we should not support, I suppose, the businesses which make it a point to use Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays.


Cheers, and Happy New Year,


Sarah

Dean Kevin said...

Sarah,
Sorry, I meant to highlight the phrase "were common". "Were common" does not imply "generally practiced" especially is the locations I mentioned.

However, my point was a bit different, namely, that churches should not make such a big deal out of such a minor matter especially since within their own history they had 350 years of not going around with "Merry Christmas" on their lips.

If my efforts at a playful poke at our righteous neighbors down the street proved offensive to you, than I beg your forgiveness.

Matt Kennedy said...

I think you may be somewhat off linking Baptists necessarily to Calvinism and then Calvinism necessarily to the puritan banning of Christmas celebrations.

I believe most Baptists (except for the Reformed Baptists of course) tend toward Arminianism. There is a growing Reformed minority among Southern Baptists but I think its still safe to say that a majority remain Arminian.

Not to mention, of course, that the root from which they take their most noteworthy characteristic--credobaptism--is located squarely in the radical (rather than magisterial) reformation and the Anabaptists.

As for Christmas and Calvin and Calvinism, it is certainly true that there were many puritan groups that did not celebrate Christmas. But such non-celebrations can hardly be blamed on Calvin. Here's an excerpt from a letter he wrote on January 2nd 1551:

"Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and without my desire, so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”

Calvin was not against the celebration of Christmas.

The ban can't even be placed on too many of his followers. Article 65 of the Church Order of Dort makes it clear that Christmas was Kosher:

"ARTICLE 65 - Ecclesiastical feast days

On Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day and at Pentecost the consistory shall call the congregation together for church services. The sacred events which the congregation commemorates in particular on these days shall therein be proclaimed.
The gospel contained in the events of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of His Holy Spirit is central to the faith of every believer, on which his temporal and eternal well-being depends. Hence the churches have maintained the practice developed over the centuries of church history to commemorate these highlights of our Saviour’s work by calling the congregations together for worship services on the day the feast is remembered. In this service, the preaching will focus on the significance of the respective feast day."

Since that time, Christmas has been observed within many, if not most, Reformed and Presbyterian bodies (save the Scottish church) so I think it difficult to link the unhappy habit of dour December 25's to Calvin or the bulk of those who are called Calvinists.

Matt Kennedy said...

I think you may be somewhat off linking Baptists necessarily to Calvinism and then Calvinism necessarily to the puritan banning of Christmas celebrations.

I believe most Baptists (except for the Reformed Baptists of course) tend toward Arminianism. There is a growing Reformed minority among Southern Baptists but I think its still safe to say that a majority remain Arminian.

Not to mention, of course, that the root from which they take their most noteworthy characteristic--credobaptism--is located squarely in the radical (rather than magisterial) reformation and the Anabaptists.

As for Christmas and Calvin and Calvinism, it is certainly true that there were many puritan groups that did not celebrate Christmas. But such non-celebrations can hardly be blamed on Calvin. Here's an excerpt from a letter he wrote on January 2nd 1551:

"Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and without my desire, so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”

Calvin was not against the celebration of Christmas.

The ban can't even be placed on too many of his followers. Article 65 of the Church Order of Dort makes it clear that Christmas was Kosher:

"ARTICLE 65 - Ecclesiastical feast days

On Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day and at Pentecost the consistory shall call the congregation together for church services. The sacred events which the congregation commemorates in particular on these days shall therein be proclaimed.
The gospel contained in the events of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of His Holy Spirit is central to the faith of every believer, on which his temporal and eternal well-being depends. Hence the churches have maintained the practice developed over the centuries of church history to commemorate these highlights of our Saviour’s work by calling the congregations together for worship services on the day the feast is remembered. In this service, the preaching will focus on the significance of the respective feast day."

Since that time, Christmas has been observed within many, if not most, Reformed and Presbyterian bodies (save the Scottish church) so I think it difficult to link the unhappy habit of dour December 25's to Calvin or the bulk of those who are called Calvinists.

Matt Kennedy said...

I think you may be somewhat off linking Baptists necessarily to Calvinism and then Calvinism necessarily to the puritan banning of Christmas celebrations.

I believe most Baptists (except for the Reformed Baptists of course) tend toward Arminianism. There is a growing Reformed minority among Southern Baptists but I think its still safe to say that a majority remain Arminian.

Not to mention, of course, that the root from which they take their most noteworthy characteristic--credobaptism--is located squarely in the radical (rather than magisterial) reformation and the Anabaptists.

As for Christmas and Calvin and Calvinism, it is certainly true that there were many puritan groups that did not celebrate Christmas. But such non-celebrations can hardly be blamed on Calvin. Here's an excerpt from a letter he wrote on January 2nd 1551:

"Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and without my desire, so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”

Calvin was not against the celebration of Christmas.

The ban can't even be placed on too many of his followers. Article 65 of the Church Order of Dort makes it clear that Christmas was Kosher:

"ARTICLE 65 - Ecclesiastical feast days

On Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day and at Pentecost the consistory shall call the congregation together for church services. The sacred events which the congregation commemorates in particular on these days shall therein be proclaimed.
The gospel contained in the events of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of His Holy Spirit is central to the faith of every believer, on which his temporal and eternal well-being depends. Hence the churches have maintained the practice developed over the centuries of church history to commemorate these highlights of our Saviour’s work by calling the congregations together for worship services on the day the feast is remembered. In this service, the preaching will focus on the significance of the respective feast day."

Since that time, Christmas has been observed within many, if not most, Reformed and Presbyterian bodies (save the Scottish church) so I think it difficult to link the unhappy habit of dour December 25's to Calvin or the bulk of those who are called Calvinists.

Matt Kennedy said...

I think you may be somewhat off linking Baptists necessarily to Calvinism and then Calvinism necessarily to the puritan banning of Christmas celebrations.

I believe most Baptists (except for the Reformed Baptists of course) tend toward Arminianism. There is a growing Reformed minority among Southern Baptists but I think its still safe to say that a majority remain Arminian.

Not to mention, of course, that the root from which they take their most noteworthy characteristic--credobaptism--is located squarely in the radical (rather than magisterial) reformation and the Anabaptists.

As for Christmas and Calvin and Calvinism, it is certainly true that there were many puritan groups that did not celebrate Christmas. But such non-celebrations can hardly be blamed on Calvin. Here's an excerpt from a letter he wrote on January 2nd 1551:

"Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and without my desire, so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.”

Calvin was not against the celebration of Christmas.

Dean Kevin said...

Matt,
Of course there is a big difference between Calvin and later Calvinist. I like one person's comment to me. Reformed "rejection" and Puritan "hatred" of Christmas - I think a good summary.

Also, I've never heart or thought of Southern Baptists as arminians, but I am open to a direct email saying more about this. My blog isn't on this subject.

Rob Eaton+ said...

Kevin,
Perhaps Matt was simply trying to suggest by compliment that you are similar the moderate John Calvin in your concerns!
Unless of course Calvin was lying when he wrote his letter in 1551 for the purpose of political expediency, because by then he had changed his position.
:)
Northern Baptists around here are very Christmas savvy; Southerns and Missionary and other Baptists are loathe to accommodate the day, but will have gatherings for worship anyway.