Statement of Belief
In general, the Scriptures indicate no specific festivals or specific observances for Christians save the assembly on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7).
The Scriptures make no commandment or memorial to honor the birth of our Lord; the Scriptures do not even mention the date of His birth.
Concerning the Lord’s death, the only memorial He has established for it in the Scriptures is the Lord’s Supper:
And He said unto them, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I shall not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
And He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I shall not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.”
And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:15-20).
Sections on this Page
- Observances and the “Church Year”
- Observances Concerning the Lord’s Birth
- Observances Concerning the Lord’s Death
- Other Observances
Observances and the “Church Year”
Over the course of the history of “Christendom,” many special observances in many forms have been established. These observances, in theory, attempt to celebrate many events in the life and death of Jesus, the founding of the church, and celebrations of various individuals over time. In many cases, these observances represent a “Christianizing” of previously pagan festivals: since the pagans would not give up their festivals, religious authorities simply provided a new Christian veneer.
None of the observances concerning which we are about to speak derive from the New Testament. We see no evidence from the New Testament that the Christians observed any of the observances described below. This silence is quite telling, especially considering their modern popularity.
In discussions such as these, however, it is important to remember Romans 14:5-6:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
While we find no Scriptural reason to observe many of these festivals and other observances, the vast majority of them most likely fit into the description here in Romans 14:5. Taking out particular days to remember events in the life of our Lord are not wrong or sinful; they are not, however, to be bound upon others.
The collection of most of the popular observances (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Annunciation, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost) comprise what is often called the “church year” in many denominations. Since these observances normally fit between November and July, they do not represent much of a substantive year. Nevertheless, such a concept is not grounded in the Scriptures, and we see no reason to limit remembrance of various aspects of the Lord’s life and death to particular times of the year.
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Birth
In some denominations, a season called Advent is observed. It begins either on November 11 or on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and it is a season to meditate upon the prophecies concerning the Christ. Many times, the observers will have calendars for Advent and will read certain Scriptures concerning the prophecies as outlined by their denomination.
While it may be beneficial to spend some time considering the prophecies regarding the Christ, the Scriptures teach nothing concerning doing so. We are to always remember the Lord’s life and His deeds on our behalf, especially in the observation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26).
In many denominations, December 25 is observed as Christmas (from the Old English christes maesse, “festival of Christ”). Christmas has its roots in pagan festivals, notably the Saturnalia of the Romans and concerning Mithras of the Persians, as a celebration of the winter solstice and the “rebirth” of the Sun. Read what Tertullian, a “church father,” has to say of such things:
The Saturnalia, New Year, Midwinter festivals, and Matronalia are frequented by us! Presents come and go! There are New Year’s gifts! Games join their noise! Banquets join their din! The pagans are more faithful to their sect…For, even if they had known them, they would not have shared the Lord’s Day or Pentecost with us. For they would fear lest they would appear to be Christians. Yet, we are not apprehensive that we might appear to be pagans! (On Idolatry 14).
The pagan origin of this festival, then, is confirmed, and that Christians were observing such things to their shame is also attested. The date of December 25 was arbitrarily fixed to coincide with these festivals in order for them to be “Christianized.” Clement of Alexandria has the following to say concerning the birth date of Christ:
Therefore, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus [Ed. note: Commodus was emperor of Rome in the second century] are a total of one hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days. There are those who have calculated not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day. They say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20]…Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Parmuthi [April 19 or 20] (Stromata, 1:21).
The Scriptures do not fix the specific day of the birth of our Lord, nor even its season. We do not know when He was born, but all evidence we do have points to either spring or fall. December 25 surely is not the day of the birth of our Lord.
The fact that Scripture does not teach the day on which our Lord was born is significant: it demonstrates clearly that we have no commandment, example, or inference that we ought to celebrate the day of the Lord’s birth over any other day. There is no authorization for the religious observance of Christmas.
Binding No Observance of Christmas?
There are some today who will even bind that no one should celebrate Christmas in any form, even the social and secular aspects of it. Do the Scriptures justify such a stand?
First, it must be said that Christmas is not today nor has it ever been a “Christian” holiday. It has never fully divested itself of much of its pagan origins, and most of the traditions we associate with Christmas actually derive from only the past two hundred years. Furthermore, our modern culture has embraced Christmas as a secular holiday, a time to come together with family and to exchange gifts. Even the court system these days finds no difficulty with state recognition of Christmas; it surely is not “only” religious!
We have previously seen what Paul said about observances in Romans 14:15-16; he also says the following in Colossians 2:16-17:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s.
As we can see, Paul says that we are not to condemn or be judged based on the observation (or lack thereof) of any day or any festival. We would do well to remember this in the context of this lesson: while these observances are not authorized in Scripture, we cannot condemn their observation as sin. Therefore, no one has the right to bind the lack of observation of any holiday on another who feels that the holiday is acceptable. Furthermore, no one who observes a holiday has the right to bind that holiday on anyone who does not agree with it.
Therefore, while we ought to respect the convictions of those who do not observe Christmas in any way, and ought not put a stumbling block in their way, such persons also ought to respect the liberty of their brethren to observe the day in a secular manner, and not be quick to condemn (cf. Romans 14:3-21).
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Death
Toward the end of February, approximately forty days before Easter, the observance of Ash Wednesday is performed in some denominations. Often, the ashes of palm fronds used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday are placed on the observer’s forehead as a sign of penitence and the cognizance of the mortality of man. This observance is the beginning of the season of Lent.
There are no Scriptures that demonstrate the use of this observance, nor is it ever commanded in Scripture.
In some denominations, a season of Lent is observed between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The season lasts forty days, and is designed for observers to imitate Christ in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2). In earlier times, observers would fast completely; later, observers would only have to sacrifice any unnecessary indulgences. Today, many are content with sacrificing one or more pleasures. Often, the observers will abstain from the eating of meat, at least on Fridays.
Although the desire to sacrifice and to fast is admirable and is Scriptural (Acts 13:3), we have no Scriptures that authorize such practices for forty days before Easter. It is important to remember that binding abstinence from food was one of the marks of the falling away that was to come (1 Timothy 4:3). There is no doubt that we ought to sacrifice for our Lord; nevertheless, the Scriptures attest that our sacrifices ought to be complete and constant, and not a trifle for a short period of time (cf. Romans 12:1, Galatians 2:20).
In many denominations, the Sunday before Easter is celebrated as Palm Sunday. This observance is done as an imitation of the arrival of our Lord in Jerusalem a week before His crucifixion, as seen in John 12:12-15:
On the morrow a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried out, “Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
And Jesus, having found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.”
Palm fronds are given to each observer in memory of this event. It is good to remember the events surrounding the arrival of our Lord in Jerusalem and the other events leading up to his death, but we have no indication from the Scriptures that such things are to be re-created or observed in any special way.
Also called Holy Thursday, this day is observed by many denominations as the day before Good Friday, the day in which the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:20-29). The Lord’s Supper is therefore partaken on this day.
The Scriptures do mention the need to partake of the Lord’s Supper (see above), ), but our only example of Christians doing so after the death and resurrection of our Lord is on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; see The Lord’s Supper). The Lord’s Supper takes on an aspect of also remembering the Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week, and it is telling that there are no examples from the Scriptures of anyone observing the Lord’s Supper on any Thursday. Again, while it may be beneficial to remember the events leading up to the Lord’s death, we find no evidence from the Scriptures that such are to be done on a consistent yearly basis.
Good Friday is observed on the Friday before Easter in many denominations. This recognizes the day in which Christ was crucified, and died. There is much speculation as to whether Christ was crucified on a Thursday or a Friday; it depends if the sign of Jonah as discussed in Matthew 16:4 and the “three days” of John 2:19 are either three full days Thursday/Friday, Friday/Saturday, Saturday/Sunday) or the “third” day (first day Friday, second day Saturday, third day Sunday). Regardless, we have never been given a command to observe the Lord’s death on the Friday before Easter in the Scriptures; we have been commanded to observe the Lord’s death on the first day of every week by partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; for more regarding this observance, see The
Easter is observed between the end of March and the middle of April each year on a Sunday by many denominations as the day of the resurrection of our Lord, as seen in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 28:1-9). The date is supposed to be parallel with the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread observance of the Jews, and therefore falls on the Sunday two weeks after the first new moon on or after the vernal equinox.
While we have no dispute that Jesus did indeed die and was resurrected in the midst of the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread observance, the Scriptures never indicate that Christians are to specifically observe this event at this time nor does it provide any examples of Christians doing so. Moreover, the origin of the Easter observance does not come only from the tradition of the death of Christ; the pagans had many festivals concerning the spring equinox, for it is at this time that the Earth becomes green and alive again. The term “Easter” itself comes from the Teutonic [a German tribe] goddess Eaestre, who was a goddess of fertility. The pagan traditions of the rebirth of the land and the Christian tradition of the rebirth of Christ were thus joined by the denominations in the celebration of Easter. The fact that the Lord’s Supper is on Sunday, the “Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), indicates that Christians are to observe and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on every first day of the week.
Some denominations also observe the forty days between Easter and Christ’s Ascension (Acts 1:9) and the following ten days until Pentecost (Acts 2). These observances serve to remember the power of Christ and the genesis of the church on Earth. Again, the Scriptures never teach any commandment or example to observe these days.
There are some who may attempt to establish that Christians did indeed observe Pentecost based on Luke’s description of events in Acts 20:16:
For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
While it is interesting that Luke records the events in terms of this observance, we must also note that he speaks of the “days of unleavened bread” in Acts 20:6. Since Paul so often associated with Jews (cf. Acts 17:1-3), and he was returning to the Jewish heartland, it should perhaps not surprise us that Luke is telling time on the basis of these observances. We see no indication that Luke or Paul or anyone else is actually observing either the days of unleavened bread or Pentecost; these seem to be used simply as time markers. Furthermore, we have no idea whether Pentecost is being mentioned in terms of the Jewish festival itself or in a “Christianized” form. Despite this use of the term “Pentecost,” the Scriptures still remain silent on whether early Christians observed this day as the founding of the church or in any way whatsoever.
According to some denominations, January 6 is observed as Epiphany. This day is considered by these observers to be the day in which Christ was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17). This is the beginning of Christ’s ministry on Earth; therefore, the Eastern Orthodox celebrate Epiphany at the same level as the Roman Catholics and some Protestant denominations celebrate Christmas. Epiphany is also known as the Twelfth Day, and is observed by some denominations as the day on which the Magi from the East visited Christ (Matthew 2). On a secondary level it is also the observation of the deeds of Christ at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11).
While it is good to remember these events, the specific day of Christ’s baptism, the day of the wedding feast in Cana, nor the day of the arrival of the Magi are precisely fixed in Scripture, and no commandment or example exists for their observance.
Some denominations observe the feast of the Annunciation, or the day wherein Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). This feast is observed on March 25, corresponding to the belief that Christ was born on December 25 (exactly 9 months later). Since the Scriptures are silent on when Jesus was born, by necessity the Scriptures are also silent on when Gabriel visited Mary. It is good for us to remember how Gabriel visited Mary, but the Scriptures make no command or show any example of observing this event.
Days Concerning Saints
In some denominations, days are observed for “saints.” A church, like the Roman Catholic Church, will determine what day of the year a certain “saint” (for the purposes of this discussion, the “saint” is one considered canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and/or other denominations) will be honored. Furthermore, November 1 is considered to be All Saints’ Day, a day wherein all such “saints” are honored. Concerning saints, please consider Roman Catholicism, II: Traditions Concerning Saints; since the modern definition of “saint” does not concord to the Scriptural definition of “saint,” neither should we expect the Scriptures to endorse the celebration of days regarding them. It can be good to consider the struggles of faith of faithful Christians that have lived since the cross; nevertheless, the Scriptures do not show that we should venerate them in any special way.