Leave Weddings to the… Unbelievers??? Not So Fast!

We are approaching the end of a particularly odd season in my Christian world.

From mid-October through late April, my Facebook feed gets inundated with posts condemning the celebration of Halloween, Christmas, and Easter (somehow Thanksgiving gets a pass — maybe it’s the Pilgrims and the turkeys and the football). The basic framework of the argument goes something like this:

  • Major premise: The New Testament does not establish any holy days.
  • Minor premise A: The only day the New Testament establishes for religious celebrations is the first day of the week.
  • Minor Premise B: Since the New Testament has clearly established the Lord’s Day, no other religious celebrations are permitted.

Supporting evidence is then provided, including, but not limited to:

  • Scripture: Texts from Romans 14 and Colossians 2 and Galatians 4 and Hebrews 8 are provided; texts which rightly forbid the REQUIREMENT of celebrating certain days. In a sort of quiet bait-and-switch, these are given as evidence that the celebration itself, rather than the binding as law of certain celebrations upon one’s brothers and sisters in Christ, is condemned by God.
  • History: The pagan origins of the particular holidays are expounded upon at length. Halloween is sometimes called the Devil’s Birthday. Christmas is rightly identified as being founded over the top of a pagan celebration begging for winter to end and for the sun to rise again. Easter is laid at the feet of the pagan goddess Ishtar (for whom a terrible movie with Warren Beatty might be rightly blamed, but that’s as far as it goes) — even though it is far more likely that the word belongs to the Germanic goddess Ēostre or Ostara — the goddess of the radiant dawn (according to Jakob Grimm — yes, THAT Jakob Grimm) who actually had bunnies and eggs as some of her symbols.

I have two problems with this argument.

  • First, that which proves too much proves nothing. The list of things in our modern world which derive from pagan origins would go on longer than everything I’ve written so far. Names for the days, names for the months, personal names (my own name, Anthony, derives its origin from one of the sons of Heracles! I wish I’d gotten the muscles, too), symbols on our currency, currency itself, mourning veils, wearing black at funerals, flowers on graves, gravestones, birthstones, celebrating birthdays, and — wait for it! WEDDINGS.

Yes, I said it — Weddings. God invented marriage, but EVERYTHING about modern weddings is of pagan origin.

    • Wearing Veils
    • Bridesmaids and Groomsmen Dressing Alike
    • Exchanging Rings
    • Vena Amoris (the whole tradition surrounding the placement of the ring on the “ring finger” is of magical, not biological, derivation)
    • The First Kiss
    • Tiered Wedding Cakes
    • Throwing Rice
    • Offering a Toast (Even Sheldon Cooper will set you straight on this one)

Furthermore, Scripture describes private exchanges and arrangements between families as how marriages are established — there’s not a single religious marriage ceremony from Genesis to Revelation.

Therefore, by the very logic used to anathemize Halloween and Christmas and Easter, religious wedding ceremonies are also proven illegitimate. What proves too much, proves nothing.

But that isn’t my big problem — my big problem with this kind of argumentation is theological. Patrick Mead expressed the idea far more succinctly than I could, so allow me to quote him at length:

God told Adam and Eve to subdue the earth. We are here to take this land for Jesus. Early Christians understood this and went out to intentionally and aggressively recast the traditions and places and ideas of men. They were not idiots; they were wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). When they found the bulk of Europe celebrating a variety of mid-winter events or gods in late December, they chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus during that time. They knew that Jesus was not likely to have been born on that date or even within months of that date. That was not the point. The point was to take that date for Christ. They took the tree and spoke of eternal life. They took the fire and talked about the light that had come into the world. They took the wreaths and spoke of eternity. They took the songs and turned them into carols. They took the candles and spoke of the Spirit of God. They took the gifts and spoke of the Giver of all good and perfect gifts.

“That’s what we do with pagan things. We take them back, rename them, and give them to Jesus. The perfect love of Jesus has cast out our fear. We do not have fellowship with darkness but we don’t run from it, either. We take it over and give it to the Light.

[LATE EDIT: Tim Archer rightly points out that Patrick’s narrative on the establishment of Dec 25th as Christ’s birthday is probably off-base. There’s an excellent article, How December 25 Became Christmas, that makes a better argument from the historical evidence we currently possess. But what’s more important, I believe, is how the early Christians engaged with the surrounding cultures]

Light does not destroy — it purifies and heals and transforms. Our role as images of God is to reflect His healing light — the love of Christ — into the world and participate in the healing and transformation of things with evil origins into beautiful gifts for our God’s glory.

And for the record, Philippians 4 authorizes you you to celebrate ANYTHING and EVERYTHING “true, worthy of respect, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy” on any day of the week, month, or year. And if you want to put it on a calendar so that your brothers and sisters in Christ can celebrate with you, go right ahead! The more, the merrier! Just don’t be deluded into thinking that your celebration actually makes the day holy or means that that particular day is holier than every other day — and for heaven’s sake, don’t try to force other people to do it with you. That’s wrong. The Bible tells me so.

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About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 16 April, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I like your thoughts. I do need to point out that Patrick’s history isn’t very good in this case. Virtually no evidence that the early church set the Christmas date because of the pagan holidays. They actually worked off the date for Easter, calculating that Jesus was crucified on March 25. There was an ancient tradition that Jesus was crucified on the day he was conceived; they added 9 months to March 25 and chose December 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth.

    It’s interesting to me that so few among us note that Romans 14 *allows* for the celebration of special days. It basically tells us not to bother those who wish to do so. Wish more of our brothers would follow that teaching.

    • There’s an excellent article from BAR that supports your assertion, Tim. Very cool! Thank you for motivating me to find that.

      http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

      The fact that the Eastern *and* Western branches of the church worked off of the idea that conception and crucifixion occurred at the same time is intriguing to me! So it seems serendipitous (or even perhaps Spirit-driven) that this celebration of the coming of the Light into the world landed in the middle of the season when northern European pagans would be pleading for the light to return to the world and drive away winter again.

      Either way, I think it is important to note the way that we incorporated and transformed the morally-neutral symbols of the holiday and used them to illustrated Christian theology. That kind of engagement — rather than Essene withdrawal, Pharisaic elitism, or Sadducean pragmatism — is how I think we should work in the world.

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