Easter, Christmas, Halloween, and we might add Valentine's Day, are all formerly pagan holidays made 'Christian' to one degree or another by the Roman Catholic Church centuries ago. To what degree if any, should we partake?
Did Paul deal with such issues? What can we glean from the writings of the New Testament?
First, a little history
I think it is common knowledge that Jesus was born in the autumn or spring. I've written previously proving that from scripture and history. And I think we understand that Mary and the other women were not looking for Easter eggs when they went to the cemetery that Sunday morning so long ago.
Most also realize Halloween had pagan roots, generally believed to be Celtic, that were 'Christianized' over the centuries by various Roman Catholic edicts and practices.
Valentine's Day had no romantic element until the 'Father of English literature', Chaucer, wrote a poem in the 1300's about Valentine's Day. Many trace its roots to the Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia which was held February 15, where young men were said to select women to go off together and....well, you know.
In ancient Greece birthdays were celebrated by making a round cake and putting candles on it. Birthday's were celebrated to honor Artemis, goddess of the moon (Diana was the Roman equivalent, see Acts 19:24-35). The cake was round like the moon, and candles were lit as an offering. Then the one celebrating would say a silent prayer to Artemis/Diana and blow the candles out, believing the smoke carried their prayer up to the (moon) goddess.
The question therefore is....
Just on the basis of principle:Are any of us worshipping the gods or goddesses of ancient people when we wish someone a happy birthday? When granny makes a wish and blows out the 93 candles on her birthday cake, or the 2 year old does the same, are they saying a prayer to the moon goddess?
By taking our special person to dinner on February 14 and expressing our love or friendship, are we worshipping a fertility goddess? Does something which started as a pagan symbol like a Christmas tree mean we endorse the pagan German god Oden by decorating a tree in our home? By giving gifts are we automatically worshipping or honoring the Roman god Mithra's birthday on December 25?
Is it possible to honor the Lord and each other without linking our heart and actions to some ancient practice of pagans from 1,000 years ago?
By letting our children or grandchildren hunt Easter eggs are we endorsing the pagan goddesses of fertility? At what point if any, may we allow the ancient customs of pagans that have since passed into meaningless history, into our modern lives? Can we separate pagan history from our hearts and modern practice?
Is our hypocrisy exposed if we blow out the candles on our cake or attend a birthday party honoring a loved one where they blow out candles, while at the same time we refuse to celebrate Christmas?
Perhaps honoring someone on their birthday, or celebrating the Lord's birthday doesn't mean we endorse or agree with the pagan roots of such holidays. Maybe we are honoring the Lord in our hearts and actions having not attached any pagan meaning to our celebrations.
Maybe it just means we are honoring the Lord's resurrection on Easter or His birth at Christmas - without any other attachments in our hearts. When some object with 'But He wasn't born on that day', I ask if they or anyone they know have ever had a birthday party on a day other than their actual birthday? When they say yes, I ask if they honor themselves or another with a day of their choosing, why can they not honor their Lord with a specially chosen day for Him?
Opinion versus morally right
A moral absolute has no argument against it. It is wrong to murder, for instance. That isn't opinion, it's fact. Human life has value. Flowing from that are other truths; If it is wrong to murder because we honor man made in God's image and the life He gave them, then it is also wrong to dishonor those who gave us life in this world, our parents, and flowing still further, wrong to steal, lust, covet, lie to someone. We honor life and those truths are absolute.
An opinion however is defined as:"A belief or conclusion held with confidence, but not supported by fact or personally witnessed evidence, or a personal judgement made about a person or thing."
An opinion has no absolute. It is up to each person to control their emotions and thoughts when it comes to the life of others. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 10:4-6, v5:"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion that raises itself against the knowledge of God, and take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ." (ESV)
We get angry at someone because they are doing something we don't agree with. We get hurt or read hurt into something someone says contrary to our opinion. We hear or read thus and so, so we connect dots that are not there to come to yet another opinion that only makes us more angry.
We get angry or hurt because they believe differently than we do about....fill in the blank...politics, elections, color of the church carpet, what a person watches on tv or movies, what kind of house they live in, what they wear...and on and on it goes. We form an opinion, someone goes against it, we get angry or hurt or break fellowship feeling fully justified because they hold or do something we don't agree with.
The reasons are varied which open us to a life of forming strong strong opinions:They are overbearing like my mom was. They are controlling like my old boss. The yell like by uncle did to me that hurt me so deeply. They are like the old pastor who....and on it goes. To grow in Christ we must not justify our opinion based on our own past experiences, but just on the merits of the issue at hand. Separate conclusions drawn from the facts. Just the facts.
And none of that is based on absolute moral truth. It's just what we believe. Truly, when that happens, our issue is with our Lord, not the other person. It is up to us to hold no opinion to the extent that opinion would cause strife or separation with the other person.
James would later write in 3:14:"When you have envy or strife in your hearts, don't be happy in that, don't lie against the truth." In other words, you know what the Word says, don't lie against what you know by your actions and opinions justifying your strife/division - you know the truth, admit it and get your heart right.
These verses tell us that the knowledge of God stops our opinions, and we are to adjust our opinions when they differ from what the absolutes of scripture and our Lord teach us.
On a practical level though, when we keep our opinions to ourselves, what do we do when we celebrate Christmas but a friend or family member doesn't? If we don't celebrate Christmas but we need to go to Christmas parties and dinners? What if the kids want to hunt eggs but we want to emphasize the Lord's resurrection? How do we walk in love in these things? How do we keep our opinions to ourselves so that we don't sin, yet don't honor some demon from an ancient pagan celebration? And how should we advise friends who ask what to do?
Next week some practical answers on how to walk this out...until then, blessings,
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