Rev. Robert McCurley
This sermon was preached on Dec. 25th, 2011, The Lord’s Day
Listen to the audio, 53 minutes
“But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.”
This morning we are drawing aside and taking up another matter. Usually at the time of the “Christ mass” and Easter, over the 5-1/2 years that I have been pastor here, on those appointed Sundays we have always just carried on in our study of where ever we are in the Gospel of Luke or Ephesians or 1 Samuel or Judges or where ever it is that we find ourselves. And, we have kind of just continued on with “Business as usual.” And, not drawn aside.
But, I thought that today given the fact that there is a collision that takes place; today being the 25th of December. A collision between God’s Holy Day, the Sabbath, and what has become the most popular of man-made holy days, Christmas. Because these two things collide, on the same day this year, I thought it would be an appropriate and suitable time for us to draw aside and to take up this question of “Holy Days” and to ask ourselves what exactly does the Bible teaches about this. There are many who have asked from time to time “Why is it exactly that at GPC [Greenville Presbyterian Church] we don’t have a Christmas Service on this day?” or in past years, on “the relevant day?” And, so I thought we might open the pages of Scripture and seek to unpack and expound an answer to that question.
The doctrine of our Church is found in one of the documents of the Westminster Assembly produced. They produced of course the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism and Larger Catechism. One of the other documents was the Directory for Public Worship of God. And we read there these words:
“There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days commonly called holy day having no warrant in the Word of God are not to be continued.”
So there you have in some short space kind of the statement of the doctrine of Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout the years. And, it is interesting that you can have the Westminster Assembly saying that in the Directory of Public Worship.
You can fast forward 200 years to America and there at Princeton one of the American Presbyterian Professors, Samuel Miller, could write in the middle of the 19th century, “Presbyterians do not observe holy days.” Two hundred years later! In fact, at the end of the 19th century, 1899, the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church was still issuing verdicts that said that Holy days other than the Sabbath are not to be kept or observed.
And so, it’s striking, you know. One has to ask themselves, “HOW DID WE GET HERE?” But, more importantly than that, we have to ask ourselves, “WHAT DO THE SCRIPTURES TEACH?” And, that is really all that we are concerned with! We are not in the first place concerned with tradition on one side of the question or even with Reformed tradition on the other side of the question. We are concerned with the demands and the authority of the Word of God. We believe that the Bible and the Bible alone gives to us, provides for us, what we are to believe and what we are to practice. And so our concern is to dig into the Scriptures and to bring ourselves in submission under the demands of what the Bible teaches.
And so, we are going to give ourselves this morning to studying what the Bible says about this question. “Is God pleased with any day that is set apart for religious observance that He has not appointed?” And, of course the most relevant example of that would be, “Is God pleased with a day that is set apart for the religious observance of Christ Incarnation (like we see celebrated all around us today)?”
But, before we dive in let me first of all eliminate two misguided directions that your mind might run in:
The first is what I like to call the “Scrooge factor.” What we are about to unpack and what we are about to demonstrate from Scripture regarding the doctrine of the Reformed churches has absolutely nothing to do with being stingy. This is not about not wanting to be generous or to give gifts to people or to be happy. This is not an endorsement of a “bah humbug” mentality. FAR, FAR, FROM IT! God has given to His people joy and He gives us many lawful occasions for celebration and for feasting and for family time and for food and for all sorts of other things. That is a lawful part of the Christian life. And, He has given us lawful occasions in which to engage in that. So this is not some sort of “Scrooge” mentality that we are seeking to endorse. NOT AT ALL!
Secondly, we both love and prize the doctrine of the Incarnation. So, we believe whole heartedly that this doctrine of one person, two natures, Jesus being fully God, fully man, His humiliation and coming to save His people is of central importance in Biblical Christianity! And so, it has absolutely nothing to do with somehow deprecating or diminishing the value that we place on the incarnation! NO! Our focus is on this question, “What are we to think about days that are set apart for religious observance?” That’s the question that is at hand.
And, what we see here in the Bible is that a Holy God, who has given to us a Holy Word, demands His people to be a holy people. And, that means offering Him holy worship.
Well, there are four things we are going to look at: three principles and then a point of application:
First Principle: The Scriptural Law of Worship
First of all, the Scriptural Law of Worship. First of all, the Scriptural Law of Worship. We believe that the Bible is fully sufficient. It gives us absolutely everything we need. Everything that we need to know in order to please God is found in this book. Now we are not left to our own imagination and our own devices. And so, we have a very high esteem for Scripture. You see this laid out in 2 Timothy 3 verse 16 [and verse 17],
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
The Bible is sufficient for us.
And so, we come and ask ourselves, “What do we do in worship?” And, there are basically two answers to that question:
One answer that is proposed, though not biblical, is that you can do anything in worship you want to do as long as it is not forbidden by God. Everything is permissible except what is forbidden.
The second answer, and this is (I hope to demonstrate from Scripture) the biblical answer. The answer God gives is that whatever is not commanded or appointed or prescribed or sanctioned by God is forbidden. So, we’re limited to only doing what God himself has appointed for us. Anything else, above or beyond that is forbidden by Him.
The first answer that I gave you is the answer of Romanism, the Roman Catholic Church. Do anything you want except for what is forbidden. And, Rome taught the Lutherans and taught the Anglicans this principle. And, it has been passed down now to all of “Evangelicalism” who have embraced that principle.
But the later principle which we are going to look at now is the principle that was endorsed by Reformed Churches that were seeking to hold fast to the Scriptures. Those Calvinistic Churches in southern Germany and in Switzerland and in France and the Netherlands and in the British Isles and so on. Unanimously, they all maintained with a great deal of fervency this principle. Here’s how it’s described or defined in our Westminster Confession, Chapter 21:
“But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devises of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scriptures.”
Now, if you go back to Deuteronomy 12, which we looked at a few moments ago. The Lord says to his people, “you’re going to go into the land and you’re going to see a lot of stuff and you’re going to think to yourself, ‘You know what? There are some pretty neat things here! Maybe we should adopt some of the things we see the nations doing in their worship and to bring them into our worship of God. We’ll use their methods, their means, their ways, of worshipping God.‘” And, Chapter 12 is a long chapter basically saying “Absolutely, under no condition are you to even dream of doing such a thing!”
And, you have this Scriptural Law of Worship which has come to be called the Regulative Principle of Worship summarized in the last verse [Deut. 12:32]:
“What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”
God is saying, “You’re to do what I’ve commanded you in worship nothing more and nothing less!” And, we see this unpacked throughout the whole Scripture. In fact, it’s given such an important place that it is given a commandment, The Second Commandment.
The first commandment tells us who to worship; The Second Commandment tells us how to worship. And, that Second Commandment says that we are to limit ourselves to only worshipping God by His appointment. The way that He has prescribed for us to worship him; only in that way and in that way only!
And so you look through the whole Pentateuch [the first 5 books of the Bible] and you see over and over again, for example in Leviticus 7 verse 36 and 38 you see this repeated qualification “[As] the Lord commanded.” Moses is careful to reinforce at every point in which he specifying the worship they are to bring JEHOVAH. He’s reinforcing the point that he’s only telling them to worship as the Lord commanded.
You go to Leviticus 10 and there we see an infraction of this law which God has given to His people. Nadab and Abihu come before the Lord with strange fire and the Lord kills them. And we are told in those first three verses that this is how the worship they brought is described:
“…and offered strange fire before the Lord, WHICH HE COMMANDED THEM NOT. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”
They’re offering up worship that He had not appointed and they’re destroyed for it. You can see a king punished for the same sort of violation in 2 Chronicles 26. You can see it with Jeroboam (and we’ll come back to this). You can see it in the tabernacle and temple, God prescribing in detail how they’re to worship Him and limiting it to that. You can see in the Old Testament Reformations of Josiah and Hezekiah, them throwing out all of the additions and then restoring the ordinances which God Himself had appointed; same thing with Nehemiah.
You come to the New Testament and Jesus says that, the moral law, the Ten Commandments, is permanent; they’re not going anywhere! This is a revelation of the character of God. And therefore this Scriptural Law of Worship found in the Second Commandment is binding upon all men and all time and in all places. Jesus in both Mark 7 and Matthew 15 rebukes the Pharisees for holding onto their man made traditions and He cites worship and thereby rejecting God’s commandments. Jesus is reinforcing this principle of worship that he has given to us. And, we could go on and on.
For many of you this will be a review for you, The Scriptural Law of Worship. And, it’s amazing how God’s given to us an entire package of doctrines that we’re to believe and how they all fit together; this Regulative Principle of Worship. “Worship God only as He has appointed” fits with everything else we know. It fits with our view of His law, as we see in the Second Commandment. It fits with our view of Total Depravity, what the Bible teaches. Man’s heart, as Calvin said, is a “factory of idols” and therefore it has to be restricted because if it were let loose it would come up with all sorts of idolatry. Paul says this to the Athenians in Acts 17 when he says “don’t think you can worship – that somehow God is like gold and all these other things. You can’t worship Him by man’s device,” he tells them.
You think about the Sufficiency of Scripture: Paul says to the Corinthians, when he gives them the Lord’s Supper, “I am delivering to you what God Himself gave, what Jesus appointed.” The Bible is sufficient. You think of the headship of Christ: there is Paul writing to the Colossians, in Colossians 2, and He says, “You’re not holding fast to the head. You’re following manmade traditions which I haven’t appointed. You’ve erred.” Jesus is head of the church; He alone can appoint what is to be done in the worship of Him. And, we could go on and on and on.
The power that God gives to His church: Office bearing are being tyrannical when they impose upon God’s people, worship that God has not appointed. They don’t have the power to legislate, they don’t have the power to appoint, what they “think” are good ways of approaching God in worship. They’re restricted to only declare and to implement and to reinforce what God himself has given to us.
So, there is this Scriptural Law of Worship. In the Larger Catechism it is stated in this way in Question 109 (having unpacked the commandment in some detail) it says toward the end:
“all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves or receiving by tradition from others though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense what-soever”
It says is to be put away, opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
And so, from the beginning, even in the first principle there is almost a prima facie [first impression] argument. When we’re asking ourselves, you know, “Is it okay to have days, Holy Days, set apart for religious observance that God has not appointed?” Well, you can already see from this first principle that that is unacceptable!
Basically, we have to open the Bible and say, “SHOW ME IN THE BIBLE THAT THIS IS SOMETHING GOD WANTS.” Without being able to do that, there is no warrant for it. If you could do that, then we should ALL start observing it!
Second Principle: Set Times
The second point has to do with set times or with Holy Days. How does this Scriptural Law of Worship apply to the observance of Sacred Days? God reserves for Himself, we discover the right and prerogative for appointing special days for religious observance. Here you see the second commandment and the fourth commandment coming together. The Westminster Confession actually collapses them together into one chapter. But, notice in the Shorter Catechism on the Fourth Commandment it says in number 58,
“The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as He hath appointed in his word.”
The Fourth Commandment has relevance as well. It is God’s prerogative.
And so, we open the Bible and there in Genesis 2, God appoints one Sabbath day, a weekly Sabbath, one day in seven to be remembered and kept holy, sanctified, set apart. And, then we go two and a half millennia, 2500 years pass, One Holy Day! For two and a half millennia! And, then after that, when we come to the end of that period; there it is, the Sabbath is still in place in Exodus 16. And, then we have Moses appearing on the scene. And, the Lord says, “We need to prepare God’s people for the Messiah.” And so, He gives them ceremonial institutions: sacrifices and priest and tabernacles and temples; all these sorts of things. And, included in that is ceremonial days; additional days to be remembered with religious significance.
So, He appoints the Passover (Exodus 12), the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Tabernacles. And, you can go to Exodus 23 and Exodus 34 and Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16 and in each of these chapters you see God reserving for Himself the prerogative of appointing days for religious observance.
Well, those ceremonial days, what purpose do they have? One purpose! PREACH CHRIST! God gave to Moses these ceremonial institutions which were temporary so that in vivid color with smells and sounds and sights he could show them who Jesus would be and what Jesus would do. And, they served their purposes.
We come to the New Testament and what do we find? With Christ’s coming all of those ceremonial days, like the Passover and others, are put away, they are fulfilled, their purpose is done. They preached Christ looking forward to Him. Now, Christ is come! So, you turn to Galatians 4 verses 9 through 11, Colossians 2 verses 16 and 17, and then Hebrews 8, 9 and 10. And there, the Bible teaches us in the New Testament that these days have ceased. There’s a cessation. They’re put away. The ceremonial days have – And, in fact Paul rebukes them for keeping up these Holy Days. He says, “No! Don’t you realize that by observing these Old Testament ceremonial days you are doing something offensive? Because the real thing is here! The substance is here! Christ is here! The shadows are to be put away.” He’s rebuking them. But, notice here. He’s rebuking them for observing days that had been appointed by God Himself and have now been laid aside by God.
Romans 14, you see him taking up this matter again. It’s a unique period of time. He’s not speaking to them about remembering days in which Baal is celebrated and other things. But, he’s saying that in this time when the ceremonial system is being laid aside there had to be charity and love when they bore with one another in this time of transition.
And so, the ceremonial days are laid aside. And, the Sabbath of course continues. It’s moral. It’s the fourth commandment. It’s a creation ordinance in Genesis two. And so, that continues on into the New Testament. And what we find is that there is no other day appointed in the New Testament. We have 52 Holy Days a year, first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath.
A day is only HOLY if God appoints it. And, the only day that God has appointed for us to remember in the New Testament is the Sabbath. And, you think about how the Sabbath is being undermined in this. You have the introduction of un-appointed, man-made “holy” days, which subvert and undermine God’s Holy Day.
So, I’m used to coming to church every day with streets filled brimming with people, stores, parking lots full, and these sorts of thing. Everyone is carrying on in a great market day! And, the Lord’s Day is not kept, not remembered, not hallowed, not sanctified. It’s like any other. And yet, the “Christ mass” comes, and it can be on a Wednesday or any whatever day, and it is a ghost town. All the parking lots are empty, all the doors are closed, and all of the stores are shut. You see, man-made “holy” days are subverting and undermining God’s Holy Day. So we see God reserves for Himself the prerogative to appoint days for religious observance.
Are there examples in the Bible of men who appointed their own days to be observed without God’s appointment? And, the answer is YES! And, let me give you just a couple of them.
In Exodus chapter 32, Moses is gone up on the mountain and Aaron is with the people. They’re saying, “Who knows where this fellow went? He’s never coming back. What are we going to do?” And, Aaron says, “Well, I’ve got a great idea. Give me all your jewelry. We’re going to melt it down and we’re going to erect an idol.” And, appoints a holy day and he appoints an un-appointed feast and he takes the ordinances and he erects this idol. And, we’re told in verse 4
“he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
In other words this isn’t like Baal or Asheroth. This is supposed to be an image of JEHOVAH; same God, same religion. They haven’t changed that but have added ordinances. And, it goes on to say,
“when Aaron saw it, he built an alter before it; and Aaron made ‘pro-clamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
(Setting aside a day for religious observance, a feast day.)
“they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.”
So, you have some of the Lord’s ordinances being utilized on an un-appointed day, an un-appointed feast, un-appointed means.
What is the response? The response is God says, “I will annihilate them.” One answer: genocide! There is a HOLY fury and Moses has to beg God to spare them. Moses comes down the mountain. He hears all the feasting and all the celebration that’s going on. He sees what’s taking place and he is filled with fury himself at what has happened here.
Well, do we have other examples? We sure do. If you look at 1 Kings 12, here’s Jeroboam. He’s gone to the North; Rehoboam’s in the south. He says, “Look if everybody does what God says and goes back to Jerusalem on His appointed feast days, Rehoboam is going to get their loyalty. I need some political maneuvering here. I’m going to set up my own system in the North.” And so, we could read a whole big chunk of this really from verse 25 onward.
But, for the point I want to make at present: Notice that he says in 1 Kings 12, included in this rival worship, he says in verse 32,
“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eight month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offer-ed upon the alter. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made”
And so on; and the same thing in verse thirty-three. Jeroboam says “We’re going to worship JEHOVAH – same God. And, we’re going to worship God with His religion – same God, same religion. But, now he has holy days which he has appointed which are a month later than God’s appointed Holy Days.
And, like Aaron, he erects this calf and they’re going to use God’s ordinances in this un-appointed, un-holy, way. Well, the result is everything that describes what Jeroboam has done is repudiated. In the next chapter, verse 33 and 34 it says
“After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priest…” and so on, “…this thing be-came sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.”
Chapter 15 verse 3
“he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.”
The Lord brings judgment upon Jeroboam and judgment upon all of those who participated in this. Here are examples of those appointing (same God, same religion but un-appointed) holy days and God is angry.
Second point then is “set times,” to use the language of the shorter catechism or “Holy Days.” God reserves the prerogative for appointing them Himself.
Third Principle: Separation From Idolatry
Third principle is separation from idolatry: “Separation from idolatry.”
Now, if you go back to the Second Commandment. Children, what attribute, what characteristic of God is highlighted in the Second Commandment? It is the word “jealous.” God is “a jealous God.” The reason He has given us the Second Commandment, we’re only to worship Him how He tells us to, is because He is very jealous.
Children, do you remember you were taught in our Catechism Class the word “syncretism?” That word means, “To bring, to combine two things, to bring two things together.” And what the Second Commandment teaches us is that God does not want syncretism. He doesn’t want a combination of His ways with pagan ways. He repudiates that. He hates that. He’s jealous. He wants all of the affection and obedience and faith of His people to be placed in Him and His Word. And not, shared with idols. And so, it’s his jealousy that stands behind the Second Commandment.
Think of it this way: If your spouse had an old boyfriend or girlfriend and they kept their picture on their dresser and kept all the little gifts and wore them around and took them out and looked at them and actually marked on their calendar and celebrated anniversaries of different events in their relationship with that person, your jealousy would be aroused. And, rightly so! And, God is saying, He is jealous. And, we are not to keep up the memory and the ties and the affection and ritual and the anniversaries and whatever else that’s associated with those who are opposed to God.
Now, let me show this from Scripture. In Deuteronomy 12 again we saw in verses two and three that the LORD says, “There is ONE RESPONSE ONLY! When you come into the land and see idolatry YOU MUST DESTROY IT! You are NOT to make friends with it! You’re NOT to get ideas from it. You are NOT to utilize their ideas in the worship of JEHOVAH. It’s to be DESTROYED!” And He goes on again at the end of the chapter verses 29 to 32 and says the same thing, “Destroy them! Do NOT adopt them!” That’s what we see with the text that we began with in Deuteronomy 7; it’s iconoclasm [the destroying of idols].
This is the principle which the Reformed churches adopted at the Reformation and post-Reformation which led to the eradication of all forms of idolatry from Protestant lands. You see the same principle in Leviticus 18:3, Exodus 23:24 (Some of these you’ll have to write down and look up later for time sake.).
Go back to the calf incident, with Moses, in Exodus 32. This is a magistrate by the way. The magistrate is responding to this form of idolatry. We’re told that Moses is filled with fury. And, what does he say? He doesn’t say, “Well, you got some things right and some things wrong. You were worshiping God and you acknowledged him as your deliverer and you used some of the offerings He appointed. So, what we’re going to do is just take all of the religious elements out and allow you because everyone likes to have fun! You know all the dancing and singing and all the celebration and feasting and all, that’s good! So, we’re going to keep that and just remove the religious elements. And, every year when this day comes along you can remember it.” QUITE TO THE CONTRAY! WHAT DOES MOSES DO? He’s filled with fury; he takes the calf, he burns it, he grinds it into powder, he puts it in the water, he makes them drink it so that it goes through their digestive system and comes out “the other end,” so that the calf is reduced to “human waste.” He says, “We’re going to eradicate this! This will NOT be tolerated, thought upon, looked upon; it will not be – we will not play games with it. It is going to be obliterated from our memory. We want to see it put away wholesale.” And so, he uses his role as magistrate to destroy the idolatry.
Well, think with me through the Old Testament:
There’s Jehu. Does he come to Baal’s temple and say, “We’ll Baal is bad, JEHOVAH’s good, let’s use Baal’s temple for God?” NO! He does what God’s commanded in 2 Kings 10:26 to 28 and he DESTROYS IT COMPLETELY.
We come to Josiah during his great reformation in 2 Kings 23. And, what do we see him doing? Again, he’s taking this biblical law, “Separation from Idolatry,” given in Leviticus and Exodus and Deuteronomy and he’s implementing it. He says, “We want reformation!” Again, this is a magistrate using his power to eradicate public idolatry from the land. 2 Kings 23, we could begin at the early part of the chapter but if you skip down toward the end you’ll note that in verse 21,
“And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover unto the Lord your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant.”
He is saying, “Do; keep the ordinances God has ordained.” And, previous, in the chapter he said, “I want you to go through and DESTROY EVERY ABOMINATION.”
“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”
This is what’s happening.
Go to Manasseh, 2 Chronicles 23:15: He does the same thing.
Go to the reformation under Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:4: And, it’s the same theme song folks!
We could multiply passages.
These kings DESTROY, banish, obliterate and remove from sight and memory every association with idolatry and paganism.
You see the prophets later on crying out the same sort of thing:
There’s Jeremiah in Jeremiah 10
“Thus saith the Lord,”
“Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not,”
and so on.
He’s saying don’t learn the way of the heathen.
And, just like we have good examples; there’s also bad examples. Unlike Hezekiah and Josiah and others, you can go to Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah 19 and 2 Kings 17 and you’ll see God’s people at times following after the nations, borrowing from the idolatrous forms of the nations use in the worship of God.
The Lord says in Exodus 23, “Don’t follow the multitude to do evil.” And when you really get down into the nit and grit of it, it’s striking. Because, for example in Deuteronomy 16:21 the Lord says, “Don’t even plant a tree near the alter of the Lord.” There’s nothing wrong with a tree and there’s nothing wrong with planting a tree but the groves which were associated with idolatry He says are not to be in close proximity to the alters. And yet, this is what they do in 1 Kings 14. The Lord rebukes them.
So here’s the third principle: “Separation from Idolatry.”
We come to the New Testament, and of course it’s the same religion. All we see is continuity with what we’ve seen in the Old Testament.
2 Corinthians 6:14
“Be ye not unequally yoked…”
it goes on to say,
“…for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?”
It’s the same sort of principle that you see in the Old Testament.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
You turn to the book of Acts 19, and I’m sure I’m wearing y’all out with all these passages. But, you turn to Acts 19 and there’s the gospel coming with power to the gentile people in verses 18 to 20, they take all their idolatrous arts and books and they bring them into a gigantic heap worth a mint and they burn them. This is New Treatment gentile Christianity. They burn them!
Revelation 18 says, “Come out from among her.”
So, what does this third principle teach us? You have the Scriptural Law; worship God only as He has appointed. The second one, Set Times; only God has the prerogative for setting times to be remembered, to be kept holy. The third principle is Separate Yourselves from Idolatry. Conclusion, You CANNOT Christianize it! You CANNOT de-religionize it. But, you must DESTROY IT. It CANNOT somehow be harnessed for use with God. And, it CANNOT somehow be gutted of its religiosity and kept in a civil way. God says it has to be DESTROYED.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. [1 John 5:21]
The point is this, God is very jealous and God is holy. And, God is concerned we do not even keep up the memory of idols.
Larger Catechism 108 says, this is in reference to the second commandment,
“…as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.”
You are not to even keep up the memory of them. You are not to cultivate “warm-fuzzies” over idols. He says monuments of idolatry are to be removed.
Fourth Point: Application to the Christ-mass
That brings us to our fourth point, namely, application to the “Christ mass.” Well, we can begin by just taking these principles and applying them.
You open your Bible and you search from Genesis to Revelation and you say, “CAN WE FIND THE ‘CHRIST MASS’ IN THIS BOOK?” The answer is, “NO! Not by a long shot.” Now, we know what God requires for a day to be kept holy. If there is NO reference and NO prescription and NO appointment of it, is God pleased with? Well, if it’s not appointed by God, then the answer is He is DISPLEASED with it.
Paul and the Apostles and the Early Church DID NOT OBSERVE a sacred day commemorating Christ’s birth – nowhere in the Bible. GOD DOES NOT COUNTENANCE IT. It’s pretty simple really, very simple.
Well, how did we get here then? (And, there are three strikes against the “Christ mass.” Three strikes against it!)
First of all, how did we get here? After all, the reformed churches, historically, all of them, maintained the same position; ONE day under the New Testament Era to be kept holy, THE SABBATH. How is it that all of Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Reformed Churches, have by and large fallen from this point? Well, how did we get here then?
There are three strikes against the “Christ mass.”
The First Strike: Pagan Origin
The first is: Where did it come from? Well, its origin was indeed pagan. There was the pagan feast of Saturnalia, the Sun god. And, they had all of the lights and the winter solstice and all of the gift exchange and the feasting and so on. And, Roman Catholicism has a – splendid, a Godless but – splendidly effective way of evangelism. They go into places and say, “You know what it’s too hard to root out these idols. So, instead we’ll just adopt them and we’ll “Christianize” them. And, so that is precisely what they did. And, this is what happens everywhere. If you go to South America you find that Roman Catholicism has basically just adopted the animism and the natural religions of that land and their feast and so on. And, there is this syncretism, this combination. You go to Europe and it’s different. You come to South Carolina and the Roman Catholic Church has Bible Study. And, we’re “Ra! Ra! Bible!” – Adapting to the culture – this chameleon tactic that they employ. Well, what they did is they adopted the Feast of Saturnalia. Well, what does the Bible say? The Bible says NO syncretism. The Bible says it is to be DECIMATED, it is to be REMOVED, it is to be DESTROYED, it is NOT to be remembered, it is NOT to be kept up, and it is NOT to be Christianized. But, that is what they did. FIRST STRIKE AGAINST IT
The Second Strike: Adding a Holy Day
Second strike: They added an un-appointed holy day on top of it! This is idolatrous itself; only God can do that. And yet they appointed a holy day without divine commandment and with tremendous spiritual presumption. They said, “This is a holy day” – the “Christ mass” – “in which we’ll celebrate, not the Sun god but the Son of God. And, we’ll have all the rituals of paganism incorporated and blended with this worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.” So, you have an un-appointed holy day. The “Christ mass” is an un-appointed holy day to be observed for sacred observance. That’s the SECOND STRIKE AGAINST IT. God is displeased with it for that reason.
The Third Strike: Roman Catholic Idolatry
The third is: They are going to commemorate this holy day with a high mass. Now, what is the mass? The mass is an ordinance that Rome has invented which is very, VERY, evil. The mass basically provides, for the people, an idol of bread. It’s an idol of bread. And, they say come celebrate the mass, “Here is your god.” And, they hold up an idol of bread and the people venerate that bread. And, they worship the bread. And, they bow down to the bread. And, they show reverence to the bread. And, they say, “This is our god and let us feed upon this idol.” The mass is a wicked, satanic, institution.
And, that’s why Reformed churches, like in Scotland, banished the mass from even being allowed to be observed. So, there went a long time in Scotland where the mass never even took place within the borders of that land. The civil magistrate prevented it because it is open, flagrant, satanic idolatry. THIRD STRIKE AGAINST IT
And, so the point is this: If we’re taking seriously God’s Scriptural Principle of worship, the fact that God alone sets times for observance, and that we are to separate ourselves from idolatry, How can a Bible believing Christian associate himself with, keep up the memory of, and celebrate within the house of God something that God is clearly opposed to in the Bible?
You see the influence of Romanism, don’t we? They’ve given to “Evangelicalism” there doctrine of salvation. Arminianism was not new to Arminius who died in 1609. It is what the Roman Catholics believed for a thousand years before that. Semi-Pelaginism, half way between Augustine and Pelagius, they just adopted the “answer” to these questions that Rome’s always taught. And you get the same thing. They’ve adopted the principle that Rome teaches about God’s worship. They’ve adopted points of theology and they’ve adopted the days.
And, I never cease to be amazed. I tell my children almost every year, we get to this time of year, “The Pope must be tickled pink. He must be laughing himself off of his seat to see all of Protestantism and “Evangelical” Protestantism in particular adopting Rome’s harlotries, embracing them, and the whole world being swept up in this idolatrous commemoration. He must be thrilled to no end because Protestants have taken on the harlotries of Rome.” PROTESTANTS ARE LOSING THEIR PROTEST.
The Lord tells us, “The devil is an angel of light (in 2 Corinthians 11) and his ministers are angels of light, ministers of light as well.”
This is an attempt to ensnare the whole world and it is working quite effectively at present. But, the Bible tells us that the “Christ mass” is a “monument of idolatry.” It is a permanent monument of idolatry that is commemorated annually, defended, and propagated. And, the Bible teaches us that there is only one solution for monuments of idolatry. They’re to be removed. They’re to be banished. They’re NOT to be remembered. They’re NOT to be kept up. They’re NOT to be celebrated. We’re NOT to pay homage to them. We are to, in our unequivocal allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, turn from them.
Well, let me hit a few points of objection and then we’ll be through.
Objection 1: Popularity
The first objection is the objection of popularity. Which says in essence, “Pastor you’re nuts!” I mean, it comes down to people saying how can this possibly be true? Everybody who’s a Christian, you know, thinks that the “Christ mass” is a good thing. Well, as I’ve said on other occasions, we don’t determine our principles by head count.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego DIDN’T look around and say, “Well, everyone else is bowing down including a lot of the other Jews so; I guess I’ll take a knee too. Surely, we’re wrong; we’re out numbered.” And, they DIDN’T say, “We won’t bow down in our hearts, we’ll just bow down outwardly.” And, they DIDN’T say, “Well, I think I’ll just find a convenient time to tie my sandal right now when everybody else is bowing down.” THEY STOOD UP and refused to buckle their knee!
But, what about this “question” of popularity? Here’s the “answer.” We don’t determine our principles by head count BUT if you want a head count THEN have at it BECAUSE the Protestant “Christ mass” celebrators are in an extreme minority. This is NOT the position of Reformed Protestantism, historically.
I don’t know much about Baptist history, but even [Charles] Spurgeon in his commentaries on the Psalms and in a few of his sermons in the 19th century cried out against the celebration of the “Christ mass” this wasn’t unique to American and Continental and British Presbyterian or Reformed folk. The fact is that, those who celebrate “Holy Days” that are un-appointed by God are the new kids on the block. So, that’s the first thing: POPULARITY.
We determine it from Scripture. Show me in the Bible and I’ll be the first one to scream at the top of my lungs that we need to endorse this thing.
Objection 2: Putting Christ in Christmas
Second thing: Well, why don’t we just put Christ back into Christmas? This is the idea. Everybody is upset because of the secularism of the “Christ mass.” So, we need to put Christ back into Christmas. Well, if you’ve been following me AT ALL in the three points that I’ve laid out then it should be clear in your mind that Christ does NOT want to be associated in any way shape or form with the “Christ mass.” It is the opposite. Christ does NOT want to be put back into the “Christ mass.” It makes as much sense as saying, “Let’s put Christ back into Ramadan and in other un-ordained, pagan, holy days.” Christ is to be disassociated with these things.
Well then let’s go the other way and let’s take Christ out of the “Christ mass.” And, if someone says that at least they are getting the point a little bit and heading in the right direction BUT it’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Is it? Because, to say well if we just take Christ out of the “Christ mass,” then we’re saying we’ll keep Jesus and hold onto monuments of idolatry. We’re doing what the Old Testament people did. We’ll do not one or the other but BOTH. The idea of kind of secular “Christ mass” is just mimicking an idolatrous world and taking all of their paraphernalia. And, God is saying, “DON’T DO THAT! DON’T GO THERE!” These things are to be separated from us.
Objection 3: High Churchism
Well another objection is this and this is quite in vogue now: You have all these trends and so what’s trendy right now in some reformed circles is “high church” – We are going to get back to this rich, high church, liturgical worship. And, that’s quite trendy. And, so there are those even within the Reformed world who are saying not only do we not deny the pagan origins, not only do we not deny the association with Roman idolatry, we embrace it! You say, well how’s that? Because, we view it as DOMINION! We view it as a picture as Christ triumphing over paganism and over idolatry and so on.
Well, again, if you’ve been following me AT ALL it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put these sorts of things together – NOT A GOOD ARGUMENT. Basically it’s endorsing the Roman Catholic principle; rather than separation, its adoption. That’s what I call a “truce,” not triumph. It’s saying well, we’ll adopt the pagan stuff and somehow try to shove it together with JEHOVAH and His religion. It is hardly triumph or dominion to absorb idolatrous practices. You are being triumph over in such occasions.
Here’s triumph biblically: You want to see dominion? Then, there is the destruction and the removal of ALL FORMS OF IDOLATRY and the implementation of obedience to God’s Word so that the Bible supplants every shape and size and form of pagan religion. That’s triumph. That’s dominion.
The other is merely a truce.
Well, our time is long gone. There is more that we could say. Here’s [John] Calvin‘s words about the importance of this, of these principles, says,
“If is be required then, of what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principle place but comprehend under them all the other parts; and, consequently the whole substance of Christianity. That is, a knowledge first of the mode in which God is duly worshipped and secondly, the source from which salvation is to be obtained.”
He says, “You want to understand biblical religion? Then, it’s chiefly summarized in these two points: First, the mode in which God is duly worshipped. Second, the source from which salvation obtained.” After all, salvation is a means toward the end of being brought to the worship of God. Worship is FIRST. And, worship is given a first place in everything, Old Testament and New Testament. It’s our ignorance of the Old Testament Scriptures which is by and large landed us in the condition we find ourselves in.
Joshua says [24:15], “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Pray God, may it be true of us as well.
(This sermon was transcribed by Jessica Jacobson)
The Regulative Principle of Worship