Religious Holidays

“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month… even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord… And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord… The altar also was rent…”

1 Kings 12:32-13:6

“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Mark 7:7

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Order of Contents

Where to Start?
What about Rom. 14:5-6?

Historic Quotes  85+
Articles
Historic Book
The History of Religious Holidays
What about the 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566)?

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Where to Start?

Sermon & Article

McCurley, Robert – A Holy God and Holy Days, an audio sermon, 53 min., the transcription is also provided, 91 paragraphs 

Rev. McCurley analyzes what the Bible has to say about Christmas

Bart, Paul – 8 Reasons Christian Holidays Should not be Observed  2016  42 paragraphs

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Book

Schwertley, Brian – The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas   Buy  2003  106 pp.

This is an excellent Biblical defense of the historic, reformed position that the Bible forbids making up one’s own religiously-significant holidays, and that the practice of such is not indifferent (Gen. 2:31 Kings 12:32-13:5Matt 15:9).  Appendix 1 is 19 pages of quotes from Church history demonstrating that this is the historic, reformed position.

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What about Rom. 14:5-6?  “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

G.I. Williamson, ‘The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship’  n.d.

[5] Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians there is a clear mention of unauthorized worship.

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11).

The people to whom Paul wrote this letter were probably observing the special days and seasons appointed by God in the Old Testament ceremonial system (Ex. 23:14-17, 34:18, etc.).  But, if that is the case, it only makes the force of the Apostle’s objection all the stronger when applied to special days that God never commanded.  When Christ came the Old Testament ceremonial system of worship was superseded.  Included in this were the annual sacred days, and even the Jewish Sabbaths.  For the Galatians to go on celebrating these days was to act as if they were still waiting for the advent of the Messiah.

You can readily see the application. If the Apostle found it necessary to say this to people who continued to observe days which had once been commanded, but were now obsolete, what would he say to people, today, who observe special holy days that God never commanded?¹

¹  Calvin’s Commentaries, 21:125:

“Do we wonder that Paul should be afraid that he had labored in vain, that the gospel would henceforth be of no service?  And since that very description of impiety is now supported by Popery, what sort of Christ or what sort of gospel does it retain?  So far as respects the binding of consciences, they enforce the observance of days with not less severity than was done by Moses.  They consider holidays, not less than the false prophets did, to be a part of the worship of God…  The Papists must therefore be held equally censurable with the false apostles; and with this additional aggravation, that, while the former proposed to keep those days which had been appointed by the law of God, the latter enjoy days, rashly stamped with their own seal, to be observed as most holy.”

At this point — in order to avoid misunderstanding — we also need to take note of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14.  Here the Apostle instructed the strong to be patient with the weak, because the weak did not yet understand the liberty they had in Jesus.  As a matter of fact they were no longer under any obligation to observe even the special days that God had once appointed through Moses.  But the problem was that some of the members of the Church in Rome did not yet understand this.  

And, as long as it was only a particular member of the Church who was afflicted with this lamentable weakness, Paul was willing to patiently bear with him.  He was willing, in other words, to tolerate church membership for a person who felt constrained — by a misinformed conscience — to observe these days.

In Galatians 4[:9-11], however, the Apostle had a different concern in view. In this instance the Church as a whole had submitted itself to a yoke of bondage.  The Galatian church, as a corporate body, had yielded to the demands of ‘the weak’ by observing these days.  And when this happened the Apostle was quite uncompromising in his opposition.  The reason is that it is wrong for the Church to include in its corporate worship anything that Christ has not commanded.

It is one thing, in other words, to tolerate weakness in individual members.  But it is something else again when this errant view is imposed on the whole congregation.  Yet this is exactly what we see today in most Reformed Churches.

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Historic Quotes

Quotes on Religious Holidays

Over 85 quotes demonstrating the very large share of reformed history that has been opposed to man-made religious holidays. 

The Pope Says the Entire Christian Calendar is Wrong, being a news article, Nov. 12th, 2012

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Articles

1500’s

Bucer, Martin – Ch. X, ‘Why We have Abolished Holy Days’  1524  9 pp.  in Ground and Reason  Buy  pp. 159-168

This was the first, major reformed treatise on worship, which gave the ground and reason for the first reformed worship services of the Reformation, as they held them in Strasbourg, Germany.

“…one of the most significant documents in the history of Reformed worship.” – Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old

“We cannot deny that the old fathers were ill advised when they retained a few holy days for the sake of those who loved the world too much, hoping that they would hear some portion of the Word of God.” – Martin Bucer, p. 165

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1600’s

Calderwood, David – Reasons Against Festival Days  1619, 64 paragraphs

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1800’s

Miller, Samuel – Presbyterians do not Observe Holy Days  1835, 14 paragraphs, from his Presbyterianism the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ, p. 73-78

Miller, Samuel – Letter on Christmas Observance  HTML, 1828, 7 paragraphs, this letter is addressed to a secular commercial advertiser

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Contemporary

Silversides, David – Why No Christmas or Easter?  16 paragraphs

Williamson, G.I. 

Is Christmas Scriptural?  n.d.  8 paragraphs in the New Horizons magazine of the O.P.C.

A Defense of Calvinn’s Rejection of Christmas  2013  11 paragraphs  in The Aquila Report

McMahon, C. Matthew – Easter: the Devil’s Holiday  30 paragraphs

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Books

1600’s

Gillespie, George – A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies  Buy  1637  372 pp.

A main focus of this book is against the unBiblical, English-Popish holy days that were being attempted to be pushed on Scotland in 1637.  Gillespie thoroughly demonstrates that such cannot be participated in under the pretense of ‘adiaphora’, or of them being indifferent and circumstantial.

For an excerpt from this work, see the short section on ‘Popish Ceremonies are Proved to be Idolatrous Because They are Monuments of Past Idolatry’ and the longer section here.

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Contemporary

Schwertley, Brian – The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas   Buy  2003  106 pp.

This is an excellent Biblical defense of the historic, reformed position that the Bible forbids making up one’s own religiously-significant holidays, and that the practice of such is not indifferent (Gen. 2:31 Kings 12:32-13:5Matt 15:9).  Appendix 1 is 19 pages of quotes from Church history demonstrating that this is the historic, reformed position.

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The History of Religious Holidays

Coldwell, Chris – John Calvin and Holy Days  16 paragraphs

Calvin is one who is sometimes quoted as allowing for extra-Biblical holy days.  The truth of the matter is that Geneva at certain points tolerated such holy days due to pressure from the civil magistrate and in bearing long with infirmities in the Church till they could be further reformed and removed.  When Calvin does speak his mind, he disapproves of them, as George Gillespie argues (who is cited in the article).

Coldwell, Chris & Andy Webb – American Presbyterianism and the Religious Observance of Christmas  2015  45 pp.

Christmas used to be outlawed by the American puritans as part of the false worship of Roman Catholicism.  In the early 1800′s Samuel Miller could still write, “Presbyterians do not observe holy days.”  By the mid to late-1800′s the tide began to turn.  How did this happen?  Was greater light derived from the scriptures?  Or was it due to worldliness and backsliding?  Read here to find out why.

Webb, Andrew – Why Do Presbyterians Observe Holy Days?  no date, 11 pages

An excellent historical survey of America’s early opposition to the Christ-mass and its subsequent decline in the mid-1800’s into the contemporary era.

Reed, Kevin – Christmas: an Historical Survey Regarding its Origins and Opposition to it  107 paragraphs 


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What about the 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566)?

The 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566), a binding document of the reformed Swiss churches (see Wiki for background info) states in 24.3:

“If in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. But we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints.”

While James Dennison, Jr. says that the 2nd Helvetic Confession was ‘the most widely received of the sixteenth century Reformed confessions,’ (Reformed Confessions, vol. 2, p. 809) yet he says that the only churches that ‘adopted it as a standard of their own’ besides the Swiss churches were the reformed Churches of Hungary and Eastern Europe (which never were the most reformed), and hence the Confession did not have binding status in other Reformation churches.

When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland sent a letter to Theodore Beza approving the Confession in 1566, they made this notable exception:

“This one thing, however, we can scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession concerning the ‘festival of our Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples,’ that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles have prescribed. Everything else, as we have said, we teach, approve, and most willingly embrace.”

Works of John Knox, vol. 6, pp. 547-8

Other streams of reformed churches that got rid of religious holidays altogether included the English puritans following Thomas Cartwright’s 1580’s Directory of Worship, much of the Netherlands (pre-Synod-of-Dort), and of course the Westminster Assembly in its Directory for Public Worship.

Where religious holidays do come up in Reformed Church history, R. Andrew Myers observes:

“…it is evident that there are no arguments to be made on behalf of observing unBiblical holidays on the grounds of the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Neither [Henry] Bullinger, nor [Francis] Turretin, nor [the Synod of] Dort, nor anyone else that I have read who approved of select unBiblical holidays ever tries to justify them except on the basis of “Christian liberty or edification,” and not rather on the principle of divine warrant or command in worship.  

The Reformed who did approve of unBiblical holidays generally allowed for a shorter ecclesiastical calendar than the Roman Church, and tried to curtail certain “abuses,” but nevertheless were unable to point to any divine authorization for setting apart feast days.

Reformed Church history does show, however, that wherever the Regulative Principle of Worship governed ecclesiastical worship, the more purely Reformed churches excluded an ecclesiastical calendar filled with holidays which were invented by the mind of man and confined themselves to the observance of the Christian Sabbath, and providential days of thanksgiving and fasting.”

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Related Pages

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The Lord’s Day