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Question #224

What about displaying a Christmas tree in the church building?

Is it ok to display a Christmas tree in the church building? If so, where at, hallway, sanctuary, etc. Thanks and God bless.

The Answer:

Nearly all, if not all, agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th. Hippolytus (c. 170c. – 236) seems to have been the first to suggest that date. He arrived at that date by assuming that Jesus’ life from conception to crucifixion was exactly 33 years and that both events occurred on March 25. Counting nine months from conception to birth Hippolytus arrived at December 25 for the date of Jesus’ birth. The uncertainty of all of the data casts doubt on the date’s accuracy. There is no evidence that the Lord’s birth as celebrated during the apostolic or early post-apostolic times. The earliest record of celebrating December 25th as a church festival is in the Philocalian Calendar (copied 354 but representing Roman practice in 336).

Some suggest that the December 25th date has a pagan background. They argue that the date arose from the pagan Brumailia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the “new sun” or the beginning of the lengthening of days. Further, they say, these festivities were so engrained in society and Christians were happy to have a reason to continue to celebrate them. That reason, of course, was not pagan; it was the birth of Christ.

With that background, let’s address the question; it relates only to a Christmas tree in the church building, not in the home. First, we must decide what must be considered in reaching a conclusion.

  1. Is there scriptural authority to celebrate Christmas or that forbids the celebration of Christmas?
  2. Are there Biblical principles that clearly prohibit the celebration of Christmas?
  3. Is the celebration of Christmas a matter of opinion?
  4. If it is a matter of opinion, can it be wrong?
  5. If opinion is exercised to have a tree (celebrate Christmas), where can it be placed? Sanctuary? Classroom? Fellowship room?
  6. When may it be placed there? Sunday? Wednesday? Some other week day?

First, if there were scriptures that directly permitted or condemned the celebration of Christmas they would have been discussed in the brief history of its origin. Nowhere Christmas’ celebration directly commanded or directly condemned.

Some would then argue that the silence of scripture must be respected and that since it is not expressly permitted it is therefore prohibited. However, the silence of scripture has greater validity when confronted with a specific or positive divine command. The example often used is that when God commanded Noah to use a specific wood to construct the ark all other woods were then prohibited. That being the case, some would then suggest that God has specifically given us one event to celebrate – the Lord’s Supper. That being the case, all other celebrations, they would argue, are prohibited.
That argument breaks down, however, because the Lord’s Supper is a commanded item of corporate worship. No one argues that Christmas should be an act of corporate worship. Moreover, it a Dec. 25th sermon on the birth of Christ is considered such an addition, then it would be the same addition on the other 364 days of the year. In short, no sermon could ever be preached on the birth of Christ. In fact, some who would absolutely prohibit a sermon on Christ’s birth on Dec. 25th are in fact celebrating Christmas because the treat that day differently from all other days by making it the only day (or period) when sermons on the birth of Christ are prohibited! The conclusion is that there are no principles that clearly prohibit the celebration of Christmas.

What this means is that since there is no basis Scripturally or reasonably to prohibit the celebration of Christmas, it is a matter that falls within the area of opinion. If that is so, can the celebration of Christmas ever be wrong? Absolutely. If one believes it to be wrong, the celebration of Christmas would violate his conscious, and that is sinful. Rom. 14:14, 23. It would also be wrong for a strong brother to exercise his right to celebrate Christmas in a manner that causes a weak brother to stumble. Rom. 4:13-23.

If one’s opinion is exercised to celebrate Christmas in a manner consistent with duty to conscious and brother, where can a Christmas tree be placed in the church building? Before giving any opinion on that issue there is another matter than needs consideration. If a congregation has elders it is a decision for the elders; if there are no elders, it is a decision for the men of the congregation. Some have no problem with a tree in the home but will not permit a tree in the building. Obviously, they are a part of the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17) whether at home or in the building. They Holy Spirit dwells in each of them whether at home or in the building. Moreover, the building itself is not holy. In fact, where the church assembles in a member’s house and that member has a Christmas tree, there is a Christmas tree in the place of assembly.

So, should a Christmas tree be permitted in the building? There is nothing intrinsically wrong or sinful about such a practice. Part of the reluctance may result from a misunderstanding about the building. That is evidenced by the word “sanctuary” in the building. “Sanctuary” is defined as “The most sacred part of any religious building, esp. that part of a Christian church in which the altar is placed.” A church building as no sacred part, must less a most sacred part. There is no such thing as a “religious building.” (There can be a building used for religious purposes.) Does this mean that the “sanctuary” is a fitting place for a Christmas tree? Put scripturally, is it expedient to erect a Christmas tree in the auditorium where Christians assemble for worship? 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23. A good argument can be made that it is not. Can it ever be expedient to fill the place of assembly for worship with items that can only distract from worship? This would apply not only to a Christmas tree, but also to posters, flags, slogans, etc., that sometime adorn auditorium walls. Such items can only lead our minds astray from that which we have gathered to do.

That leaves the hallway, a classroom, or a fellowship room. Here, the expedient argument can only apply to the classroom, but perhaps not with the same strength. The argument from expedience becomes even weaker in a hall way or fellowship room. If the day of a Christmas tree’s presence is not at a time for worship or Bible study, it seems that that argument from expedience disappears altogether.

Much of the difficulty of this issue is caused by the inconsistency involved in applying the “rules.” Ladies may have “gift exchanges” at Christmas time in a home where there is a Christmas tree. Why would that become wrong or sinful if done at the church building, even with a Christmas tree? The argument that “gift exchanges” and decorated trees at Christmas time is not celebrating Christmas but just expressions of love is sophistry of the worst sort. Try explaining that to friends and neighbors. If we give them no explanation what will they think? If you said that they will not think that we are celebrating Christmas (which involves in their eyes celebrating the birth of Christ), you deceive yourself.

It is hard (impossible) to understand why as New Testament Christians we spend eleven months of the year trying to get people to think about Christ, and then in December when many start doing that which we have urged them to do, we start telling them that this is not the time to think about Christ, or that we can think about Him as long as we do not think about His birth. It can only give an unbiblical meaning to being a “peculiar people”! Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9. How much better would it be to take advantage of the occasion, beginning at the “same place,” and preach Jesus unto them, convincing them that Jesus was born to die for us and that He should be celebrated every day and memorialized upon the first day of every week.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)