Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The pagan origins of Christmas again -- Chris Pinto nails it!

FINALLY, a SENSIBLE study of the history of Christmas!

Chris Pinto to my mind does THE best study of Christmas, correcting many wrong notions about how it came about, and giving the most sensible reasonable guidelines for how a Christian believer should respond to the holiday:

This is the page where you can download Parts I and II of his radio discussion of Christmas, The Origins of Christmas on Dec. 20 and 21.

One thing he argues is that the Roman Catholic Church as such did not exist until 606 AD, contrary to the kneejerk screamings of some who claim it started with Constantine. It did NOT. Most of the early Church belongs to the TRUE CHURCH -- including the Council of Nicaea which was convened by the leaders of all the true churches of the day and was NOT led by Constantine, whose role was mostly observer. The Roman Church started with the claim in 606 AD that the Bishop of Rome was to be the head* of the entire Church, not just Rome but head over all the other Bishops of all the other churches as well. The Roman Church LATER CLAIMED TO THEMSELVES all the pre-Roman-Catholic history of the Church. Why should we believe THEM?

So the Roman Church can't be particularly blamed for inaugurating the holiday of Christmas. In fact Pinto said something else that suggests the Roman Church didn't even acknowledge the holiday until the 1800s.

{Later: Also go on and listen to the first half of Pinto's broadcast of December 22, Christmas trees and Catholics Come Home to find out that "mass" as in Christ-mas does NOT necessarily refer to the institution of the Catholic Mass -- the word has older/original connotations that are perfectly acceptable to a Christian, it only later came to refer to the Catholic ritual, just as much else from the early Church was later co-opted into the Roman context. (also go on and listen to the second half of that broadcast for his answer to a very misleading Catholic ad). Pinto is a much more trustworthy investigator of history than many who seek to educate the Church. If you are going to try to make your case from history you have to recognize that history goes through changes, the truth isn't necessarily the first thing that hits you in the face.}

Also Pinto makes the point that the pagans themselves rewrite Christian history for us and Christians who don't read enough in true Christian history believe this stuff written by enemies of the true Church. They would claim the holiday themselves even if the Church did it.

One point he presents that I was not familiar with is that there was a theologian of the early church who argued that December 25 really was the birthdate of Christ, completely independent of its connection with any pagan holiday around that time of year. His argument doesn't really hold up but apparently it was meant seriously and taken seriously. So although there was a definite sense in which Christ's birthday was an excuse to replace a popular pagan holiday with Christian content, it turns out that wasn't the ONLY reason for the date chosen. History is always more complicated than the conspiracy thinkers try to make it out to be.

Another point he makes which really ought to make the case all by itself is to compare the substitution of Christ's birthday for a pagan holiday with the practice of many churches today in substituting a harvest-oriented celebration for the pagan Halloween, with bobbing for apples and that sort of thing. Some do a Reformation Day Party, since that date is also the date on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, which began the Reformation. If you want to distract Christians from the good time the pagans are having with Halloween then give them something Christian or at least innocent to party about instead. Distract them from the pagan debaucheries of Saturnalia the same way, what's wrong with that?

At the end of Part I Pinto quotes Romans 14:4+ as his understanding of how we should regard the celebration of Christmas:
Rom 14:4-8 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
How we celebrate a holiday is all about our own personal relation to the Lord, there is really very little in the holiday of itself that is the problem.

In Part II Chris Pinto gets into the history of the Christmas tree. This is because many object to the tree as pagan, and many quote Jeremiah 10:2-4 as supposedly directly describing the Christmas tree as a pagan practice to be shunned. I didn't comment on this myself but it is clearly NOT talking about the Christmas tree as we use it today. We do not bow down to it and worship it for starters, which is the main teaching of scripture about idolatry, specifically the heathen practices of carving their idols out of wood and decorating them with gold and silver which is what this passage is also about.

It does not refer to the Christmas tree.
Jer 10:1-5 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 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 axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They [are] upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also [is it] in them to do good.
But they speak not, they must be borne, they can't walk. Be not afraid of them. Cannot do evil nor good. THIS IS A REFERENCE TO IDOLS, to objects of worship CARVED OUT OF THE TREES, not to Christmas trees and this is the point Chris Pinto makes. (I'm only touching on his main points here, you have to listen to the radio talk to appreciate the many examples he gives to support his points).

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH CHRISTMAS TREES AS SUCH, they are NOT the idolatry God was condemning in Jeremiah. For us they are nothing more than a pretty object that defines the season. Some Christian traditions have developed a whole Christian symbology referring to the tree, some treat it as a symbol of the Tree of Life which Christ opens to believers. But at bottom, for a Christian the ONLY thing we need to be aware of is the condition of our own heart in any celebration, and, I should add, a respectful awareness of the conscience of our brethren.

Surely we can simply ignore the pagan silliness of Santa Claus in our celebrations and avoid the overindulgence of the season and that sort of thing without getting all indignant about what the unbelievers do.

In the second half of his Part II Pinto gets into the big flap about the culture's pulling away from the focus on Christmas in saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" and the offense taken by some Christians. Of course this is all about the "Culture Wars" and the rise of the politics of "multiculturalism" over the last few decades, but it should also be noted that the greeting "Happy Holidays" goes back before all that without the political onus that is now attached to it. At the very least it included the New Year with Christmas.

Now it has become a sign of the fact that the culture no longer regards itself as Christian, has begun to appropriate the American First Amendment to validate all religions, even in some sense every religion BUT Christianity, and that's what the churches are objecting to. We are no longer "Christendom" we are headed as a culture back to the paganism Christianity had slowly displaced over the centuries.

Pinto says it's silly to try to make the pagan culture acknowledge Christmas since they don't believe in Christ anyway. It's a good point but I think he's missing the bigger context of the culture wars and why this upsets Christians these days. [Later: I should acknowledge here, however, that Chris Pinto also did the most convincing study I've ever run across demonstrating the NON-Christian foundations of America, which I'm sure I covered somewhere in this blog or another of my blogs. It's at You Tube I'm sure. So in his mind there really hasn't been a Christian culture to lose.]

It IS a good point though. I think he's right overall, we should just give up our insistence on a Christian culture which hasn't existed for decades anyway. It's good for the church that we separate ourselves from the culture, why should we expect anything of unbelievers? We are told we are not of this world and we should embrace this opportunity for a clearer separation.

At the end of Part II he makes some very good points about how just about everything has a pagan meaning anyway, including the rainbow, including just about every number, defined by pagans or satanists or whatnot, things whose TRUE origin is God. He makes the point that it's superstition to get exercised over the satanic meanings that were imposed on the things that were made by God. This world IS ruled by Satan, this IS a fallen world until the Lord recreates it at the very end, but as for TRUE origins, it BELONGS TO God -- the rainbow belongs to God, numbers belong to God, the days of the calendar belong to God, etc. etc. etc. -- while Satan's rule is going to come to an end thanks to the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.



*"Head of the Church": I just feel like adding the personal information here that when I was first learning about Christianity -- in the mid-80s -- I was strongly drawn to some Catholic writers, especially the "mystics" like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and Brother Lawrence and Madame Guyon. (Just for the record I still love them, especially the latter two, though I've learned to separate out their specifically Catholic errors from their genuine love of Christ). I was sure I was going to become a Catholic but I made no move toward any church for quite some time, content for the time being just to read and read and read and learn everything I could about the history of the Church and Christendom.

After I'd encountered some Protestant writers I was not so sure I was going to become a Catholic but I had yet to learn about the Reformation. (I did not like Martin Luther. He struck me as a rude heathen by contrast with the genuine followers of Christ melted in adoration of Him that I'd found the "mystics" to be, so it took me a while to get around to Reformation writings).

At one point in that period I ran across a description of the Pope as "Head of the Church" and it really bothered me. The next time I opened the Bible the Lord guided me to one of the passages where it says flatly, "Christ is the Head of the Church" (Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18).

That abruptly ended my leanings toward Catholicism. After that I began to learn about the Antichrist nature of the Roman Church.