Church of God (Seventh Day) moving toward Christmas observance
By Alan Knight
ANTIOCH, Calif.--New moves toward endorsing Christmas observance ignited controversy in the Church of God (Seventh Day) this holiday season.
This first became an issue in the CG7 four years ago when the headquarters church in Denver, Colo., held a "Christmas Sabbath" service. That service, promoted and conducted by Whaid Rose, president of the North American Conference, was held after sundown on Saturday evening, on the first day of the week by traditional Sabbatarian reckoning.
The religious theme of that service was advertised as "Jesus Is the Reason for the Season."
The latest round of controversy was ignited by an article in the July-August 2004 issue of the church's monthly magazine, The Bible Advocate. In an article titled "Reason on the Season," a CG7 pastor, Richard Cress, reviewed the traditional arguments against Christmas.
He wrote that Christmas is not the date of Christ's birth and that it has many pagan customs associated with it.
However, the article concluded, "a common fallacy of logic is to reject the whole of a thing because some part of it is faulty."
In Mr. Cress's words, "we must be careful not to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater.'"
Be scripturally correct
He concluded the article by encouraging the church to adopt what he called "correct action: celebrating biblical events in scripturally correct ways."
He suggested, for example, that church members sing nativity hymns that are scripturally accurate and sing them at the appropriate time, presumably during the fall when history indicates Jesus was born.
Partly because the wording is sometimes vague, the Cress article has been interpreted by some as endorsing Christmas and Easter celebration within CG7 congregations.
For example, though Mr. Cress endorses singing Christmas hymns at the "appropriate time," he also adds "or at any other time."
Additional clarification of the trends within the CG7 and its attitude towards Christmas and Easter can be gleaned from letters to The Bible Advocate published in the November issue, in which editor Calvin Burrell responds to complaints about the Cress article.
Mr. Burrell's response is notable for what it doesn't say as well as what it does.
Letters to the editor
The magazine ran three letters that accused the church of endorsing Christmas observance. They complain that such observance is not commanded by the Bible, that it is pagan, that it is motivated by an improper desire to appeal to outsiders and increase membership, and that if celebrations of Christ's birth and death are to be added to the church calendar the best choice would be Old Testament celebrations, all of which point to Christ.
Mr. Burrell strikes two primary themes in his response. He appeals to Romans 14:4-6, the passage in which Paul discusses church members in the first century who brought local customs into the church regarding fasting and observing certain unspecified days.
Paul makes no mention of problems with pagan religion in this situation. He counsels the church not to judge those who fast vs. not fast, or observe vs. not observe whatever those days were.
Applying that to Christmas and Easter, Mr. Burrell assures the reader that the church will respect both those who abstain from nonbiblical holidays and those who do celebrate Christ's birth and the resurrection.
When referring to those who celebrate Christ's birth and resurrection, he does not limit his comments to what is considered biblically accurate as in Mr. Cress's article. Rather, he refers to all manner of celebrations of Jesus' birth and death, "in varying degrees, times and manners."
Another theme in Mr. Burrell's response involves the question of whether the Bible actually forbids the celebration of Christmas and Easter. In his view neither the church nor the Bible explicitly forbids them. Therefore, he concludes, Christians are free to choose their own manner of honoring Christ's birth and resurrection.
In his words, "The issue here is whether Christians are permitted to do only what is strictly commanded to be done, or may we do anything for God's glory except what he forbids us to do."
This is a sharp departure from a traditional belief of the CG7 in regards to celebrating nonbiblical holidays.
For much of its history, the church has maintained that the Bible implicitly forbids observing Christmas and Easter because of the pagan customs associated with them, based on passages in both Old and New Testaments that instruct God's people to forsake the practices and customs of the world, of the gentiles or of the heathen.
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