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Why Not Put a Christmas Tree in the Church Building?
Bible study on Christmas and the church.

I had a telephone Bible study with a new Christian about Christmas, and want to share a few thoughts pertaining to Christmas in this bulletin.

Why not put a Christmas tree in the church building? We use plants and trees to give it color anyway, what's wrong with a Christmas tree?

The Church Obeys Jesus
Christ has all authority in the church. Therefore, the church is subject to Him in everything.

  • "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:23-24).

As a congregation of Christ's church, we obey Him and don't go beyond what He's authorized (Heb. 5:9; Col. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:6).

Christmas is a Man-Made Holiday
The date of Christmas has varied throughout history, since we don't know the date of Christ's birth. Finally in A.D. 440, it was set as December 25th to replace the pagan worship of sun gods during winter solstice festivals.

At first, the Catholic Church observed Christmas solely in religious church services. But as the observance spread, pagan practices originating from sun worship were mixed with Christmas traditions -- trees, lights, decorations, mistletoe, giving presents, yule logs, and merrymaking.

Ironically, many Christmas traditions predate Christianity and the birth of Christ, having roots in pagan observances.

When we consider whether we can observe Christmas in the church, we must realize it's a man-made holiday.

The Church Isn't Authorized To Observe Man-Made Holidays
Since the church is limited to the things Christ authorized, and since Christ hasn't authorized the church to observe man-made holidays, we can't observe Christmas in the church.

If we do anything Christ hasn't authorized, such as observing man-made holidays, our worship is vain, since we neglect God's commands to keep the traditions of men.

  • "And He said to them, 'Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.' He was also saying to them, 'You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition'" (Mk. 7:6-9).

We don't observe Christmas as a church because it's a man-made religious holiday. If we did, our worship would be vain.

A Christmas Tree as Decoration?
But why can't we use a Christmas tree to decorate the church building, just like the other plants we use?

Well, for the same reason people don't put Christmas trees up in June.

The Christmas tree is not a generic decoration, for which we have liberty to employ in the church. It's a symbol of a man-made holy day (holiday).

We can't take "Christmas" out of the "Christmas tree." If we put a Christmas tree in the church building, we're observing Christmas in some sense, and our worship becomes vain.

But, I Can Put One in My House!
It's true, we have liberty to observe Christmas individually, but not in the Lord's church. We can put a Christmas tree in our house, but not in the church building.

In Romans 14, Paul gives instructions regarding the observance of special days (Rom. 14:2, 5). Concerning this liberty, he says:

  • We shouldn't judge others (vs. 1).
  • We should be fully convinced in our own minds before observing the day (vs. 5, 23).
  • It should be done for the Lord, as with all things (vs. 6-8).
  • We should observe it in a way that wouldn't be a stumbling block for other Christians (vs. 19-22).

For example, Paul observed secular religious days on a personal basis, but not as a work of the church or matter of salvation.

Near the end of his third missionary journey, Paul hurried to Jerusalem so he would be there for Pentecost (Acts 20:16). The Greek text indicates that he wanted to be in Jerusalem for the "whole day" of Pentecost (Robertson). There's only one reasonable explanation as to why Paul desired to be in Jerusalem for the "whole day" -- he wanted to observe the day.

Corresponding to his personal observance of Pentecost, Paul personally kept the traditions of the Mosaic Law, but not as a work of the church or matter of salvation (Acts 21:23-24; Gal. 1:6-9; 5:4). He wrote:

  • "To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law" (1 Cor. 9:20).

We can't put Christmas trees in the church building because we're not authorized to observe Christmas in the church. But, we have the liberty to put them in our homes, as long as we observe the Lord's commands pertaining to personal liberty.