“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years.”
The New Testament does not permit the observance of holy days. The early Reformers generally put an end to special worship services on days such as Christmas and Easter, because of the unbiblical elevation of such days in the medieval church. The Lord’s Day was the only day that most of them would view as a mandated day for worship. Some such as John Calvin extended the principle even to the Lord’s Day, teaching that public worship on one day out of seven was more a matter of good church order than it was a divine command making that day different than any other.
As the Reformation went on, many churches continued or resumed the practice of remembering certain aspects of Christ’s life at certain times of the year, while others prohibited it. The RCUS constitution states that it is permissible for churches to recognize Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and other days, including national days of thanksgiving, as they see fit. None of these days are mandated, however, and care should always be taken to remember that such days are not required by Scripture, are not means of grace, and should never be elevated above those things which the Lord has commanded us to do.
The Christmas season is the time when much of the Christian world chooses to remember the incarnation and birth of Christ. It is appropriate to recognize certain times of the year as times when we will remember various aspects of our redemption and to reflect on the historical events of Scripture to focus on those truths. There are a great many beautiful hymns that have been written for the Christmas and Easter seasons particularly. But superstition and legalism are constant temptations. High church ceremonialism is coming back into vogue in the Reformed world, with all the sacerdotalist trappings, and believers should be on their guard. We must not think that Easter or Christmas are special times of the dispensing of God’s grace, since no mention is made of them in Scripture and no command is given to observe these days. We should never permit these seasonal times to overshadow what God has commanded: the regular, everyday preaching of the whole counsel of God.
Superstition is more of a problem than many think. It is all too common for Christians to believe that special dispensations of grace are given to believers on certain days, or that our spiritual walks are enhanced by ceremonies that God never commanded. These are the “weak and beggarly elements” Paul cautions us about. We should never permit materialism, nostalgia or our ever-present tendency to manufacture idols in our hearts distract us from the simple and unadorned worship, sacraments, prayer and preaching of God’s Word which is commanded us in Scripture. These are what God promises us will advance the Christian life.
We are at liberty to choose to remember the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection at the traditional times the Church has done so, a practice that goes back as far as anyone knows. But we should always be content with the means of grace that God Himself ordained, and resist the ever-present pull of our sinful hearts to manufacture new ones.