Tuesday, December 21

Secular Christmas

Christmas is upon us. This year, probably like so many others in the past years, the chattering classes (including the bloggers) have been pontificating on the increased secularization of Christmas. From corporations deciding on high to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" to avoid "offense". This is just one symptom among others. A few weeks ago, I entreated that the Christians should perhaps abandon the holiday to the secular crowd (here). Joe Carter (Evangelical Outpost) has likewise pondered the same issue with a similar result recently (here). Can we learn from the early church about how to proceed?

As I have mentioned recently, I've been reading N.T. Wright's series Christian Origins and The Question of God. In these books, we learn a great deal about the 1st century worldview. There are similarities in our situation (and differences).

In the early church, Christians were a small persecuted sect. Christmas itself of course was not an issue, but the secular pagan society had the "big stage", much like the secular atheist/deist sector of today's society has the stage. Christianity like then was made up of diverse groups with a plethora of small and large doctrinal differences. Granted, now in America we make up a larger fraction of the whole population, but our cultural impact is proportionally much smaller than our numerical numbers might warrant (the reasons for that might make another essay for a later time). The ACLU and other atheist groups have been campaigning to get rid of all Christian and Christmas symbols from the public square. In the early church, before Christians were bring killed en masse, they were banished from Rome (on grounds of atheism) for their secret and subversive practices.

What did those early Christians do? How might and random early Christian (say St. Paul) advise us to do today about this matter? Ok, Paul is not exactly a random choice, but we have some of his extant writing ;). Paul certainly did not shirk from evangelism. At the same time, he did not confront Caesar directly, although Mr Wright has argued persuasively (here) that he did confront him obliquely in Romans. He spread his ministry at a personal level. He confronted heresy among his brethren.

So here's my advice. If you're asked to say "Happy Holiday's", remove the religious messages from your workplace or community. Do it cheerfully. As Mr Carter suggests, when they want the Merry Christmas removed, take down the nativity scene as well. Pin an Ichthys (sans cross please) to your shirt and,
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

May grace and peace be with all. And Happy Holidays! :)