“Christmas and the Reformed Worship”
Church Order Drawn up in the National Synod of (held in 1618 and 1619) and accepted as a concord of ecclesiastic community by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
Article 67: “The Churches shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, with the following day, and whereas in most of the cities and provinces of the Netherlands the day of Circumcision and of Ascension of Christ are also observed, Ministers in every place where this is not yet done shall take steps with the Government to have them conform with the others.”
The observance of Christmas consists of a public worship service on the 25th, December. All the elements of such a service would be the same as those that make up the church’s worship on any other Sabbath Day. The Lord’s servant would preach on some aspect of the birth of Jesus Christ, usually, but not necessarily, from the history in the gospels. The gathered church hears the good news, the gospel of the incarnation and with much thankfulness praises God with hymns/psalms which are appropriate for the occasion.
The nay-sayers who object to our Reformed principles on this, as with Canons of Dordt in this provision and practice usually do so in regard to the “regulative principle” of worship. That the observance of Christmas is not prescribed in Scripture. This surely is a failure to understand the “regulative principle.” The fact that Dordt permitted, and prescribed, observance of Christmas, with the knowledge of, and commitment to, the “regulative principle” as inscribed in the “Heidelberg Catechism, Q96.” They saw no conflict between obedience to the second commandment, to worship God only in the “way that he has commanded us in his word” and the observance of Christmas in the context of a Reformed worship service. The fathers of Dordt saw no conflict because there is none.
The “regulative principle” requires that the contents of public worship, the how of worship should be those, and those only, that God permits in his word. That is whether the public worship be on the Sabbath Day or on some special occasion. The “regulative principle” doesn’t forbid the church to gather for worship on another day other than Sunday or on another occasion than the usual remembrance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week. The Heidelberg Catechism explains the fourth commandment thus, that “I, especially on the sabbath diligently frequent the church of God.” The Catechism doesn’t say, “exclusively on the sabbath.” The Westminster Assembly likewise allowed for the observance of days of public fasting and of public thanksgiving in addition to the observance of the sabbath (“The Directory for the Public Worship of God”).
John Calvin looked sceptically at the celebration of Christmas because of the corruption of that celebration by Roman Catholicism in his day. He did not, however, forbid it as a transgression of the second commandment. Calvin went along with the Geneva church’s observance of the four great feast days that did not fall on a Sunday, including Christmas. When the Council decided to abolish these observances, John Calvin wrote to a correspondent that, if he had been asked for advice, he would not have supported this decision
There is a danger that the ignorant and unlearned in the church today distort our defence of the “regulative principle.” These Christmas nay-sayers must be silenced by a clear exposition of a proper application of the principle, lest we fall into a rigid, stifling, and divisive legalism which, as is already happening people are turning from, abandoning and thus endangering the principle itself.
(James R Hamilton, 2015)