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Christmas-Keeping and
the Reformed Faith

David W. Cason

Chapter 1

To the Reader

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

1 Thess. 5:21

Every man's work shall be made manifest and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

1 Cor. 3:13

In the 15 December 1994 Standard Bearer, the denominational magazine of the Protestant Reformed Churches, a letter was submitted to the editor, requesting a defense of Christmas-keeping. A response was provided by Prof. David J. Engelsma (hereafter referred to as Prof.E. for brevity's sake). The debate continued in the 15 March 1995 issue, with another letter and another response by Prof.E. That the defense provided has to it a degree of credibility is undeniable. But credibility and truthfulness are not the same. In reality, Prof.E.'s arguments are both erroneous in themselves, and based upon principles harmful to the liberty of Christ's church, the purity of God's instituted worship, and the kingly prerogatives of Christ. Furthermore, in presenting his arguments, Prof.E. has made misrepresentations of important reformed figures, doctrines and events. The Standard Bearer is a magazine of significant circulation in the reformed community, and this controversy involves many truths of no small importance. Left unanswered, the professor's defense of Christmas is likely both to mislead many in that community, and to perpetuate the darkness and confusion which have over taken the church of Christ today with regard to those truths. For these and other reasons, we believe that a public, thorough reply to Prof.E.'s defense is necessary. Providing that reply is the purpose of this work. It is not intended that this be an exhaustive treatment of all the issues involved in the debate. Our intent is to confine the discussion to Prof.E.'s actual arguments, demonstrating their weakness from scripture and the reformed creeds.

To the reader we offer this additional word of exhortation. Rational discussion of the Christmas question is usually undermined by the emotion and prejudice brought to the dialogue. We beseech you to put away all such emotional excess at the outset. Come with humility of mind, and a readiness to receive the word of God. Come with a mind enquiring after truth alone. Submit the arguments on both sides to the test of scripture, and receive only those principles which have a sure foundation in the word, discarding the rest as hay and stubble fit for burning. Surely this is a fair request by any righteous standard. May the Lord bless you with all wisdom and discernment to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2

The Defense of Christmas

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered.

1 Kings 18:26

Many readers, not having access to Prof.E.'s defense of Christmas-keeping in its original publication, might not be able to read his arguments for themselves. For this reason, we offer here the entire text of Prof.E.'s statements, adding only reference numbers for ease of later citation.

I. The Standard Bearer, 15 December 1994[1]

[1] I have not seen the booklet that you mention.[2]

[2] The Protestant Reformed Churches' practice of observing Christmas is a long and honorable tradition in the Reformed Churches that trace their spiritual descent to the Synod of Dordt. [3] Article 67 of the venerable Church Order of Dordt (1618/1619) requires that the Reformed churches "shall observe in addition to the Sunday also Christmas...."

[4] This observance consists of a public worship service on December 25. [5] The elements of this service are the same as those that make up the congregation's worship on the Sabbath. [6] The minister preaches on some aspect of the birth of Christ, usually, and preferably, the history in the gospels. [7] The congregation hears the blessed gospel of the incarnation and praises God with appropriate psalms in congregational singing.

[8] Objection against Dordt in this provision and practice is invariably in terms of the "regulative principle" of worship: observance of Christmas is not prescribed in Scripture.

[9] But this is a misunderstanding of the "regulative principle." [10] This is evident from the fact that Dordt permitted, indeed prescribed, observance of Christmas even though the great Reformed synod was committed to the "regulative principle" as laid down in Question 96 of the Heidelberg Catechism. [11] Dordt saw no conflict between the requirement of the second commandment that we worship God only in the "way ... He has commanded in His Word" and the observance of Christmas at a Reformed worship service. [12] The fathers of Dordt saw no conflict because there is none.

[13] The "regulative principle" requires that the elements of public worship ­ the "how" of worship ­ be those, and those only, that God prescribes in His Word, whether the public worship be on the Lord's Day or on some special occasion. [14] The "regulative principle" certainly does not forbid the church ever to gather for worship on another day than Sunday or on another occasion than the regular remembrance of Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week.

[15] The Heidelberg Catechism explains the fourth commandment as requiring that "I, especially on the sabbath diligently frequent the church of God." [16] The Catechism does not say, "exclusively on the sabbath."

[17] 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 (see "The Directory for the Public Worship of God").

[18] Calvin looked askance at the celebration of Christmas in his day because of the corrupting of that celebration by Roman Catholicism (see I. VanDellen and M. Monsma, The Church Order Commentary, Zondervan, 1941, p. 273). [19] He did not, however, flatly forbid it as a transgression of the second commandment. [20] As I noted in my review of Wulfert de Greef's The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide (Baker, 1993), Calvin went along with the Geneva church's observance of the four great feast days that did not fall on a Sunday, including Christmas. [21] When the Council decided to abolish these observances, Calvin wrote a correspondent that, if he had been asked for advice, he would not have supported this decision (see de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, p. 57; my review of this book appeared in the September 29, 1994 issue of the Standard Bearer).

[22] This is the kind of wisdom that we defenders of the "regulative principle" must demonstrate in our application of the principle, lest we fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism and, thus, imperil the principle itself.

II. The Standard Bearer, 15 March 1995[3]

[1] The term "Christmas," according to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, derives from a word meaning "Christ's mass." [2] From this, nothing follows concerning use of the word by the true church. [3] According to Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics (ed. Carl F. H. Henry, Baker, 1973), the word "Sunday" is "derived from pagan sources and denotes the day devoted to the sun" (p. 653). [4] This does not rule out Christians meeting for worship on this day or using the word to refer to the day on which they engage in public worship.

[5] There is no basis in Scripture for the Reformed churches' commemoration of Christ's birth on December 25. [6] Neither is there basis in Scripture for their observing a Day of Prayer on the second Wednesday of March annually. [7] Nor is there such basis in Scripture for services of public worship in observance of "notable judgments," "some special blessing," and "days of public thanksgiving," as allowed by the Westminster Assembly's "Directory for the Public Worship of God" and as actually held by Presbyterian churches in the Scottish tradition.

[8] The Reformed and Presbyterian churches have the liberty to observe these special occasions by worship services on other days than the Lord's Day. [9] This is really our liberty. It is our liberty in Christ Jesus. [10] The Belgic Confession asserts this liberty in general terms: "it is useful and beneficial that those who are rulers of the church institute and establish certain ordinances among themselves for maintaining the body of the church" (Art 32). [11] The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, in its day a Reformation creed of standing, distribution, and influence, expresses this liberty in specific terms:

[12] Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and the ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, we approve of it highly (Chapter 24, in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster, 1966).

[13] That which churches maintaining the "regulative principle" do not have liberty to do is to introduce into the worship service itself, whether on the Lord's Day or on a special occasion, any other element of worship besides those commanded by Scripture. [14] As the Heidelberg Catechism explains, God requires in the second commandment that we not worship Him "in any other way than He has commanded in His Word" (Q. 96).

[15] The "regulative principle" of public worship does not care on what day, in addition to Sunday, the church may gather for public worship, or that the occasion may be celebrating the birth of Christ or some notable judgment. [16] The concern of the "regulative principle" is that when the church does gather for worship she worships God only as He has commanded in His Word; using the sacraments; publicly calling upon the Lord (which includes congregational singing of the Psalms); contributing to the relief of the poor; and doing all in spirit and in truth (see Heid. Cat., Q. 103; John 4:24).

[17] The Reformed churches that stand in the tradition of Dordt do not accuse, and never have accused, their Presbyterian brothers and sisters who stand in the tradition of Westminster of any wrong-doing as regards their worship. [18] It is perfectly alright in our judgment that the Scottish Presbyterians do not observe Christmas by a public worship service on December 25, or any other date. [19] We make no effort to bind their consciences.

[20] When, on the other hand, our Presbyterian brothers and sisters accuse the Reformed churches standing in the tradition of Dordt of transgressing the second commandment, because they do observe Christmas, we warn them, "Beware, lest in applying the good principle you 'fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism, and, thus, imperil the principle itself.'" [21] This was, and is, my warning, not to those who choose not to observe Christmas, but to those who are inclined to charge Article 67 of the Church Order of Dordt, and the Reformed believers adhering to it, with violation of the second commandment.

[22] You inform us what you would do, should any minister call for the observance of Christmas: flatly refuse to attend.

[23] It may be profitable to you to know what I would do, if the situation were reversed. [24] If the consistory decided to drop the observance of Christmas by a special worship service on December 25, I would acquiesce, although regretting the unnecessary giving up of a delightful, edifying service. [25] If the consistory gave as its reason, that it desired to avoid practical dangers, e.g., the secular corruption of Christmas or the threat of Roman Catholicism, I would still acquiesce, although believing the thinking of the consistory to be faulty.

[26] But if the consistory gave as its reason for dropping the observance of Christmas that the observance of Christmas is per se violation of the second commandment, I would move heaven and earth to restore the observance and, certainly, to attend an observance myself.

[27] It is a precious principle with us Reformed of Dordt not to allow our liberty in Christ to be infringed.

[These comments are Prof.E.'s defense of Christmas-keeping, as published in the Standard Bearer.]

Chapter 3

The Consent Of The Fathers

If antiquity is used as an argument (and those who are overly addicted to custom and traditional ways of acting use antiquity boldly, as a shield to hide all their corruptions), it is easy to refute it.

John Calvin[1]

So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.

2 Kings 17:41

Prof.E. begins his defense with these words, "The Protestant Reformed Churches' practice of observing Christmas is a long and honorable tradition" (I:2; cf. II:5). That it is ancient, we do not deny. That it is honorable is another thing altogether. But of the greatest import is, that at the very outset, Prof.E. has admitted that the foundation for his practice is to be located in tradition, and tradition only. How the antiquity or supposed honorableness of Christmas-keeping is related to establishing the lawfulness of the practice, he does not tell us. In fact, such arguments serve only an emotional purpose, and distract from the real issues.

And just what is an "honorable tradition"? What are the biblical criteria by which we can identify one? Prof.E.'s assertion? Personal whim? The Pope's decree? And what place ought tradition to have among us? Is it a rule of our practice? Does tradition establish what is right in the service of God, and true religion?

The Pharisees had a tradition of ceremonially washing their hands before meals. Christ told them that they worshipped God in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt 15:9; Mark 7:7). One reformed authority sums up Jesus' attitude towards extra-biblical tradition with these words, "There was a strong tradition within the covenant community of that day that consisted of man-made commandments by which the people were to serve God. There was a holding of the traditions that esteemed those laws with the most intense, religious zeal.... Jesus pitilessly condemned this holding of the traditions as hypocrisy."[2] But wait, this reformed authority is none other than ­ Prof.E. himself! In fact, Prof.E. tells us in this same article that while in New Testament times "the traditions were taught the congregation both by word and by writing, today, after the completion of the New Testament canon, the traditions are the content of the Scriptures, and nothing besides."[3]

In 1991, Prof.E. evidently saw clearly that the issue of tradition is really the issue of the authority of scripture. But now he will have us accept extra-biblical tradition as a suitable companion for scripture in ordering the worship of the church. Has Prof.E. left Geneva for a Canterbury pilgrimage? When Prof.E. can locate Christmas-keeping in "the content of the scriptures, and nothing besides," then we will consider his "honorable tradition." Until that time we will hold fast to the traditions of the word of God, which are far more ancient, and unquestionably more honorable.

Prof.E. continues with an argument that can essentially be reduced to the following syllogism (I:3-12):

1. The Synod of Dordt held to the regulative principle.

2. The Synod of Dordt enjoined the observation of Christmas.

ERGO, There is no conflict between Christmas-keeping and the regulative principle.

The most obvious answer to this argument is, that it is really no argument at all. All that it can establish is, that in the eyes of the Synod of Dordt in 1618 there was no conflict between these two things. But is it not a basic scriptural and confessional principle that synods and councils can and do err, and that therefore their declarations are to be tried by the rule of scripture?[4] That the Synod of Dordt considered these two doctrines consistent is no proof of their being so, unless councils are infallible, in which case we had all better pack for the next flight to Constantinople. The fact is, the synod may have been inconsistent. Their consistency on the debated point is an assertion itself requiring proof, not an argument! This is the notorious fallacy known as "begging the question."

Interestingly, Prof.E. is inconsistent with himself here. It is well known that reformed theologians have taught that marriage is a permanent bond broken only by death. But they have also taught (as have some reformed councils) that divorce and remarriage are lawful under certain circumstances. Upon Prof.E.'s logic, these two propositions must therefore be consistent with one another. Prof.E. has written elsewhere, however, that the reformed, in tolerating remarriage, are inconsistent with their view of marriage as a bond breakable only by death, and that we should therefore repudiate such a tolerance as unscriptural.[5] Yet, when it comes to Christmas-keeping, evidently the rules of argument change. The bare holding of two seemingly opposed things by a reformed creed or theologian now functions as a substantial proof of the consistency of those things with one another. This is undeniably a double standard. Or perhaps the standard is truly uniform: the denominational status quo.

This argument from Prof.E. is really quite weightless. As further proof, consider this alternate syllogism of our own devising:

1. The Westminster Assembly (also a reformed synod) held to the regulative principle.

2. The Westminster Assembly banned Christmas-keeping.

ERGO, (on Prof.E.'s own logic) Christmas-keeping and the regulative principle are inconsistent and irreconcilable.

Where are we now? Two reformed synods. Both espouse the regulative principle. One finds holy days repugnant to the regulative principle and bans them; one evidently does not find them repugnant and prescribes their observance. Where does that leave us? Exactly nowhere. The question cannot be settled by this sort of argument. Obviously it requires that we take the determinations of the two synods and consult some further authority to decide between the two, that authority being the scriptures.[6] One synod is obviously wrong, as the two views are mutually exclusive. It is a non-defense simply to assert what one or the other synod held. And the situation is actually worse than even this suggests. In 1574, a synod of the Belgic churches meeting at Dordt forbade the observation of Christmas. This was repeated again in 1578.[7] Why is the decision of 1618 to be received as true while the earlier decisions are rejected as false. Was revelation progressing?[8]

Christmas-keeping can only be defended on the grounds of its being either a necessity or a liberty. If it is defended as a necessity, we ask "Why?" Is it a necessity by the command of the word of God? That would be nonsense to assert, and Prof.E. himself denies any such origin for the practice (I:8; II:5). The only other defense would be that it is a necessity by the prescription of the synod. But on what basis? By what authority? It cannot be the authority of a synod speaking forth the declaration of scripture, since Christmas is not to be found there. It must then be an innate authority within synods, or at least, within this particular synod. But when did the synod gain this authority? Did Christ give it to them? Where in scripture did Christ delegate to synods a power and authority to require the observation of man-invented holy days? When did he bestow it upon them? Some "long" and "honorable" time ago? And if Christ did not delegate to them this power, where did they get it? If Christmas-keeping is a necessity, it is so due to the declaration of one synod speaking apart from the word of God, contradicting its earlier judgment, exercising an innate synodical authority never delegated to it by Jesus Christ anywhere, ever.

But Prof.E. professes to believe in Christmas-keeping as a matter of liberty (II:8-9). This admission will only further overturn his argument. If Christmas-keeping is a matter of liberty, as Prof.E. would have it, then it is also a matter of liberty not to keep Christmas, (which he also admits) (II:18). And if it is a Bible liberty not to keep Christmas, then it must be a liberty for all Christians and churches. But there is a problem. The Synod has denied them this liberty. The Synod did not say that they might keep Christmas if they so wished, but that "The Churches shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, with the following day."[9] If Christmas-keeping is allowed as a liberty, then the Synod has given a binding prescription in a matter of liberty. We simply ask again, where and when did any synod obtain authority to prescribe what is a self-confessed matter of liberty? The confessions deny them this right. "[W]e reject all human inventions, and all laws, which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever."[10] "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship."[11] The scriptures likewise deny them this right (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:8,9,13; Acts 4:19, 5:29). So when exactly did the Synod obtain the authority to bind the church to a religious observation apart from the law of God? How is this any different from banning meat on Friday, or requiring St. Cuthbert's day? If Christmas-keeping is a matter of liberty, which churches and Christians may freely use or disuse, then Synods have gained an independent, innate, invisibly delegated authority (contrary to the express declaration of scripture and the Reformed confessions), to bind consciences in matters of liberty, and require religious observances found nowhere in all the Bible.

Prof.E. here confuses an issue of extreme importance. What Prof.E. teaches is not a liberty held by individual Christians, but a synodical liberty, or consistorial liberty. According to Prof.E., it is the "liberty" of the government of the church to require Christmas-keeping (II:8-13). Did it never occur to Prof.E. that in granting this "liberty" to the government of the church, he denies it to all her subjects? What Prof.E. is really saying is that because Christmas is a supposed matter of liberty, therefore its observance may be imposed on all by the pastors and elders of the church. But what sort of liberty is this? This is a liberty of total bondage to the doctrines and commandments of men. This is the very opposite of the biblical and confessional doctrine of Christian liberty.[12] If it is our liberty not to observe Christmas, no pastor, no elder, no synod, and no council may impose it upon us, or upon any others of God's children! Those things the Bible grants as Christian liberties are liberties to every child of God; if their governmental representatives attempt to restrict that true liberty, those governors act wickedly, and ought to be rebuked and opposed (Col. 2:20-23; Gal. 2:4-5, 5:1; Acts 4:19; Isa. 8:20). Prof.E.'s arguments would justify the Pharisees in teaching for doctrines the commandments of men because they were the government of the church, and therefore had the right to do so. After all, much of what the Pharisees required of men were merely additions to the word of God, not contradictions. They were things "beside" the word of God, not things "contrary to his word"[13] (e.g. handwashing or baptizing of cups and pots) (Matt. 15:1-3; Mark 7:3-4).

Beloved reader, we cannot warn you with enough vigor or emphasis that this construction created by Prof.E. is a monstrous renewal of the doctrines of popery and Phariseeism. It is in this very way that the man of sin first began and then strengthened his dominion over the lives and consciences of men ( 1 Tim. 4:1-3). It is this very doctrine that built the edifices first of apostate Jerusalem and then of anti-Christian Rome. For your soul's sake, beware.[14]

To defend this ecclesiastical tyranny, Prof.E. quotes a portion of Article 32 of the Belgic Confession: "it is useful and beneficial that those who are rulers of the church institute and establish certain ordinances among them for maintaining the body of the church" (II:10). Prof.E. fails to reproduce the extremely relevant sentences that follow. "Yet they ought studiously to take care, that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only Master, hath instituted. And therefore we reject all human inventions and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any matter whatever. Therefore we admit only of that which tends to nourish and preserve concord, and unity, and to keep all men in obedience to God." Perhaps someone has been tampering with the professor's copy of the confession. Perhaps he accidentally picked up an Anglo-Lutheran version. Perhaps.

There is no doubt but this article gives the government of the church the power to "establish certain ordinances." But the same article also regulates those ordinances very carefully, by setting conditions they must meet. We ask Prof.E., does Christmas "maintain the body of the church"? Is not Christmas a "departure from those things which Christ, our only Master, hath instituted"? Is it not a human invention and law introduced by man into the worship of God? Does Christmas tend to "nourish and preserve concord and unity"? Does Christmas help to "keep all men in obedience to God"? Christmas meets none of the conditions set forth by the confession. In fact, it is a letter-perfect violation of several of them. Prof.E. imagines that he has found in this article a general assertion of Christian liberty that allows the imposition of festival days (II:8-10); instead he has found a general condemnation of the practice. And how consistent with honest argument such partial, manipulative quoting is; and what reflection such a practice makes upon the character and cause of its author, we leave to the judgment of the reader.

Prof.E. finds his magic bullet in the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, which expressly mentions Christian liberty and the observation of festival days in the same breath (II:11-12). But once again he merely quotes the confession as the "end all-be all" of the argument, just as he cited the Synod of Dordt before (I:3). He does not tell us that the Scottish church, in reviewing this confession and lending their approval to it, expressly mentioned and repudiated the very passage which he cites.[15]

This brings us back to our earlier problem of two opposing reformed synods. And once again, the answer can only be found by comparing the decrees of those councils to the word of God. Prof.E. also fails to note that this confession does not prescribe the observance of the festival days, but merely allows individual congregations to observe them if they so desire. Unwittingly, Prof.E. condemns his argument by this citation, rather than establishing it. The Second Helvetic Confession counts festival days to be a Christian liberty, and so allows their observance. This is a consistent, though erroneous position. But Prof.E. is not defending the allowance of festival days by church government as a matter of liberty; he is defending their prescription by church government as a matter of liberty. There is a vast gulf between these two things, one evidently recognized by the authors of the Second Helvetic Confession. It is a distinction that appears to be lost upon Prof.E. Thus, the Second Helvetic Confession fails to establish anything to Prof.E.'s purposes.

The role of tradition in the faith of the church, the nature of Christian liberty, the scope of the authority of ecclesiastical assemblies ­ these are all doctrines of central importance to the health of Christ's church. We are in grave danger when just one of these truths is distorted or lost. Prof.E. has corrupted all three in his defense of Christmas. But perhaps there is yet some hope. To conclude this chapter, we can offer no sounder statement than one made by Prof.E. himself: "The [reformed] tradition, precious as it is to us, may not be allowed to override the Scriptures, but the Scriptures test, condemn, and purify the tradition. That the Reformed church and believer may test and reject certain aspects of their own tradition according to the standard of Holy Scripture is the testimony of the Reformed creed."[16] Now if only we could persuade him to take his own medicine.

Chapter 4

Deregulating the Regulative Principle

God not only rejects all invented manners of worship but strongly abominates them. It must be said, in fact, that as soon as men seek to worship God by their own judgment, whatever they produce is foul profanation.

John Calvin[1]

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Deut. 12:32

Continuing his defense, Prof.E. introduces a tether by which he attempts to attach his earlier argument to the earth before it has a chance to float away. Faced with the charge of inconsistency in the Synod of Dordt, he must somehow reconcile the regulative principle and Christmas-keeping. To accomplish this formidable task, he simply offers a definition for the regulative principle which allows Christmas-keeping. He writes, 'The "regulative principle" requires that the elements of public worship ­ the "how" of worship ­ be those, and those only, that God prescribes in His Word, whether the public worship be on the Lord's Day or on some special occasion' (I:13). This argument also appears in a more extensive form in his second response (II:13-16). Under Prof.E.'s construction, the regulative principle is concerned with establishing the elements of worship only. That is, it establishes that in worship we are to have the elements of the preaching of the word, the singing of praises, prayer, the Lord's Supper, baptism, etc. This is the sole scope of the regulative principle. As the day of worship is not properly considered an element of worship, the regulative principle is not relevant, and certainly cannot be used as a means by which to condemn the keeping of festival days such as Christmas. This is the essence of his argument, insofar as it relates to the regulative principle.

The cardinal problem with this construction is that Prof.E. offers no proof that this is the reformed doctrine of the regulative principle, or that the confessions, when they establish the regulative principle, refer to only the broad elements of worship. Nor does he cite any scripture to this effect. We are evidently to accept this view of the regulative principle based upon his assertion alone.[2] But Prof.E.'s view of the regulative principle is certainly not the historic reformed view. The confessions do not limit the principle in any such fashion. The Heidelberg Catechism states, as the meaning of the second commandment, that we must "in no wise worship him [God] in any other way than he has commanded in his word."[3] This passage speaks to the worship of God in general, and extensively. There is absolutely nothing here which limits the principle espoused to the broad elements of worship. Instead, the Catechism uses language that is intentionally comprehensive. It speaks of any way of worship that God has not commanded. The Belgic Confession states that "the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written [in the scriptures]"[4] and also "reject[s] all human inventions, and all laws, which man would introduce into the worship of God."[5] The reader who takes these statements at face value is not likely to conclude that they are only referring to the broad elements of worship.

Perhaps the most refined statement of the regulative principle is contained in the Westminster Standards. The language here is precise and unmistakable. Consider the following passages:

Q. 3. What is the word of God?

A. The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.[6]

Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention.[7]

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship.[8]

[T]he acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in his holy word."[9]

Q. 109 What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden are all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any pretence whatsoever.[10]

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.[11]

According to the Westminster Standards, the word of God is the rule of faith and the only source by which to know what works are pleasing to God. When this basic principle (the sufficiency, authority and perfection of scripture) is applied to the worship of God, it follows that all worship must be based on the revealed will of God, and offered according to his institution. Furthermore, in matters of faith and worship, we are freed by true Christian liberty not only from things explicitly contrary to the word, but also from things merely "beside" the word. That is, the silence of scripture cannot be used to justify an innovation in worship, even if that innovation is not explicitly contrary to any commandment.

How do we identify the institutions of worship from scripture? From direct precept or institution, and also by deduction from good and necessary consequence. A good and necessary consequence is a consequence that is actually based upon its premises (good), and which forces itself upon the mind of an honest examiner of those premises (necessary).[12] But how far does this principle extend with regard to the worship of God? It extends to everything, with the only exceptions being those things which are mere "circumstances" of worship. "Circumstances" of worship are things "common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word which are always to be observed."[13]

A few examples will clarify this distinction. The scripture does not hold forth a particular time of day at which public worship ought to begin, nor a particular place at which it ought to occur. But any organization that has regular meetings, whether sacred or secular, must also have a stated time and place of assembly. This is something "common to human societies," and therefore a circumstantial part of worship. The church must set a time and place for worship, and does so without in the least infringing upon true Christian liberty. Even in setting a time and location for meeting, however, we must be governed by the "light of nature, Christian prudence, and the general rules of the word." Ordinarily, it would be neither wise nor prudent to set the meeting time at 2:00 A.M. in a cave, for obvious reasons. However, if terrible persecution were occurring, it might be extremely wise and prudent to meet at 2:00 A.M. in a cave, for safety's sake. It is a circumstance which must be decided, but the solution rests upon general considerations and not on direct divine institution.

Consider also the lighting of the church. Light is necessary for the reading of the word and for other parts of worship. Today, this is normally provided by overhead electrical lighting. If the electricity goes out, and candles are lit in order to illuminate the church that services might continue, this is no transgression of the regulative principle. But if we introduce some religious meaning to the lighting of candles (as is done in the Anglican and Roman churches), we have crossed the line, and require scripture institution to defend our practice. Status: RO

James Bannerman explains this distinction very clearly and succinctly with these words, "As soon as you attach a spiritual meaning, a sacred significance, to anything connected with worship, it becomes eo ipso a part of worship,"[14] and thus requires scriptural warrant. This extensive view of the regulative principle is not unique to the Westminster Standards. Article 67 of the Belgic Confession presents the same concept, but Prof.E.'s editorial abridgement obscures that fact. The reformed church has consistently used the regulative principle to oppose any addition or corruption, whether it be the introduction of a new element, or a corruption of the manner of observation of an existing element (such as kneeling at the sacrament, or the use of exorcism and oil in baptism). To limit the regulative principle merely to delineating certain broad elements of worship is both unbiblical and unconfessional. For a professor of theology to make such a representation is inexcusable.

But even Prof.E. does not consistently hold to his deregulated version of the regulative principle. Whenever it fits his purposes, he freely redefines the principle and uses it in a more extensive fashion. The 1 May 1995 Standard Bearer contains an article in which Prof.E. discusses music in the worship of the church. In the course of the article, he undertakes a defense of exclusive psalmody, based in part upon the regulative principle. But he extends his condemnation beyond hymn-singing in worship, and also criticizes the use of choirs, soloists, and times of special music. On what basis does he make this condemnation? According to Prof.E., choirs, soloists, and special music are contrary to the "revealed will of God. "[15] Only congregational singing of the psalms is agreeable to scripture. No biblical warrant can be found for the other. But to introduce choirs and soloists is not to introduce a new element of worship. Rather, these things relate to the manner in which a particular element ­ singing praises to God ­ is observed. Prof.E.'s argument is crucial to the present topic, for he is admitting that the revealed will of God with regard to worship (which is the regulative principle under another name) extends not only to the element itself, but also to the manner of observing the element. But this principle is just what he has been denying in his defense of festival days. It is obvious that both cannot be true. Which is the true biblical and confessional principle, we think, by now, is obvious.[16]

In reality, a view of the regulative principle which artificially restricts the principle to the broad elements is a device which allows for every variety of corruption to be intruded into the pure worship of God. Every species of embellishment could be placed upon the ordinances, so long as none seemed to introduce a new element. Every foul bird and unclean thing could roost in the worship of the church with no remedy. Prof.E. himself admits this much when he reconstructs the regulative principle to oppose the corruptions which he personally dislikes. In fact, virtually no innovation could be opposed, as long as it was dressed in the right garb by some "Reformed" Jesuit.[17] This formulation of the regulative principle is a double-barreled assault upon the purity of God's instituted worship. By definition, it is also an attack upon the true liberty of Christ's people. God has left the consciences of his people free in things even "beside" the word in matters of faith and worship. But Prof.E.'s doctrine opens the way for the destruction of Christian liberty by the tyranny of extra-biblical tradition and governmental whim. This road ends with idolatry and the oppression of God's people ­ for once a practice is approved, it will be required of all under the government of the synod. Only let some poor soul protest the unwarranted display of a popish religious symbol in his place of worship, seeking in good conscience to maintain the simplicity of Christ, and watch the vigor with which he will be assailed and condemned, and even required by his new masters to continue his worship in a place which defiles his conscience.[18] This attack upon true liberty of conscience is ultimately an attack upon the one who is lord over that conscience. It is men telling Christ how far they shall allow him to be king over his own church, and how far his laws may reach.[19] It is Christ wounded in the house of his friends.

Chapter 5

Festival Days and Prayer Days

There is a wide difference between what it is lawful for the church to do on those occasions when God in His providence may be calling its members to weeping and humiliation, or summoning them to special joy and thanksgiving, and what it is lawful for the Church to do in the way of setting up a standing part of its permanent worship.

James Bannerman[1]

Shall we suppose that Christ and his apostles, in abrogating those days which God himself had appointed to be observed, without instituting others in their room, intended that either churches or individuals should be allowed to substitute whatever they pleased in their room?

Thomas M'Crie[2]

Prof. E. continues his defense by attempting to demonstrate that the day of worship cannot be a regulative principle issue, because the church is free to worship God on any day of the week, for any reason. As evidence, he introduces the testimony of the reformed confessions respecting the occasional days of fasting and praise.[3] Prof.E. admits that festival days have no warrant from the word. But he also claims that the same is true of the occasional days of fasting and praise. Since Westminster approved of the occasional days, just as Dordt approved of the festival days, he concludes that neither the confessions nor scripture apply the regulative principle to the day of worship (I:14-17; II:5-7). In offering this argument, Prof.E. has omitted a critical portion of the biblical and confessional teaching regarding days of worship ­ the distinction between the occasional days of fasting and praise, known as prayer days, and the annual memorial days, known as festival days or holy days. He has also seriously blundered in his assertion that occasional days of fasting and praise have no scriptural warrant, and this very claim is the linchpin of his argument. When the distinction between the two types of days is cleared, and the continuing biblical warrant for the prayer days established, it will prove to be the downfall of his edifice.

The reformed confessions make a clear distinction between the festival days and the occasional days of prayer and fasting. Prof.E. cites the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God as allowing for prayer days (I:17, II:7). Indeed, the Directory devotes two entire chapters to the calling and management of public solemn fasts and days of public thanksgiving. In its appendix, the Directory states, "Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for public fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God's providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people."[4] But just prior to this, the Directory speaks forcefully regarding the festival days. "Festival days, vulgarly [commonly] called holy days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued."[5] Unfortunately, Prof.E. fails once again to quote or even mention the extremely relevant portion of the document in his citation.[6] The Directory distinguishes between occasional prayer days and regular festival days. Not only that, the Directory considers the day of worship to be an issue to which the word of God is to be applied, for it condemns festival days on the basis of their "having no warrant in the word."

The Synod of Dordt likewise made this distinction between festival days and prayer days. Article 67 of the Church Order of Dordt does indeed prescribe the observation of four annual religious festival days, in addition to the regular Sunday celebration. But Article 66 states that "in times of war, pestilence, calamities, heavy persecution of the churches, and other general distresses, the ministers of the churches shall request the government to employ their authority and command that public days of fasting and prayer be set aside." These are the prayer days. One commentary on the Church Order of Dordt even titles these two sections "Prayer Days" and "Festival Days" respectively.[7] The Synod of Dordt, while coming to a different conclusion regarding the lawfulness of festival days, clearly distinguished between the two types of days. The Synod made this distinction undoubtedly because it is a biblical distinction ­ a distinction between two entirely different types of days, with completely different regulations relating to their appointment and observance.

In the Old Testament we find the observance of religious festival days (and weeks and months and years) in addition to the weekly sabbath. Such days include the Passover, Pentecost, and many others. They were often memorial in nature, celebrating the mighty works of God in the past, and typical as well, pointing to some future spiritual fulfillment in Christ. Nevertheless, these observances were not concocted by the Jews according to their whims, nor were the Israelites free to add or subtract from those appointed ceremonies. The Jews did not determine for themselves which events were worthy of perpetual remembrance by annual religious festivals. Rather, these days were appointed by God in his law. The right of establishing festival days was reserved to God himself. It was a regulative principle issue, if you will, a matter of God's revealed will.

But we find another sort of observance in the Old Testament as well ­ occasional days of fasting or thanksgiving (Ezra 8:21; 2 Chron. 20; Jonah 3:5-10; Judges 20:26). These days were appointed by the nation or the church in response to God's providential dealings; sometimes in response to sin and judgement, sometimes in response to blessing and victory. But these observances were not annual in character, or perpetual, they were occasional ­ in other words, they were celebrated only once. To annually repeat them would have destroyed their essential character as responses to God's providential dealings.[8] In one sense these days were also appointed by God, but by his providence rather than his precept. As to their actual calling, however, they were appointed by men. By comparing these two types of days, some simple moral principles are established. First, we learn that it is the prerogative of God alone to institute and abrogate religious festival days. Man has no role or right in their appointment. Secondly, we see that God's eminent and extraordinary providential dealings ought to be marked by special times of fasting and thanksgiving. God ought to be specially praised for his eminent blessings, and we should be specially humbled in the face of severe judgments or sins.[9]

This distinction, once established, does not vanish in the New Testament. The Jewish festival days are beautifully fulfilled in Christ, and thus done away forever. They are never applied to the Gentile converts, although a period of tolerance for weak Jewish brethren was allowed with regard to their continued observance. The day of the church's regular worship is altered from the seventh to the eighth day (first day), again in fulfillment of divine prophecy, and according to God's precept. The moral precept regarding special prayer days also continues under the New Testament, for God's providence in judgment and blessing continues as well; there is as much warrant for specially called days of prayer now as under the Old Testament.[10] But the appointment of festival days remains the prerogative of God alone ­ and as he saw fit to assign a multitude under the Old Testament, so he saw fit to fulfill and abolish them without replacement under the New (Gal. 4:9-10).

Despite Prof.E.'s assertions to the contrary, festival days and prayer days are both scriptural institutions, with different regulations regarding their appointment and observation. This leaves us with a simple question to answer. Is Christmas a festival day or a prayer day? The confessions all regard it as a festival day. It clearly fails to meet the description of an occasional day of fasting or rejoicing, as it is a repeated, memorial, religious festival. It only then remains to ask, was Christmas appointed by God or by men? The answer, we think, is obvious, and so, therefore, is its condemnation.

With regard to the distinction between prayer days and festival days, Thomas M'Crie has these valuable words, with which we conclude this section. "There are times when God calls, on the one hand, to religious fasting, or, on the other, to thanksgiving and religious joy; and it is our duty to comply with these calls, and to set apart time for the respective exercises. But this is quite a different thing from recurrent or anniversary holidays. In the former case the day is chosen for the duty, in the latter the duty is performed for the day; in the former case there is no holiness on the day but what arises from the service which is performed on it, and when the same day afterward recurs, it is as common as any other day; in the latter case the day is set apart on all following times, and may not be employed for common or secular purposes. Stated and recurring festivals countenance the false principle, that some days have a peculiar sanctity, either inherent or impressed by the works which occurred on them; they proceed on an undue assumption of human authority; interfere with the free use of that time which the Creator hath granted to man; detract from the honour due to the day of sacred rest which he hath appointed; lead to impositions over conscience; have been a fruitful source of superstition and idolatry; and have been productive of the worst effects upon morals, in every age, and among every people, barbarous and civilized, pagan and Christian, popish and Protestant, among whom they have been observed."[11]

Chapter 6

Christmas Versus Biblical Law

Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honour of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may be fairly presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ.

Alexander Hislop[1]

And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them.

2 Kings 17:15

In his defense of Christmas-keeping, Prof.E. downplays the relevance of the pagan and popish origins and associations of the day (II:1-4). We must assume that on Prof.E.'s principles, no matter how openly pagan was the origin of a custom, no matter how deeply compromising was its institution, no matter how evil it has proven in its long continuance in the church, as long as some "venerable" synod has decreed it, it ought never to be removed. There are two biblical principles which bear upon this matter; but first a little history is in order.

Prof.E. prefers to trace the origin of Christmas to the synod of Dordt, and stop there (I:2). However, it is not generally disputed that the celebration of Dec. 25 as a religious festival day is of pagan origin. It is well known that the day was adopted by the declining church, along with a host of other practices, as a growth technique, to suit the tastes of the pagan multitudes whose actual religions had been criminalized by the emperor of Rome. Not only the day was adopted from paganism, but most of the customs as well ­ from the Christmas tree to the Christmas goose.[2] Even the name is offensive and hostile to the true religion, being purely popish in its meaning of "Christ's-mass." Indeed, Christmas is stained not only by its pagan origins, but also by its popish associations; it became a central celebration in the religion of the Roman Antichrist, and even today bears the name of his blasphemous rite. On top of this, the modern Christmas-keeper usually participates in a host of baptized pagan customs, all brought in by Rome as a further capitulation to the pagan masses, in their usual fashion of "evangelism." Prof.E. may wish to ignore or downplay these facts, or pretend their irrelevancy, but he provides no proof that we should assume this outlook other than his own assertion. Unfortunately, that has been an oft repeated refrain in this examination.

The law of God is not silent regarding these things. God flatly forbids the adoption of pagan religious customs, or their syncretism with his revealed faith and worship (Deut. 12:2-3, 29-32; Lev. 18:3; Ex. 23:24; 2 Cor. 6:14-17). There is nothing really difficult to understand about this prohibition; and it is only by willfully ignoring both the origin and corrupt customs associated with Christmas that men fail to make the obvious application.[3] It was forbidden absolutely to the ancient church to introduce this day, even if the introduction of other days had been lawful. And the same is true for all the pagan and superstitious customs and traditions that accompany the day. God's moral standards have not changed. We are just as forbidden today to syncretize with false religion as the Israelites of old were. To defend the present continuance of something that was undeniably unlawful in its first institution is a weak and feeble cause.

There is a second principle from the word of God that is involved here as well, drawn from the history of the brasen serpent. One of the judgments which the Lord sent upon the children of Israel, as they wandered in the wilderness, was a plague of deadly fiery serpents. When the people finally repented and confessed their sins, the Lord instructed Moses to make a "serpent of brass" which he was to set upon a pole, and everyone that looked upon the serpent would be healed of their deadly wounds (Num. 21:4-9). This serpent was not only a temporal deliverance for the Israelites; it was a type of Christ. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Many generations later, however, the brasen serpent became an occasion of idolatry, a stumbling-block to the people of God. And so, in the godly reformation of Hezekiah, it was destroyed along with all the other monuments to idolatry in the kingdom. "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan [a piece of brass]" (2 Kings 18:4).

This is an event of monumental significance. Here is a sign instituted by God himself, and a type of redemption by Christ's crucifixion, openly destroyed by the reformer, and even treated with contempt (as is indicated by his calling it merely "a piece of brass"). We can almost hear the cries of "rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism" (I:22) going up, as our modern reformed seminary professors cringe at the sight of an "ancient" and "honorable" symbol being violently destroyed. But Hezekiah was wiser than our modern Christmas-keepers. The serpent, though instituted by God, was no part of the ordinary worship of God. It seems rather to have been retained originally as simply a memorial of that great deliverance. The corrupted temple service, being an integral part of God's worship, was reformed and restored under Hezekiah. But the brasen serpent, being now a snare to idolatry, and a superstitious relic, was destroyed.

Let us assume that Christmas was lawful in its institution. This second principle would likewise demand its purgation from the church, as it was and is a monument to popery, and is still filled with pagan and popish customs, and has functioned (and continues to function) as a stumbling-block to men both in the church and the world, snaring them to many worse sins than the mere observation of days. And how much more does this principle weigh against Christmas, than it did against the brasen serpent, seeing that Christmas has no glorious history of divine institution, but that of man alone?

Perhaps a modern parallel would be helpful. Readers may be familiar with Earth Day, a modern version of the ancient pagan worship of the earth as a goddess, which is fast becoming a global observance. What if the church, in an effort to accommodate and encourage the conversion of radical environmentalists and neo -pagans, instituted the celebration of this day, retaining all the customs associated with it, only giving them a "Christian" meaning.[4] No doubt Prof.E. would be outraged, and dire condemnations would appear in the "Editorial" section of the Standard Bearer. But this is no different from the way in which Christmas observance itself was appointed. So, evidently, if 100 or 1000 years were to pass, and the observance obtained the force of custom, and major synods prescribed its observation, Prof.E. would then defend the very same day to the extreme, and even organize his own celebration of it, if his local church abandoned and condemned it (II:23-26). Such is the labyrinth of ill-reasoning one must negotiate, when assessing Prof.E.'s arguments and opinions. Perhaps we should have entitled this work, Professor Engelsma Against Himself.

Chapter 7

Christmas Versus John Calvin

With respect to ceremonies and above all the observance of holy days: although there are some who eagerly long to remain in conformity with such practices, I do not know how they can do so without disregard for the edification of the church, nor how they can render an account to God for having advanced evil and impeded its solution.

John Calvin[1]

Prof.E. cites an incident from the life of Calvin, in which he supposedly opposed the abolition of feast days, as exemplifying the "kind of wisdom" that defenders of the regulative principle ought to demonstrate. He reveals that Calvin did indeed look "askance at the celebration of Christmas because of the corrupting of that celebration by Roman Catholicism." However, he also opines for his readers that Calvin "did not flatly forbid it as a transgression of the second commandment." And Prof.E. informs us that "when the Council decided to abolish these observances, Calvin wrote that, if he had been asked for advice, he would not have supported this decision" (I:18-22). Prof.E. does not tell us why Calvin would not have supported the decision, which is self-evidently a crucial piece of information. Nor does he explain why we ought to receive this latter part of Calvin's wisdom in retaining feast days, rather than receiving the former part in which he looked askance at their observation. Of course, all of this has very little to do with justifying feast days. Nevertheless, because Prof.E. has seriously misused and misrepresented Calvin's position, and because this very subject has confounded many writers, we feel that the cause of truth would be well served by a clear presentation of Calvin's views on festival days. To state the end at the beginning: although Calvin's views are not identical to the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God, they are even further from Prof.E.'s follies, and condemn his position rather than justifying it. Let us see what the wisdom of Calvin really is, and what bearing it truly has on the defenders of the regulative principle.

When Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1536, the observation of holy days had already been abolished by Farel and Viret. "Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord's day," Calvin wrote.[2] In 1537, Calvin and Farel presented their Articles on the Organization of the Church and its Worship at Geneva. The Lord's Supper was to be celebrated weekly, or even more often, but this change was to be gradually introduced by a monthly observance. Significantly, no holy days are mentioned in these articles, conforming with the existing practice of the city.

Within a year, the city of Geneva had descended into political and ecclesiastical turmoil. Part of the trouble involved the relationship of the church in Geneva to the church in Berne. The Bernese desired for the Genevans to conform to their own practice in three particulars: baptism at fonts, unleavened bread in the supper, and the observance of the four "great festivals:" Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. Calvin and many of the other ministers opposed the attempts of the Genevan city government to impose these changes upon the Genevan church. This opposition was capitalized upon by enemy ministers in Berne and Geneva, and by enemy councilmen in Geneva, who saw in this controversy an opportunity to rid themselves of Calvin and his rigorous church discipline, and to expand their political careers by fostering unity with Berne.

Not long after Calvin publicly called the Genevan council a "council of the devil," he was expelled from the city.[3] At the same time as Calvin's expulsion, the Genevan council instituted the Bernese ceremonies in the Genevan church, including the four festival days. "Those [festivals] celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law," Calvin later wrote.[4] Calvin and Farel feared that Geneva might fare very poorly after their expulsion ­ in fact, they feared that the city would revert to Romanism and thus the cause and progress of the reformation in Geneva would be lost, and the name of Christ grievously dishonored. In desperation, Calvin appealed to the synod sitting at Zurich, agreeing to the adoption of the Bernese ceremonies, but even then only with certain conditions. There were to be "safeguards for tender consciences" and "Berne was to admit that the Genevan ceremonies in previous use were not contrary to Scripture." These attempts at reconciliation failed, and Farel and Calvin remained cast out of the city they had so faithfully labored to reform. The year was 1538.[5]

By 1539 trouble had again flared between Geneva and Berne, with the result that two of the four Syndics who had opposed Calvin fled Geneva and were sentenced to death in absentia. They were replaced by supporters of Calvin. The two other Syndics who opposed Calvin both died in 1540 under extremely dishonorable circumstances. Two of the ministers who had opposed Calvin departed shortly thereafter.[6] All of this paved the way for Calvin's return in 1541. As a condition of his return, a settled church government was agreed upon. The Ordonnances ecclesiastiques were prepared by a committee of ministers and councilmen in 1541 and passed through a process of revision and ratification by the three levels of civil government in, Geneva, ultimately passing into law. Calvin had sought to return to a monthly observance of the supper (at least), but was thwarted in his desires.[7] The final draft of the Ordonnances instead established "that it should be administered four times a year, namely, at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and on the first Sunday of September in the autumn,"[8] thus also guaranteeing the continued observation of the four festivals. From this time forth, Calvin "pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ's birth day."[9]

Some researchers have concluded that it was Calvin's normal practice not to interrupt his regular expository series with special sermons devoted to seasonal observances, a practice which would indicate a complete lack of regard for the festival calendar. [10] But this conclusion may have been based upon a survey of Calvin's practice when holy days in Geneva were forbidden. By 1549, Calvin was definitely interrupting his normal expositions to bring sermons that matched the ecclesiastical calendar set forth by the Ordonnances of 1541.[11] In 1549 Calvin brought seven sermons over seven days on the passion and resurrection of Christ (Easter), a special Pentecost sermon, and a sermon on Christ's nativity for the Christmas Day Lord's Supper. In 1550, he preached eight sermons, Sunday to Sunday, again on the passion of Christ for Easter week.[12] This practice soon ended, however. On Nov. 16, 1550, the Council again voted to eliminate the feast days.[13] The Register of the pastors in Geneva notes the change with these words, "an edict was also announced respecting the abrogation of all the festivals, with the exception of Sundays, which God had ordained."[14] There is some historical confusion over what exactly occurred. The pastor's register indicates that all the days were abolished, but according to Beza, Christmas was "deferred to the Sabbath following," but "no other feast days" were kept except the Lord's day.[15] Not surprisingly, this change resulted in another great controversy with Berne. Status: RO

There is an important letter from this time, written 2 January 1551, in which Calvin explains his relationship to and opinion regarding this change in Geneva.[16] This is the letter to which Prof.E. refers in his defense of Christmas-keeping (i:21). Calvin indeed denies being the author or instigator of the change, and maintains that he was not even consulted about it. (Rumors had abounded that he was responsible for the decision.) Calvin states that "if I had got my choice, I should not have decided in favor of what has now been agreed upon." This much Prof.E. feels obliged to tell us, but he seriously misrepresents the intent of Calvin's letter by citing only this fragment. The whole purpose of the letter is not to complain about the change to Haller, but rather to defend it! He explains that the days were not instituted in 1539 by "order of law" but were rather "extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly." He tells Haller that he had been dissatisfied by what he perceived as a diversity of practice prevalent in the city, fearful that it would cause disharmony amongst the citizenry and mistrust amongst strangers, and so he had asked the Council to take steps to remedy that diversity. The abolition of the festivals was evidently their solution. He tells his correspondent that "although I have neither been the mover nor instigator to [the change], yet, since it has happened, I am not sorry for it," and advises Haller that if he himself 'knew the state of our churches as well as I do, [he] would not hesitate to subscribe to my judgment." He remonstrates with Haller that the abandoning of the feasts was merely the "use of our liberty as the edification of the church demands." He also reminds him that if a certain Bernese minister had not acted out of personal ambition on an earlier occasion, "feast days might have been abolished in that entire province." Calvin was not sorry with the change, thought it best suited the condition of the church, and believed it was an edifying change according to their liberty. But the question remains, why did Calvin say that he would not have advised them to make this decision if he had been consulted? The answer is in a subsequent letter. As Gillespie states in citing that very document, " himself showeth in the following epistle, the reason why he durst scarcely have so determined [to abolish the festivals], if his judgement had been required, was, because he saw neither end nor remedy for the prevailing tumult of contention raised about festival days, and likely to impede the course of the reformation; therefore fovendae pacis studio [out of eagerness to foster peace], he professeth that he durst not make mention of the abrogation of those holidays."[17]

The ban must not have lasted long. By 1553 we find Calvin again interrupting his usual course of sermons for sermons on texts related to the festivals. (The Christmas celebration evidently remained confined to Sunday in this restoration, however; there was no separate celebration of Dec.25). In 1553, there were eight Easter sermons and one for Nativity. In 1554, three for Easter, one each for Pentecost and Nativity. In 1555, one each for Easter and Pentecost. No further sermons are noted on the record, and it is interesting to see how they seem to have been trailing off even in this restitution.[18]

By 1557 Calvin was writing such words as these, "With respect to ceremonies and above all the observance of holy days [I offer the following]: Although there are some who eagerly long to remain in conformity with such practices, I do not know how they can do so without disregard for the edification of the church, nor [do I know] how they can render an account to God for having advanced evil and impeded its solution."[19] (Ironically, this letter is dated 25 Dec 1557.) In a letter to the Montbelgardens, Calvin advised the lately -reformed church to bear with feast days only because of the tenuous establishment of the gospel among them; not to count them to be a good thing; and to rebuke them as superstitions later when the gospel was more stable among them. In this same letter he "condemneth both the observing of days to the honour of man as superstitious, ...and the observing of them for the honour of God as Judaical."[20]

Several conclusions can be made from this survey of Calvin's attitudes and practices with regard to the festival days:

1. It is true that Calvin did not consider the festival days per se a violation of the second commandment in the way that he counted the Mass to be, for example. But to infer from this fact that Calvin approved of festival days is altogether unwarranted. There were many things, festival days included, which Calvin considered corruptions from pure, apostolic worship, yet not of such a serious nature that they could not be borne with for a time to advance the cause of reformation.

2. Calvin did consider festivals to be "fooleries, gave advice not to approve them, thought them occasions of superstition, held it superstition to distinguish one day from another, or to esteem one above another, [and] call[ed] them Judaical though kept to the honour of God. "[21]

3. Calvin never advocated nor sought the institution of such festivals, and only complied with such actions under the most desperate of circumstances, when the gospel itself was threatened. Furthermore, in dealing with other churches, he always recommended the abolition of festivals if it all possible, and thought them an evil to be born with only when necessary for the progress of the gospel.

4. Because he did not consider them an absolute violation of the second commandment, he was ruled by another principle when dealing with them ­ the edification of the church. Because he could not obtain their removal without tumult that would have been harmful to the progress of the gospel in Geneva, he submitted to that of which he did not approve.

Whether we agree or disagree with Calvin's course of action, or his views of the nature of the evil of holy days, it is most obvious that only by a torturous wrenching of his opinions can he be made to serve as an advocate for the institution and maintenance of holy days in our modern condition. His principles of worship caused him to consider them a corruption and a superstition. His own opinion and advice was against them. Only he was restrained by a view of his circumstances, that the tumult that would erupt would outweigh the benefit gained by their abandonment. But we are not in his circumstances today. We have no civil government from whom to fear repercussions. We have no church made up of the entire body politic of an unruly city. We have complete freedom to reform the church according to its original institution. That was Calvin's ultimate quest. And that is his wisdom for us today.

Chapter 8

Christmas and Fanaticism

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Gal. 4:9-11

Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Mark 7:9

The corruption of the worship of God by man-made ceremonies leads generally to the fanatical defense of those corruptions. There is a direct relationship between superstition and fanaticism, and will-worship. This is the consistent warning of scripture precept, and the testimony of the history of Israel especially as recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Whenever men institute unwarranted religious observances, they become more zealous in defending their own inventions than that which is commanded by God. Prof.E. tells us that if his consistory canceled the Christmas celebration for reasons of expediency, to "avoid the secular corruption of Christmas or the threat of Roman Catholicism," he would consider their thinking "to be faulty" but would acquiesce regretfully in the "giving up of a delightful, edifying service" (II:24-25). But if his consistory committed the monstrous outrage of naming as their reason that Christmas violated the second commandment, he "would move heaven and earth to restore the observance and attend an observance" himself (ii:26). Here is a man who would devote himself with titanic, heaven-moving zeal to the restoration of a service he confesses to be without scriptural foundation! The party found in the scriptures which this behavior most emulates we need not even name.

This is not the only historical and scriptural lesson about the deceiving power of will-worship and man -invented ceremonies. Such practices lead not only to fanaticism with regard to personal observance and the defense of the corruptions, they lead also to harsh and violent assaults upon those who seek to maintain and restore the pure worship of God. What began with a refusal to repent of false worship ended with the murder of the Lord of glory (Matt. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). How much of the prophets' blood was shed simply for calling Israel back to the pure worship of God? And how vigorously was Paul opposed by those who sought to contaminate the worship of God with Jewish traditions and pagan customs?

Prof.E. tells us that those who oppose Christmas on the basis of the second commandment, who charge that Christmas-keeping is a violation of that commandment, had better "Beware, lest in applying the good principle [they] fall into a rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalism, and, thus, imperil the principle itself" (I:22; II:20-21). He attempts to make a distinction here, in order to palliate the slander he has just made. He tells us that he does not accuse those "who stand in the tradition of Westminster with any wrong-doing as regards their worship." Nor does he blame those who simply exercise their liberty not to observe Christmas. He only "warns" those who condemn Christmas as a transgression of the second commandment. But this equivoca tion is simply ridiculous. Almost everyone who does not observe Christmas does so on the basis of the second commandment. All those who "stand in the tradition of Westminster" condemn Christmas on the basis of the second commandment, because the Westminster Standards themselves condemn Christmas as a violation of the second commandment. So, of necessity, the original accusation stands against the entire Westminster Assembly.

And what of Nathaniel Vincent and John Flavel, representative Puritans? Vincent condemns festival days under his exposition of the second and fourth commandments, and calls them popish superstitions; Flavel condemns them under the fourth commandment. Now our author's warning encompasses all of Puritanism.

And what of the Church of Scotland? The First Book of Discipline not only condemns festival days; it calls for the civil magistrate to punish those who observe them! The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland repeated this request in 1575. The General Assembly, in 1645, unanimously voted to require church discipline against those who kept the festivals, and to require public repentance before the congregation for the lifting of discipline. So the church of Scotland for at least one hundred years, and all puritanism for that long as well, was nothing but a pack of "rigid, stifling (and divisive) legalists," as well as all those who receive the full Westminster Standards as their creed.

And on what basis are we to receive and heed this warning? Some word of scripture? Some article of a reformed confession? No, none of those. We are to receive this accusation on the word of Prof.E. alone, for he provides not one shred of evidence, not one jot or tittle of scripture proof. Nothing to support these terrible words.

And what of the substance of his accusations? To level the charge of "rigidity" is nonsense. What does it even mean? The rigidity of not committing will-worship and devising the worship of God according to the whims of ignorant, sinful, fallible man? Was God "rigid" when he failed to make allowance for the celebration of Christmas in his word, when he failed to substitute this observance for the abolished Jewish ceremonies? Was the early church "rigid" when they failed to commemorate or even record the day of Christ's birth, and instead condemned the keeping of days as superstitious? The rigidity with which Prof.E. charges his opponents is merely the rigidity of the word of God; and if Prof.E. dislikes that narrow way, he has a quarrel with one far greater than ourselves.

Prof.E. likewise calls such a view "divisive." There is truth to that accusation, though not in the sense in which he alleges it. It divides those who find the word of God to be a sufficient rule of faith and worship, from those who prefer to embellish that plain revelation with their own whims and desires. But we suspect that Prof.E. rather means that such a view of the regulative principle is apt to introduce dissension into Protestant Reformed Churches over a myriad of issues, such as crosses in worship, psalters, and other such things which Prof.E. considers trifles, and in which he finds no harm in trampling down the consciences of those under his authority who are tender against them.

Prof.E. also considers such a view of the regulative principle to be "stifling." Perhaps this is the most telling of all his accusations. It is certainly "stifling" to anything not found in the word of God, which is exactly the problem Prof.E. has with it. His heart is set upon worshipping God in "delightful, edifying service[s]" (II:24) that God has not commanded, and so he no doubt finds the thought of abstaining from such services to be stifling. But surely stifling human innovation in the worship of God is no sin, and no cause for alarm and concern. In fact, it is a virtue. Our Saviour practiced it regularly.

But the most terrible of his allegations, is that of "legalism." This is a monstrous charge which is calculated to reflect upon the character and piety of those who condemn Christmas on the basis of the second commandment (which, as we have noted, is virtually everyone who doesn't observe it). But legalism is no small matter. It is a terrible sin. In fact, it is a sin, which, in its most mature variety, is inconsistent with salvation by the gospel of Jesus Christ. True legalists are lost men, not "brethren." For Prof.E. to insinuate that those who condemn Christmas on the basis of the second commandment are or may be "legalists," and to provide not one word of evidence that it is a true accusation, is intolerable libel. Praise God that we are completely innocent of that guilt if this is the only evidence against us. To our own master we stand or fall, and we are persuaded that God shall be able to make us stand.

Prof.E. is persuaded that a view of the regulative principle which condemns Christmas-keeping as a violation of the second commandment "imperil[s] the principle itself," and is contrary to the wisdom that "defenders" of the regulative principle must demonstrate. In reality, we have seen that it is Prof.E.'s public writings that are imperiling the regulative principle, as he continues to give erroneous expositions of that scriptural and biblical truth, expositions that allow for a whole host of corruptions to defile the pure worship of God. And what wisdom "defenders" of the regulative principle ought to practice, cannot be learned from him, as he is not currently among their number.

Chapter 9


Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Gal. 5:1

They zealously affect you, but not well. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing....

Gal. 4:17-18

And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and hast followed Baalim.

1 Kings 18:17-18

Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Gal. 4:16

Rather than summarizing and restating all which has gone before, we prefer here simply to make a few concluding applications which may bear upon the reader. The scriptures and reformed confessions not only address words of condemnation to those who dare to introduce their own whims and devices into the worship of God, they also address words of warning and duty to the people of God who might be the subjects of those impositions. It is our responsibility to cast off those unbiblical burdens which men attempt to bind upon our backs. It is our duty to reject and oppose those who would lay those burdens upon us. This duty pertains especially to the pastors of the church, but is also a duty of the congregation as a whole. Paul exemplifies this behavior when he tells the Galatians of how he responded to "false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Jesus Christ, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). Did Paul simply ignore them, or allow their impositions? No, with regard to those men, he says, "we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:5). And he commands them to follow him in that same course, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). Likewise he repeatedly warns the Colossians against subjecting themselves to human ordinances and will -worship (Col. 2:16-23). To Timothy also he gives warnings and admonitions to beware of the lies of those who would bind the people of God to unscriptural observances, and to teach carefully those doctrines which will preserve the church from such errors (1 Tim. 2:1-7).

Reader, if the Son has made you free, you are free indeed. Do not compromise your freedom by submitting to the whims and traditions of men in the worship of God. Beware of those who would hand over your liberty to the whims of the government of the church. Beware of those who would voluntarily bind burdens upon your back which they themselves confess are founded purely on tradition, with no word from God. Beware of those who would pervert the testimony of the scripture and the creeds to allow for the intrusion of man -invented ceremonies into God's holy worship.

"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience...." Dear reader, be careful not to betray your liberty. It is the precious legacy of the blood of Christ, purchased with his agonizing death. It is part of the New Testament in his blood. Stand fast in your liberty. Give no place by subjection, no, not for an hour. And may God richly bless you in your faithfulness unto the glory of the only lord of our consciences, the only king of the church, the only lawmaker for the kingdom of heaven, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Footnotes for
Christmas-Keeping and the Reformed Faith

Chapter 2

1. David J. Engelsma, "Response," The Standard Bearer, 15 December 1994, 127.

2. Professor Engelsma is responding to a letter to the editor; his correspondent had made reference to Christmas: A Biblical Critique by Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1993).

3. David J. Engelsma, "Response," The Standard Bearer, 15 March 1995, 299-300.

Chapter 3

1. John Calvin, Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice, trans. Mary Beaty and Benjamin W. Farley (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 93.

2. David J. Engelsma, "The Standard Bearer: Holding the Traditions," The Standard Bearer, 1 November 1991, 54.

3. Ibid.

4. Belgic Confession, Art. 7; Westminster Confession, 31:4, 1:10; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21.

5. David J. Engelsma, "A History of the Church's Doctrine of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 27, no.2 (April, 1994), 12-20.

6. This is not some fanatical or novel suggestion. To the contrary, it is creedal: Westminster Confession, 1:10; Belgic Confession, Art. 7.

7. "The Reformed churches had been in the habit of keeping Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide as days of religious worship. The synod enjoined the churches to do this no longer, but to be satised with Sundays for divine service." Maurice G. Hansen, The Reformed Church in the Netherlands (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1884), 89. The reference regarding the 1578 decision is from Increase Mather's 1687 publication, Testimony Against Prophane Customs.

8. In answer to the question, Why exactly did the Synod of Dordt prescribe festival days, DeGier states that it was "done as a concession to the Authorities...." K. DeGier, Explanation of the Church-Order of Dordt in Questions and Answers, ([1974] n.p., 97). This creates an interesting dilemma for those who have renounced that portion of the Belgic Confession which vested some degree of religious responsibility in the civil magistrate, and have replaced it with an open denial of the Establishment principle.

9. Church Order of Dordt, Art. 67.

10. Belgic Confession, Art. 32. Cf. Art. 7.

11. Westminster Confession, 20:2. Cf. 1:6,10; 21:1; 31:3,4. We have cited here the original text, as published in S.W. Carruthers, The Westminster Confession of Faith (Manchester: R. Aikman & Son, 1937). Cf. Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth,1982), 3:294-95.

12. Westminster Confession, 20:1,2.

13. Westminster Confession, 20:2.

14. "Man has been made free as to his conscience from the doctrine and commandments of his fellow-men, in order that he may be free to serve God; and liberty of conscience, as regards his fellow -creatures, is a right that belongs to him, in virtue of his relation to his Creator. To deprive him of that right, to assume the title to dictate to the conscience and impose upon it the authority of man, is for man to trespass into a sanctuary where God alone may enter, and where none but God may rule. Another Lord is already Master there...." James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (1869; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:161.

15. 'This one thing, however, we can scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession concerning the "festival of our Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and sending of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples," that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles have prescribed. Everything else, as we have said, we teach, approve, and most willingly embrace.' "The [Scottish] General Assembly to Theodore Beza," as published in The Works of John Knox (David Laing, ed.; Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895), 6:547-48.

16. David J. Engelsma, "A History of the Church's Doctrine of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 27, no. 2 (April, 1994), 19.

Chapter 4

1. John Calvin, Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice (Translated by Mary Beatty and Benjamin W. Farley; Louisville: Westminste r/John Knox Press, 1991), 19.

2. It is perhaps worthwhile at this point to direct the reader's attention to an aspect of Prof.E.'s manner of arguing. He regularly confuses his own assertions with proof and evidence. This habit is most pronounced in his second response, which is largely one long string of assertions. This practice results in a paucity of real argument, with the bulk of the text being no more than a venting of Prof.E.'s opinions. Evidently Prof.E. believes that we should accept his assertions on the authority of his having made them.

3. Heidelberg Catechism, q. 96.

4. Belgic Confession, Art. 7.

5. Belgic Confession, Art. 32.

6. Westminster Larger Catechism, q. 3.

7. Westminster Confession, 16:1.

8. Westminster Confession, 20:2.

9. Westminster Confession, 21:1.

10. Westminster Larger Catechism, q. 109.

11. Westminster Confession, 1:6.

12. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (1869; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:411.

13. Westminster Confession, 1:6. John Owen describes circumstances as "sundry things to be used in, about, and with those actions whereby the worship of God is performed, which yet are not sacred, nor do belong unto the worship of God as such, though that worship cannot be performed without them. The very breath that men breathe and the light whereby they see are necessary to them in the worship of God, and yet are not made sacred or religious thereby....[A]ll such circumstances as necessarily attend human actions, as such, neither are sacred nor can be made so without an express institution of God, and are disposable by human authority...." John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967), 13:469. Gillespie gives three conditions for things which the church has power to prescribe by law: "1st. It must be only a circumstance of divine worship; no substantial part of it; no sacred signicant and efcacious ceremony.... 2nd[It] must be one of such things as were not determinable by Scripture. 3rd. If the church prescribe anything lawfully her ordinance must be accompanied with some good reason and warrant given for the satisfaction of tender consciences." George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, in The Works Of George Gillespie (1637; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 1:130-131. In this work, Gillespie expressly condemns festival days, among other things.

14. Bannerman, The Church of Christ, 1:355.

15. David J. Engelsma, "Music in the Church," The Standard Bearer, 1 May 1995, 376.

16. We noted earlier that Prof.E.'s true controlling principle appears to be the denominational status quo. This status quo principle not only controls which version of the regulative principle he employs, it also affects how closely he adheres to the confessional documents he has sworn to uphold. In the previously cited article entitled "Music in the Church," Prof.E. attempts to defend exclusive psalmody from the Church Order of Dordt. Despite the fact that Article 69 of the Church Order prescribes that "In the Churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Song of Mary, that of Zacharias, and that of Simeon shall be sung," Prof.E. tells us that the "spirit and principle of Article 69 is: 'In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung.' Period!" This is simply ludicrous. The "principle" of Article 69 is that the Psalms and the other mentioned items shall be sung, and allowance is also made for the hymn, "Oh God! who art our Father." Period. The language is identical to that of Article 67, "The Churches shall observe... Christmas." But Prof.E. considers only one of those two "shalls" to be prescriptive; the other he feels free to creatively deny. Once again, the winner is the "status quo."

17. For readers with time to waste, a compelling example of Jesuitical reasoning, promulgated by a writer who professes to be Reformed, may be found in the writings of the reconstructionist author, James Jordan.

18. For an example of an ecclesiastical council imposing superstition upon a protesting minority, see the Acts of Synod and Yearbook of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1990 and Supplement to the Acts of Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1990.

19. Almost all of the older reformed writers who expressly condemn festival days give as one ground of their condemnation, that they intrude directly into the kingly prerogatives of God. Not a few mention that the institution of man-invented festival days also questions the wisdom of Christ in ordering his church and kingdom.

Chapter 5

1. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ ( 1869; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 1:411.

2. Thomas M'Crie, Lectures on the Book of Esther (1838; rpt. Lynchburg: James Family, 1979), 297-98.

3. Utilizing the prayer days to argue for festival days is not original with Prof.E. The same arguments were used by the prelatic enemies of the gospel in the 17th century, in their attempts to defend the imposition of those days upon the Scottish church. George Gillespie fully refutes these arguments in his Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies. Given Prof.E.'s close agreement with the prelates on this point, perhaps the professor should reconsider either his argument, or his ecclesiastical connections.

4. "The Directory for the Publick Worship of God," Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994), 394.

5. Ibid.

6. Partial and misleading citations of confessional and other documents seems to be a fundamental method in Prof.E.'s manner of argument.

7. K. DeGier, Explanation of the Church-Order of Dordt in Questions and Answers, 96-97.

8. The modern national and civil "Thanksgiving Day" is decient on this very ground. Our nation ought to be repenting in sackcloth and ashes, and praying God to withhold his fury against our sins. Instead, the annual civil Thansgiving perpetuates the idea that America is greatly beloved and blessed of God although we have nationally turned our backs to him and rejected his laws and commandments.

9. Not only is there scriptural example for the observation of special days of humiliation and thanksgiving, there is direct commandment from God. Anyone with Joel 2 in their Bible ought to know better than to say otherwise.

10. For one notable New Testament example of a time of prayer called in response to God's providential dealings, and God's faithful response to the special appeals of his people, see Acts 12:1-19. See also Acts 13:3. It is a legitimate question, whether the denial of a scriptural warrant for special days of prayer is not by implication a denial also of God's providential, temporal judgments and blessings.

11. M'Crie, Lectures on the Book of Esther, 298-300.

Chapter 6

1. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (1916; rpt. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1943), 93.

2. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 90-103.

3. John Owen writes, "[W]hen any thing is enjoined or imposed on men's practice in the worship of God, which is known to have been invented in and by the papal church during the time of its confessed apostasy, it must needs beget prejudices against it in the minds of them who consider the ways, means, and ends of the fatal defection of that church, and are jealous of a sinful compliance with it in any of those things." (Owen, Works, 13:487). Gillespie is more aggressive, writing, "Forasmuch, then, as kneeling before the consecrated bread, the sign of the cross, surplice, festival days, bishopping, bowing down to the altar, administration of the sacrament in private places, etc., are the wares of Rome, the baggage of Babylon, the trinkets of the whore, the badges of Popery, the ensigns of Christ's enemies, and the very trophies of Antichrist, ­ we cannot conform, communicate and symbolise with the idolatrous Papists in the use of the same, without making ourselves idolaters by participation. Shall the chaste spouse of Christ take upon her the ornaments of the whore? Shall the Israel of God symbolise with her who is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt? Shall the Lord's redeemed people wear the ensigns of their captivity? Shall the saints be seen with the mark of the beast? Shall the Christian church be like the antichristian, the holy like the profane, religion like superstition, the temple of God like the synagogue of Satan?" (George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies, in Works (1637; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 1:80).

4. Considering the late "progress" of the Christian Reformed Church, this may soon be reality rather than conjecture. Perhaps Howard Van Till could be appointed to chair the Committee for Reconciling Earth-Worship with the Reformed Faith. He seems to have all the right credentials for the task.

Chapter 7

1. John Calvin, Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice (Translated by Mary Beaty and Benjamin W. Farley; Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 90.

2. John Calvin, "Letter to Haller," Calvin's Selected Works (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 5:288.

3. The entire preceeding section is based upon information drawn from T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 62-66.

4. Calvin, "Letter to Haller," 5:288.

5. Parker, John Calvin, 66.

6. Ibid, 78-79.

7. Ibid, 82-84.

8. The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, trans.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 44.

9. Calvin, "Letter to Haller," 5:288

10. Leroy Nixon [editor and translator], Preface to Sermons on the Saving Work of Christ by John Calvin (1950; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 8.

11. T.H.L. Parker, Calvin's Preaching (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 160. It is possible that Calvin may have begun this practice much sooner after Geneva adopted the Ordonnances, but the French scribe was hired in 1549, and it is in his records that the rst evidence of these festival sermons is found. See Parker, John Calvin, 91.

12. Parker, Calvin's Preaching, 160.

13. Ed. note to Calvin, "Letter to Viret," Calvin's Selected Works, 5:290.

14. The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, trans.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 130.

15. Theodore Beza, "The Life of John Calvin," Calvin's Selected Works, 1:lv-lvi.

16. This is the previously cited, "Letter to Haller." The quotes in the following section are drawn from that document.

17. George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, in The Works Of George Gillespie (1637; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 1:22.

18. Parker, Calvin's Preaching, 161-162. Parker thinks that a series occured in 1551, but this is extremely unlikely, given the fact that that was the year of the edict, and that no festival sermons are recorded for 1552. It seems likely that 1553 was the year of a mild restitution of the festivals, although they were not consistently restored. Easter is the only festivity which appears regularly from 1553 to 1555, when the record ends.

19. John Calvin, Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice (Translated by Mary Beaty and Benjamin W. Farley (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 90.

20. George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, in The Works Of George Gillespie (1637; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 1:24.

21. George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, in The Works Of George Gillespie (1637; rpt. Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 1:24.

Return to Table of Contents.

Copyright ©1995 by David W. Cason

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