The Aquila Report published a story from the Ligonier Ministries web site where the esteemed Dr R. C. Sproul shared his thoughts on the church celebrating Christmas. In that post Dr Sproul comments, ‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating his birthday every year.’
That statement is rather startling as it stands (Really? Nothing more pleasing to Christ?), but I suppose we should understand Dr Sproul to be speaking with some measure of hyperbole. Dr Sproul continues.
While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation…
While Dr Sproul imagines that the invention of an annual church holiday celebrating the Incarnation is a good thing, he admits it is not something required by God in Scripture.
This is remarkable coming from a conservative Presbyterian minister who suggests that the Westminster Standards ‘are the most precise and accurate summaries of the content of biblical Christianity ever set forth in a creedal form…’ That creed speaks specifically and clearly to the matter of worship approved by God, as well as to the matter of ecclesiastical holidays invented by men.
But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (From Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, ¶1.)
Acceptable worship is only that which God has revealed as approved in His Word. This means that God may not be worshipped according to what we imagine may be good but rather He is to be worshiped only in the way He Himself has established in Scripture.
And this is not an isolated teaching of this creed, but is integral to the doctrine of holy worship which it confesses to be revealed in Scripture.
Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God … [in] any … way not appointed in his word. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 51)
Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; all … 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 other pretense whatsoever… (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 109)
Now, presumably Dr Sproul simply doesn’t believe the portions of this creedal standard that speak to the matter of biblical worship, but Dr Sproul goes much further, even admiring Rome for manufacturing holy days!
I wish we had more annual festivals. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, celebrates with great joy the Feast of the Ascension every year. Some Protestant bodies do, but most do not. I wish we would celebrate that great event…
Christ has established a holy day, the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath. We have 52 of these divinely appointed holy days each year. Each one of these sacred holidays is filled up to overflowing with worship ordinances that are saturated with the Word and commanded by God! Each Lord’s Day the New Testament priesthood of believers celebrates the fulness of Christ, our exalted Prophet, Priest, and King in all His glorious self revelation through Word and Sacrament. Is this not sufficient for our spiritual good? Are God’s appointments inadequate so that we must manufacture our own holy days and our own ritual piety to meet our own spiritual needs? Does not God’s Word go far enough in telling us what is pleasing to Him in sacred matters? Must we rather add our own inventions? When did God approve of such a thing ever in all of Scripture? To the contrary, has not this behaviour eventually brought the severest judgements of God upon His people?
Let me hasten to say how much I appreciate the benefits I have experienced from the teaching ministry of Dr Sproul. He has been a blessing to countless people and has been used by God to revive the teachings of Calvinism in our day. Also, let me be clear that I am not opposing voluntary annual seasonal festivities by families or general society outside of and altogether apart from the worship of the church and her thankful obedient observation of the one true holy day, the Christian Sabbath.