Vicar Bans "O Little Town" But for the Wrong Reason

A vicar (certain Anglican ministers are given the title) in the UK has banned the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” because it doesn’t represent the current strife in modern day Bethlehem. This, of course, is the most stupid sort of political correctness (HT: Daily Scroll). I don’t mind that he banned this one, but he did it for the wrong reasons.There are at least a few good reasons for banning this one and others:

1. They ought not to be sung during stated, Sabbath services on principle any more than any other uninspired songs should be sung. If you want to sing orthodox Christmas carols between services or on the six days of the week, that’s fine.

2. Christians probably ought not to be singing songs that contain the lyrics, 

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

Do we really believe that the infant Jesus is to descend to us to be reborn subjectively in each of us? Isn’t the incarnation an historical, once-for-all event? If you’re sighing right now and asking, “Isn’t anything sacred?” (that’s a very good question! Isn’t the doctrine of the incarnation sacred?) because you want me to leave your Christmas hymns alone, maybe you should step away from the eggnog and pick up your New Testament again.

3. While we’re at it, should any Christian be singing “No crying he makes”? Really? No crying? Hello? What sort of docetic, gnostic Christology is that? Of course he cried! He had an umbilical cord. He was and remains truly human and any who says otherwise (including the Anabaptist doctrine of the “celestial flesh”) is, according the Apostle John, “anti-Christ.”

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. So I guess that means you’d be against “Shine, Santa Shine,” my new favorite Christmas song?
    …step away from the eggnog and pick up your New Testament… That’s fantastic.

  2. Yes, I was always a little doubtful about that “Be born in us today” line. The first three I think are capable of a just-about okay-ish sort of interpretation, although they strike me as something Wesley could have written just a little too happily.

    Anyway, the worst thing about “O little town of Bethlehem” is that appallingly sappy tune you lot use. 😉 Forest Green is far nicer.

  3. Come on Scott! There is such a thing as over-interpretation. You anti-Christmas guys come across as so cranky, why would anyone want to attend your churches? Even the Puritans couldn’t stamp out Christmas, nor the White Witch of Narnia — forever winter but never Christmas. So what chance do you guys have? Jim Jordan had a good paper on this a long time ago called “The Menace of Chinese Food.” See, there are some things I agree with Jim Jordan.

    Frankly, the only Christmas song that makes me leave the department store screaming is Feliz Navidad. I have heard this song more than any human being should ever have to.

  4. Sure,

    James Jordan is where I go for sane, stable, interpretation of Scripture.

    Nothing against Christmas, but docetism is another thing.

    Fortunately, the future of the Reformed Churches won’t depend upon me or upon my crankiness but upon the sovereign Holy Spirit

    ps. So, Vern, has the infant Christ been born in your heart?

  5. I remember a Christmas eve “worship” in a Philippine “church” where the “worship team” started with traditional carols and ended up with “Feliz Navidad” and “La Bamba.”

    And what about “From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold… Oh rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing” written by a mystic Unitarian minister?

    This is the kind of abuse of singing in the churches that results in singing uninspired music. There are only a handful of old Christmas hymns that I’m willing to be sung in our church.

    Not satisfied with this baseness, liberals add their corrupted minds into these unbiblical songs. Consider this version of “Twelve Days of Christmas”: “Eight AIDS victims… two addicts shaking, and a poor homeless refugee.” More here: .

  6. Vern Crisler wrote: “There is such a thing as over-interpretation.”

    I think he may be right. We may need to lighten up on our overly-literal interpretations of Christmas carols. After all, they’re hymns at best, and not Psalms. I remember singing as a kid, “Be born IN us today.” This obviously changes the idea of that phrase. Isn’t Christ born in us by His Spirit?

    And I don’t care at all about “my” Christmas carols 🙂

    Would agree with you, Dr. Clark–Jesus cried most definitely. I’m sure he wailed up a storm–without any sin 🙂 “No crying he makes” is definitely docetism.

    • The problem with the Brooks hymn (“be born in us today”) is that it, in contrast to God’s Word, moves the action of the faith from history to the human soul. If this were say Origen or some medieval theologian (e.g., Bernard) we would all roll our eyes and say, “Oh those allegorizing fathers” or “those allegorizing medievals! When will they ever learn?” When, however, it’s a Christmas Carol, and one of our favorites, that de-historicizes the faith and takes a radical, allegorical, subjectivist turn, we look the other way.

      When we are regenerated, as I understand our theology, Christ is not born in us but we are born, as it were, in him, by his Spirit through the preached Gospel. The gospel concerns the God-Man Jesus who entered history, whose humanity, in that very same history, was conceived by the Spirit, and who took his humanity from the blessed Virgin. We need to enter into a personal relation, sola gratia, sola fide, with that Christ of history (Amen!) but “be born in us today” reduces the faith to a fable, a moralistic story. This is the theology of “A Miracle on 34th St” or “It’s A Wonderful Life” (both terrific films btw, but I wouldn’t sing them in church!).

  7. Finally someone else who agrees with me on this song. I tried endlessly to convince buddies during my seminary days that this song is just plain awful, shamelessly to no avail. Of course baby Jesus cried. He also wet his pants too. After all, he is a man just like you and I.

  8. Oh, Vern, come on. Feliz Navidad is to shopping whatStaying Alive is to CPR. Lighten up. You anti-kitsch guys come off as so cranky. Who would ever want to go to the mall or the YMCA with you?

  9. My favorite is:

    “A child, a child
    shivers in the cold
    Let us bring Him silver and gold,
    let us bring Him silver and gold.”

    -How about a blanket, you wiseguys?

    A question on the side regarding that holiday. If the confession states that the mass is an accursed idolatry, is it still okay to be calling is Christmas?
    Why would I want to append Christ’s name to something that’s accursed?

    I personally have a hard time saying that holiday’s name and not thinking I’m saying something that’s bad.

    If I understand the term correctly, the words ‘Feliz Navidad’ mean ‘Happy Nativity’, which would get more at the substance of the day, if one chooses to celebrate holidays.

  10. Re: “James Jordan is where I go for sane, stable, interpretation of Scripture.”

    Well, you know Scott, a stopped watch is right at least two times a day. 😉

    Zrim, you must be a Barry Manilow fan. He does have a Christmas album out. 😉


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