On P&R Churches and "Holy Days"

Andy Webb has a very helpful post on this topic.

Darryl Hart asks when Presbyterians became Adventists? With the help of Leigh Eric Schmidt makes some very interesting and important points about the way commercial interests coincided with the interests of revivalist evangelicalism.

Then, of course, there is the problem of the sheer sentimentalism of the holiday. It’s worth considering.

UPDATE 18 Dec 09

David Strain makes a good point about the evangelistic opportunities provided by Christmas.

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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. Dr. Clark,

    What is the Dutch Reformed tradition with respect to celebrating Christmas?



    • Good question. My impression is that our Dutchman love Christmas (like the Germans etc) but I don’t know how long it’s been an “evangelical feast day” (as some in the 16th century referred to them). I know that Olevianus’ lectures on the gospel are arranged according to the church calendar.

      Art. 69 of the Dort Church Order says (in the English translation, I don’t have the original in front of me and I’ve found discrepancies in the past):

      “The Churches shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas,Easter, and Pentecost, with the following day, and whereas in mostof the cities and provinces of the Netherlands the day of Circumcision and of Ascension of Christ are also observed, Ministers in every place where this is not yet done shall take steps with the Government to have them conform with the others.”

      The Palatinate Church Order (1563) also lists Easter and Christmas as “Feiertagen.”

      I’m torn. I was raised amongst Germans and Czechs and other N. European Christmas-loving people and yet I know that Christmas is a substitution for the winter solstice and an incredibly commercialized distraction. I’ve heard good arguments for celebrating and good arguments against it. My compromise, right now, is that I sort of observe but I feel guilty about it and I don’t attend special services.

  2. I don’t have a problem with the doctrine that Christ came, born in the flesh, etc. I was raised around the holiday. I really think that it has come into a position of being an unspoken commandment. One would be viewed as wierd if they didn’t or want to celebrate the day. Most would acknowledge that it’s not commanded in Scripture, yet I’m sure that it would be pointed out in conversation that Christ’s coming was met with celebration/ rejoicing, etc. thus we should do the same. I am fiercely skeptical about the holiday in that it was not commanded by God yet it is greeted with more joy than 52 Lord’s days. It frightens me a bit that a fabrication holds more weight than what’s commanded by God.

    -Turretin’s ditty about the observance of holidays is helpful. It can b found in his Elenctic Theology.

    -A minor point: The holiday’s name is blasphemous. An accursed idolatry being appended to Christ’s name. Would a person be considered blaspheming Christ’s name by saying Christ-s***?

    • “Mass” was not always an idolatrous thing. When the term first came about it simply refereed to the feast of the Lord’s supper, much like the term eucharist. We shouldn’t let Rome decide what words mean.

      • How about confessions? When I was writing, you will notice that I was speaking confessionally. Accursed idolatry. Aimed at a specifically defined doctrine by Rome under the term “Mass” or “Missa”. Rome used this term to mean such and such. It’s not a mere etymological question.

        • M Burke:
          You said on your web site
          “Both Clark and Caner make a category error. The term “Baptist” defines one’s view on baptism, not on soteriology. Likewise “Reformed” defines, not one’s view on baptism, but one’s understanding of the the five solas, and a covenantal understanding of soteriology. Now, Clark might argue that a “covenantal understanding of soteriology” requires a paedobaptistic viewpoint, but the formers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession would surely disagree. Also, consider that Rome had a paedobaptism, and it is Rome from which the Reformers ~reformed~ the church. ”
          -Do you think that this is what’s going on here in this conversation between you and me. A category problem?

  3. Two questions:

    1) At OldLife, a commenter states, “…Godfrey’s now famous ‘take Christ out of Christmas’ advice is still tops…” Could you provide more on that? Has he spoken on this?

    2) Is Santa’s desk the same one pictured in the upper right of your blog?

  4. Thank you for the post Dr. Clark. This would go under QIRE — someone ought to write a book about that.

  5. Hmmm…
    Like you Dr Clark I am conflicted over the holiday. I was raised in the Church of Scotland which, since the victorian era injection of increasingly Anglican ( even Anglo Catholic) influenced liturgy into the Kirk, has celebrated Christmas.

    I was ordained in the Free Church of Scotland that retains somethingo fthe older Scots tradition of no holy day but the Sabbath, and that remains my conviction. The only days the church has authorisation to binds men’s consciences to observe are Sabbath days.

    However, both in the Free Church back home, and here, now that I am in the PCA , I cannot help notice that many come to church who would not otherwise darken the door and I am faced with the issue of what to do about that.

    Do I say ‘Humbug’ and carry on my decidedly unmerry Knoxian way? Or do I say instead “Excellent, foolish supestition, and silly sentimentality may drive them to come, but I will seize the opportunity and preach Christ crucified all the same?” Indeed might I not speficically target the wrongheaded but happy openness to church at this season and hold some explicitly evangelistic services that dwell on the reason for Christ’s coming?

    I have opted for the latter. I repudiate any idea that Christians ought to celebrate Christmas as a sacred duty. Our services are not billed as Advent services and the church is not urged to come for themselves but to brings neighbours and friends with them. I want embrace every occassion to get the faces of unbelievers with the gospel. That sometimes creates tensions, I will readilly grant, and let me hasten to add (lest I be accused by any of singin in the Christmas QUIRE) that by ‘evangelistic services’ I merely mean ordinary services with preaching specifically aimed at exposing the sin of lost humanity and holding out the glorious gospel of free pardon in Christ alone, urging sinners to repent and beleive, which is exactly what I do every Sabbath day. I just have hearers for that message at Christmas that I don’t otherwise.

    So all in all I will take that opportunity and wrestle with the tensions it can bring any day.

  6. Wow, the things in history our pastors don’t tell us! I was well aware of the Puritan rejection of Christmas ( I heard this first from a Jew, Michael Medved, and not a Christian), and even of some Baptists like Spurgeon, but I had no idea it was this prevalent and dominant in Presbyterianism. It was also interesting to read how Presbyterians rejected formal liturgies; sounds more like my kind of people. Isn’t it the case that many Reformed today criticize evangelicals for their lack of formal liturgy? Man, if I end up being convinced that infants ought to baptized, then I’m going straight to old school, formal liturgy rejecting, Presbyterianism. Sorry, no Dutch Reformed for me.

    How interesting it is that conservative denominations like the PCA don’t live up to their confessional standards as in this instance on Christmas. It seems that they need to recover their theology, piety and practice as expressed in their confession.

    By the way, I grew up in Pentecostalism, specifically among Hispanic congregations in the US. I never remember hearing people talk about Christmas or celebrating it as a kid, and I am in my twenties. My mother was a very pious women, and I don’t remember her making any mention of it or even attempting to do anything for Christmas. It seemed to be gradually introduced in the family as a secular holiday, like a day for the family to meet and give gifts. It then seemed to be introduced into the churches I attended sometime late into my childhood. You will still find Hispanic Pentecostals that reject Christmas, buy I think their numbers are continuously decreasing.

    Also, does anyone know of any good histories of Protestantism among the Spanish speaking world? It’s things like these on Christmas that make me more curious of Spanish speaking Protestants and their differences from the English speaking Protestants. I am just curious about my people.

    • “Man, if I end up being convinced that infants ought to baptized, then I’m going straight to old school, formal liturgy rejecting, Presbyterianism. Sorry, no Dutch Reformed for me.”

      I am sorry but I have not seen any difference from the liturgy of Presbyterian liturgy and Dutch Reformed in regards to formality. (Presbyterian Churches that practice the RPW at least, OPC as an example) They may be different in their format but they are still formal. Every church is liturgical or has a format. I believe the word liturgy means “set form of worship”. Thus even Baptist Churches have a set form of worship. Everything is done in a formal order. It usually starts of with announcements (btw are not recognized in the RPW) and then their hymns and reading of the Word are always done in the same order.

      Yes the Dutch Reformed does have reasons for it’s set form of worship (liturgy, format) but they all follow the RPW (Regulative Principal of Worship). It is however different than the Popish Mass as it does not involve any ritualism.

      So in regards to a set form or worship, the Baptists and Dutch Reformed both are liturgical. It is just a matter of which one most represents how we are to approach God in worship as a community and whose liturgy can be supported by scripture. The liturgy is also a teaching tool for the congregation on who we as a covenant community are to approach God.

      But if your church does not practice the RPW and practice the Normative principal of Worship (NPW), then you are free to do what you like, as long as it is not forbidden. I believe that you should do some homework on the RPW vs NPW before you study liturgies. That sets the framework for how the format is developed.

      • As for Presbyterians not having a formal liturgy, this is a exerpt from a OPC Church, Calvin Presbyterian Church regarding formal liturgy.

        “The Bible places several important principles for worship. Please read our article on Ten Principles for Public Worship.

        I Corinthians 14:40, “All things should be done decently and in order.” This is because “God is not a God of confusion but of peace (I Corinthians 14:33).” This teaches us that worship should not be chaotic. How do we provide maximum participation on the part of every worshiper (and not just of a worship leader or a worship team) and yet do so in an ordered, peaceful manner? The solution is in engaging in worship in a way that is truly corporate (performed by the Body as a whole and not simply by individuals). So we sing hymns corporately, we pray corporately, and we respond corporately. That is liturgical worship.

        Also, liturgical worship is catholic, that is, it connects us to believers around the world and down through the ages. We are reminded that we are not just a local assembly but that we belong to yet a larger body. So, we recite the Nicene Creed, pray the Lord’s Prayer, recite Psalms together which have been recited by the saints for centuries.

        One more thing about Reformed Liturgy. We understand worship to be a meeting between God and His covenant people. Therefore, our liturgy is structured around a covenantal dialogue between God and the congregation. God speaks, the people respond. God speaks again, the people respond. This adds a dimension to our understanding worship. It is not just that we are preforming for God, but that He is meeting us, feeding us with His presence and word, comforting and admonishing us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”

    • There are some histories of the (brief) Spanish Reformation (apparently no one expected the Spanish Reformation!) but I don’t know of any histories of Spanish Protestantism after the Reformation. Good question that.

    • Hermano Alberto,

      Soy un “old school” presbiteriano y no celebro para nada la Navidad. Soy miembro de la Iglesia Libre de Escocia (Continuada) y yo mantengo un sitio dedicado al presbiterianismo de los siglos 16 y 17 todo en español. Traducimos obras de los presbiterianos y puritanos originales y se encuentran allí. http://www.PresbiterianoReformado.org
      también puedes ver mi blog en: http://presbiterianoreformado.wordpress.com/
      Si usted quiere dialogar hechame un correo-e: PuritanPresbyterian AT gmail.com

      En Cristo,
      Edgar Ibarra

        • Hey Bob! how are you keeping my old friend (not in age but in duration)? Yeah, well, if you can’t read Spanish, you need to remedy that seeing how that will be the dominant language soon! 😉

          Here is an aid for the meantime: http://www.online-translator.com/
          Just select the languages and you will have your interpretation! How’s that in keeping with 1 Corinthians?

          Talk to you later, bro!

  7. Just in case you guys aren’t aware to what I’m referring, it’s the post that Dr. Clark has linked from Andy Webb.

  8. Alberto,
    A good start for the history of Protestantism among Spanish speaking peopel would be McCrie’s History Of The Progress And Suppression Of The Reformation In Spain In The Sixteenth Century. Amazon has pb copies available or try Addall.com.

  9. RSC
    Doesn’t VanDellen and Monsma’s Commentary on the Church Order pretty much detail how the church accomodated the civil magistrate’s declaration of the holidays?
    Is the original Church Order of Dordt available in English?

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