For more than a decade now, those who proclaim allegiance to Christianity have been facing an increasingly hostile environment.
As far back as 2003, an article published by World Net Daily highlighted a raging dispute that ensued in New York City over whether or not schools may be allowed to display religious symbols. Apparently, Jewish menorahs and Islamic crescents were permitted, but nativity scenes depicting the birth of Christ, were not allowed.
New York City lawyers maintained that the Jewish and Islamic symbols have a secular dimension, while the latter is “purely religious.” According to the WND article, one rationale for the objection to the nativity displays is that “the birth of Christ does not represent a historical event.”
Several comments regarding this matter are appropriate.
Jesus Birth: A Historical Event
The birth of Jesus Christ is not a fictional contrivance. It is one of the most firmly established events of ancient history. It is laughable to even hint otherwise. What does the “A.D.” stand for in the “A.D. 2003” designation?
For a further discussion, see our article, The Historicity of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Birth: Unknown Date
Since the exact year of Jesus’ birth is unknown, it certainly is not provable that Christ was born on December 25. It is believed that this date was adopted, possibly in the second century A.D., because it corresponded to the “winter solstice” — when the daylight period begins to lengthen. December may have been adopted at that time as a symbol of the coming of the “sun of righteousness” (Finegan, 321).
Clement of Alexandria set the date of Christ’s birth at November 18, 3 B.C. Other ancient writers placed the time at May 20, 3/2 B.C., or on April 19 or 20 of the same year. The ancient record is a mass of confusion relative to the precise date of Jesus’ birth.
Christmas as a Religious Holiday
There is not the slightest evidence that there is any authorization for creating a sacred celebration of the birth of Christ. There is no instruction within the New Testament to ceremonially honor the Savior’s birth, and there is no indication that the Christians of the apostolic age did so.
There seems to have been no movement to formally celebrate the birth of Christ until about the first half of the third century A.D., when Hipppolytus, “Bishop” of Rome selected January 2 as the day of commemoration. Professor Harkness has noted that:
“According to the authentic records no church festival was held in celebration of Christ’s birth until the first half of the 4th Century” (Ferm, 165).
We do not hesitate to affirm, therefore, that the birth of Jesus Christ should not be celebrated as a religious Christian holiday. Christians do not have the option of inventing sacred ceremonies. We must not go beyond that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Jn. 9).
Observing Holidays Generally
This does not mean, of course, that Christians may not celebrate during the “Christmas” season in a non-religious way with family get-togethers, the exchanging of gifts, the decoration of homes, etc. The holiday season is a long-standing tradition in this country, and for millions of people, the customary celebration exists without the cluttering of religious symbolism.
For more on this theme, see our article: May Christians Observe Holidays?.
People of Christian persuasion, therefore, should not insist on thrusting symbols, e.g., nativity scenes, into the public forum, where such serve only to create a bitter controversy in an ever-evolving environment of anti-Christian bias.
This type of religious intrusion, however, is not the equivalent of the justifiable recognition that there is a Creator to whom men are accountable. That he is the “ruler of the nations” (Psa. 22:28), and that, ultimately, divine law is the source of all moral legal codes that find expression in the various nations of the earth.
The founding fathers clearly recognized this principle, as reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and numerous other documents. Movements designed to divest our society of every mention of God are misdirected.
Other Religious Symbols
To suggest, however, that the Hebrew menorah and the Islamic crescent have a “secular significance” that lifts them above any religious association is ludicrous.
The menorah [Hebrew for “candelabrum”] has its origin in the book of Exodus (see Ex. 25:31-40; 37:17-24), where it was constructed by divine direction as one of the items of furniture in the Tabernacle’s holy place. “It is considered the symbol par excellence of Judaism” (Neusner, 423).
There is no doubt but that the crescent has become a symbol of the Islamic religion. In an article designed to dispute the claim of some, that the Muslim name for God (Allah) was originally a designation for a moon god, a follower of Mohammed readily concedes that “Muslims use the crescent as the symbol of Islam” (Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, What is the Significance of the Crescent Moon in Islam?)
Clearly then, the New York authorities have adopted a double standard. Both Jews and Muslims are accommodated by a tolerance for their religious paraphernalia, while those who profess an affiliation with Christ become the victims of legal persecution.
For a number of similar examples, see:
- Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity by David Limbaugh
- Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians by Paul Marshall