How trustworthy is our religion?
Burbank, California; December 17, 2001; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student
I must have been a very ignorant Christian, because I never knew that “Christmas is not the [real] birthday of Christ (The True Christian, Unknown).” Of course I could justify that by saying that religion is not my specialty, but that still doesn’t make it right. For even though I was raised a Christian, I’m not so sure of anything anymore these days. Wouldn’t you if, to a concerning degree, you found out about the twisted truths that your church-leaders have been teaching you through the years?
So now that I started by mentioning that issue, let’s look a little more closely into the current season, Christmas. Even the name indicates what we’ve been taught all along: it’s the celebration of the birth of Christ. Unfortunately, this turns out to be an act of adopting the date of a celebration that had been in existence for complete different reasons. The True Christian (Unknown) emphasizes, “The date [of Christ’s birth] was chosen to counter the pagan festivities (par. 3).” Sounds as a typical thing for the church to do: overpowering other cultural expressions by simply pilfering the date from those others and declaring it their own. Rutherford (2001) underscores that even scholars don’t know the actual date of Christ’s birth and that “December 25th [was] originally a pagan feast day in honor of the god, Saturn (par. 2).” Fox (unknown) deepened this information out by explaining, “Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized (par. 2).” Christ’s birth, according to Rutherford (2001), was previously celebrated on various dates. This author comes up with a somewhat different year than Fox for Christianity’s recognition of Christmas on a fixed day by mentioning 354 as the year that “the bishop of Rome decreed that December 25th  should be observed by Christians in honor of Christ's birth (par. 2).” Interestingly, Rutherford (2001) continues, “in the East, this date was not accepted; and for centuries, January 6th was celebrated as the birthday of Jesus, particularly in Egypt. Some branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, even today, keep January 6th as Christmas day (par. 2)”. Fox (unknown) explains, regarding this date, “January 6, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice (par. 2)”. So that day, too, was not originally a Christian holiday. One could wonder then, if the bible doesn’t state anywhere what Christ’s birthday is, why the church is being so arrogant with its claim of the day! Don’t we all remember the multiple complaints of “some religious people [who] protest at [the] "commercializing" of Christmas because they feel that a sacred, holy day is desecrated by it (Rutherford, 2001, par. 1)”? Is this arrogance or ignorance…?
However, it’s not only this season that raises question marks. If we consider the problems around Easter, we see that for centuries there has been pushing and pulling going on about the remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. Most of us now know that the date for celebration in some regions falls together with the Jewish’ celebration of Passover. However, Stone (2001) explains that even though a consensus was reached at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD—where, by the way, as some contemplate, much of our current bible as we know it now, was formulated—there are still differences in opinion about the actual day of Easter. It turns out that “the consensus over Easter was [once again] broken when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, thus changing the dates for Easter (Doogue, 2001, par. 8).” Stone (2001) elucidates the issue further by stating that “today’s division between Christian East and West on this matter results from the East refusing to accept the West’s unilateral action in adopting the Gregorian calendar, from the East’s tradition of never celebrating before the Passover and the differing manner of calculating the epact, which is the discrepancy between the lunar cycle and the solar cycle (par. 4).” Doogue (2001) shines some positive light on this typical confusion by first clarifying that “At present, Easter - the festival marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - is usually celebrated on two different dates (par. 2),” and then explaining that in 1997 a number of churches, just like the Council of Nicaea many centuries before, got together in Aleppo, Syria, to re-set a common date for the Easter-celebration. The newly set unified date would be effectuated in 2001. Unfortunately, the unification in Easter-celebration has not yet been reached as of this year. Although 25 churches have already approved of the amalgamated date, there are still some who “need” more time. According to the World Council of Churches (WCC), “two leading Orthodox bodies, the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, have informed the WCC that they are [still] studying the proposal (WCC, 2001).”
So now that we are even more confused about the reliability of everything we learned from our churches, let’s finally briefly look at the first Council of Nicaea, in the third century AD. De Bary emphasizes the positive purpose of this council by stating that “Never before or since has the Church been so completely represented at one spot (par. 2).” However, the reasons for the council to meet were rather disturbing. There had been a widespread confusion about the trinity that the Christian church nowadays holds on to. The Arianists, followers of the teachings of Arius, did not accept Jesus Christ as equal to God, for the simple reason that there had been a time that Jesus did not exist. So how could he be eternal? Raymond states that Arius, a parish priest in Alexandria, basically taught his followers that “before time began the Father had created the Son by the power of the Word to be His agent in creation. The Son was not therefore to be identified with the Godhead, He was only God in a derivative sense, and since there was once when he did not exist He could not be eternal (par. 2).” The whole issue became so controversial, that the emperor Constantine had to mediate, which led to the Council. Yet, even though a large number of bishops signed the agreement on unification of terminology and beliefs used in the church, there have been ongoing interpretation issues ever since.
It might lead us too far to try and analyze all the issues from our current church that could raise questions. But it could be wiser for every believer to consider each lecture thoroughly and, if intriguing enough, read what different sources say about it. In the meantime, like Rutherford (2001), we should continue to celebrate the holidays, and definitely enjoy the special atmosphere that accompanies this time of year. Yet, we should also be more careful with our strictness on the essence of each holiday from now on because, as Rutherford states, “to honor December 25th as Christ's birthday, and thus as a special holy day, is to speak where the Scriptures are silent and to follow the traditions of men rather than the Word of God (Rutherford, 2001, par. 5)”.
Bary, E. d. (1996, 12 Januari 1998). The Results of the Council, [Internet]. the School of Theology of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. Available: http://www.sewanee.edu/Theology/patristicsw/f010/p011.html [2001, December 17].
Doogue, E. (2001, Thu September 06). A 1997 move for a common Easter date, [Internet]. Ecumenical News International (ENI). Available: http://www.tlig.org/dates.html#der [2001, December 16].
Fox, S. (Unknown). Celebrating Winter Solstice, [Internet]. Available: http://www.circlesanctuary.org/pholidays/SolsticeArticle.html [2001, December 16].
Raymond, J. (Unknown, 07 July 2001). Arianism Versus the Council of Nicaea, [Internet]. Available: http://www.monksofadoration.org/arianism.html [2001, December 17].
Rutherford, R. (2001, Tuesday 12 June, 2001). Is Christmas The Birthday Of Christ?, [Internet]. Truth For The World. Available: http://www.tftw.org/Tracts/christmas.html [2001, December 16].
Stone, D. (2001). The Date of Easter, [Internet]. True Life in God. Available: http://www.tlig.org/dates.html#der [2001, December, 16].
Unknown. (2001, September 6). A Further Report (2001), [Internet]. True Life in God. Available: http://www.tlig.org/dates.html#der [2001, December 16].
Unknown. (Unknown). Christmas. Was December 25th Jesus Christ's Birthday? , [Internet]. The True Christian. Available: http://www.truechristian.org/are_you_a_t_c/christmas.htm [2001, December 16].