THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Should we celebrate different religious ceremonies?
By Gary Meredith
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Holidays are an important part of almost every culture on earth. Civil holidays mark significant moments in history, such as independence or a wedding. Religious holidays celebrate our deepest-held beliefs about God and our relationship with Him. Or not. Sometimes religious holidays become so commonplace they're barely associated anymore with their spiritual origins. Other times, civil holidays take on a deeper meaning when religious belief is used in their expression.
There is a lot of baggage regarding "Christian" holidays — should we celebrate Christmas and Easter despite the pagan influences on their origins? But Christians also have to consider what to do with the holidays celebrated by friends and family of other faiths. Are we allowed to join in their Ramadan break-fast meals? Or wish a friend "happy Diwali"?
We'll look at two biblical approaches. The first suggests where there is room for compromise by us believers with unbelievers, while the second draws a very clear "line in the sand" so to speak, which no Christian should cross. We'll end with a few thoughts and questions intended to help you apply God's word to your own situation. The purpose of this is to inspire prayer, not guilt, as you seek the Spirit's guidance (John 16:13). And though the following is somewhat long, it only scratches the surface of what the Bible has to say on your interesting questions.
1. Scriptures that suggest where there is room for Christians to compromise with the world
As you now know, sooner or later all Christians who commit to living out their lives according to their faith will come into conflict with others (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Of course, that's never something we should seek. As Paul counseled, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:17-18). He also said living "peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness...is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:2-4). So living at peace with others keeps the door open for us to share the Gospel with them.
How far should we go in order to get along with others for the sake of the Gospel? Paul was clear in his own mind:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:18-25Of course, Paul had strict limits in how far he would go to win others. He would never misrepresent the Gospel in any way, no matter how much he allowed himself to "blend in" with non-believers. For example, he publicly condemned Peter for "not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel" by acting like a legalistic Jew (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul also spoke of dealing with non-Jewish pagans in the matter of eating food sacrificed to idols. We believers have a great deal of freedom in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:23), so feel free to eat sacrificial food, but only if no one claims it is part of a pagan religious ritual — then you must not participate (10:25-30).
The Old Testament also touches on this situation with Naaman, the pagan army commander of Israel's neighbor Aram. When the prophet Elisha cured him of leprosy, he became a believer in the one true God and told Elisha,:
"Your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also — when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this." "Go in peace," Elisha said. 2 Kings 5:17-19This Bible offers no further explanation of Elisha's response, and we can't build a doctrine on that one passage. Nevertheless, it implies God looked on Naaman's heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and credited his faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
Again, you can enter places of false worship for a variety of reasons, but never to take part in their religious services, which are in fact proclaiming a false gospel. It may be possible to go to a wedding or a funeral without joining in the religious parts of the ceremony. If not, it may be possible to only attend the reception.
2. Scriptures drawing a clear line against compromise with the world
We'll continue with the Old Testament, the famous Scripture of Joshua public statement of faith:
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15We Christians are called to be salt and light to the rest of the unbelieving world (Matthew 5:13-16). In other words, we are to be noticed for how by God's grace we are different, not for how we blend in and get along. But a commitment to live as children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6) guarantees conflict and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12), even from our own families. As Jesus warned:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Matthew 10:34-38
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