|Little Sarah with her Grammie enjoying Easter traditions|
Egg Hunts for Easter; Christmas Trees in December and all of the holidays in between. Are these examples of Christian liberty or a shocking worldliness that must be addressed?
It seems that every time there is a holiday, conservative Christians want to bring up these issues and point to the fact that if you will simply take five hours to research the subject on the internet, then you too will be convinced that everything you are doing is pagan and must be avoided. But if you spent the same five hours studying the Bible you would never come away with such convictions.
It certainly seems fastidious and religious, but without a focus on what God calls us to emphasize, we are easily distracted and miss the point.
The New Testament never tells Christians they need to celebrate any day. So any day we choose to celebrate (birthdays, anniversaries, the Fourth of July, St. Patrick's Day, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Christmas and so on) are under no more religious requirements than any other day on the calendar. We celebrate all things simply to the glory of God.
Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:6
Under the Old Covenant, God instituted observing of new moons, holy days, Sabbaths and so on, but those were fulfilled in Christ and have passed away.
Colossians 2:16-17 teaches that we should “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, in drink, or in respect of an holyday or of the new moon or Sabbath days which are shadows of these to come but the body is Christ.”
As New Testament believers we observe the Lords supper (not on a specifically assigned day), but beyond that we have liberty in accordance with our conscience.
In fact, in the book of Galatians Paul challenges the gentiles of his day not to put themselves again under bondage with the Judaizers (Jewish legalists) to keep certain days or requirements related to certain days. He called those beggarly elements to be avoided.
We also have the clear example of Christ when dealing with the folks that strained out the minor things—which always leads to the avoidance of the major things. Christ condemned these diligent hoop jumpers saying:
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
The Pharisees of Christ’s day were so very concerned about keeping the laws that could be seen by men that they would strain their water or wine with their teeth rather that gulping or sipping it the way we would. That way if a gnat (the smallest of the unclean animals, Leviticus 11:42) got into their drink during the wine making process or while it sat at the table, it would be caught on their tooth and they could remove it.
But Christ said they were so busy law keeping (counting out herbs for their tithes and straining gnats) that they were swallowing the largest unclean animal of all (Leviticus 11:4); the camel.
And what was this camel they were gulping down according to Christ? It was the weightier law: "You have omitted the weightier elements of the divine law," implied divine, "justice, mercy, and faith."
Isn’t that always the case? The more we work to strain out minor things, the less grace we tend to give others. The more minuscule we get in focusing on minor themes of Scripture the less time we have for the things that God has put in the foreground.
So why do people worry so much about the minor? Because it tends to make us feel pious and righteous. It seems like the “extra” work or dedication of abstaining (at least in the mind of the law keeper) demonstrates how really devoted we are. The fact that it might bring a greater respect and approval from men doesn't hurt either. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day and ours are usually really, really good at sacrifice in these visible areas. Really good at counting out dill seeds and really bad at what God wanted even more: justice, mercy, and faith.
John MacArthur in his sermon series, The Condemnation of False Spiritual Leaders says:
Listen the Pharisees and the scribes didn't do justly, they were inequitable. They were unfair, unjust. And they were merciless, brutal, unforgiving, unkind, ungenerous. They abuse the people. Piling, as it says in verse 4 of this chapter, heavy burdens on them, grievous to be born and not even moving one finger to help lighten the load. And they had no faith. They walked by sight. They walked by works. They walked by law. They walked by their own efforts. And so He says you're real great at counting out kitchen seeds used to flavor food and you've missed the whole point of what is really important, justice, mercy, and faith.
Those are not the words that we want describing us! If you are spending time focusing in on whether a Christian can wear green on St. Patrick's Day or can hunt eggs on Easter- just stop! Because chances are while you are straining that gnat you are missing what God calls greater or weightier.
These are areas of liberty before Christ and do not impact the world or the gospel- except in distracting us from doing the work we were called to do. Our unbelieving neighbors have no such questions or concerns rolling around in their minds and we do them a disservice if we teach them to strain out gnats even if we have been taught to do so.
Just give grace and liberty to the Easter egg hunter or the Christmas tree decorator and focus on those things that God desires more.
"He hath shown thee oh man what is good and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God."
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things charity.