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Samuel Miller on Christmas Observance in Church

From A Letter to the Commercial Advertiser, New York, NY. December 29, 1825


The "Pilgrims," then, for themselves only, refused to observe Christmas, and other holy days, for the following reasons.

I. They thought that no warrant for any such observance was to be found in Scripture. They believed that every institution of this nature, pertaining to the Old Testament economy, was abolished at the coming of Christ; that no similar days were appointed in their place; that neither the Savior nor his inspired Apostles gave the least countenance, either by precept or example, to the sanctification of any other day than the Sabbath.

II. They considered the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They denied that the Church, or any member of it had a right to institute new rites or ceremonies. They were persuaded that the Lord Jesus Christ alone was the Supreme Head and King of the Church; and had no doubt that He, and those Apostles whom He inspired by his own Spirit, were as competent judges of what was proper, and for the edification of the Church, as any individual or body of individuals have been since; and, of course, that for uninspired, and therefore fallible men, to undertake to add to the number of Christ's appointments, is a measure, to say the least, of very questionable propriety.

III. They were confident that, for a long time after the death of the Apostles, no stated festival or Fast Days whatever were observed in the Church. Justin Martyr, who wrote a little after the middle of the second century, and who gives a particular account of the institutions and habits of the Christians, gives no hint of any day being kept holy, excepting the first day of the week, or the Christian Sabbath. Before the time of Origen, who flourished about the middle of the third century, the Christians had introduced several holy-days, partly to gratify the converts from Paganism; who, on coming into the Church, wished to have some substitute for the Pagan festivals which they had abandoned. But even at this time, the observance of Christmas was unknown. — Origen gives a list of the holy-days observed at the time in which he wrote; but says nothing about a festival for Christ's nativity; from which Lord Chancellor King, in his "inquiry into the Primitive Church within the first three hundred years after Christ," confidently infers that no such festival was observed till after the time of Origen. Indeed the Christians during the first three centuries, differed so widely concerning the month and day of the Savior's birth; some placing it in April, others in May, etc. that there is an utter improbability, on this ground alone, that they commemorated the event by an ecclesiastical festival.

IV. The Puritans attached no little importance to another consideration. Supposing, (what they could not admit) that the church possesses the power to institute observances, which Christ and his Apostles never knew: supposing that "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," or in other words, adopting "human inventions in the worship of God," could be justified; what limit they asked, could be set to this power? How far may it be carried? When the door to uncommanded observances is once opened, by whom or when will it be effectually closed? You, and a few others, Mr. Editor, might think two or three will-adjusted church festivals, besides fifty-two Sundays in the year quite sufficient. The Protestant Episcopal Church, however, in this country, has appointed about thirty stated festivals, besides a still larger number of Fast-days. The Church of England has a greater number, it is believed, both of fasts and festivals. The Church of Rome, from whom the Church of England selected her list, observes a far greater number than either. In favor of every one of these days, serious, respectable men have something very plausible to say; and have actually uttered very contemptuous, and even indignant things against plain, simple-minded Protestants, who could not easily allow such a mass of superstition. Is it any wonder, then, that the Puritans, perceiving the tendency in all churches to go to extremes in multiplying such observances, whenever they began to be introduced; and knowing that there was no way to prevent this, but by shutting them out altogether: deliberately preferred the latter as the safer course? — and truly, if there be no Bible warrant for festivals; — no solid warrant for them in the practice of the Christian Church for the first 300 years, and, above all, none for Christmas; if the whole business of bringing institutions into the Church for which there is no Divine authority, be unlawful and of dangerous tendency; and if, whenever the practice has been admitted, it has been almost always abused, that is, carried much further than it ought to have been, I cannot help thinking that the Puritans had at least plausible, if not conclusive, reasons for taking the course which they did.

I must again protest, Mr. Editor, that I have no desire to shake the faith, or alter the practice, of those who differ from the Puritans on this subject. But I could not, for my life, help doubting, whether, when you "condemned" those venerable men, as in "error" as to this point, you were really acquainted with ALL the reasons which led to their decision…

 

 

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