Christmas story: SEPARATING ISSUE FROM NON- ISSUES
Moses Oludele Idowu
“Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”
( Romans 14: 3)
There is a controversy presently trending. This controversy threatens to be worse than the ‘Tithes Controversy’ of 2016/17 if care is not taken. The worse thing is that this is a needles controversy, a serious distraction which we cannot afford at this time when the Church should be watchful and on guard against enemies, within and without.
Since my opinion has been sought on this Platform I will share it briefly here.
A. BRIEF REVIEW
The Vanguard newspaper of 26th December in its online and tabloid editions featured a story titled: “Why MFM Doesn’t Celebrate Christmas”. Quoting Dr. Olukoya it claims MFM does not celebrate Christmas because ” it is unbibilical”. That if you study the Bible from Genesis to Revelation there is no word like Christmas “.
And then he warned “modern Christians to stop promoting such unbiblical celebration.”
These are strong words.
By the next day, reactions began to pour in. This is the era of Social Media and everyone can express an opinion even when not knowledgeable on the subject. Several reactions both negative and positive began to appear also on the internet.
I saw the reaction of Mike Bamiloye of Mount Zion Drama Ministry. He believes that there is nothing wrong in earmarking one day to celebrate the King of Glory after all the World marks Cancer Day, Diabete Day etc. He sees it as “ignorance and knowledgelessness” on the part of anyone to argue about the commemoration of Christmas. Whether this was released as a response to Olukoya’s or as a personal statement just in the season, is not clear.
The next day however, on 27th MFM issued a Press Release through her Public Relations Manager, Collins Edomaruse which was also carried by Vanguard Online and tabloid editions. Here the church fully affirmed the position earlier canvassed by her General Overseer and even made matters worse by “adding salt to injury” by also including Easter as among the unscriptural and idolatrous practices. This release is very unfortunate, it is like adding fuel to a fire that is about to quench. If you ask my advice I think MFM should not have issued that Release but just ignore the reactions and proceed with her affairs.
Certain arguments and points sometimes are not often necessary and they don’t help our cause. That is why sometimes it is not even good to win an argument or overemphasize certain things. When you do that you give arsenals too to your detractors to also attack and raise issues about you and your practices. And who is the loser? It is the Church at large.
This is exactly what happened.
Obviously piqued by this latest assault one Rev Fr Oluoma of Catholic Church fired back insisting that it is “not the calendar date we celebrate but the event and the mystery”. Can anyone also dispute that?
He made other useful points too; however, his language was intemperate and his response was full of vitriol which to me is unnecessary. The Tribune newspaper of 27th published his reactions in full. “Anointed idiot”, “religious ignoramus”, “pious Zombies”, “nonsense” etc are some expressions he used which would not have happened, I believe, if that second Release has not been issued.
The more words you use,, the more weapons too your opponents have with which to challenge and buffet you.
Our Churches need to learn about “damage control” and avoiding controversy.
Some of you reading this would remember about a church whose G.O prophesied that “for anyone to be relevant in Nigeria he would need the input of the Church.” It was RCCG. After waiting for 3 months and no response I issued a release. This prophecy cannot bind me, I insist. I will be relevant with or without RCCG because such a prophecy is not scriptural to me and because in the day I came to know the Lord no church was there. You cannot take from me what you did not give me.
That article suddenly began to fly everywhere even to unexpected places and many members and leaders of the church must have seen it. Yet not a single pastor or even the church made a response realising, I believe, that there is no way they can defend that “prophecy” from the Bible. They kept quiet and things died natural death. That is damage control. But if the church had responded then many leaders of other denominations who had kept quiet before for peace sake would also have joined the fray. And there is no way that church would win.
That is the kind of maturity I will humbly recommend for MFM because this church still has a destiny ahead of her. It is not every argument you respond to, especially when you have made your points. However much you tried certain arguments will never be won.
And however strong your points may be they do not invalidate other’s.
Then there was another response much in tandem with MFM also opposing Christmas celebration because it was originally to celebrate Soli Invictus and all the idolatry connected with it. I do not know the name of this person.
Again I say this controversy is not necessary at this time and we cannot afford it.
Having now reviewed what has been said so far I want to make my humble opinion briefly.
A WORD ABOUT D. K. OLUKOYA
DR. Daniel Kayode Olukoya is a good man and one of the most enlightened ministers this country now parades. He is one of the large- hearted men that this country has and you can see the proofs of his philanthropy everywhere in the academic world.
He is not ignorant and definitely not an idiot. He has written more books than any preacher I know from this land; and as a scholar he has published more papers “in learned Journals in his area of specialization – Molecular Kinetics. Such a man cannot be called ignorant by any standard.
However, we all have things to learn and we shall continue to be because we “know in part”. Ignorance does not mean that you don’t know or that you don’t have degrees, it means you don’t know as you ought to know, “you don’t know that you don’t know.” The one who does not know and knows he does not know, is not ignorant.
Also the issue is not ignorance but perception and attitude or belief system.
Let us examine the context in which Dr Olukoya issued his original statement about Christmas.
To be fair to him he did not issue that statement originally to the Press or for the general public.
Look at the setting.
MFM usually meets on Wednesdays and this year’s Christmas happens to fall on a Wednesday. He told his members why they were gathered in a meeting that day since they do not mark Christmas for the last 30 years.
It was in this context he made his remarks which within a local church setting is proper and acceptable. There is nothing wrong in a pastor of a church telling his members about their doctrinal position about a particular day which happens to fall on a day of meeting. However, perhaps a journalist was there, these news hounds and he saw that as news worthy. And filed the story which a leader intended for his members alone. The editor, if I were him, should not have used that story for obvious reasons. A man is entitled to privacy in his church and inside his congregation. It is a statement that is released to the Press that the Press ought to publish as emanating from the church.
Soon our press men would learn this someday.
Thus by the next day the private remarks made inside the church has become public that the whole world was reading.
It was here MFM took another step. Since the story has become public which was addressed to the church only as innocent remarks, the church now officially affirmed it by now issuing a release. This is where I disagree with the church as I have stated above. They should just have ignored the remarks and comments since they never issued the story officially to newspapers to begin with. And continue with their business.
THE HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS
Google has made everyone to be historians. That is one danger we are going to face in the days ahead: between groomed scholars and internet scholars.
It is true that Christmas was first celebrated in 336 A.D by Constantine who died a year later. He was also the one who stopped persecution of the church and proclaimed Christianity as the official Roman religion. Historians are still unsure today and are not agreed whether Constantine genuinely believed or just used Christianity as an instrument of unification for the Roman empire.
This is neither here nor there.
Most people who dopposed Christmas cite the idolatrous connotations and origins of this festival originally dedicated to Solis Invictus – the Unconquered Sun,one of the gods of the Roman heathen religion. As I will soon show this is a weak argument. Someone does not even need to be brilliant to demolish this argument.
However, some historians have challenged even this “idolatrous connotations” pointing out that Christians had been marking the day before then.
It was in 274 A.D that emperor Aurelius instituted Dec. 25 as a day to mark the Unconquered Sun due largely to the fact that Christians had been using that day as a special day to woo the Christians.
We cannot ascertain this claim but we also cannot dismiss it. For instance why did Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the Religion of Rome? Because of the influence of Christians, their carrying power and the fact that the empire could not be united without them now constituting 10% of the total population.
For instance how many of you know that beards was one of the distinctive signs of Early Christians? Muhammad copied this from Christians. Today Muslims have taken it over completely.
Also take the issue of the white wedding which Muslims now also practice. Now in future someone would say that Christians borrowed this from Muslims or even the wearing of beard.
So it is indeed possible that Christians have set aside Dec. 25 as a day of special commemorating of the Birth of the Saviour before Aurelius instituted the Feast of the Unconquered Sun to lure the Christians.
The Early Church marked Easter from the earliest beginnings that we have any records.
One other important facts is that virtually all traditions and strand of Christianity, though differing in doctrines and practices, are agreed on the Christmas and Easter celebration from the beginning. The Roman Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, The Protestant Church etc. Of course these were aware of the idolatrous practices of Rome as an empire. But as Paul carefully argued in his epistles, the form cannot obstruct reality and the shadow cannot destroy the substance. The gods are nothing and idols are nothing. The Unconquered Sun cannot have a place before the Sun of Righteousness. (See 1 Cor. 8) This was the attitude of the Church. When they celebrated on that day it was not to the unconquered sun but to the Sun of Righteousness ( see Malachi 4:2) that they channeled their adoration.
Can anyone fault this?
One other thing should disturb us and weaken the argument about idolatrous connotations, if ever. The Reformers who opposed the Church of Rome more than any of our churches today can do, did not raise the issue of Christmas. Do we claim to know the history of Rome better than Luther or Calvin or Augustine? If these divines, these worthies never raised this issue did they know something that we do not know?
Throughout history virtually all the varied segments of the church have celebrated Christ, the Sun of Righteousness on that day, whose birth that day was meant to celebrate.
The Puritans, a radical Reformation group in England however rejected it. And Oliver Cromwell abolished it after coming to power after the overthrow of Charles I. But it would not last. When Charles II came it was restored.
None of the great movements of Christianity that has brought life and power and revival to the church has rejected Christmas. The Methodists, Quakers, Apostolic, Salvation Army, even up to our own Aladuras here in Nigeria.
This history is essential not because it validates anything but it provides a context for the argument which I will now begin.
History is important. Literature matters. More than 80% of the Bible is History and Literature, pure literature involving the most sublime poetry, stories, allegory, odes, parables, etc
Let us now examine the argument. The strongest argument against Christmas celebration is its perceived idolatrous connotations. Since in ancient Rome this day was once used in idolatrous festivity to the “unconquered sun” and other accompaniment. Those who opposed Christmas cite this issue of origin.
In this they follow in the path of Radical Reformation especially those of the Puritans in 16th century England and America who renounced the Christmas celebration in all its entirety. MFM belongs to this category and it’s the flagship leading this charge in this nation at this time.
For their anger against idolatry, and refusal to have anything to do with “idolatrous connotations ” these categories of Christians should be commended. At least you cannot prove that they didn’t love God. The Puritans even had to overthrow the monarchy in England and birthed a revolution in their zeal for God and to cut all links with Rome.
We must commend this category of Christians because the church needs them. A person cannot be faulted for loving God too much, assuming he actually did; or for hating evil with passion for that is our duty and command. This much is certain and can be said.
However having said that much in their favour, much still remains and n favour of others.
Ask yourself, is this argument really sound? Because in the Ancient Rome Europeans worshiped the sun and other idolatrous practices on Dec.25, is this a strong reason to condemn Christmas as unbiblical and idolatrous?
My fear is this argument is very thin and very weak on all fronts.
Okay let me cite some points.
Ancient Rome, the seven- hilled city was built on idolatry. Since it was founded by Romulus, a pagan, it knew no other religion other than heathenism. Much of these she inherited from Greeks and other earlier civilizations like Babylonian, Medo- Persian, Egyptian, Sumerian etc, that had gone before. Rome itself became an empire after conquering the Greeks at the Battle of Pydna, Macedonia in 168 B.C. Our Lord Jesus and subsequently Christianity were born during this period when Rome ruled the world. God has His reasons why He decided to send His Son into the world when the Romans with their debauchery and idolatry held sway. But where sin abounded grace did much more abound.
Thus everything about Rome is idolatry. Thus singling out Christmas alone is not the issue and does not address the problem.
For example all the days of the week were named after the gods of Rome: Monday ( for the Moon), Tuesday ( Mars), Wednesday ( Mercury), Thursday ( Jupiter)… Sunday ( Sun)
Now if we insist on rejecting Christmas because idols were worshiped what do we do for the other days of the week that were also dedicated to their planet gods? Would MFM change her Wednesdays meetings because the same people who gave us the name worshiped Mercury on that day or its Power Must Change Hands because the same ancient Romans worshiped Saturn on Saturday?
Likewise all the months of the year were dedicated to their gods. January to Janus, the god of gates and doorways, March to Mars, April to Aphrodite the goddess of love, June to Juno the goddess of marriage…
So do we also forsake the 12- calendar month and resort to the Islamic calendar because they were named after the gods of Rome and human sacrifices were made to those gods. They were idolatrous names.
Do you see where this leads us – a dead end?
Let us go deeper. In Babylonian religion which verge on Rome’s paganism, the idea of Virgin birth already existed. Even the idea of trinity already existed.
So do we renounce these theological facts because the heathens of Babylon first mooted it?
Okay let us come nearer home. Most of the sites of old churches, Apostolic churches, CAC were originally founded on heathen lands, forbidden forests, altars of false religion. Some of those Prayer Mountains were sites of principalities and demons, where for hundreds of years idolatrous rites were performed and even dead bodies thrown. Because they would not give them lands within the city being religio illicita ( another Roman word meaning illegal religion, by colonial officials). So, do we now reject these churches and mountains or claim their worship was not acceptable because idolatrous rites were once performed on those same grounds?
If we don’t use this rationalisation here why use it for Christmas?
One more illustration.
When God called His servant, Joseph Babalola He gave him the symbol of water to use to heal all sicknesses. On the basis of this many churches today in Nigeria use water for prayer as instrument of healing.
Now anyone who is familiar with Yoruba Traditional Religion and History sould know that for hundreds of years before Babalola, or Orimolade who first used it, the Yorubas have always used water as a therapeutic instrument. You can confirm what I am saying.
Babalola himself must be aware of this. Yet this fact did not stop God from instructing His servant to use it.
Who created the water? God or satan? If the traditional religion can use it why not the other religions. All truths, as Morris Cerullo says, are parallel.
How much more concerning a day, December 25, which God has made?
The charge of idolatry is a serious thing. And the scriptures warn us: “Little children keep yourself from idols.” So, as I said, we should commend anyone who abstains from even appearance of idolatry. However, we should not confuse the forms for reality, and the shadows from the substance.
To be fair too to those who celebrate Christmas, it is not really Christmas they celebrate especially in the way the Heathens of Rome did it. It is Christ whose Birth is being celebrated for which that day was earmarked to mark since 336 A.D. That the medium of this commemorative and formative instrument was not a great Christian ( Constantine killed his son, murdered his wife etc) notwithstanding. Sometimes God’s great purposes are released through impure channels and medium. Remember Cyrus.
So it will be too finicky asking whether the origin of idolatry or pagan. But many of those who mark the Day today do not even know who Constantine is or whether Rome worshiped the sun or moon. All they care is that Christ was born in Bethlehem and that day is set aside by all Christian traditions to mark it.
We should avoid all these controversies because it does not help the Gospel except to cause divisions.
True, Christmas is not in the Bible but I am surprised that a Nigerian pastor should say that. Because there are many things we also do that are not in the Bible.
Today, virtually every church in Nigeria conduct what they call “anointing service” or “deliverance services,” including MFM. I have never seen those words in the Bible either in New Testament or Old Testament.
THE POWER OF SYMBOLS
Modern Christians know little about symbolism. Why did the prophets of old in this nation carried a rod? Even Babalola had it.
We know nothing about symbolism, prophetic symbolism and similitude. Yet the prophetic operates by similitude, symbolism. Perhaps that is why there are fewer prophets in our generation.
There is power in symbolism. Look at it this way. The mace is a piece of iron or copper but without it the American Congress or Nigerian Legislature cannot sit. If they do it is ultra vires, it has no legality of law. That piece of steel represented the power of the Senate. It symbolize it and it is it. When you attach a place or day yo a particular purpose it begins to assume or take the power of that purpose. Do you know that?
When you think of Christmas it depends on what comes to your mind. If it is holidays, fun, food, wine, women etc then you are still in idolatry like your Roman predecessors. But if it is Christ and Gospel or the welfare of fellowmen, like Charles Dickens who wrote a book to revive the art of Christmas and doing good, then that is not idolatry. That is worship, and it is acceptable to God.
It is all about you and what you attach to it.
Christ is the Substance, every other thing is shadow. He is our Passover and every other thing is forms and shadows. The Jews still celebrate the Passover because for them it has an abiding significance. But for me I do not because Christ my Passover has come. I don’t need a School Certificate when I already possess a University certificate. That Passover has become my Easter. Which I also mark not because the Romans did the same but because of Christ my Passover. I have no link with Rome or its heathenish accretions. My mind is on Christ who is the Lord of Easter, My Passover. What Rome did during Easter bothers me not, just as I do not worry because in January, my wife’s birth month, they worshiped Janus. What is my business with that? The substance cannot bow to shadows, it is the shadows that must give way to Substance. Jesus is the Reality, the Substance, the Centre of the Universe and the Rhythm of Heaven. Just as the earth revolves around the sun, the universe revolves around Him. He is the Sun of Righteousness, the Central Sun around which a million suns revolve. May all honour be to Him that liveth forever and ever.
What is idols? Before the Lord and Master of creation? This is the argument of Paul to the Corinthians, another Roman city given to idolatry and formication.
The issue is we need to have an enlarged vision of Christ and His Glory. We seems to see Satan and his power more than any other thing. Christ is the Centre of Creation. He is much more bigger than our churches have made Him and that is why Christians today are weak. We need to emphasize Christ more before our children rather than demons and evils so that they won’t grow up to believe that Satan is bigger.
Finally, let every man abide wherein he is called. If you believe that Christmas is idolatry and idolatrous, fine. Stay away from it. And as for those who worshiped Christ and know it is Christ Birth they mark, they should should continue doing their own.
Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind.
However, I think we all can agree that Christmas as it is practiced today needs a Reformation. The spirit of commerce, exhibition, gaudy ostentations, etc need to be purged to recover the once glorious legacy and pristine Glory of this most historic Commemorative instrument.
© Moses Oludele Idowu ( Dec. 28, 2019)
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