I received the following question:

You mentioned that you refuse to perform any rituals. Why then do you keep Christmas? Is it not much the same as any other ritual? My church has long been opposed to the keeping of Christmas, although perhaps lately they have been less strict about it.

You are right, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between these two. But what really sets them apart in my mind, I think, is the fact that no one (at least no one I associate with) thinks keeping Christmas to be something which God has commanded, or imagines that it will bring him favor with God. However, at most churches out there, it is believed that God has commanded the keeping of things like water baptism or confirmation or communion, and that by keeping these one is keeping God’s commandment and pleasing Him by doing so. This is the big sticking point for me. I see no reason to stop keeping Christmas, although it is of no use in my relationship with God. The fact is that I do not think anyone is being deceived or led astray by my celebrating Christmas in some way. So many who do not even pretend to name the name of Christ keep Christmas that it has almost come to the point where it would be a religious act not to keep it! But things like baptism are another story. Since many actually believe that this is commanded by God and is a thing pleasing to Him to do, or even the means whereby God saves men, I could never join in the keeping of this ritual, as I know this not to be the case. For me to take up an empty ritual in such circumstance would be for me to cast aside the freedom I have in Christ as being of little worth. In the matter of Christmas, though, I may keep it and exercise my freedom in Christ by doing so, because I do not believe that anyone will be led away from true relationship with Christ to empty ritual by my doing so.

Speaking of our freedom in Christ, this is something that disturbed me when I was attending a church. Years before I attended this church did not have dispensational understanding of any kind. At that time they were one of those churches which practiced the ritual of confirmation. The pastor at that time came in the course of time through his studies in the Scriptures to a mid-Acts dispensational understanding. At this time the church realized that confirmation was an empty ritual. However, it was decided by the members of the church that they didn’t want to give up the idea of having a Christian training class for young people, as they thought that could be beneficial to them far beyond the mere ritual of confirmation. So the class was continued, only now under the name of the “Christian Instruction Class.”

Now that was fine, but unfortunately (I think) they also decided to continue with the traditional “confirmation service” where young people stood up in front of the church and were quizzed in the knowledge they had learned. This was no longer called a “confirmation service,” but was named “Christian Instruction Class graduation,” nor was any thought of the students being “confirmed as having the Holy Spirit” retained with the ritual. However, the form of the service remained the same. Thus comes my problem with the service. Of course we are free in Christ from trying to please Him through works, and we are as free to keep such a tradition as not to keep it if we wish, so long as we do not place any great store on it as a means of obtaining favor in God’s sight. However, there are many that do not understand this as we do. And invariably when they had the Christian Instruction graduation, there were proud grandparents and relatives and so forth who visited, all dressed up and with cameras at the ready to watch their dear ones go through this ritual. These people understood nothing as regards our freedom in Christ from empty ritual. What they saw was a confirmation service, whether the church called it that or not. So by fostering this impression, there was a failure to give a full witness to the completeness of the blood of Christ. Instead, it appeared the church was casting their lot with those who trust in empty ritual. This seemed like a very regrettable thing to me, and I wished that they would scrap the graduation service, even if they continued the class (as they probably should have done.)

So this should illustrate my point about not participating in empty rituals. We are free in Christ to perform any tradition or ritual we want. We can make them up with impunity! What we must not do, however, is to place spiritual value on them, or to claim that they are Biblical commands, or that one must do them to please God. For this reason, though I may keep a ritual like Christmas because I do not see it as damaging, I will refuse under any circumstances to keep a ritual like water baptism just because I do see it as damaging as it is leading those who keep it to trust in some physical act rather than in the complete and finished work of the cross. It is turning them from completeness in Christ into the confines of man-made religion.