Friday, December 23, 2011

The Lament of the Loss of Christian Culture

I know that it has become fashionable this time of year to lament the unfriendliness of our culture to things religious and especially to things Christian about Christmas.  Folks have forwarded a ton of emails to me about the creches removed from the public square, the holiday greetings that have displaced "Merry Christmas," and the secular character of this holy day (even among Christian practices in the home and marketplace).  I once thought this was also a terrible thing but now I do not get so excited about it all.

First of all it was never the job of culture to preserve Christ in Christmas.  It was and has always been the job of the Church.  So if Wal-Mart does not say "Merry Christmas" and K-Mart markets tasteless Christmas gift ideas and Old Navy only has "holiday gift cards" that do not say Christmas on them, so what?  When was it ever their job or their place to market the faith for us Christians or for the Church?  It has always been up to the baptized and believing people of God and to the structures of the Church to keep the Christ in the Christ Mass -- something we have been rather lazy about and have grown too comfortable deferring to the state and to the marketplace.

Second, whoever said that a culture can be Christian?  Only people can be Christian.  Nations are Christian not because of heritage but because their people confess Jesus Christ.  To say that a country is Christian is to acknowledge the faith of the majority or the largest minority of a people in which no faith has a majority.  Nations cannot be Christian.  Christianity is not a legacy but a faith, born of baptism and confessed in word and deed, and marked by the gathering of the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord.  People are Christian.  Not nations. Not culture.  To be sure, culture may be influenced greatly by the Christian people who did and do express that culture and shape it.  But culture is not Christianity.  The means of grace (aka Church) and the people set apart by those means of grace -- they are Christian and that is Christianity.

We all know that the American consumer culture uses Christmas to turn a profit.  Some of you think that this is worst thing on earth.  What are the options?  Putting all those people who work at Wal-Mart and Target and the Mall and the shipping companies and distribution centers and manufacturers out of business?  Perhaps it would be better if people did not blow their whole wad at Christmas and then borrow more to make it even better.  I am not arguing that.  Culture is not responsible because culture does not shop.  People shop.  So let Wal-Mart et al have the holiday but make sure that Christians and the Church keep the holy day.  If we are faithful in keeping the holy day of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will not have to worry so much about what goes on in the marketplace.  Instead of dealing with what is ours to care for, we rant and rave about the terrible injustice of school "Winter Breaks" or office "holiday parties" or "Season's Greetings" on the marquees and gift cards across America.  We end up spending all our energy trying to make culture and country Christian and have little time or energy left to make sure that the Church and her members keep the Christ Mass with repentant and believing hearts, rejoicing in the eternal gift of a Savior who is God's Son in human flesh and blood, and re-telling His story to a world of people groaning in want and need of redemption.

Russ Saltzman said it better here.  So did Todd Wilken here.  Todd's point is well taken.  Why is it that Christians get their noses bent out of joint at the secular character of the Christmas holiday and then settle for a Christ absent from the preaching and liturgical life of too many churches all year round?  If we cannot clean up our own act and make sure that the Christ of the manger and the cross is the center of our proclamation and His presence in the means of grace the center of our worship, how can we ever expect to stand up to the Wal-Marts of the world in reshaping the culture and the nation for the Christ whom we believe, confess, and teach?

How can we keep Christ out of Christmas.  It is not a choice we can make between a religious celebration or a secular one.  It is a truth we recognize and confess by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let them do what they will with the holiday.  If we surrender the Holy Day, it is not because of the encroaching secular culture.  It is because we have voluntarily surrendered the faith and given up our hope in Him who came.

Am I miffed that the world has become a far more complex place than when I was a child?  Sure.  Does it get to me that the schools and marketplace work harder than ever to NOT mention Christ at Christmas?  Sure.  But what really bothers me is that churches that claim to be Christian preach anything and everything except Christ and Him crucified, that worship has become religious entertainment, and that Pastors have use it all to become the chief personalities of their congregations.  And it really gets to me when this happens among those who claim to be Lutheran....


Jeremy Loesch said...

Thank you Larry. I appreciate the time you spent on this. It resonates with me. Merry Christmas to you, your family, your congregation.


Jay Watson said...

Thank you for a Christ-filled post Father Peters...your essay is just another reason your blog is one of the best in the entire Confessional Lutheran blogosphere!
A Blessed and Holy Christ Mass

Paul said...


Merry ChristMass!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Well said. We need to hear that.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Kudos. Put the Mass back in Christ Mass. Rejoice and give thanks.

Anonymous said...

How does the world celebrate
Christmas Day? It has 5 NBA games
on TV. Pro Basketball from 11 am to
midnight. These are consecutive
games designed to satisfy basketball
junkies from coast to coast. The
Chicago Bulls vs the LA Lakers is
just one of the matchups. Not only
is it Christmas Day AND Sunday, but
it intrudes on families who are
gathered together for special time.
Secularism trumps everything else.

Anonymous said...

Hey grumpy. Turn off the TV. It has an off switch for a reason. Rejoice! Go to Mass. Sing His praises. Exult in Christ.

Norman Teigen said...

Thank you for these words of wisdom and comfort.

Anonymous said...

How can the world/culture ever be
Christian if it is under the domain
of Satan?

Holy Scripture makes it clear that
this world, the devil and our flesh
are opposed to Christ.

Some Christians need to be more
informed as to what God's Word says.