G.I. Williamson and the GrinchDec 19th, 2012 | By J. Andrew Deane | Category: Blog Posts
As the Holy Season of Advent winds ever closer to its yearly end, my heart is often full of mixed emotions. The expectation and hope of celebrating the Birth of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ on December 25th tends to be mingled with other thoughts about my Reformed past.
In becoming Reformed after a season in Calvary Chapel, I found myself met with a consistency that was unafraid to back down no matter what the consequences. For example, we can ask:
Do you believe that God is sovereign?
The Calvinist can answer:
Well, realize that free will can be qualified and limited to a point where most other people would squirm.
Calvinists seem to have more of a stomach for consistency than many other Christians in our generation.
In a similar vein, if the Catholic Church calls Christmas a holyday (for that is, after all, what saying “Happy Holidays” both signifies and seals!), then the Reformers would argue that we ought to question the importance of December 25th. At least, that is the path of some. And it is a path taken by the reins of Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura was a panacea for dealing with Tradition, even though my own childhood home was no 16th century Catholic hall of oppression and inquisition. Instead, the consumerism of our American society was so hollow that it was a joy for me to hear that some Presbyterian writers would consistently say that if the Scriptures did not hallow a date, then there was no cause for Christians to do so. In other words, I was a Grinch, and I was happy to hate Christmas as a Calvinist.
Nevertheless, my own congregation had a mixture of opinions on the matter of hallowing December 25th in relation to the birth of Jesus Christ. After asking for advice, I was counseled to read the works of G.I. Williamson to see how a consistently Bible-based calendar would look.
For like the Puritans, G.I. Williamson argued publicly that the lack of a Bible verse connecting the Nativity to December 25th was a demonstration of the ‘Romish’ influence on culture and Christmas. In fact, the official website for my former Reformed denomination (the OPC) continues to carry this brief article by G.I. Williamson. There is a mixture of opinion on the matter, but G.I. Williamson’s opinion still graces the OPC website, unlike an article that would embrace praying for the dead, or any other such “papal” claims.
In Williamson’s article on opc.org, we read the following quotes, the first of which is a quotation of a book by van Dellen and Monsma:
During the early days of the Reformation some Reformed localities observed only Sunday. All special days sanctioned and revered by Rome were set aside. Zwingli and Calvin both encouraged the rejection of all ecclesiastical festive days. In Geneva all special days were discontinued as soon as the Reformation took a firm hold in that city. Already before the arrival of Calvin in Geneva this had been accomplished under the leadership of Farel and Viret. But Calvin agreed heartily. And Knox, the Reformer of Scotland, shared these same convictions, he being a disciple of Calvin in Geneva. Consequently the Scottish Churches also banned the Roman sacred days.
Here we read that the whole concept of the Reformation and being “against Christmas” was intimately linked with not celebrating sacred days of the Roman Catholic Church. In that sense, saying “Happy Holidays” to the Puritan/contemporary colleague of Calvin would be just as politically incorrect as saying “Merry Christmas,” for non-Sunday Holy days were additions to Scripture in the minds of the Reformers.
We read on for G.I. Williamson’s own reflections on the matter:
It is also my conviction that the widespread return of the Reformed churches to what is, after all, a Romish invention and tradition, is not in any way truly beneficial to the church. People think it is. But that does not make it so. And here I only want to mention one important consideration. Sunday school material-even such as is produced by our own Great Commission Publications-suffers under the dominion of what is commonly called “the church calendar.” This means that every year, in the cycle of materials, an inordinate amount of time is spent repeating the story of Christ’s birth. I hope no reader thinks for one moment that I discount the importance of the virgin birth of Christ. No, not at all. I certainly want the scriptural accounts in Matthew and Luke to receive due emphasis. But it is not due emphasis when a small portion of the history of salvation is magnified all out of proportion to the emphasis it receives in the Bible itself. Yet that is what has happened.
I quote all of this because this perspective was something that I once cherished. I once thought that the consistency of this position would insulate me from the problems of this world. The hypocrisy and thoughtlessness of so many ‘Christians’ would be abated by connecting their ‘piety’ to a superstition that had more in common with the winter equinox than Christ the Newborn King. For me, being a Grinch meant hiding from the hypocrisy of our day.
But I have grown to see that there is something that makes the OPC a strange bedfellow of the atheist, who can be greeted with such silly online pictures as this:
The emptiness and meaninglessness of such a historical narrative as what is depicted above is one where I am admittedly offering a prima facie argument. But it is a strong argument, where one’s own ability to say that 12/25 means something is as arbitrary as the atheist’s construction of why there is life on this planet (or any other planet) at all. If you would like something that is more systematic and less prima facie than this post, feel free to browse Called to Communion more fully.
But at the end of the day, I know my own life as a Reformed Presbyterian. I faced the die hard claims that December 25th was not important, and visited my share of fast food restaurants on Christmas in Protestation to those who were not “consistently Protestant”, who found beauty and joy in Christmas morn. And that experience of being “consistent” was just as cold and as barren as the photo shown above. It was an experience of the lifelessness of a non-liturgical world, where every day (barring Sunday) was as meaningless as any other.
Having tasted of the wonders of the full liturgical life in the Apostolic Faith as a Catholic, I look back at my own iconoclastic past with sadness and repentance, but am thankful that the Christ Child continued to welcome me even after I relegated Him to insignificance in the spirit of the Grinch. May we all welcome Him into our hearts and homes this Christmas!
Come O Jesus, Our Savior, Redeem and Save Us!