Saturday, June 25, 2011
What does the Bible teach about the use of images?
What view do Christians take of religious holidays?
How can you explain your beliefs to others without offending them?
SUPPOSE you found out that your whole neighborhood has been contaminated. Someone has secretly been dumping poisonous waste in the area, and now the situation is life threatening. What would you do? No doubt, you would move away if you could. But after doing that, you would still face this serious question, ‘Have I been poisoned?’
2 A similar situation arises with regard to false religion. The Bible teaches that such worship is contaminated with unclean teachings and practices. (2 Corinthians 6:17) That is why it is important for you to get out of “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Revelation 18:2, 4) Have you done this? If so, you are to be commended. But more is involved than just separating yourself or resigning from a false religion. Afterward, you must ask yourself, ‘Do any traces of false worship remain in me?’ Consider some examples.
IMAGES AND ANCESTOR WORSHIP
3 Some have had images or shrines in their home for years. Is that true of you? If so, you might feel that it is strange or wrong to pray to God without such a visible aid. You may even feel attached to some of these items. But God is the one who says how he should be worshiped, and the Bible teaches that he does not want us to use images. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 42:8; 1 John 5:21) So you can take a stand for true worship by destroying any items you own that are connected with false worship. By all means, come to view them as Jehovah does—as something “detestable.”—Deuteronomy 27:15.
4 Ancestor worship also is common in many false religions. Before learning Bible truth, some believed that the dead are conscious in an invisible realm and that they can help or harm the living. Perhaps you used to go to great lengths to appease your dead ancestors. But as you learned in Chapter 6 of this book, the dead have no conscious existence anywhere. Thus, attempts to communicate with them are of no use. Any messages that seem to come from a dead loved one really originate with the demons. Therefore, Jehovah forbade the Israelites to try to talk with the dead or to participate in any other form of spiritism.—Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
5 If the use of images or the practice of ancestor worship was part of your former way of worship, what can you do? Read and ponder over Bible passages that show you how God views these things. Pray to Jehovah daily about your desire to take a stand for true worship, and ask him to help you to think as he does.—Isaiah 55:9.
CHRISTMAS—NOT CELEBRATED BY EARLY CHRISTIANS
6 A person’s worship could be contaminated by false religion as it relates to popular holidays. Consider Christmas, for example. Christmas supposedly commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, and nearly every religion that claims to be Christian celebrates it. Yet, there is no evidence that the first-century disciples of Jesus observed such a holiday. The book Sacred Origins of Profound Things states: “For two centuries after Christ’s birth, no one knew, and few people cared, exactly when he was born.”
7 Even if Jesus’ disciples had known the exact date of his birth, they would not have celebrated it. Why? Because, as The World Book Encyclopedia says, the early Christians “considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.” The only birthday observances mentioned in the Bible are those of two rulers who did not worship Jehovah. (Genesis 40:20; Mark 6:21) Birthday celebrations were also held in honor of pagan deities. For example, on May 24 the Romans celebrated the birthday of the goddess Diana. On the following day, they observed the birthday of their sun-god, Apollo. Hence, birthday celebrations were associated with paganism, not with Christianity.
8 There is another reason why first-century Christians would not have celebrated Jesus’ birthday. His disciples likely knew that birthday celebrations were connected with superstition. For instance, many Greeks and Romans of ancient times believed that a spirit attended the birth of each human and protected that one throughout life. “This spirit had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays. Jehovah certainly would not be pleased with any observance that would link Jesus with superstition. (Isaiah 65:11, 12) So how did Christmas come to be celebrated by many people?
THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
9 It was not until several hundred years after Jesus lived on the earth that people began to commemorate his birth on December 25. But that was not the date of Jesus’ birth, for it evidently took place in October.* So why was December 25 chosen? Some who later claimed to be Christian likely “wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.’” (The New Encyclopædia Britannica) In winter, when the sun seemed weakest, pagans held ceremonies to get this source of warmth and light to come back from its distant travels. December 25 was thought to be the day that the sun began its return. In an effort to convert pagans, religious leaders adopted this festival and tried to make it seem “Christian.”#
10 The pagan roots of Christmas have long been recognized. Because of its unscriptural origin, Christmas was banned in England and in some of the American colonies during the 17th century. Anyone who even stayed home from work on Christmas day had to pay a penalty. Soon, though, the old customs were back, and some new ones were added. Christmas once again became a big holiday, and that is what it still is in many lands. Because of the connections that Christmas has with false religion, however, those who want to please God do not celebrate it or any other holiday that has its roots in pagan worship.%
DO ORIGINS REALLY MATTER?
Would you eat a piece of candy picked up from the gutter?
11 Some agree that such holidays as Christmas have pagan origins but still feel that it is not wrong to celebrate them. After all, most people are not thinking about false worship when they observe holidays. These occasions also give families opportunities to draw close together. Is this how you feel? If so, likely it is love of family, not love of false religion, that makes taking a stand for true worship seem difficult. Be assured that Jehovah, the one who originated the family, wants you to have a good relationship with your relatives. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) But you can strengthen such bonds in ways that God approves. Regarding the matter that should be our chief concern, the apostle Paul wrote: “Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.”—Ephesians 5:10.
12 Maybe you feel that the origins of holidays have little to do with how they are celebrated today. Do origins really matter? Yes! To illustrate: Suppose you saw a piece of candy lying in the gutter. Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean. Like that candy, holidays may seem sweet, but they have been picked up from unclean places. To take a stand for true worship, we need to have a viewpoint like that of the prophet Isaiah, who told true worshipers: “Touch nothing unclean.”—Isaiah 52:11.
DISCERNMENT IN DEALING WITH OTHERS
13 Challenges may arise when you choose not to participate in holidays. For example, fellow employees may wonder why you do not engage in certain holiday activities where you work. What if you are offered a Christmas gift? Would it be wrong to accept it? What if your marriage mate does not share your beliefs? How can you make sure that your children do not feel deprived because of not celebrating holidays?
14 Good judgment is needed to discern how to handle each situation. If a holiday greeting is casually extended, you could simply thank the well-wisher. But suppose you are dealing with someone you see or work with regularly. In that case, you might choose to say more. In all cases, be tactful. The Bible advises: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) Be careful not to show disrespect for others. Instead, tactfully explain your position. Make clear that you are not against gift-giving and gatherings but prefer to participate in these activities at a different time.
15 What if someone wants to give you a gift? Much depends upon the circumstances. The giver might say: “I know that you do not celebrate the holiday. Still, I want you to have this.” You may decide that accepting the gift under those circumstances is not the same as taking part in the holiday. Of course, if the giver is not familiar with your beliefs, you could mention that you do not observe the holiday. This would help to explain why you accept a gift but do not give one on that occasion. On the other hand, it would be wise not to accept a gift if it is given with the clear intention of showing that you do not stick to your beliefs or that you would compromise for the sake of material gain.
WHAT ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS?
16 What if family members do not share your beliefs? Again, be tactful. There is no need to make an issue of every custom or celebration that your relatives choose to observe. Instead, respect their right to their views, just as you want them to respect your right to yours. (Matthew 7:12) Avoid any actions that would make you a participant in the holiday. Still, be reasonable when it comes to matters that do not amount to actual celebration. Of course, you should always act in a way that will leave you with a good conscience.—1 Timothy 1:18, 19.
17 What can you do so that your children do not feel deprived because of not celebrating unscriptural holidays? Much depends on what you do at other times of the year. Some parents set aside times to give presents to their children. One of the best gifts you can give your children is your time and loving attention.
PRACTICE TRUE WORSHIP
Practicing true worship brings real happiness
18 To please God, you must reject false worship and take a stand for true worship. What does this include? The Bible states: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Christian meetings are happy occasions for you to worship God in the way that he approves. (Psalm 22:22; 122:1) At such meetings, there is “an interchange of encouragement” among faithful Christians.—Romans 1:12.
19 Another way that you can take a stand for true worship is to speak to others about the things you have learned from studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many people truly are “sighing and groaning” over the wickedness that is taking place in the world today. (Ezekiel 9:4) Perhaps you know some people who feel that way. Why not speak to them about your Bible-based hope for the future? As you associate with true Christians and speak to others about the marvelous Bible truths you have learned, you will find that any desire for the customs of false worship that may have remained in your heart will gradually disappear. Be assured that you will be very happy and will receive many blessings if you take your stand for true worship.—Malachi 3:10.
* See the Appendix.
# The Saturnalia also played a part in the choice of December 25. This festival honoring the Roman god of agriculture took place on December 17-24. Feasting, merrymaking, and gift-giving took place during the Saturnalia.
% For a discussion of how true Christians view other popular holidays, see the Appendix.