The master of stopping the spin, Bill O’Reilly, made the statement on his show recently that Christianity was not a religion but was a philosophy. Previously I have corrected dear Evangelical friends who would state that Christianity was not a religion but was only a relationship. So for the purposes of this post, I think that O’Reilly misses the point tremendously and veers into the errors of the Deists and Thomas Jefferson. Let me unpack that.
It sounds like O’Reilly believes that Christianity is a philosophy*, a set of ideas you can live by and teachings you can enjoy apart from the Lordship of Christ in one’s life. I have caught his show in the past, and it would be fair to say that he follows a more deistic understanding of Christianity- Jesus is a good moral teacher. I know I wouldn’t be saying anything offensive if I suggest that you know of someone like this, someone who might favor a buffet approach to spirituality or a stylized Jesus idea. It’s like the guy in a buffet line of ideas, where he might be tempted to take a piece of “Golden Rule” chicken, a little bit of “turn the other cheek” casserole, and a slice of pie in the sky “heaven is for everybody” for dessert. He could leave the whole sin, judgment, atonement, and other not-so-sweet dishes for those blasted fundies behind him.
Christmas is a dangerous holiday because it is more than a nice idea, something to brighten your day. It is dangerous because the birth of Christ is the beginning of these Last Days. The birth of Jesus is dangerous because it marks the Kingdom of God, spreading into the Kingdom of Darkness. Or as Handel reminded us in his Messiah, “The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”
Christmas is also a comforting holiday because it recalls the arrival of God in the flesh, and he will one day come again in glory. That same infant in the cute nativity scenes, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the world and to right the injustice that taints it.
As Michael Horton wrote in a recent post at the White Horse Inn concerning the O’Reilly comments, “Christmas is a wonderfully comforting holiday. In this era between his two advents, Christ is restraining Satan by his Word and Spirit, drawing sinners into the safety and joy of his banquet hall. Yet it is also a dangerous holiday, especially for those who defend it only by using it, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5-7). Are we really sure that we want to celebrate this birth? Are we glad when pass by the nativity scene on the city lawn, defended as an American ‘philosophy’?”
Advent and Christmas is a religious holy-day, not just a philosophy, and I hope many in the American Church will live in that reality.
*Christianity has had a positive impact socially, in terms of values transmitted to society. See my post on Kicking out Nativity Scenes for more.