Often during this time of year, I hear Christians express frustration with the removal of specifically “Christmas” greetings as well as nativity scenes in public settings, etc. We take personal offense if “Happy Holidays” is offered by a store clerk rather than “Merry Christmas”.
I certainly understand the frustration—after all, this is Jesus we’re talking about! But the more I have thought about it, the more I’m convinced that our concern about these things is misguided. Why should our experience of this holiday be impacted by how our society chooses to promote it?
What is really at stake is our understanding the difference between Christianity and Christendom. When we fail to separate these two things, problems inevitably arise, and our frustration level increases.
Christianity is the dynamic experience of a personal relationship with Jesus, changing the way we live, the way we love, the hope we have. The book of Acts shows what happens when Christianity begins to take root in people’s lives.
In contrast, Christendom is institutional Christianity. It’s what happens when elements of Christianity begin to take hold in a society and soon many people begin embracing “activities” of Christianity without truly embracing Christ.
The history of Christianity is replete with examples of what happens when Christianity becomes the dominant, officially endorsed religion—and it’s not good. The true power of the gospel often gets lost amid the “practices” of Christianity.
Why should we care if a town counsel chooses to remove a nativity scene from a government building? Does that minimize anything about our celebration of Christmas? It shouldn’t. Does that in any way impact the expansion of the gospel? Certainly not. What we should be far more concerned about are those people who understand that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus but have no true encounter with Him as Lord of life.
The fact that we at times care so much about our society officially endorsing Christianity is perhaps an indication of how far we have drifted from the dynamic, “unofficial” faith we see in the books of Acts. Neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any believer at that time cared anything about whether or not Rome had crosses on the wall or nativity scenes in the town square. That stuff didn’t matter.
What mattered was the authentic gospel going forth in love and power.
Our ultimate goal is that everyone experience the true meaning of Christmas—but that won’t happen through public displays, Christmas music being played on buses, or making sure everyone uses “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” It will only happen as people see in us the power of a life transformed by Christ, and they want what we have.