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I just (Fri Jan 4, 2013, 11:47 pm) posted the message below to a Yahoo! discussion group hosted by apologist Rob Bowman, at this URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evangelicals_and_jws/message/40327. One thing I learned that will not be evident from the message below or the original post, is that a “curly” apostrophe, though it will be accepted if you paste it into the Yahoo! Groups editor and though it will display correctly in the online version of your post, will appear as nonsense characters in copies of your post emailed out to group members. (This is no doubt also true of “curly” quotation marks, but I happen to have replaced all of those with straight quotations prior to posting. I don’t yet know if you can edit your HTML directly in Yahoo! Groups.) If you decide to participate in this or any other Yahoo! group, you might want to keep this in mind.
I’m not sure if commenting on a closed thread is permitted (I’m new), but I thought I would attempt it. (As a “Daily Digest” subscriber, I expect many interesting threads will close before I begin reading them.) This post, and probably most or all posts you’ll see from me in the future, seeks more to work out and clarify my own thinking than to “make a case” for some conclusion. If anything I write proves helpful to others, I’ll see that as an unexpected bonus. That said….
It seems to me that this particular question about “holiday” celebrations is not genuinely a JW-versus-evangelicals issue. Debate about whether the rule that should govern Christian behavior should be “whatever is not forbidden is permitted” or “whatever is not commanded is forbidden” is one of long standing, one creating an especially sharp divide in the area of worship practices. For example, one denomination (of which I was a member for a number of years), still teaches that the only permissible music for corporate worship is psalm singing unaccompanied by musical instruments: their outworking of the “whatever is not commanded is forbidden” principle. As well, I know of ultra-conservative Reformed people who, in the tradition of colonial Puritans, consider observance of Christmas (the “Holy Day” of “Christ Mass”) unacceptable Christian practice. Though I myself have since "apostatized" to an understanding of Christian liberty and adiaphora more in line with Rob Bowman’s, it does not seem to me that being a throwback to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (when these views were common) disqualifies one from being an evangelical. Whatever logical or exegetical problems the JW condemnation of New Years, Christmas, and other not-commanded-by-Scripture “Holy Days” may be, their condemnation is not something every evangelical disagrees with, so it is no basis upon which to justify a move from evangelicalism to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A parallel to the “holidays issue” is found in differing applications of Leviticus 19:28 (which my throwback aesthetics and off-topic convictions on textual criticism still make me prefer to quote from the King James Version: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord”). Many evangelicals, myself among them (or leaning in their direction), would not see this command as having literal application today, since tattooing today is not normally done as part of pagan religious practice. It, like most “holidays,” has become a purely secular matter of taste void of pro- or anti-Christian content. In the view of this party, the command’s only application today would be something like, “Don’t copy current non-Christian religious practices in your worship of the true God.” Other evangelicals think the command should still be taken quite literally and tattooing be entirely avoided and condemned. Whereas the first group would permit “decent” tattoos, much as Rob Bowman (and I) would permit “decent” New Years celebrations, the second group would condemn and avoid every sort of tattoo. The second group would also employ many arguments resembling those offered in this forum for condemning or avoiding New Years celebrations. Here again, though, this is not a JW-versus-evangelicals issue, but an issue where evangelicals also disagree among themselves.
One more belated thought on this “closed” thread. Re: the genetic fallacy. (Call this a “Puritans’ Advocate” objection to Rob Bowman’s argument.) My understanding is that appealing to the origin of a practice as an argument against it is only fallacious to the extent that one argues that the negative origin “proves” the practice unacceptable. Thus, “Having a celebration around the first of January originated as a pagan observance honoring Janus; therefore, celebrating around the first of January is unacceptable for Christians,” would be fallacious. However, presenting information about negative origin as part of an inductive “cumulative case” would not be fallacious; say: “all other things being equal, the pagan origin of New Years celebrations favors Christian doubt of the legitimacy of such celebrations, which in turn puts the burden of proof on those Christians who wish to engage in such celebrations, not on those who believe such celebrations should be avoided.”
[Full disclosure: I did not attend any sort of New Years celebration myself, nor do I have or plan to acquire any tattoos.]
Thank you for reading.
David M. Hodges
In a post to another thread, one of the the Jehovah’s Witnesses participants pointed out the Landmark Baptist minister Greg Wilson as an example of someone Baptist and Reformed, and so presumably evangelical, as condemning the Christmas Holiday observance (See http://libcfl.com/articles/xmas.htm). This followed Rob Bowman’s pointing out that, while there is always disagreement to be found on any issue, there is a “general consensus” among contemporary evangelicals that such holiday observances are not a problem. Though I don’t always find appeals to consensus persuasive, the fact that the Holy Spirit is always influencing God’s people in the direction of greater knowledge of the truth does suggest that broad consensus among professing Christian might merit consideration, particularly when that consensus develops over a long period of discussion among Christians.