The Bridge to the Future:
The Saga of Christmas
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1996
The Holy Scriptures were written between 3500 and 1900 years ago. That is a long time in the past. Because of this, some people in the world consider such teachings as antiquated and irrelevant. Such a belief, however, is a mistake of the first magnitude. The Scriptures, in fact, represent the blueprint of Godís plan for all mankind, especially for events associated with the end of the age. The Scriptures are the vehicle by which we of modern times can comprehend not only our present political and social environments, but they provide us with divine guidance in directing us to move steadily across the bridge in front of us that leads to all future time. The "past" that we should look to, which represents one side of the bridge, is that written in the Holy Scriptures (which should include for you and me our present historical existence). Those inspired words in the Bible detail to us the precise prophetic teachings that await us on the other side of the bridge, which is just around the corner to us. Indeed, the Scriptures describe to us what the near and far future holds for those who live at the end of the twentieth century. In this Report, I wish to show the prime points we need to consider regarding both sides of that "Bridge to the Future."
In the Roman Empire, the highest religious office that the emperors could attain was that of Pontifex Maximus ó the supreme priest who was responsible for regulating all forms of worship within the government of Rome. He also guided the religious actions of other peoples in various parts of the Empire if they prescribed to the general rule of Rome in governing their religious affairs. There were exceptions. Some peoples, such as the Jews, were exempt from the religious authority of the Pontifex Maximus, but with the majority of people within the Empire, it was considered a respect and honor to submit to the religious rule of the one holding such an office. The office was not intended to replace local priests of the many cults found within the Empire, but it was a title intended to give overall rule and respect to Rome. It was even common for the Romans to cart artifacts found in various Temples of the many deities that were worshipped to a new home in Rome so that people would naturally look toward Rome as the new headquarters of their religions. The Pontifex Maximus was the one who harmonized these various beliefs into a common system of worship. He was also regarded as the supreme arbiter in religious matters dealing with the government of Rome.
In most cases, it was the Emperor who was given such august and divine powers. Eventually, after the time of Constantine (and especially after Justinian in the early part of the sixth century), it was the Pope at Rome who assumed such powers in the western part of what was once the Roman Empire and it became normal when the Roman Catholic Church became the supreme authority for religious affairs in the western part of Europe to designate the Pope as the Pontifex Maximus.
Another common factor for the Christian Church authorities from the time of Constantine onward was their absorption of many of the rituals and ceremonial customs of the pagan religions into the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church. This acceptance was normally permitted in order to ease the transfer of allegiance from pagan customs and ways to the governorship of the authorities within of the Christian Church. One of the reasons that the season of Christmas was absorbed by the Church authorities is because the festivities of the Winter Solstice were celebrated and honored with great esteem by most of the pagan religions that were found in the Empire. It is well known by scholars that the season of the Winter Solstice (and the "Christmas" festivities that replaced the heathen celebrations) were adopted to appease the common people who had grown to love and to adore the celebrations that they and their ancestors had celebrated for generations before they ever heard of Christianity. The church authorities simply brought these pagan customs and rituals into the fabric of Christian festivities and placed their observance on the same calendar dates that the heathen had observed them over the centuries.
Modern scholars and theologians are well aware that there is no teaching (let alone a command) in the Holy Scriptures that Christmas (or Easter, St. Valentineís Day, Halloween, etc.) should be celebrated by Christians. What we do find is an abundance of scriptural teaching which forbids the people who live by biblical teaching to imbibe in such pagan and heathen festivities. We are told not to learn or to observe the ways of the heathen (Jeremiah 10:1-5). Both the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 10:14) and the apostle John (I John 5:21) told Christians to keep themselves from idols and idolatrous ways.
Be this as it may, what has this to do with this Prophetic Report with the title: "The Bridge to the Future"? It has very much to do with it. Interestingly, the word "Pontifex" (the designation for "priest" in Latin) means "Bridge-builder" ó the one who united (or, "bridged") one type of society with any other type of society. He was the one responsible for bringing harmony and unity to all sections of the commonwealth, to make all roads lead directly to Rome without the impediment of rivers, canyons, gullies, lakes, etc. that divided peoples from one another. Indeed, to be a "pontiff" (as the present Pope is called) meant in early Roman times to be a "bridge-builder" from the present society and on into the future societies, to build a bridge uniting all societies with another, and to do it universally throughout the whole of the Empire of Rome.
Look at the prime problem that such a person would face who was expected to combine together all the different belief systems in the Empire (whether they were political, social or religious) into a common society which had Rome as its capital and its standard. He had the task of reconciling peoples with the new ways of Rome and for them to give up their old, antiquated ideas and religious beliefs for the new society that Rome had engendered. The Pontifex was charged with the responsibility of being the "bridge-builder" to bring about this transition from one society to another with the least amount of trial and anguish being expressed by the various political and religious groups that were being transformed.
Bringing all the various nations together into a harmonious and integrated community of people was not an easy task. Still, the Pontifex was to be a "bridge-builder" between the numerous groups and to smooth over their differences so that there would no longer be any anomalies between the societies of peoples in their overall desire to live in peace and tranquillity with all the other diverse peoples in the Empire of Rome. This policy was followed by the Roman Catholic Church in its dealings with peoples in the Empire from the time of Constantine (early fourth century) and it has continued to perform the same task in modern times. Note that in Mexico even today many of the ritual practices and religious customs of the people are the retention of pagan and heathen customs that the native peoples observed long before the time of Columbus. Indeed, it is common for even Catholics in the United States to think that the Catholic Church in Mexico and other southern countries is very different in practice than that of the United States. And so it is.
Once the Christian Church in the west (with its authorities in Rome) began to absorb many pagan and heathen religious customs into the bosom of the Church, they then began to exercise dictatorial power in forcing all peoples within their sphere of government to adhere to such practices or they would be excommunicated from the Church. Such an estrangement from society left such people without friends, family, loved ones, jobs, etc. Almost all of western European society from the seventh century onward until the Protestant Reformation kept with strict adherence the ritual practices and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and its Pontifex Maximus (the Pope). In western Europe, the papacy was able to build a society for all intents and purposes that could be described as a unified "Catholic" (that is, Universal) community with only minor and insignificant resistance being shown to the pontiffs (the "bridge-builders") who ruled in Rome, or wherever the papacy governed.
Many people liked this unified society. Letís face it, when all people think and act in harmony in what they consider to be a proper and God-like society, the problems that afflict peoples who have various and contradictory beliefs are greatly minimized. For people who hold to the worth of a Universal (that is, Catholic) society in which all people are viewed characteristically as being the same in station (though there will always be differences expressed in certain authorities among the peoples), that "unified" society can bring a measure of security and joy to the people who approve of it and who practice its principles. Of course, to people outside the mainstream of belief in such a society (as were the Jews in the early Middle Ages), it can be sheer hell on earth. But for those who accept the society and its beliefs, a reasonable amount of harmony and peace would exist among themselves (no matter what race they belonged to or what their social status was in the society).
Let us look for a moment at that early Catholic society that existed in western Europe for 400 years from near the time of the Crusades to the time of the Protestant Reformation. For the generality of the people, it was dominated by the beliefs and customs of the Roman Catholic Church. The whole calendar (practically every day in the year) was made up of a series of feasts and fasts whose observances were demanded to be kept by the ecclesiastical authorities. There were days galore that all people were expected to observe and even to enjoy (as festivals) or to endure (as were fasts and times of humiliation). In this period of the Middle Ages, the calendar days were governed by the periods sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church such as Shrove [Begging] Tuesday and Ash [Mourning] Wednesday (these two days occurred in the mid-winter season once in the year and everyone in western Europe knew precisely when those days were to be kept. Shrove Tuesday was the time of singing and celebration and sometimes uninhibited festivity (this was the day of the Mardi Gras, like is presently held in New Orleans each year). It was a time for "letting the hair down" and even the allowance of revelry was accepted because the next day (Ash Wednesday) started a 40 day period of Lent when one had to practice abstinence and piety through Good Friday unto Easter.
The Church ordained Easter on the Sunday after Good Friday. This was a time of holy festivity and joy (after the long dark days of winter and Lent). Oh yes, there were numerous other religious days of the year to observe such as Valentineís Day and All-Souls day (which we today associate with Halloween). And, of course, there was Christmas. It was a time to be merry and full of good cheer. All these days were kept by the majority in society (only some Jews and heretical Christians and a few pagans did not join in the continual and systematic calendar system of days governed exclusively by the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church).
The observance of these church related days and seasons helped each Pontifex Maximus (the various Popes) in Rome (or for their short stay in Avignon) to effectively govern and to control the masses of the people within the various countries of western Europe. The Popes over that period of time were able to be the "bridge-builders" and keep the various societies within western Europe united and in harmony with one another, especially in matters regarding religious beliefs. It was a very effective way in which to control in a political and religious sense the many races and societies that then existed. This lasted until the Protestant Reformation.
It was Martin Luther (and those who succeeded him) that led the way in breaking from the governing clutches (as they viewed it) of the Roman Catholic Church. They broke with the government of Rome and many of them energetically began to see the evils of having a Pontifex Maximus in the form of a Pope who would be responsible for "bridging-together" the various races and nations of western Europe, or anywhere else in the world. (including the New World that was just then opening up). The northern European nations in the main gave up papal control of their societies, while they continued to retain the majority of the "fun" days on their calendar of important dates that the people had become used to over the centuries. Indeed, the Protestant Reformers found it almost impossible to wean the people from participating in the "fun" times of the year that had become so a part of their societies. While it was easy for ministers to have the people give up the fast days (and days of humiliation that peppered the early ecclesiastical calendar), the Protestant author-ties for the most part in Europe threw in the towel and let the people continue in their celebrations which the early Roman Church had inherited from the pagan societies of old. After all, the leaders considered that these celebrations were so "baptized" into the Christian belief system that most now accepted them (in the main) as being "Christian," especially since the people refused to give them up.
The majority of the leaders in the Protestant world finally began (over the scores of years that followed) to give in to the desires of the people to retain these days of the calendar in which they experienced their regular and consistent times of joy and merriment. So, Easter, Valentineís Day, Halloween, and especially Christmas were continued (or later revived) and that is what the whole of the Christian world is still saddled with to this day. The observing of these days was paramount in keeping the people in a "Catholic" society that they were used to, though most northern European nations ceased to obey the Pope as their Pontifex Maximus.
Our western Christian society is still enamored with the celebration of these ecclesiastical days that were brought into the bosom of the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches from the realm of paganism (having nothing to do with biblical teachings or the biblical calendar). They are still remnants (very solid and anchored reminders) of the paganized Christian societies that governed early Europeans.
Throughout history, when Christian reformers have come along trying to wean the ordinary people from these heathen seasons that are named with a Christian nomenclature, they have almost always failed. People do not want to give up their times of festivity and merriment that they have been used to (and their parents and grandparents have been used to for a thousand years or more).
The fact is, however, a time of change is just on the horizon. People in our modern world are soon going to wake up and they will begin to demand that society returns to the pristine condition of religious truth that dominated the Christian world when it was first inaugurated in the first century. This is prophesied to occur (Acts 3:21-22). For twenty years and more, I have been telling people about this prophesied change that is right around the corner.
Society is prophesied to change just before the Second Advent of Christ back to this earth. The simple truth is, Martin Luther and the early Protestant reformers (in the majority of cases) did not go far enough in their "reforming" of the practices of the established Catholic authorities. They stopped their "reforming" when it came to the festival periods of the year that the people had become used to observing, and ones that they enjoyed so much (especially in teaching their children to look forward to keeping them as they came around in their seasons each year).
Though it is true that in the American colonies, the Roman Catholic practices of keeping Easter and Christmas were at first banned by many colonists (because they could easily see that such festivals were not ordained in the Holy Scriptures, but were a continuation of old pagan religious practices which had nothing to do with Christianity), it wasnít long until a type of ecumenical spirit began to revive among the colonists and they began to allow such customs to creep back into vogue. Indeed, in the early part of the last century, even our Presidents were having "Christmas trees" placed on the White House lawn in order to celebrate the birth of the newborn king, Jesus. And now such celebrations have become so widespread (once again) that our whole calendar year is governed around when Easter occurs, and especially when Christmas arrives on the calendar. Even our modern calendars that regulate our sporting activities (such as football, basketball and baseball) in a roundabout way are a part of our calendar system centered squarely on our outward attention to Easter and Christmas. [For you who would like a biblical explanation of whether it is proper to place a Christmas tree in oneís home or in the town square, you should read my article titled: "The Christmas Tree Debate." It will show in no uncertain terms the pagan origin and heathen use of such trees.]
Let us be honest with ourselves. The joy and merriment of our whole society has been governed around the celebration of these heathen days that were once adopted by those who became the Pontifex Maximus (the Popes) in order to bridge the gap between pagans and Christians (with an ecumenical motif). It was they who brought those pagan festivities into the bosom of the Christian calendar. I grew up keeping these days with joy and happiness and I would never have believed there was a thing wrong with them, until I began to study the Holy Scriptures in earnest. It has been the teaching of the Holy Scriptures that has changed my mind on whether they are innocent and fun, or diabolical and heretical. As a matter of fact, Christmas has become so instilled within the very fabric of our western societies (whether Christian or Jewish) that even liberal minded Jews are now celebrating a type of Christmas along with their Hanukkah and they call it (in combination form) "Hanukkahs." And letís face it, the department stores owned or controlled by many of our Jewish citizens are the most elaborate stores in town with their Christmas decorations galore.
This society that we witness around us at the present is a simple reflection of the old Roman Catholic society of the Middle Ages. In a clandestine way, we are still being saddled with the keeping of these days that the early Church authorities imposed on us. These days are simply "Church Holy Days." By keeping them we are perpetuating the authority of the Medieval Church to continue governing in our society.
Thankfully, this situation in which "Church Festivals" are the chief days of celebration is about to change. People in the western world are soon going to wake up to the tom-foolery of these types of pagan festivities now permeating the Christian world and people will soon begin to demand a return to commonsense New Testament teaching that has nothing whatever to do with these paganized days re-christened as being "Christian."
Within 25 years, people who keep "Christmas" will rename it to be something like: "Santa Claus Day." The word "Christ" will be taken out of the meaning of the day. Why? Because the real "Christ" was never in "Christmas" in the first place. People will begin to realize that Christ Jesus was actually born on the Jewish holy day called Rosh ha-Shanah which happens to be in late summer on the calendar. The exact day on the Roman calendar that Jesus was born (and as I have abundantly proved in my book "The Star that Astonished the World") was September 11th, 3 B.C. If people want to celebrate Christmas today on the true date of Christís nativity, why donít they do it on the biblical calendar date of Rosh ha-Shanah? Of course, that day always occurs in late summer in the Northern Hemisphere and poor Santa Claus (along with his reindeer) would probably be seen in his swimsuit instead of his red winter garb. Also, Bing Crosbyís "White Christmas" (which was one of the prettiest songs ever written by Irving Berlin) would sound a little out of place with the first line of the song now being: "Iím dreaming of a white Rosh ha-Shanah." Society would object strenuously (at the present) at such a change. A new title like that would not provide us with the nostalgia that we often associate with that song, and a hundred other "Christmas carols." But at least, if we change the celebration of what we call "Christmas" to the true time of Christís nativity, we would have the pleasure of knowing that we would be accurately keeping it on the right day. Would not this be better?
But what about the Winter Solstice? Believe it or not, it can be proved that the Magi (the Wise Men) gave their gifts to Christ at that time. However, Jesus was then fifteen months old. This is when the pagan Magi give their gifts to Jesus at their Winter Solstice. The Wise Men presenting their gifts had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. He was then over 15 months old and one ancient authority states that he was a toddler and standing beside his parents when the Wise Men gave their gifts to him (references to these facts are given in my book above). People will soon know these historical and biblical truths and they will begin to return to the original teachings of the Holy Scriptures and abandon their erroneous practices inherited from our pagan ancestors.
Whether a person keeps Christmas today with all its regalia or shun it completely, has nothing to do with oneís salvation which we Christians have in Christ Jesus. Our salvation is something that is given to us by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10) and we have had our salvations securely "in Christ" from before the foundation of the world (II Timothy 1:9). [To read a complete explanation of what salvation really is and how we obtain it without any works on our part, read my 185 page work titled: "The Biblical Manual." It shows that our salvation is given to us by grace, NOT by what we do or what we do not do. My "Biblical Manual" makes this matter clear regarding what our salvation in Christ really is.]
Let me mention one aspect of our salvation that we have in Christ that will be helpful to us in evaluating whether it is right or wrong to observe the Christmas season today. The apostle Paul tells us that each of us is now sitting on the right hand of the Father in heaven (in a legal sense) and that we are no longer citizens of this world in the eyes of the Father and Christ (Ephesians 2:6). We are now reckoned to be in the very Family of God and our salvations in Christ are secure and firm. Whether one keeps Christmas today or refrains from its celebrations has nothing to do with that salvation. Indeed, though all Christmas trees are certainly idolatrous in Godís eyes, Paul said that idols are really nothing in meaning to us anymore (I Corinthians 8:4-13). Yes, but the same section of Scripture shows that we should set the right example and not be practicing things that others in society might think are idolatrous and offend them with our observance of heathen festivities. This is why I stay away from such celebrations. I refrain as an example to others and to let all people know that I know the truths of God. If I keep Christmas as others, it shows that I respect the teachings and society of the Pontifex Maximus and the Catholic" system, not Christ.
In all honesty, I do get irritated with the United States government policy which is supposed to hold the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. They do not do so in practice. Look at what our government does in an official and subservient way. They systematically close up all government offices (including Post Offices) on the religious holy day called Christmas. That day is a regular work day to me and my wife, and we canít even go to the Post Office to mail letters or buy postage stamps to send literature to you on that day (even if it is mid-week) because the government has ordered all their offices to celebrate that religious holy day. Really, Congress needs immediately (in my view) to classify December 25th (like they do December 24th and 26th) as a regular work day as far as the government is concerned and that all Federal, State and lesser offices (including the Post Offices) ought to be open for business as usual. That way, we would have a true separation of Church and State. People, however, who would want to celebrate the day should be given time off to do so, just as the government and most businesses normally give Jews the opportunity to keep Rosh ha-Shanah or Yom Kippur or Muslims to keep their religious holy days or Greeks and Armenians to keep their special days.
The main reason I do not observe "Christmas" and other such "Church Holy Days" (which are not biblical) is because such observance helps to promote and perpetuate the authority of the Medieval Church and its dictatorial way of governing the people in their closed pagan society that was nowhere biblical. I do not keep Christmas as a protest to that "Church Authority" which still has such power that they are even able to dictate to the United States government what days they can keep to celebrate the nativity of Christ.
It is time that we take back our rights as free citizens to worship in a society where Church and State authority is separate. Now, do not get me wrong. I love my country and I volunteered to serve in our armed forces for four years during the Korean War, and I would so again if the circumstances were similar. I would do this, among other things, because we are told in Scripture to obey the government authorities in secular matters (Romans 13:1-8), and this I fully intend to do. Yet I feel I have a right to protest when I find our government imposing on me the celebration of religious days and times which are not in conformity with the teachings of the Bible or with historical facts. I do not believe that our government has any business in legislating religious Holy Days for us to keep (such as Christmas on December 25th) to the extent that all Federal, State, County and Local government facilities are closed (including even the Post Offices). Such a dictate is not supposed to be right of the United States government to impose on its citizens. Indeed, if they wanted to be right, then change the time for celebrating the nativity of our Lord to Rosh ha-Shanah, I would then gladly observe it knowing that at least they are right biblically and historically. But I do not believe that our governments should be dictating Church Holy Days for the general public to observe, like December 25th for Christmas. This makes the government to take over the role of the Pontifex Maximus, and it makes them to be the official "Bridge-builders" for uniting society together under the banner of a heathen Holy Day that the early Church adopted from pure paganism. The government should get out of the business of demanding of its citizens to observe a Holy Day of the Roman Catholic Church and its Protestant daughters. Why donít they ordain January 6th, then the Greeks and the Armenians would be given their Christmas too. The whole thing is wrong from the very start and should never have been inaugurated.
In conclusion, I think that I have made myself clear why my wife and I do not celebrate Christmas. It is a perpetuation of a false system of worship (in our view) that has picked the wrong day for the nativity of Jesus in the first place. This is the way I feel, and I believe any sensible person would agree that what I am saying is true. However, anyone can keep any day he or she wishes (and should be granted the privilege), but not that the government should come to the place of demanding that all people keep religious Holy Days. It is no use saying that Christmas is now a completely secular day and has no religious significance. That belief will not hold water. The television networks are filled to the brim with religious festivities that completely dominate the day. Christmas is a thorough-going religious Holy Day. If one does not believe it, ask the Roman Catholic Church, and they will gladly inform you of its sanctity in their view. This is why the government should not be involved in perpetuating such a day.
Or, if people insist that the day has now become secular, then let the government move Christmas to the Sunday (the day the government always closes up shop) that occurs before December 21st (which is the real time of the Winter Solstice) and let December 25th in the governmentís eyes return to being a regular day of the week like any other week day (and keep all Federal, State and lesser government offices ó including all Post Offices ó open for business as usual). By the way, if such a switch in days were done, I might even send "Winter Solstice" greetings cards to my friends since there would be no religious overtones associated with such a day to me. Indeed, as for the coming season, I wish all of you a happy and joyous Winter Solstice on December 21st. As for Christmas on December 25th, that is a regular work day for me and my wife in sending out the Gospel to all who ask. I know of no better way to spend the day.
Ernest L. Martin
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