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CELEBRATING FALSE RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS

By 4. May 2021Apostasy

—REVIEW—

What this disfellowshipping offense really means is not clear.  The word “celebrating” will be interpreted differently by different elders. And the word “directly” in the clause “Not all holidays directly involve false religion.” may also lead to ambiguous situations.

The setting of the study is “Christian freedom,” as Paul speaks about in Galatians 5:1.

How can we know whether a holiday custom violates biblical principles? One test question to ask, according to the Watchtower literature, is whether or not the custom has a pagan origin. But the literature shows that more important than its origin is “what the custom means to people at the time and in the place where one now lives.” Taking this a step further, however, I argue that regardless of the origin of a particular custom or how it is currently viewed, the crucial issue is whether the action in itself violates God’s laws.

Who should decide whether it is wrong to celebrate or be a part of a particular holiday? According to Christian freedom, each person should make that decision. A long list of holidays that JW cannot celebrate found on jw.org shows that it is the GB that has decided which holidays are forbidden to celebrate or be a part of and not each individual Christian.

The word “celebrate” is ambiguous, and what it means to celebrate a holiday can be interpreted in different ways. I use the example of a JW couple who decide to visit their family on December 24, eat “Christmas food” with them, and participate in giving and receiving gifts. In so doing, does this couple “celebrate a false religious holiday?

One important issue to consider is whether the actions of a Witness in connections with a holiday could cause other Witnesses to stumble. This is an important question to consider. On the other hand, if a Witness decides to do something in connection with a holiday that could possibly cause stumbling, no one has the right to criticize his or her decision.

Birthdays originally had some connections with false religion. But I show that nothing that usually occurs at a birthday celebration violates any of God’s laws. Therefore, a Witness who celebrates birthdays is not violating any biblical principles. But I assume that if a Witness does celebrate birthdays, and that creates unrest in the congregation, he will most assuredly be disfellowshipped for “causing divisions.,” which is a disfellowshipping offense made up and invented by the GB. But such a disfellowshipping in this case would, of course, be wrong!

“The book for elders, “Shepherd The flock Of God”, 12.. says:

Apostasy: Apostasy is a standing away from true worship, a falling away, defection, rebellion, abandonment. It includes the following:

Celebrating False Religious Holidays: (Ex. 32:4 6: Jer. 7:16-19) Not all holidays directly involve false religion and require judicial action.

I will now discuss different sides of this issue.

CHRISTIAN FREEDOM VERSUS HUMAN COMMANDMENTS

The following scripture from NWT13 represents the setting of this study:

Galatians 5:1 (NWT13)

For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand firm, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.

All Witnesses of Jehovah should be able to use their Christian freedom to make their own choices and decisions.

How can we know whether a custom of a holiday violates biblical principles?

There are holiday celebrations and customs that clearly are connected with false religion, such as Church holidays to honor a saint. But even holidays that seemingly are religious, such as Christmas and Easter, are not necessarily religious, as I will show below.

The Watchtower of 15 May 1972, page 295, discusses how we can know if a statue or a picture is an idol. Its comments may illuminate the issue we are discussing, namely, whether a holiday is connected with false religion.

What, then, makes something an idolatrous representation? Is a statue, picture, or the like, an idol because the creature or thing represented was at one time an object of worship? Can something be an idol in one part of the world but merely serve ornamental or decorative purposes in another part of the world? What should guide a Christian in determining whether he should get rid of certain items because of their idolatrous association?

The Holy Scriptures make it plain that not all pictures, statues, and other representations are idols. Whether an object is an idol or not primarily depends on how it is viewed.

These comments are logical and balanced, and the crucial point is how a statue or a picture is viewed. This means that a statue or a picture can be an idol in one country while not in another country or in a part of one country but not in other parts.

The Awake! magazine of 1 September 2000, page 27, expresses the same viewpoints regarding different customs:

Does this mean that it is always proper to participate in a certain custom as long as it does not directly violate Bible teachings? No. (Galatians 5:13) Paul indicated that a Christian should seek not only his own advantage “but that of the many.” He should “do all things for God’s glory” and not become a cause for stumbling. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33) So a person seeking God’s approval would want to ask himself: ‘How do others view this custom? Does the community attach any objectionable meaning to it? Would my participation imply that I am in agreement with practices or ideas that are displeasing to God?’1 Corinthians 9:19, 23; 10:23, 24.

Though generally innocuous, some customs may be practiced locally in ways that are contrary to Bible principles. For instance, on specific occasions, the giving of flowers may take on special meaning that conflicts with Bible teachings. So, what should a Christian primarily be concerned about? Although there may be reason to examine the origin of a particular custom, in some cases it is more important to consider what the custom means to people at the time and in the place where one now lives. If a custom has unscriptural or otherwise negative connotations during a particular period of the year or under certain circumstances, Christians may wisely decide to avoid it at that time. (Author’s italics)

These comments are again logical and balanced, and they show that the current view of a custom is more important than its origins. Supporting this is the fact that JW today follow many customs that have a pagan origin. For example, the necktie originated with Croatian mercenaries serving in France in the 17th century. Thus, it has a military origin.[1] Relics and papyrus documents show that in ancient Egypt, the custom for spouses was to exchange braided rings of hemp or reeds. Thus, the wedding ring has a pagan origin.[2] And yet, both neckties and wedding rings have maintained prolific use among JW. However, some customs with pagan origin are not followed by JW. Birthdays were celebrated in ancient Persia and ancient Rome, and in other countries, thus having a pagan origin.[3] And JW do not celebrate birthdays.

Who should decide whether a custom or holiday violates Bible principles?

Both in connection with statues and pictures or holiday celebrations and customs, it is obvious that each Witness must make his or her own decision. This is also stressed in the Watchtower literature. However, the theory expressed in writing is one thing, but the practice is another.

In the 21st century, the organization of JW has become autocratic, and at present, the eight members of the GB have given themselves supreme power over the doctrines, the assets, and the money. The result of this is that the members of the GB have made a great number of human commandments that have no basis in the Bible, and they have in many cases overruled the consciences of individual Witnesses and made decisions on the part of the Witnesses that should be left up to each person’s conscience to decide.

The GB has made up and invented 32 disfellowshipping offenses that have no basis in the Bible, and tens of thousands have been disfellowshipped for violating these human commandments.[4] The members of the GB have for the last 16 years been on a crusade against higher education without any real Scriptural basis for this interference, and so thousands of young Witnesses have been pressured not to pursue higher education.[5]

There are, in fact, many issues where a Christian’s own conscience should decide, but where the GB has made decisions over the heads of individual Witnesses. For example, storing one’s own blood for an operation is forbidden by the GB, and it recently decided that a nurse cannot administer a blood transfusion at the order of a doctor as a part of her work.[6] In connection with customs and holidays, the GB also has made decisions that the conscience of each Witness should make, as I show in the Excursus below.

[1]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necktie.

[2]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_ring.

[3]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday.

[4]. See chapter 5 in my book My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body. A detailed discussion of each of the 32 unbiblical disfellowshipping offenses is found on this website. More studies are continually being added.

[5]. Chapter 4 in my book has a detailed discussion of the crusade against higher education.

[6]. The article “Willingly and unrepentantly accepting blood” in the Category “Disassociation not based on the Bible” shows that the law against storing one’s own blood has no basis in the Bible. The introduction of my book My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body shows how the GB has overruled the consciences of nurses in connection with blood transfusion.

EXCURSUS: THE GOVERNING BODY’S DECISIONS REGARDING HOLIDAYS

On the website jw.org, there is a long discussion on the celebration of holidays.[1] The introduction to the discussion says:

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses determine whether a holiday is acceptable?

Before deciding whether to celebrate a particular holiday, Jehovah’s Witnesses consult the Bible. Some holidays and celebrations clearly violate Bible principles. When that is the case, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate. Regarding other holidays, each Witness makes his or her own choice, striving “to maintain a clear conscience before God and men.”​—Acts 24:16.

The following are some questions that Jehovah’s Witnesses ask themselves when deciding whether to celebrate a holiday.

These comments appear to uphold the freedom of each Christian to make his or her personal decisions. However, the footnote says:

This article does not list all holidays that Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from celebrating, nor does it mention all Bible principles that may apply.

In reality, the footnote nullifies the comments above. The impression the reader gets is that the Witnesses should ask themselves the questions mentioned in the article in order to decide whether they will celebrate one or more of the 33 holidays that are mentioned. But the mentioned footnote shows that this is not the case because it has already been decided that the Witnesses will not (read: are not allowed to) celebrate or take part in any of the festivities. And who has decided that? The members of the Governing Body. And their decisions are made over the heads of the Witnesses.

Moreover, in contrast with what was stated in the 2000 Awake! magazine quoted above, the basic criterion against celebrating these holidays is not how they are viewed today, but is based primarily on the origin of the holiday. To look for the origin can, of course, be meaningful, but not always. For example, as I will show below, the origin of Christmas is religious, but in Japan, Christmas is a secular holiday. So in Japan, the origin of the holiday is not important.

The first holiday mentioned is Kwanzaa, which is an African or African-American holiday. It can be compared to how Christmas is viewed in Japan because the article says that “some view Kwanzaa as a non-religious celebration.” But the GB has decided that this is not the case because it is considered a religious holiday that JW are not allowed to participate in. And all the Witnesses must accept this decision.

The following holidays that JW are not allowed to celebrate are:

1.     Kwanzaa

2.     Mid-Autumn Festival

3.     Nauruz

4.     Shab-e Yalda

5.     Thanksgiving

6.     Ivan Kupala

7.     Lunar New Year

8.     All Souls’ day

9.     Quingming Festival

10.  Chuseok

11.  Sinhala and Tamil New Year

12.  Songkran

13.  Hanukkah

14.  Rosh Hashanah

15.  Loy Krathong

16.  National Repentance Day

17.  Vesak

18.  Epiphany

19.  Feast of the Assumption of Virgin Mary

20.  Feat of the Immaculate Conception

21.  Lent

22.  Meskel

23.  Flag Day

24.  All Saints’ Day

25.  Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe

26.  Name Day

27.  Anzak Day

28.  Veterans Day

29.  Australia Day

30.  Guy Fawkes Day

31.  Independence Day

32.  Purim

33.  Mardi Gras

In addition to these holidays, the following holidays that the Witnesses cannot celebrate are found in the Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY

34.  All Soul’s Day

35.  April Fools’ Day

36.  Bairam

37.  Candlemas

38.  Day of Holy Cross

39.  Day of the Race

40.  Easter

41.  Epiphany

42.  Father’s Day

43.  Feast of Fools

44.  Good Friday

45.  Grandmother’s Day

46.  Halloween

47.  Homowo

48.  May Day

49.  Mother’s Day

50.  Palm Sunday

51.  Saint John the Baptist’s Day

52.  San Sopito

53.  Sho Gatsu

54.  St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6)

55.  Valentine’s Day

56.  Vappu

57.  Water Festival in Burma

The only “holiday” JW celebrate is the day to memorialize Christ’s death. This means that a Witness has no interest in celebrating any holiday, be it religious or secular.

However, a problem with the online article listing the 33 holidays is that it gives the misleading impression that each Witness scrutinizes each holiday, by asking a series of litmus test questions, and then, based thereon, decides whether he or she will celebrate this holiday when the truth is that the GB has already decided that JW cannot celebrate any of these holidays.

[1]. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jw-celebrate-holidays/.

WHAT DOES “CELEBRATING” MEAN?

Celebrating a holiday is also listed as a disfellowshipping offense in the Shepherd book. Like many other disfellowshipping offenses made up and invented by the GB, this one is also ambiguous. The first question is, what exactly does “celebrating” mean here? The Shepherd book uses the word “directly” and says that “not all holidays directly involve false religion” [italics mine]. This suggests that the GB recognizes that some holidays can, in some way, be linked to false religion, but not “directly” so. But what exactly does “directly” mean here? The answers to both questions are not clear-cut. This means that the personal judgment of the elders of the congregation will play an important role in any judicial actions taken. And different elders will make different judgments.

The freedom of judging one day as above another

I will start this discussion by quoting two different passages from NWT13, and I ask whether these passages can be harmonized:

Romans 14:5-10

 One man judges one day as above another; another judges one day the same as all others; let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. Also, the one who eats, eats to Jehovah, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah, and yet gives thanks to God. Not one of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only. For if we live, we live to Jehovah, and if we die, we die to Jehovah. So both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah.  For to this end Christ died and came to life again, so that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living. 10  But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Galatians 4:10, 11

10  You are scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years.11  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

The keyword here is “observe.” The Greek word in Galatians 4:10 that is translated as “observe” is paratēreō. According to Louw and Nida, the meaning of the word is “to keep or maintain a tradition or custom.” The wrong actions of some Christians in Galatia evidently were that they continued to observe different holidays in the law of Moses, although the law was terminated by the death of Jesus. (Colossians 2:13-17)

Were some Christians in Rome making that same mistake? Not necessarily. In Romans 14:5, the word krinō “to judge something better than something else” is used. And the corresponding word in verse 6 is froneō (“to acknowledge the high status of a person or event”).

The difference is that the Christians in Galatia were “observing” the days and seasons and years of the now-defunct law of Moses. So, for example, they would probably not do any work on the sabbaths. However, the words of NWT13 in 14:6 “the one who observes the day,” is rendered by NIV as “He who regards one day as special.” [italics mine]. This is a better translation because it does not imply any action, only that the Christians in Rome were “judging” or “regarding” one day as better than another.

This does not mean that the Christians in Rome did not also “observe” these days. This ‘observing’ is implied by the parallel “the one who eats,” which is an action, with “he who regards the day.” Different comments in The Watchtower have pointed out that the Christians in Rome who were “judging” or “regarding” one day as better than other days may have been Jews who recently had become Christians and who may have desisted from work on the Sabbaths because this had been their custom for many years.

If this is correct, the actions of the Christians in Galatia and in Rome were the same, and in connection with these holidays, they continued to do what the law of Moses required. But why were the Christians in Galatia censured for their actions while the Christians in Rome were not reprimanded? That may have been because of the different perspectives the Christians in Galatia and Rome had of their own actions. The Christians in Galatia evidently viewed their “observing” of different days as a requirement, while the Christians in Rome continued to observe some days as they always had done, more so out of habit than out of necessity or requirement.

A similar situation that arose in Jewish congregations in connection with eating can help us better understand why some Christians in Rome might have continued to observe certain days even though they were no longer required to. A Jew who had become a Christian and who never had eaten unclean animals would continue to avoid eating unclean animals, even though he now was allowed to eat these animals. (Compare Peter’s reaction in Acts 10:9-16).

The important point in our context is that the Christians in Rome followed their conscience and deviated from the actions of most mainstream Christians, and Paul accepted this. He even went so far as to tell the Romans that they should not judge a brother who behaved in a way that was different from the behavior of most Christians in connection with the observance of particular days. (Romans 14:4)

The freedom of following different customs.

As to the meaning of “celebrating a holiday,” I will use Christmas as an example. This is a holiday that is viewed as Christian, but many of the traditions and customs are of non-Christian origin. However, the origin of many customs is no longer recognized, and in some countries, such as Japan, Christmas is a secular holiday:

Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. It’s still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan. Now several customs that came to Japan from the USA such as sending and receiving Christmas Cards and Presents are popular.

In Japan, Christmas is known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations in the UK and the USA. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant – booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it’s so popular![1]

Norway is viewed as a Christian country with a Lutheran State Church and many Christian denominations. However, most Norwegians do not celebrate Christmas in a Christian setting. They take Christmas as a vacation when they can be together with family and friends and have a good time. So, only a small minority if Norwegians celebrate Christmas  as a “Christian holiday.” I will now apply some words from Awake! of 8 September 2000, page 27, to this situation:

Although there may be reason to examine the origin of a particular custom, in some cases it is more important to consider what the custom means to people at the time and in the place where one now lives. 

Let us use Japan as an example. Christmas in this country is viewed as a secular celebration where people come together and have a good time. The food that is eaten is viewed as normal food, and giving each other gifts is viewed simply as a generous custom. A Witness knows that “bad associations spoil useful habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33), and because of this, he or she will, in most cases, spend their leisure time together with fellow believers and not with non-believers. This means that most JW will have nothing to do with any side of the Christmas celebrations in Japan.

However, the issue we are discussing is whether Christian freedom will allow a Witness to view things differently from the mainstream JW viewpoint in a given situation. Or will a Witness be liable for disfellowshipping if he or she does things that most Witnesses will not do? Consider the following situation by a member of a JW congregation in Japan:

A Christian couple uses their freedom to visit blood relatives on December 24. They eat the same delicious “Christmas” food as their relatives, and they give their family members gifts and receive gifts from them. But they do not walk around the Christmas tree singing carols to it. The elders in the congregation are informed about the actions of the couple, and two elders visit them and ask questions about what happened.

The husband says. “Christmas is one of the rare occasions when different generations of our family come together. Because of Corona restrictions, we have not been able to meet with our close relatives for a long time. Most of the restrictions are now revoked, and family members from different places in Japan decided to meet at Christmas time. My wife and I decided that we should be together with our family at this time, particularly because my father has terminal cancer and will not live for a long time. Eating good food is not biblically wrong, and neither is giving presents to others. So, we participated in the holiday with our family, but we did not do anything that could be viewed as idolatry or anything that was a violation of God’s laws.”

How would the elders view this situation? Would they insist that the couple celebrated a religious holiday because they were together with their family on December 24 and did the same things that the other family members did? Would they decide that a judicial committee should be formed and that the couple should be disfellowshipped? It is likely that elders in different congregations would view the situation differently. But I assume that most elders would form a judicial committee because the husband defended their actions and because the Shepherd book says that celebrating false religious holidays is a disfellowshipping offense. In fact, the husband’s defense of his action would likely be interpreted by the elders as “brazen conduct” accompanied by an unrepentant attitude. Therefore, it seems disfellowshipping would be the inevitable outcome in this case.

As I have shown above, Christmas in Japan is a secular holiday. But what about Norway, where some persons view Christmas as a religious holiday. Could a Christian couple be together with their family on December 24 without “celebrating Christmas”? Consider the following situation:

On December 24, different generations of the same family come together to eat Christmas dinner and Christmas cake together. There is a decorated Christmas tree, and Christmas music is played in the background. Many tokens of Christmas are placed in the room, such as mistletoe and candles. And the rooms are decorated with Christmas colors. The family members give gifts to each other. But no one is dressed as Santa Claus, and the family members are not holding each other’s hands, walking around the tree while singing Christmas carols.

Could a Norwegian Christian couple in the mentioned environment be together with their family on December 24 and give and receive gifts without “celebrating a false religious holiday”? I am certain that most Witnesses would not feel comfortable under the mentioned circumstances, and they would refuse to be together with their family on December 24. But the issue we are discussing is what “celebrating a false religious holiday” really means.

So my conclusion both in connection with the Japanese and the Norwegian couple is that only the conscience of these couples can rightly decide whether they were celebrating the holiday—eating delicious food is not wrong and give each other gifts is not wrong. And this accords with the context of Paul’s words in Romans 14:5-10.

On the other hand, if the Christian couple was singing carols to the Christmas tree, they would be guilty of idolatry. Interestingly, the only place the congregation could rent for public meetings in December 1961, when I became a Witness, was premises that were decorated for Christmas. And the public talk and Watchtower study occurred with a big decorated Christmas tree in the background.

The conclusion of this section is that in order to be guilty of “celebrating a false religious holiday,” a person must take part in a custom that directly is a violation of biblical principles regardless of the origin of the custom or how persons today view the custom. Customs that are connected with certain holidays, but which under other circumstances are not wrong, such as giving each other gifts, cannot be viewed as religious compromises.

Our decisions and our fellow Witnesses

But what about fellow Witnesses in the congregation? Should the couple consider how their conduct would affect the congregation? Absolutely! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24, 8:9-13 (NWT13).

23  All things are lawful, but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. 24  Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.

 But keep watching that your right to choose does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10  For if anyone should see you who have knowledge having a meal in an idol temple, will not the conscience of that one who is weak be emboldened to the point of eating food offered to idols? 11  So by your knowledge the man who is weak is being ruined, your brother for whose sake Christ died. 12  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.13  That is why if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat at all, so that I will not make my brother stumble.

Applying the words of Paul to the aforementioned situations, we understand that the couple had the right to eat Christmas food with their relatives and even to give and receive Christmas gifts. But if they did this and some Witnesses in the congregation knew about it, that could be a stumbling block for these Witnesses. So, if the situation is likely to become known, Paul’s inspired direction was that the couple should not exercise their right to be together with their family under these circumstances.

However, if they did not follow Paul’s advice, they still had not committed a disfellowshipping offense. But they had likely set a bad example for others.

[1]. https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/japan.shtml.

CELEBRATING BIRTHDAYS

Birthdays are not celebrated by JW, and Awake! of 8 July 1976, pages 27, 28 shows the reason for this:

Actually, the Bible mentions birthday celebrations only in the cases of Egypt’s Pharaoh during the days of Joseph and Herod Antipas of the first century C.E. (Gen. 40:20; Matt. 14:6-11) These celebrations, however, appear in an unfavorable light, for both were held by persons who did not worship Jehovah. Professor Margoliouth further observes: “The birthday celebrations in the Herodian family . . . were, no doubt, an imitation of Græco-Roman customs of the time.”

Interestingly, the same encyclopedia says of the ancient Greeks and Romans: “The giving of presents on particular occasions was often dictated by superstitious fears, as in the case of birthday-gifts?’ The article notes that the practice of giving these gifts “was formerly accounted to possess a magic virtue.”

It further explains that the special purpose of birthday celebrations in ancient Greece “was to invoke the aid of the Good Demon (agathos daimon) at a time when​—on the border-line of two periods—​evil spirits were especially prone to extend their influence.”

In view of the pagan origin of many birthday customs and the fact that the only Scriptural accounts of birthday celebrations are in connection with false worshipers, neither the ancient Jews nor Christians early in the Common Era celebrated birthdays. Concerning the latter, historian Augustus Neander writes: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.” At about the middle of the third century C.E., Origen remarked in his commentary on Matthew, chapter 14: “Someone of those before us has observed what is written in Genesis about the birthday of Pharaoh, and has told that the worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals; and we, taking this suggestion from him, find in no Scripture that a birthday was kept by a righteous man.”

During the fourth century C.E. however, something happened to change matters. What? Professed Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on the false date of December 25. The book Curiosities of Popular Customs points out: “With the celebration of Christ’s Nativity returned the celebration of the nativities of ordinary mortals.”

In view of the historical data above, it seems clear that birthdays in ancient Greece and Rome had a pagan origin, and there are also some instances where magic was connected with birthday celebrations. It appears that the first Christians did not celebrate birthdays, and Origen spoke negatively about birthdays some two hundred years later. But persons today do not view birthdays as having a bad (pagan) origin or believe that real magic in any form is connected with birthday celebrations. But the arguments from Awake! quoted above presents compelling evidence that gives some substance to the view of JW that birthdays should not be celebrated.

However, the arguments against birthday celebrations are not conclusive, and both in the 19th century in the days of C.T. Russell, and in the 1920s, in the days of J.F. Rutherford, birthdays were celebrated by the Bible Students. I am not arguing in favor of celebrating birthdays. Rather, the focus of my discussion is the situation where a Witness finds that the arguments against celebrating birthdays are inconclusive, and so he starts to celebrate birthdays in the same way he celebrates wedding anniversaries. In such cases, is the Witness liable for disfellowshipping in the same way as one celebrating false religious holidays by taking part in idolatrous customs?

Suppose that a Witness who has several children argues in the following way: “The fact that birthdays were celebrated by pagans and not by the first Christians does not mean that Christians today must refrain from birthday celebrations. I have not found any material that conclusively shows that birthday celebrations are wrong for Christians. The way birthdays are celebrated today does not seem to violate any biblical principles. Friends of the one whose birthday it is are being invited in the same way friends are invited to a wedding anniversary party. They bring gifts, they eat good food, and everyone has a good time exactly as is done at a wedding anniversary party. I do not even think that the song “Happy birthday to you” gives improper honor to the one having the birthday, any more than songs to the bridal couple at a wedding or at their wedding anniversary, gives improper honor to them. In fact, some couples actually have a dedicated song commemorating their wedding and that is played or sung at their anniversary party—they even call it, “our song”. There is also cake at a birthday party, just like the cake at a wedding anniversary party. Therefore, I don’t see any substantive difference between a birthday celebration and an anniversary celebration. Because of this, I will let my children celebrate their birthdays.”

JW have some compelling arguments against birthday celebration, but these are not exactly ironclad arguments. The arguments of the brother in favor of birthday celebrations also appear to have some merit, especially with the backdrop of the aforementioned 2000 Awake! article mitigating how much weight the origins of certain customs actually have in connection with their modern-day counterparts. However, the standpoint of JW is that birthdays should not be celebrated, and in view of this, the words of Paul, about not becoming a stumbling block to fellow Christians, that I quoted above would strongly weigh against birthday celebrations by the brother. If he did that, unrest could result in the congregation. And so the principle in Romans 12:18, “If possible, as long as it depends on you, be peaceable with all men.” should be applied.

But what would happen if the brother continues with his plan and arranges birthday celebrations for his children? He has not violated any biblical principle or biblical law, and his arguments cannot be countered by the Bible or by history. However, his actions may cause some unrest in the congregation.

So, it is possible that the elders, at the suggestion of the Service Department, will say that the brother has not been obedient to the GB who has forbidden birthday celebrations and that the brother should, therefore, be disfellowshipped if he does not stop with his birthday celebrations plans. I do not know if this will happen. But in view of the GB’s demand for absolute obedience, and because “divisions” must be prevented, almost at any cost, the aforementioned scenario is likely.

But from a biblical point of view, no law given by Jehovah is violated by a person who lets his children celebrate birthdays. And the person is absolutely not guilty of “celebrating a false religious holiday.” So, if the elders of the congregation disfellowship the brother, they are violating several biblical principles.

CONCLUSION

The discussion has shown that “celebrating religious holidays” is not, in itself, a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Bible. But it is made up and invented by the GB.

The word “celebrating” is subjective and ambiguous, and different elders will apply it differently in relation to false religious holidays. The basic point in my discussion is that only when actions performed in connection with a holiday are idolatrous in nature can judicial action rightly be taken and the person be disfellowshipped because of idolatry, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9.

I also discussed birthday celebrations and showed that JW have some noteworthy arguments against birthday celebrations, but these are not ironclad. This means that if a brother starts celebrating birthdays because he says that there are no clear biblical reasons against it, his arguments also have some validity. However, I can reasonably assume that if the brother continues celebrating birthdays, and it becomes known and causes some unrest in the congregation, he will be disfellowshipped under the pretext of “causing divisions.” But since “causing divisions” is scripturally limited in its application and does not include these kinds of divisions, disfellowshipping on these grounds is an invention of the GB and has no basis in the Bible.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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