[This essay was originally published in Presbyterian Heritage 5 (Dec. 1984), a newsletter of Geneva Ministries. Some very slight corrections and additions have been made here.]
One of the unrecognized and most deadly evil of modern life’s facets is Chinese food.
Most people are wholly unaware of the critical nature of the Chinese food question, and blithely
continue to participate in this wicked and dangerous activity: eating Chinese food. Of course, to
speak against such a hallowed institution as Chinese food is to be regarded as a fanatic, or even
as sacrilegious, but we must be true to the faith!
A moment’s reflection by any serious and committed Christian will show transparently
why Chinese food must be rejected. Chinese food is an expression of Eastern monism. Not only
does it come from the East, the heart of the world’s most sophisticated paganism (which in itself
is reason to reject it as dangerous); it also in its very nature and composition reflects the monistic
philosophy of the East.
Christianity gives equal ultimacy to the one and the many. In the West, this has meant
that on one’s plate there are several kinds and portions of food: salad, vegetables, meat, and
dessert. These are not, however, all mixed up together in a monistic unity, but are left diverse. It
is the harmony and combination of the various foods, eaten one bite at a time, which gives
expression to unity and diversity.
Chinese food, however, tries to break this down. All the foods — salad, vegetables, meats,
and sweets — are mixed together in an attempt to destroy diversity and create a food-monad. This
is obviously perverted and evil. Beyond this, sweet and sour are mixed together, in accordance
with the philosophy of yin and yang. What could be more pagan?
There is more. Because the perverse nature of Chinese food causes it to be so intrinsically
unpalatable to the human tongue, vast quantities of monosodium glutamate are added to make it
taste better. Now, monosodium glutamate, or M.S.G. as it is popularly known, is recognized to
be a poison, causing hyperactivity in children and cancer in adults. Not only is Chinese food
pagan, it is also poisonous.
It is also idolatrous. This is in part due to the addicting nature of M.S.G., which causes
the widely-recognized “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” The present writer, however, has further
cause for alarm. Over the years I have tried to alert friends and family to the danger of Chinese
food, and I have always met with rejection and ridicule. There can be only one possible reason
for this — an idolatrous attachment to Chinese food. Why won’t people give it up? The
arguments I have presented are clear as crystal, and obviously Scriptural and Christian. The
reason can only be that people have an idolatrous attachment to Chinese food.
Non-Christians, of course, are more crazy about Chinese food than are Christians. I say
this: Anything the pagans are that crazy about must be evil, and so Christians should keep as far
away from it as possible.
There is still more. Few modern Christians have studied the classic exposé of Chinese
food by Alexander Slipshod: The Four Babylons. Slipshod in his masterful work demonstrates
beyond a shadow of doubt that Chinese food originated at the Tower of Babel. Nimrod and three
of his cousins, descendants of the four sons of Ham and known as the “gang of four,” developed
Chinese food as a subtle means of undermining the true faith. People would become addicted to
Chinese food, they believed, and as they ingested the food, they would absorb the monistic
philosophy. For instance, if they ate sweet and sour pork, they would become committed to the
philosophy of yin and yang. This has surely proved to be the case! We must beware of eating
demons hiding in Chinese food! (Slipshod’s book has, I am aware, not been well treated by
reviewers. Its arguments, however, are obviously correct. Let the reader obtain a copy and find
out for himself. The reviewers, obviously, are Chinese food addicts.)
How did Chinese food come into the West? Slipshod shows that it was the Bishop of
Rome who introduced Chinese food into the Christian world. Do we ever read about Chinese
food in the New Testament? No, of course not. So, I rest my case. It can only be a Romish plot to
destroy God’s true faith. Do we read anything about Chinese food in the Westminster Confession
of Faith? No; so clearly the WCF is totally opposed to all Chinese food.
Have you ever noticed how fanatical people are about Chinese food? Not only do they eat
the stuff, but they are willing to pay money for it. They even set up and support Chinese
restaurants, wholly given over to the production of this evil, poisonous, idolatrous, and
subversive food. When you try to get people to quit eating Chinese food, they act as if you are
crazy. The whole world has to stop, just so they can eat their darling sin — Chinese food!
Like Luther before me, HERE I STAND! And if others do not like it, then it must be
TRUTH BEFORE FRIENDSHIP!
The point of this parable can be seen if the reader will read it over again, substituting
“Christmas” or “Christmas tree” for “Chinese food.” The arguments against Chinese food appear
ridiculous. The notion that Chinese food is idolatrous because people happen to like it is clearly
nonsense, as is the silly argument from history.
Hidden in this kind of argumentation is the premise that the Bible is insufficient as a rule
of faith and life. We have to add new rules to it. We ought to be guided not only by the Word, but
also by what non-Christians are doing. If they like something, such as Christmas, we ought to
dislike it. This sets up another rule for conscience beside the Scripture, and undermines the entire
Such arguments, moreover, are superstitious. They assume that demonic forces rule the
world, and that evil inheres in objects, both of which are false. Superstitions surround Christmas
on both sides. On the one side are those who believe that God will be displeased with them if
they do not observe it, and on the other are those who believe God will be angry with them if
they do. Actually, Christmas in itself is neutral. As Romans 14:5 says, “One man judges one day
above another; another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own
mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord….”
The anti-Christmas forces today are often as superstitious as any humble Catholic in
Paraguay. They set up as a rule of conscience next to Scripture that Christians must avoid doing
things that non-Christians like to do, especially if the “non-Christians” are Roman Catholics. The
justification of this rule, like the justification of the Roman Catholic view of the authority of
tradition, is seemingly drawn from Scripture itself. Paul told the Thessalonians to keep the
tradition (2 Thess.2:15), and Scripture also tells us to avoid the world and the very appearance of
What both sides (Catholic and anti-Christmas) fail to keep in mind is that we know both
the tradition and the world by faith. The true tradition is what Scripture says it is, not something
added to the Bible. The world is what Scripture says it is, not simply what non-Christians like or
dislike. We identify the world the same way we identify sin, by study of Scripture. Where the
Bible is silent, we may not bind the conscience.
Neither Christmas nor Christmas trees is an evil, according to Scripture; therefore, they
are “things indifferent.” Liberty of conscience means that we are free to observe or not to
observe. Those who feel they must observe Christmas, and those who feel that they must not, are
weaker brethren, and superstitious. They need to have their consciences freed up.
One queer argument thrown up about Christmas and Christmas trees is that they are
idolatrous. This seems to be based on the fact that people like and enjoy Christmas and
Christmas trees. I have never heard anyone affirm that Christmas trees are omnipresent,
omniscient, or omnipotent. They do not dispense blessings and curses. People do not ask them
for any benefits, or bring sacrifices to them. Indeed, people throw them out on the street, or burn
them up — hardly appropriate treatment for an idol!
When I hear people say that Christmas is idolatrous, I have to shake my head and wonder,
“What are you talking about?” Never in my life have I ever encountered anybody who had an
idolatrous view of Christmas, though I suppose it is possible to put Christmas before Christ. For
the most part, however, people simply like it. It is a pleasant custom. What’s wrong with it?
The fact is, of course, that neither Christmas nor the Christmas tree is idolatrous in any
recognizable sense of the word. Pictures of people staring “in wonderment” at Christmas trees
don’t mean anything more than pictures of people staring “in wonderment” at Niagara Falls, or
any other pretty or splendid sight. The poem “O Christmas Tree” is hardly idolatrous either. The
poem is simply an extended metaphor embodying the recognized literary device of
personification (or more technically, the device of apostrophe). Such literary liberties are
repeatedly used in Scripture. When the mountains are exhorted to “clap their hands,” the Bible is
hardly engaging in idolatry!
Arguments from history in this area are irrelevant, as well as erroneous. They are
irrelevant because people do not observe Christmas with any view to its supposedly-pagan
origins. The history of a word does not determine its present meaning, nor does the history of a
custom determine its present meaning. People use the words “Saturday” and “Sunday” and
“Monday” without any thought of the god Saturn or the sun or the moon. It would be
preposterous to accuse people of idolatry simply because they use these words. Similarly, the
only relevant question regarding Christmas is this: What does it mean to people now?
Well, it may be simply a “good time.” Anything wrong with that? Maybe it is a good time
centered on the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Anybody got any
objections to that? What’s wrong with having a good time in the presence of God? What’s wrong
with decorating your house? What’s wrong with giving gifts? What’s wrong with doing these
things at the same time as pagans and Catholics do them? NOTHING!
It is a fearful thing to add to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18), for God will curse the men
and churches which do so. Attempts to lay nonBiblical rules on the consciences of men will be
cursed by God. The “touch not, taste not” mentality is not only superstitious, it is the doctrine of
demons (Col. 2:16-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-5). Surely it is a fearful thing to inculcate the doctrine of
demons into the people of the churches!
The second problem with arguments from history is that they are erroneous. Virtually
anything can be proved using the selective pick-and-choose historiography employed by
A.Hislop in The Two Babylons. And so we show that the Romans and other pagan people had a
feast at the Winter Solstice to celebrate the rising of the sun in the heavens and the change from
cold to warmth — so what? All pagan feasting is a perverse replica of true Godly festivity. The
pagan worship of the sun is a perversion of the Biblical analogy of the sun to Christ (Mal.4:2;
Ps.19; etc.). The pagan recognition of the change in the year from dark to light, from death to
life, at the Winter Solstice is but a perversion of the covenant truth found in the Noachic
Covenant. What is wrong with reclaiming the Winter Solstice for Christ?
One argument enjoined against the observance of Christmas even as a voluntary affair is
the “regulative principle of worship.” There are problems with the way various persons and
groups have applied and misapplied the regulative principle, but it is sufficient to note here that
the regulative principle applies only to special worship. If it applies to all worship, then all Bible
conferences and Wednesday night meetings would be forbidden (since Scripture does not
“command” them). We must distinguish special, officially required, sabbatical, sacramental,
covenant-renewal worship from general worship. True, the Churches ought not to make
Christmas a mandatory affair, since it is not a Biblically-prescribed act of special worship. (And
this is what the Puritans were fighting about:the imposition of mandatory festivals by the state
on the Church.) As general worship, a voluntary season of thanksgiving as the Westminster
Confession of Faith puts it (21:5), Christmas is totally unobjectionable.
(Those who have The Church of Christ by James Bannerman [reprinted by the Banner of
Truth] might read pages 406ff. in volume 1, for more information on a Presbyterian view of
Christmas. Bannerman freely admits that voluntary observance is fine and dandy, p.410.
Bannerman objects to any view that the Church may set up and impose holidays, but he admits
that the Church may set up “occasional days of fasting or thanksgiving, as emergencies in the
dealings of God with the Church may warrant or demand,” p.411. In other words, the Church
may set up feast days according to a “non-rational” [occasional] basis, but not on a “rational”
[cyclical] basis. Hiding behind this assertion is the thoroughly modern view that free, random,
spontaneous activity is more “spiritual” than planned, repeated, regulated activity.)
The old Puritans fought for the liberty of people to ignore Christmas if they chose. They
opposed the imposition of Christmas and other matters on the local Churches either by the larger
Church or by the State. Our modern anti-Christmas people all too often are in exactly the same
position. They want to impose their opposition to festivity upon all the rest of us. Against them, I
assert the liberty of Christian people to celebrate Christmas, and celebrate it in the Church, if they
Biblical Foundations for Christmas
What Biblical foundations are there for observing Christmas, in a voluntary manner?
First, voluntary feasts were not prohibited in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ Himself, it seems,
attended the non-canonical feast of Hanukkah (John 10:22ff.). Indeed, since Hanukkah celebrated
the restoration of the Temple after the desolation of Antiochus Epiphanes, it is noteworthy that
Jesus calls attention to Himself as the true Temple, while standing at the entrance of the Temple
itself. It is permissible, then, to add feasts to the Biblical ones, provided they are celebrated to the
glory of God. (Cf.Zech.7:5)
Secondly, the New Testament itself calls attention in detail to the events surrounding the
nativity of Christ.
Third, the Bible smiles on birthday celebrations (Job 1:4, 5).
Fourth, the Church has always had to defend the doctrine of the incarnation against
heresy, and setting aside a special time of the year to reflect on the doctrine of the incarnation is a
wise move. At the same time, we have to beware of the heresy of incarnationalism, which teaches
that our salvation lies in Christ’s incarnation rather than in His death and resurrection.
Accordingly, as Louis Bouyer explains, the focus of Christmas in the early Church was not
simply on Christ’s birth, but upon our new birth in His resurrection. “Such a view of the
ChristmasEpiphany cycle is borne out by all the Scriptures and all Christian tradition. It is only
through a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ that we are to be born again in
Baptism to a new life, and by no means through some fancied participation in His human birth.
Nothing could be more foreign to the whole teaching of St.Paul and St.John than such an idea
of participation in Christ’s birth. It is on the Cross, in the Blood and water flowing from His side,
that the Church is born of Christ through the sacramental order, as Eve was born of Adam. This
is the teaching of St. Augustine and of all the Fathers… .” [Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety
(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1955), p.201.]
Fifth, the Bible itself likens Christ to the sun, and calls attention to the seasons of the year
as displaying the rise and progress of the Kingdom of God (Matt.24:32), so that a celebration of
the birth of the Redeemer at the Winter Solstice, the darkest and coldest time of the year, is
Biblically appropriate. It signifies the Savior’s birth “in the bleak mid-winter,” and the turn of
history from darkness to light, from coldness to warmth. It is not insignificant that Passover and
the Resurrection took place in the springtime, when the world is blossoming with life.
The giving of gifts is simply an analogical copying of God’s giving the gift of His Son
and salvation to the world.
Biblical Foundations for Christmas Trees
The Christmas tree has abundant Biblical foundation. Trees in the Bible have several
interrelated meanings. First, they are decorations for the house of God (the world), and a tree is
even found decorating the Tabernacle (the lampstand, an almond tree) and the Temple (trees
frescoed on the walls).
Second, trees are symbols of the people of God, as in Psalm 1. Since man is the captain
and crown of God’s creation, and since man as God’s image and viceroy stands as mediator
between God and the rest of creation, trees often represent a ladder between heaven (the leafy
crown) and earth. Thus, important persons who link heaven and earth, such as Abraham, or
Deborah, are pictured in connection with trees.
Third, there is the Tree of Life, which is a sign of God and of sacramental grace. The
Tabernacle was often pitched under a particularly visible tree (Josh.24:26), and God often
visited people at or under certain trees (Gen.18; Judges 4:5; Judges 6:11, 19).
Our sacrament today is the Body and Blood of Christ, given to us as bread and wine.
Thus, trees can only have a symbolic or decorative meaning for us. But, just as God sees fit to
decorate His house with trees, so may we. It is hard to imagine anyone’s objecting to potted
plants in our homes. Clearly it is all right to cut flowers and bring them into our houses. Some
people have rubber trees and other kinds of small trees growing in their homes. How, then, can it
be wrong to bring a Christmas tree, alive or cut down, into the house?
“Well, it’s an evergreen tree.” So what? “Well, it’s the same kind of tree that pagans
employed 1000 years ago in their mid-winter feasts.” Is it indeed? Even if it is, so what? What’s
that got to do with anything? People 1000 years ago in Europe used to conduct idolatrous rites
under trees, and this proves that anyone who puts a tree in his house on December 25 is committing the same acts of idolatry? What kind of logic is this?
The decorations on Christmas trees were originally of two kinds:food and lights. Both
are Biblically based. The Tree of Life is said to grow every kind of food (Rev.22:2), and the
Lampstand-Tree in the Tabernacle had lights on it. Christmas tree balls are simply stylized fruit,
and most of the other decorations are stylized forms of other kinds of food. Icicles speak of the
winter season, obviously; and the shiny, sparkling character of modern decorations show that
people today still appreciate the beauty of gemstones, which God liberally placed in and around
the garden of Eden (Ezk.28:13; Gen.2:11f.) If God so decorated His house, both in the world
and in the more specialized houses (tabernacle, Temple), so can we. We are, after all, the images
It is true, of course, that paganism also has its trees. So what? The Christmas tree is called
a Christmas tree precisely because it is not pagan. (You would think that this would be obvious,
wouldn’t you?) Paganism perverted the Tree of Life concept; such pagan trees are all over
ancient religions. Similarly, paganism perverted the ladder-to-heaven idea in the Tower of Babel,
but this does not mean that there is no ladder to heaven at all (Gen.28:12; John 1:51). Such
things as trees, ladders, shepherds have a proper, God-given meaning as symbols, but that
meaning can be perverted due to sin. Just because pagans use the tree to symbolize the chain of
being, does not mean that we may not use it to symbolize Christ the Mediator. Of course, trees in
general and the Christmas tree in particular are not special symbols, appointed by God for a
special purpose, but are general symbols, created reflections of His glory and ways.
The idea that because pagans use some symbol Christians ought not to, is nonsense. Josef
Stalin called himself the Great Gardener and the Friend of Children. Does this mean that we must
not call Jesus our Great Gardener (John 20:15), or Friend of Children? Perhaps in the U.S.S.R. in
the forties, it would have been painful to use these expressions, because they had been perverted
in peoples’ minds, but that is no reason to get rid of them for all time. Similarly, if the Puritans
came to hate Christmas because of its association with Roman and Erastian persecution, that is
understandable, but hardly pertains to us today. Nobody today associates Christmas with Roman
or Erastian (Anglican statist) persecution — not even the Christmas haters.
Christmas Is a Good Thing
The New Covenant does not prescribe any particular festivals, but leaves us free to apply
the general principle of annual festivals in creative and flexible ways. Since God has seen fit to
ordain annual festivals, we can be certain that they are a good and healthy thing.
I personally think that Christmas is a good thing. It is good to celebrate the birthday of the
Lord, even though we do not know its actual date. It is good to set aside time to reflect on the
birth of Christ, His first and final comings (historically, both are noted at Christmas), our new
birth in His resurrection (for Christmas is traditionally and theologically a “second Easter” [see
Bouyer, ibid.]). The Reformers gladly celebrated Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost; indeed,
Calvin divided His catechism into fifty-five sections for public reading, one for each Sunday and
the three festivals.
Gift-giving can become a bondage, but it can be a token and expression of Christian
grace. The Christmas tree is a pleasant decoration, a happy change of pace, a delight to the eyes
in the best sense (Gen.2:9), and a joy for children.
It is strange and saddening to see that so many Reformed Christians are no better than
Fundamentalists when it comes to an unwillingness to live solely by Scripture. Both groups feel
compelled to add new laws to God’s, and to cultivate superstitious “touch not, taste not” attitudes
in their people. The Reformed see themselves as superior because they can drink wine and don’t
participate in the “idolatry” of Christmas. The Fundamentalists see themselves as superior
because they can relax and enjoy the good feasts of God, without “indulging the flesh” with
alcohol. All too often, there is hardly a dime’s worth of difference between them.
Happily, very few Presbyterians in the latter part of the 20th century are maintaining these
erroneous views of Christmas. We can hope that they will die out completely, and a more
rigorous Biblicism prevail.