The 20th Century Shift in American Presbyterianism
As we have seen,
historically, there was significant opposition to the observance of religious
holidays among Christians. In this chapter, we will take a closer look at one
branch of American Protestantism, the Presbyterian church, in order to better
understand the shift that took place among churches during the 19th
and 20th centuries.
Prior to the 20th century,
all of the major Presbyterian denominations in the United States officially
rejected the observance of Christmas, Easter, and other ecclesiastical
holidays. Yet, in the latter half of the 19th century, a marked
change was taking place among American Presbyterians. A minority of
congregations, pastors, and seminary professors were beginning to observe
religious holidays. During the first half of the 20th century, that
minority voice would become a majority, resulting in the revision of the
official statements of the major American Presbyterian denominations in regard
to the observance of church holidays. The revision of these official statements
seems to reflect a change that in practice had already occurred much earlier.
For this reason, little dissent was raised in regard to the revisions of church
constitutions, as the majority of Presbyterians had already come to accept and
observe various religious holidays established by the churches.
history of the PCUSA and the PCA
A. Presbyterian Church in
In 1835, Samuel Miller, professor at Princeton
Theological Seminary, expressed the view held by American Presbyterians with
respect to the observance of ecclesiastical holidays in his book
Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church
We believe that the Scriptures not
only do not warrant the observance of such days [i.e., Holy-days], but that they
positively discountenance it. Let any one impartially weight Colossians
and also, Galatians 4:9-11; and then say whether these passages do not evidently
indicate, that the inspired Apostle disapproved of the observance of such days.
In 1854, James R. Boyd, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the
U.S.A., reflects this same view in his commentary on The Westminster Shorter
Under the Jewish economy there were other set times and
modes of worship, which were abolished when the Christian economy was
introduced. Since then no holidays (holy days) but the Sabbath, are of
divine authority or obligation. . . .
The Northern Church – United Presbyterian Church
After the civil war, the Northern
Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church, continued to officially
hold the same position with respect to the observance of ecclesiastical
holidays. In 1905, James Harper, a professor of theology at Xenia (Ohio)
Theological Seminary—a United Presbyterian Church seminary—published An
Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer of the Westminster Assembly’s
Shorter Catechism. Therein, Harper poses the question: “In the New
Testament dispensation is there any day except the weekly Sabbath appointed by
God to be held peculiarly sacred?” He answers, “None whatever.” Then he asks,
“Is it not a daring intrusion upon the prerogative of God to appoint as a stated
religious festival any other day or season, such as Christmas or Easter?” In
response, Harper answers, “It is an impeachment of the wisdom of God and an
assertion of our right and ability to improve on his plans.”
Julius Melton documents in his book Presbyterian Worship in America that
the Northern Presbyterian Church did not officially embrace holy days until the
20th century. The 1906 edition of the Book of Common Worship approached
the Christian year cautiously, including prayers for Good Friday, Easter,
Advent, and Christmas. As late as 1926, the United Presbyterian Church
did not officially recognize “holy days.”
But by the 1932 revision, Melton notes that the “Presbyterians
were moving more into the ecumenical mainstream” with a “heightened emphasis
given to the Christian year.”
C. The Southern
Church – Presbyterian Church (U.S.)
In 1888, John L.
Girardeau, professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina,
reflected the Southern church’s rejection of ecclesiastical holy days when
he wrote in Instrumental
Music in the Public Worship of the Church,
To take the ground that the church has a discretionary power
to appoint other holy days and other symbolical rites is to
concede to Rome the legitimacy of her five superfluous sacraments and all her
self-devised paraphernalia of sacred festivals. There is no middle ground.
Either we are bound by the Lord’s appointments in his Word, or human discretion
is logically entitled to the full-blown license of Rome.
But, by the end of the 19th century, it appears that Christmas and
Easter observance, in particular, was making significant inroads into southern
Presbyterianism. In response to this trend, the 1899 General Assembly of the
PCUS was asked by an overture to make a “pronounced and explicit
deliverance” against the recognition of “Christmas and Easter as religious
They responded with the following declaration:
There is no warrant in Scripture for the
observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary (see
Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles
of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the
simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Generally speaking, this would seem to exclude any church calendar other
than the regular Sabbath days of every week”.
Yet, this declaration by the 1899 General Assembly could not stem the tide of
opposition to the longstanding Presbyterian belief. For despite renewing their
objection to the observance of Christmas and Easter in the 1903, 1913,
and 1916 General Assemblies, “the opposition was collapsing in the
face of wide observance and acceptance.”
In the 20th century, the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) would
join the ranks of Christmas-keeping denominations. Katharine Lambert Richards
explains the means by which this change came about in her 1934 book How
Christmas Came to the Sunday-Schools: The Observance of Christmas in the
Protestant church schools of the United States, an historical study:
The process followed the familiar lines of official
disapproval and ignoring of the day, of an increasing number of local
celebrations, many of which were of the holiday, Santa Claus, party type, and
finally of official recognition and attempts to change the character of the
While Christmas observance began as a secular celebration, after being
officially recognized by the church, pious souls within the church determined to
make a religious holiday out of it.
In 1921 the PCUS General Assembly did not repeat its former injunctions
against Christmas and Easter observance.
Smith notes that “by 1935 a church calendar of special seasons and
special days is found. . . . It is interesting to note that Christmas and
Easter are not listed as special days on this calendar. In other words, these
are simply listings of days when special emphases should be noted or taken up by
the Church. This type of calendar continued for a number of years.”
In the Minutes of 1946, Easter Sunday is mentioned among the
special days for the first time.
In 1950 the religious observance of Christmas and Easter finally
received official sanction by the Assembly.
in the 1951 church calendar, both Christmas and Easter are mentioned, as well as
Pentecost. The 1951 calendar seems to mark the first time “in which
there was something of a distinctive move towards the liturgical calendar.”
Morton Smith notes that “in 1965 we have the first full listing of the
liturgical calendar, including the period of Advent designated in a special
way, the Day of Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc.”
And Smith further notes that the 1966 calendar “goes far beyond
any earlier calendars. It not only lists the seasons of the liturgical
calendar, but also lists colors to be used in connection with this
The era in which these changes occurred should not be overlooked. From the
1900s to the 1970s, American Presbyterianism was being seriously affected and
influenced by theological liberalism, neoorthodoxy, and modernism. For example,
in 1929, a coalition of modernist and indifferentist forces in the Presbyterian
Church in the U.S.A. had reorganized Princeton Theological Seminary, with two of
its new board members being signers of the modernist Auburn Affirmation of
1924. For this reason, several professors including J. Gresham Machen left
Princeton and formed Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Kevin
Reed discusses this relationship between the rise of theological liberalism and
the adoption of the liturgical calendar among Presbyterians:
[Morton] Smith cites the acceptance of the liturgical
calendar as a mark of the growing apostasy in the church. The change in attitude
came with the growth of theological liberalism. Liberalism undermines the
scriptural foundations of worship; and liberals will not feel threatened by
holidays, because they have already abandoned the regulative authority of
scripture in matters of worship.
How is it that conservatives within these Presbyterian denominations would have
allowed such changes in the longstanding worship practices of the Church? Reed
also responds to this question:
It is also easy to see how conservatives have allowed
unscriptural religious observances to slip into their practice in an
unchallenged manner. When liberalism began to gain strength about the turn of
the century, general apologetics took priority over specific expositions on the
means of worship. Evangelicals had a tendency to cross denominational barriers
in order to fight the common enemy; and this tendency helped to blur important
denominational distinctives concerning worship.
Morton Smith has a response for those who object that this change in the worship
practices of Presbyterian churches is a minor detail that need not disturb us.
He points out that the adoption of the liturgical calendar, with its listing of
seasons and colors, is “directly counter to the Constitutional statements of the
Church, particularly, the treatment of the Fourth Commandment as found in the
Larger and Shorter Catechisms.” Writing in the early 1970s, Smith argues that
“it is just this attitude of indifference to the Constitution that has brought
us to the state that we are in in the PCUS.”
Dr. Smith continues by giving a synopsis of the significance of this change in
the worship practices of the PCUS:
Whereas, earlier, as is reflected in the 1899
deliverance about Christmas and Easter, there was meticulous concern for staying
with the Standards, and the strict interpretation of Scripture on even such a
matter as these two days. Now there is a complete reversal to the point of
adopting the liturgical calendar of past tradition, without any Biblical basis.
To say the least, it is a departure from the Reformed principle of worship,
as well as being a departure from the scientific statements of the Catechisms as
quoted above [see Ch. 3: “The Biblical Argument Against Holy Days”]. Most
important, there is no Biblical basis for such a calendar.
D. The Presbyterian
Church USA (PCUSA)
Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)—which includes the former Presbyterian Church US
(PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA)—continued to further develop
its church calendar. In a section entitled “Church Year” in its Directory
for Worship (W-3.2002), the PCUSA outlines the church year and provides the
basis for it.
What Scriptural support does the PCUSA give to substantiate the inclusion of the
“Church Year” in their worship? At least in their Directory for Worship,
they provide no proof texts from Scripture to substantiate their practice.
Instead, they provide the following basis for their observance of religious
holidays and seasons:
God has provided a rhythm of seasons which orders life and influences the
(Cf. W-1.3013) God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ offers the Church a
central pattern for ordering worship in relationship to significant occasions in
the life of Jesus and of the people of God.
“God has provided a rhythm of seasons.” Where is that in Scripture? The PCUSA
Assembly does not appeal to Scripture. So what do they appeal to? Perhaps they
are appealing to general (natural) revelation. The religious holidays of the
Church Year, as adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, were derived from the
pagan feasts and seasons, which were structured around nature’s “rhythm of
seasons.” That is, the autumnal equinox, the winter solstice, the vernal
equinox, and the summer solstice provided the “rhythm of seasons” which ordered
the lives of the ancient pagans. And they provided a sort of rhythm and order
to the lives of the illiterate masses of the Medieval Church (during the
spiritual Dark Ages). Being unable to read and study the Scriptures for
themselves, their religious lives revolved around the observance of those feast
days and church holidays that Rome had established by tradition, in honor of
Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints.
Furthermore, why should this “rhythm of seasons,” which is nowhere to be found
in Scripture, influence the church’s worship? Indeed, that is the case in the
PCUSA, but how do they know that God intends for the seasons to influence their
worship when He has never revealed that in Scripture?
Moreover, on what basis should “God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ” order
the Church’s worship according to “significant occasions in the life of Jesus
and the people of God?” Scripture never tells us to do this, either explicitly
Following this paragraph, the Directory for Worship lists the days to be
The Church thus has come to observe the following days
a season to recollect the hope of the coming of Christ, and to look forward to
the Lord’s coming again;
a celebration of the birth of Christ;
a day for commemorating God’s self-manifestation to all people;
a season of spiritual discipline and preparation, beginning with Ash Wednesday,
anticipating the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ;
a time of remembrance and proclamation of the atoning suffering and death of
the day of the Lord’s resurrection and the season of rejoicing which
commemorates his ministry until his Ascension, and continues through
The Day of
celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
The church also observes other days such as Baptism of the Lord,
Transfiguration of the Lord, Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day,
and Christ the King.
Considering that (based on my understanding) the PCUSA’s ecumenical committee is
presently working towards future reunification with the Roman Catholic church,
it is not surprising that they would revert back to the worship practices of
Rome. Thus, the [Presbyterian] Church [U.S.A., like the Roman Catholic church]
“has come to observe” the aforementioned “days and seasons.”
E. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which separated from the Southern
Presbyterian Church (PCUS) in 1973, did not officially adopt the position of its
parent denomination. The liturgical calendar—and any mention of ecclesiastical
holidays—is noticeably absent from the PCA constitution. As Morton Smith was
one of the founders of the PCA, and as his book, How is the Gold Become Dim:
The Decline of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., as Reflected in its Assembly
Actions, was released in 1973, it is not surprising that the PCA omitted
religious holy days from its Directory for the Worship of God. Smith and
other PCA founders viewed the church holidays and liturgical calendar adopted by
the PCUS as one indication of its apostasy.
However, noticeably absent from the PCA Directory for the Worship of God
is any statement that would reject or prohibit the observance of church holy
days. In practice, the vast majority of PCA churches celebrate Christmas
and Easter. And a large number of PCA churches also observe many other days of
the liturgical calendar. Some PCA churches (e.g., Park Cities Presbyterian
Church [PCA] in Dallas, Texas) even observe the entire “Christian year”!
Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP)
The history of the observance of religious holidays in the Associate Reformed
Presbyterian (ARP) Church is very similar to that of the PCUSA. Due to several
church splits and mergers, there has been significant interaction, historically,
among churches that make up the modern ARPC and PCUSA (and other denominations
like the PCA).
The ARPC finds its roots in Scottish Presbyterianism. The Associate Reformed
Synod, founded in 1782, was the result of the merger of the Associate Presbytery
(established 1753) and the Reformed Presbytery (established 1752).
In 1734, Ebenezer Erskine, the founder of the Associate Presbytery
(in Scotland), and several other founding ministers of the Associate
Presbyterian Church (William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, and James Fisher)
declared in A Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship, Government and Discipline
of the Church of Scotland:
Instead of making progress in a work of reformation, we came in a short time to
fall under the weight of some new and very heavy grievances . . .
superstition and will-worship have thereby spread further through the land than
in any period since our Reformation . . . Countenance is also given to a
superstitious observation of holy-days, by the vacation of our most considerable
civil Courts in the latter end of December.
In forming the Associate Presbytery, Erskine and these other pastors had broken
away from the Church of Scotland, which had been reorganized in A.D. 1688 into
the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland under King William III. In
their Testimony, these men declare that one of the grievances which led
to their split was the “superstitious observation of holy-days.”
Similarly, in 1765, James Fisher, Ebenezer Erskine, and several other
founding ministers of the Associate [Presbyterian] Burgher Synod, wrote The
Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained by Way of Question and Answer.
In response to the question, “Is there any warrant for anniversary, or stated
holidays, now, under the New Testament?”, Fisher answers:
No: these under the Old, being abrogated by
the death and resurrection of Christ, there is neither precept nor example in
scripture, for any of the yearly holidays observed by Papists, and others:
on the contrary, all such days are condemned in bulk, Gal. 4:10; Col.
In 1832, The Constitution and Standards of the Associate Reformed
Church in North America retained the statement from the appendix of the
Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Publick Worship of God: “Festival-days,
vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to
(This same statement was also in the earlier Constitution and Standards
of 1799 and was retained in the 1874 version.)
The 1908, 1937, and 1955 revisions of The Constitution
of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) similarly stated:
“Festival days, commonly called holy-days, having no warrant in the Word, are
not to be observed”.
Yet, twenty years later, in 1975, a dramatic change occurred. Following
in the footsteps of those in the PCUS who adopted a liturgical calendar in the
1950s and '60s, the General Synod approved a major revision in its Book of
Worship of 1975.
From 1975 to present, the ARP Church Book of Worship omits the
statement included from at least 1799 to 1955, as quoted above. Instead, the
ARPC Book of Worship contains the following statement in Chapter VII
BOW.VII.B. In addition, there are special seasons
that provide occasion for emphasis on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ
[Advent / Christmas], His death [Good Friday], resurrection [Lent / Easter],
ascension and coming again, and the sending of the Holy Spirit [Pentecost].
There are days appointed to our Synod to recall the heritage of the Church,
proclaim its mission, and forward its work. All of these may be observed
in the public worship of God. For those congregations and pastors using
color symbolism in harmony with the seasons of the Christian year, the
suggestions of the General Synod should be followed.
The philosophical shift is obvious. Within less than twenty years, the ARP
Constitution went from saying that religious holidays “are not to be
observed” to saying that they “may be observed.”
Yet, on what basis did the ARP Synod in the 1970’s reject the worship
convictions held for centuries by their spiritual forefathers?
Other Presbyterian Bodies
other Presbyterian denominations in the United States, the Reformed Presbyterian
Church of North America (RPCNA) opened its door to the observance of church holy
days in the 20th century. In 1945, they adopted a new
directory for worship. This revision’s ambiguity allowed the observance of
religious holidays to spread in that church, though some still contend against
the practice. Coldwell notes that “this occurred despite the fact that the
RPCNA Covenant of 1871, which they affirm is still binding, requires adherence
to the original Westminster Directory.”
God’s Word does not
change. Truth does not change. So what precipitated this dramatic change in
American Presbyterianism during the 20th century? Within a few
decades, the largest American Presbyterian denominations reversed their stance
regarding the observance of ecclesiastical holidays—a view that had been a part
of their worship convictions since the Presbyterian church was first founded by
John Knox in Scotland and John Calvin in Switzerland. Rejecting the teachings
of their spiritual forefathers, these Presbyterian bodies returned to the
pre-Reformation worship practices of the Roman Catholic church. The question
is, “Why?”. Why did they change their position? It would seem that there are
but two possible explanations:
Knox, the Scottish Presbyterians, and more than three centuries of Presbyterians
following them, were in error. The Presbyterian theologians and pastors of the
20th century exposed the unbiblical teachings of their predecessors
and sought to return the Church to a purer, truer worship, which better
conformed to the teaching of Scripture.
Twentieth-century Presbyterians wanted to observe the religious holidays
celebrated by the Roman, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches, as well as the
secular culture. With improved communication and transportation, American
Presbyterians became exposed to the religious feasts and holy days celebrated by
other religious bodies and in secular society. Various denominational mergers
led to the integration of congregations into the Presbyterian church, which did
not share the historical Presbyterian view regarding holy days. Previous
generations of Presbyterians perhaps failed in their duty to pass down the
Biblical basis for their convictions against the observance of religious
holidays. Thus, from childhood, Presbyterians were raised celebrating
Christmas. And, in Sunday school, these secular holidays involving Santa Claus
and the Easter bunny were given a Christian twist. Within two or three
generations, a majority of church members, pastors, and seminary professors were
celebrating religious holidays. Within another generation or so, the official
church constitutions would be altered to reflect these changes, which had
already taken place in the majority of congregations.
It would seem that the latter explanation is the correct one. For as the past
two chapters have shown, previous generations of Reformed and Presbyterian
Christians would never have let this change occur without a fight. Yet, there
appears to have been no fight. Rather, it seems that the Presbyterian adoption
of church holidays was indicative of the Church becoming increasingly like the
world and its humanly-devised, man-centered religions. Brian Schwertley has
this to say regarding the 20th century shift:
The fact that millions of Bible-believing Protestants
are observing a Roman Catholic holy day which has not been commanded anywhere in
God's Word reveals the sad state of modern Evangelicalism.
In 1871, when Charles Hodge published his Systematic Theology, the
sabbath still remained a holy day in America:
The laws of all the states conform in this matter to
the Protestant rule. Christianity forbids all unnecessary labour, or the
transaction of worldly business, on the Lord’s Day; that day accordingly is a
dies non, throughout the land. No contract is binding, made on that day.
No debt can be collected on the Christian Sabbath. If a man hires himself for
any service by the month or year, he cannot be required to labour on that day.
All public offices are closed, and all official business is suspended. From
Maine to Georgia, from ocean to ocean, one day in the week, by the law of God
and by the law of the land, the people rest.
Yet, at the very time in which Hodge was writing, Christmas was gaining in
popularity in the United States to such a degree that it was declared a federal
holiday in 1870.
Is it a mere coincidence that Sabbath observance all but vanished during the 20th
century in America?
As the observance of Christmas and Easter and other religious holidays became
increasingly popular and commercialized during the 20th century, and
as Presbyterian and Reformed churches stamped their approval on the observance
of such holy days, the Lord’s Day rapidly lost its luster for American
Christians. (Is this not exactly what the Presbyterian theologians and pastors
quoted above warned would happen—that observance of church holy days would
inevitably denigrate the Lord’s Day?)
In the secular culture, Sunday “blue laws” were gradually dismantled during the
20th century. As late as the 1950s, few businesses were open on
Sundays. Even when I was a boy growing up in the 1980s in the Midwest, many
restaurants and stores were either closed or open very limited hours on Sunday.
Yet, now, it is nearly impossible to find a restaurant, grocery store, or
shopping mall closed on Sunday. Now, at the beginning of the 21st
century, even some banks have decided that they, too, must open for business on
Sunday. And many places of business remain open 24 hours, 7 days a week. (Yet,
now, most businesses observe Christmas day as they once observed the Christian
Sabbath. With the majority of stores and businesses being closed, December 25th
is now an annual day of rest for nearly everyone. However, in the past,
Americans enjoyed a weekly day of rest, Sunday, the Christian
In the Church, few Christians still observe the Christian Sabbath. A notable
Reformed theologian of our day has stated that we live in the most antinomian
era in the history of the Church. Today, most Evangelicals outright reject the
fourth commandment of the Decalogue. They view the Sabbath as legalistic and a
“yoke” that they need not bear. Many modern evangelicals can barely sit through
an hour long worship service, as they have a full schedule of activities planned
for their Sunday afternoon and evening—lunch engagements, sporting
events, shopping at the mall, household chores, yard work, and homework (and
many also fail to prepare the night before by getting a good night’s rest, among
other things). Yet, these same Christians are all too willing to joyfully
celebrate Christmas and Easter.
Is this not what our Presbyterian ancestors warned would happen? They foresaw
that a return to the observance of religious holidays would lead to a
desecration of the Sabbath day.
So-called “Christmas and Easter Christians” will stay away from worship services
on the Lord’s Day, but they will never miss a Christmas Eve service. And many
Presbyterian churches serve the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve and Maundy
Thursday, yet deprive their faithful members from receiving the Lord’s Supper on
the Lord’s Day.
Muslims have their Ramadan. Jews have their Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Christians have their Christmas and Easter. Yet, prior to the 20th
century, Presbyterians believed that “there is no day commanded in the scripture
to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian
Thus, they rejected the setting apart (i.e., sanctifying) of any other
days. In the next chapter, I will set forth the Biblical argument against the
observance of church holy days.
Today, most Presbyterians (and nearly all professing Christians) observe those
days which God has never ordained for us to observe, while rejecting or
profaning the holy day that God has commanded for us to observe. We esteem days
of our own invention as “holy,” while rejecting the day of the week that God has
commanded us to esteem as holy.
Is it not time for a modern Reformation? Are there men today who will stand up,
with courage and zeal, to return the Church to true worship? May God grant us
such men! May God grant us a modern Reformation!
Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical
Constitution of the Church of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board
of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1835), 73-74.
James R. Boyd, The Westminster Shorter Catechism: with analysis,
Scriptural proofs, explanatory and practical inferences, and illustrative
anecdotes (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1860), 145, as quoted in Chris
Coldwell, “The Religious Observance of Christmas and ‘Holy Days’ in American
Presbyterianism,” The Blue Banner 8:9-10 (1999), electronically
retrieved 3 January 2002 at http://fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/americanxmas.htm,
James Harper, An Exposition in the
Form of Question and Answer of the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism
(Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1905), 247.
The Confessional Statement and The Book of Government and Worship
(Pittsburgh: The United Presbyterian Board of Publication and Bible School
Work, 1926), 140-141. However, Thompson notes that by 1903, special
services on the Sabbath before Christmas had become commonplace in the
Northern Presbyterian churches (Thompson, Presbyterians in the South,
Julius Melton, Presbyterian Worship in America (Richmond, VA: John
Knox Press, 1967), 138. Melton adds, “Lent, Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and All
Saints’ Day joined the list of occasions for which prayers were provided. A
rudimentary lectionary now appeared, in the form of a list of Scripture
passages appropriate to certain seasons of the Christian year and the civil
year and to various other times and needs” (Ibid.).
John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church
(1888; reprint, Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983), 89,
emphasis added. Robert Lewis Dabney articulates the American
Presbyterian viewpoint regarding “holy days” in his Discussions:
But as it was found that this did not suit the actual Christian state of
most Christians, human authority was allowed, and even encouraged, to
appoint Sundays, Easters and Whitsuntides for them. The objections are:
first, that this countenances 'will-worship,' or the intrusion of man's
inventions into God's service; second, it is an implied insult to Paul's
inspiration, assuming that he made a practical blunder, which the church
synods, wiser than his inspiration, had to mend by a human expedient; and
third, we have here a practical confession that, after all, the average New
Testament Christian does need a stated holy day, and therefore the ground of
the Sabbath command is perpetual and moral. (Robert Lewis Dabney, “The
Christian Sabbath: Its Nature, Design and Proper Observance,”
Discussions: Theological and Evangelical [Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson,
1890], 1:524-525. See also, “The Sabbath of the State,” 2:600, as quoted in
Coldwell, “The Religious Observance of Christmas and ‘Holy Days’ in American
Morton H. Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim: The Decline of the
Presbyterian Church, U.S., as Reflected in its Assembly Actions
(Jackson, MS: Premier, 1973), 98.
Minutes, Presbyterian Church U.S. (1899), 430; Alexander’s
Digest (1922), 847, as quoted in Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim,
98, emphasis added. (This statement serves as the thesis of this book.)
Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim, 99, emphasis added.
Chris Coldwell, “The Religious Observance of Christmas and “Holy Days” in
American Presbyterianism,” The Blue Banner 8:9-10 (1999),
electronically retrieved 3 January 2002 at
Katharine Lambert Richards, How Christmas Came to the Sunday-Schools: The
Observance of Christmas in the Protestant church schools of the United
States, an historical study (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1934), 186.
Thompson, Presbyterians in the South (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1973),
Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim, 99, emphasis added.
In 1950, “in response to an overture from East Hanover Presbytery, [the
Assembly positively endorsed] the religious observance of both Christmas and
Easter.” Thompson further explains,
On this occasion, without debate, it voted to include not only those
dates but also Pentecost in its annual religious calendar, which had
included hitherto only Thanksgiving Day, Mother’s Day, Reformation Sunday,
Stewardship observances, and the like. The church at large took no
notice, for both Christmas and Easter had long since received religious
recognition by a generation who did not know that it had ever been otherwise;
Pentecost Sunday, as before, received little or no recognition. (Thompson,
Presbyterians in the South, 3:353, emphasis added)
Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim, 99, emphasis added.
added; cf. Minutes, Presbyterian Church U.S. (1965), 73-74.
Ibid., 100, emphasis added.
Michael Schneider and Kevin Reed, Christmas: A Biblical Critique, (Dallas:
Presbyterian Heritage, 1993), 58.
Smith, How is the Gold Become Dim, 100.
Ibid., emphasis added.
W-3.2002, emphasis added.
W-3.2002, emphasis added.
Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff and James Fisher,
The Testimony of Seceders: A Testimony to the Doctrine, Worship,
Government, and Discipline of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh,
Scotland: n.p., 1734), 15-16, emphasis added.
James Fisher, Ebenezer Erskine, et. al., The Westminster Assembly’s
Shorter Catechism Explained by Way of Question and Answer (1765;
reprint, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School
Work, 1911), 76, emphasis added.
The Constitution and Standards of the Associated Reformed Church in North
America (Pittsburgh: Johnston and Stockton, 1832), 429, emphasis added.
(Directory for Public Worship, ch. 4) This chapter states:
There is no day commanded in scripture
to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian
Festival-days, vulgarly called
Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be observed.
Nevertheless, it is lawful and
necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day, or days, for
public fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary
dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to
The reason of devoting any part of our
time to extraordinary religious worship being laid, not in the will of man,
but in the will of God, declared in his word, and manifested in the
extraordinary dispensations of his providence, no human authority can create
any obligation to observe such days. Nevertheless, when the call of
providence is clear, civil or religious rulers may, for concentrating the
general devotion, specify and recommend a particular season to be spent in
fasting or thanksgiving. Nor, without very weighty reasons, are such
recommendations to be disregarded. (429-430)
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