by Glen Forsberg

The public dispute about the celebration of Christmas is rather recent in our Western cultures. Nativity scenes on public property have become the proverbial “lightning rod.” So the question presents itself: Should we fight for Christmas in the public square, or should we forget it and simply enjoy Christmas in our homes and churches? Is this a cultural war or a Christian war? Is it worth fighting? If so, how should we fight?

Although Jesus understood the culture of his day, it appears he often ignored it. He broke the cultural rules when he initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). But at the end of the day, Jesus won, the woman won, and so did the whole village!

The apostles recognized the war of cultures in the church in Acts 6. They chose a majority of immigrants to settle the dispute, while the apostles went on with “prayer and the ministry of the word” (v. 4). As a result, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”! (v. 7)

Paul was caught in a philosophical dispute in Athens. You can read the story in Acts 17. Paul’s dissenters led him to their favorite theater on Mars’ hill. In reading Paul’s reply to their questions, it becomes clear that Paul knew something about their philosophy and their culture. The end of the chapter indicates that “some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (v. 34).

Here are three common approaches:

Syncretism seeks to absorb all culture into its religious (or other) fold. Proponents of this philosophy forget, of course, that absorption can work both ways. This practice most often weakens or dilutes the dogma of the messenger as well as the subject. The ultimate product presents a culture, a religion, or a philosophy that resembles neither of the originals.

Prejudice rejects all culture except its own. Sadly, some of our church history describes Christians pronouncing sweeping judgments upon indigenous cultures without giving them the respect of honest study. Rather than “burning all that is heathen,” Christlike passion will seek for cultural bridges to serve the evangel. Author Don Richardson presents a very compelling case for this approach through his experiences as outlined in his two books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Evaluation is the approach of those who seek to study and to understand before making a judgment. Ideally, this should be the approach of a Christian person to his/her own culture as well as the culture of another people group. In the end, the Christian may reject or accept all or parts of the particular culture.


Consider the culture of our day. North American societies have chosen to be secular. This means no one religion is allowed to drive the agenda of the nation. We are not ruled by priests, rabbis, preachers, mullahs, imams or other “holy men.” This also means a secular nation must invent its own moral code and values. This is the ideal of a secular society.

However, most of us know that no elected representative works on values and codes in a vacuum. Each one of these people has their own personal and spiritual culture. The faith, religion, or discipline with the greatest representation in the halls of power will see their values promoted. The same holds true in the media, sports, education, business, philanthropy, and the social sciences. No wonder Jesus called on his people to be like salt and light in the world. We dare not abandon society to its own devices – instead, we must permeate it! However, our motivation must be spiritual, not merely political.

Let’s not waste our energies on the wrong war. It’s not about Nativity scenes or public displays of the Ten Commandments – it’s about our passion for the Person behind the symbols. Secularization is a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a threat. After all, who threatens Christ anyway?

Some wars are to be fought, others to be forsaken. Be sure to discern the difference!

May you have a Merry Christmas filled with passion for the one whose birth we celebrate!

Glen Forsberg, is pastor of McMurray Gospel Assembly, Fort McMurray, Alberta, and  has served as Chairman of the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies of Canada and now serves as an Executive Member of the FCA in Canada.

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