The problem with Easter

Yes, I’m writing a post on why I don’t like Easter.  I’ve tried to be quiet and keep my feelings to myself, but I can’t any longer.

Put down the pitchforks and torches.  I don’t have anything against celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection.  His love and sacrifice is the reason I’m even alive today.  I thank Him every day for what He did for me.

And that’s my problem with Easter.  God never told us to create a holiday in honor of Christ’s resurrection (or birth, for that matter).  The Jews had a festal celebration of Passover.   The pagans had a festal celebration for the vernal equinox.  We just couldn’t be left out, could we?  “I know, Easter!” someone said.  The problem is that Jesus death and resurrection – the very thing we celebrate – put an end to the need for religious observation.  The veil that separated God and man was torn, and we no longer needed religious ritual to serve God.

Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 4,

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Jesus freed us from the need for religious ritual, but we went running right back to it.  They weren’t sufficient to bring man to God then, and they are not now.  We no longer need a “Holy Week,” Jesus died to make every day holy.  We no longer need a festal celebration to honor Him, we honor Him every day in how we live our lives.

And if it’s a celebration of His death and resurrection you want, Jesus already gave us two, and commanded us to keep them: baptism and communion.  These can be celebrated every time we get together, every day of our lives.

“But what’s wrong with a holiday?” you ask. I’ll give you three reasons it’s wrong”

  • It lessens the importance of every other day.  Instead of celebrating Christ’s sacrifice by changing the way I live, Easter gives me an “easy out”.
  • It gives unbelievers and incorrect view of what following Christ is all about.  They see our emphasis on religious tradition and not on the call to “die daily.”
  • All those good people wearing their fancy Easter outfits further divides us from the poor, the outcasts and the sinners.  They already feel out of place among us, and the elaborate dress and ritual further serves to drive a wedge between “us” and “them.”

We are losing the battle, my friends.  Look around.  Christianity is not growing, it’s shrinking.  The world knows most of what we call Christianity has become a weak and powerless bunch of religious ritual, and we have played right into their hands.  We serve a Savior who scorned the religious elite in favor of the meek and humble.  We serve a Savior who hangs on a cross and asks us to join Him.  We serve a Savior who has promised the same power that raised Him from the dead to empower us to change the world.

Instead we have traded it for a holiday and a chocolate bunny.

  1. #1 by Paul on April 23, 2011 - 9:11 PM

    I”m not sure I agree with you that Christainity is losing the battle. The west may be losing faith, but that’s not the battle. In other places – Africa, China, Korea, and in many Muslin countries – the churh is growing and on fire. Atheism appears large in America, but is only 3% world wide. The battle is simply ithe question of weather or not s God’s glory is going to cover the earth as water covers the oceans, and for this I have no doubt that the battle is/hasbeen/ eill be won.

    • #2 by Dave Kirby on April 23, 2011 - 9:25 PM

      Good point, and I agree with you. I should have said, “we are losing the battle here in the west.” The places where we are not losing the battle are the places where the church is acting as it was intended to act. Groups of people sold out in love for Christ and each other, serving the poor, living out their faith in the midst of extreme pressure and persecution. When I travel to other countries and see how the church operates, it both excites me and makes me sad for us in America. I want what they have, but my wealth and comfort work to prevent it.

      I have no doubt God’s glory will cover the earth, and I look forward to being a part of that wave. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. #3 by Paul on April 23, 2011 - 9:29 PM

    Easter was not made up because we Christians “felt left out.” That’s just silly talk. Easter was well established by the mid 2nd century and universal in the church.

    • #4 by Dave Kirby on April 23, 2011 - 9:59 PM

      Show me where Jesus or the apostles ever instituted any holy day observance. It is my belief that holy day observances place an inordinate amount of importance on those days, thereby lessening the impact of every other day. We are to celebrate Christ’s resurrection every day by the way we live our lives.

  3. #5 by Erica on April 24, 2011 - 6:42 PM

    Dave,

    Once again, you raise some thought-provoking questions that most Believers (including myself) have not really thought about as we have been so ingrained with church tradition for a history of over 1700 years. I found this topic very interesting and have spent hours in prayerful research after reading your post last night. I have far to go when it comes to understanding these things (and I don’t claim to have all the answers) but here is what I am discovering so far:

    Clearly, the Bible does not talk of setting up a day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor did the early Christians celebrate His resurrection as a holiday.

    Rather, the Jewish Christians (including the disciples: John, and Phillip, along with their disciples) continued to celebrate Passover. Polycarp, a disciple of John (and a second-generation Christian who also personally knew other disciples of Jesus first-hand) was apparently directly opposed to the celebration of Easter. Polycarp claimed that the disciples of Jesus (including John and Phillip) continued to celebrate Passover as Christians – at the SAME time the Jews celebrated Passover. It is said that Polycarp was very opposed to those in the church who wanted to break from all Jewish tradition and introduce Easter (a pagan festival) and integrate it with celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Polycarp was executed (at Passover of all times) for his views. From what I understand, this had become quite a rift in the church as early as 135 AD. Easter was instituted in the second century as a result of anti-Semitism and Passover was then abolished among Christians.

    Is it wrong to observe days of celebration or holidays? There is some indication that the apostles kept and respected the Jewish feasts. Jesus Himself observed the Jewish feasts (though some could argue that it was before His death). Is it the feast or celebrations themselves or something else which is at the root of Paul’s statement to the Galatians?

    Some say that Gal. 4 10-11 may be a reference to gentiles who were celebrating pagan feast days and had returned to their heathen practices (as opposed to Jewish feast days). They say that the Galatians had never celebrated the Jewish Feast Days – so the passage could not be referring to that as it was only paganism to which they could return. Others think that it refers to gentile Christians who were incorrectly told that they MUST follow Jewish feast days in order to please God. In that case, turning to follow Jewish law would be the same as going back to their paganism.

    Col. 2:16 says: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

    The Colossians whom Paul was addressing were dealing with false teachings in their midst, including the teaching that a number of Jewish observances were ESSENTIAL for spiritual gain. The rebuke was that the person who was teaching this heresy was puffed up in his own mind and not holding fast to Christ, the Head. My question here is: Was Paul putting down and discouraging celebrations or the fact that people were teaching that they were ESSENTIAL? I wonder if Paul kept the feasts (as several passages may indicate), but made it clear that they were not essential – but rather following Christ, the Head, was essential.

    Not all feasting seemed to be wrong: I Cor. 10:27 says: If a Gentile makes a feast for you, and you are pleased to go as a guest, take whatever is put before you, without question of right or wrong.

    This passage indicates that followers of Christ be more interested in people and relationships than what the feast itself may symbolize or whether or not the people are honoring God with their feast or not.

    1 Cor. 5:8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival…

    This is one instance indicating that Paul and his companions were keeping the Passover Feast in a new light. Acts 20:6 may also indicate that Paul kept the festival. Acts 20:16 indicates that Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem by the Day of Pentecost. In 1 Cor. 16:8, Paul mentioned staying in Ephesus until Pentecost. Was it coincidence or was Paul still keeping the feasts? The fact that Paul mentioned them at all could be because of the importance of those feasts to the early church. Did they keep these feasts in a new light? Is there any indication that these feasts were abolished by the apostles or early Christians? It sounds like they may have at least recognized and respected the Temple’s Liturgical Calendar of the day. There are historical indications that the early Christians celebrated the Passover at the same time as the Jews.

    Another indication that celebrating Jewish feasts may not be wrong in themselves:
    Zach. 14:16-19 prophesies about the Kingdom of God on earth (if I am reading correctly) and tells of nations once warring against Israel celebrating the Feast of Booths.

    Historically:

    After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and afterward Jews and Christians were seen as apart – rather than Christians being a sect of the Jews. When Paul wrote what he did to the Colossians and to the Galatians, Jerusalem had not yet fallen and Christians were often considered to be a sect of the Jews and false teachings about rituals being considered “essential” needed to be clarified. Up until 135 AD, it appears that the Passover was kept by Christians in Jerusalem (including Nazerenes related to Jesus and his half-brothers, directly decended from the church headquarters in Jerusalem) along with the Jews at the same time.

    Polycarp, a disciple of John (the longest living disciple of Jesus) who also knew other disciples of Jesus first-hand, did not want the introduction of Easter to replace Passover. He held to the position that John, the last living disciple of Christ, continued to celebrate the Passover with his disciples and that was to be an example to all followers of Christ. Polycarp visited Rome in 154 AD to discuss the growing controversy (celebrating Easter vs. passover). Eusebius records: “For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it [the Passover] because he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated; and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it who said that he was bound to follow the customs of the presbyters before him.” Polycarp ended up being executed later on during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which he observed).

    It sounds like the Jewish feasts, when celebrated in perspective – may not have been wrong at all. Easter does not fall into that category, though, as it was a pagan festival (named after a fertility goddess). The second-century church apparently took a pagan festival (name and all) and added the resurrection to the celebration. Hmmm…

    Irenaeus indicates that Bishop Sixtus of Rome (ca. 116-125 AD) was the first church leader not to celebrate the Passover and by 325 AD Constantine wanted Christianity to be free from all Jewish influence and eventually all observance of the Passover by Christians ceased after his decree. By 364 AD the Roman State abolished both Sabbath and Passover. The new state religion blended paganism and “Christianity”, which is where we get many of our Easter traditions today.

    Is a day celebrating the resurrection of Jesus wrong even though it isn’t something that Jesus instituted? Polycarp opposed it and he knew disciples of Jesus (especially John) firsthand. Or is it not the celebration but rather the attitude behind it that makes it right or wrong? Is it essential – NO. Is it wrong — Hmmm … I’m still thinking… Did church leaders make a big mistake by not listening to Polycarp? Is there a scripture for not holding one day above another? (I’m not saying it isn’t there – I just can’t think of one at the moment.)

    From my perspective, I have never thought of Easter (or any other holiday as a day above another or more holier than another). I have thought of them as days set aside to “remember” what Christ has done for us – not holier or more important, but rather different than our normal work days. Yes – we are to live EACH day remembering what He has done. Does spending extra time focusing on what He has done on Easter, for example, take away from every other day of the year that I contemplate His incredible goodness and mercy to me? I can see where dressing up could alienate some. Today, the opposite thought actually crossed my mind: I attend a casual gathering of believers. Today (Easter Sunday), church leadership (including the pastor’s wife) was dressed down in jeans. Most of our congregation was wearing jeans today, my husband and I included. A few people came to the service very dressed up – mostly visitors. I wondered if they felt uncomfortable and out of place with us- sticking out because they seemed overdressed. I think those with means also need to hear the good news, while at the same time caring for the poor. An emphasis on religious tradition can definitely give people the wrong message about the Good News. Which traditions are Godly and which aren’t? Is preaching about the resurrection of Jesus wrong? Is making melody in our hearts before him wrong? Is it wrong to think that religious tradition, rituals, and church attendance is going to save a person? ABSOLUTELY. Should we all be taught to count the cost of being a follower of Christ? ABSOLUTELY.

    I agree that one gains a completely different perspective when submurged in another culture outside our own. The Western way of doing things isn’t necessarily the most Godly or Biblical way. We have a lot of growing to do as Western followers of Christ.

    • #6 by Dave Kirby on April 24, 2011 - 9:13 PM

      Erica, your response is well reasoned and thought out, and I appreciate the work, thought, passion, and heart that went into it. You make some good and valid points. I am certainly not above being wrong, and I probably am quite often. 🙂

      You and I have talked, and you know my heart. My heart is to tear down western “cultural Christianity” so that the true church of Jesus Christ can rise in power. Where Easter is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection within the scope of a daily celebration of the same, lived out in the lives of believers, I applaud it. But where it is a religious tradition that offers some level of satisfaction to casual “Easter and Christmas” Christians, then I think it is wrong.

      And the news article I read this week about churches across America offering door prizes like iPads to lure people to church for Easter is abhorrent in my opinion.

      I’m grateful to have wise friends like you who know my heart and understand what I’m trying to say, even if I do so awkwardly sometimes. Thanks for your challenge and encouragement. And I’m glad it made you think!

    • #7 by Michelle on April 26, 2011 - 8:50 PM

      good info Erica, I have been struggling with just such matters now for about 4 yrs…really feel as if the church has gotten off the ancient path…it appears to we will keep the sabbath and the feasts in the Kingdom reign…

      If that be the case then, it seems to me that gentile believers are missing something…

      Just few months back I came across a verse that really gave me great pause…as I had been for several years now thinking the church had gotten of the path of the first century church…could this verse be referring to our traditions and doctrines of men in the church?

      Jer 16:19 O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.

      I’ve not celebrated xmas for 3 yrs now…and talk about being free from bondage…and not done the easter egg thing for more yrs than I remember…kids grew up:)

  4. #8 by Erica on April 24, 2011 - 10:05 PM

    I do know your heart and passion for our Lord and realize and deeply appreciate the great zeal for God that is behind the message. You want to serve Him at all costs and we all need to encourage each other to do that. I am glad that your message encouraged me to dig in more deeply to study His Word today than I might have otherwise. It was a wonderful day, studying about things I hadn’t really thought of before. Igniting a passion for His Word is always a good thing, and I thank you for the encouragement you bring through your messages.

    The cultural Christianity of our Western world often misses the mark of what following Christ really means. I can’t help but think that Polycarp may have made a courageous decision which cost him his life — all over taking a stand for what he believed to be Biblical and true rather than caving in to what the religious leaders of the day were wanting to do by doing away with Passover and integrating a pagan festival with the resurrection of Jesus. Most people today don’t seem to attach the meanings of some of the Easter traditions – like hiding eggs — with paganistic fertility beliefs of long ago, but have come up with some new, more meaningful symbolisms of the holiday. Celebrating Jesus is a great thing to practice every day and anything that points us to Him is good. Anything that takes away from what He has done and focuses pridefully on ourselves (as we can often do) is not of Him. And it is so easy for holidays (and church traditions) to become all about “us” rather than all about Him.

    Wow. I had no idea that churches were luring people in with door prizes. What happened to being drawn in by Love?

  5. #9 by Coppelia on April 25, 2011 - 3:45 PM

    My problem with Easter was that after church, our friends all wanted sushi. 😉

    Seriously, Dave, I like your point about not limiting Easter to just one day. It reminded me of something Brant Hansen shared via Twitter: “If this week isn’t a “holy week,” last one wasn’t either.” The veil was torn! We are free! We are saved! We are made perfect in Him!

    I’ve been reading an older Max Lucado book, “In the Grip of Grace.” The message is one that I needed to be reminded of, especially since my family was recently “graciously shunned” from a church. We love serving various churches (the body of Christ.) But they wanted us to serve with THEIR church. Our church (and others we partner with) are seen as “less effective with the Gospel.” So sad!

    We’ve lost friends who don’t understand why we feel this way. They think we’re feeling “bad” because it’s the Spirit convicting us of all the wrong churches we help. Wow.

    Lord, help us to love each other like you have loved us.

    -Coppelia

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