A response to the article “Is Easter really a Christian celebration?” Watchtower March 1, 2015
By James Broughton
As Easter approaches, Jehovah’s Witnesses will trot out the same excuses as to why it does not celebrate this important Christian holiday. This year is no different as the Society tackles the issue in the March 1, 2015 edition of the Watchtower magazine.
James Broughton gives his response to the magazine article…
Easter is described in the Encyclopædia Britannica as the “principal festival of the Christian church that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” However, is it a Christian celebration? To establish the authenticity of an artifact, attention to detail is critical. Similarly, for us to see whether Easter is a Christian celebration, it is essential that we take a look at the details related to Easter. First of all, Jesus asked his followers to commemorate, not his resurrection, but his death.
The apostle Paul called this occasion “the Lord’s Evening Meal.”—1 Corinthians 11:20; Luke 22: 19, 20.
This is only partly correct. In Luke 22:19, Jesus instructs his disciples to celebrate the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine “in remembrance of me”. The Passover for the Jew serves as a solemn reminder that Israel was a redeemed people. For the Christian, Jesus offered a new freedom from death. The apostle Paul wrote: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). That is why the Lord’s Supper is mostly celebrated not on the anniversary of the Passover but regularly on the first day of the week (Sunday), the occasion of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7). Christians were witnesses of that event, not just the crucifixion.
We then have the diversionary tactic of equating certain ‘pagan practices’ with the real meaning of Easter.
Additionally, many of the Easter traditions “have little to do” with Jesus’ resurrection, states the Britannica, “but derive from folk customs.” For instance, regarding the popular Easter symbols the egg and the rabbit, The Encyclopedia of Religion says: “The egg symbolizes new life breaking through the apparent death (hardness) of the eggshell.” It adds: “The rabbit was known as an extraordinarily fertile creature, and hence it symbolized the coming of spring.”
Christians are not celebrating the pagan festival of Eostre the Teutonic goddess of Spring. Pagans certainly have their Spring festivals but this bears little resemblance to what Christians celebrate on Easter Day. “Out of suffering comes renewal; out of darkness, light”.
We then have another quote which further purports to support their viewpoint.
Philippe Walter, a professor of medieval literature, explains how such customs became part of the Easter celebration. He wrote that “in the process of the Christianization of pagan religions,” it was easy to associate the pagan festival that celebrated “the passage from the death of winter to the life of springtime” with Jesus’ resurrection. Walter adds that it was a key step in introducing “Christian commemorations” to the pagan calendar, thus smoothing the way to mass conversion.
Once again, the author of the Watchtower article has omitted other information that Professor Walter provides. While he does not attack Christianity on its spiritual merits, he concludes boldly that “Christianity would have had no chance of imposing itself in the West if, on certain points of dogma and rites, it had not responded to the religious needs of the converted pagans.”
The Watchtower article continues on its campaign against so-called Christianization by quoting various New Testament texts which in essence deal with apostasy and false teaching which were designed to mislead Christians about the true meaning of the Gospel.
This process of “Christianization” did not occur while the apostles were still alive, because they acted as a “restraint” against paganism. (2 Thessalonians 2:7) The apostle Paul warned that after his “going away,” men would “rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) And late in the first century, the apostle John wrote that some men were already misleading Christians. (1 John 2:18, 26) The way was open for the eventual adoption of pagan customs.
Since when have people been misled about the true meaning of Easter because of “the adoption of pagan customs”? What are the “twisted things” that have been taught to take people away from the Church? Eggshells and bunny rabbits? Easter and Passover are festivals of spring in the northern hemisphere and, as such, celebrate the rebirth of life, a theme which carries over into the spiritual realm as well.
But if that were not enough, the Watchtower article tries to compare pagan customs with idolatry.
Some may feel, however, that allowing some of the Easter customs was not wrong—that it gave “pagans” a better understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul, however, would never have agreed. Although exposed to many pagan customs while travelling through the Roman Empire, he never adopted any of them to give people a better understanding of Jesus. On the contrary, he warned the Christians: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? ‘Therefore, get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’ ”—2 Corinthians 6:14, 17
One must keep in mind that the Corinthian Christians came out of a pagan culture in which idolatry was quite rampant. Indeed, there were temples of Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite, and other pagan gods and goddesses that were objects of worship in Corinth. Paul did not want anything to detract from the Gospel message that “Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead.” In Athens he quoted from the ‘pagan’ philosophers precisely to give his audience a “better understanding of Jesus”.
The article concludes by making an unjustified statement.
What is the result of our brief examination of the details? It has clearly revealed that Easter is not a Christian celebration.
On the contrary, the article has done little to show the true meaning of Easter. In “The Christian Book of Why” by John C. McCollister, the author says, “The most celebrated day in the Church year for the faithful is Easter – the festival which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Easter, then, becomes the center of all Christian theology. Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection provided proof that he was the Son of God and has given to all his followers eternal life”p.230.