Thanksgiving Radio Broadcast
Moderator- Good afternoon! In this program we will be discussing the topic of Thanksgiving. Is it a Christian Holiday? With me in the studio is Dr. Michael Ford. In addition to being Dean of the Covington Extension Center located in Haralson County, he is also a writer who has a special interest in holidays. I think he will have some things to say about the subject of Thanksgiving that will be of interest to us.
Response- It is a pleasure to be back with you today brother Boling. I know you have expressed an interest in the topic of whether or not there is any holidays that are uniquely Christian. So you have a special interest in considering Thanksgiving as well as I.
Moderator- That is right. Let's address the big question first. Are there any holidays that are uniquely Christian?
To answer that question we have to identify what we mean by a holiday that is Christian. If we mean by that a holiday that we are specifically commanded to observe in the Scripture, the answer is no. As a matter of fact we can point to Scripture and say that we as Christians are specifically commanded to not fall into the trap of becoming special day observers as a matter of ritual. Paul wrote to the Galatians "But now, after that ye have known God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." (Galatians 4:9-11)
But around Christianity there has grown up a number of observances that we have made a matter of tradition, but they are not matters of commandment. There is no commandment that we as Christians observe any holiday. But we have some dates that have been set aside for special observance. Unfortunately many of these, such as Christmas represent Roman Catholic compromise with pagan observances that already existed. If we were to try to pinpoint the time when our Lord actually came into this world by way of birth we would likely come up with a date that was several months earlier than December. The Lord was born at the end of harvest season in Israel.
Moderator - So you are saying that Christians have no holidays?
No, I am saying that Christians have no holidays that we are specifically commanded to observe. We do have holidays, but they are holidays that have been invented as a matter of tradition, not commandment. I think Paul makes it plain that if we do actually take a time for some observance that it should be out of a full heart of adoration toward God and not just a matter of some preplanned ritual. That was a trap Israel fell into. It was really a shame too. Because the days of observance that God made as statutes for Israel all testify of our Lord Jesus Christ in some way. We theologians study the special days and observances of Israel because of their testimony of the Messiah. Had the Jews kept these days in their hearts and understanding many more Jews over the years would have come to faith in Jesus Christ the heir of the throne of David, the Son of God. 1.
Moderator - So holidays are really a lot bigger deal than just a chance to take some time off, eat a big meal, play games, and give presents.
Response - You bet. The condition Paul condemned in his letter to the Galatians exists today in great degree. I am in hope that those who hear today's broadcast will come away with a better perspective toward holidays as a whole and Thanksgiving in particular. If people are to observe Thanksgiving or any other season they should do it with an attitude of genuine worship toward God.
Moderator- Good. Well let's get right to it. As an observance that we are not commanded by Scripture to observe, would you say that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday?
Response - Well let me make one more distinction about that. The Thanksgiving that we are talking about that is different from what some people choose to identify as thanksgivings from around the world. This is important because people have been having forms of thanksgivings since most ancient times. Throughout history many peoples have given thanks for a bountiful harvest, and they have focused on their particular gods as they have done this. When we talk about their observances we are talking about harvest festivals. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Egyptians, as well as the Hebrews all had such observances. But when we come to what forms the basis for the American Thanksgiving we are talking about something that transcends these things. Of all ancient observances only the Hebrew comes anywhere close to adequately reflecting the same spirit as the American Thanksgiving tradition, and even it falls short of what we have developed in this country.
Moderator - That is quite a statement. Tell me why this is so.
Response- The thing we share in common with the Hebrews is that their Thanksgiving was first of all to the One true God, as is the American observance. None of the other ancient traditions can make this claim. I would like to recount to you some of the history of the American tradition of Thanksgiving so that you can see its uniqueness, that it is not tied exclusively to harvest festivals and that it is without meaning apart from a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Moderator - Okay, tell us about the history of Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving tradition can be traced back to the early Pilgrims who held a feast in 1621, after a substantial harvest. But their day of rejoicing was aimed at not only relief from previous suffering and deprivation but out of genuine gratitude toward God.
It was Governor William Bradford who proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, inviting Indian chief Massasoit and many of his people to this three-day feast. Squanto, the Pilgrim's translator and friend, was present as well. This banquet was not intended to become an annual event, but it beautifully signified the heartfelt thanks of the early colonists for God's blessing on them.
Six years later on June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, determined that they would officially express thanks for their prosperity. By unanimous vote, they instructed clerk Edward Rawson to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving.
That proclamation read, in part:
"... and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."
You can see from that proclamation how the issue was not one of mere feasting over a good harvest but a day when the people were challenged to rededicate themselves to the Lord.
It was not, however, until November 1, 1777, that the first official national recognition of Thanksgiving was given. It was declared by the Continental Congress following Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga. The defeat of Burgoyne and his army came following a grueling campaign that began with the British victory at Ticonderoga and our leaders desired to express thanks to God for the Saratoga victory. Then the Thanksgiving had nothing to do with harvests but had to do with the Lord's preservation of the nation. Thanksgiving observances in America have often been centered around gratitude for the Lord keeping His people in times of adversity in America, even as it was in ancient Israel.
Throughout the 1700s, it was common practice for the colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout the years. Then, on October 3, 1789, George Washington, during his first year as president, set aside Thursday, November 26, as "A Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer." This official decree by the young national government determined that the day should "be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God." At the very beginning of our nation, the focus of the fledging nation's gratitude was focused on the One true God who they believed has called the nation into being for His own glory. No early variety of the American Civil Liberties Union arrived on the scene that day to protest Mr. Washington's action with a lawsuit. No primitive version of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was there to claim that a government endorsement of a day of Thanksgiving might "offend" someone. Instead, the nation enthusiastically welcomed this proclamation with grateful hearts.
On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation distinguishing the fourth Tuesday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday. President Lincoln also declared days of Thanksgiving for Sunday, April 13 - following the Union victory at Shiloh -and August 6, 1863, in recognition of the Union's success at Gettysburg. Mr. Lincoln's October 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation read, in part:
"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
What eloquent and provocative words these are.
President Andrew Johnson set aside a special Thanksgiving on December 7, 1865 (celebrating the Union victory), and each president since that time has declared an annual national Thanksgiving.
In 1939,President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the holiday to the third Thursday of November to broaden the Christmas shopping season. Carnality was creeping in under this socialist President. But after much protest from concerned citizens, Thanksgiving was changed to the fourth Thursday in November two years later, where it remains today.
As you can see, Thanksgiving holds a special place in the history of our nation. Our Founders were men who were not afraid to boldly declare their thanks to Almighty God for honoring the nation. The words of Benjamin Franklin, speaking to the Constitutional Convention, on June 28, 1787, brilliantly express the sentiment of our Founding Fathers:
"I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"
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Moderator - You laid out quite a case for the Christian roots of not only Thanksgiving, but also our country. It is a shame that we do not hear more about that today.
Response - The reason we do not hear more about the Christian roots of our country and Thanksgiving in America is because people who hate God and therefore also hate America have been busying themselves in revisionist history for some time. The shameful thing about the whole matter is that Christians have been letting them go about the process of undermining both the Christian faith and our country as well unscathed. If we had held these godless infidels accountable in the very beginning we would not have many of the ills that afflict our nation today.
Moderator - Yes, I have heard people even claim that the Pilgrims were financial opportunists who came to America only for financial reasons.
Response - People do not undertake the level of risk that the Pilgrims were willing to face solely on the basis of greed. We need only to look to the words of the Puritan patriarch Cotton Mather in the two volume book he wrote, now over three centuries ago. He titled the work "The Great Works of Christ in America." The opening line of his introduction to the work read as follows:
I write the Wonders of the Christian Religion, flying from the deprivation of Europe, to the American Strand, and, assisted by the Holy Author of that Religion, I do with all conscience of Truth, required therein by Him, who is the Truth itself, report the wonderful displays of His infinite Power, Wisdom, Goodness, and Fruitfulness, wherewith His Divine Providence hath irradiated an Indian Wilderness.
For any of my hearers who do not understand what Cotton Mather meant by the word "irradiated" He meant that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had shown as with a bright light through the American wilderness that he knew. These are not the words of a man whose main concern had been coming to a New World for financial gain, but for religious freedom. Not only had the Pilgrims come for religious freedom for themselves, but having arrived in the Americas they did seek to share their faith in the True God with the Indians.
Speaking frankly, the people who seek to alter and obscure the Christian history of the settling of the New World and the observance of Thanksgiving are liars of the worst sort, who are truly a credit to their father, the Devil.
Moderator- Dr. Ford, you have really come down strong on them.
Response - We need to. God says liars will not be in heaven, and I think those who knowingly hide or alter the record of God's marvelous acts to take away the praise and gratitude His mighty acts justly deserve are blackguards of the worst sort. They are enemies of the One true God who will one day reap the reward of their perfidy.
The true Thanksgiving tradition serves as a valuable history lesson for all those civil libertarians who carelessly attempt to ignore our nation's prominent religious heritage, a heritage that should not be swept under the proverbial rug. We should be proclaiming that America is a Christian nation that was founded and preserved by the One true God and His Name is not Allah or any other name adopted by demons!
Moderator - I agree with you on this. But not all the people in America are Christians. If Thanksgiving, as it is established in the United States, is a Christian holiday, what part can the people who are not Christians have in it?
The thing about a real Thanksgiving is giving thanks to the One true God for His blessings on us. It is very hard for me to see how a person can truly participate in more than just the peripherals without knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. It is like going to Church as a lost person. You can see what is going on and be stirred by the music and testimony to desire what the people who are enjoying it so much have, but you cannot truly enter into their spirit of worship. And, you cannot enter into the spirit of Thanksgiving until the Lord has first enlightened your heart unto salvation.
Another comparison is this. I have heard many men who did not know the Lord Jesus Christ when they first got married say something profound about loving their wives after they were saved. When they compare the love they had for the woman they married as a lost man with the love they had for them after they were saved, they testify there is no comparison. Many a man has said he thought he loved his wife before he was saved but discovered he only truly knew how to love her after he came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior. It is the same way with gratitude. People learn what real gratitude is toward others and toward God only after they come to faith in Christ.
I am saying that without the Lord Jesus Christ you cannot be truly grateful or give a genuine Thanksgiving to God. I am also saying that until you know Him and learn the difference you also cannot understand what I am talking about.
There is real evidence to support my point about the inability of lost people to appreciate a day of Thanksgiving.
Moderator - What is that?
Response - Have you noticed what has happened in American culture as the country has become less and less Christian? It used to be that the stores began promoting Thanksgiving right after Halloween. And then, after Thanksgiving, the Christmas items were brought out for sale. Now the Thanksgiving material barely finds place on store shelves and Christmas materials come out immediately after Halloween.
Moderator- Now that you mention it, I see that is true.
Response - Take a look at how your television listings has changed as well. You will find that Halloween programming starts earlier and continues on toward Christmas. You can scarcely find any Thanksgiving programming at all and most of what you will find will not be on the stations you can pick up with an antenna. Since Thanksgiving has been given less of a spot in the American media, there are even more Christmas shows that have a horror theme as well. Over all, you will discover that most of the programming you can find about either Thanksgiving or Christmas will not have anything to do with the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything related to Christianity has become rare indeed.
Moderator- Yes, that is true as well. And what do you say this proves?
Response - This is further evidence that Thanksgiving is a Christian response that comes out of a grateful heart. Gratitude is a quality lacking in this country. It is lacking in lost people because it is a well of feeling that focuses on the true God. And, it is often lacking in people that attend church because so many of them have their souls spiritually darkened. Abraham Lincoln saw the lack of gratitude in people in his time. I think that was one of the reasons we came to the point of a Civil War. He proclaimed a "National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer" at the height of the War Between the States. In that proclamation he said:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, to proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Brother Boling, I believe that if we were to have a true Thanksgiving among believers this year, we would find ourselves following President Lincoln's advice. And I believe that if we were to do that, many of the lost among us would also come to faith in Christ.
This Thanksgiving, I encourage all Christian parents and grandparents to remind their families of the great Christian heritage of America. It is up to us to keep alive the legacy of the true faith and humbleness that sparked this nation. May the words of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" (1938) remain our constant theme as we battle to preserve the Christian heritage of our dear nation.
"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains
To the prairies,
To the ocean white with foam
God bless America,
My home sweet home."
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