Christ’s resurrection from the dead was a glorious event. We are to believe that it was an actual event in history and we are to remember it continually. But we are certainly not required to commemorate it by observing Easter. Many professing Christians and some reputedly Reformed ministers think that they are doing the will of God by observing Easter.
The principle to be followed in this matter is that only that which God requires in His Word is to be observed in His worship. This, the Regulative Principle, was foundational in the teaching of the Reformers, who had “Scripture alone” as one of their watchwords. If we believe that “the Word of God . . . is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him,” we will surely go to it to discover God’s will regarding His worship. God says, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32), and the word of Christ is, “Observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:20) There is no divine command to observe Easter.
John Knox observed, “Disobedience to God’s voice is not only when man goes wickedly contrary to the precepts of God, but also when of good zeal, or good intent (as we commonly speak), man does anything to the honour or service of God not commanded by the express Word of God.” The Westminster Confession of Faith echos the Word of God when it states, “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”
While the Authorised Version is the most faithful English translation of the Bible ever produced, it is true that the word “Easter” is in it. As Rev. Donald Macfarlane pointed out, it is actually a mistranslation. In Acts 12:4 we read, “And when he (Herod) had apprehended him (Peter), he put him in prison… intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” The word “Easter” is the translation given of the Greek word pascha, which in all other places in the New Testament is correctly translated passover. There is no biblical basis for Easter.
It is among the dark practices of heathen worship that we find the basis of Easter. The name Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddess known as Astarte, Eastre and Astoreth, the Babylonian “queen of heaven” in whose honour a festival was held in April. Even such Easter observances as hot-cross buns can be traced back to rites in the Chaldean worship of this “queen of heaven”.
This pagan festival was first adopted by the Church of Rome about the middle of the fifth century, in order to gain adherents from the pagan world. Although this and certain other festivals have been “Christianised” by Rome, they continue to be fundamentally pagan.
Easter, then, is of both pagan and Papal origin and ought to have no place whatsoever in the Christian Church. However, after the Reformation, some parts of the Reformed Church, for example in England and Holland, retained Easter. In Scotland it was different. John Knox and his fellow Reformers were enabled resolutely to cast out Easter, as well as Lent and Christmas. When Beza of Geneva sent a draft Confession of Faith to Knox and his colleagues for their comments, they agreed that it was perfectly scriptural except in its reference to holy days. “These festivals at the present time obtain no place among us,” they said, “for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast day than what the divine oracles have prescribed.”
We need to be firmly of the same mind today. To observe Easter is to be guilty of what Scripture calls “will worship” worship that is not prescribed by God but devised by man. How dishonouring to God to turn a deaf ear to what He requires and heed instead “the commandments of men”! And the late Rev. William MacLean wrote, “How dishonouring to the Saviour to have His resurrection darkened by pagan festivities!” The Rev. Donald Macfarlane expressed the same sentiment when he said, “Now, it is lamentable, not to say sinful, that men and women bearing the Christian name . . . should be imitating the dark heathens in this way. The poor heathens did not know better; they had no Bible to guide them. Men and women are left without excuse if they do not worship God according to the rule of His word.”
The way to remember the resurrection of Christ is by obeying the Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” As well as commemorating the completion of God’s work of creation, the Sabbath also commemorates Christ’s resurrection, which was the clear demonstration of His having completed the work of redemption. His death is commemorated by the Lord’s Supper; His resurrection by the weekly Christian Sabbath. As Mr Macfarlane says, “To add Easter to that memorial of His resurrection has no divine authority. It is a mere human invention.” Let us not add to what He has prescribed lest we incur His solemn rebuke, “Ye do dishonour me.”
Rev N M Ross
[This was originally published as the editorial in the April 1999 issue of the Free Presbyterian Magazine.]