NCW 13, November 1994
Q. Please would you clarify the Church's position on the celebration of birthdays. Is birthday celebration forbidden in the Bible?
No, birthday celebration is not forbidden in the Bible, but conditions are imposed upon all those who would celebrate special days:
The celebration of birthdays is a well established tradition in the West. Birthdays are times where children eagerly look forward to presents and some sort of celebration. Adults too celebrate birthdays in a similar though supposedly more "mature" manner. To arrive at a birthday party without a present, or not properly dressed in one's best clothes, is considered rude and impolite. Typically in adult birthdays, the occasion is simply an excuse for drinking and other earthly pleasures.
(1) God's people are not to imitate the ways of the pagans or follow after traditions for their own sakes;
(2) They are to love and honour God above all else;
(3) They are to behave in such a manner as to promote communal fellowship, equality and love, and discourage egotistical greed and selfishness.
New Covenant Christians celebrate birthdays but with some major differences. Firstly, the Lord has the place of honour, not the one who celebrates his/her birthday. Birthdays are times to give thanks to God for bringing a soul into the world, into a particular family, and into the Church. For children, it is a time for fun and celebration. The celebration is always a modest affair -- inexpensive and simple, with song, games, and prayer. Present-giving is strongly discouraged for equality's sake and to eliminate the competitive and selfish spirit of expectation. By the same token they are not refused in order not offend or hurt the giver who quite likely had intentions of love and kindness in his heart.
The giving of gifts in its pure spirit is a means of expressing love through outward tokens. For older, mature Christians, such tokens are not necessary. The giving of presents at birthday time is therefore almost entirely unknown amongst us because our love is expressed in other ways. If and when presents are given, they are usually expected to have some practical value. The giving of presents is never done for its own sake and children are taught not to expect presents. New Covenant Christians love to give presents to their children, as all good parents do, but only when they are not expected. We love to surprise them with gifts, in moderation and in simplicity.
Because secular birthdays tend not to honour God and to instill wrong moral values in children, the Apostolate has recommended that children not attend secular parties after the age of 12. Parents who allow their children to attend the parties of non-believers are expected to check up on the kind of environment their children will be exposed to -- the music especially, the kinds of games played, and the environment in general. Are adults smoking in the house? Are they drinking? What sort of language is spoken? What sort of TV or video entertainment is given? What is the spirit in that house? Would your children be susceptible to it?
The counsel given to all Church parents is: if in doubt, don't let them go! Provide healthy entertainment at home and invite Church friends home. The local Colony of the Church has its own special birthday celebrations in Church when children turn 8, 12 and 16 on the Saturday nearest a child's birthday. After the main Church services a special lunchtime celebration is held with cakes and other goodies after a short speech and prayers. These are then followed by song and dance. In this way the community of believers is more firmly knit together whilst at the same time emphasizing the infinite worth of every individual.
Balanced against the need to allow our children to interact with the world and so learn to distinguish between good and evil is the need to spiritually build them up first. In every way, spiritual intelligence must be exercised by parents who must, often than not, rely on their own spiritual guidance and not on iron-clad rules.
Historian Augustus Neander writes of the first Christians: "The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the this period" (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the First Three Centuries, translated by H.J.Rose, 1848, p.190). "Origen [a writer of the third century AD] ...insists that 'of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below" (The Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1913, Vol.X, p.709).
Indeed the Jews "regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship..., and this probably on account of the idolatrous rites with which they were observed in honour of those who were regarded as patron gods of the day on which the party was born" (Strong's Cyclopaedia, 1882, Vol.I, p.817).
It is up to the saints whether or not they celebrate birthdays. Paul said: "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord...For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Rom.14:6-8, NIV).
It is up to individual Church members to come to the final decision about birthdays, remembering that the most important factor is whether or not God is honoured. If He is not then it is probably better to dispense with birthdays altogether because secular birthday parties certainly do not honour Him.
This page was created on 24 April 1998
Last updated on 24 April 1998
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