4 Theologically Incorrect Christmas Carols

You haven't lived until you've gotten into an argument about whether Christians can sing "secular" Christmas carols. Believe it or not, there are those who imagine that Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty are demons seeking to appropriate our piety. It's almost as nonsensical as the silly songs themselves and twice as harmless.

What the church should be concerned about are the heretical, sacred carols that we unwittingly allow into our hearts and minds. The songs we sing in worship actually matter as they reinforce our confession with rhythm and rhyme. And unlike fictional flying reindeer, we grant them power to influence our faith and practice.

That being said, Christmas carols only have as much power as we allow them, so we don't necessarily need to purge the bad ones from our holiday traditions and activities. But if we don't want carols to incorrectly inform our theology, we need to inform ourselves about incorrect theology.

Away in a Manger
Heresy: APOLLINARIANISM

The first two verses of Away in a Manger, falsely accredited to Martin Luther, were published in 1884. The second verse contains the following controversial line:
The cattle are lowing
The baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying he makes
This is an interesting description to make of the baby Jesus. Not only does it suggest that crying is unfit for a deity (something Lazarus would've taken issue with), it makes Jesus less human.

Around the late fourth century C.E., a bishop by the name of Apollinaris the Younger proposed a theory that Jesus was not fully human but that he had a divine soul in a human body. His theory was dismissed as heresy at the First Council at Constantinople in 381.

Away in a Manger encourages us to see Jesus as less of a brother and more of an other. Human babies cry, and Scripture teaches that he was like us in every way. If he was merely a human shell for the spirit of God, then we are not united with Christ but rather possessed by him. It's a recipe for spiritual complacency as the Christian life becomes little more than sitting back and letting Jesus "take the wheel".

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Heresy: DOCETISM

Methodist leader and hymnist extraordinaire, Charles Wesley, is the author of this metaphysical disaster. Note the subtly in the second verse:
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
 A veil is a covering--a facade, if you will. And this carol perfectly illustrates the gnostic tendencies of modern Christianity in the west.

As early as the writings of the apostle John we see the beginnings of a movement that denied Jesus' incarnation. The gnostic gospels, particularly the Gospel of Peter, advocate for a docetic Christology, meaning that Jesus only seemed or appeared to be human. It was dismissed as heresy at the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing encourages us to see Jesus not as a sacrificial, loving friend but as a divine chatlatan. He didn't merely pretend when he lived among us, and Scripture promises that our resurrection is patterned after Christ's in body and spirit. If Jesus was only human in appearance, then our humanity is a waste and this life is meaningless. It's a great way to spurn the rotting world around us and disregard our physical obligations to others as inconsequential.

Of the Father's Love Begotten
Heresy: ARIANISM

Based on a fourth century Latin poem, this obscure carol needs no introduction because its title says it all. "Of the Father's Love Begotten" sounds innocuous enough until you realize the object of the verb "begotten".

According to the Nicene Creed, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father because each member of the Trinity is described as being consubstantial or "of one substance". In other words, the Son is begotten of the Father's very substance or being, not his love.

Human beings are begotten out of love. When two become one, their love is in a sense incarnated into a new being. The Alexandrian presbyter, Arius, would've had no problem with this as he postulated a theory that Jesus was a created being and not in any way divine. It was dismissed as heresy at the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

Of the Father's Love Begotten encourages us to see Jesus not as God with us but as God's best work with us. We are not God's sloppy seconds but the crown of his creation, and Scripture confirms that just as Christ is one with the Father, so shall we be with them. If Jesus is not truly God, then we have no salvation. It's cause for despair as we have no hope without the condescension of the divine.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Heresy: MANICHAEISM

Among the oldest of Christmas carols, this popular tune could date back as far as the sixteenth century. But as with the others, the heresy in the first verse dates back much further:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
The cosmic struggle between good and evil couldn't be more real in this carol that depicts God and the devil doing battle over the souls of humanity. A shame he had to kill his own Son to win, though.

Enter Mani: a third century Iranian prophet who taught that humans were caught in a proxy war between light and darkness. God wasn't omnipotent and the devil was a nearly equal force rather than a created being. Though never seriously entertained by the church, it was condemned by Emperor Theodosius I in 381.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen encourages us to see Jesus not as the firstfruits of our future but as God's last chance to beat the devil. Satan, though powerful, is a finite being who never had the upper hand nor leverage to finagle a deal but, as Scripture testifies, only operates through the evil humanity inflicts upon itself. If the devil really did have power of us, then God is not all-powerful and our salvation is not certain. It gives us an excuse to live as we want since we cannot be held accountable or assured of eternal life.

Photo credit: Simply Mad Photography bvs community bell ringers. via photopin (license)

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