October 17, 2017

Why Some Don’t Observe the Christian Year

As regular readers of Internet Monk know, I am an enthusiastic proponent of following the Christian Year as a way of keeping our churches Jesus and Gospel-centered and as a salutary program for enabling individual Christians and congregations to become spiritually formed by the story of Christ.

I am fully aware not everyone agrees.

So today, I would like to give opportunity to those who are of the opinion that we should NOT observe the Christian Year to express the reasons for their stance.

• • •

People may oppose or think little of keeping the church calendar of holy seasons and days for various reasons.

Here are some comments from a discussion called,  “Do You Follow the Liturgical Calendar?”, posted on the Christianity Today website:

“A church’s program of preaching and teaching needs to have a ‘prophetic’ angle with regard to the church, with the leadership discerning which topics and sections of Scripture are most needed at particular times. Close observance of a liturgical pattern does not allow room for that.”

• Tim Ward, Holy Trinity Hinckley, UK (Church of England)

“If I saw instruction in the New Testament that Christians should observe celebrations at certain times, or thought New Testament evidence reflected a pattern of the early Christians doing so, I would adopt it. The only calendrical pattern I see is the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day.”

• Jim Hamilton, Kenwood Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky

“I’ve been around the church a long time and never heard the word used. The liturgical calendar is not at the forefront of what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve never heard a person say anything negative about it; it’s just not mentioned.”

• Paul Helbig, Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church, Katy, Texas

There are branches of historic traditions, such as Puritanism, that have long rejected keeping a liturgical calendar or observing holy days, based on their understanding of what the Bible teaches. In general, these churches hold to a “regulative principle” of worship — whatever is not specifically commanded or exemplified in the New Testament should not be permitted in Christian worship.

“Festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.”

• Westminster Assembly, Directory for Publick Worship (1645)

Q. Is there any other day holy besides this day [i.e., the Lord’s day]?

A. No day but this is holy by institution of the Lord; yet days of humiliation and thanksgiving may be lawfully set apart by men on a call of providence; but popish holidays are not warrantable, nor to be observed. (Gal. 4:10. Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.)

• John Flavel, An Exposition of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism (1692)

More common than strict opposition, I would assume, is the opinion that how we “do church” or how individuals pursue spiritual formation is a matter of Christian liberty and preference. Some may have never even heard of the practice because their churches have never considered it. Others may see it as legitimate but not necessary and therefore they choose not to observe it. Still others may be reacting against traditions they have left, in which the church year was observed.

At any rate, whatever your reason, I’d like to hear from those who DO NOT OBSERVE the Christian Year.

Then, as we get responses, it is perfectly OK for others to join in the discussion and ask questions, too.

Comments

  1. There are many Lutheran churches that do not keep the church calendar. I’m familiar with several that ignore it entirely and have 6-10 week sermon series instead. They also have more contemporary music and a very loose liturgy. The motivation is to appeal to people used to that style of preaching who come from non-traditional backgrounds, and to Lutherans who find the old ways too stodgy and limiting.

    I think it is a rather Lutheranish thing that among those within the same Lutheran body, and holding to the same doctrine, some keep and some reject the calendar, as it shows the freedom we have in the Gospel.

    Here’s Luther:

    How much more rightly does the Apostle Paul teach us to walk in the middle path, condemning either extreme …You see here how the Apostle blames those who, not from religious feeling, but in mere contempt, neglect and rail at ceremonial observances, and teaches them not to despise, since this “knowledge puffeth up.” Again, he teaches the pertinacious upholders of these things not to judge their opponents. For neither party observes towards the other that charity which edifieth. … For just as a man is not righteous merely because he serves and is devoted to works and ceremonial rites, so neither will he be accounted righteous merely because he neglects and despises them. . . .

    The point being, these are not the types of issues on which to judge each other or take offense.

    • It strikes me that having a 6-10 week sermon series is in principle no different than most Protestant observances of keeping the church calendar. Namely, it is a simple thematic organization with regard to the Scripture readings and prayers. In any church setting in which the observance of the calendar is optional I can see no objection to it that would not also apply to any other thematic ordering of coporate worship.

      • It’s different because there’s no rhythm to it. A few months the Sermon will be on Jesus’s parables, then the psalms, then Baptism, then the Exodus, etc. The church calendar gives you the same 52 week Sermon series year after year after year after year…

        • …and for most of us who live above the equator, the liturgical year is in sync with the changing seasons, which can reinforce the Gospel by observing the pattern of life and death in nature.

          For those who do not use the church year…how do you ensure that you are hearing ALL the important themes of scripture, and not just the hand-picked few that [A] the pastor likes or [B] prove that what the church preaches is exactly what God wants and commands (by ignoring conflicting themes and verses)?

          • I would consider following the lectionary as a separate issue from following the liturgical year. They are normally intertwined, but not necessarily. It is certainly possible to follow the liturgical year and still get the hand-picked scripture problem. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of the lectionary than the year.

          • For those who do not use the church year…how do you ensure that you are hearing ALL the important themes of scripture, and not just the hand-picked few that [A] the pastor likes or [B] prove that what the church preaches is exactly what God wants and commands (by ignoring conflicting themes and verses)?

            Pattie:

            ‘Cause we don’t have a pastor telling us only what he/she wants us to hear/read. We all bring to the meetings what God is doing in our lives and Scripture studies and prayers.

            Also, the “church year” is selective on what it focuses on and celebrates and commemorates. It doesn’t address ALL the themes and events of Scripture.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It’s different because there’s no rhythm to it. A few months the Sermon will be on Jesus’s parables, then the psalms, then Baptism, then the Exodus, …

          Then Song of Songs according to Mark “Deep Throat” Driscoll…

  2. Hm. Just blogged on this topic today.

    In summary, what I said there is that while I appreciate liturgical churches for their structure, and their emphasis on the unity of the body of Christ, I go to a non-liturgical church because I believe structure begins at home. Too much emphasis on structure in the service, and you wind up with Christians who think that’s the only place to be disciplined about following Jesus, whereas at home you can be loose and undisciplined. If anything, it ought to be the opposite.

    When we gather together as the body, I feel our emphasis should be unity-in-diversity, and flexibility for the Holy Spirit to interfere with our schedule however He sees fit. Yes, you can stick to the Christian year and give the Spirit room to work; but in my experience, Christians of all stripes tend to defer to the schedule rather than the Spirit. Even pastors who ignore the Christian year will stick to their sermon series, rather than deal with an issue in the body that needs addressing.

    There are a few churches that try to find a happy medium. The Catholics have their charismatic prayer meetings, for example; you can go to Mass on Sunday morning, and the prayer meeting Sunday night. Maybe that’s the best of both worlds. I dunno.

  3. Chaplain Mike,

    I know it is just phraseology, but why call it the ‘Christian Year’? It has the connotation that people aren’t true Christians if they don’t follow the liturgical year, or the ‘Year of the Church’ as it is commonly called.

    The liturgical calendar helps pastors keep from preaching their pet subjects, or agendas. LCMS hymnals have the 3-year series in liturgical texts, so there is more variety.

    I see series of sermons put in often in today’s congregations, especially during Trinity. There are sermons that have self-help elements to them, or themed like the self-help books, but many pastors I know do a good job of intertwining Law and Gospel with them. Some not so much.

    • There are lost of Christians who do not observe the “Christian” year, which is why I agree with you that it is better to call it the “Liturgical” year.

      I believe that in the Protestant African Church that except for Christmas, (maybe) Lent, and Easter, the Church calender is pretty much unknown. It certainly unknown to the average church goer who may know the Bible well, but has never seen “liturgy” or been aware of the liturgy weel.

      Are these Christians lesser Christians, with a faith based on a wak foundation and are their pastors less educated?

      I certainly hope no one believes so.

      Yet there is something about this question that seems to imply that….

    • Oh please.

      And if one uses “liturgical year” then that implies that those who do not follow it have no true liturgy? Or if one speaks of the “year of the church” then it implies that a faith community that does not observe it is not a true church?

    • the 3 year lectionary is another gift from Post-vatican rome. When is Rome going to fix that mistake? Bach only wrote cantatas for the 1 year lectionary.

      • The 3 years was so the Gospels of Mark, Mathew and Luke could be focused on in a single year period, the Gospel of John being part of all 3.

        Why in your opinion was this a mistake???

        • Because the church has hundreds of years of prayers, music and sermons reflecting the 1 year lectionary.

          I can spend all week reading great sermons on the upcoming readings. I can look up the sermons of Luther for that week, or many other great preachers. I can listen to Bach’s cantatas for the week. I can meditate on the standard collects and hymns reflecting those readings that have been used for hundreds of years.

          If I’m in a church using the 3 year lectionary, I’m stuck with mostly junk made int he 70s and 80s.

          • Besides, good preachers look at all the Gospels in preparing to preach on the Gospel used in the 1 year lectionary. Just because the reading is from John, or whatever, doesn’t mean the preacher can’t add the context from the other Gospels or bring out other themes.

          • Wasn’t the 1 year lectionary a gift from pre-vatican (II) Rome? As a Catholic, I’m bemused when Lutherans complain that Rome isn’t traditional enough. 🙂

          • Rome can do what it wants, but my complaint is with Lutherans who think we need to abandon good traditions to copy fads in Rome. In 20 years, Rome will probably go back to the historic lectionary too, just like they are now going back to their Latin services, and incorporating English liturgical translations that were common in Lutheran and Anglican churches for a hundred years.

            Also, the lectionary was not a gift from Rome, it was a practice of all Christian churches, which followed the Jewish practice of having assigned readings by the calendar. It’s not like Lutherans landed in space ships in the 16th century to graciously recieve Western traditions; Lutherans are the portion of the Western church excommunicated by Rome for following Luther’s interpretation of faith, and they have every right to claim the traditions of the Western church as its own.

            Also, as an aside, I believe Charlemagne first standardized the lectionary in the west, not the pope. So if anything, it’s a gift from a medieval frankish king. (though I’m sure the popes can take some credit as well for further development of it.)

  4. I grew up in fundamentalism, attending small, independent Baptist churches. My dad was a strictly KJV man. Even when I married, moved away, and joined an SBC church, I still never heard of the liturgical calendar until I met Michael Spencer. In 2008 my wife bought a set of Advent candles and made a wreath for our home. Even though I was excited about it and wanted to share the experience with others, it still felt a little “weird.”

    My use of the church calendar is still limited to Advent and Lent. I’m not opposed to the idea, it’s just not something I grew up with nor something my church teaches. I imagine that Southern Baptists shy away from it because it has a very Catholic feel to it. Lighting candles? Saints birthdays? The rule of thumb seems to be “whatever Catholics do, Baptists will do the exact opposite.” I would venture to say more Christians are ignorant of the calendar than are opposed to it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “If we must sit because Enemy Christians kneel, that is Protestantism taken to its most sterile extreme.”
      Evangelical is Not Enough (from memory)

      • Pretty close, HUG. Tom Howard would be proud, and I think you’d have done well on his exams.

        I found the quote on page 44, and I’ll include the whole paragraph, with the quote in bold (This is from Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough, for the rest of you monks).

        “It cannot be argued, then, that we must kneel. But it can indeed be argued that posture is immensely significant and that if we find shallowness to be a problem in worship services then it may be worth considering the matter. We sit for a thousand things—to eat, to chat, to work, to write notes, to rest. It may be that our bodies cry out for an attitude that will pluck us by the sleeve, as it were, and assist our inner-beings in the extremely difficult task of prayer. If in any church the sitting posture exists only as a protest against kneeling because enemy Christians kneel, then what we have is protest carried to its most dismal and barren end.

    • ‘The rule of thumb seems to be “whatever Catholics do, Baptists will do the exact opposite.” I would venture to say more Christians are ignorant of the calendar than are opposed to it.’

      As a Baptist I’ll second that, Clark. I think most of us don’t even know why it is that we do (or don’t do) the non-Catholic thing. The baby got thrown out with the bathwater so long ago that we don’t remember why. So most of us are innocent by our ignorance.

      • “The baby got thrown out with the bathwater . . . ”

        Well, this is a good time of year to bring the baby back to your Church . . . a nice Nativity Scene?
        or maybe a play with children and animals . . . and a baby in a manger ? Yes, it’s ‘cathoiic’, but it’s biblical, too, and . . .
        ‘that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown’:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA

        yes, it would work, I think, and if done during the week before Christmas, or on Christmas Eve, it would be meaningful to people

        • Thanks for the Peanuts fix!

          We do have a nativity scene and Christmas skits, just not all of the “other” church calendar observations. Easter goes without saying, of course.

          Advent began this past Sunday and we missed it because our pastor was away and our youth pastor is pretty informal. And forgetful. Normally we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and light the first of several candles. I mean, we haven’t fallen off the edge TOO far. But yeah, we baptists are pretty ignorant of that sort of thing.

          • Christiane says:

            well . . . ‘ignorant’, no, never that

            Baptists know the Book of Isaiah and the prophecies . . . and all the Old Testament readings that point to Bethlehem . . .

            those could be read during this Advent time

            and there is something MORE . . . ‘Advent’ is a deep longing for Christ to come among us, expressed by the prophets, and now by the Church who waits for the return of the King

            Advent has meanings that Baptists understand, I think
            maybe the ‘trappings’ of it aren’t important to them, but I KNOW they have in their hearts a great longing for Christ to come again

            Ignorant?
            no, just maybe needing encouring to find expression of the season that has meaning and is integral to Baptist life . . .

  5. I’m a hybrid of those who do observe and those who don’t. I am Catholic but I left at age 16 for a fundamentalist church and didn’t return antil age 40. About 15 years of that had no church at all. The last 10 years have consisted of my wife saying, ‘This is Advent’ and my saying, ‘What is that again?’ and then forgetting until next year. It has been completely peripheral. Only now, because of your posts, am I beginning to consider a personal, active, observance. I feel very much like Luther as quoted by boaz in the first comment. If it is edifying, then by all means. I know as a young fundamentalist I was stridently against it as a blocker of the Spirit’s leading, though I did not know it was a calendar but just Catholic roteness and , in my mind, lifelessness.

  6. Having grown up attending an Episcopal Church, the calendar was standard practice. To me though, as ChrisS phrased it, it was “roteness” and “lifelessness.”

    Since then I have attended more non-denominational churches, and from most I have gained much from them. My spiritual growth that came during my non-denominational years has now allowed me to appreciate the liturgical calendar with fresh eyes. But I don’t think I would have that same appreciation had I just remained in a church that practiced it, at least in the way I had experienced it earlier in my life.

    As some comments are pointing out, a balance is needed to help appreciate both.

  7. My husband and I currently attend a non-denominational church after 3 years in an Anglican Mission in America congregation. Prior to that, we were non-denoms for nearly 3 decades. I appreciated the focus on following some sort of yearly rhythm, but it actually generated more questions than answers for me about the way time was measured and discussed: http://michellevanloon.com/2011/11/27/marking-time-with-god/

  8. Steve Newell says:

    What I find interesting is that many churches will not follow the Church year, but they will follow the cultural year. For example, they will not observe the seasons, such as Lent, days such as Epiphany, but they will observe Independence Day or Mother’s Day.

    If a church does not observe the Church Year by claiming that it is not commanded by Holy Scripture, then they cannot also observe Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, etc.

    • I believe those churches feel that since a liturgical calendar is not commanded they should follow the calendar that is most familiar to their congregation, which is a perfectly valid approach.

      I’d be interested to know what Mother’s Day is like at a liturgical church. At almost every non-liturgical church I’ve been a member of Mother’s day is easily as big a holiday as Christmas and Easter.

      • ah Mothers day- I left that off my list from other post (see below)

        Mothers Day is huge- the service will come to a standstill while the Oldest Mother (requires someone to admit their age) the Mother with the most kids present and the youngest Mother (I never understood why this was not the “mother witht the youngest child” so that you were not recognizing an encouraging the unwed 16 year old in the church) are presented with a potted plant/hanging basket/gift card

        the other mothers are given carnations/bookmarkers

        songs to be sung- “If I could hear my Mother Pray Again” etc.

        Testimonies will follow where everyone shares recollections about their mothers and the preacher may actaully preach about mothers day perhaps Proverbs? or maybe some OT passage- Mary (and I am not a fan of Marian Devotion) but Mary will not be mentioned even though she is the most obvious biblical reference to motherhood in the NT

        Father’s Day will follow with the same pattern except substitue either “Daddy’s Hands” a country song, or Faith of our Fathers if you are in a city-fied church

        • We actually had a reworked “Faith of our Mothers” song for Mother’s day and nearly all the men were corralled into the choir for that day.

          Most importantly we had an award for the mother with the most descendants present. That was to encourage people to fill the sanctuary by bringing the entire clan, which generally ensured that mother’s day attendance beat Christmas and Easter by a large margin. We also did “mother with youngest child”, sometimes called Newest mother. In addition to “oldest mother” we added “mother who has been a Christian the longest”, which was usually the same person, and often the one with the most descendants as well, so they got a triple crown of sorts. At one point I think we had “mother who is the newest member of the church” just to spread the awards around a little. We didn’t do the youngest mother though, just to avoid the problem you mentioned.

          Father’s day was frequently a bit different as we often had a guest speaker who was on poor terms with their biological father (sometimes involving abuse) but had discovered their heavenly father was more than they could have asked for. Those actually tended to be decent and far more applicable to broken and non-traditional families.

          • “[S]ongs to be sung- ‘If I could hear my Mother Pray Again’ etc.”

            As a former fundamentalist Baptist (1970s), I suspect that the concept of the saintly mother substitutes for the absence of Mary in that masculine tradition. At least in my day, the stereotypical testimony from the traveling revivalist included lurid descriptions of his drunken, wife-and-child-beating father, while his (stay at home) mother held the family together by faithfully praying on her knees and reading the Bible. Said revivalist would then describe his own brief time in father-like rebellion, only to find himself one Sunday, still reeking of alcohol, stumbling down the church aisle to salvation, in answer to mother’s years of faithful prayers (or, if she were dead, to his memory of mother’s prayers). The movie Sargeant York captures this event.

            Mother’s Day under such conditions can resemble sentimental hagiography.

      • Hmm. My experience in a liturgical church (Lutheran) has been that Mother’s Day was not especially celebrated. Maybe an announcement or a flower for every mother, but no Mother’s Day sermons or deviations from the prescribed lectionary that I can recall. Nothing for Father’s Day, maybe some fluffy American hymn on the 4th, but even in conservative, traditional Lutheran churches it is controversial to do so. You’ll also find that most Lutheran churches do not have an American flag on the dais or near the altar. Reformation Day or All Saints is a much bigger holy day.

        I especially enjoy Advent – you get most of the best hymns.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          This is my Lutheran experience as well. The day is acknowledged but there is no great fanfare.

          • Same in my Catholic experience…a “will the mothers all stand” before the processional and sometimes a quick blessing of the mothers. Knights of Columbus sell carnations before and after Mass to support their mission work. As ever, the focus is up front, on the altar and cross.

            In fact, the one and only time I heard eulogies at a funeral was (sadly) last month for a nineteen year old. They let some of his friends tell stories from the lecture’s stand for about 10 minutes after Communion. It was likely a concession to his young friends for their sudden loss, and none were themselves Catholic.

          • Brian the Dad says:

            Not necessarily the experience in my Lutheran church. I can recall the proverbs 31 sermon on several mothers days. Variations on the mothers prayer holding the family together theme. The extended recognition of the mothers of various categories, then the awkward realization of the discomfort of certain women who were battling infertility. Ah yes, and the fathers day sermon recognizing the perfect Father is in heaven (cause we men can never measure up to the prayerful moms ;-). Oh yes, the choir singing Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to be an American’ during communion one July 4th sunday. That was a long time, and a different music director, ago. These things all happened, but thats a side effect of being in the deep south, surrounded and influenced by evangelical churches of the type often bemoaned here at the monastery. Lutheran? Is that Christian? Oh yeah, I remember that Martin Luther King guy. We are traditional Lutherans, but with a southern flavor!

            We do have an American flag in the sanctuary, just outside the altar rail up front, but not to the right of the speaker, in accordance with flag code. That’s reserved for the Christian flag ™ (props to HUG). We do follow the year, unless we have a series on a particular book of the bible, or something pressing that needs to be addressed, such as stewardship or the like.

            We disagree sometimes, but it’s a great church, full of great people.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      You overlooked Super Bowl Sunday, which many consider the holiest day of the year.

  9. Mischlingemann says:

    So what do you do about the Jews in the Church? Whoa! Loaded question. Oh well. What do you do about those of us who believe Jesus is the Messiah who want to go by the Jewish calendar but are caught by the practice and fact the Church pulls us away from the calendar God in His wisdom and design set up? Didn’t He set it up?

    Don’t even go down the path of “We are not under the Law” or “It’s not Spirit-led” because neither is the point and neither is an answer. They’re both dodges. I’ve been a good soldier for years. I have followed a Christian calendar and honestly, I am getting tired of it and I am following it less as time goes by.

    Do we all have to follow a Jewish calendar? No. But just give it some thought and not a trite brush off. Or better yet, do we all have to follow a Christian calendar? No, is the answer to that too.

    So to answer your question, I am turning toward the Jewish calendar which covers the whole year instead of a cluster of feast, festival and fasting starting at Advent and ending with Pentecost and then you are on your own with Proper until the next Advent. Right?

    Oh, by the way, the last time I looked the Church was not a Gentile construct. Now that’s loaded too.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      Did the Jewish liturgical year for many years while part of a Messianic Jewish congregation. The argument many people had for it was that it is specifically found in the bible, while the Christian liturgical feasts were not. The common rationale is “These aren’t the Jewish feasts, but the ‘Feasts of the Lord’ that he commanded in the Torah.” But even in this, there are several Jewish feasts and fasts that were observed (eg. Hanukkah, Purim, Tish b’Av) that were not commanded in the bible. And even for the ones that were commanded in the OT, the OT doesn’t give much detail on how one observes/celebrates them, especially outside of the context of Temple/Tabernacle worship. The end result is that folks either took their cues from post-biblical Rabbinic traditions or created their own methods of observing the holidays.

      None of that is necessarily problematic as long as you’re able to keep the focus on Christ throughout it. My problem was that with the “Big Show” manner my congregation celebrated these feasts, Jesus ended up being a guest star in our celebrations at best. Usually, he was barely mentioned in passing. That’s one of the reasons I ended up in a traditional liturgical Christian church after leaving the Messianic thing. I needed liturgy and celebrations that were specifically and intentionally Christ-centered. I was tired of fighting that battle. My mother, however, never thought it was a battle, and she misses celebrating the Jewish calender; the connection with Christ was always obvious for her.

      I think a major problem occurs if you don’t have a good community with which you can celebrate things, no matter what it is you are celebrating. It’s real hard to do either the Jewish or the Christian calender on your own, because much of the patterns are designed for community celebration. I don’t know if that’s been your experience, but I know it’s been mine.

    • Forgive my ignorance on this point, but what would need to change for your pattern to be followed? Are you saying that the liturgical year be replaced with the Jewish year? Or that there is a way to practice the Jewish year at home, and ‘relate it’ to the liturgical year? Or that churches might discuss the meaning of the season according to the Jewish year, along with the Christian meaning?

      • Mischlingemann says:

        Danielle,

        Change of pattern, for example, no extra-biblical Christmas celebration but the extra-biblical Chanukkah celebration. Inclusion of more Jewish even though they are also extra-biblical celebrations and observations like Purim and Tish b’Av. I think God is okay with extra-biblical celebration as long as we keep proper focus. Biblical observances of Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanah. What about Tabernacles? Perhaps that becomes our celebration of Jesus’ birth.

        Do we need to replace calendars. Not at all. But the point is the Christian year has in many cases replaced the Jewish year. What’s up with that? What happened?

        Try to relate the Jewish year to the Christian year and overlay them and you will soon discover it’s problematic; not easily reconciled.

        You suggestion of discussion is a good idea.

        • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

          Yeah, this is something I did with a small home church in the transitionary period between my Messianic days and my Anglican days. It was very, very hard to try and roll with both and integrate both. I think it’s typically better to choose one or the other and maintain continuity. That doesn’t mean ignore the other, but it’s almost impossible to really celebrate both calenders with significance. It’s a juggling act that I found was just not worth it.

        • The celebration of Christmas and Epiphany actually do derive from Jewish thought and practice, and Easter obviously still follows the same rationale as Passover. Christmas is celebrated in December because 1st century Jewish thought was that prophets died on the same calendar day they were conceived. Take Passover, go forward 9 months and you get the celebration of Jesus birth at the end of December, even though the best evidence points to him being born in early May.

          We don’t necessarily follow the Jewish calendar, because Christ’s coming has fulfilled all of the needs for which the OT celebrations were instituted. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and is now our Prophet, Priest and King, the Immanuel. So, celebrations and festivals in the Christian Church revolve around Jesus, his birth, his Resurrection, other important events – Transfiguration, Epiphany – and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church (Pentecost).

          • Randy Thompson says:

            I think Christmas is just as much about responding to paganism’s festivals around the New Year (i.e., the Roman Saturnalia and Kalends of January–New Year). In the early fourth century, the Roman church began celebrating Christ’s birth in response to all the pagan craziness. It gradually was accepted by the eastern churches, which had for sometime been celebrating Christ’s birth on Epiphany. Since the winter solstice was when days were short and there was thus less light, linking Christ’s birth with the solstice was their way of saying “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . ” (John 1:5). For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is a vivid reminder indeed, especially for those of us in northern New England!

        • Donegal Misfortune says:

          If the use of the tabernacle and temple was a type which points both toward Christ and the Church and the Jewish festivals also pointed toward Christ. Now that Christ has come and the types have been fulfilled, would it not be better to celebrate the events that surround the life of the One who has replaced all the types and shadows? Concerning the Jewish festivals, we can’t really celebrate them the way they were originally designed for since we already know of the promised one who came to fulfill the design and pattern. Take for example the Feast of Booths, as a Gentile this would be weird to celebrate since I am grafted into the olive tree rather than a direct Hebrew descendant who reflects back upon my family living in the wilderness for 40 years. How about the Day of Atonement. Since Christ fulfilled this as being the atonement how could this be celebrated without clumping it together with the Passover as well as Resurrection Sunday. What do we do with the deeds that made the festivals tangible and visceral since there are no longer any animals to have sacrificed on the day, or long trips to make to Jerusalem, or being overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the tabernacle/temple which was just as much part of the experience? But now that the Church has been established should not it have it’s festivals commemorating it’s Founder. It is the establishment of an Everlasting Kingdom as well as a world-wide reign and farthest reaching extent so that granted, the festivals for Israel have now it fulfillment so there is no longer a need for a peculiar holy nation set apart, but now as a global community our Founder is the Focal Point and all He did matters more than all the sacrificed animals, blood on doorposts, fastings in Persia, and a High Priest entering the Holy of Holies once a year.

          • Donegal Misfortune says:

            BTW: This was not knocking the Jewish feasts. I am just curious how they have meaning anymore now that Christ has fulfilled them.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      So to answer your question, I am turning toward the Jewish calendar which covers the whole year instead of a cluster of feast, festival and fasting starting at Advent and ending with Pentecost and then you are on your own with Proper until the next Advent. Right?

      Kind of… The way the Church Year was celebrated before the 1960’s didn’t have an “ordinary time” following Pentecost. Rather, there was “Trinity Season,” which followed the same basic structure as “ordinary/proper time” albeit about a week shorter (Trinity Sunday typically being the Sunday after Pentecost). That said, there are a lot of one-day feasts scattered throughout the older/more traditional post-Pentecost season, including the Feast of the Ascension, various feast days for various Apostles, the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and All Saint’s Day. But still, you basically have several liturgical seasons followed by a large “off” season.

      The Jewish calender tends to have smaller seasons or individual Holy Days that are more scattered throughout the year. While they can be loosely grouped into the Fall Feasts and the Spring Feasts, they’re really more like numerous islands throughout the year than a continuous yearly shift of seasons. So, while the “off” times are shorter in the Jewish calender, they’re still very much there.

      That said, the “off” seasons/times can be important, too. That’s where we learn to live our regular lives as followers of Christ. That’s where we have the process of growth and maturity rather than running from event to event. While the event is often the most memorable part of life, it’s in the process between where growth typically occurs.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      Oh, by the way, the last time I looked the Church was not a Gentile construct. Now that’s loaded too.

      Sorry for multiple replies, but there’s a lot to respond to in your post 🙂

      This issue is probably one of my biggest hot buttons with regard to my Messianic days. Here’s the deal: the Church was never meant to be either Jewish or Gentile. It was meant to include all people. Yes, there’s an important connection to the Israel. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of how one’s “Israelolgy” fits into ecclesiology, but the NT pattern is “One New Man” in Christ, not gentiles being lesser citizens in a greater Jewish commonwealth.

      Despite some of the mythology that has come out of certain circles, the early Jewish Christians did not get persecuted out of existence by their Gentile Christian neighbors. Rather, they took the NT concept of One New Man seriously and intermarried with Gentile Christians, forming uniquely Christian communities. That the modern descendants of these communities don’t look remarkably Jewish is due to the passage of time and the fact that much of what looks “Jewish” to modern eyes developed much later as Pharisaic Judaism became Rabbinic Judaism in light of the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. Also, many of those communities have been greatly reduced by Islamic persecution over the centuries. Nonetheless, there are still Christian communities in the Middle East where the liturgical language is Aramaic, albeit with Arabic script instead of Hebrew/Aramaic script. Aramaic, of course, was the everyday language of the 1st-Century folks living in the Holy Land. These folks tend to be the descendants of the early Jewish Christians and their non-Jewish Christian neighbors.

      All of that is to say that Christian practice became unique from Jewish practice very early on, well before there was a paucity of Jewish Christians. Perhaps it’s better to say “Jewish practices” because things weren’t standardized in Jewish circles during that time. Heck, it’s even reasonable to say that in certain parts of the Christian world, the unique Christian practice was a new addition to the various Jewish practices of the day.

      Sorry for the rant, but this is a pet peeve of mine from the old days.

    • You might look East. After a week-long Pentecost, we have the Apostles’ Fast leading up to the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul at the end of June. August is host to the Dormition, which includes a fasting season as well, and the Transfiguration, which starts the forty days leading up to the Cross in September. Advent starts earlier too, on the 15th of November. Essentially we have two additional “major” fast-feast cycles plus Transfiguration-to-Cross to break up the “dread green season”.

  10. Romans 14:5 is plenty enough to justify those who do not want to observe the Church calendar. It is certainly not mandatory by any means, and for strict regulativists, not explicitly commanded in scripture.
    However, most reasoning that I have heard for rejecting the calendar does not reference this verse and is not rooted in our freedom in Christ. Most of the reasoning cited in the post are very shallow. The “prophetic” angle of preaching is not limited by using the lectionary at all, but rather how the texts are handled. Too many going off the lectionary in order to be “prophetic” wind up being more theologically innovative than anything else. Which sections of Scripture are most needed at particular times? The parts about the death and resurrection of Christ and forgiveness of sins are always desperately necessary. Responding to “felt needs” in the congregation is a shortcut to creating a new religion. Not to mention, following the Christian year by no means limits the ability of the pastoral leadership to respond to specific situations. It hath not been written that he who deviates from the season one iota shalt be taken out and shot. Many liturgical churches follow it loosely, with the pastor modifying or altering it when needed, or possibly only using it from advent through easter.
    Sure, the calendar is not absolutely necessary. But for Christ’s sake, focus your worship on Christ alone at all costs. If you don’t use the church year to assist with that, then I hope it is because you are using better tools for the job, but I highly doubt it.

    • Miguel,

      Of all the postings, and there have been many good ones, I think I appreciate yours the most. I too thought of Romans 14:5 when I read Chaplain Mike’s article. It is a matter of liberty, and we all must be charitable to one another in regard to this issue.

      Coming from a non-liturgical background, it is difficult for me to comment against the use of the Christian year. I can say that it is possible to “focus your worship on Christ alone at all costs” (I especially liked that phrase!) without the liturgical calendar because our church truly endeavors to do so. I have to admit that many non-liturgical churches have abandoned the preaching of Christ for other issues and it is no wonder that an entire year devoted to the life and work of Jesus is very attractive.

      In the end, however, the Christian Year is only a method – a matter of liberty. The fact that it is centered around Christ makes me rejoice! I have no doubt that it is beautiful to both the ear and eye. But it is still just a method. In my own religious tradition we have divinized our methods, always with tragic results. I find myself praying these days that the Lord would cause His church to truly be centered around His Son, no matter what method we are using.

      • I originally came from a non-liturgical background as well. Be warned, this blog will ruin you. While I certainly have been in non-liturgical services centered on Christ, the possibility of this hinges almost entirely on the prerogative of the preacher. Ultimately, its a gift of God’s grace when a church remains faithful in her message, and not the product of our methodology, but God does use our methods. Is there such thing as a spiritual pragmatist? I just want to be around traditions that strategically immerse me in the the good news of God’s forgiveness, as in Colossians 3:16: “Let the words of Christ dwell in you richly…”

  11. So… how much of the creation of the “Liturgical Calendar/Christian Year” is/was due to the fact that Jesus did not in fact – per things that He and others wrote/said/implied in the New Testament – return in the first century to set up His/God’s Kingdom, consummate all things, end the age, etc.?

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      I think that’s part of it. Another major part of it is that we see a pattern in the OT (that is assumed in the NT) of using annual celebrations to commemorate and participate in the “Exodus event.” I.e the Exodus was the defining identifier for the Israelite people, so the Levitical Feasts/Fasts set up a way of reliving that event throughout the year. Over time, the Christian communities developed something similar to commemorate and participate in the life of Christ. Initially, we see this as largely consisting of adding a Christian focus to some of the most important Levitical feasts (esp. Passover being identified with the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In fact, in most countries the words for Easter and Passover are very similar, if not identical). As more people from various cultures became Christians, local custom would often “redeem” local holidays and give them a Christ-centered and Christian re-interpretation. Eventually, some local customs caught on more universally and the Church standardized things in a more universal fashion. But the real point was always to follow in the life of Christ through our yearly patterns.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …due to the fact that Jesus did not in fact – per things that He and others wrote/said/implied in the New Testament – return in the first century to set up His/God’s Kingdom, consummate all things, end the age, etc.?

      And the Church realized they had to dig in for the long haul.

  12. i’ve read it other places, in fact i think Michael Spencer may have even related it as well, just as folks who don’t follow a “liturgy” do have a liturgy, those who don’t follow a church calander do follow one

    Baptist Church calander starting from January based on the first 33 years of my life

    1. Watchnight service- if you have never had the experience of starting at 7PM on New Years Eve and listenig to three preachers alternating with singing only to end in prayer at midnight as you “pray the new year in” and then eat a big meal you have not lived (sarcasm)

    2. February-ish- Winter Revival maybe only a three nighter or if you are big church SBC perhaps a Valentine themed dinner with a speaker on marriage in the fellowship hall- who doesn’t think a night with your spouse over potluck at the church is romantic? (more sarcasm)

    3. March- Annie Armstrong Easter offering- Egg hunt- Sunrise service with breakfast cooked by the brotherhood of the church

    4. Spring Revival

    5. May-July depending on your geographical location- VBS- I actually have great memories of attending three or four a summer all with the same theme and by the time I finished the last one, I could assemble the crafts like some sort of idiot savant- I’ve made more crosses out of matchsticks than you can count

    6. Late Summer July/August- Summer Revival- this is the big one- a five nighter that will probably end with potluck on Friday or a watermelon cutting- this will be a big name evangelist if your church can afford it, if not there will be rotating local preachers- several deacons and their wives will get “saved” after having been decieved for the last 30 years- if you live in the rural parts this may be a day/night revival with ten services in five days

    7. Summer- if you are an SBC (especially if you are a cigarette smoking women wearing pants, choir in robes type SBC) SuperWow or some other state sponsored youth camp where your kids will be taught about dating by two childess married college students who say they never even kissed (poor saps) before they got married

    8. Late Summer Early Fall- Homecoming- Dinner on the grounds, all day singing, two preachers if your church is worth it’s salt

    9. Fall-Fall Revival (I kid you not) your church may not have one every season but you will have two a year and it will hinted at that you should schedule your vacation so you can be off- there will also be a “harvest festival” where oddly everyone dresses up in costumes just like the godless heatherns celebrating Halloween at the same time

    10. Winter- Lottie Moon Offering for Missions- Christmas play practice- perhaps even a float in the local parade where (again I kid you not) your preacher will ride on back and preach the whole way down the parade route to those watching the parade,

    11. Christmas- Christmas will appear for one day only, the Sunday before Christmas, at which time your pastor will go out of his way to preach on something not related to Christmas- Jonah perhaps

    No thanks- I’ll take the church year

    • David Cornwell says:

      In the past I’d hear complaints about some “formal churches” that were “cold and dead.” And the ones doing the complaining followed a church year like the one you are talking about. What you are describing crosses denominational lines, especially in some areas. Some of their criticisms may be valid.

      Excellent description.

    • One more Mike says:

      And maybe at 6 (a) the annual and greatly anticipated trip to “Promise Keepers”, where large groups of men are saved once again, the first 30 times not having taken.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “two childess married college students who say they never even kissed (poor saps) before they got married”

      But aren’t they proof that you can abstain from sexual thoughts, ideas, and actions?

      (Sorry I couldn’t restrain myself from being off topic.)

    • Blech. Church calendar by default. Been there, done that.

      It seems to me that every church is following some set pattern in time. Maybe some personalities work better with less formal temporal organization. I can’t think of a reason that would be a problem at this point in my life (subject to change…I’m only 26). But let’s be realistic – informal temporal organization is still a form of temporal organization.

      I believe that the churches that claim to not use the formal church year still have to be honest with themselves and admit that they observe some chronological order.

      It seems that this is akin to the whole pope issue – protestants criticize Catholics for having a pope, then go listen to their pastor as if he were the pope. At least the Catholics are honest with themselves about the whole thing…

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “…this will be a big name evangelist if your church can afford it…”

      Not really on topic, but this to me is one of the weirdest aspects of Evangelical culture. So far as I can tell this practice is not considered the least bit scandalous, which makes it even weirder to me.

      • Richard,

        Well I can see both sides of it. There are two classifications of evangelist as I see it. I have known evangelist who had a certain bottom dollar line they negotiated up front. Some had lists like movie stars as to where they wanted to stay, how often they wanted to be taken out to eat…

        Others, may have had an ammount they felt they needed to meet their need but were willing to come and rely on God to meet the need.

        I have mixed opinions about it. I do think there is a place for “evangelists” in the true biblical sense of the word, I think it would be hard to argue that Wesley, Whitfield and those types were not evangelist in the true sense of the word, however I do scoff at this notian and cottage industry that has sprung up in these type of churches

        I have known many humble and honest men who were sincere in their desire to have a preaching ministry (regardless of what one thinks about the whole notion of revivals) They often lived on little and their families sacrificed much. I’ve known some who were even wealty but humble in their pursuits, but more often than not, I have found them to be very much egocentric, and have almost a rock star like persona-

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “…this will be a big name evangelist if your church can afford it…”

        Not really on topic, but this to me is one of the weirdest aspects of Evangelical culture.

        It’s Celebrity Worship pure & simple. And you & I & all the rest of us are Nobodies.

        “Just like Celebrity Worship, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

    • Austin…

      Your description of the “Baptist Church Year” makes me both smile and grimace a little…

      I think that many churches desire to be “autonomous”, “spirit-led”, or “have the Bible as a final authority”, which are misnomers. The churches that say these things want to be their own bosses, or the pastors/elders/deacon boards want to be in charge. No one likes being told to adhere to a pattern.

      I wonder if this is sinful behavior? God created us to have dominion, and we’ve been fighting for it ever since. Seems to me that following the pattern of historic worship that the Church calendar lays out demonstrates both discipline and submission.

      Using the calendar doesn’t have to lead to cold or sterile worship. Austin and I have witnessed some extraordinary worship, both contemporary and traditional, over the past few years, in churches that use the calendar as a guide.

    • “where your kids will be taught about dating by two childess married college students who say they never even kissed (poor saps) before they got married”

      I never kissed my wife before we got married. But then again she wasn’t my wife before we got married. 🙂

    • Don’t forget about:

      – High attendance Sunday – usually comes between that period when vacations have ceased and school is about to start.

      – Sunday School promotion Sunday – time to move up a grade kids…

      – Graduation Sunday – service dedicated to high school or maybe college graduates. Youth sing, maybe preach, and share lots of testimonies about how the prayer garden at Ridgecrest changed their lives…..

      • I’d like to add:

        Super Bowl Sunday – complete with a “get in the game” or “run the race” sermon during halftime.

        Financial Sunday – close to April 15

        The “High Holy” 4th of July – I attended a SBC church where the cross was covered with an American Flag

        Back to School Sunday – teachers in the congregation are called forward for prayer

        Tailgate Sunday – an excuse for everyone to wear football jerseys to church…along with another “get in the game” or “run the race” sermon

  13. I know a lot of people who either grew up in non-liturgical churches and then switched as adults, or vice versa. Some of that is probably due to our constant desire for something new and different and interesting. But it’s also because the liturgical and evangelical traditions complement each other in a lot of ways.

    Evangelical Christianity brings a lot of fervor and emotion and personal connection to God, but often without the sort of framework that can channel that energy into a lifetime of discipleship, and without the basic orthodox theology that is embodied in the liturgy. Liturgical worship, to a heart already awakened to the reality of God, presents Christ through image and sound and smell and taste and motion, and to me at least, makes Christ far more tangible than does any sermon. But the liturgy is not as insistent or invasive as Evangelical preaching – it doesn’t demand belief; it only tells as story. So it’s easier to skate along the surface.

    I think the best approach is a fusion of the two. A church can be synchronized with the mood and message of each liturgical season, for example, without necessarily limiting itself to the lectionary, but still maintaining solidarity with the universal church in its seasons of fasting and feasting.

    • I think that there is a lot of truth to this — if liturgy is a mere end-in-itself, rather than a pattern or an aid to personal faith, then it is unhelpful. Likewise, the earnest and intensely personal faith that can come from a moment, or season, of personal commitment cannot stand on its own, but has to solidify into some kind of a living pattern of life. One can’t live the next 60 years by remembering in a single past moment, as though everything that matters to you is “back there”; perhaps this is why we evangelicals constantly recreate ‘crises’ and ‘recommitments’ to renew the evangelical sense of conversion-urgency. Somehow, the drama of salvation has to be felt in the daily pattern of life and devotion, and each new period of life understood through the gospel and the anticipation of the final salvation of all creation. I think liturgy can help to supply this pattern …. but not unless participants understand what it is for, and use it for that end.

      • Great comments. Liturgy is not an end in itself, though many who know better talk like it is. It is to create a pattern for Christian life, and to connect us to all Christians from all times. It doesn’t have to have the pattern it has, but any worship will have a pattern and a form. Why not use the patterns and forms that have been used and developed by Christians since the beginning?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        One can’t live the next 60 years by remembering in a single past moment, as though everything that matters to you is “back there”; perhaps this is why we evangelicals constantly recreate ‘crises’ and ‘recommitments’ to renew the evangelical sense of conversion-urgency.

        You know what that reminds me of? “Bridezilla Syndrome” and its Christianese analog “I Gotta Get Married”. Pouring so much time and energy into the Wedding Day there is NOTHING left for the Marriage afterwards. All Booster, no Sustainer.

        • As the saying for Engaged Encounter (a spin off of Marriage Encounter) goes~

          “A wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime.”

          [ HUG……Please do NOT get me started on Princess Divas breaking the bank and behaving like self-absorbed brats for “THEIR” big show. I have a personal theory about the cost/flashiness of a wedding and its inverse proportion to the length and happiness of the union.]

          • Pattie, one of my favorite movies is “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin and Martin Short (I have three daughters, you see, and one is planning her wedding now).

            Steve Martin freaks out over the cost of the wedding and in the early planning stages tries to talk his daughter and wife into “a backyard wedding; a barbecue wedding.” ( imagining himself flipping burgers while still in his tux).

            Wedding planner Martin Short convinces wife and daughter otherwise…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Pattie, I would like to see a study on whether Born-Again Evangelicals are more prone to Bridezilla Syndrome. With all the pressure to Get Married Now (“Ring by Spring or It’s Too Late!”) to the Perfect Christian Husband (so Christian even Christ himself couldn’t measure up to expectations) and no idea of compatibility except “Common Scriptural Values”, I suspect it’s one of the reasons the Born-Again divorce rate is so high.

            Christians are just as screwed up sexually as everybody else, just in a completely different direction.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            …I have a personal theory about the cost/flashiness of a wedding and its inverse proportion to the length and happiness of the union.]

            Three words, Pattie: KIM KARDASHIAN, CELEBRITY.

    • Lots of wisdom in that second paragraph. It also explains why people raised Catholic/mainline go evangelical, and why evangelicals go Catholic/mainline. In my experience, when Catholics or mainlines become evangelical, it’s because (and this is speaking in broad generalizations, based on the people I know) they were skating along the surface, as you said, then they had a spiritual awakening. Liturgy seemed rote and dead, so they went to a tradition where the personal, dynamic aspect of faith is emphasized. On the other hand, when evangelicals bail for a more liturgical tradition, it’s (again, speaking generally) a result of years of there being a personal relationship, which gets really nourished by something like the richness of the liturgy, or the church/Christian/liturgical year.

  14. Personally, I guess my answer would simply be that I don’t follow it because I never have. I know that leaves a lot wanting, but if I’m being honest, I guess that’s it. I grew up in the AoG. My dad is an AoG pastor, and my grandfather and uncle are as well. I just grew up surrounded by the AoG. Right now, I don’t go to an AoG church, but I still have a lot of friends in the denomination. There’s probably some who think I’m far off my rocker as it is. I guess I feel sort of homeless at the moment.

    The thing I’ve noticed is that trying to become part of another tradition is very, very hard. It’s something I’ve noticed. Even when people in churches try to be friendly, I feel that you are always viewed as an outsider for, well, maybe the first 3-5 years or so. Even past that there can still be things you feel left out of. In a way, it’s like trying to fit into a new family. It’s not that it’s impossible, but it’s just hard.

    As far as this relates to the church calendar, I guess my main thing is that I feel if I would attempt to follow it now, I would just be a poser. It wouldn’t mean anything to me. Perhaps it’s my Pentecostal background refusing to let go, but I still have this notion that elements of tradition done simply for tradition’s sake are dead and inauthentic. I’m not saying I agree with that mentally. But there’s a little voice inside me that nags me about this sort of stuff a lot still. I don’t think I’ll ever get past it, really.

    • Phil:
      I am ex AoG and I hear you. It was bred into me that if it wasn’t extemporaneous and from the heart it was nearly idolatry. That held me back from anything liturgical for over 30 years. Then I went to a Christmas service and discovered what they were reading from the book was not heresy or dark things.
      I had no problem with it at all, orthodox Christian words!

      I attend a liturgical church now (and I am in a Anglican seminary). And I think that if it is tradition for the sake of tradition it is dry and inauthentic (as you have said). However, if you are using the liturgy as it should be and it is from the heart, I find it quite powerful, and I dare say the Holy Spirit speaks through it.

    • I’m still AoG. Learned my church history at the late great Bethany College, including about the value of different practices in different churches. But it was made quite clear to me that if you wanted to introduce any of these things into your own churches, you had to do it subtly, lest people accuse you of (gasp!) Romanism.

      So meditation gets repackaged as contemplative prayer. Vigils get repackaged as “prayer watches.” Advent gets repackaged as a four-week sermon series on “Looking forward to the coming of Jesus,” complete with altar call, right after Black Friday, encouraging folks to commit to this year remember Jesus’s coming, and not to focus on materialism and shopping. Lent conveniently coincides with a “40 days of purpose,” during which time we oughta give up something for God. Praying the psalms becomes an exercise in which we imagine we’re King David, composing them for the first time, and try them on for size. And so forth. You can slip a whole lot of traditions under the radar this way. Many Assemblies pastors do.

      Like Ken says, if it’s from the heart, it’s powerful stuff. We just have to bypass this bugaboo of “If it’s traditional, it’s dead.”

  15. Romans 14:5, as well as Galatians 4:8-10, were what came to mind right away when I read this article. 🙂
    I certainly don’t have a problem with anyone who chooses to follow the calendar because they find it a good tool to grow in their faith but I have a big problem with anyone who would claim it is more spiritual or more godly to do so or that everyone “ought” to follow it. That’s legalism.

    As far as my own background, I have never been part of a church body that practiced the liturgical year. The closest I’ve been to anything of the kind is the annual ‘lighting of the advent candles’ which one of my childhood churches regularly practiced and some exposure to the new fad of Christians following the Jewish calendar (which also tended towards legalism in the attitude of those promoting it- at least those whom I encountered).
    Personally, I tend to find that any rote practice quickly becomes meaningless to me. Observing a particular aspect of my faith on a certain date just because it is a certain date would more likely cause me to stop thinking deeply about it than to grow in my faith.

    For those who find this practice valuable and deeply meaningful- that is fantastic. I wouldn’t seek to take that away from you or denigrate what value you find in it. Ultimately, this is one of those areas where there is a great opportunity for Christians to respect and celebrate each other’s differences. 🙂

    • This line of reasoning makes me twitch. Is it legalistic to say that every athlete, even the exceptional ones, “ought” to practice their sport regularly (injuries or other special circumstances excluded)? It is very difficult to be a disciple of Christ without practicing Christian discipline, such as regular (even fixed-hour) prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession, and attending worship. If we’re going to be Christ-like on a consistant basis, acting like Christ is going to have to be something we do by habit. Sure, sometimes you won’t feel like it, or will just be going through the motions, but perservering in spite of this is a fundamental part of discipline. And it will make a difference in the long run when you find yourself in those random real-life situations that require you to automatically respond with humility, compassion, self-control, gratitude, faithfulness to God or any of those other things God teaches us through Christian discipline. Of course, no one is going to punish you because you prematurely broke your fast, accidently missed a prayer, didn’t give enough this year, or whatever. That would be legalistic. No one is really forcing you to do any discipline for that matter… but these things generally need to be done to grow in Christ-likeness. And the idea of freedom in Christ is not an adequate justification for systematically tossing discipline.

      Now, more narrowly focused on the Christian Calendar: if on a team of athletes, you have an athlete who gets less out of group practice that generally benefits the whole team, do you cancel practice? I’d hope not. This is not the best analogy, but the Church Calendar is most overtly a way of ordering corporate worship—it is something we do together, locally and universally and through time. It is a lot more than just that, but the point I want to make here is this: Worship is not about what is beneficial to you, though it is generally beneficial to those who participate. I would actually say that all churches “ought” to follow the Calendar (ideally), because it helps keep worship focused on God and is generally beneficial for both worshippers and the unity of the Church, but it’s not something you personally have to do at home in your own devotions or discipline. And again, no one is (or should be) forcing you personally to do anything. It is just that participating is generally good for your soul, and even if it isn’t, it is good for the community.

      The Church Calendar, practiced either at the church level or by individuals, is actually a good way to keep things from going stale or becoming “rote”. If you do the thing properly, every single week (or day even) has a different set of prayers, hymns, and scripture readings, a slightly different focus, one that might have not immediently come to mind had we not been listening to the broader Christian community. Sure, you’re going to repeat things in a year—do you really think being reminded once a year about something is going to cause you to stop thinking deeply about it? I find that I often need to be reminded about various things a lot more regularly than that… I must be getting old =/.

      • +1

      • +++1 !

      • Well, this kind of response makes me twitchy too. This poster apparentlyl knows what is better for Natasha than Natasha does for herself. If you would read her post carefully, she simply says that the church calendar is not a part of her tradition and doesn’t fit her personality style so that is why she doesn’t use it. She goes on to say that she is ok with those who do use the church calendar. That is exactly what Chaplain Mike asked for in the post-responses why people don’t use the church calendar. But that is not good enough for this poster, who defensively replies that anyone not doing Christian spirituality in a way he has found meaningful is doing it wrong. To use his analogy, there is one way to train for a race and he has found it and anyone else using a different training schedule is doing it wrong.
        This raises a even bigger issue that I have noticed on this site-the defensiveness of post-evangelicals. I think the blog by K.W. Leslie that Chaplain Mike referred to earlier has an apt paragraph here–

        “The only downside to this movement (post-evangelicalism) is that, like most new converts to a new idea, lots of post-evangelicals are convinced that everybody else is wrong, and that any church without a liturgy is doing it out of sloppiness, selfishness, the irrational fear that a liturgy will bring back dead religion, a lack of education, a lack of appreciation for history and tradition—pick your insidious evil reason, and you’ll find a post-evangelical who secretly believes it, and prefers to bash the non-liturgical Christians rather than fellowship with them.”

      • Well I certainly didn’t mean to give you a twitch, Matthäus! 😉
        Perhaps if I explain my reasoning for using the term legalism you may find some relief:

        First, please note that I didn’t say it was legalism to observe the biblical Christian disciplines. I certainly didn’t suggest that anyone toss discipline out the window in the name of Christian freedom. We are instructed in scripture to pray without ceasing, to not neglect to meet together, to practice generosity and hospitality, and to confess our sins to each other (etc). I completely agree that these things are instrumental in our walk as Christians and should absolutely not be neglected.

        Where I have a problem is when Christians come up with additional practices and traditions that are not found in Scripture and then make them prescriptive for all Christians. This is the same thing that the pharisees and teachers of the law did in Jesus’ day. Not only could you not work on the Sabbath but you couldn’t even eat heads of grain while walking through a field if you were hungry (Matthew 12). Jesus described them as loading people down with burdens they could hardly carry and hindering people from entering the kingdom of God (Luke 11:37-53). I don’t want in any way to contribute to burdening or hindering the people of God. That’s why I am concerned with anything that smacks of legalism. Legalism is the enemy of grace.

        Now let me please be clear: I am not suggesting that anyone who practices the Christian calendar is a legalist. I am not saying that those who promote this practice are deliberately trying to burden God’s people. I am not saying that I or anyone who doesn’t practice this tradition is free from the danger of becoming legalistic (Absolutely not! Legalism is a natural bent of human beings in their fallen natures and no one is free from that danger).

        What I am saying is that there should be no “ought” when it comes to extrabiblical practices. Sure they may be beneficial to you- or to a large number of people- but they are simply human ideas. To insist that one chosen idea is the only or best way to practice the faith is to add to what God has said in almost the exact manner as the pharisees did. And quite frankly, that gives me a twitch!

        Well, that was a bit long. Hopefully I’ve explained myself a little more clearly this time. 🙂

        As I’d said in my previous comment, I see this topic as an area where Christians can respect each other’s different ways of walking in the faith. I hope that I’ve managed to communicate that at the very least! 🙂

        • Matthäus says:

          Thanks for replying. I’m not really sure how much I was replying to you as opposed to replying to a few leitmotifs I heard in your post that correspond to experiences I’ve had—which is why I said “twitch”, but I guess that wasn’t very clear. I’m sorry if any of my post above seemed overly harsh, that wasn’t my intention.

          The loudest of those leitmotifs was the statement about rote practices. I’ve seen the this sentiment on an aggregate level at most of the churches I’ve attended, and I am inclined to think it often hinders real discipleship. Things don’t always have to be deeply meaningful all the time to “count”, whatever that means. I think “just going through the motions” is enough sometimes, and almost always preferrable to stopping.

          As far as “ought” and extrabiblical bits, I think that we might just have to be in respectful disagreement. I don’t believe in Sola (or Solo) Scriptura and realize that’s probably a minority opinion ’round here. The real issue with legalism is confusing the means for the end or losing sight of the end (rather than whether this or that is biblical vs extrabiblical). The Church Calendar, along with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, etc, etc, are only methods or tools. We ought to use them, not because they are required, but because they are fundamental tools in building a life with God in the context of the Body of Christ in the same way that blueprints, hammers, or saws are fundamental tools in building a house.

          That said, the Church Calendar is really a corporate discipline, and not nearly as effective if you’re trying to do it on your lonesome. I can readily understand not using it when your church doesn’t or even not necessarily observing it privately when your church does.

          • Well thanks for replying to my reply to your reply to my comment, lol. ;D

            I think I understand where you are coming from a bit better and this comment did have a much better perceived tone. I *did* suspect we were coming from fairly different understandings of the Faith we share. I do always appreciate interacting with someone who has a different perspective than mine so thanks for the discussion!

            God bless

      • This line of reasoning makes me twitch…

        could it be there is an element of liberty/grace those that do not ‘practice’ Liturgical Calendar calisthenics appreciate more than those that believe their form more effective at becoming Christ-like???

        read the next article: A Witness to Vulgar Grace for a better understanding of this concept…

        or read a good exchange between Chill & Miguel above in this thread…

        i don’t buy the statement that the manner or sequence or inclusion of specific Christian disciplines actually makes one a better Christian. unless one gets over the guilt factor of performance vs. acceptance, there will be no enjoyment of the grace Brennan Manning speaks of…

        there must be an honesty factor in our relationship with God. since we are quick to be something we are not, actually coming to the realization that God is not impressed with our Lliturgical Calendar observance, or our decision to not follow it, is at first a scary awareness. but if we do understand God looks at the heart & sees the thing that pleases Him the most, then we will be ‘released’ to become transformed by grace into the image of His Son…

        i would think Brennan Manning a very good example of living the Liturgical Calendar & practicing Christian disciplines to the nth degree. but it’s not those things on his saintly resume that makes him beloved of God…

        as some have also posted here, there are those that do experience personal value in observing the Liturgical Calendar, but then there are those that do not. i am one as can be seen from my posts below. my understanding of liberty came when i realized i was truly a Christian. period. on my worst days & on my best. there was no sliding scale of God’s pleasure or acceptance or mercy or grace based on my Christian disciplines. i can tell you this: more spiritual formation has happened to me in the midst of the bullshit of life. major disruptions that are common to all men, but especially intense when i was experiencing them. wisdom & understanding & character forged in the crucible of transmogrification as i term it. and no one volunteers for such happenings, but i understand they will occur & i will be changed by them as God does a work in me at the deepest core of my being…

        i would think that any spiritual path unlike yours a cause for thoughtful consideration & understanding, not a reflex ‘twitch’. could be the concept Natasha expressed not as articulated as well as your response, but there should be no cause to react to someone’s perception that it would be legalistic for them while there is freedom for you to follow the Liturgical Calendar. the Apostle Paul tried to explain this in the book of Romans chapter 14 as some have already referenced.

        hopefully i have attempted a response that is not a reflex knee-jerk reaction either. trying to remain Christ-like in a public forum of differing opinions sometimes not as easy as it would seem especially here in a Christian atmosphere where graciousness truly must be evident if any understanding is to result…

        blessings on your spiritual journey Matthäus…

    • Not replying directly to Natasha but just thinking that an aversion to doing things “by rote” certainly doesn’t keep the Baptist churches I’ve visited from passing the plate each Sunday.

  16. was raised in the Liturgical Calendar tradition (RCC). i did notice the changes to vestment colors & sanctuary/altar settings during this time also since i was an altar boy intrigued by such things…

    my favorite time was Advent. this is when the right side of the church in front of the altar rail was decorated for Christmas. at least 15 fir trees of various sizes created a mini-forest there where a 2/3 size nativity set (old…very old) was set in its midst. the cradle being empty until the Day of His appearing…

    and the smell was, well…heavenly…

    been there–done that though. i feel no need to continue in that worship tradition now…

    my faith journey is a very immediate one. so i can find myself contemplating the death & suffering of Our Savior now or even after Easter…

    or sense His resurrection in me during the cold winter months even before Spring has sprung…

    i appreciate nature’s changes more now than i ever did before. i am much more aware of the seasonal moods that remind me of seasonal changes in my own life…

    right now i am looking forward to my own personal Spring after my divorce & unemployment. and that is just now beginning now that i have decided to go back to school full-time to pursue my Master’s Degree in Agriculture with an emphasis on Viticulture/Enology…

    so, i am much more in ‘tune’ with the spiritual seasons of how God is working in-and-thru me rather than the traditional Liturgical Calendar as some follow…

    make sense???

    • ***additional thoughts***

      the idea of communal worship ‘awareness’ that the Liturgical Calendar can provide is not lost on me…

      i do understand & appreciate the benefits those that find such devotion a valuable part of their own faith journey…

      i just am at a place where such an observation has no such value for me personally. i want to make that clear as i have in my other posts where i state plainly mine is not the golden standard of worship+faith expression & that other results may definitely vary…

      blessings to all this very hallowed Season… 🙂

  17. It strikes me that most of the responses are much too narrow in the assumptions that make about what the Christian Calendar is. It is not about what one does on Sunday. It is not simply an ordering of devotional activities. It is a calendar.

    A calendar is a reflection of how one views time. It is the actualization of what one believes to be true regarding time. It also reflects what one holds to be worthy of celebration, honor and commemoration. These convictions in turn help form and perpetuate the identity of the community that holds them.

    Isn’t it the case that in so far as these convictions are indistinct from that of other cultures, then the communities are likewise indistinct- they share a common view of time (its purpose, nature and use), what is remarkable and worthy of honor and, so, a common inheritance and identity.

    The Christian Calendar is called the Christian Calendar because (in distinction to the world) it is a confession of Christ’s lordship over the creature, Time. It is called the Christian Calendar because (in distinction to the world) it is an enactment of the gospel conception of time. It is called the Christian Calendar because it celebrates (in distinction to the world) events, persons and values rooted in Christ’s Kingdom. It is called the Christian Calendar because it is (in distinction to the world) what the church-as a distinct community- does in relation to ordering her time.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe that it is the only possible way of confessing Christ’s lordship over time. I’m not saying that everyone must follow the Christian Calendar, per se, but I do believe that having a Christian Calendar is non-negotiable.

    Christ is Lord of Time. Waiting is not something that cries out for vanquishment. Hope is of value and must be cultivated. Productivity, efficiency and speed are not the cardinal virtues to be cultivated when it comes to time. The State and the Market are not the archtypes of our celebration and subsequent formation. We are not Americans first, but members of the transnational, transhistorical (catholic) people of God.

    The Christian Calendar is not the only possible way of confessing these things, but as far as I know it is the only attempt to do so. More than an attempt, it is an ancient inheritance. I don’t doubt that my small experience has left me ignorant in regards to other ways in which the world’s dehumanizing vision of time is combated by non-catholics. Does anyone have an alternative- not theoretical, but actual. You can’t beat something with nothing. It seems to me that this is why it is properly called THE christian calendar.

    • Well put, Mr. James.
      Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “The Christian Calendar is called the Christian Calendar because (in distinction to the world) it is a confession of Christ’s lordship over the creature, Time. ”

      I love this statement and the remainder of the paragraph. Thanks.

    • Very good point! Thank you.

  18. The Previous Dan says:

    I have never attended a liturgical church. Grew up an Anabaptist, went to a Pentecostal college, pastored in a charismatic church, and have been a member of an E-Free (my wife calls it E-Semifree) church for the past 10 years. So my non-observance is because of my back-ground. However, our Pastor does follow the liturgical calendar 10 weeks out of the year (Lent and Advent) and I find that it lends “specialness” to those seasons. However, the rigidity of 52 weeks a year does not appeal to me.

  19. Randy Thompson says:

    I like the church year a lot, but I’m not a slave to it.

    As a pastor, I love Advent because it’s a powerful counter-punch to contemporary pagan practices, which I would sum up as consumerism. Also, the texts that go with Advent push me to address such important topics as the Second Advent of Christ and the prophecies (especially in Isaiah) pointing towards the coming of Jesus.

    Naturally, we should be examining the state of our life on a daily basis all year long, but I very much appreciate Lent as a time to focus on where God is winning in my life, and where the battle is still going on. I like Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, because I like the imposition of ashes, which reminds me of my frailty, my sin, and my forgiveness.

    The services of Holy Week, Scripture readings, music, and other readings, serve to draw me in, deeply, to the central mystery of our faith–the cross of Christ. Easter, cut loose from Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, feels false to me, as a worship experience. It’s a joyful time, but the joy of Easter is made real when we arrive at it via Good Friday.

    I love Pentecost Sunday because it’s an opportunity to talk about the life-giving Holy Spirit and what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Pentecost Sunday is a reminder that the Lord didn’t leave us as orphans. (I’m always a bit amazed that Pentecostals haven’t discovered this day.)

    I like Epiphany because it’s an opportunity to focus on Gospel of Matthew’s account of the nativity, and that its story is different from the one Luke tells us. The Christmas “season” also allows me to preach, once a year at least, from John 1, about the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. You can’t hear about that enough.

    I like the fact that there is an “All Saints Day,” because that reminds us that there were Christians around before we came along, and that maybe we should seek to learn from them (or their writings). All Saints Day is a nice reminder that “Tradition” is the living faith of the dead, while “traditionalism” is the dead faith of the living, whether liturgical or non-liturgical.

    I even like the idea of Trinity Sunday, even though I haven’t yet done much with it. I can’t help but think it would be a good idea to remind ourselves once a year that we believe that God is One, yet three persons, and that such a God tends to mentally short-circuit our best efforts to figure Him out, among other things.

    Finally: There is a staggering amount of wonderful Christmas carols and hymns which you’ll never hear if Christmas is just a particular day, and not a season. Maybe this is what I like most about the church year: It’s an opportunity to use hymns and other worship songs you might not otherwise get to sing. Question: What hymns go with sermon series on time management, or how to be happily married, or how to be your best self??? (That’s a rhetorical question; I’m not necessarily looking for suggestions!)

    • Ooh–Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Wow. I love that. Nice and pithy too. 😀

      • Randy Thompson says:

        The line about tradition and traditionalism isn’t mine. It comes from the wonderful, late Yale church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, who, for most of his life was a Lutheran, but went over to Eastern Orthodoxy later on.

  20. I was once on staff at a Baptist church that didn’t acknowledge the church calendar. The pastor decided he wanted the church to celebrate Lent together, not to remember Christ’s sacrifice, but to pray for the direction of the church…one of those “40 days of Focus” things, or what I like to call “Lent Lite” (Look ma! I reinvented Lent! Tastes great! Less filling???).

    He forgot the start date for Lent, and began two weeks late.

    Sad thing was, I was the only person that noticed.

  21. The one thing tht has not come up much, but has been alluded to, is that the Christian calendar can be a teaching tool. It keeps us in contact with the key events of the life of Christ. Yearly, we follow the life of Christ. It provides a focus for living that allows me in all the hubub of life to keep an eye on eternity. The closest thing to that I had seen previously was the little Daily Bread book.

    And as I follow it, I am aware that I am walking in lock-step with the church universal, worldwide and throughout time. In a small but visible way it is a reminder that I am part of the body of Christ, not just a local congregation.

    The calendar, and the liturgy, help me to get outside myself and my concerns. Even my pastor submits to it, he can’t just go off on his own making it up as he carries on. We are reminded that we are part of the whole. When my body walks my head can’t go downstairs and my legs jump on the elevator. I am an integrated whole. Paul speaks of the body of Christ, and I find that both liturgy and the Christian Calendar are the closest thing I have that in a small way, reminds me that I too am part of that body.

    It makes it easier for me if I view these things as tools that God can use in our lives to spiritually form us.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Yes. The church year can be an excellent teaching tool, and I love the sense that I’m doing the church year who along with millions of other Christians all over the world, and am doing what countless millions have gone before me.

      Again, the church year isn’t something we have to do, or must do. As noted above, I do it because I think it makes good sense.

      The Bible repeatedly tells us to remember what God has done for us. What better way is there to remember the passover in Egypt than by having a yearly seder? What better way is there to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us than a Good Friday tenebrae service? Or a Maundy Thursday Communion? Arguably, by honoring these days (not worshiping them, by the way), we’re more deeply participating in the events these days commemorate. A contemporary illustration: We think more deeply about September 11 on September 11 than we do on other days. We encounter the cross differently on Good Friday than on, say, November 28.

  22. I don’t observe the church calendar year because I don’t want to. I don’t think God cares one way or the other, as long as you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If keeping the church calendar helps you do that, then knock yourself out. I personally don’t find it necessary, but I don’t think it displeases God if that’s how you achieve wholeness in your worship.

  23. This is a typical church debate. Lets argue about something that really doesn’t matter. Can you use the church calendar and lectionary in a faithful way? Of course. Can you use it poorly? Of course. Can you not use it at all and be faithful? Of course. It’s sort of like asking should I use all the tools in my tool box? I use it as it’s appropriate. In my Congregation we use it but are not captive to it. So we go off the lectionary and calendar when we feel moved to do so. And we bring it back in when it seems helpful (as we are in Advent and will in Lent/Easter). Like all things the risk is that we become more tied to the resources than to the One whom they are pointing towards. My suspicion is that if you were to ask Jesus he would say to do whatever will motivate you to stop debating useless things and begin to focus on the mission that called you into being.

    • John, my we’re cranky today. This post was not framed as a debate. I gave people the chance to say why they choose not to observe the Christian year. That’s all.

      Oh, and by the way, “the mission” can be as much of an idol as anything.

  24. I was not raised observing the liturgical calendar–my church didn’t do it and so it never became part of my tradition. As I have been a member of 2 other churches in my lifetime, neither of them were liturgical either, although my last church did do an Advent observance one year. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t believe in being a slave to anything. If someone finds it helpful, go for it. If you don’t, no big deal. Quite honestly for me, I feel like it would just be adding one more thing to my walk and I don’t want to be encumbered. Again, this is just my personal perspective. I understand others find it far from encumberng; for them it is liberating. Again, I think it’s more personal preference and what one finds leads them into the presence of God.