The Church calendar/liturgical year? Yay or nay?
Yay, actually. The structure it provides is a good thing to have.
True story: having started in a Pentecostal church, where I came to faith, the first time I can recall marking Pentecost Sunday, was in an Anglican church. I still find that funny.
Yea and yay
As you likely know, the roots of the church calendar run all the way back to the earliest records of the Church, and before that into the OT calendar of feasts and sabbaths enshrined in the Law. God seems to have liked annual observances, monthly observances, weekly observances, morning and evening observances - even sabbaths of sabbaths.
The Church calendar took its “shape” from the birth, ministry, passion, and resurrection of our Lord, recapitulating the outline of his earthly ministry every year. Early on, the church year began on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (December 25), with a penitential season - calling to mind the OT prophecies of the coming Messiah, and the ministry of John the Baptist who was the voice crying in the wilderness.
Christmas season proper began after sundown on December 24 (remember, the Hebrew day begins at sundown!), and ran for 12 days - to the Feast of the Epiphany (hence, the 12 days of Christmastide). Epiphanytide runs for several seeks up until Ash Wednesday, which commences Lent, a commemoration of our Lord’s testing in the wilderness prior to his ministry.
Following hard on Lent is Palm Sunday and Passion Week, followed by the Feast f the Resurrection and the 50 days of Eastertide, concluding with Pentecost Sunday - the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The following Sunday (Whitsunday) is also known as Trinity Sunday, confessing our faith in the Triune God. Following that is a long season known as Trinitytide (what else?).
Coupled with these annual cycles of commemorations of the high points of our Lord’s ministry, a “Bible reading plan” evolved (also known as a lectionary), which emerged in various places until it was standardized in the Roman, and later some of the Protestant Churches.These readings (from the OT, Epistles, and Gospels), came to be used by pastors as preaching programs. Once standardized, when Christians heard these Scriptures reading during the worship services, they knew that their brethren around the world (possibly) were hearing the same Scriptures, and sermons derived from them, on that same Sunday. The Church calendar and the preaching arising from it became a unifying feature of Christian worship.
Most of what I summarized above would have seemed alien to the Baptists who originally evangelized me. Like Ross Clark above, it took me many decades before I learned that between John the Baptist and my Grandmother there were real Christians, and that who they are and how they worshiped partakes of what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead.” Their numbers overwhelm the teensie band of Baptists who evangelized me sixty-five years ago.
Nay. The Lord’s day gathering is sufficient.
WCF 21.1: …But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
See also: WLC questions 107-110.
Does the church have the responsibility to teach the scriptures? Obviously the answer is yes.
Can the church teach the entire narrative of scripture all on one Sunday? No
Therefore the Church that has the responsibility to teach all of scripture also must have the authority then to choose what material it may teach, sing about, or give thanks to God at any particular time.
That is, it’s perfectly within the Church’s authority to select a certain biblical theme to teach on certain Sundays. It may also choose to meet on other days for additional teaching.
The WCF also says that the church may have days of solemn fasting or joyful thanksgiving.
Therefore if the Church can call a day of fasting or of thanksgiving and has the authority to choose when and what material it will teach about, sing about, and praise God about, how could the church be forbidden from teaching about and rejoicing in the birth of Jesus at a time of its choosing? Why would it suddenly be forbidden from even doing this at the same time each year?
I get being opposed to the idea that you are more holy at certain times of the year and the other ways that Roman Catholicism has a system of merit tied in with Holy Days. I oppose that kind of legalism and imposition on the liberty of conscience.
But I also oppose the same kind of imposition on the liberty of the church which forbids the legitimate and biblical use of authority by the church to set aside days of thanksgiving and to choose its teaching material in an orderly fashion. Forbidding Christmas is as legalistic and as built on a tradition as a Roman abuse of it is.
Furthermore, I would argue that what is coined holidays are inevitable in the church or in society. Even those opposed to Christmas often have Reformation Day or Thanksgiving.
You will have a calendar. It’s just a matter of which one and what will be its foundation. Even those opposed to all Holidays still use a church calendar in which they divide history between BC (BCE) and AD (CE).
… Like Ross Clark above, it took me many decades before I learned that between John the Baptist and my Grandmother there were real Christians, and that who they are and how they worshiped partakes of what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead.”
Absolutely. In both the Baptist and the Pentecostal traditions, there is almost no appreciation of church history apart from their own.
Yep. You can count on them not mentioning Jesus birth in December.
I wonder how many of today’s strict men reject Christmas and Easter observances?
As a non-Anglican, I have grown to greatly appreciate much of the Prayer Book tradition. Including most of the Protestant church calendar. If we can better understand and appreciate God & Christ’s work through yearly teaching on the Annunciation, Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, etc., why not do so?
In addition to “Reformation Day,” let us not forget the martyrs of St Bart’s (Aug. 24) or the deaths of Ridley & Latimer (Oct. 16)!
The whole enchilada was too big for me, but much of the liturgical calendar is GREATLY HELPFUL.
We’ve been at a church that follows about 20 events in the church year, for about twelve years. I have found it beneficial. I find it easier to think about the complete arc of God’s salvation plan and all of Jesus’ life and his reign after His resurrection. The pensive periods increase the difficulty of escaping notice of my personal sin, and are tied to forgiveness. I and my family cover more of the Bible even when I’m struggling with a diligent reading plan. All of this is technically possible for a pastor and a congregation to achieve with 52 identical Sundays, but is rare to see and almost never over a hundred years or more in the same church.
The problem when you take a church calendar approach, you will end up giving up on expository preaching. How can you preach through a book regularly when you will be going into different seasons of the church? Unless you want to ditch expository preaching, you are going to have a hard time implementing church calendar into your service. And expository preaching is worth fighting for.
Maybe Augustine and Chrysostom pulled off the marriage of church calendar and expository preaching, but I don’t know anyone else who’s doing that today. Please enlighten me if I am wrong.
There’s two sorts of “light” I could shine on your question.
First, expository preaching is a term that would apply to any passage of Scripture set before the congregation. It names how preaching emerges from a passage, viz. by expounding what the original author was saying, applying it to the local/contemporary audience.
Yes, entire books may be preached in an expository fashion, but so can a single paragraph from one of the gospels, a single chapter from an OT book, a single psalm, even a single verse (e.g. one of the Ten Commandments), and so forth.)
I have run across the use of the term “expository preaching” to name the exposition of entire books of the Bible from the pulpit, invariably via sermons one after the other over many Sundays. Those sermons may indeed be expository, but not because they all come from a single book of the Bible, treated serially over many Sundays.
Second, pastorates which use the Sunday pulpit in this fashion - that is, expounding Scripture - are using the pulpit for “double duty” so to speak. There is (we hope) a bona fide pastoral purpose in the sermons, but they are also serving a Christian education purpose - sometimes the only one that reaches most of the congregation.
My early spiritual formation took place in the so-called “Bible Churches,” and the Sunday meeting amounted to little more than a lecture expounding a passage of Scripture, with a couple of hymns tossed in at the beginning and one more at the end. In one congregation, there were no pews - only student desks!
I learned a lot of Bible and theology in those circles. But, congregational worship was just about the last thing that ever happened!
Seems to me you can keep a church calendar and preach expositionally verse by verse through a book. I don’t see how they are mutually exclusive unless you are saying that one must only preach from certain texts at certain times. If you must draw your preaching from the lectionary than sure that might be a problem.
You’re absolutely right Fr. Bill. I should clarify that when I said expository preaching, I meant preaching through a whole book of the Bible continuously. I have consulted a lectionary before when I needed to pick ‘another’ passage for preaching for Christmas/ Easter. I noticed that passages for preaching were organized around whatever the theme of the Lord’s Day happened to be (Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, etc.), and that this was opposite of what is called “lectio continua” (I got this from RC Sproul), where you preached through the whole books of the Bible. Something like what he and many other Protestant preachers do today.
I also noticed that Chrysostom and Augustine practiced ‘lectio continua’ so I don’t know how they managed that while following the church calendar.
How do you observe Pentecost if you’re preaching through Judges and your passage for that Sunday happens to be Judges 19?
Please excuse my vast ignorance (this is only the result of a quick Google search), but could this possibly be how Augustine managed it:
[Augustine] regularly preached twice a week, often on several consecutive days, and sometimes twice in the one day.
This is my biggest concern about being snobbish about rejection of liturgical holidays. We begin to define ourselves by what we condemn, to such an extent that we carefully avoid talking about certain truths that should make our souls sing.
The whole of the Old Testament, and the whole of creation longed for and anticipated the advent of the Christ. Yet because we reject Christmas, we avoid contemplating the advent. It’s tragic.
Mark, you make the point I was thinking to make, namely the exposure of early Church fathers to their flocks appears to be greater than what passes for exposure to a pastor today.
When do Christians see their pastor? Any pastor in their congregation (including elders, mentors, etc.)? Once a week, if they’re faithful to gather with the rest of the flock on Sunday.
And for how long? Maybe 40 to 50 minutes if that pastor is particularly long-winded and the order of service is devoted almost exclusively to what he is preaching.
And pastors think that their pulpit ministry is going to fulfill their pastoral goals of basic discipleship (elementary Bible knowledge, elementary theology, elementary spiritual disciplines such as prayer). It ain’t gonna happen, folks!
I applaud those Bible Church leaders who accomplished my initial spiritual formation. The preaching/teaching was aggressively expository (long sermons). It was provided in Sunday school, Sunday “worship” service, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and home Bible studies were ongoing many other evenings of the week.
One of the largest student organizations at Texas Tech University during the early 70s was aptly named “The Friday Night Tape Club.” They met in the Student Union - many hundreds of them, young men and women, to listen to a dense lecture on Bible or theology from many pastors whose ministries focused on expository preaching. The Club grew so large that one year they successfully campaigned to elect the Homecoming Queen. What a hoot at half-time that year, to hear the booming voice of the announcer proclaiming the Friday Night Tape Club as that y ear’s sponsor for the newly elected Homecoming Queen!
Well, that was the early 70s in West Texas. A different universe from today. So also is the world of Augustine, and especially Chrysostom in Byzantium. I’ve read somewhere that fishmongers in the market in those days could be found arguing the finer points of the procession of the Holy Spirit. Who among your congregation even knows what that argument even means?
A final bit of testimony - it is possible, I’ve done it, to preach expositorily using the passages assigned in a three-year lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary appoints a Psalm (sometimes two or three), an OT passage, a passage from the Epistles, and a passage from one of the Gospels. If a pastor cannot generate an expository sermon from that mass of material, he’s practicing the wrong vocation.
And, I’m happy to say, in no sermon I’ve every preached from that lectionary (over 16 years), did I come close to exhausting the themes, doctrine, and applications that arise from any of the passages I focused on.