I’ll See Your Year and Raise You an Age

Bill Smith makes a weak (sorry) case for the church calendar:

There is small minority of Presbyterians who observe no Church Year as a matter of principle. They believe it would be sin so to do. Then there is the broader evangelicalism in the U.S. which has no scruples against the Church Year, but flies by the seat of its pants, guided by no more than preferences, feelings, and whims. These evangelicals in matters of the church year, as in so many matters, do what they please.

Then there is catholic Christianity which from ancient times spends the time from Advent to Trinity rehearsing, reliving, learning about, and celebrating who Jesus Christ is, what he has done for our salvation, and the fulness of the revelation of God that is found in him.

Most of Christianity in the world follows such such an annual and orderly calendar. Roman Catholicism. Orthodoxy. Anglicanism. Lutheranism. Methodism. Many of the continental Reformed. Not a few Presbyterians with British roots. Then there are the evangelicals of the sort Mr. Wax experienced in Romania who sort of follow such a calendar.

The most strict of the Presbyterians who roll out the canons and lay down a barrage of warning and condemnation at Christmas and Easter and most especially at the beginning of Lent can only conclude that the overwhelming majority of Christians are at best disobedient and unfaithful and at worst apostate and no Christians at all.

For my part I increasingly had the sense that Christianity must be more historically grounded and more connected with worldwide Christianity than I previously thought.

Forget the regulative principle. Say hello to Geerhardus Vos.

What does the Bible teach about time? Well, the six days of creation point to the importance of the week, a bedrock of the lunar calendar (that ladies know only too well).

Then you have the church calendar of the Israelites with all the holy days and sacrifices that took place year after year.

And then came Jesus by whom the apostles understood the difference between this age and the age to come. For that reason, when Peter writes about time to New Testament Christians, he doesn’t recommend a church calendar. He explains that we live in the end times:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV)

I for one cannot fathom how thinking of myself at different points in the life of Christ or in the time before the first advent helps me think about the last days. I also don’t see how a year-round system encourages Christians to think about this saeculum as the one between Christ’s advents. It’s also striking that Peter thinks eschatological (as opposed to annual) thinking nurtures holiness and godliness. (Can I get an “amen” from the obedience boys?)

So the objection to Bill isn’t that he’s no longer a good regulative principle Presbyterian. It’s that he’s substituted an inferior way of thinking about our place in history with the cosmic one taught by Peter and Paul.

The liturgical calendar is your mind on the solar year. The interadvental age is your mind on Christ.

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28 thoughts on “I’ll See Your Year and Raise You an Age

  1. I’ll see your Vos and raise you a Hodge:

    “The Christian Sunday is an historical continuation of the Jewish Sabbath, only the day of the week changes, and runs back in absolutely unbroken continuity through the ages–through the ages before the Flood, through the years before the Fall–it and matrimony being the only monuments of the golden age of innocency. Each recurrent holy day stands to us, first, as a monument of the sovereignty of Jehovah as Creator, and secondly, as a monument of our redemption consummated in the resurrection of our Lord. Every Lord’s day when we celebrate the Holy Supper we repeat in a chain of unbroken continuity the memorial of his sacrificial death. And in the beautiful circle of the Christian year, Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, we repeat in a far longer chain of unbroken continuity the Christian sacrament of the Supper, looking back over a vista of nearly eighteen centuries and three-quarters to its institution, and also over a vista nearly twice as long, of nearly three thousand five hundred years, to the institution of the first Passover and the redemption of Israel from the bondage of Egypt.”

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  2. Dr. Hart, I’m not a stickler for the church calendar, but the regulative principle pertains to the elements of worship (preaching, prayer, sacraments, praise, etc.), not to the matter of occasions of worship. Using the regulative principle to oppose the church calendar is a misapplication of it (though a very common one among strict anti-church-year Presbyterians).

    Certainly the Christian Sabbath is the only “holy day of obligation” in this new covenant era, and any advocacy of the church year which would take our focus off of the week-in, week-out observance of the Sabbath, or which would claim that the days of the church calendar are likewise “holy days of obligation” equal to the Divinely-commanded Sabbath (and thus which would claim that believers who choose not to observe such days are sinning against the Lord), should be condemned.

    But if believers and churches choose, in Christian liberty and without binding the consciences of others, to set aside certain times during the year to remember and celebrate certain redemptive events in the life of our Lord and other occasions of redemptive significance, are they not free to do so, just so long as they don’t view such observances as “holy days of obligation” but rather as voluntary feast days?

    And are not strict anti-church-year believers who accuse (either explicitly or implicitly) their church-year-observing brethren of sinning against the Lord by such voluntary observances guilty of lording it over the consciences of others? If it is a sin to tell a fellow believer that he is sinning against God if he does not observe Good Friday (for example), would it not also be a sin to tell a fellow believer that he is not free to go to a “Good Friday” church service which focuses on the themes of Christ’s suffering and atonement? Or must the church only hold corporate worship services on the Lord’s Day only? (Too bad for Presbyterian and Reformed Churches with mid-week services or Reformation Day services.)

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  3. Geoff, maybe churches can observe those days. But what’s the point? So much of it is driven — in my observation — by cultural habits and expectations. If we had catechetical sermons, we’d get the birth of Christ, death, and resurrection every year. Plus, the Lording seems to go in the other direction. “You don’t do Easter — how parochial!”

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  4. Give me a Lutheran slave to the church year and lectionary any day over the evangelical/reformed minister grinding the same axe every Sunday but calling topical or catechetical preaching. Not that the Lutheran can’t grind the axe, but the exegesis is bound to be as tortured as yours of 2 Peter. Besides Romans 14 should settle it. Some people, even if you can’t understand it, find the church year as a fine way to honor the Lord. And others are free to be Puritans.

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  5. D.G. Hart: “Geoff, maybe churches can observe those days. But what’s the point? So much of it is driven — in my observation — by cultural habits and expectations. If we had catechetical sermons, we’d get the birth of Christ, death, and resurrection every year. Plus, the Lording seems to go in the other direction. “You don’t do Easter — how parochial!””

    GW: Like I said above, I’m not a stickler for the church calendar, though I’m not opposed to a modified church year which celebrates the “evangelical feast days,” as observed by the continental Reformed. Nor am I opposed to catechetical preaching (so long as it involves an exposition of Scripture and not merely of the catechism). I also agree that pro-church-year brethren can often be guilty of lording it over the consciences of their anti-church-year brethren. So we are largely on the same page.

    But the substance of my comment was that you claimed in your article that the church year is contrary to the regulative principle. I pointed out that this was a misunderstanding and misapplication of the regulative principle. Your response does not address that issue.

    I also made the point that lording it over the consciences of others can happen on both the pro-church-year and anti-church-year side. You seem to deny that anti-church-year brethren can be guilty of lording it over the consciences of their pro-church-year brethren. But I have a number of books in my library, and could easily point you to articles on the internet, where strict anti-church-year believers accuse Christians who choose to observe days in the church year of being guilty of serious sin, even using rhetoric such as “Christmas is a monument to idolatry!” Pro church year brethren may at times be guilty of viewing their anti-church-year brethren as strange or parochial, but which is worse when it comes to lording it over the consciences of others: Accusing others of being weirdos when such an accusation is not justified, or accusing others of being idolaters when such an accusation is not biblically-justified?

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  6. With all the baggage, opportunities for (and past history of) doing “holidays” badly, and the absence of such celebrations in the epistles — if not their outright condemnation — it’s hard for me to understand the attachment to “holidays” by the ostensibly Reformed. Even cartoon characters get it.

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  7. Geoff, what it says is “So the objection to Bill isn’t that he’s no longer a good regulative principle Presbyterian. It’s that he’s substituted an inferior way of thinking about our place in history with the cosmic one taught by Peter and Paul.”

    That doesn’t sound like an accusation of sin. It sounds like one outlook in the orbit of liberty dinging another for its inferior use of wisdom. Not sinful but inferior. It’s not unlike an advocate for weekly communion dinging the promoters of the Communion Season. Not sinful but misguided.

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  8. Geoff, as you might imagine, it’s not hard for me to imagine that Christians accuse Christians of sin.

    I believe, though, that Bill Smith was the one that said Old School Presbyterians opposed the calendar on RPW grounds. That’s why I invoked Pauline eschatology.

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  9. Part of the contents of Scofflaw’s link:

    Let us consider what our Lord has to say on the matter. Was it not Saul’s intention to worship God when he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, along with the best spoils and cattle? He says as much: ‘I want to worship God.’ Saul’s tongue was full of devotion and good intention. but what was the response he received? ‘You soothsayer! You heretic! You apostate! You claim to be honoring God, but God rejects you and disavows all that you have done.’ Consequently, the same is true of our actions. For no day is superior to another. It matters not whether we recall our Lord’s nativity on a Wednesday, Thursday, or some other day. But when we insist on establishing a service of worship based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol, though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity. Therefore, let us pay attention to what Micah is saying here, that God must not only strip away things that are bad in themselves, but must also eliminate anything that might foster superstition. Once we have understood that, we will no longer find it strange that Noel is not being observed today, but that on Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and recite the story of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all those who barely know Jesus Christ, or that we must be subject to him, and that God removes all those impediments that prevent us from coming to him, these folk, I say, will at best grit their teeth. They came here in anticipation of celebrating a wrong intention, but will leave with it wholly unfulfilled.

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  10. Scofflaw: “For no day is superior to another. It matters not whether we recall our Lord’s nativity on a Wednesday, Thursday, or some other day. But when we insist on establishing a service of worship based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol, though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity.”

    GW: Which proves my point above, that there are anti-church-year brethren who condemn their church-year-observant brethren of blasphemy and idolatry. I.E., who accuse their brethren of sin.

    But if it is a matter of indifference what day we recall our Lord’s nativity (to use the example given), is it not also a matter of indifference if a church chooses to set aside a particular day (in this case, December 25) as a voluntary, non-binding celebration of the birth of Christ?

    As long as a church session does not treat such a day as a “holy day of obligation” of equal standing to the weekly Sabbath nor require members to attend such special voluntary services of worship, in what way would such a voluntary observance be sin, or lord it over the consciences of believers who choose not to observe it?

    Indeed, what right before Almighty God does Scofflaw have in declaring it to be sin without a clear “thus saith the Lord”? Is that not the height of spiritual arrogance, a crass legalism, and a lording it over the consciences of fellow believers who are edified by such voluntary occasions of worship celebrated in gospel liberty, to accuse such brethren of blasphemy and idolatry (and thus to seek to impose a sense of guilt upon their consciences) for actions which are not, in fact, blasphemous or idolatrous?

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  11. One more example of an anti-church-year advocate lording it over the consciences of others: If memory serves me correctly, I recall once reading something written by an anti-church-year polemicist wherein the author basically asserted that the regulative principle REQUIRES pastors NOT to preach on Christ’s resurrection on “Easter” Sunday, NOT to preach on Christ’s birth on or around the time of December 25, etc. How is this not burdening the conscience with extra-biblical rules (and thus, in effect, an adding to the requirements of the Word of God)?

    I guess in the minds of some a preacher is guilty of lording it over the consciences of his congregants if he “forces” them to sit through a sermon on the resurrection on the occasion of “Easter” Sunday, but that same preacher if perfectly free to force his congregants to endure a five to ten year series of expository, verse-by-verse sermons through the Book of Romans in the name of the “lectio continua”, and all without being guilty of lording it over his congregants.

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  12. Geoff, many wise old school presbys preach on the resurrection on “Easter” and on the incarnation in December without making a big deal out of it. I’m just happy not to be sung at loudly and badly by some cantata-wielding choir.

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  13. We also sing Xmas hymns in the middle of the summer. I’d prefer (virtue signalling alert) only psalms and scripture songs of course.

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  14. Those poor conscience bound early Christians who continually devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, worship (Acts2:42). Oh wait- together with gladness and sincerity, they were in awe and day by day together in the temple, with one mind, they desired to praise God together

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  15. Geoff, I haven’t read through all your responses nor followed this discussion closely, but it doesn’t seem these are equal opportunities, voluntary and holy days of obligation-Lord’s day. The Lord’s day is prescribed, other days are not. Plus, Paul seems to have a concern with reverting back to days and seasons of observance as at least a potential return to type and shadow and thus at least an indirect repudiation of the reality of the NC and/or Jesus Christ. Again, I haven’t kept up, and maybe all these objections have been roundly refuted. Finally, how do you call the assembly have word and maybe even sacrament and NOT wield religious authority and exercise the keys to the kingdom and therefore compel consciences? Really does SEEM to be one of those legitimate slippery slope opportunities. I guess to sum it up, these aren’t equal opportunities on the religious observance scales.

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  16. Sean: “The Lord’s day is prescribed, other days are not. Plus, Paul seems to have a concern with reverting back to days and seasons of observance as at least a potential return to type and shadow and thus at least an indirect repudiation of the reality of the NC and/or Jesus Christ.”

    GW: Agreed that the Lord’s Day is prescribed and other days are not. As I’ve stated above, I also believe that it is wrong to impose the days of the church calendar as “holy days of obligation” binding upon the Christian conscience, and I think that belivers who choose not to observe such days should have full liberty in this matter and not be looked down upon as weird or parochial by their church-year-observing brethren.

    However, the fact that days other than the Lord’s Day are not Divinely-prescribed does not thereby mean that the church has no liberty to offer congregants voluntary, non-binding opportunities to recognize and celebrate important events in the life of our Lord or in redemptive history (i.e., the traditional church calendar).

    You are also correct that Paul expresses concern about a return to the observance of days, seasons, years, etc. in Galatians 4:10-11. However, in the context of that passage Paul was addressing the matter of old covenant observances in particular (which, by the way, had been Divinely-obligatory upon God’s people under that shadowy, pre-Advent administration) by new covenant believers (the Galatian Christians), who seemed to be toying with the notion that such observances somehow contributed to their justification before God. He was not addressing non-binding, voluntary celebrations that believers could take or leave according to their own exercise of Christian liberty.

    Finally, I do not deny that throughout church history many churches have indeed turned the church calendar into a legalistic yoke around the necks of believers, even turning some of its observances more or less into “holy days of obligation” rather than voluntary, non-binding occasions for Christian worship and edification. But the abuse of a thing does not of itself negate its legitimate use, especially if that thing belongs to the category of adiaphora (things indifferent) and thus the realm of Christian liberty.

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  17. chortlesfweakly: “Geoff, many wise old school presbys preach on the resurrection on “Easter” and on the incarnation in December without making a big deal out of it. I’m just happy not to be sung at loudly and badly by some cantata-wielding choir.”

    GW: That is basically the practice in my church. No “cantata-wielding choirs” or Advent candles or Romish smells-n-bells. Just a basic regulative principle, Word-based service focusing on biblical themes that fit the season (thus sermons related to the Incarnation and Advent of Christ in December, sermons on Christ’s resurrection on “Easter” Sunday). And while I enjoy highlighting and preaching on these important biblical themes at those times, I have also been known to preach on such truths at other times of the year as well. Like I said, I’m not a stickler for the church calendar as such.

    Not to be a crass pragmatist, but I think the reason “many wise old school presbys” do what you describe above is because it is practical. First of all, churches tend to get additional visitors during “Christmas” and “Easter” time. These occasions provide a wonderful evangelistic opportunity to challenge inquirers and nominal (Christmas & Easter) Christians with the gospel. If the non-churched or under-churched visit our churches around the time of Christmas expecting to experience a Christmas-themed service but hear nothing about the birth of Christ, they are likely to be confused, perhaps even weirded-out. It could be a potential hindrance to them hearing the gospel.

    I think another reason it is wise to do this is for the sake of weaker brethren from non-Reformed backgrounds who still have a tendency to view these observances as “holy days of obligation” rather than as matters of Christian liberty. While we need to seek to educate the consciences of believers so that their consciences will be freed from unbiblical rules, we also want to be careful not to unnecessarily assault the consciences of weaker brethren. We see this basic approach used by Paul in Romans 14.

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  18. Geoff, “the fact that days other than the Lord’s Day are not Divinely-prescribed does not thereby mean that the church has no liberty to offer congregants voluntary, non-binding opportunities to recognize and celebrate important events in the life of our Lord or in redemptive history (i.e., the traditional church calendar).”

    Don’t church officers have an obligation to help believers be wise? Is it wise to follow a calendar that was derived from a historical precedent that identified the church with western culture? I could ask other questions. But I don’t see Paul advocating Christians following the temple calendar.

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  19. Geoff, what are non-binding days of observance where the assembly is invited to attend and word and sacrament are offered. It’s not a trick. I don’t know what that is. And maybe the abuse of something doesn’t negate it’s legitimacy, but, again, what is this legitimate non-binding observance?

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  20. Why worry about a linear view of history and the second coming of Jesus Christ when you can right now (any Sunday you have an ordained minister) climb up to heaven in the sacrament and right here and now already (glory!) eat Jesus,while you are still living and while Jesus is still living while you eat Jesus?

    Another question. If you could eat Jesus before Jesus died and while Jesus was still handing out the means of grace, why couldn’t you already eat Jesus before “he instituted the sacrament”?

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/2014/09/twice-more-to-john-6-an-analysis-of-the-sacramental-interpretation/

    “Could John chapter 6 have confronted a similar problem—Christians denying the Son of God in the flesh by abstaining from the Lord’s Supper and then leaving?” Did Jesus feed the 5000 and address the Jews’ unbelief in rather harsh words to speak to later Christians about avoiding communion? Luther’s chronological argument (that the Supper was not yet instituted) assumed that John 6 was RELIABLE HISTORY in every sense. Luther preached extensively and positively on John 6. ….Luther, when he makes his “either-or” argument about John 6 being sacramental, is accused of being “purely Zwinglian.” This disrespect of Luther is shameful. Luther was not backed into a corner by this text, rather his exegetical position on John 6 was firmly fixed from 1520 [52; The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, LW 36:19]. Luther preached many sermons on John 6 over decades.

    “In a different situation Luther may have allowed his intuition to follow his instincts to develop a eucharistic interpretation of John 6. His situation did not allow him this luxury. Ours does.”

    John Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13)—This Sinai covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, OR perished for ever, BUT MOT BY VIRTUE OF THIS SINAI COVENANT. It was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” It directed them to the new covenant promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what the Sinai covenant had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it.…No sinner was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and Christ is the mediator of the new covenant…

    I’ll see Jesus when He comes to earth again
    without water or clergy, see Him
    without Christian parents, see Him
    now by faith alone, but then here on this earth

    Job 19: 25 My living Redeemer will stand on the dust at last.
    26 Even after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet I will see God in my flesh.
    27 I will see Him myself;
    my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger.

    Acts 15 Some came down from Judea and began to teach—“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!” … 9 God made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith….11 we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

    Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they turn from the dominion of Satan to God, in order to receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith

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  21. Waldron–“The introduction of extra-biblical practices into worship inevitably tends to nullify and undermine God’s appointed worship. In the same way the introduction of extra-biblical functions into the church inevitably tends to nullify and undermine God’s appointed tasks. If the temple of God feels a need to function as a political party or as a general educational institution, there will be an inevitable tendency to forget its unique and exalted identity as the temple of God.”

    http://reformedbaptistmn.org/welcome/the-regulative-principle-of-the-church-by-samuel-waldron/

    from a Campbellite legalist—-“If a church plans a common meal and provides the facility for the event, it is engaging in a work not authorized by the New Testament. This is what makes such an event sinful. The issue is not eating in the church building. The issue is doing a work that is unscriptural. The work of the church is spiritual, not social and there is no authority for the church to plan and facilitate a common meal. Providing common meals is not a work of the church but a work of individual Christians.”

    “Welcome visitors—no coffee in the sanctuary”

    I Corinthians 11: 29 For whoever eats and drinks without RECOGNIZING THE BODY, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    “When the apostle Paul is speaking of Christ’s physical body, he pairs body and blood, bread and wine. The body is the congregation gathered”

    “We believe that the body and blood of Christ are truly present in the sacrament. We want this unity to be real and genuine, not just a superficial agreement. The oneness expressed in receiving the Sacrament must not be contrived.”

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