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Putting the X Back in Xmas

How to make “Jesus the Reason for the Season” – that is the dilemma facing evangelical Protestants. Some, the socially militant ones, insist that Christmas is a holiday by divine right and fight for the public nativity scene in town square, hoping to hide its otherwise nakedness. The evangelistic evangelicals (perhaps a redundancy) hope to use the holiday to reach the lost, taking advantage of banners, plays, or even worship to proclaim the gospel to those nominal Christians who go to church during the holy month of December. But rarely have evangelicals owned up to the commercial nature of modern Christmas celebrations and their part in its commodification. In his recent book, Selling God, R. Laurence Moore shows how the evangelical Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, transformed his downtown Philadelphia department store into a church during Christmas, complete with the largest pipe organ in the world (!!), programs of Christmas carols, and other Christian symbols. According to Leigh Eric Schmidt, whose Consumer Rites parallels Moore’s book on religious consumerism, the nativity scene in Wanamaker’s Grand Court “remained the center-piece” of the store’s Christmas Cathedral, “often spotlighted with a beam of light that looked as if it had come shining down from the heavens.” According to Schmidt, the interplay between the divine gift of God’s only begotten son and the gifts exchanged at Christmas energized Wanamaker’s displays. “Christmas gifts provided a tangible vehicle for connecting with the sacred drama.”

THE PROBLEM WITH ALL evangelical approaches to Christmas, from the crassly commercial to the devoutly evangelistic, is that of begging the question. Is Christ’s birth really about “Christmas cheer,” whether the secular variety of spiked eggnog, jingle bells, and jolly Saint Nick, or the seemingly more dignified joy that comes from gratitude to God for sending his Son to redeem the lost? In other words, should the incarnation make us glad or humble? Any answer to this question should, of course, keep in mind the less sentimental aspects of Christ’s birth, the manger in the stable and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.

A better reason for Christmas gloom comes from the Bible’s teaching about the humiliation of the second person of the Trinity in the incarnation. Children reared on the Westminster Shorter Catechism are taught to conceive of Christ’s earthly ministry under the rubric of his humiliation, as distinct from his exaltation. Question 27 reads, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” Answer: “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” What is important to notice is that the birth and death of Christ, and everything in between, compose a single act of God in which he humbled himself by being subject to his own creation in the most humiliating fashion. So what is said about the incarnation applies similarly to the crucifixion, the former being initial, and the latter the culmination of Christ’s suffering.

SINCE BIRTH AND BURIAL ARE part of Christ’s humiliation, they should nurture a similar response from us as Paul says in Phillipians 2. Unfortunately the piety of Christmas is insensitive to this teaching as revealed by the spirit and traditions of the holiday. So instead of celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas, the church should look to a more appropriate form of celebration – the regular receiving of the Lord’s Supper, It is the proper alternative to Christmas cheer, consumerism and yuletide indulgence.

INSTEAD OF LINKING THE incarnation to fictional tales about Santa and his elves, the Lord’s Supper unites Christ to real events in the history of Israel, filled with redemptive significance, like the Passover. And rather than forcing new and irrelevant significance on to the narrative to achieve a new market-centered gospel of trade and consumption, the Lord’s Supper explains the true significance of Christ’s coming, namely, to be the sacrifice for the propitiation of God’s wrath. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper produces a reverence and solemnity appropriate for something as awful as the incarnation. Instead of this being a time of gorging and giggling, the Supper’s small portions nurture self-examination, repentance, and faith. One last thing – an important one for Presbyterians and Reformed – the Lord’s Supper is biblically prescribed whereas Christmas is not. As J. Gresham Machen wrote,

the Bible makes no definite provision for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, but provides the most definite and solemn way for the commemoration of his death. . . . Indeed that commemoration of the death of Christ was definitely provided for by Jesus himself. “This cup is the New Testament in my blood,” said Jesus: “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” In those words of institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus carefully provided that His church should commemorate His death.

Evangelicals used to cry, “Back to Jesus.” Maybe its time they did by taking up the cross and giving up the manger.

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At Least It Makes You a Curmudgeon

Presbyterianism, that is.

Bill Smith a good on-line friend is kicking up a little dust of late against Reformed Protestantism or Presbyterianism and maybe a tad triumphal about his own communion (Reformed Episcopal Church) which, the last I checked, was where you still needed to kneel in order to receive grape juice – ba dop bop.

It’s time for pushback.

First, he starts with a legitimate complaint about Presbyterian worship and blames the regulative principle:

Across the PCA you can find strict regulative principle worship (few), traditional worship, contemporary worship, black worship, near charismatic worship, blues worship, revivalistic worship complete with the invitation system, gospel-driven worship, and all sorts of blended worship. You can find ministers leading worship in black Geneva gowns, suits with white shirts and ties, blazers and open collar shirts, polo shirts and sandals, khakis or jeans and sports shirts tucked in or out standing behind pulpits, sitting on stools, walking across and an empty stage. You can find pulpits, baptismal fonts, and communion tables prominently displayed, or entirely hidden. You can sing Psalms and historic hymns, gospel hymns, praise and worship songs, accompanied by nothing, organs, pianos, orchestras, acoustic guitars, and rock bands. Depending on your worship principles, preferences, and personality, you can find the worship in a PCA church comfortable, compatible, challenging, relevant, irrelevant, or offensive.

All of this is true. But you can’t fault the regulative principle which only identifies the elements (as opposed to circumstances and forms) of worship. Those are word, sacrament, prayer (song), and offering (never forget to collect the offering). The RPW does not guarantee uniformity in congregations. It should exclude silliness and frivolity. But if you have officers who are willing to tart worship up to make it relevant, convincing them of the RPW won’t solve anything.

Conversely, rule by one (episcopacy) is fairly effective in generating liturgical conformity. But then there’s Rome. Doh!

Second, he moves to the tragic death of Iain and the allegations swirling around it to argue that Presbyterian government doesn’t work very well. I actually wish Bill had not gone here. It’s still fresh and details are uncertain. But there he went. And his point is that harsh forms of discipline is what Presbyterians are good at:

it also set me thinking again, as I often have, about the way discipline of ministers was handled in my former connection. And it impresses me that it was handled in the way a particular kind of father might deal with his son. The son took the family car out on a Friday night without permission. The father becomes aware of what the son did because (1) the son confessed it, (2) someone who witnessed the son with the family car told the father, or (3) the father himself discovered it.

What does this particular type of father do? (1) He takes away the son’s keys and intends to return them (a) never or (b) after observing his son’s repentance for a long time. (2) He beats the hell out of the son. (3) He requires the son to confess his disobedience and avow his repentance at a council of the whole family.

Now the father may cry. He may even cry with the leaders of his church. He may pour out his heart to God about how he has gone wrong in the bringing up of his son. He may ask others to pray for him and his son. He may tell his son he loves him and that his heart is broken. Still, he takes the keys away forever or an indeterminate time. Still he beats the hell out of the kid. Still he requires the son to humiliate himself before his family.

Does Bill think that the threat of draconian measures were what drove pastor Campbell? Perhaps, but the analogy of a son taking out dad’s car without permission is not necessarily on the same order of a man who has taken vows to a wife and — wait for it — a church (can we get a little high church Reformed Episcopalianism here?). And what is Father Bill going to say to the wife of a man who has cheated on her or abused her? Has Bill Smith had to face down Valerie Hobbs?

Finally, Bill goes all in and defends Lent against its Reformed Protestant critics (“war”? On-line?). He notes that Banner of Truth once had to rearrange a conference because the Dutch Calvinist participants needed to hold Ascension services. He concludes:

Those who object to Ash Wednesday and Lent on principial grounds should recognize that that what they object to on principial grounds is the Christian year. For those who do not reject the Christian year, but allow for the observance of some parts of it, the issue of Lent is one of preference and discretion.

No problem. I’ve been arguing against the church calendar for years. The inter-advental liturgical calendar is 52 Sundays a year.

But at least, Bill still has a Presbyterian attitude.

Return of the Bible Thumper

Bill Smith tries to pull the church calendar out of the solar year:

Does Dr. Hart really think that the solar year and the interadvental age are at odds with one another? Does not the interadvental age consist of some finite number of solar years? Does living in this interadvental age mean not recalling the works of Christ by which the corner of history was turned and we entered the last age? And how is focusing one’s mind on the redemptive works of Christ by following the Christian year contrary to setting one’s mind on Christ?

Well, what does the Bible say?

Jesus told us how to remember him, right?

18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22)

Isn’t it enough to remember Christ weekly in Word and Sacrament?

I seem to recall Paul also saying something about where we should direct our thoughts. I remember. It’s about Christ in heaven not Christ on earth.

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is youra life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3)

Passages like these may not be slam dunks, but can’t the church-calendar people at least interact with scriptural injunctions about remembering and thinking, or is it the case when the church calendar comes in the Bible goes out?

Here’s the thing: when I think of my beloved parents, I have lots of memories to which I might turn. My mother behind the driver’s wheel, my father rubbing my cherub face on his two-days of stubble while he recovered from surgery, my parents’ singing duets to enraptured cousins, aunts, and uncles during summer vacations (yikes!). I also sometimes think of what their intermediate state might involve (and I know it doesn’t involve looking “down” at me or hearing my prayer requests).

But my parents aren’t Jesus. Duh. How I think about my Lord is on a different order of importance. And get this — the Bible gives some instruction about how I should remember and think about Jesus. Replaying his life and participating in it (Lent) or thinking that I’m preparing for the savior’s birth (Advent) don’t make sense.

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.

When Easter Wasn’t

Now that Christians are polishing off the chocolate cross remains and stripping lilies arrangements of their liturgical ribbons for weekday household decor, they may want to remember how recent the Protestant observance of Easter is. Eric Leigh Schmidt’s Consumer Rites helps:

Easter, even more than Christmas, remained under a Puritan and evangelical cloud in the antebellum United States. Though various denominations preserved the holiday — most prominently Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians — their celebrations were, until the middle of the century, local, parochial, and disparate. The festival only became a nearly ubiquitous cultural event in the decades after 1860 as low-church Protestant resistance or indifference gave way to approbation and as Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and new-immigrant observances became ever more prominent. Middle-class Victorians, as fascinated as ever with the romantic recovery of fading holiday traditions and the cultivation of new home-centered festivities, discovered lush possibilities in this spring rite. . . .

In an article on Easter published in 1863, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine suggested the growing embrace of the feast in American culture. “It is one of the obvious marks of our American religion,” the article related, “that we are noticing more habitually and affectionately the ancient days and seasons of the Christian Church.” Easter, following Christmas’s rising popularity, showed “unmistakable signs that it is fast gaining upon the religious affection and public regard of our people.” “We have carefully noted the gradual increase of observance of the day,” the journal continued, “and can remember when it was a somewhat memorable thing for a minister, not Catholic or Episcopal, to preach an Easter sermon.” What the magazine found most revealing of “this new love for Easter,” however, was the increasing use of elaborate floral decorations for the festival. “Easter flowers are making their way into church of all persuasions,” the magazine applauded. “One of our chief Presbyterian churches near by decked its communion-table and pulpit with flowers for the third time this Easter season.” . . .

In lauding Easter flowers, the Harper’s piece was celebrating the expanding art of church decoration. As a liturgical movement, this art bloomed in England and the United States in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. An outgrowth of the ritualist or Catholic turn within Anglican and Episcopalian circles, the new forms of church decoration meshed with the Gothic revival in Victorian church architecture and ornament. (195, 196)

It took another thirty years for candy makers to catch up with the spirit of the times: “In the 1880s and 1890s the material forms of the modern Easter — chocolate rabbits, mass-produced eggs, greeting cards, baskets, toy chicks, and the like — settled snugly into place as fixtures of the holiday” (234)

The Liturgical Calendar Jesus Founded

Maureen Mullarkey confirms Puritans’ objections (via Rorate Caeli):

It is easy to forget that Christmas as we know it is something of a latecomer. It was not celebrated in the early Church. Christians in the first two or three centuries understood themselves to be an Easter people, persecuted inheritors of the promise of the Resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the heartsblood of the faith. Within a community marked for martyrdom, it was the death date that earned commemoration. Death marked the day of initiation into eternal life, into the stunning mystery of Christ’s victory over death.

Absent the Resurrection, there was no counter to the words of Jeremiah: “Cursed be the day on which I was born.” Origen was emphatic on the matter:

Not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday.

Prior to the fourth century, there is scarce, if any, written evidence of an annual celebration of the Nativity on December 25th. Not until the fourth century—as newly unshackled Christianity spread northward from Jerusalem, north Africa, and the Mediterranean, into central and northern Europe—did popular custom ingest facets of those pre-Christian winter festivals that greeted its arrival.

Tomorrow begins another Round of Cherry-Picking

While Justin Taylor advises on how to prepare for Lent (can you believe it involves a book published by Crossway?), Carl Trueman reminds about the arbitrariness of tradition among evangelicals (high and low):

The question of catholicity is, of course, more complicated than merely adopting a practice or a doctrine because it has deep historical and ecclesiastical roots. After all, Anglicans in the tradition of Hooker have rejected a large number of the elements of ‘catholic’ tradition. Roman supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the cult of the saints all have good claims to deep catholic roots. So why have Anglicans abandoned these? Presumably they have done so because they do not think that scripture gives grounds for retaining them. Well, once the scripture principle is allowed as an arbiter of true catholicity, the best we can say about Lent is that it might be a harmless, if biblically unjustifiable, personal preference with some historical roots – which is a point I never denied.

Yet if this point about the scripture principle is unpersuasive to Anglicans, let me offer an observation on Anglicanism along the same lines of Merrick’s critique of the Reformed. Anglicanism’s own selective catholicity would seem to imply that Hookerites regard those same centuries, 1500-1700, as a kind of moment of purity for the decision as to which prior catholic traditions can stand and which should be cast aside.

This is not a new problem for Anglicans. It was a significant part of what moved John Henry Newman Romeward. Of course, if the brilliant Newman could not persuade his friend, John Keble, Hooker’s greatest editor, of the immense difficulties of Anglican claims to historic catholicity, it is unlikely that I will do so with Hooker’s present disciples. Yet Newman’s critique surely remains a major challenge to anyone who blithely assumes the straightforward catholicity of the Anglican tradition as embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer. It is actually much more theologically complicated and historically contested than that.

All of this is, however, largely beside the point of my original article. My main purpose was not to point to problems in the Anglican tradition’s claims to catholicity. It was to critique a recent cultural anomaly: The curious phenomenon of interest in Ash Wednesday and Lent among evangelicals whose ecclesiastical commitments do not theologically or historically sanction observance of such.

Funny how Trueman’s interlocutor assumes the historicity of Lent. But as with most subjects, history only makes certainties less certain:

The current state of research points to three possible conclusions. Because the evidence is slim and admitting of any number of plausible interpretations, one position has been to view Lent as a sui generis phenomenon—completely new and unique—that simply appears after the Council of Nicea. In this view, any attempt to hazard connections or lines of evolution from pre-Nicene fasting practices is too speculative to be of any value. Another, rather opposite, position has been to accept as historical the alleged Egyptian post-Theophany fast, to identify it as the dominant antecedent to Lent, and that Lent’s rapid dissemination throughout the Christian world is best explained in relation to the program of liturgical and theological alignment begun at Nicea. A final position, a sort of via media or middle road, acknowledges the incomplete and sometimes-contradictory nature of the evidence, but asserts nonetheless that Lent develops as an amalgamation of several early fasting customs and typologies of which the post-Theophany fast (if it existed) may have been but one of many. As with most issues in the study of the early history of the liturgy, certainty is elusive and we must be satisfied with possibilities. Judicet lector: let the reader decide.

Don’t mind me if I use the occasion to have an extra doughnut.

Why Not Great Friday?

I would not normally be thinking about Good Friday or a Easter ham if it were not for a much needed break from teaching over the next few days. The experience of a confessional Presbyterian over the next 72 hours must be like that of some non-Christians — grateful for the time off but not using the time the way pious intended, that is, by going to church or attending to devotional exercises. So I admit it is unbecoming to complain about the church calendar when I benefit (in an earthly way) from it.

I understand that the Reformed churches differed on the place of certain holy days in the corporate life of the church. For instance, the Second Helvetic Confession leaves room for Great Friday:

The Festivals of Christ and the Saints. Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. But we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints. Holy days have to do with the first Table of the Law and belong to God alone. (Ch. 24)

In contrast, the Confession of Faith is silent about holy days other than Sunday:

. . . in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (21.7)

However you come down on the Friday before the Lord’s Day associated by some Christians with Easter, I do wonder why we can refer to Awakenings as Great but not the day when Christ bore the guilt of the elect upon the cross. I understand that the goodness of Good Friday may be more than meets the eye. Editors at Slate found three reasons etymologically or historically for calling the day “good,” among them the following:

The third and final theory, the one supported by both the Oxford English Dictionary and every language expert I contacted, is that the name comes from an antiquated meaning of good. “The answer seems pretty clearly to be that it’s from good ‘holy,’ ” responded Jesse Sheidlower, the president of the American Dialect Society, when I put this question to him. Liberman agreed, noting that if you consider the other names for Good Friday—“Sacred Friday” in the Romance languages (Viernes Santo, e.g.), “Passion Friday” in Russian—“the OED’s explanation makes excellent sense.” The OED also notes that there was once Good Wednesday, the Wednesday before Easter, which these days is more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

Even so, why not great? We do throw around the word “great” a lot. Great Awakenings, Great Depression, Great European Migration, American Greatness. Some readers know my preference for Leo Ribuffo’s reduction of the American Awakenings to Pretty Good, and that is a useful reminder about the way we traffic in greatness and countenance immodesty. But why settle only for good when it comes to the day when some commemorate Christ’s death? Why not elevate the day to Pretty Good Friday?

What Kind of Witness Do Presbyterians Have Anymore?

Over at the Imaginative Conservative I ran across this intriguing tidbit of church history:

Did you know that Christmas celebrations were banned in Scotland until 1958? I certainly didn’t, not until my son started working on his sixth grade “Christmas around the World” report. I haven’t looked up what the English did in this regard (Scotland always has had a good deal of autonomy within Britain, and never stopped following its own legal code). But it seems the good Presbyterians of the established Church of Scotland (“the Kirk,” ironically enough for traditional conservatives) thought Christmas was a Catholic holiday, best stamped out with criminal penalties for unwholesome celebrations (pretty much anything outside of church), along with persistent tolling of bells to make sure everybody went to work on the day.

Bruce Frohnen, the author who uses this piece of trivia to introduce reasons for celebrating Christmas and Epiphany, goes on to say that times have changed and the old reasons for Presbyterians not celebrating Christmas have changed as well:

None of this is intended as a complaint against Presbyterians. In our secular age those of us who’ve “got religion” need to let bygones be bygones—especially when it comes to wrongs with their origins dating back a long way, and which aren’t really relevant to the character of people or religious practice today. What’s more, as they say, “at least they took us seriously.”

This is a curious line of reasoning since it suggests that those who take religion seriously (the “got religionists”) have no reason to take the old reasons for differences between Presbyterians and Roman Catholics seriously. But if the “got religion” crowd does believe religion to be important, then doesn’t that belief extend beyond a generic conservative Christianity doing battle with secularists and egalitarians? Doesn’t it lead all the way to what traditional Presbyterians and traditional Roman Catholics have believed traditionally about practices like the church calendar (redundancy intended)? This is not to say that beliefs change. Presbyterians (in the U.S. anyway) revised their confession in 1789 on the subject of the civil magistrate. Roman Catholics “developed” their doctrine of the church at Vatican II such that salvation now is possible outside the Roman Catholic Church. Still, despite changes and developments, what is a traditional Presbyterian to do who still objects to the “doctrines and commandments of men” implied in the liturgical calendar used by Rome, Moscow, and Canterbury (not to mention Dort)? Can confessional Presbyterians find a seat at the pro-religion, cultural conservative table if they bring up objections to other conservative faiths on the basis of their own conservative faith?

This is, by the way, an important example of why religion — at least conservative faith — is not glue that keeps cultural conservatives together that many scholars and journalists suppose. The religion of the culture warriors (in James Davison Hunter’s old categories) may bring them together, but it is more likely going to be some kind of ecumenical, broadly tolerant religion that stresses morality (the way the old liberal Protestants did), not one that tells Protestants they are in danger if they don’t fellowship with the Bishop of Rome or that tells Presbyterians they should not observe man-made holidays.

Either way, it is remarkable that even mainline Presbyterian churches like the Kirk as little as a half-century ago would not observe the liturgical calendar. Not even the Orthodox Presbyterian Church had that kind of tenacity — just look at the hymns devoted to the birth of the baby Jesus in the Trinity Hymnal.

But if you are thinking about holidays and wondering how to bring in the New Year with a good movie, the Harts recommend Hudsucker Proxy (1994), a Coen Brothers production that ranks right up there with Miller’s Crossing. Hudsucker is set at the end of 1958 — talk about harmonic convergence — the year that the Kirk started observing Christmas, and stars Tim Robbins and Paul Newman. We are planning on some sparkling shiraz to go with the popcorn and should be in bed by 10:30. Woot!