November 30, 2020

Church Year Spirituality: The Main Thing

By Chaplain Mike

For to me, to live is Christ (Phil 1:21)

And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. (Heb 12:1-2, NLT)

Joan Chittister calls following the Church Year, “the attempt to live the Jesus life over and over again all the years of our lives.” It can enable us to pursue what Michael Spencer called, “Jesus-shaped spirituality.”

In his book Mere Churchianity, Michael compared the evangelical church today to a pecan pie without pecans. We advertise that we’re the real deal, but look closely, and you may discover that Jesus has left the building.

What evangelicals in North America call Christianity is largely disconnected from Jesus as he appears in the four Gospels. I have argued for the past decade that American Christianity has evolved into a movement that Jesus would not recognize if he were to show up next Sunday.

…Like the ancient Hebrews, evangelicals are in the midst of a kind of exodus. It’s a mass Jesus defection, a sweeping Jesus Disconnect that is sending former evangelicals to the ranks of nonbelief or toward other Christian options such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

…It’s not that evangelicals preach about Muhammad or Buddha or Krishna. It’s more that they are interested in so many other things, like gays, the culture war, the coming election, creeping socialism, how to raise better kids, how to beat stress, gays, and how many people got baptized last month. They also are intent on other things such as vision, leadership, and destiny. Stop by any number of evangelical churches on Sunday morning, and you’ll hear about all of these in terms that seldom mention Jesus and that totally miss what the Jesus movement is supposed to be about.

We haven’t been keeping the main thing the main thing. I believe that ordering our personal and corporate lives according to the Church Year can help us do that. It can help us keep our eyes on Jesus.

The Road to Emmaus #2, Bonnell

The Church Year is designed so that Christians can participate in the very life of Jesus Christ.

The liturgical year is not an idle discipline, not a sentimentalist’s definition of piety, not an historical anachronism. It is Jesus with us, for us, and in us as we strive to make His life our own. (Joan Chittister)

Christian year spirituality is nothing less than the calling to enter by faith into the incarnation, the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus. …As we enter the saving events of Jesus and especially the paschal mystery in faith, Christ shapes us by the pattern of his own living and dying so that our living and dying in this world is a living and dying in him. (Robert Webber)

The Christian Year focuses relentlessly on Jesus. Each liturgical season commemorates an aspect of his Story. On Sundays, the Gospel readings call us to meditate on his ministry and teachings. The major focus and climax of the year, as in the four Gospels, is Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. All roads lead to the Cross and Empty Tomb. By following the Church Year with its emphasis on Jesus’ death and resurrection, we live out our baptism as we die and rise again with Christ.

As the New English Translation puts it, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” When we order our lives according to the Church Year, we live in, through, and by the faithfulness of God’s Son. And we do so “in the body” — developing habits of actual living.

To hear some Christians, following Jesus is all about embracing sound doctrine and getting our heads screwed on straight. Certainly I have no complaint with sound doctrine. Love the Lord with all your mind. Yes! But too many churches are schools disguised as congregations. The Bible is dissected, analyzed, and organized into a system of concepts that brings intellectual exhilaration but little else. Jesus didn’t teach like that, did he? And though Paul wrote some letters that summarized his teaching for various reasons, if you look closely, you’ll see that most of the time, he was addressing life issues in his congregations and calling upon them to deal with those issues in Christ.

Still other Christians exalt the direct experience of God in worship or in the exercise of charismatic gifts, the practice of holiness by keeping rules and staying separate from worldly pollution, or culture war issues (both right and left) that politicize the faith and make it more about public policy than grassroots living. And so we become eccentrics, pietists, or zealots, and the whole enterprise turns out to be about my enthusiasm, my righteousness, or my rights and values. We co-opt Jesus for our agenda and make him our mascot.

But Jesus will not be co-opted. He says unequivocally, “Follow me.” Follow me to Bethlehem and watch me shatter all religious expectations. Watch me be born to an unwed mother in poverty and obscurity. Watch me choose unclean outcast shepherds to announce the good news of my arrival. Watch how the powerful persecute me and slaughter innocents in my name, revealing the depths of sin and suffering I came to address. Fit that in your religious box.

And so it goes through the Church Year, as we follow Jesus through the seasons. Each day is filled with unexpected surprises, maddeningly difficult teachings, and incomprehensible acts of compassion and mercy. Christ welcomes notorious sinners with open arms, and insults the righteous. He walks on water. He tells storms to cut it out and shut up. He feeds crowds with a sack lunch. He gets chased out of synagogues. He acts like he invented the rules. He claims to be the only way. He tells scary dark powers to take a hike. He tells self-seeking disciples to become servants. He tells the best religious people that they are going to hell. He explodes in prophetic rage and clears legitimate merchants out of the Temple courts, only to praise a humble widow for putting two cents in the offering box. Then it all turns sour, and before you know it, he’s lying stone cold dead in a sealed cave.

We who have been baptized into Christ are there with him. “Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). His death — my demise. His resurrection — my vivification. Crucified with Christ, Christ now lives in me, and I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God. This is the very point of our baptism.

What does such baptizing with water signify?

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. (Luther, Small Catechism)

In one of his books, John MacArthur told the tragic true tale of a family that held a birthday party for their infant son. As people came to the home, they were directed to the bedroom as the place to throw their coats on the bed. But the parents had forgotten that they had laid the baby on the bed for his nap. The party went on, and little did everyone know that the precious little child had been smothered under the guests’ coats. The celebration was supposed to be about him. Instead, he had been neglected, and the family lost him forever.

It’s time for the church to return to Jesus. Keeping the Church Year can help us do that. By intentionally setting his life, words, and acts before us every day, we can keep our eyes on him and learn to follow closely. By making his Gospel message and Table the focus of our worship each Sunday, our congregations can continually receive the nourishment of his grace and mercy. By “surveying the wondrous cross” we will learn to “count our richest gains as loss and pour contempt on all our pride.” Encountering Jesus in his risen life, we will learn to live; yet not we, but Christ will live in us, and the life we live in the body we will live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.


  1. Thanks for doing this series, Mike. Admittedly, I knew next to squat about the Church Year before reading your posts — and, honestly, I had written it off as just part of Roman Catholicism’s vast collection of religious baggage. But you’ve just about convinced me that it needs to be part of my Christian life and maybe even the life of my church fellowship. But being a simple/home church fellowship, any Church Year observances would have to be kept pretty simple, low maintenance, and do-able in your average living room. If we did adopt the Church Year, we would probably only do so in part and in a very general, very flexible way. One thing we try to do is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and try to let Him set the agenda for our gatherings — which actually happens every once in a while. For example, if we felt the Spirit guiding us to focus a particular gathering on confessing our sins to each other or praying for a particular issue or addressing a particular issue in disscussion, then, hopefully, that’s what we will focus on — regardless of what might be on the calendar’s agenda for that day or week or whatever. In other words, while we might use the Church Year as a general guide and overall source of structure, we would not be comfortable binding ourselves to it in an exact, legalistic manner.
    With all that in mind, are there any resources or books you would recommend?

  2. Beelzebub's Grandson says

    Was Mary *really* an “unwed mother”?

  3. When, for a season, we attended a non-liturgical church, we could not give up the church year. At our home, with our young sons, we kept the year. The communal aspects of keeping the year are one of the reasons we were glad to be back inside the Anglican world view, and it is one of the reasons we stay inside the folds of the liturgical church.

    The rhythm. It is like living near the train tracks for so long that your internal clock knows when the train will pass. It is part of your unconscious day. It becomes part of your conscious day when you wait for a train to pass as you drive. Irregardless it is always there informing your world.

  4. I too have fallen in love with the church year. But, it seems in liturgical churches, those who have grown up with it take it for granted. For them, it has lost its meaning, while for me it is something new and wonderful.

    • Like any pattern of life, it must be practiced thoughtfully, and in the Spirit and faith. This is not just a problem for those who keep a liturgical pattern, but for us all, since we are creatures of habit.

      • The liturgical year also (or at least maybe used to do so more back when everyone more or less lived rural as opposed to urban lives) connects us with the turning year, with the seasons of nature.

        It’s the reason why all the flap about ‘pagan festivals’ occurs about Christmas and Easter; from the sides of “ZOMG! Paganism crept in with Constantine!” on one side and neo-pagans going “Of course, the Church stole *all* its festivals from us” on the other. Yes, Christmas celebrates Light in Darkness. Yes, it’s in winter, when we look towards the return of the sun. That’s because God became incarnate. Yes, Easter is during the spring and the return of new life. That’s because of the Resurrection (and for historical reasons).

        There’s no reason why Christmas couldn’t be moved to July, for instance. But you’d lose the symbolism – and guess what? The symbolism is important. We’re not a religion of ‘mind over matter’; that stable door was bolted when the Gnostic horse fled. We’re a religion of “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us”.

        So the Church year is tied to the natural year, and our lives ‘in the world’ or in ‘Real Life’ are tied to our spiritual lives; one lifting up the other (as in the question one commenter posed about cancelling Easter or Christmas celebrations in times of tragedy or suffering in the congregation) and reminding us that there will be both a New Heaven and a New Earth, and that we look forward to the Resurrection of the Body.

        • Buford Hollis says

          That must be why the Australians celebrate Christmas in June.

          • Buford, but of course!

            Everyone knows that Australia was colonised by radical Anabaptist Gnostic Pietist Quaker Mormon Adamites who observed the Saturday Sabbath and were totally against anything smacking of Tradition or Catholicism 😉

            Not at all influenced by the Irish convicts transported there, nope, no influence at all, at all.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s the reason why all the flap about ‘pagan festivals’ occurs about Christmas and Easter…

          And in North America, Halloween. Now that Halloween has come and gone, we’re ramping up to “Take Christmas Back for Christ!” And you know what?

          I’ll take the rhythm of the Church Year any day, instead of rushing from one URGENT URGENT URGENT CULTURE WAR ALERT IF WE DON’T MOBILIZE IT WILL BE THE END OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA URGENT URGENT URGENT!!! to the next.

          • Funny thing is,… We Evangelicals are about to begin a season of “taking back” a holiday we wanted nothing to do with 200 years ago. Further evidence of how little we value tradition. In less than 4 generations, we went from ignoring a holiday celebrating it to claiming that it is being taken from us.

          • @ Pete,
            Good historical reminder.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Like I said, in the Evangelical Calendar we’re transitioning from “DEVIL’s Holiday” Season to “War on Christmas” Season.

  5. I grew up in the Lutheran church where we followed the church calendar. I grew up not only knowing where in the church year I was (Advent, for example), but WHY I was there. I’ve been a pastor in the Vineyard family of churches for 10 years now, and that’s been one the things I’ve missed. We wind up at Christmas or at Easter without having passed through Advent or Lent first. We know WHERE we are, but not WHY we are there. Our hearts aren’t really prepared.

    That’s one of the things we were determined to seat firmly in this church’s DNA when we planted it. We adhere closely to the church calendar so that everybody knows where we’re going and why. I’ve found it very helpful in terms of keeping people focused.

  6. After years in “non-liturgical” settings, I found an increased passion for my own personal faith in the church calendar, fixed hour prayer, etc. How did these things get lost to us American Christians? Part of it has to do with the American ego. Recently, I spoke to a group of 50-60 college students, and quizzed them on what the five largest denominations in the world might be…Almost unanimously, the group decided “Baptist” was the largest. When they discovered the largest denomination was Catholic, again they had consensus that Baptist must be the second largest. I told them it was actually Orthodox, so they determined that Baptist had to be third. The third largest is actually Anglican. Fourth was Lutheran, and finally, the fifth largest denomination in the world was Baptist.

    I haven’t checked Pew Council Research numbers lately, but at one point, they reported that there are 47 million Baptists in the world, with approximately 40 million of them living in the U.S. Please don’t think I’m knocking the Baptists by saying these things…I’m an ordained Baptist pastor myself, working toward ordination into the priesthood with the Anglican Church…but we as Americans have this vain idea that since most of our neighbors belong to denominations that are familiar to us (Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.), the rest of the world must be the same, because everyone follows our lead, in terms of military might, politics, cultural trends, and of course, matters of faith. The attitude is, “America saves the world”…We’re the great white hope.

    I talked with this group about what separates American Christianity from the rest of the world, and the answer lies in spiritual practices: The Christian calendar, fixed hour prayer, pilgrimage, Word and Table centered worship, etc. The students didn’t know quite what to make of the idea that the four largest denominations in the world “do” Christianity quite differently from what we consider to be the cultural religious norm here in the U.S.

    There is such value in the first 1500 years of Christianity that the majority of the Christian world still patterns itself after! We’ve devoted ourselves so completely to the modernization and Americanization (Is that a word? :o) of faith, we have lost sight of some very important practices. Thanks, CM, for a great series, and for maintaining Michael Spencer’s work. It’s a glimmer of hope in the post-evangelical wilderness, for sure.

    • one more Mike says

      Great post Lee!

    • Great Lee! One thing I discovered as a post-evangelical former Baptist is how narcistic Baptist are. I had been told there were only two theological options, Extreme Armenian or Extreme Calvinism. Then I started asking “What about Lutheran and Anglican views on grace and free will?”

  7. “It’s time for the church to return to Jesus.”

    It is amazing and sad that you even have to write that.

  8. If the church year is so great, then why did so many churches abandon it?

    Why is it that churches decided that “this isn’t important to us?”

    • I am looking for concrete historical examples here. Quotations from leaders, etc. If we cannot understand why this occurred, then how do we know that we are not just getting into a cycle from which we will have some need to break free of some time down the road.

      • I don’t know if these thoughts are much more than opinion, but I hope they’re helpful in answering the question…

        1) The Church calendar feels “too Catholic” for us, and we have 500 years or more of distrust of anything Catholic. Most Christians can’t really tell you why they distrust the Catholic faith, but they do, because they’ve been taught to do so. Could it be 500 years or so of some Protestants claiming that all Catholics are apostate, and some Catholics claiming that all Protestants are heretics? I like my good old “via media”.

        2) Some of the reformers wanted to do away with any “man-made” church traditions…icons, the calendar, and in more recent times, episcopal oversight (in non-denominational movements)…in order to demonstrate that they believe Holy Scripture is the final authority in church matters. This is why most American protestants have little to no knowledge of the first 1500 years of church history. We’ve thrown out the baby with the bath water.

        3) Some Christians view time as linear…moving from creation to the day when Jesus returns…rather than circular…repeating or memorializing the same events in Christ’s life year after year, time after time. Little do we know that we just re-invent the wheel when we hand out our “read the Bible in one year” discipleship plan, etc.

        Is that helpful?

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        This is part of an essay by Rev. Ken Collins as to why some denominations don’t celebrate Lent in particular and the Church Year in general:

        In the 16th century, many Calvinists and Anabaptists discarded all Christian holy days, on the theory that they were Roman innovations. That was their best information at the time, but today we know that they were wrong. In the late 19th century, ancient Christian documents came to light. The Didache from the first century, the Apostolic Constitutions from the third century, and the diaries of Egeria of the fourth century; all which give evidence of the Christian calendar and holy days. The Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions were written in the east, which denies it ever recognized the institution of the papacy. Egeria was a Spanish nun, but her writings also describe practices in the east. All of these documents came to light 300 years after it was too late for the groups who had already discarded Christian holy days.

        In many cases, Rome was the last place to observe the holy days. For example, the idea of moving All Saints Day to November 1 did not reach Rome until 700 years after it originated in England, and the idea of celebrating Holy Week as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, was quite elaborate in Jerusalem before the early fourth century but did not spread to Rome until the 11th century. Advent began in medieval Gaul and spread to Rome from there. Lent, on the other hand, appears to have originated in the apostolic age. The Apostolic Constitutions attribute the observance of Lent to an apostolic commandment. We can’t verify that, but we also can’t disprove it.

        He goes on to explain that in the New World, the “established” denominations had difficulty spreading beyond the Appalachian Mountains, and when they did, there was a dearth of seminary-trained clergy. Thus, Christianity in America took on a more “homegrown” feel, and was often not even aware of the Church Year.

    • Impressions on my part, based on nothing more than vague feelings?

      The Reformation emphasis on de-emphasising the invocation of saints. As part of removing the cultus, they not only broke images and closed down shrines, they stripped the feastdays out of the church calendar (remember, every day is the feast day of a saint in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and I imagine the Anglicans pretty much follow suit depending on how High, Low or Broad any particular church is).

      As reform went on, and the later reformers splintered away into ever more pure sects, so all the elements that were too reminescent of Papistry or Romanism got chucked out with the bathwater. So you get the English Puritans deciding Christmas is too pagan and not to be kept as a feastday. You get the absurdity of the Scots Presybterians deciding that, in order to do away with the all-too-Romanist feast of Christmas, the alternative of Hogmanay as a celebration is encouraged: a New Year’s ceremony with definite pagan roots.

      Cross the ocean to America, let simmer for two hundred years, and the splintering and stripping and purification goes on: so the church year is yet another casualty of anything that looks back to the past, to the dreaded, feared, and excoriated “Tradition” (a dirtier word than any four letter one, because who wants to live under the dead hand of man-made traditions that are extra-Biblical?)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Until we end up whitewashing our stripped-down sanctuaries and mindlessly reciting our holy books (and burning with Righteous Hostility towards The Other who are Apostate/Heretical) like the Wahabi of Saudi Arabia.

        P.S. “Hogmanay”?

        • What, you never heard of First Footing?

          We enjoy watching our Celtic cousins getting blind drunk, setting fire to things, and singing “Auld Lang Syne” (not so very different to the Irish New Year celebrations, come to think of it)


          • one more Mike says

            Except for the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”, Hogmanay sounds like St. Patricks Day as celebrated in Savannah GA. Haven’t set anything on fire during the highest of holy days recently, though.

          • one more Mike, fire makes everything better! 🙂

            The custom in Rome for Pentecost, when the firemen of the city climb on top of the Pantheon (St. Maria ad Martyres) and drop red rose petals through the oculus of the dome at twelve noon while the choir sings Veni, Sancte Spiritus is glorious:


            But John Zmirak also has good suggestions for a party to celebrate Pentecost, including a recipe for flambéd spinach salad (come on, hasn’t everyone wanted to light spinach on fire?):


          • one more Mike says

            Martha, your posts make me curse my ancestors for leaving the auld sod!!!!

          • Dear Mike, the state of the nation (the IMF is apparently coming in to give us a financial bailout which our government first strenously denied we needed and is now murmuring that maybe, after all, the few bob would be no harm) means that your ancestors got out while the going was good.


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Well, throughout history Ireland’s greatest export has been Irish.

          • one more Mike says

            Right after Guiness!

    • Michael:

      The Anglican church (which has an evangelical wing) has not abandoned the church year. Nor have Lutherans, I don’t know about Presbyterians. In fact, the majority of the Christian church has not abandoned it (That being: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran).

      I would not be surprised if it has been mostly the Free Churches and Anabaptists.
      But I have to admit (being a solid Anabaptist my whole Christian life) that none of those guys are saved anyway and that Luther did not go far enough (or so Zwingli and the other radical reformers felt).

      My guess is that they saw how the church was tied up in forms and rituals and felt they should get rid of it all because people mistook form for salvation. I know amongst the Puritans they came to a point where they felt ‘if you cannot justify it from the Bible, throw it out’. I can try to find some stuff on this, I heard about the Puritans from an audio course I took on Anglicanism by J.I. Packer.

      As I have been looking at history, I have the growing feeling that we often live lives in reaction to something, almost moreso in a church.

      • btw, my comment on mailine churches being not save is not what I think, but is a popular sentiment in Anabaptist circles.

    • Thanks to everyone for their responses. That was helpful.

  9. Some might suggest that repeating the same things over and over would cause them to loose meaning, or at lest make them less special. Taking the ligturgical year for granted has already come up in the comments. We’ve had a very similar discussion in recent months about communion. Doing something on a regular basis doesn’t make something less special, it illustrates how special it really is. Sometimes we get used to certain things and may take them for granted. But I would be hard-pressed to convince my wife that only coming home twice a year made her “more special” to me than if I came home and stayed there every night.

    Jesus is with us ALWAYS to the end of the age. Would it make him feel special if we ignore him 50 weeks out of the year?

    • well said

    • Not sure the analogy works. You start by talking about the “same things” being special, then switch to talking about the wife being “more special”. One could argue a better analogy would be celebrating her birthday every day instead of once a year; she may or not feel more special, but the birthday celebration certainly loses something.

      All analogies limp; all I can say (as one raised Lutheran) that the weekly Lord’s supper meant nothing but ritual to my family.

      • On the other hand, in my Baptist church (ABC and evangelical) I don’t think we’ve recited the Lord’s prayer more than a half-dozen times in the 18 years I’ve been going there.

        On average, that’s once every three years, whether we need it or not.

        I need to speak to my pastor about this.

        • We recited it last Sunday. The form was strange though, half old English, half modern English. I think we need to standardize it and project it on the wall a few times, so that everyone could learn and get used to a new form.

  10. C.S. Thomas Aquinas says

    I want to point out that Jesus’ mother was not unwed, that would have meant that she was having a child out of wedlock, Jesus would have been born into sin.

    In fact Mary was married, not to Joseph although he remained as her faithful chaste care taker for obvious reasons*, she was married to the Holy Spirit. If it was any other way, both the Holy Ghost and Mary would have been committing adultery.

    *Obvious reasons are that women were restricted in what they could do, they could not handle their business, &c.

    • Interesting interpretation, but as a non-Catholic I just can’t buy it. Besides, unless you take the Mormon position that Jesus was conceived through a literal act of intercourse between Mary and their god (who yes, does have a physical body, but who, at least in a legal sense, did not violate her virginity specifically because he was god), I don’t see the need for such a creative and convoluted explanation.

      I can’t see equating implanting a seed via a supernatural act with intercourse, and therefore no marriage is required. As for the sin issue, it would only be a sin if she was impregnated via unlawful intercourse. That didn’t happen, so there would have been no sin even if she was still technically unwed.

      • I agree. Plus, my point wasn’t so much whether Mary was unwed in God’s eyes, but what it looked like to those around her.

        • Yes. Not the theological intellectual parsing of marriage, but what it simply looked like to the people around the couple. A man with a women who was pregnant, and not by him.

          It reminds me that the next time I start to judge a person or persons based on what I see, perhaps I shouldn’t.

      • James, let me assure you that the Catholic position is not that “If it was any other way, both the Holy Ghost and Mary would have been committing adultery.”

        St. Joseph is indeed the spouse of Mary. He’s celebrated in the Divine Praises as “Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse”. Gene Wolfe, in his short story “Under Hill”, has a lovely, almost tongue-in-cheek, subtle reference to him:

        “Silence reigned once again, until the princess ventured, “This least of all persons has the honor to claim membership in a family highly favored by the August Personage of Jade. She herself, a poor weak woman, has often laid her wretched petitions at the feet of the Queen of Heaven. Perhaps if you were to petition her exalted husband…?”

        “Of course!” Sir Bradwen snapped his fingers. “I’ll ask Saint Joseph. I should have thought of that at once.”

        Now, indeed there is reference to Mary as “Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Spirit, Mother of the Son” in regard to her relationship to the Trinity, but please – being the betrothed wife of Joseph and conceiving Jesus was not committing adultery with the Holy Ghost. That’s just creepy, amongst other things.

        • Sounds good to me. I’m not totally unfamiliar with Catholicism, and what C.S. Thomas Aquinas wrote sounded more like a Mormon position than anything I’ve ever heard of coming out of Rome.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Whoever this Thomas Aquinas is, he isn’t the well-known Doctor of the Church.

            More like a weird take on Mary as the ultimate Bridal Mystic. I’ve run into Christian single women like that.

  11. Until recently we attended an Anglican Mission in America church, which meant we worshipped and learned through the church year. (We stopped attending because it was a 45-50 minute drive each way.) I appreciated the cycle of worship and learning that the church year created for us, but found myself disquieted by it after visiting Israel a couple of years ago.

    I am a Jewish believer, and grew up exposed to the cycle of feasts described in Leviticus 23. After coming to faith in Jesus in my teens, I’ve logged many years in evangelical and charismatic congregations before ending in a liturgical church. All the while, I tried in various ways to keep connected to my Jewish identity and practice.

    I could see shadows of the Levitical cycle in parts of the church year (particularly Passover and Pentecost), but visiting Israel and seeing how Jerusalem in particular comes to a near-standstill during Shabbat got me wondering about why the church year was created to begin with. I hit a nearby theological library after I got home, and asked several academic folks I knew – and no one could give me a satisfactory answer.

    Leviticus 23 feasts can clearly tell the story of Christ’s life and promise of his soon return.

    So – I’ll toss a question in the mix of this discussion: What do you know about this migration away from a cycle that could have easily been adopted for use by the early Gentile church to a church year that is disconnected from its roots? Any thoughts? Any good resources you can suggest?

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Reading some of the Fathers you certainly see a trend of anti-Judaism (though not necessarily antisemitism) that probably contributed a lot to that. The reason for this trend seems to be that Judaism with its thousands of years of culture and easily quantifiable legal code was a very seductive alternative to Christianity in those early days. We see some of this as early as Paul’s writings (e.g. Galatians). It was not uncommon for people to fall away from Christianity in favor of Judaism. As some aspects of Christian worship became standardized, there was sometimes an effort to distance Christianity from Judaism. One example is the abolishment of celebrating Easter based on when Passover occurred (for several generations, there was a significant minority of Christians who celebrated Easter three days after the 14th of Nissan). It must be pointed out that distancing Christianity from Judaism wasn’t the only reason for these changes, but it was a contributing factor.

      Also, much of the standardization of the Church Year occurred after Jewish Christianity had all but died out. Different locales had different local customs, and as standardization took place customs from different parts of the Christian world were adopted as the standard. As there was no Jewish Christianity to speak of during this time, Jewish customs were simply not often considered.

      I spent 15 or so years in Messianic Judaism where there was an attempt to do just what you’re suggesting. In theory we would do just what you describe: practice the Levitical cycle in light of Christ. The reality, however, was that 2000 years of development (on both the Jewish and Christian side) were against us. Rather than celebrating the Levitical cycle in light of Jesus, often there was an attempt to wedge Jesus into the rabbinic traditions and theology, usually resulting in Jesus being ignored. Most tragic of all, we saw many more Gentiles give up Christ for the sake of Judaism than we saw people (Jew or Gentile) come to Christ. Frankly, I can understand some of the Fathers’ anti-Judaism tendencies; I am tired of friends and family turning away from Christ for Judaism. Eventually, I concluded that I’d rather have the Church Year, where Christ is the focus by design rather than either constantly fighting against 2000 years of traditions in the Levitical year or constantly reinventing the wheel in order to make him the focus in those celebrations.

      But that’s just my conclusion. Besides, as a Gentile whose family on both sides was either Catholic or Anglican for many, many generations, the Church Year is more of my cultural heritage than the Levitical Year is.

    • I did not see your post until now. But, as I point out in my post on November 19, the Orthodox Church still retains, not a Levitical cycle, but certainly a much more Jewish outlook about worship and the Church Year than the West.

  12. Many protestant denoms which still observe a church calendar sanitized it of saint day observances, except perhaps Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc. Anglicans and ELCA Lutherans are two exceptions, which have a rich list of days to remember saints of old – including protestant figures such as Bach and a few Catholic exiles like Oscar Romero. This especially helps during the dog days of post-pentecost. But it also helps to remember that we are not the first to walk this path and that those saints are separated from us by a thin veil, in the words of Charles Wesley (btw, who is also on the Anglican calendar!).

    Yes, we can turn veneration of saints into idolatry. I think the greater temptation – without the perspective provided by the lives of the saints – is that we are among the greatest generation of Christians to ever walk the face of the earth. This is almost demanded by revivalism – that as we grow more enlightened we ascend higher than anyone who has come before us. I have almost heard these exact words from word-faith preachers like Copeland. Rather than idolizing saints, we idolize ourselves. Pride still comes before a fall.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Charles Wesley (btw, who is also on the Anglican calendar!)

      Yep. Good ol’ Charlie W. was an Anglican priest and never left Anglicanism. The Methodists didn’t separate from the Anglican Church until after his death. As an Anglican, I can say that their departure was frankly our own dang fault because we were afraid of stepping out of our ecclesiastical and cultural comfort-zone.

      • Here I am being picky agian. It’s a very annoying habit . . .

        Charles wasn’t the priest, John was. You’re exactly right, though, that Charles felt very strongly that his and his brother’s movement should not leave the C of E.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think the greater temptation – without the perspective provided by the lives of the saints – is that we are among the greatest generation of Christians to ever walk the face of the earth. This is almost demanded by revivalism – that as we grow more enlightened we ascend higher than anyone who has come before us.

      “The Victorians thought that history ended well — because it ended with the Victorians.”
      — G.K.Chesterton (a Victorian himself)

  13. I agree with this article, as a person who was Pentecostal for 10 years and converted to Greek Orthodox.

  14. Chaplain Mike,

    Out of curiosity, I’m wondering how you would present the Church Year as beneficial to the Reformed who adhere to the Regulative Principle of Worship–essentially, that whatever is not directly commanded in the Bible for worship is forbidden.
    It’s a bit of an extreme view, but it is held (with varying consistency) in Presbyterian circles. How would you justify the use of the Church Year to those who are skeptical of any normative worship practices that are not commanded in the New Testament?


    • I’d have a hard time because I don’t accept the regulative principle and they would not likely accept that. I might ask them what the church did for 300 years before the Bible was accepted in final form.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And they would reply with Verbal Plenary Inspiration, dictated word-for-word (Kynge Jaymes Englyshe or not) to The Apostles and written down on-the-spot…

        I’ve seen where stuff like the Regulative Principle can lead (not the RP itself per se, but I’ve experienced something similar). It can lead to a good approximation of a classic Totalitarian State, where Everything other than The Party Line is Forbidden and what is not Forbidden is Absolutely Compulsory.

    • “whatever is not directly commanded in the Bible for worship is forbidden.”

      Ask them where they source their badger skins.

      When they go “Whuh?”, pull out the Book of Numbers and quote:

      “Numbers 4:4 This shall be the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things:

      Numbers 4:5 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it:

      Numbers 4:6 And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.”

      Not to mention the golden altar, the cloth of scarlet, the cloth of blue, and all the altar vessels.

      It’s the commandment the Lord gave to Moses, after all!

      • And if they reply that that is the Old Testament and all the provisions of the Law are done away with, then it’s time to turn to Revelation and ask them about where they get the white robes and crowns of gold for their twenty-four elders, not to mention the seven lamps of fire, the harps, and the golden vials full of odours.

        Honestly, which does that sound more like: this image?

        Or this?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That second one looks like a Gothic Cathedral converted into a Wahabi Mosque. (An image I mentioned in the backstory of an SF novella.)

          All that’s missing is the Koranic calligraphy on those diamond-shaped plaques.

          • “That second one looks like a Gothic Cathedral converted into a Wahabi Mosque.”

            The fruit of all those art history books I keep buying, since the image of the great white-washed church stuck in my mind’s eye.

            Cathedral of St. Bavo (the Grote Kerk) in Haarlem. Painting from 1637 by Pieter Saenredam. Church built over a period from roughly mid-15th to mid-16th century; was a cathedral of the diocese for only 19 years until seized by Dutch Protestants during the Reformation and, as you can see, iconoclasm put in clear glass in the windows, smashed the images, and whitewashed the walls.

            In the 18th century a massive new organ was put in and the contrast between the splendour of this at the west and the bareness of where the high altar used to be at the east is very telling as to where the emphasis changed between Catholicism and Protestantism:


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            That may be, but it still looks like a Wahabi Mosque.

            All that’s missing is the cry of the Muezzin and the floor filled with Muslims prostrating towards Mecca in lieu of the Baroque organ. (Islam only permits vocal music in its services, and Wahabi are among the most extreme and ascetic of Muslims.)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says