On Religious Days and the Sabbath…

One certain extreme we take concerning the Church Calendar is to assume that it is so popish that it does not belong within the Reformed Church. In this view (taken by some in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition) the church calendar is just another imposition of tradition upon the modern church. Further, it opposes the reformational sola scriptura that we so cherish. The credibility of this position is that it takes extreme care in avoiding unbiblical observances of holy days and feasts. ((Galatians 4:10)) On the other hand, our ecclesiastical tradition was not invented ex nihilo. The church was built on the blood of the martyrs, says an ancient father. We rest on that blood and our faith is built upon the blood of the saints. We honor our church and we honor the saints of old as Hebrews honors the old patriarchs and men and women of faith. ((Hebrews 11))

I have argued that the church calendar should not be seen as a burdensome event/activity, rather that it is to supplement the only Biblical day we are to observe-the Holy Sabbath. Pastor Douglas Wilson has argued persuasively that we are not bound to observe any days outside the Biblical demand for Sabbath observance. In the words of Wilson:

As we seek to return to an observance of a Christian calendar, we need to be careful to avoid the mistake that our fathers made. In the course of the medieval period, the year filled up with so many saints days that they had the effect that barnacles have on a ship that at one time was swift. We do not want to make that mistake again. If everything is special, then nothing is special. If everything is set apart, there is nothing left for it to be set apart from. ((Douglas Wilson, The Sabbath Cornerstone))

The evangelical holy days ((Or feast days; see Johnson, pg. 104)) have been a joyful antidote to the anti-ecclesiastical tendency of our modern evangelical church. Nevertheless, we need to be cautious in how they are used. Though they can be of great benefit and spiritual refreshment, it can shadow our Biblical mandate to keep the Sabbath holy.

This warning issued by Wilson has other implications. For instance, we may say that all things are holy and sacred at the same time and the same place. But if we take that to its extreme, we will assume that the Lord’s Table has the same level of sacredness and importance as the reading of a novel. It is crucial that we properly emphasize that which is more sacred than others. The sacred vs. secular distinction is a myth popularized by Christian Gnostics, but to assume that the sacred and the secular are merged into one, is also dangerous. It would be akin to saying the law and gospel are one. The proper response is to say that they are united, but yet different. ((I am certainly by default opposing the Lutheran sharp distinction between law and gospel)) The Trinity is three persons and one essence, but these three persons though united are yet different; they share different responsibilities. ((This is diametrically different to Oneness Pentecostals who say that Jesus plays different roles as a man may play the role of a father, husband, and professional)) Hence, certain things are secular in one sense, but sacred in another, and other things (Eucharist) are fully sacred, though represented by earthly elements.

One final reason to be cautious about the abuse of the church calendar is that it may interrupt the faithful exposition of God’s entire counsel. In the words of Rev. Terry Johnson:

The church calendar interferes with regular, sequential expository preaching by continually thrusting forth calendar themes and corresponding lectionary readings. In such a setting sequential preaching will seem awkward and misplaced and will probably give way to the lectio selecta. ((Johnson L. Terry, Ed. Leading in Worship, pg. 103))

All these things serve as a reminder for the people of God who takes great pride in our historic and apostolic church, but at the same time need to carefully analyze all things through the lens of Holy Writ.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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6 Responses to On Religious Days and the Sabbath…

  1. The main problem with Holy days outside the Sabbath in the NT is that they have no Biblical warrant. While I do recognise that some may see them as advantageous, as they ensure some time is spent focusing on the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, and that they have been celebrated by many of the great men of church history; nevertheless, due to the absence of any Scriptural warrant for them, I believe they should be avoided.

  2. Uri says:

    Thank you Daniel for you remarks. I find myself in agreement with you in some respects and disagreeing with others. But again, you and I have some much in common. I cherish your insights. Here is a syllogism that I would like to hear your thoughts:
    a) Fasting is a Biblical command
    b) All Christians are to fast.
    c) Therefore,I choose to fast during a time when many Christians around the world are fasting, i.e. LENT.
    Love to hear your thoughts.
    By the way, have you read Gentry’s response to the Klineans?

  3. If you choose to fast at the same time others are fasting (Lent) that is your liberty, however, no-one has the liberty to declare this a specail time of fasting.

    My review of Ken Gentry’s anti-Klienian book ‘Covenantal Theonomy’ can be found here:

    https://host186.ipowerweb.com/~kenneth1/catalog/product_reviews_info.php/products_id/318/reviews_id/95?osCsid=d4d221cf392

  4. Uri Brito says:

    I understand your background and presuppositions. I guess I would differ in that if a larger body than myself (the church) has found it wise celebrate a particular time of the year to fast, it is more reasonable to join in this catholic ( not Roman) endeavor, then to try to do things on your own (individualism). As for declaring a special time of fasting, I prefer to establish certain things on the basis of an orderly year, as opposed to disorderly. This does not mean that I cannot fast at another time, but it does mean that it would be profitable to fast when millions are fasting as well. I do not advocate a binding of one’s conscience for not fasting at a particular time, but in a day when so few fast, why not advocate something of that nature culminating in the glorious resurrection of Christ. This is gospel.
    I am simply trying to fit into both camps: Strict Regulatarians (Puritans, Covenanters, etc.) and wisdom- led church decisions, made by councils and so on.
    Thanks for the links

  5. Dan T says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Ritchie, the Sabbath is certainly not the only holy day presented in the NT. As we should expect from the concept of covenantal continuity, the feasts of the Old Covenant are transformed in the New, but not abrogated (out of existence). Thus, days like that of Pentecost commemorate no longer the giving of the law, but the descent the Spirit; nor does Passover recall the Exodus, but our Lord’s Resurrection in Easter. The “days and seasons” that St. Paul criticizes in Gal. 4:10 are most likely the old Jewish feasts, which the apostle recognized as passe with the Advent of Jesus Christ. The complete disappearance of the religious calendar would have made no sense to the early (predominantly Jewish) Church; the salvation narrative was understood to historically live through the rhythm of the liturgical year.

    A further point to keep in mind is that it is the Holy Spirit that moves the Church to discover the days of year in the Scripture through his illumination. We must take care to be “sola scriptura” in such a way that we don’t demand prescriptions as they were delivered in the OT. The enlightenment of the Spirit–not edicts delivered Sinai-style–is the Church’s key to understanding the fullness of NT revelation.

  6. Uri Brito says:

    Thanks Dan. If I understand your argument correctly I agree with your conclusions. I further agree with your assessment of Galatians 4:10.
    Of course, Daniel (please correct me if I am wrong Daniel) would say that the temple system has been done away with and together with all of it the types and shadows, instrumentation and holy days. I guess I am trying to be a good medium.

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