My wife recently bought me a calendar for next year. I find a calendar is essential, because without it I would forget appointments and the dates and times of future events involving me. A calendar is especially useful when it comes to arranging meetings and family get-togethers. Of course, today, all of these things can be programmed into the ubiquitous mobile phone. If you’ve got one of those speaking gizmos that are linked to your phone via Bluetooth it can page you in advance, advising when your next engagement is due.
Now when it comes to the times and dates of church meetings, events, etc., a church will usually publish it’s own calendar. The church of which I am a member produces a monthly calendar that can be downloaded from the church website. That’s really useful, because it informs members as to what’s going on. Hardcopies are also available for those who do not have access to the Internet.
The Legacy of Constantine
Over a period of five hundred years after the Christian church came into being at Pentecost (Acts 2) pagan influences brought about a remarkable change in how it worshipped and assembled.
Constantine, as early as 327 AD, constructed a building on the lines of a Roman basilica as a place of worship for the assembly, and many more were built for his state-sponsored church. This was a travesty, because it changed the nature of the church; instead of independently worshipping as separate churches in people’s homes, Christians were forced to assemble en masse. Typically, under his pagan leadership, Constantine adorned the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople with monuments to the twelve apostles, and he placed them in a tomb that was reserved for himself. This was blatant, pompous glorification of self.
By the late fourth century things had worsened, and more and more pagan customs were absorbed into their religious practices, along with liturgies, sermons, clerical vestments and a hierarchical leadership structure.
Churches today still suffer from Constantine’s legacy, not least by honouring *liturgical calendars.
The earliest of these calendars was a compilation of feast days, fasts and saints’ days. Today similar cyclical calendars are adhered to throughout Christendom. They lay down schedules of worship that must be observed through the liturgical year. Calendars of denominations vary, but in the main their substance is the same.
The Church of England’s liturgical calendar is similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church. It is divided into seasons – the first being Advent, followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter.
The ‘feast of Christ’s nativity’ was first observed by the Roman church in 336 AD, but it must be pointed out that there is no biblical evidence supporting the view that New Testament Christians observed the same feast. They did not make the 25th December a day of celebration or of remembrance. Indeed, even now, biblical scholars are divided as to the actual date of the birth of our Saviour.
Why Follow a Calendar?
Since the early church did not commemorate the birth of Jesus, why do Christians celebrate it today?
The same question could be asked of the observances of Epiphany, Lent and Easter. Likewise is there a biblical statute that obliges a church to meet on a **Sunday for worship? Some point to the assumed fact that NT Christians regularly met on a Sunday for the breaking of bread, but there is no specific biblical text stating they regularly assembled (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) on a Sunday.
Scholars might reason that because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, the early church chose to worship and remember Him on the first day of the week. They could further ague that as Jews kept the Sabbath on a Saturday, by worshipping on a Sunday, Christians would witness to the fact that they were no longer bound under the Law of Moses. They were freed from the Old Covenant through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20).
This freedom in Christ was taught by Paul the Apostle, although he along with other Christians, referred to the Jewish calendar (Acts 16:13). In that context he wrote in Romans 14:5-6 that: ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.’
It’s obvious that the Jewish converts were struggling with their new identity. In that respect Paul implored the church at Colosse: ‘Therefore let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16, 17).’
So I ask again, why do so many churches today subscribe to liturgical calendars like those of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church?
There is only One ‘Memorial’ Ordinance
Jesus only instituted one memorial ordinance, and that was the breaking of bread ‘in remembrance of’ Him:
At the Passover supper before His death on the cross He ‘…. .. took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you (Luke 22:19, 20; cf. Matthew 26:26-29).”’
Concerning this same ordinance of our Lord, Paul had a direct revelation from Jesus specifying that the memorial should be commemorated for ‘as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).”’
Those who subscribe to liturgies are into ‘works’ that do not bring salvation to them or to anyone; for salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
If a church is to honour Him, the members should consider the matter of observing particular days, remembering what Paul said to the Roman church, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).’”
*The Liturgical Year