Using the Christian Year to Enrich Your Devotion to GodDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.
Today is the last day of the Christian Year (or Church Year or Liturgical Year). Tomorrow we begin Advent with the first day of a new year. I know that many readers of these Daily Reflections are familiar with the Christian Year. But I expect that, for many others, what I’m saying sounds unfamiliar. Some may even wonder if I’ve run off the tracks of biblically-sound theology. So I thought it would be good for me to say a few words about the Christian Year, framing this conversation with a crucial passage of Scripture.
This passage, from Romans 14, is Paul’s response to the problem of Christian diversity when it came to certain religious practices. Some of the first Christians, especially those who had been raised as Jews, believed they should continue to honor God by eating only certain foods and by setting apart certain days (the Sabbath, Jewish holidays) as holy. Other Christians disagreed, believing that they were free in Christ to eat anything and to worship God on any day without establishing certain days as sacred. This disagreement became quite heated in certain sectors of the early church, especially where churches comprised both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul’s solution to this problem centered in a plea for mutual acceptance and forbearance. If a Christian wanted to honor God with special days, this was fine. That person should be free to engage in this practice without criticizing others who did not join in. And the others should not criticize the one who kept certain days as holy. What really matters was not the keeping of days (or not) and the eating of certain foods (or not). What really matters is honoring God, pleasing God, and living our whole lives for God. This ought to happen each day in the life of each Christian, no matter our practices about holy days and food restrictions.
Paul’s teaching here helps us to avoid the traps into which some Christians fall when it comes to things like the Christian Year. I know some believers who are critical of those who keep the Christian Year because they see this practice as ritualistic. I know other believers who look down their noses at the “low church” folk who don’t follow the Christian year. Both attitudes are inconsistent with Scripture. When it comes to things like setting aside certain days as special for worship and devotion, we need to be gracious to one another. The Lord will be honored in our graciousness and forbearance.
Having said that, I would add a personal word. I grew up with almost no awareness of the Christian Year, other than some vague sense that Catholics had to recognize special days and seasons and that this was not consistent with Scripture. In the last twenty years or so, I have developed a deep appreciation of the Christian Year and the way it has enhanced my personal devotion as well as the worship of the churches in which I have participated. In the last eight years, I’ve done quite a bit of writing on the Christian Year and some of its key seasons, such as Advent.
If you’re interested in what I’ve written, I’ll include some links below. For now, I want to remind all of us of two bedrock truths. First, in matters that are not essential to Christian faith and practice, we need to allow for diversity in the body of Christ, thus refraining from judging those with whom we differ. Second, most important of all, we are to seek to honor God in everything we do every single day.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced any enrichment of your relationship with God by recognizing days or seasons in the Christian year? Do you ever find yourself judging other Christians who differ from you in matters that are not essential to Christian faith and practice? What might help you to be more gracious toward your brothers and sisters in Christ?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, how I thank you for the freedom we have in you. How I thank you for calling us, not only to live in freedom, but to allow others to do so as well. Yes, there are truths we should belief and practices we should follow. And there are falsehoods we should reject and behaviors we should avoid. But, within these parameters, you have given us freedom to honor you with all that we are.
Help me, gracious God, to be gracious to my sisters and brothers who worship you in ways that are different from how I worship you. Teach me what I might learn from those with diverse expressions of faith. Give me a gracious, open heart.
Finally, O God, I pray that you will bring unity to your church throughout the world. Though we differ in many inessentials, may we be unified in your confession of who you are as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we be joined together through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some of My Writings on the Christian Year
Introduction to the Christian Year
Liturgical Year Chart
What is Advent?
My New E-Book: Discovering Advent