The New Testament calls Christians and Christian churches to assemble regularly and to do so with the focus upon worshipping Christ for his vicarious work (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2; Matthew 28:1ff; Hebrews 10:24-25). The church assembles in a formal manner on the first day of the week in order to worship together. Such worship in the early church focused on his completed work of redemption and is portrayed as the ongoing focus.
What is not given in the New Testament is any sort of liturgical calendar. For example, the birth of Jesus was a definite cause for celebration when it happened (cf. Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2), but the church was never instructed to pick a date on the calendar for an annualized celebration of the event. Conversely, what is mandated and exemplified is a constant emphasis upon the work of Christ (Colossians 1:28).
Further evidence of the church not having specified religious holidays to observe are those biblical texts that declare all days equal. Romans 14:5 is a case in point. The context demonstrates that the immature Christian (the “weak in faith” of 14:1) who has come from a religious background that mandated religious holidays is to be loved as a fellow believer and member of the same local church, but is the one who has not matured into understanding that such things are unnecessary for Christians. In Colossians, religious holidays are things of the past as they are shadows finding their fulfillment in Christ (2:16-17). Yes, the days in view in Colossians seem to be Old Testament holy days, but nothing in the New Testament indicates that the old are ever replaced. Instead, the substance is in Christ Himself. In Galatians 4:9-10 Paul warns believers not to depend upon the spiritual significance of observing holidays. This does not prove that Christian holidays are wrong, but it does show that dependence upon a holy day is problematic.
Where did the so called church calendar or liturgical calendar come from if it did not come from the Bible in the form of a prescribed calendar? This is a difficult question to answer apart from a doctoral dissertation unearthing loads of historical data. But with a Jewish background in holy days, one can see how Christians might be prone to follow the example. Likewise, the negative cultural influence of pagan festivals likely contributed to the church’s desire to sanctify such practices and declare them holy days. The third contributing strand is so called sacred tradition whereby traditions are elevated to authoritative status because of ecclesiastical decree. Finally, a need to simplify and control church practices because of an uneducated and/or untrustworthy clergy may have contributed to the formalization of a church calendar. This sort of background has led some in history to purposely ignore any and all such holidays. The pastor would simply preach the next passage in the book he happened to be preaching through even if it was Christmas.
By and large, I do not want to follow the so called church calendar. Here are several reasons: First, it is not a biblical mandate. Second, it has a history that I am less than excited about being associated with. Third, if we followed the plethora of liturgical holidays, it would be impossible to cover the rest of the wealth of Scripture. Fourth, the liturgical calendar is typically, though not exclusively, associated with sacramentalism inseparably linking salvation to our religious performance.
Nevertheless, I think a day is a day (Romans 14:5) and given the opportunity to proclaim Christ to some who would not typically listen, Christmas and Easter are acknowledged as days where I will be sure to speak of the birth and resurrection with extraordinary attention. But this is more of a cultural accommodation than anything else and is not due to a mandate from Jesus whose vicarious life, death, and resurrection I seek to always proclaim.
- Pastor Pat Abendroth