A Year of Signposts-Following the Church Calendar

Michael S. Horton
Tuesday, June 12th 2007
Jan/Feb 2001

I realize that following the Church calendar is not the practice of some churches. However, it has been effective in many of our churches that have inherited it from ancient practice, and it’s being discovered by others today. While it should never be followed slavishly or with superstition, it helps to have signposts in the year that focus our attention on the momentous events in the life of Christ and the founding of his New Covenant assembly. It is another way of getting us to orient our Church life around the divine drama: Advent (culminating in Christmas), Epiphany (the appearance of the wise men—or, more properly, the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles), Circumcision (the beginning of our Lord’s consecration), Lent (Jesus’ wilderness temptation of forty days, culminating in Good Friday), Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. This is a marvelous tool for education over many years, as long as it doesn’t deteriorate to mere habit.

Growing interest has generated a virtual cottage industry of new guides to catechism for all ages, with curricula for both Church and home. Again we are reminded of the importance of Church practice. It doesn’t matter if we assent to all the right doctrine, unless we really believe it. And we can enter into personal confidence in the truth of God’s Word only by growing up into it, as we experience it in community as the people of God. We are shaped in our beliefs as much by concrete worship practices and decisions about what we sing over many years as we are by the propositions to which we yield assent.

Paul tells us in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” He is telling us that one of the chief ways of getting God’s Word into us—and not just into us in a mindlessly repetitive way, but so that it will “dwell in [us] richly in all wisdom,” is through what we sing. This singing is not only a matter of praise, but of education: “teaching and admonishing one another.” Does our music serve this purpose and fit these criteria? It is ineffective to sing traditional psalms and hymns without thought, but it is surely no better to substitute contemporary “clips” from the Psalms and vacuous phrases about our state of consciousness. A fresh initiative, across the denominational landscape, appears to be emerging that seeks to produce new music with both fresh creativity and theological and musical integrity.

A revival of traditional Christian practices whose practical success has the record of impressive centuries of vital witness will not look—should not look—like the first century, fifth century, twelfth century, sixteenth century, or eighteenth century. But it cannot look like the twenty-first century stripped of these antecedents. We will, no doubt, find our way back to these resources as people of our time and place. In doing so, we will be surprised at how similar some of our problems are to those faced by our brothers and sisters in other times and places. We’ll be lifted out of our snobbery toward the past, as if our generation were the only important one in the history of the Church. And we will also encounter new questions that they will help us answer: How can we enjoy the Sabbath in our day of commuter churches? What will regular catechism practices look like in today’s over-committed and often broken homes? Is there an emerging approach to Church music that reaches beyond the dead end of traditional-versus-contemporary and contemporary-versus-traditional? If style isn’t neutral, what criteria should we develop so that God’s Word may dwell in us “richly in all wisdom”? But these are all exciting questions, if we have already accepted the challenge to move in these directions. We can expect variety as we step up to the plate ourselves, in our time and place, understanding and incorporating, but not slavishly imitating, that which has gone before.

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Tuesday, June 12th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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