This past weekend, churches across the world were flooded not with “the faithful” as they are so often dubbed, but with what we may facetiously call “Christmas and Easter” (C&E) Christians. I know my own church was flooded in the four Easter services held on our campus, nearly doubling the average attendance for any given weekend. These “C&E” Christians are those who do not attend regular services but manage to get all dressed up and present themselves for their bi-annual appearance at the church-house on “special” Sundays near the two most notable Christian “holidays;” Christmas and Easter.
I, along with many faithful attenders, are tempted to scowl at these that appear at only special times during the year; and perhaps some righteous indignation is warranted. But it occurs to me that for the vast majority of evangelicalism (speaking from the Baptist world), we all tend to be C&E Christians no matter how often we attend our churches or or faithful we are to the other programs.
Our Puritan and Separatist fore-bearers instilled in us an innate suspicion of what they might have called the “superstitions and mysticism of popery (Roman Catholicism).” One of the most infamous atrocities of “papishness” was attention to the church-calendar and “holy-days (holidays)” such as Christmas and Easter. Some more stringent forms of Puritanism condemned any celebration of Christmas with as much enthusiasm as they would have condemned the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Over the course of the nineteenth-century, as Puritanism’s hold on the embryonic forms of evangelicalism waned, the observance of Christmas and Easter fell back into favor during the romanticized Victorian era. Many of our cherished Christmas traditions, including carols and food, come from this time. All the various days dedicated to the many saints along with most other Christian “feast” days were ignored by the majority of evangelicalism; but something about Christmas and Easter stuck around and is still with us today. Even the most anti-Catholic Independent Baptist churches will still argue that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” while boycotting department stores that do not specify “Christmas” as the holiday being celebrated throughout December. You will also find them donning their pastel shirts and dresses for Easter or “Resurrection” Sunday.
Christmas and Easter do indeed have a lasting and perpetual hold on even the most staunchly evangelical-Protestant hearts and minds.
The problem is, there’s more to the story of Christ and the gospel than Christmas and Easter.
I remember a particular sermon by Ohio pastor Alistair Begg on the importance and power of the Ascension of Christ… a professor in seminary who encouraged us to preach on the Trinity on “Trinity Sunday” (something the majority of the class knew nothing about)… and I’ll never forget the bright red flags and rousing sermon delivered at an evangelical Episcopalian Church in Nashville on Pentecost Sunday.
Granted, Christ’s miraculous birth, saving death, and powerful resurrection do indeed have perhaps the central places in the life and thought of the Church. But because of our exclusion of other important events in the life of Christ in the “Church year,” we fail to realize the significance of those events… they’re simply stories we may or may not be familiar with.
We’ve all become Christmas and Easter Christians; remembering the events that promote our favorite holidays while ignoring other greatly significant events in the history of redemption.
Now what I’m not suggesting is that we “bind the conscience” of anyone with extra-biblical days and feasts (I see that one coming). Of course, we don’t have the right to bind any man or church’s conscience in any respect to things that are not clearly taught by Scripture. What we may do is look to nearly 2,000 years of wonderful Church history, glean what is good, and leave that which can be left. This includes learning from and perhaps observing portions of the Church year that might help us and our churches to center their lives and years around the events of the gospel and redemption… not just the “fun” ones.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Advent: A season of waiting, usually lasting the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We’re so often tempted to start Christmas in November, that we fail to grasp the weight of it when it is actually here. The people of God waited for nearly 2,000 years for the promise of his Messiah the first time. Advent reminds us of that period of waiting and encourages us to not only remember Christ’s first coming, but to wait expectantly for his second coming.
Baptism of the Lord: This usually falls near the celebration of Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi and the inclusion of the gentiles into redemptive history. This particular occasion invites us toe remember Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and is a great way to invite people to “join the story” of Christ by believing and being baptized themselves.
Ascension Sunday: Celebrated the Sunday closes to forty days after Easter, this day commemorates and celebrates the ascension of Christ to Heaven where he is exalted at the right hand of God the Father. Not only that, but Christ goes there as still fully-man (albeit glorified) to serve as a Great High Priest before the Father. There he prays for us and intercedes on our behalf in such a perfect way that our salvation is eternally sealed by his pleas.
Pentecost Sunday: Celebrated on the Sunday closest to the fifty day mark after Easter. This is a celebration of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost and reflects on the ongoing gifts and ministry of the Spirit within the Church today. This serves as a powerful culmination of all that has been built up since Advent and reinforces the centrality of the gospel attended by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Trinity Sunday: This is sort of the “grand finale,” if you will, of the Church year and simply revolves around the doctrine of the Trinity and falls on the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday. With countless assaults from ancient to modern times, the Trinity is one of the hallmark doctrines of the true, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What better way to ensure that this lovely doctrine is taught and understood than by devoting a whole day to its celebration and proclamation.
Do you see how each event in the history of redemption is packed with significance and importance for the believer’s daily walk in grace? From the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to the ongoing intercession of Jesus Christ in Heaven, these events and days supplement the basic story that we all get on Christmas and Easter. In a way, these events complete that story and reinforce the truths taught there. Sure, there’s nothing binding about it that says, “you must do these things,” and tradition should never be the sole reason for doing anything. But when practices highlight and even glorify the truths of Scripture and the beauty of the gospel within the parameters of Scripture, I say embrace them, celebrate them, and in so doing, teach your people “the whole counsel of God.”