Yesterday I posted some reflections on the first Sunday of Lent and how even my own mental picture the Christian season of preparation before Easter might have to change . . . or not.
At the heart of this, as I’ve mentioned in this space before, is the church, the Christian church, calendar. This “calendar” (also called the liturgical calendar) is made up of two major cycles: the Christmas cycle (which includes Advent and Epiphany) and the Easter cycle (which includes Lent and concludes with Pentecost). And while pretty much every Protestant church worth its salt acknowledges “the big two” of Christmas and Easter, many of those same churches have done little to nothing with the remainder of the cycles. From a recent Barna Group survey about the liturgical calendar:
There are reasons for that, of course, many of them (right or wrong) rooted in church history and lived experience. And yet the older I get, the longer I’m around, the more I am drawn to at least some version of the practice. Part of that, I have learned, is a personality thing: something about the need for structure and common language/practice. And while most Baptists are far from “liturgical,” we definitely have our favorite forms of worship.
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I recently came across an organization called the Center for Baptist Renewal, a group “of conservative, evangelical Baptists committed to a retrieval of the Great Tradition of the historic church for the renewal of Baptist faith and practice.” The organization recently posted an article about the benefit of the liturgical calendar for Christian community and practice. It’s a nice summary of the issue. I particularly like this excerpt from the second point, that “everyone has an organizing principle”:
In fact, everyone organizes their worship, and usually in large calendric chunks. Even those who are adamantly opposed to the calendar but also insist (rightly, in my view) on expositional preaching through books of the Bible take time to organize their preaching schedule. Every pastor I’ve ever had, and many of the ones I know personally (but not as a congregant), take annual or semi-annual retreats to pray about and solidify their preaching schedule each year. Sometimes this is simply organizing how one will continue to preach through the same book as the year before; other times it includes deciding which new book or books to preach through in a given season. The point is that everyone has an organizing principle for how they preach, even expositional, book-by-book preachers and teachers. The calendar is not antithetical to this, but is merely one way of providing an organizing schema. The calendar is not used because it is commanded in Scripture; it is used because it helps the church throughout space and time organize its exposition of God’s Word to his people.
So if I seemed a little crotchety in my reflection yesterday, it’s because I’m aiming for something in my own life and practice, trying to put some things in place that can help me as I press on (and particularly as I try to push back on the individualism that seems to have infected so many Christian churches and organizations).
I’ll return to this topic a few times over the next few weeks, I hope. It’s a journey that I’m definitely hoping to learn from.
(image from the Barna Group)