During the sixteenth century, among those Christian leaders advocating for change in the flow and manner of Sunday worship, there was a kind of unwritten agreement regarding which Sunday morning practices should continue and which should not. That is, the worship services of the day (Roman, Gallic, Syriac, Armenian, Byzantine, etc.) included commemoration of important Christian people (Saints’ Days) and festivals related to the Church Year calendar, seasons based on events from the life of Jesus. Some of these commemorations and festivals swelled in popularity and gained a life all their own. The Protestant reformers began to ask: Which of these commemorations and festivals should be continued? You may be wondering how we’ve answered that question here at King’s Cross.
From Africa to Iceland, sixteenth century Protestants created a multitude of Sunday morning worship patterns, more than 100 in Germany alone. Mark Earngey affirms that there was consistent agreement that the primary source of knowledge was the Bible. While the Bible does not include a specific Sunday morning pattern, they “understood the important interplay between how worshippers pray (lex orandi) and how worshippers believe (lex credendi)” and understood “liturgy as a powerful means by which to communicate theology.”
Church historians and historical theologians note that, over time, an unwritten agreement began to take shape. Generally speaking, Five Evangelical Feast Days persisted, identified by Hughes Oliphant Old and other scholars as Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the Day of Ascension and Day of Pentecost (both in May). So, the Sunday morning Saints’ Days were completely edited out, although weekday commemorations of saints and martyrs were appropriate. And, apart from those mentioned above, most festivals associated with the Church Year calendar were edited out, including Advent and Lent. English and American Puritans often edited more tightly than Christians in Africa and on the Continent, but opinions are not always predictable, or consistent.
What is the Church Year calendar?
Chirstmastide opens the Church Year calendar at the end of December and beginning of January. This is a season to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the gospel invitation to the Gentiles through the visit of the magi (Epiphany). Lent is a 40-day season, not counting Sundays, of reflection, looking back at how we’ve lived our lives, and anticipation for the substitutionary death of Jesus. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most important days in the Church Year calendar. In May, 40 days after the resurrection, is the Day of Ascension, a celebration of the Great Commission. And 10 days later comes the Day of Pentecost, a celebration of the Holy Spirit and the preaching ministry of the church. Finally comes Advent which, like Lent, is a season of reflection, looking back at how we’ve lived our lives, and anticipation, anticipation for the birth of Jesus.
What is our practice?
At King’s Cross we celebrate Christmastide. On these one or two Sundays we sing hymns and look at Scriptures related to the birth of Jesus. We also gather on Christmas Eve for a Service of Lessons and Carols to read together the biblical story of the birth of Jesus and sing Christmas carols. We recognize the beginning of Lent with a Sunday sermon and songs on a subject related to repentance, humility, and confession, and we commend a selection of appropriate reading for the season. We celebrate Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday with sermons and songs concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, along with special music. We also gather for a Good Friday service to read together the biblical story of the last week of Jesus and sing fitting hymns. We also publish a Bible Reading Plan about the last week of Jesus. We recognize the Day of Pentecost with a sermon and songs about the Holy Spirit. We do not ordinarily recognize the Day of Ascension. In October we commemorate Reformation Day, the day recognized as the launch of the Protestant Reformation. Finally, we celebrate the four Sundays of Advent with sermons and songs concerning the birth of Jesus, along with special music. We also publish a Bible Reading Plan about the birth of Jesus and commend a selection of appropriate reading for the season.
Mark Earngey, “Soli Deo Gloria, The Reformation of Worship,” in Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, chapter 2.
Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, chapters 3 and 10.