“There is a wide difference between what it is lawful for the church to do on those occasions when God in His providence may be calling its members to weeping and humiliation, or summoning them to special joy and thanksgiving, and what it is lawful for the Church to do in the way of setting up a standing part of its permanent worship.”
- James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, Banner of Truth
Generally, in Reformed and evangelical circles there are special services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and on Good Friday and Easter. Some Churches also celebrate Pentecost and Ascension Day. What is our position?
The whole Church calendar tradition is not prescribed to us by the Word of God. God only requires that we gather corporately for worship on the Lord’s day. Throughout history the Church has designated specific days on which to remember significant events. Prior to the Reformation things were such that almost every day of the year was designated as special, as a holy day.
When the Reformation came to Europe, the Churches, by and large, objected to any days of worship besides the Lord’s day. So when the Synod of Dordt met in 1574 the following was decided:
The Reformed Churches had been in the habit of keeping Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide as days of religious worship. The synod enjoined the churches to do this no longer, but to be satisfied with Sundays for divine service. (Article 67)
By 1618, as a concession to the Government, the Synod decided:
The Churches shall observe, in addition to the Sunday, also Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, the day of Prayer, the National Thanksgiving Day, and Old and New Year’s Day. (Article 67 revised)
The Scottish Presbyterian tradition was equally forthright in its position opposing worship services on Feast Days. In the Directory for Publick Worship agreed to by the Kirk of Scotland on February 3, 1645 the divines wrote:
There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued. Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for public fasting and thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people. (Pg. 300 in Johnstone & Hunter Edition)
As a congregation we have chosen to establish ourselves in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition which has historically not had special services for feast days. Because of our historical tradition and because there is no command or evidence in the New Testament Scriptures to remember these significant periods in the redemptive history of the Church with special formal worship services, the Session has decided to discontinue such services. The glory of our worship services is not the outward ceremonial pageantry special days might bring. New Testament worship is distinguished by simplicity and “less outward glory” (WCF 7.6), because the glory of the church’s worship is now that of the exalted Christ and the work of the Spirit which glory far exceeds all outward ceremonies, seasonal colours, or decorations.
However, since the birth, death, resurrection, ascension of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are events of redemptive significance, sermons may be preached on these events on the Lord’s day(s) in proximity to the time the Church, by and large, focuses on these events. For example, on some of the Lord’s days preceding December 25 the incarnation of our Lord may be preached about.
This position does not preclude having special evangelistic services, missions conferences or Bible conferences on other days. Nor would this preclude calling the congregation to worship as the various providences of God might lead us such as special prayer services, thanksgiving services, etc.