Monday, December 20, 2010

Fast Day, Feast Day


In certain corners of the conservative Christian public space this time of year (the Christmas Season) there emerge feisty discussions of the meaning, validity and Christian "legality" of observing Christmas.

My contribution is as follows:

THESES

1)  According to the Regulative Principle of Worship, the Church may declare "thanksgiving days" in recognition and remembrance of major events of divine providence.

2)  Reasoning from the lesser to the greater, it is therefore within the church's liberty to declare "thanksgiving days" in remembrance of greater things, such as major events in the life of Christ.

3)  But, this liberty of the church to remember major events in the life of Christ has been decried by a false application of the Regulative Principle of Worship, which stems from anti-Roman Catholic sentiment.

4)  As a result of the church denying herself the use of her liberty to declare "thanksgiving days" in remembrance of major events in the life of Christ, the emphasis and development of these major gospel events is lowered within the life of the church, and

5)  The "church calendar" has been secularized to contain only civil holidays and days of remembrance.

DISCUSSION

I read somewhere that the tradition of "public days" called for by Church and State was carried to this country from European origins, and that in this country the tradition was carried forward, probably initially mostly by New England Puritans.  They would call for days of fasting as well as days of thanksgiving, in response to events of providence, such as wars, plagues, famines, victories, deliverance from enemies, etc.

Therefore, as they saw it, the Regulative Principle of Worship, in harmony with Scriptural (Old Testament) examples of days of feasting and fasting, in no way prohibited the declaration of fasting- and feasting-days in modern times when it seemed appropriate in the providence of God.

But, the non-Anglican Reformed and Baptist believers took considerable exception to the traditional "church calendar," including any recognition of the days devoted to remembrance of major events in the life of Christ.  There are several reasons for this that I can think of quickly:

1)  The "church calendar" was cluttered with all sorts of saints days and other inappropriate material, distracting attention from Christ.

2)  There were probably legal requirements requiring participation in church holidays, rather than permitting free participation in good conscience.

3)  But, perhaps most important of all, the "church calender" was "Catholic," and therefore to be avoided.

As I see it, anti-Romanism is the reigning thesis in this argument opposing Christmas, not the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Anti-Romanism distorts the pure application of the Regulative Principle.

Anecdotally, it is alleged that some Puritans would prostrate themselves (lie on their faces) on the floor in private prayer, but would not kneel.  Kneeling was "idolatrous" because Catholics did it.

I can't verify the accuracy of that anecdote, but the alleged reason for avoiding kneeling illuminates the well-known attitude of many of the advanced Puritans and Baptists of the 17th and 18th centuries to Romanism in general:  It was considered to be entirely a cult of the anti-Christ, and therefore, all religious behaviors in public and private had to avoid doing anything that looked "Catholic."  Besides kneeling, this includes use of "holy days" from the traditional "church calendar," even "holy days" in remembrance of Christ.

CONCLUSION:

It seems to me that the fast-days and thanksgiving-days of the early American and Puritan experience have now evolved to become a new, secularized "church calendar."  New Year's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day, etc., etc. have become the new "feast days," and are often mentioned or possibly observed in some churches.  But the church has denied herself the right to declare "thanksgiving-days" in honor of Christ!

Nowadays, in churches which profess to adhere to the Regulative Principle, all you might have for an extraordinary meeting during this season could be a meeting on Thanksgiving Day or New Year's Eve.

What a loss!

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