Should You Follow the Liturgical Calendar?

The Affair of the Sausage was the effective start of the Reformation in Switzerland. The setting was the season of Lent in the year 1522. Huldrych Zwingli was already drawn into the Reformation that Martin Luther began via his 95 Theses in 1517, but this meat-eating event proved to be the watershed moment of the Swiss Reformation. Although Zwingli himself did not eat any sausage, he was present and later defended those who did defy the mandatory Lenten fast imposed by the Catholic Church.

For those unfamiliar, the liturgical calendar is meant to immerse Christians yearly within the overall scope of the Bible.[1] During Advent, remembrance is toward the long-awaited incarnation of Jesus Christ. Epiphany then focuses upon Jesus’ revelation of Himself to the world, while Lent is a season for meditating upon the suffering and crucifixion of Christ (which is usually observed through an extended period of fasting). Easter then calls us to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, and Pentecost reminds us of the Church’s receiving of the Holy Spirit and charge to fulfill the Great Commission. The rest of the year is typically marked as Ordinary Time.

Although Zwingli’s sausage controversy is now sealed within the panels of history, the question of how Christians should approach liturgical seasons continues to be debated. Many love the yearly pattern of retelling the gospel long-form throughout the year, whereas others see nothing more than manmade feasts and festivals that only distract from the simple weekly worship on the Lord’s Day and feast of the Lord’s Supper.

What then should we do? Should Christians follow the liturgical calendar, or should we abstain?

My answer is simply: do whatever you like. My family and I have never observed the full liturgical calendar; however, we do enjoy loosely celebrating Advent each year (and occasionally Lent).

Colossians 2:16 is a text that is frequently referenced during these discussions (and rightly so). It reads: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” He continues in the following verse to explain why such things are no longer of importance: “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Jesus Himself is our Sabbath rest, our soul’s festive delight, and the Living Water and Bread of Life. The great principle here is that Jesus Christ must be our sole focus, and lesser things should not distract us from His glorious radiance.

We should, therefore, refrain from two opposite errors. First, even though the liturgical calendar is meant to turn our focus to Christ, those who observe it cannot pass judgment upon those who do not. In this case, Zwingli’s friends were entirely right to eat sausage and challenge the unbiblical commandments of Rome. However, Paul also did not forbid such extrabiblical celebrations. Therefore, if someone finds the liturgical calendar to be beneficial for setting their gaze upon Christ, I do not believe that it should be condemned.

In a similar passage, Romans 14:5-6, Paul writes these words:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Whether you celebrate one or more of the liturgical seasons or whether you do not, we are each called to honor Christ our Lord. Let us do so with joy and gladness, making no legalistic demands upon our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you do decide to celebrate Advent, you can find my collected resources here.

If you would like a further look at an evangelical observance of the full liturgical calendar, the Village Church’s 2018 guide has been my favorite by far.

[1] Traditions certainly vary between denominations, so I make no claim that this brief summary speaks for all who observe the liturgical calendar.


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