Christian Celebration: Wielding the Weapons of Worship

Celebrating the Incarnation will begin for Solomon’s Porch on November 27th, 2022 and continue through January 5th, 2023. We will restart our Scripture reading plan for the year on November 27th to coincide with the beginning of the Celebration of the Incarnation. I thought it might be helpful to outline my journey as a man who did not celebrate any Christian season, to a man that celebrates/remembers the five evangelical feast days of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, & Pentecost (outpouring of the Holy Spirit) with gusto.

I am terrible at celebrating. When I was twelve, my mother told me I had become a grumpy old man. She was right. In truth, I was selfish. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I thought Christmas (and all holidays, actually) was an expensive over-bearing waste of time. I became reformed through reading the Puritans and gradually made my way to the Scottish Presbyterians. Saying that they were anti-holy days would be an understatement. In them, I found a theology to meet my demeanor. And boy, did I live into it. For eight years, I celebrated neither Christmas or Easter. Then about twelve years ago, I began to see things a little bit differently.

It began when I asked, “Why is American evangelicalism producing a disembodied faith?” By “disembodied,” I mean void of Christian practices or duties. The Christianity I became a part of in the mid-nineties and the vibrant spiritual life I experienced dwelling with the older saints (people then in their 70s and 80s) during that time period seemed to have vanished almost entirely by the Great Recession of 2008. Answering this question sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole. I concluded that there were two leading causes.

The first cause was a focus on teaching “justification by faith alone,” apart from the doctrine of sanctification and good works. We are justified by faith alone, but our life and works display whether our faith is authentic. Divorcing faith and works, which generally happened in the Seeker Church Movement, allowed intellectual acknowledgment (agreeing with theological statements) to reign in the place of true biblical faith. American evangelicals taught a faith void of obligations, such as Sabbath, giving, prayer, fasting, and service of their neighbor, especially the poor. Cheap grace flourished. And so Christianity in America became a shadow of its former self, disembodied, a ghost.

The second cause of the disappearance of biblical Christianity was more complex. It involved the loss of natural revelation. My first step toward thinking differently occurred when I began to contemplate how disconnected I was from God’s creation. I was meditating on Genesis 1:14-15, how God created the stars for times and seasons and how I rarely looked up.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:14-15)

At this point, I began to think about seasons. At first, I tried organizing my spiritual life around the four seasons. But I had to make up spiritual truths on which to focus. When I started to try and form truths around which to focus, I started thinking about each month and its place in the calendar. And for the first time, I realized what a calendar was for, not merely marking out the days my bills were due, but for marking the times and the changing of the seasons. Times? Times are the days when the seasons officially change. Like a good Protestant with the work ethic to prove it, at first only things like when to plant and harvest occurred to me as “times.” I mean how the seasons changed man’s work, my work habits. As I started to use the seasons to form my spiritual habits around, I noticed the changing seasons were marked by changes in food, dress habits (no white after Labor Day), and celebrations.

Then I began to understand how our Christian forefathers and mothers had arranged the calendar to line up with the rhythms of the created world. Not only that, but I noticed that they used natural revelation as a helpful instructor. Pre-modern Christians did not have access to the Scriptures as we do. They were more symbolic in their worship. Early Christians immediately made a new calendar for themselves. Breaking from the pagan New Year, they made the birth of Christ the beginning of their year. Christmas marks the beginning of the Christian year, with Christ’s birth celebrated just after the Winter solstice (the darkest day). From there, the days get longer; light begins to overcome darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5) The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9) The celebration of the Resurrection arrives just after the Spring Equinox when the light becomes longer than the darkness. Symbolic of shining brighter and brighter into the Eternal Day. I used to believe, wrongly, that this was mere Roman Catholic syncretizing the Christian faith with paganism. As I learned through reading early church sources and becoming more familiar with Christian history, that the celebration of the incarnation and the Resurrection predate Rome’s claim to rule (which gradually happened between 600-1054 AD) the Church by hundreds of years. They are present in very early sources. 

When these thoughts first occurred to me, I protested. I rebuked myself by saying, “I have fifty-two holy days a year (weekly Sabbaths). I need nothing more.” A very Scottish Presbyterian response. But I answered myself rather dryly, saying, “Yeah, but what are you doing with them?” Crickets. I had no answer. The truth was that I treated every Lord’s Day the same. It was then I realized that I wasn’t celebrating at all. It was also then that the thought occurred to me that I could be reformed and enjoy the Christian seasons of celebration. I could keep God’s special revelation (the Scriptures) and honor God’s natural revelation (creation) by making my Sabbaths more impactful by giving them Gospel direction. And, could I come up with anything better to mark the passing of time in my life than the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the Second Coming of Christ? All at once, I saw how terrifically arrogant it was for me to try and make up my own calendar. All I needed to do was take up a position of “honor(ing) my father and mother,” look to the Church as she had been for two millennia, and fall in line with Her evangelical celebrations. That’s the year we bought our first real Christmas tree, and I started trying to make celebration a vital part of my life. That was also about the time that Solomon’s Porch was founded as a ministry, in 2011-12.

Bear with me while I go just a tad further in my thought process here. At about this time, I began to gravitate towards C. S. Lewis, T. S. Elliot, and G. K. Chesterton (Tolkien too, but I already loved him) as Christian cultural critics. I call them “prophets to the modern world.” As I read them, I noticed that they were all raising the same red flags about the direction of Western Civilization. They believed the West was on a suicide course. I came to believe they were right. C. S. Lewis’s “Abolition of Man” and “Til We Have Faces” significantly impacted me. I started to realize what was at stake in all this. We were being dehumanized. We were being separated from God and one another by the Enlightenment Project’s goal of producing a culture apart from God. T. S. Elliot’s “Notes Towards The Definition of Culture” helped me to see what culture truly is, a significant development in my understanding. Culture is related to the Latin word “cultus,” which is used to discuss a nation’s religion. Christian culture is not the same as Hindu or Islamic culture because, at the root, we do not believe in the same God. The Character of their gods led to the type of society that grew up where those religions flourished. Culture, then, is that which arises from what we believe about God. It is the “embodiment” of belief. That’s when I saw clearly that there could be no victory in the “culture wars” on the ground on which we, as God’s people, are currently fighting. The atheist spirit we are fighting against believes in nothing. We are not fighting a war with a traditional opponent where they want one thing, and we want another. No, they are fighting a total war. They are scorching the earth. They cannot build culture because that takes faith. All they can do is destroy. Phillip Reiff said in his book, “The Triumph of the Therapeutic” (he’s an atheist btw) that atheists cannot build culture, all they can produce is anti-culture. They pull apart instead of put together. What stung me the most was the thought that the excesses of the reformation (extreme application of the regulative principle of which I was guilty) had helped erase the Christian year, evangelical celebration, and even Christian art to a great extent. Puritan churches are white, utilitarian, undecorated boxes, void of art or image. We reformed Christians, in our zeal for pure worship, had unwittingly paved the way for the Enlightenment to impose its nothingness (no meaning) upon the blank disembodied slate of the Protestant West. The Puritans wiped the blackboard clean, but the Enlightenment ate them for lunch and then wrote new lessons to disciple the modern age. The Christian culture built by the long work of Christians made of stories, celebrations, songs, and art was pulled up with its roots. These were the means of transmission. It is how we seeded the Gospel into our children and pre-evangelized them to understand and receive the truth in Christ. De-humanized and disconnected from each other through the destruction of our shared belief in Christ and our shared Christian practices, our social fabric collapsed. Without the means to transmit the core of our faith to the next generation, without the preparatory work of a shared Christian life, as time passed and was lost, so was our collective sacred memory. To quote Galadriel (Tolkien), “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” 

I came to understand that in order to win we must build biblical culture, and the way we build biblical culture is through worship. The pursuit of political victory is a distraction. Worship is the root of culture not politics. Faith is the floor of any Christian society, the Apostles and Prophets its foundation, Christ the Cornerstone. This is where it all came together for me. This is when I began to see it as one whole cloth. The answer to the riddle of how to win surprised me. To quote Lewis himself, I was “Surprised by Joy.” I realized that every society on Earth has days of celebration for their people. It is a natural law. That meant that to do so was both written in the skies (Genesis 1:14-15) and on our heart. It is part of the seed of religion within man. Suddenly, not celebrating the seasons of Christian celebration felt like a purely modern invention. It felt like an act someone without understanding, who didn’t grow or harvest anything. or who did not know or love their neighbor would do.

How do we fight the culture war? We celebrate! We celebrate and remember the Life, the Death, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Second Coming, and the Consummation. We worship. We pray. We preach. We commune. We enjoy God’s creation. We build a thick Christian culture around the Gospel. We work hard, and we celebrate hard… together. We fast, and we feast. We keep the joy (a word hardly ever used anymore) of the Gospel ever before us, especially in suffering and rejection. We follow our Lord, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2b). We have something precious that no thief can steal. We have Christ. We have the Holy Spirit. The Triune God is ours. We have eternity, the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven, and Earth, etc. All the promises of God are yes in Him. We order our lives by the Gospel. We celebrate as a people.

My confusion about where we, as modern Christians, go from here dissipated. The fog lifted. All I needed to do was rejoin the great cloud of witnesses that emerged victorious over Rome, pagan Europe, and every nation they marched into up until recent history. So I did. I rejoined the celebratory march to victory, knowing that victory was assured because my weapons were the proper weapons for spiritual warfare. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4) Our weapons are the means of grace, which are the means of worship. Who can worship the Lord our God and not be full of joy? Love, faith and joy are joined at the hip. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8). Let us celebrate each of the Gospel seasons, each Lord’s Day, knowing that while our enemies wage total war, our King has already accomplished total victory. Soli Dei Gloria! Starting with His birth each year and continuing to His ascension to the Father’s right hand we reenact what is true. It is the enculturation of the Truth. The Gospel guides our year and turns time from a cold enemy seeking our life into a warm friend that reminds us of eternity. Emmanuel has come. He has trodden down His (and our) enemies and Ascended to the Father’s right hand to reign and rule. He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us. From June to November we await His return, learn of his teachings, and deepen our knowledge of Him. Round and round we go learning and loving and growing until death is swallowed up in victory and mortals like us experience glorified immortality. Praise be to Him!

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