Thinking Out Loud

November 29, 2015

For The Christian Church Worldwide, This is New Year’s Day

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:59 am

Years ago when working for InterVarsity in Toronto, Canada, a couple of us discussed the idea of visiting a Roman Catholic church on an upcoming Sunday. Because it’s a large city, we ended up doing our visiting independently of each other, which meant going alone.

The family near where I sat down must have sensed my unfamiliarity the minute I walked in. They handed me the missal, and informed me that this was “The seventeenth Sunday of ordinary time.” Wait; the what? They told me where to follow in the two books that would provide the texts for that week’s service.

I figured the ordinary time thing was some Catholic thing, and didn’t give it much further thought. Flash forward about a decade, and I encountered Advent. Honestly, it’s not much of a stretch to say I didn’t know the difference between an Advent calendar and an Advent candle. But as I moved around the various communities of Christians, I quickly learned about feast days, Epiphany, Lent, and much more.

A few days ago, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk provided a short crash course for the uninitiated, as well as those of you who grew up in a liturgical environment, but need some review:

Christians who follow the liturgical calendar will begin a new year of living in the Gospel with the commencement of Advent on Nov. 29.

The diagram on the right gives an overview of the annual Church calendar.

  • Advent is the season when we prepare for Christ’s coming. (4 weeks)
  • Christmastide is the season when we celebrate Christ’s incarnation. (12 days)
  • In Epiphany, we remember how Christ made God’s glory known to the world. (up to 9 weeks)
  • The Lenten season leads us to the Cross, the climactic event in Holy Week, which concludes Lent. (40 days plus Sundays)
  • Eastertide (the Great 50 Days) celebrates Christ’s resurrection, new life, and his ascension to glory. It concludes on the 50th day, Pentecost, the day of the Spirit’s outpouring.
  • The Season after Pentecost (or Trinity, or Ordinary Time) is the time of the church, when by the Spirit we live out the life of the Gospel in community and in the world. (up to 29 weeks)

I don’t know why so many Christian groups think they need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to “discipleship programs.” This time-tested annual pattern for the life of individual believers and the Church together that is focused on Christ, organized around the Gospel, and grounded in God’s grace, is sheer genius. It is simple enough for a child. It offers enough opportunities for creativity and flexibility that it need never grow old. Each year offers a wonderful template for learning to walk with Christ more deeply in the Gospel which brings us faith, hope, and love.

My favorite book on church year spirituality is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Here is his summary of the subject:

Ancient-Future Time presents the historical understanding of the Christian year as life lived in the pattern of death and resurrection with Christ. This spiritual tradition was developed in the early church and has been passed down in history through the worship of the church. It enjoys biblical sanction, historical staying power, and contemporary relevance. Through Christian-year spirituality we are enabled to experience the biblical mandate of conforming to Christ. The Christian year orders our formation with Christ incarnate in his ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and coming again through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. In Christian-year spirituality we are spiritually formed by recalling and entering into his great saving events. (p. 21f)

The article then continues — click the link to read — Five Reasons to Practice Church Year Spirituality.

February 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Snake Handling Church Disclaimer

Here’s this week’s collection, with the hope that you’ll be my Valinktine.  Click anything below and you’ll find yourself at PARSE, the link list’s exclusive official owners and operators! (Or just click now, it’s easier to read there.)

After winning the silver medal in linking at the 2008 Bloglympics, Paul Wilkinson settled into a quiet life of writing at Thinking Out Loud.

Burning Church

If you watch all four parts of the documentary about Burning Man linked above, you discover that all photographs taken at the event become part of a commons that photographers agree to share. It’s part of an overall philosophy that guides the event and why there’s no photo credit here.

August 24, 2010

Seeking the Symbolism: Our Visit to a Catholic Church

On Sunday, for the fourth or fifth time, we visited a small church which is a breakaway group from the local Roman Catholic church.    The split from Rome was, I believe, over the issue of the ordination of women priests, but I believe there were some other issues; many of which the congregants of this church have perhaps forgotten.   The service uses the same lectionary readings as other Catholic churches in Canada follow, but there are also some variations in other places.

The group averages between thirty and fifty people, and we return occasionally to offer encouragement; but also because, of the 37 churches and home churches I’ve visited in our area, they are the most friendly and the most welcoming.    (And their worship band is probably one of the best, also; especially considering their involvement in the liturgy.)

This time around we arrived late and were seated closer to the front and I found myself noticing things I would have missed before.   The symbols on the stole the pastor was wearing.    His kissing of the altar table at the beginning and end of the service.   A reference to the table containing water and wine, representing the humanity and divinity of Christ.

On a Sunday that many Christians worshiped in ‘neutral’ auditoriums devoid of icons and physical actions of worship (and in a few cases, equally devoid of depth or mystery) I couldn’t help but think that this is the extra dimension of worship some say they miss, and others say is going to make a comeback.  (Though possibly minus the kissing of objects, unless their origins are Greek Orthodox.)

Also, this is worship style where the emphasis is not on the sermon.  Although I’ve heard a couple of great messages in this church, my Evangelical friends would consider the one on Sunday to be sermon-lite.   So the other forms of the service matter more in this context.

After the service I grabbed a notebook and made four quick observations, written in the form of questions:

  1. What is taking place? In today’s mega-churches you wouldn’t necessarily catch all the things I caught sitting just a few feet away.   And there were others I missed, forgot, or haven’t listed here.  Are people as trained today to have the same attention to detail as when some of these forms were instituted?
  2. What is the significance of what is taking place? The wine and water on the table were explained.   Other things are perhaps already known to this congregation.   But what of the people who miss the memo?  Or visitors like us?   Perhaps the reason some people don’t connect with the more liturgical churches is that nobody has explained the backstory behind the ‘sacred actions’ of worship.
  3. How much of this registers with people? To what extent do people connect the dots between the physical actions of the priest or pastor and their person worship taking place among those gathered?   I suppose much of this hinges on whether or not the leader is there on behalf of the people or if he is modeling a pattern of worship for them to follow in the hearts.  How do their acts of worship on the platform, stage or chancel become my acts of worship?
  4. What difference does that make? How does this permeate the next 167 hours of my week until we meet again next Sunday?   For example, how does a consideration of Christ’s combined humanity and divinity infuse my thoughts of what it means to be a Christ-follower throughout the week?  Is there a practical application?  This is where the discussion of ‘relevance’ meets formal liturgy.

But I think you could apply all of this to Evangelical and Charismatic churches as well:

  1. What’s taking place?
  2. Why?  Why do this?  Why those particular songs or prayers?
  3. Is the answer to #2 obvious to the congregation?
  4. How does this service make a difference in peoples’ lives?

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