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Reclaiming Christ’s Time

Throughout the history of the Christian church, one of the crucial ways in which the church has fostered is particular ethos and distinctive identity has been through the rhythms and celebrations of a particular calendar.  The Christian liturgical year embodies a way of ordering time which is distinctively shaped by the Christian narrative.  The seasons of the Christian year offer a way of ordering time which reflect a distinctively Christocentric and Trinitarian shaping of ecclesial life.  Through a narrative-Christological ordering the celebrations and festivities of its people, the church constructed a powerful mode of ecclesial formation that orients its members toward an explicitly theological and ecclesial understanding of their identity and the practice of everyday life.  An analysis of the social and political lives of nations and other socio-political bodies bears out that the way in which a society structures time (and particularly festivities and holidays) distinctively shapes its members into a certain kind of polity, both politically and economically. 

However, the distinctively Christian way of shaping time offered by the Christian liturgical year has been largely lost in the contemporary evangelical church, the life of which has rather become dominated and determined by the calendar of the nation-state and market (which tell us, above all, when we must shop).  The fragmentary nature of evangelical identity testifies to the need for a recovering of the church’s liturgical year as a powerful tool of ecclesial formation and Christian education.  Through a recovery of the liturgical year, Christian churches have an opportunity to reclaim a holistic and missionally oriented ecclesial self-consciousness which is vital to the faithful witness of the church in the culture of late-modern capitalism. 

20 Comments

  1. Hill wrote:

    This so-called “liturgical calendar” of which you speak reeks of a kind of base Constantinianism.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  2. Ben wrote:

    Amen! This linking of the Christian liturgical calendar with mission and “faithful witness” is not often done. But I am more and more convinced it is necessary. Too many evangelical “good intentions” get sabotaged by its adherence to the liturgical rhythm of consumerism. Good post (sounds like part of a paper?)

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Tongue-in-cheek you are, I presume, Hill? The origins of the liturgical year pre-date Constantinianism. And besides, Constantianism does not mean some sort of ecclesial “total depravity”! : )

    And good eye, Ben! This is basically an abstract for an essay I am writing.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  4. Ben wrote:

    I agree, but if you try to argue that with them they will cite Galatians 4:9-11: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”

    It seems to me that Paul is referring to Jewish liturgical time, or perhaps to astrological time. But what the heck do I know, I’m a blighted papist. This I discovered while reading Frank Viola and George Barna’s “new” book, “Pagan Christianity: Infestionious and Vile Papiste Fornicationnes withe Egyptianne Heathenry,” in which book they claim that liturgical years are bad bad bad, among other things. I have a feeling this book will be something I hear quoted a lot by the housechurch set.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Actually the New Monastic types are generally very engaged in recovering liturgical time. My own congregation has been following the lectionary and the Christian Calendar for a good many years now. Everyone, down to the most sectarian protestantly-minded members of the congregation have experienced a great deal of formation and enrichment from it. One of them even reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church as devotional reading now!

    I think the Galatians text is definitely referring the imposition of Jewish customs onto Gentile Christian converts. It’s certainly not a statement about liturgical time generally.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  6. Drew wrote:

    “the life of which has rather become dominated and determined by the calendar of the nation-state and market (which tell us, above all, when we must shop).”

    I am currently writing on this particular issue from the perspective of DeBord’s understanding of spectacle. What seems to occur here is a flattening of the economy of signs of consumerism with those of the Gospel rendering virtual loss of distinction between the two. I am moving to call evangelicalism in its various media regulated constructions as an implosion in the sense of Baudrillard.

    The solution? A “reformed situationism” if you will… If the Kingdom of God is that which disrupts as it restructures reality and meaning, this is precisely what ought to occur with the Gospel in relation to media. Media flattens the Gospel’s economy of signs to a sub-set of that which we find in cultures irreducibly rooted in the movement of capital and the transfer of signs through the consumption of goods.

    Therefore, an intentional disruption of such a system seems to be well placed. So I wonder how the temple of spectacle can be cleansed.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    I’m just having a little fun on an otherwise bleak Monday morning. This an especially interesting topic for me. I’ve been attending the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for going on a year now, and the heightened emphasis on the liturgical calendar (both through the propers of the mass and generally speaking) has been a true blessing for me.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden, great post. If you haven’t yet got hold of Rhythm of Doctrine yet, can i recommend you contact robin parry at paternoster.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Sorry I meant to contact you a couple days back. I’ll contact Robin.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  10. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Also worth mentioning is how that same narrative is rehearsed on any given Sunday in the same liturgical traditions. That provides a meaningful structure to the service which is mostly missing in many evangelical orders of service which seem to be largely practical and ad-hoc.

    Monday, January 28, 2008 at 9:07 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden. Does it matter that the church´s calender is largely a product of constantinianism, the jewish-christian schism, and political battles within the church hierarchy?

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 12:03 am | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    Jonas, as I mentioned above, the origins of the liturgical year pre-date Constantinianism. However, could not your “criticisms” be leveled against just about anything that is Christian? The doctrine of the Trinity, or the canon of Scripture is no less a product of the things you mention. Our critiques of Constantinianism (and I am an ardent critic of it!) must not descend into reductionism and banal forms of restitutionism.

    But when it comes right down to it, I’ll take a Constantinian calendar over the calendar of global capitalism and the modern nation-state any day!

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  13. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    This has exegetical implications too. I’m reminded of Seitz’s comment in the preface to his astounding book Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture:

    “The loss of figural reading is not the loss of an exegetical technique. It is the loss of location in time under God. Certain forms of allegorical reading, it has been claimed, are ahisotrical and must be cast out of the church’s academic (or ecclesial) reading of the Bible. Ironically, however, those readings most interested in historical reference are the same ones that cannot make any accounting of the church’s place in time and so resort to homiletical analogies of the most spiritualizing and moralizing sort in order to let the Bible have some sort of say after all the historical heavy lifting is over. And one might well question whether all spiritual reading was as temporally disinterested as modern historically minded folk have thought. At issue is likely a different order of temporality, not a spiritual-versus-historical frame of reference. …

    … My only prayer is that Christ’s body will be “figured in” to his glorious body and that the scriptures would illumine him in his threefold mystery and give the church a place in time again.”

    (2001: viii)

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 12:58 am | Permalink
  14. Halden. I think constantinianism didn´t just appear from nowhere. There were constantinian seeds earlier, some of them as early as Ignatius (hierarchy), I think. One of the most problematic aspects of the liturgical year is that it originated in opposition with the jewish roots of messianic faith, and it stills serves to confirm the historical development into two religions. Anyway, I would tend to agree with your last point, but I think there might be other alternatives. For example, we could celebrate a rhytm that is more week-based (sabbat, resurrection day, wednesday and friday (preparation day) as days of fasting). This pattern seems to be more rooted in the NT scriptures and early text like Didache.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 4:27 am | Permalink
  15. Hill wrote:

    I think the various references to Constantianism in this discussion are simply pointing to the fact that many of those “hung up,” so to speak, on Constantinianism do in fact come across as having descended “into reductionism and banal forms of restitutionism” simply in virtue of the fact that “Constantinianism” becomes the primary trope by which the entire history of the Church is to be examined. I’m not accusing you of that by any means, but I do think it is a legitimate concern.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  16. Hill. Your comment seems to be an insult, and not an argument? Would you (and Halden)spell out what you mean by “reductionism” and “banal forms of resitutionism”, so I can know if I fit into that category?

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 3:17 am | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Jonas, what I myself mean is that sometimes critics of Constantinianism end up arguing for a sort of “totally depraved” understanding of the historical church. That the church is always and in every way wrong because it is Constantinian. I think that is too reductionistic – it ignores the nuances of history and the witness of many saints produced by the church throughout the ages.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the phenomenon called Constantinianism mutated the church’s self-understanding in distinctly problematic ways, but I don’t think that God abandoned the church or that because of these transmutations of its proper self-understanding that the church ceased to exist. Constantinianism is a blight on the church, but it does not mean its destruction.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  18. Halden. I have a hard time seeing that there is anything like “the church” as a distinct entity within history, and if there is, I wouldn´t view the institutional church as the entity that carries the Messiah´s promise. Actually, I think it is more honest to acknowledge the historical division. All we have in history, is this divided phenomena. To speak about “the church” and connect this label to the institutional organisation is in my view misleading. I think the church has always existed, but as a movement both inside and outside the institutional church, but never exactly the same as the institution.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    I think too rigid of a bifurcation between the “institutional” and the “true” church ends up being unhelpful. That would be analgous to saying that in the Old Testament “Israel” is really only the true remnant within Israel. That is never how it is portrayed. Certainly the institutional form of the people of God, be it Israel or the Church can, has, and does become corrupt, but the “true church” or “remnant” or whatever we call it always exists for the sake of the whole church. It is indeed the “institutional” church that is the bearer of the Messiah’s promise, otherwise we restrict his promises only to a moral elite. I can’t go with that. I’m all for critique of the instituional church, but not the abandonment of it. That’s exactly what God refuses to do. He sticks it out with a corrupt and unfaithful people (cf. Hosea).

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  20. John Feeney wrote:

    When I was in college (a Christian liberal arts college) I recall that our New Testament Professor explained that the Galatians 4 passage was a reference to the legalistic observance of specifically Jewish practice. He reminded us to put this in context with Paul’s remarks on circumcision.
    I rather prefer the observance of the liturgical year and can’t see why someone would regard this as “Constantinian” at all – it would appear to be the exact opposite of Constantinianism. The observance of a liturgical year allows us to cultivate our own distinct culture as Christians, on a time schedule that flies in the face of capitalist/nationalist cultural programming. An additional feature to add might be, as one friend from the church I belong to (an Episcopal parish) suggests, which is to treat every Sunday as a kind of “buy nothing day” – if every Christian did this, it would really impact market dominance in our society.

    Friday, February 1, 2008 at 9:26 am | Permalink

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