Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
As low-church Evangelicals, we do not follow the lectionary (= a corporate systematic reading through the Bible in a three-year cycle) and minimally recognize and participate in the Christian Year (= the important and most significant seasons of the of the year as determined by the church). The two that Evangelicals will recognize are Christmas and the Passion Week, with the death and burial of Christ (either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday) culminating in Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Most Evangelicals follow the civil, secular calendar much more closely that the Christian Year. For example, let me ask a few questions to determine the accuracy of my statement: 1)How many of the civil/secular holidays do you recognize, such as New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day (though often with less fanfare than Mother’s Day), 4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc.? 2) Besides Christmas and Easter, how many of the Christian Year celebrations do you recognize? Can you name them? Some of the other Church Year celebrations are Advent, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity.
This past Sunday was Ascension Sunday. It was a wonderful time to remind God’s people of the truth and significance of Jesus’ ascension. Most don’t think about it, and most don’t have a sense of the ongoing significance of Jesus’ ascension, not only for Him and His ministry, but also for us.
To consider the biblical evidence, Jesus looks towards His ascension: Matt. 26:64; Mk. 14:62; Lk. 22:69; Jn. 3:13; 6:62; 20:17. Luke records the actual historical ascension of Jesus with an accompanying exhortation to the ministry of Christians post-ascension (Acts 1:9-11). Paul (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:10; 1 Tim. 3:16), Peter (1 Pet. 3:22) and the preacher of Hebrews (Heb. 4:14). The New Testament writers are also clear about the goal of the ascension, or the place where Jesus ends up post-ascension and the theological and practical aspects to Jesus’ ministry: Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand, the place of highest honor and authority, from where He engages in his ongoing ministry of intercession (Rom 8:34; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:3; 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 7:17-27; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).
To expand this just a bit beyond the biblical testimony, the ascension was one of the early important truths about the life and ministry of Jesus. For example, in the Apostles’ Creed, it is one of the “steps” in Jesus’ exaltation: “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381) states the truth this way: “and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” Here is how the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) states the truth and benefits of Christ’s ascension:
Question 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ's ascension into heaven?
Answer: First, that he is our advocate in the presence of his Father in heaven; secondly, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, as the head, will also take up to himself, us, his members; thirdly, that he sends us his Spirit as an earnest, by whose power we "seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, and not things on earth."
Question 50. Why is it added, "and sitteth at the right hand of God"?
Answer: Because Christ is ascended into heaven for this end, that he might appear as head of his church, by whom the Father governs all things.
Question 51. What profit is this glory of Christ, our head, unto us?
Answer: First, that by his Holy Spirit he pours out heavenly graces upon us his members; and then that by his power he defends and preserves us against all enemies.
So you can prepare, coming up on June 3 is Pentecost Sunday, followed by Trinity Sunday on June 10.
I am not suggesting we either don’t celebrate the civil, secular, nor that we must celebrate the Church Year. My point is that we often take our cue more from the secular culture than we do from the church and our tradition. I understand our concern about tradition. I do not want to put in place the old lectionary so that all of this becomes empty tradition without the Spirit. This was my experience. When I was regenerated, I threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Time and distance have enabled me to grow and mature, and thus exercise more discernment, I trust.
There is both a negative and positive aspect to tradition. Jaroslav Pelikan appropriately recognized this in his statement (The Vindication Of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture In The Humanities), “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
With God’s inspired, inerrant, sufficient and authoritative Word as our foundation, and with a sense of our great Christian tradition, made up of that great cloud of witnesses, let’s be faithful to profess, live, contend for and teach the faith.
As Paul reminds us in Romans 14:5-9, regardless of how we perceive days, and whether we remember them (by recalling, teaching and celebrating), the bottom line is that we are the Lord’s, i.e. we have been bought with the price of the blood, and therefore we are the Lord’s, and since we have, all we do is unto the Lord and for His honor:
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 the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.