A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Church Calendar as a Gospeling Event

In his book The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues that as the church we must recover a gospel culture and rescue it from the salvation culture we have built in its place. While a salvation culture identifies the gospel mainly with the acceptance of personal salvation for the sole purpose of getting into heaven, Scot rightly contends that salvation isn't the gospel, but flows from it. The gospel is about King Jesus as the fulfillment of the story of Israel. He writes,
The Story of Jesus is about his kingdom vision, and this kingdom vision emerges out of the creation story, out of Israel's Story of trying to live out God's design for Israel, and out of the vision of the city in the book of Revelation.... At the center of the Story of Jesus is the narrative of his birth, his life and teachings, his death, his burial, his resurrection, and his ascension and exaltation. Inherent to the Story of Jesus are labels that define him and identify him and his role in completing Israel's Story: Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Savior, and Son of Man. The Story of Jesus as Messiah and Lord resolves what is yearning for completion in the Story of Israel. This Jesus is the one who saves Israel from its sins and the one who rescues humans from their imprisonments (37).
In the last chapter of his book, Scot suggests how the church can create a gospel culture. One of his suggestions in particular caught my eye for personal reasons. He observes,

We need to see the wisdom of the church's decision to follow a church calendar.... the church calendar is a gospeling event too. The church calendar is all about the Story of Jesus, and I know of nothing-- other than regular soaking in the Bible-- that can "gospelize" our life more than the church calendar.... Anyone who is half aware of the calendar in a church that is consciously devoted to focusing on these events in their theological and biblical contexts will be exposed every year to the whole gospel to the whole Story of Israel coming to its saving completion in the Story of Jesus (154-155).
I very much relate to Scot's account of his own situation of being in a church context that did not observe the liturgical calendar, except for Christmas and Easter, and then, later on in my life, being exposed to the gospel story in worship throughout the church year.

I was raised in a fundamentalist church tradition that primarily defined itself against Catholicism. We did things because the Catholics didn't and we did not do what the Catholics did. So we didn't recite creeds because "the Catholics did that." We didn't observe Lent because "the Catholics did that." Of course, we celebrated Christmas and Easter even though the Catholics also did that. I suppose it was OK for a few things to slip by unacknowledged.

In any case, when I was in college, I was hired as a youth director at a mainline Protestant church and all of sudden was thrust into the richness of the liturgical year. I was observing Advent in preparation for Christmas. And when Christmas did arrive, it was truly special in a way it had never been. That was also the first year I observed Lent and Holy Week-- and Easter truly was a wonderful culmination of those forty days. We also observed Pentecost, but not so much as the other seasons (that Pentecost gets only a passing glance is a pet peeve of mine).

The point of this is that the gospel story in its totality was coming together for me in worship in a way it never had before. The theology, the doctrine, the concepts, and the very notion of salvation itself was being caught up into the narrative, the stories of Israel and Jesus. It was all making sense in a way it hadn't before. I was experiencing for the first time the gospel tapestry that the church had woven in its worship. From reading Scot's book, I am now beginning to see that my gradual movement away from the soterian culture and into the gospel culture was a direct result of this new way of worship.

When I was a young pastor, I followed the Lectionary in my preaching. Many years ago, for various reasons, I moved away from that, but I still choose my texts according to the church calendar. Why? Because the story of Jesus needs to be told again and again. And after it has been told again and again, it needs to be told again.

Why, again and again? Because the gospel is a narrative, it is a culture, it is a way of life.

No comments: