Oene, W.W.J. van (1990) Art. 53

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Article 53

Days of Commemoration

 

Each year the Churches shall, in the manner decided upon by the consistory, commemorate the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as His outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

When the church experienced the great Reformation in the sixteenth century, it also abolished many of the special days which had increased to a large number during the centuries before. It was the striving of men like Guillaume Farel and John Calvin to rid the church completely of all special days and to make it confine itself to the Lord’s Day.

Neither in Geneva nor anywhere else were such efforts successful. Frequently the civil authorities insisted that the special days should continue to be observed, and to prevent the people from being idle and to keep them from all sorts of licentiousness the church yielded to this by organizing worship services.

The end result was that gradually the observance of the birth of Christ, of His suffering and death, of His resurrection and ascension, as well as His outpouring of the Holy Spirit was tied to certain days. In some instances these days were considered to be even “holier” than the Lord’s Day. Especially the Good Friday was a day which could be kept in no better way than by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was in the Netherlands Reformed Church in the middle of the previous century that this custom gained acceptance. This apostate church, or rather its synod, also introduced the New Year’s Eve as an ecclesiastical hour of thanksgiving, because it “is most suitable to bring us to serious contemplation of ourselves and of the ways which God has led us.”

The churches of the Secession tried again to achieve a return to the simplicity of celebrating the Lord's Day. The very first synod, the one at Amsterdam 1836 stated the following.

Since the Holy Scripture just as strongly exhorts us to stand in the freedom with which Christ has set us free as it does regarding the observance of the divine ordinances, the congregation of Christ shall carefully refrain from making it compulsory for the people to celebrate the so-called feast days which the Lord has not ordained in His Word beside the strictly keeping holy of the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord has been hallowed by God Himself, and we can nor may add to it any other festal day by human provisions. The six working days have been given to us by God to labour; although the people shall come together on those days in order to be edified from and according to the Word of God, yet it be on this condition that no one bind the consciences of the people to the observance of feast days which have been determined by man and

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come back regularly every year; in this respect the conscience shall be left completely free.

And the Church Order of 1837 provided that “since the observance of the feast days is not prescribed in God’s Word, no one shall ever be burdened with the need to observe them; much less shall they be put on a level with the day of rest. However, where no work is being done on those days it shall be tried as much as possible to pass them in an edifying manner.”

It would be very interesting and instructive to survey the history of the so-called feast days, but we will have to refrain from it. Various instructive books on this topic are readily available.

The Canadian Reformed Churches continue in the line of the Seceded Churches. The observance of these days is not prescribed in God’s Word and therefore the churches do not bind each other to such observance. They only provide that the churches shall commemorate the various “main” and “outstanding” moments in the life and work of our Saviour: His birth, His death, His resurrection and ascension, as well as His outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

If a consistory decides that the birth of Christ shall be remembered on Sunday December 23rd, and therefore does not call the congregation together on Tuesday, December 25, it has the perfect right to do so. The great facts and events in the history of salvation are not repeated or re-enacted, nor can they ever be. They can only be gratefully remembered, something which, in fact, the churches do when they are together for the regular worship services on the day of the Lord and hear “the full counsel of God” being proclaimed to them. They do not need any more special days or services. Besides, the church pays regularly attention to these elements of Christ’s work when God’s Word is proclaimed with the Heidelberg Catechism as guide.