The Christian Year Among The Churches

Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

As this section makes clear, Christians differ significantly on the need for observing the Christian year. Nevertheless, there are signs that even those denominations that have traditionally resisted following a Christian calendar are taking a second look at this ancient practice. More traditional churches are also discovering how observing the cycle of Christian seasons contributes to worship renewal.

Adventist Churches

Christmas and Easter celebrations have become increasingly common in Adventist churches. Observance of the Christian year remains rare, but a few congregations are discovering that it is a rewarding source of balance and biblical spirituality in worship.

African Methodist—episcopal Zion Churches

Although A. M. E. Zion churches do not widely observe the Christian year, some congregations have made attempts to include some of its features in worship. This article describes the efforts of one pastor to revitalize worship, particularly through Advent and Epiphany traditions.

American Baptist Churches In The Usa

American Baptist congregations are free to choose their own order of worship, and so the observance of the Christian year varies among churches. In the twentieth century, many congregations have followed an American civil calendar and have combined both religious and civil observances. Since the 1960s, however, there has been a strong movement toward recovery of a more distinctly Christian calendar.

Anglican/episcopal Churches

Worship in the Anglican Communion is structured by liturgical celebration of the Christian year, centering on Easter. In recent decades, greater emphasis has been placed on the paschal and baptismal nature of the church year and on observing the complete yearly cycle, not just major festivals.

Assemblies Of God Churches

The church calendar in the Assemblies of God includes only some of the major events of the Christian year, but also designates numerous days for promotion of denominational programs and recognizes national holidays and ecumenical observances. Congregations have considerable freedom in choosing which days to observe and how to observe them.

Baptist (evangelical Denominations And Independent Baptist Churches)

The Meadow Hills Baptist Church in Aurora, Colorado, provides an exception to the suspicion of the Christian year that generally prevails among independent Baptist churches. This congregation has found practice of the Christian year to be a powerful means of deepening evangelical faith.

Baptist General Conference

Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, a congregation in the Baptist General Conference, has in recent years begun to place strong emphasis on observing some seasons of the Christian year. The full traditional year is not observed, however, so that some times may be designated for particular attention to concerns such as missions and family life.

Brethren (plymouth) Assemblies

Powerful theological and historical positions make for continued resistance to the Christian year among the (Plymouth) Brethren. Christmas and Easter are viewed mainly as opportunities for evangelism.

Charismatic Churches

Charismatic churches often began in a reaction against the formalism of historic denominations, and the charismatic movement as a whole has shown little interest in any parts of the traditional Christian year outside of Christmas and Easter. However, many of these churches have begun to recover aspects of the Old Testament festal calendar, and there is renewed interest in the historic Christian calendar as well.

Christian Church (disciples Of Christ)

Worship in the Disciples of Christ denomination was shaped by the conditions of the American frontier during the early nineteenth century. Only in the second half of the twentieth century has widespread use of the Christian year appeared. A worship calendar which became popular in the 1950s helped prepare the way, combining some historic Christian festivals with national and denominational observances.

Christian Churches And Churches Of Christ

The Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have historically avoided the Christian year as one of the unscriptural practices creating division between denominations-a division which their movement sought to overcome. Most now celebrate Christmas and Easter in worship, but these are among yearly observances based on the civil calendar, not the Christian year.

Christian And Missionary Alliance Churches

Both liturgical and Pentecostal styles of worship have been regarded as extremes to be avoided in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. However, some congregations, though still in the minority, are turning to observance of the Christian year in a quest for worship renewal.

Christian Reformed Churches

Prior to the 1960s, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) practiced a form of worship drawn from its Reformation heritage, which entailed a calendar of observances distinct from the traditional Christian year. In the 1960s, liturgical renewal in the CRC coincided with the worship reforms of Vatican II, leading to widespread recovery of the Christian year in the CRC. However, many congregations still worship in accordance with the traditional Reformed pattern.

Church Of God, Cleveland, Tennessee

Resistance to observance of the Christian year is deeply entrenched in the Church of God, Cleveland, tradition. Such formal worship practices have long been considered a hindrance to the believer's freedom and spontaneity in responding to the power of the Holy Spirit. Little movement toward full adoption of the Christian year exists, but use of modified portions of the yearly calendar is becoming more frequent.

Church Of The Brethren

It was protest against the liturgical formalism of the official church which in part gave rise to the Church of the Brethren in the eighteenth century. However, the Brethren always sought to be an authentic worshiping community, and in the twentieth century that historic commitment has resulted in widespread appropriation of the Christian year. The extent and style of such observance, however, varies greatly from congregation to congregation.

Church Of The Nazarene

An appreciation for the spiritual value of the Christian year is emerging in the Church of the Nazarene, despite a history of general antipathy toward it typical of Holiness groups. Many local pastors, with the encouragement and aid of denominational resources, are rediscovering the traditional observances as a means of building up the congregation in the essentials of the faith.

Churches Of Christ

The Christian year was among the practices that the Restoration movement from the Churches of Christ repudiated due to lack of specific New Testament warrant. Today, most members of the Churches of Christ are unfamiliar with it. Recently, however, there has been movement toward partial observance of the year, both for evangelistic purposes and for renewal in the church.

Congregational Churches

Many of the Congregational churches not part of the United Church of Christ follow a Christian year designed to involve the worshiper with the entire message of Scripture, from Creation to eschatological fulfillment.

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Orthodox church sanctifies time with daily, weekly, and annual cycles of celebrations that commemorate instances of God's redemptive action in human experience. At the center of the numerous events of the Orthodox church year stands the Easter celebration of the triumph of life over death and light over darkness.

Evangelical Covenant Churches

The Evangelical Covenant Church emerged from small groups of believers (conventicles) that met to cultivate warm personal piety. It has also-on a customary rather than mandatory basis-sustained observance of the church year, which keeps the Christian story alive and vivid in the community.

Evangelical Free Churches

In its origins, the Evangelical Free Church sharply rejected practice of the Christian year as part of the rigid structures of the state church. Congregations today usually recognize Advent, Christmas, and Holy Week in some fashion, but formal adherence to the liturgical calendar remains almost nonexistent. A recent renewal of emphasis on worship in general, however, may bring about new attention to the Christian year.

Evangelical Lutheran Church In America

Full observance of the church year is central to Lutheran spiritual life. Lutherans have been influenced by ecumenical developments, as seen in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's adoption of the Roman Catholic calendar and lectionary. They have also influence ecumenical development of the Christian year, particularly in the observance of Advent.

Friends (quakers)

The Quaker rejection of formalism and ceremony in worship extended to the observances of the church calendar. Resistance to formalism remains today, although Evangelical Quakers celebrate portions of the Christian year.

Independent Fundamentalist And Evangelical Churches

During the past decade, interest in a modified observance of the Christian year has been growing in some independent evangelical churches, despite longstanding disdain for liturgy and formalism. Following the Christian year has allowed some congregations to foster Christian maturity in a balanced way.

International Church Of The Foursquare Gospel

Foursquare churches combine important days from the Christian year with national observances in forming their own church year, one that correlates with the yearly rhythm experienced by its members and the surrounding community. Special Pentecost services emphasizing the church's Pentecostal beliefs were held in its early days and have recently been revived in a different form.

Lutheran Church—missouri Synod

The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod, in continuity with Martin Luther and subsequent confessional Lutheranism, observes the full, traditional Christian year as a vehicle of the gospel. In the 1980s, some Missouri Synod churches moved away from the church year as too restrictive, while others sought an even more thorough appropriation of the church's ancient liturgical heritage.

Mennonite Churches

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mennonites followed the Christian year while most American Protestants did not. In the twentieth century, with the transition to use of English in worship, Mennonites dropped the Christian year, which now seemed formalistic and restrictive. Since 1980, many Mennonites have discovered the Christian year as a means of revitalizing worship, though on the whole its use remains irregular.

Messianic Synagogue

Messianic Jews observe the liturgical calendar of the Torah rather than the Christian year. In some instances, they add a Christological tone to the traditional Jewish meaning of these observances.

National Baptist Convention, Usa

The worship calendar in most congregations of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. combines important days of the Christian year with numerous annual days-memorial observations and celebrations of various functions and organizations in congregational life and the black community. These days were established primarily because of economic and social needs rather than scriptural mandate.

National Baptist Convention Of America

Observance of the Christian year has greatly increased in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. during the past twenty years. A growing number of well-trained pastors, educational resources offered by the denomination, and innovative use of art forms have all been instrumental in overcoming the historic Baptist resistance to such observance.

Presbyterian Church (usa)

Presbyterians have been gradually recovering the Christian year and most congregations now observe at least Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Observance frequently takes the form of family-centered activities, study programs, and a wide variety of artistic and cultural expression.

Presbyterian Church In America

The sermon remains central to worship in the Presbyterian Church in America, and selection of texts is determined by the minister's choice rather than a church year lectionary. While it is customary to preach on seasonal topics at Christmas and Easter, freedom from mandatory observance of the Christian year continues to be stressed and no churches are known to follow it.

Progressive National Baptist Convention

Churches in the Progressive National Baptist Convention follow a worship calendar reflecting the African-American experience of God as liberator and sustainer, rather than the conventional Christian year. Annual observances include Christmas and Easter, but most Sundays are designated for focus on aspects of the church's ministry and role in society.

Reformed Church In America

Though heir to the Calvinist Reformation which eliminated worship practices not specified in Scripture, the Reformed Church in America has in recent decades turned toward fuller usage of the Christian year. Increasingly, congregations are discovering that the liturgy, music, symbols, and education connected with the church year do not threaten the primacy of Scripture but dramatize the biblical story and help connect faith to all aspects of human experience.

Reformed Episcopal Churches

The Reformed Episcopal Church has always used The Book of Common Prayer to guide worship life. However, the extent to which congregations have observed the church year outlined in the prayer book has varied. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in fuller observance of the church year, motivated by commitment to following scriptural insight concerning worship.

Roman Catholic Churches

Practice of the church year, which has developed over centuries in the Roman Catholic tradition, underwent major revision as a result of the Second Vatican Council. The changes were designed to recover the primacy of the "paschal mystery" of Christ's death and resurrection in both of the major cycles, the Christological and the sanctoral.

Salvation Army

Worship in the Salvation Army does not include sacraments or observance of the traditional church year. Salvationists regard these practices as unnecessary to the life of consecration to God, experienced through the inward power of the Holy Spirit.

Southern Baptist Convention Churches

Observance of the Christian year has been on the increase in the Southern Baptist Convention since the 1960s. Civic and denominational calendars have greatly influenced Southern Baptist worship in the past, but many congregations are turning toward the Christian year because of the vivid way it involves the worshiper in the biblical narrative and deepens spiritual life. It also provides an especially meaningful context for the ordinance of believer's baptism.

United Church Of Christ

The Christian year structures worship in the United Church of Christ. Because its themes mirror a full range of human experience, practice of the Christian year enables worshipers to unite more fully with Christ and the community of faith.

United Methodist Churches

In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, observance of the Christian year by American Methodists was mainly limited to "great festivals" such as Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday (Pentecost). A movement toward recovery of the entire Christian year gained momentum in the mid-twentieth century, and in 1984 United Methodists adopted the ecumenical Common Lectionary and calendar.


Vineyard Fellowships usually celebrate Christmas and Easter in worship, but do not otherwise follow the Christian year.

Wesleyan Churches

A part of the Holiness movement, the Wesleyan Church has never followed the full church calendar. However, aspects of the Christian year have been introduced incrementally in many congregations, enabling them to enjoy some of its benefits without abandoning their nonliturgical worship tradition.

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

Growing interest in liturgical renewal and the Christian year in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is reflected in the recent publication of a new hymnal and companion volume. These publications follow, with some adaptations, the lectionary and calendar proposed by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship in 1973.

Women’s Aglow Fellowship

While they do not follow the church calendar in a formal way, Women's Aglow groups do observe many of the seasons of the Christian year. They also enrich their worship with observance of the annual Jewish feasts described in the Old Testament.

Alternative Practice Of The Christian Year In Liturgical Churches

St. Gregory Nyssen Episcopal Church in San Francisco draws on ancient traditions of both the Eastern and Western church, as illuminated by modern scholarship, in its innovative practice of the Christian year. In contrast to many modern churches, St. Gregory's makes Holy Week and Easter, rather than Christmas, the high point of the year.

Alternative Practice Of The Christian Year In The Free-church Tradition

The Christian year has been instrumental in shaping congregational identity as the people of God in contrast with the surrounding culture. The church has placed emphasis on the symbol of light. Ceremonies throughout the extraordinary time of the Christian year point to God's light shining in a dark world and his people as bearers of that light.

Alternative Practice Of The Christian Year In Pentecostal/charismatic Churches

Many Pentecostal assemblies have begun to discover in recent years that the stability, organization, and connection with historic Christian roots that comes with following the lectionary and church year supports rather than conflicts with spontaneity and enthusiasm in worship.

Alternative Practice Of The Christian Year In Seekers’ Service/believers’ Worship

In endeavoring to reach unchurched seekers, Willow Creek Community Church incorporates into its worship recognition of the holidays of the general calendar followed in society rather than rigidly adhering to the Christian year. Thus the church has sponsored special presentations and outreach efforts in connection with Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July as well as Easter and Christmas.