Today I was reading through an essay by Douglas Kelly entitled “The Puritan Regulative Principle and Contemporary Worship” (found in volume 2 of The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century). While I might not agree with everything in the essay, it is very thoughtfully written and looks at a variety of issues with the strict stance of the RPW as found in the WCF.
The section on “The Church Year” was particularly good, I thought. In it, Dr. Kelly mirrors some of my own concerns. He states:
Our desperate need of recovering the Sabbath is much more pressing, I believe, than whether or not we do or do not encourage yearly celebrations of the dominical feasts [i.e., Christmas, Circumcision, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost]. By giving up Sabbath observance for whatever reasons, we have unwittingly contributed to the quicker secularization of our culture, and have in so doing left a deep gap or vacuum in the spirit of both churched and unchurched people for some kind of touch with traditional transcendent realities. If Sabbath observance is of no real consequence to church people, then the world has yet another practical argument for the peripheral nature of God and the transcendent … . And more to our concern here, if we neglect a whole-hearted observance of the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Resurrection Day, we do lose something of the transcendent; indeed, we lose a great deal of it in the very church itself.
Why fill in this deep, hurting gap with attempts at resuscitating ever more of the church year? Is there anything wrong with humbling ourselves and repenting of our abuse of the Lord’s Day, and seeking to return to a happy keeping of it? I suspect that would make the currently popular bringing in of church seasons such as Advent and Lent quite superfluous. After all, these seasons were historically closely tied in to the Medieval Penitential System. Who needs them, when hearts and eyes of faith are turned Sabbath by Sabbath to our great High Priest, who through the power of His atoning blood and resurrection, continually presents us to the Father?
If Dr. Kelly is right, a recovery of biblical worship must include a recovery of the Lord’s Day. A setting aside of the Lord’s Day to worship Him has been largely lost with much of the current culture (and the church, to varying degrees, has largely gone right along with this). Our views on worship and the Lord’s Day are too often influenced by popular concerns and pragmatic concerns. And distractions that draw us away from the Lord’s Day itself are not the answer. Certainly a recovery of the Lord’s Day in our churches is a good place to start.