There are many Christians and churches that do not follow the Church’s calendar. Yes, the Church does have a calendar, and has had one for many centuries, going all the way back to the end of the second century when special days and seasons were recognized in the worship and work of Christ’s church.
In this post-Easter season we go back even further to the time of the Apostolic church and recall the resurrection appearances of Jesus, His final times with His disciples before His ascension into heaven. We also remember His promise to send the Holy Spirit, to call to remembrance His many teachings, to convict the world of sin, righteousness, judgment, and to gift and empower His followers for their ministry, both in the church and in the world.
The faith of the early church (the first four centuries) was above all else faith in the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. That was the heart of the gospel the apostles proclaimed, and the basic beliefs of Christ’s church were expressed in creeds that were written to combat heresy, and for use in worship as affirmations of faith, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Furthermore, as seen in the church’s use of days, times, and seasons there were special observances in the church year when particular events and beliefs were celebrated.
The evidence for this began very early in the life of the church with the choice of Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Christian day of worship, the day of Christ’s
resurrection. The new testament tells us that the early Christians worshiped on Sunday, although converts from Judaism also continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath as well; many of those believers worshiped on both Saturday and Sunday, and also continued to observe certain other Jewish traditions. In fact, there were so-called “Judaizers” in the early church who were teaching that in order to be a good Christian you had to first be a good Jew. In the beginning there were many who saw Christianity as a breakaway movement from Judaism, a Jewish sect, and the apostles were forced to refute these false teachers and their teachings in their letters (read the epistle to the Galatians, and the epistle to the Hebrews).
The Jewish sabbath, Saturday, celebrates the creation, and there are special days and seasons to observe other events, such as the Exodus and Passover. The Christian sabbath,
Sunday, celebrates the “new creation” in Christ, for as the Apostle Peter says “….we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1). Every Sunday is meant to be a “Little Easter”! The word “Easter” is actually derived from the old English “Eastre”, which was a pagan Spring festival. That is only one of several pagan holidays that was Christianized (another was the Roman “Saturnalia”, which was transformed into the observance of Christmas). Because these special observances had their origin in non-Christian celebrations or festivals, there are some Christian groups that do not observe these special days or seasons of the Church year. However, most Christians around the world do celebrate them, although there are also a few denominations that still worship on Saturday, observing the Jewish Sabbath rather than Sunday, and in other ways akin to Old Testament Judaisam, adhering to certain dietary restrictions, pursuing godliness (holiness) by a rigid adherence to the Law, and proclaiming a gospel of “perfectionism” (i.e. a righteous-
ness “gained” rather than a righteousness “given”, by grace alone through faith alone).
The history of the early Church reveals that the “Lord’s Day” (Sunday) had become the accepted day of worship for most Christians by the end of the first century. The writings of some of the early Church fathers tell us that Sunday had become known as the “Lord’s Day” (for example, the writings of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch. where the followers of Jesus “were first called Christians”, who wrote about A.D 115). We are told by these early church historians that Sunday was the common gathering day for Christians, when they came together for worship, for prayer, for teaching, and for fellowship, to be encouraged and strengthened by each other’s faith — the first day of the week was the weekly observance of the resurrection of Jesus, when the passion of Christ was also remembered and commemorated in thanksgiving for His atoning death and victory over sin and suffering, as well as Christ’s victory over death on Sunday.
As the “Lord’s Day” became the weekly celebration of Christ’s Lordship and Headship (the only Head of the Church), so too the “Christian Year” (i.e. the liturgical year, or church year) became a structure for observing particular events in the life of Jesus by the beginning of the second century. Furthermore, by the end of the second century there were other special days set aside for fasting, for baptism, for celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, for teaching and training for church membership, for the equipping of the saints for their work of ministry, etc. By the end of the third century there was an annual “Easter Week”, or as it was called “The Great Week” — and by the end of the fourth century the “Christian year” included these special commemorations, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and a so-called “Easter Vigil” on the eve of Easter Sunday.
So, this is how Christians around the world have observed “HOLY WEEK” ever since, and then observe the EASTER SEASON, which begins with Easter Sunday and continues until the next great celebration on the Church’s calendar, PENTECOST, which comes approximately fifty days after Easter (Pentecost means “fifty”, and the days between Easter and Pentecost is known as the “Great Fifty Days”). Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early Church, which experienced phenomenal growth in those days, let us also pray fervently, “O God, do it again!” Of course, there will never be another Day of Pentecost, just as their will never be another Good Friday or another Day of Resurrection, but we can pray that there will be another mighty spiritual awakening — another great movement of the Spirit, for there is nothing the Church, our nation, and this world needs more!