The Directory Of Publick Worship On Christmas

Festival days, vulgarly called holy-days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.

Westminster Assembly, Directory for Publick Worship (1645) | (HT: Semper Reformanda)


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  1. I could be mistaken, and I haven’t had a chance to check, but did not Calvin allow the recognition of Nativity, Good Friday, Resurrection Day, Ascension and Pentecost?

    • Abrogation of Festivals.

      On Sunday 16 November 1550, after the election of the lieutenant in the general Council, an edict was also announced respecting the abrogation of all the festivals, with the exception of Sundays, which God had ordained.

      —Register of the Company of Pastors (Geneva, 1550)

      I’ve checked the early draft ecclesiastical ordinances with no success. The Dutch Churches initially opposed the so-called “evangelical holidays” (Christmas, Easter, Trinity, Pentecost) but eventually gave in to lay/popular pressure in the 1570s and 80s. Art. 67 of the 1619 Dort Church Order:

      67. The congregations shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, with the following days. Since in most cities and Provinces of the Netherlands, besides these the days

  2. Yeah, both the Reformed and the Presbyterians originally reprobated feastdays, musical instruments and uninspired songs. Gradually, for whatever reasons, pragmatic or no, they crept back in so that nowadays the status quo is considered sacrosanct and inviolably reformed. There is no idea that historically, there were alternative views from within the camp, regardless if one agrees with them or not.
    Thanks for putting up the historical record.

  3. When WCF 21.5 (Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath day) mentions “…thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner,” is it talking about “evangelical holidays” (since Westminster is well after the 1570s-80s) or something else?

    • But our Thanksgiving is a civic holiday; I’d group it with 4th of July (another time when we as a nation would do well to meditate on thankfulness; also memorial day and veterans day and Pearl Harbor day…) rather than Easter and Christmas.

      Are you saying Westminster would have the church somehow participate in (something like) Thanksgiving before Christmas or Easter?

      • Yes, our thanksgiving is a civic holiday. Remember, the divines assumed a Constantinian church-state complex. They were thinking about national days of thanksgiving and perhaps of fasting. Remember, they were emerging from a 1000-year captivity to an ever-growing and tyrannical church calendar. There were more saints than days! The number of days of obligation dwarfed the Jewish calendar, which was relatively simple. Christmas was particularly associated with debauchery, images, and Romanist superstition. They were not a particularly sentimental lot.

  4. If the President in his office has promoted abortion and homosexual marriages as much as he is able, by the same token just what kind of god are we called to give thanks to and remember?
    Arguably the divines would think a day of fasting and prayer more appropriate in light of the state of our nation, moreover the one kind of day presumes the other. But the church pretty much only observes thanksgiving days which, like days of prayer, are properly occasional and not by rote yearly automatic affairs.

  5. If a Reformed church were to celebrate the memory of a particular saint every week, I don’t see what’s wrong with it. The problem recognized by the Reformers was celebration of medieval “saints” that were in fact canonized heretics. What we need is MORE biographical remembrances, not less. Somebody needs to create a Reformed liturgical calendar to drive the study of church history and the honoring of our covenant ancestry.

    • Hudson,

      I used to agree with your suggestion, until I began teaching church history. I’ve learned, however, that’s exactly how the current calendar was started. Good, pious intentions aren’t enough. We need divine warrant. That’s one reason why God gave us the RPW, to preserve Christian liberty. Yes, we do need to remember, but no, we don’t need a new, improved ecclesiastical calendar.

      • Scott, you seem to fear biographical remembrances of covenant ancestors according to a calendar in the same way we ought to fear readings from the Apocrypha (as if they were near-Scripture). I don’t agree with the comparison. Let’s say for example that today we were celebrating the memory of Calvin or Athanasius or Abraham, don’t you think that these would serve as helpful entry points for understanding various aspects of the Reformed confessions, the creeds and the history of the covenant of grace respectively? How would sober remembrances of these saints be a violation of the RPW? Do you really think there is no divine warrant? If they are violations, then an unimaginable number of practices are likewise condemned, including the recitation of creeds/ confessions and the use of specific prayers and songs whose source is merely ecclesiastical.

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