Saturday, 13 February 2010

Polycarp beats Valentines any day

A few days ago in conversation with one of the intelligent van den Broek boys, I suggested that Christians need to be reticent as regards celebrating Valentines day. The challenging questions that followed, forced me to carefully assess my views on this issue and here I want to articulate something

At the outset I want to say I'm not anti-romance (contrary to Ron's ooops popular opinion!). Rather my concern in raising this issue, is with a view to consider carefully those things that we assimilate from our culture.

As many of you know, Valentines is meant to be a day when those who are courting, those who are betrothed to be married or those who are married express their affection for one another. In most cases this translates to the man getting flowers for his beloved as well as the couple enjoying an intimate meal. Now there is nothing wrong with any of these things per se.

However, I wonder if we Christians sometimes simply join in with what the culture says is a good thing without considering how a Christian celebrating such a festival would differ. Now please hear me carefully – I am not saying that celebrating a festival which the surrounding culture celebrates is necessarily wrong. In fact I would argue that many of the festivals and celebrations which our culture celebrates find their proper place and true meaning in a Christian setting. What I am saying however, is that we need to consider everything we do in light of Scripture and ask ourselves how a Christian celebrating Valentines day (or for that matter Mothers day, Christmas, Easter etc) would differ from how the world celebrates. I think this is a basic application of verses such as 2 Corinthians 10 :5 where Paul writes that 'we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.' It also follows from passages such as Colossians 1:16-18 where we are told that 'all things were created by Him and for Him... so that in everything he might have the supremacy.'

I wonder if one way to ensure that the days, weeks and months of the year display Christ's supremacy is for us to consider patterning our lives around the much maligned notion of a Church year. No doubt this sounds like an archaic and possibly odd idea for some but I want to offer two reasons why I think following the church year will be of immense benefit to us.

First, the Church year follows the story of the main events in Jesus' life: his birth at Christmas, his death on Good Friday, his resurrection on Easter Day, his Ascension forty days later, and his sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. Other lesser known festivals/seasons such as Advent and Lent are also linked to the great stories of salvation: Advent is meant to encourage us to consider Christ's final second coming whilst Lent is meant to help us reflect on the great sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross. The benefit of following these seasons as the year unfolds is that it provides Christians/the Church with a very clear framework with which to teach and live the gospel. Thus as we consider the bible readings that are appropriate for the season and as we mediate on how these readings fit into God's big story of salvation we will become more immersed in the gospel and become more the people God calls us to be.

Second, by following a church calender the wonderful story of salvation will be easily transmitted from one generation to the next. This will therefore help Christian families and the church to pass on the gospel message to the next generation (Psalm 78:4-7). Furthermore, following a church calender will also help us to evangelize the lost since over time they will become more familiar with the bible's storyline and we will not be starting from further back as we often find today when we engage in evangelism.

Instead therefore of organizing the year into the patterns dictated by the world (valentines, mother's day, summer holidays etc) shouldn't we be organizing our year to reflect Christian priorities? One example of this was kindly provided to me by the lovely Ruth Field. Last week as we were thinking of a good reason to get some friends together for some food, fun and fellowship, Ruth suggested we meet on or around the 23rd February for this is the date on which the Church has historically remembered a great Christian martyr: Polycarp. What a fabulous idea and for me, remembering this great hero of the faith rather than partaking in soppy sentimentalism, will be the highlight of my February.

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