You may know someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You may even be one of those people who struggle with SAD. Those “short days” of winter come along and shortened periods of sunlight begin to take a toll on some people. Depression sets in with all the side effects. The winter solstice finally comes, and the increase of sunshine begins to brighten not only one’s days but one’s countenance as well. Still the negative effects can linger, weakening the body and soul of the stricken. Well, just as seasons can affect our psychosomatic well-being, I’d suggest that seasons can affect our Christian faith as well. The thesis of this article is to show how important it is for us not to live our Christian lives according to seasonal holidays even if they are good holidays.
Right away, I tremble with fear and trepidation that some of you will stop reading. But please hear me out on this. I’m not some rabid “neo-Puritan” when it comes to the church calendar. I do love and appreciate the Puritans, but please do not think I’m peddling some hyper-ascetic approach to holidays. I often preach sermons about the incarnation of our lovely Savior . . . sometimes in December. I preach crucifixion and resurrection sermons knowing the power of the gospel to save sinners . . . in the springtime. Yes, we sing about the resurrection in concentration during the weeks leading up to Easter. Yes, we sing about the coming of God the Son to take on flesh throughout the month of December.
When I say that we ought not live our lives according to holidays, I say this out of concern for the spiritual appetite and growth of the church. Why is this a concern for me? Well, I think it tends to stunt the growth of believers when we stress seasons. Seasonal Affective Christianity (SAC) sets in. I think that such an occasional focus on “seasonal doctrines” weakens the church. For instance, to think about the incarnation of our Lord only or primarily when Christmas is approaching may lower the believer’s esteem for and contemplation of the miraculous coming of the second person of the holy Trinity the rest of the year. Neglecting such contemplation year round has a weakening effect on Christians and the church. Why should the bulk of Christians have their attention drawn to the resurrection only or primarily in the spring? The resurrection is a vital source for our hope in the midst of the sinful and perverse world that we live in every day. Both the incarnation and the resurrection keep our minds fixed on the supernatural. This is vital for healthy Christians, especially when you think about the overwhelming naturalistic culture in which we live.We should want to leave His weekly worship humming the great anthems and psalms that meditate on and glory in His full person and His complete work.SHARE
That said, let me encourage the church of our glorious God and Savior to shift from a seasonal approach to a weekly and daily approach to God’s truths. I want to inspire the church to think all year round about the grand doctrines of the church, but especially those that pertain to our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why shouldn’t we cast our minds and hearts on the eternality of our Savior on every Lord’s Day and not only a few times a year? We would promote a much “larger” Savior if we constantly made the point of His eternality. Why shouldn’t we have our minds drawn to His condescending love, whereby He took on flesh, not just a few days a year but on every Lord’s Day? By doing so, we would emphasize the truth of His great humiliation whereby He saved sinners from their sin. Why shouldn’t we instruct His people with the truth of His obedience to the law, obedience that allows us to have life forever and enjoy it now? Why shouldn’t we grip the minds of the dear lambs of God with the sacrificial death of our Savior, so their sins might be forgiven and divine wrath subverted? And what would be wrong with this being constantly, not occasionally, before the church? Why shouldn’t the resurrection of our glorious hope be weekly embedded into the very act of our worship? After all, the Lord’s Day is no longer on the seventh day but the first day because of the resurrection.
I can imagine objections such as this: “Well, for one thing, our pastors can’t preach all the doctrines all the time.” That may be true, but what about our confessions of sin, confessions of faith, pastoral prayers, and psalms and hymns? If our worship is full orbed, we should be able to touch on all things related to our Savior’s person and work week after week. As we do so, the saints begin to think holistically about a Savior who is great and greatly to be praised. I fear our seasonal approach to doctrine—even the doctrine of Christ—inadvertently suggests a Jesus who is too small. Several decades ago, the Anglican J.B. Phillips wrote that little book Your God Is Too Small. Without endorsing the book in toto, I would say he made some good points on how we make God little in people’s minds, just as perhaps our seasonal approach to Christ Jesus makes Jesus too small.
So, how can we keep Jesus from appearing less than He is on every occasion of worship? Well, as I said, we can be sure our worship services make Him larger than life. Then His people will go out to live daily with a larger-than-life Savior. So, pastors, let’s include matters of praise and thanks in our pastoral prayers that exalt His totality. Let’s be sure, ministers of the gospel, that our confessions of sin speak to His incarnation, His death, and His resurrection. Let’s utilize those historic creeds that spell out His eternality, His incarnation, and His living power. Oh, and here is one thing so easily implemented, but often neglected: sing the psalms and hymns of His promised coming, His coming in flesh, His perfect life, His death, His resurrection, and His coming again. Sing them all and sing them year round. Spread the incarnation hymns throughout your liturgy throughout the year, not just annually. Insert the resurrection hymns in your worship year round. We should want to leave His weekly worship humming the great anthems and psalms that meditate on and glory in His full person and His complete work. Then there will be fewer Christians suffering from the spiritual malaise ushered in by Seasonal Affective Christianity. He is magnificent. He is amazing. He is spectacular. He is gargantuan. Let’s present Him that way all the time—not just seasonally.
Dr. C.N. Willborn is senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and adjunct professor of church history at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.