At the heart of the Church Calendar is the weekly gathering of God’s people around the Lord’s Table. This is the Lord’s Day. Every other celebration throughout the Church Year is nothing more than a commentary of what goes in the church each week.
Since our earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus, the church has been celebrating the Lord’s Day on Sunday. Our fathers understood that this day was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures with all of the references to the “eighth day.” Circumcision occurred on the eighth day (Lev 12.3). Cleansing of lepers went through an eight-day process, and he was fully cleansed on the eighth day (Lev 14.10, 23). Other uncleannesses went through a seven-day cleansing process so that the unclean person was finally clean on the eighth day (cf. Lev 15.14; Num 6.10). The Temple of Solomon and the visionary Temple of Ezekiel both have seven-day cleansings with the eighth day being the day that final cleansing is realized (1Kg 8.65; Ez 43.27).
Time, being a part of creation, was corrupted by the sin of Adam. The entire first week of creation had to be cleansed. A new creation came out of the old. This happened on the eighth day, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Consequently, the apostles set the example for us to gather the church on the first day of the week; or the eighth day (cf. Ac 20.7; 1Cor 16.2).
While it is good to follow this pattern, it doesn’t seem that this is absolutely necessary. There is freedom in the new covenant church to set apart times to gather around the Lord’s Table on other days if necessary because of persecution or some other extenuating circumstance. God has given the church “stars”–pastors (cf. Rev 1.20)–to govern the times and seasons for the church as wisdom dictates what is best for the church in that situation. When the pastors of these churches set the time to gather around the Lord’s Table, then it is incumbent upon the members of the congregation to be there unless providentially hindered. To refuse to obey those who have rule over you (Heb 13.17) is a sin.
But what about the rest of the activities of the church? The rest of the activities of the church that don’t involve the Lord’s Table are not “absolutely necessary.” That is, you shouldn’t be under the threat of excommunication for not going to a Vespers’ service or a special Feast.
If these activities aren’t absolutely necessary, then why do churches have them? God has given us a blueprint for what he wants the church to be. This blueprint is all throughout Scripture but culminates in one glorious vision in Revelation 21–22. The pastor is called to be a Temple builder (cf. 1Cor 3). We look at the blueprints and then begin to figure how best to build our local congregations to match the design of God. The Lord’s Day service is non-negotiable. It is foundational. But the Lord’s Service is only one aspect of our lives together. To build a loving, vibrant culture, we must have shared life, which means shared time. These times need to contribute to what we are called to be as the church.
God’s Temple is a house of prayer for all nations, so we have special prayer services outside of the Lord’s Service to keep us engaged with one another and fulfill our mission for the world. God’s Temple is a place of celebration, so we have special feast days together–everything from fellowship meals on certain Sundays of the month to big blow out feasts for Easter and All Saints.
No, you won’t be excommunicated if you don’t come to these other activities. But why wouldn’t you want to come? Why do other voluntary commitments to ball teams and other cultural events take precedence over commitments to the church? Why are these other activities more important to you and your family? Why do you love these other things more than you love Christ’s church?
I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. Those other activities are probably all fine in their proper places. My responsibility in contributing to the building of this Temple of God is, in part, to lead those under my care to examine their lives in terms of what God is wanting us, his church, to be. We are not to be looking at our participation in the church as merely an “activity,” a burdensome commitment among many other demands on us. We are not to think of Sunday worship as “punching our time card.” Our life as the church is a way of life. That life involves prioritizing the church and her life over other activities in life; that is, saying “No” to invitations to do other things because you have a prior commitment to give your life to the church.
If we are not doing this, then what are we doing? If we aren’t living life together and building a culture, then we are just another volunteer organization with a pep talk and a snack on Sundays.