The good people over at Mars Hill have a nifty little PDF e-book called “Campaigns,” and I heartily recommend it to you.
It struck me reading through it that this strategy for uniting a church around a particular mission and coordinating all teaching, preaching, small groups, music and arts around it is actually an incredibly ancient concept rooted in the Old Testament and transformed and renewed in the New Covenant and history of the Church.
Traditionally, the Christian Church has held “campaigns” that we call seasons: †Advent-Christmas, Epiphany, Lent-Easter, Pentecost/Trinity Season. When the law was given at Sinai, God told Moses to organize the people around weekly meetings (which became the synagogue meeting every Sabbath), and then scattered through the year were larger feasts and festivals where the people of God were required to gather together (for usually a week), worship and feast together, and invite all their friends and neighbors and the poor and needy. In modern parlance, God required His people to go to three major conferences a year. But within that requirement lay the seed for the idea of “seasons.” While Israel hardly ever actually kept God’s requirements in this regard (e.g. it had been hundreds of years since Israel had celebrated Passover by the time of Josiah), it would have taken a goodish bit preparation to pull off these three major feasts.
Likely, beginning a month or two before the big feast major planning would begin. Participants would need to begin making arrangements to go to the feast (saving, setting aside food, preparing for lodging, transportation, planning for sacrifices, etc.), and the leadership and hosts of the feasts in Jerusalem would begin planning for the teaching opportunity. Whether or not there were ever major coordination efforts, people like Josiah and Nehemiah and Ezra portray leaders who could think on a large scale and communicate broadly with other teachers and Levites and priests regarding what the major themes of the feast would be. Scriptures might be read and studied in preparation, particular psalms chosen for the event, and the worship leaders would surly be preparing extensively (e.g. Neh. 12:27-43).
Combine the Jethro principle (Ex. 18) with the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), and I submit that you naturally get schools and the church calendar. (Go ahead, you can check my math.)
In the New Covenant, we are not under the days and months and years of the law (Gal. 4:9-10, Col. 2:16-17), but the Church has been enthroned in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2) — which means (in part) that we are the new sun, moon, and stars of the New Creation. And building upon the wisdom of the Old Covenant and the goodness of the Old Creation (e.g. Gen. 1-2), we are given the task of taking dominion of time, ruling over days, months, and years for the glory of Jesus our Lord and King. This means, in other words, that the Church is free to celebrate feast days, conferences, camps, and have festivals and parties for worship and teaching and evangelism and discipleship. Following Christ’s own example of meeting with His disciples on the first day of the week, marking His own resurrection, the Church has always met weekly on the Lord’s Day to celebrate a weekly, mini-Easter party.
But historically, the Church has held “campaigns” around the great events of the life of Christ: His birth, His baptism and miracles, His temptations and trials, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, and the pouring out of His Spirit. One of my old seminary profs, Don Fairbairn has a great new book out called Life in the Trinity. One of the things that he points out that the early church can teach the modern church is that Christian life cannot/should not be separated from the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. And the Church Calendar is a prime example of this sort of thing. It’s not that the early church didn’t have to deal with marriage counseling or parenting questions or need to reassess missions or evangelism efforts, it’s rather that the consensus of the early fathers was that all of those questions are directly answered in the life of the Trinity which is manifested particularly in the story and victory of Jesus.
So Advent is upon us this coming Sunday. And we at TRC in Moscow are beginning a four week campaign with the Church around the world, standing on the shoulders of fathers and mothers in the faith. This campaign is full of particular colors, particular themes, particular readings and songs and practices. The point isn’t to ignore the very pressing and practical concerns and questions that believers and unbelievers alike may have in their day-to-day lives. The point is that the answers to those concerns and questions are all found in the story of God’s promises, in the story of the faithful who waited in faith for a city whose builder and maker was God, in the story of a teenage girl in a crisis pregnancy, and a political world full of tyranny and abuse.
This Lord’s Day begins Advent, our campaign with the church universal, a season of prayer and meditation and celebration on the theme of the God Who Comes Near. God comes near in judgment, God comes near in His word, God comes near with salvation, and finally God comes as near as is possible by becoming one of us, by coming as a Child. This year we’re focusing particularly on the theme of Hebrews 11:10: “for he waited for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”