Religious Holidays

“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month… even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord… And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord… The altar also was rent…”

1 Kings 12:32-13:6

“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

Mark 7:7

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Order of Contents

Where to Start?
What about Rom. 14:5-6?
Historic Quotes  85+
Articles
Books
The History of Religious Holidays
What About the Church being Able to Call Days of Thanksgiving & Mid-Week
.        Services?
What about the 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566)?
But are Not Evangelical Feast Days Beneficial?
On Lent
In Latin

The Continental View

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Where to Start?

Quote

William Ames  1633

A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, vol. 2 (1633; rep. Puritan Reprints, 2010), Section 32, ‘Concerning the Lord’s Day, Temples and Ceremonial Festivals’, p. 359

“Concerning ceremonial festivals of man’s making, our practice cannot be objected, because we observe none.  We take occasion of hearing and praying upon any day when occasion is offered.  We say (with [Rudolph] Hospinian [d. 1626], [in Latin] Of Christian Festivals, ch. 2 [1611/74]) ‘Not the day, but the Word of God… puts us in mind of the nativity, resurrection and ascension of Christ.'”

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Sermon & Article

McCurley, Robert – A Holy God and Holy Days, an audio sermon, 53 min., the transcription is also provided, 91 paragraphs 

Rev. McCurley analyzes what the Bible has to say about Christmas

Bart, Paul – 8 Reasons Christian Holidays Should not be Observed  2016  42 paragraphs

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Book

Schwertley, Brian – The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas   Buy  2003  106 pp.

This is an excellent Biblical defense of the historic, reformed position that the Bible forbids making up one’s own religiously-significant holidays, and that the practice of such is not indifferent (Gen. 2:31 Kings 12:32-13:5Matt 15:9).  Appendix 1 is 19 pages of quotes from Church history demonstrating that this is the historic, reformed position.

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What about Rom. 14:5-6?  “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

G.I. Williamson, ‘The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship’  n.d.

[5] Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians there is a clear mention of unauthorized worship.

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11).

The people to whom Paul wrote this letter were probably observing the special days and seasons appointed by God in the Old Testament ceremonial system (Ex. 23:14-17, 34:18, etc.).  But, if that is the case, it only makes the force of the Apostle’s objection all the stronger when applied to special days that God never commanded.  When Christ came the Old Testament ceremonial system of worship was superseded.  Included in this were the annual sacred days, and even the Jewish Sabbaths.  For the Galatians to go on celebrating these days was to act as if they were still waiting for the advent of the Messiah.

You can readily see the application. If the Apostle found it necessary to say this to people who continued to observe days which had once been commanded, but were now obsolete, what would he say to people, today, who observe special holy days that God never commanded?¹

¹  Calvin’s Commentaries, 21:125:

“Do we wonder that Paul should be afraid that he had labored in vain, that the gospel would henceforth be of no service?  And since that very description of impiety is now supported by Popery, what sort of Christ or what sort of gospel does it retain?  So far as respects the binding of consciences, they enforce the observance of days with not less severity than was done by Moses.  They consider holidays, not less than the false prophets did, to be a part of the worship of God…  The Papists must therefore be held equally censurable with the false apostles; and with this additional aggravation, that, while the former proposed to keep those days which had been appointed by the law of God, the latter enjoy days, rashly stamped with their own seal, to be observed as most holy.”

At this point — in order to avoid misunderstanding — we also need to take note of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14.  Here the Apostle instructed the strong to be patient with the weak, because the weak did not yet understand the liberty they had in Jesus.  As a matter of fact they were no longer under any obligation to observe even the special days that God had once appointed through Moses.  But the problem was that some of the members of the Church in Rome did not yet understand this.  

And, as long as it was only a particular member of the Church who was afflicted with this lamentable weakness, Paul was willing to patiently bear with him.  He was willing, in other words, to tolerate church membership for a person who felt constrained — by a misinformed conscience — to observe these days.

In Galatians 4[:9-11], however, the Apostle had a different concern in view. In this instance the Church as a whole had submitted itself to a yoke of bondage.  The Galatian church, as a corporate body, had yielded to the demands of ‘the weak’ by observing these days.  And when this happened the Apostle was quite uncompromising in his opposition.  The reason is that it is wrong for the Church to include in its corporate worship anything that Christ has not commanded.

It is one thing, in other words, to tolerate weakness in individual members.  But it is something else again when this errant view is imposed on the whole congregation.  Yet this is exactly what we see today in most Reformed Churches.

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George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 1, ch. 8, ‘That Festival Days take away our Christian Liberty, proved out of the Gospel’, pp. 25-26

“[Col. 2] verse. 17, What should we do with the shadow, when we have the body? another, verse 20, Why should we be subject to human ordinances, since through Christ we are dead to them, and have nothing ado with them?

Now, by the same reasons are our holy-days to be condemned as taking away Christian liberty; and so that which the apostle says, does militate as well against them as against any other holy-days: for whereas it might be thought that the apostle does not condemn all holy-days, because both he permits others to observe days, Rom. 14:5, and he himself also did observe one of the Jewish feasts, Acts 18:21.

It is easily answered that our holy-days have no warrant from these places except our opposites will say that they esteem their festival days holier than other days, and that they observe the Jewish festivities, neither of which they do aknowledge; and if they did, yet they must consider that which the apostle either said or did hereanent, is to be expounded and understood of bearing with the weak Jews, whom he permitted to esteeme one day above another, and for whose cause he did in his own practice, thus far apply himself to their infirmity at [???] time, when they could not possibly be as yet fully and throughly instructed concerning Christian liberty and the abrogation of the Ceremonial Law, because the Gospel was as yet not fully propagated: and when the Mosaical rites were like a dead man not yet buried, as Augustine’s simile runs.

So that all this can make nothing for holy-days after the full promulgation of the Gospel, and after that the Jewish ceremonies are not only dead, but also buried, and so deadly to be used by us.  Hence it is, that the apostle will not bear with the observation days in Christian Churches, who have known God as he speaks.

The apostle comports with the observation of days in the weak Jews, who understood not the fullness of the Christian liberty, especially, since those days having had the honor to be once appointed by God Himself, were to be honorably buried: but the same apostle reproves the Galatians who had attained to this liberty, and had once left off the observation of days.

Now for confutation of this forged exposition of those places of the apostle…  The [Romanist] Rhemists affirm that the apostle condemns only Jewish days [in Col. 2 & Gal. 4], but not Christian days, and that we do falsely interpret his words against their holy-days.  [Thomas] Cartwright answers them that if Paul condemned the observing of feasts which God Himself instituted, then much more does He condemn the observation of feasts of man’s devising…  for he [Paul] condemnes that observation of days which had crept into the Church of Galatia, which was not Jewish nor typical, seeing the Galatians, believing that Christ was already come, could not keep them as figures of his coming, as the Jews did, but rather as memorials that He was already come, says Cartwright.”

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Historic Quotes

Quotes on Religious Holidays

Over 85 quotes demonstrating the very large share of reformed history that has been opposed to man-made religious holidays. 

The Pope Says the Entire Christian Calendar is Wrong, being a news article, Nov. 12th, 2012

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Articles

1500’s

Bucer, Martin – Ch. X, ‘Why We have Abolished Holy Days’  (1524)  9 pp.  in Ground & Reason  Buy  pp. 159-168

This was the first, major reformed treatise on worship, which gave the ground and reason for the first reformed worship services of the Reformation, as they held them in Strasbourg, Germany.

“…one of the most significant documents in the history of Reformed worship.” – Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old

“We cannot deny that the old fathers were ill advised when they retained a few holy days for the sake of those who loved the world too much, hoping that they would hear some portion of the Word of God.” – Martin Bucer, p. 165

Cartwright, Thomas – pt. 2, ch. 1, ‘Of Holy Days’  in The Rest of the Second Reply of Thomas Cartwright Against Master Doctor Whitgift’s Second Answer Touching the Church Discipline  (Basel, 1577), pp. 188-199

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1600’s

Calderwood, David

‘Reasons Against Festival Days’  (1619)  64 paragraphs  from Perth Assembly (1619)

‘Propositions on Indifferent Things & Ceremonies in Worship’  trans. T. Fentiman  (1623; RBO, 2021)

Calderwood (1575–1650) was a Scottish minister and arch-presbyterian.  This section of Calderwood is taken from his large Latin work refuting the polity of the Church of England being sought to be imposed on Scotland. 

Specifically, these propositions were set against the Articles of Perth (1618) which had instituted in the Church of Scotland (1) kneeling in receiving Communion, (2) observing religious festival days (such as Christmas, Easter, etc.), (3) episcopal confirmation of youth, and (4 & 5) administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper in private places.

Calderwood’s propositions are solid, timeless and are pardigmatic of classical presbyterianism.

William Ames – Section 32, ‘Concerning the Lord’s Day, Temples and Ceremonial Festivals’  in A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, vol. 2 (1633; rep. Puritan Reprints, 2010), pp. 358-360.

Gillespie, George – A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  (1637)

pt. 1

ch. 7, ‘That [Imposed] Festival Days Take Away our Liberty which God has Given us, Proved: & First Out of the Law’, pp. 20-24

ch. 8, ‘That [Imposed] Festival Days Take Away our Christian Liberty, Proved out of the Gospel’, pp. 25-31

ch. 9, ‘Showing the Weakness of Some Pretences which our Opposites Use for Holy-days’, pp. 31-36

pt. 3

ch. 1, ‘That the Ceremonies are Unlawful Because Superstitious, which is Particularly Instanced in Holy Days…’

Mocket, Thomas – Christmas, the Christian’s Grand Feast: its Original, Growth & Observation, Also of Easter, Whitsontide & Other Holydays Modestly Discussed & Determined. Also the Beginning of the Year & Other Things Observable. Where also among other Learned Men, you have the Judgment of those Eminent Men; Josephus Scaliger, Rodulphus Hospinian, Matthæus Beroaldus, Joh. Causabon, Doctor Fulk, Mr. Cartwright, Alsted, Hugh Broughton, Master Mead  (London, 1651)  25 pp.

“Thomas Mockett (or Mocket) (1602-1670), was a studious theologian, Reformed preacher of the Gospel, and scholarly puritan divine during the era of Westminster. Edmund Calamy describes him as, “a very pious, and humble man.”

Mockett’s argument in this work is directed to well-meaning Christians who are defiling the Regulative Principle – that God alone determines the manner and time in which sinners are to approach him. Writing against the, “observation of Christ’s nativity,” Mockett shows the Christian how he is to reject, whole-heartily, adding Christ into Christmas as a religious or worship observance.” – Matthew McMahon

Mather, Samuel – ‘3. There were the days of Purim…’  (1668)  in ‘The Gospel of the Feast of Trumpets’  in The Figures or Types of the Old Testament, by which Christ and the Heavenly Things of the Gospel were preached and shadowed to the people of God of Old: Explained and improved in sundry sermons  (London, 1705), pp. 440-1

Mather (1626-1671) was a New England puritan and was the son of Richard Mather and the brother of Increase Mather.

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1800’s

Miller, Samuel

Presbyterians do not Observe Holy Days  1835, 14 paragraphs, from his Presbyterianism the Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ, p. 73-78

Letter on Christmas Observance  1828  7 paragraphs, this letter is addressed to a secular commercial advertiser

Bannerman, James – ‘Ecclesiastical Holidays’  in The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1868), vol. 1, pp. 406–420  hosted at RenoPres

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Contemporary

Silversides, David – Why No Christmas or Easter?  16 paragraphs

Williamson, G.I. 

Is Christmas Scriptural?  n.d.  8 paragraphs in the New Horizons magazine of the O.P.C.

A Defense of Calvinn’s Rejection of Christmas  2013  11 paragraphs  in The Aquila Report

McMahon, C. Matthew – Easter: the Devil’s Holiday  30 paragraphs

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Books

1600’s

Gillespie, George – A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies  Buy  1637  372 pp.

A main focus of this book is against the unBiblical, English-Popish holy days that were being attempted to be pushed on Scotland in 1637.  Gillespie thoroughly demonstrates that such cannot be participated in under the pretense of ‘adiaphora’, or of them being indifferent and circumstantial.

For an excerpt from this work, see the short section on ‘Popish Ceremonies are Proved to be Idolatrous Because They are Monuments of Past Idolatry’ and the longer section here.

Cawdrey, Daniel

Diatribe Triplex, or, A Threefold Exercitation Concerning 1. Superstition, 2. Will-worship, 3. Christmas Festival, with the Reverend & Learned Dr. Hammond  (London, 1654)   Buy

Cawdrey was a presbyterian and Westminster divine.  Henry Hammond was an Arminian Anglican.

The Account Audited & Discounted: or a Vindication of the Threefold Diatribe, of: 1. Superstition, 2. Will-worship, 3. Christmas Festival, Against Dr. Hammond’s Manifold Para-Diatribes  (London, 1658)

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1700’s

Bruce, Archibald – Annus Secularis: Or the British Jubilee: Or a Review of the Act of the General Assembly, Appointing the 5th of November, 1788, as an Anniversary-thanksgiving, in commemoration of the Revolution in 1688; Wherein also The Doctrine and History, the Origin, Progress and Tendency of Religious Festivals, in Ancient and Modern Times, Both in a Religious and Moral View, are Particularly Considered  Buy  1788 231 pp.

This work “…is a rejection of anniversary religious festivals; Bruce insists on a biblical warrant for any observance introduced into worship, reviews the history of opposition to religious holidays by the Reformed churches, and observes the effect of such commemorations in the decline of Churches into unscriptural symbolism and idolatry.” – Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology

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Contemporary

Schwertley, Brian – The Regulative Principle of Worship and Christmas   Buy  2003  106 pp.

This is an excellent Biblical defense of the historic, reformed position that the Bible forbids making up one’s own religiously-significant holidays, and that the practice of such is not indifferent (Gen. 2:31 Kings 12:32-13:5Matt 15:9).  Appendix 1 is 19 pages of quotes from Church history demonstrating that this is the historic, reformed position.

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The History of Religious Holidays

Coldwell, Chris – John Calvin and Holy Days  16 paragraphs

Calvin is one who is sometimes quoted as allowing for extra-Biblical holy days.  The truth of the matter is that Geneva at certain points tolerated such holy days due to pressure from the civil magistrate and in bearing long with infirmities in the Church till they could be further reformed and removed.  When Calvin does speak his mind, he disapproves of them, as George Gillespie argues (who is cited in the article).

Coldwell, Chris & Andy Webb – American Presbyterianism and the Religious Observance of Christmas  2015  45 pp.

Christmas used to be outlawed by the American puritans as part of the false worship of Roman Catholicism.  In the early 1800′s Samuel Miller could still write, “Presbyterians do not observe holy days.”  By the mid to late-1800′s the tide began to turn.  How did this happen?  Was greater light derived from the scriptures?  Or was it due to worldliness and backsliding?  Read here to find out why.

Webb, Andrew – Why Do Presbyterians Observe Holy Days?  no date, 11 pages

An excellent historical survey of America’s early opposition to the Christ-mass and its subsequent decline in the mid-1800’s into the contemporary era.

Reed, Kevin – Christmas: an Historical Survey Regarding its Origins and Opposition to it  107 paragraphs

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What About the Church being Able to Call Days of Thanksgiving & Mid-Week
Services?

Article

Gillespie, George – Sections 6-7, pp. 22-24  of pt. 1, ch. 7  of English Popish Ceremonies  (1637)

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Quotes

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 1

pp. 6-7

“…as Didoclavius [David Calderwood] observes (Altar of Damascus, ch. 10, p. 878), aliud est deputare, aliud dedicare, aliud sanctificare; Designation or deputation is when a man appoints a thing for such a use, still reserving power and right to put it to another use, if he please; so the Church appoints times and hours for preaching upon the week days, yet reserving power to employ those times otherwise when she shall think fit.

Dedication is when a man so devotes a thing to some pious or civil use that he denudes himself of all right and title which thereafter he might claim unto it: as when a man dedicates a sum of money for the building of an exchange, a judgment-hall, etc. or a parcel of ground for a Church, a Church-yard, a glebe, a school, a hospital; he can claim no longer right to the dedicated thing.

Sanctification is the setting apart of a thing for a holy or religious use in such sort that thereafter it may be put to no other use, Prov. 20:25.

Now, whereas times set apart for ordinary and weekly preaching are only designed by the Church for this end and purpose, so that they are not holy, but only for the present they are applied to a holy use; neither is the worship appointed as convenient or beseeming for those times, but the times are appointed as convenient for the worship: festival days are holy both by dedication and consecration of them.”

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pp. 12-13

“5. By their fruits shall we know them; look whether they give so much liberty to others and take so much to themselves upon their holy days for staying from the public worship and attending wordly business, as they do at the diets of weekly and ordinary preaching: yet they would make the simple believe that their holy days are only appointed to be kept as those ordinary times set apart for divine service on the week-days.

Nay, moreover, let it be observed, whether or not they keep the festival days more carefully, and urge the keeping of them more earnestly than the Lord’s own day.  Those prelates that will not abase themselves to preach upon ordinary Sabbaths, think the high holy days worthy of their sermons.  They have been also often seen to travel upon the Lord’s Day, whereas they hold it religion to travel upon a holy day.  And whereas they can digest the common profanation of the Lord’s Day and not challenge it, they cannot away with the not observing of their festivities.”


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What about the 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566)?

The 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566), a binding document of the reformed Swiss churches (see Wiki for background info) states in 24.3:

“If in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. But we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints.”

While James Dennison, Jr. says that the 2nd Helvetic Confession was ‘the most widely received of the sixteenth century Reformed confessions,’ (Reformed Confessions, vol. 2, p. 809) yet he says that the only churches that ‘adopted it as a standard of their own’ besides the Swiss churches were the reformed Churches of Hungary and Eastern Europe (which never were the most reformed), and hence the Confession did not have binding status in other Reformation churches.

When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland sent a letter to Theodore Beza approving the Confession in 1566, they made this notable exception:

“This one thing, however, we can scarcely refrain from mentioning, with regard to what is written in the 24th chapter of the aforesaid Confession concerning the ‘festival of our Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Ghost upon his disciples,’ that these festivals at the present time obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other feast-day than what the divine oracles have prescribed. Everything else, as we have said, we teach, approve, and most willingly embrace.”

Works of John Knox, vol. 6, pp. 547-8

Other streams of reformed churches that got rid of religious holidays altogether included the English puritans following Thomas Cartwright’s 1580’s Directory of Worship, much of the Netherlands (pre-Synod-of-Dort), and of course the Westminster Assembly in its Directory for Public Worship.

Where religious holidays do come up in Reformed Church history, R. Andrew Myers observes:

“…it is evident that there are no arguments to be made on behalf of observing unBiblical holidays on the grounds of the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Neither [Henry] Bullinger, nor [Francis] Turretin, nor [the Synod of] Dort, nor anyone else that I have read who approved of select unBiblical holidays ever tries to justify them except on the basis of “Christian liberty or edification,” and not rather on the principle of divine warrant or command in worship.  

The Reformed who did approve of unBiblical holidays generally allowed for a shorter ecclesiastical calendar than the Roman Church, and tried to curtail certain “abuses,” but nevertheless were unable to point to any divine authorization for setting apart feast days.

Reformed Church history does show, however, that wherever the Regulative Principle of Worship governed ecclesiastical worship, the more purely Reformed churches excluded an ecclesiastical calendar filled with holidays which were invented by the mind of man and confined themselves to the observance of the Christian Sabbath, and providential days of thanksgiving and fasting.”

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But are Not Evangelical Feast Days Beneficial?

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 2, ‘Against those of our Opposites who plead for the Ceremonies as things Expedient’, pp. 13-14

Tilen sets out the expediency of holy-days for imprinting in the minds of people the sense and knowledge of the benefits of redemption.

Answer: 1. There is no mean so good for this purpose as catechizing and preaching, out of season and in season.  2. What could he say unto them who have attained his end without his mean?  I find people better instructed and made more sensible of those benefits where the feasts are not kept, than where they are.  3. Think they their people sufficiently instructed in the grounds of religion when they hear of the nativity, passion, etc.  What course will they take for instructing them in other principles of faith?  Why do they not keep one way, and institute a holy-day for every particular head of catechism?

But Bishop Lindsey thinks yet to let us see a greater expediency for observing holy-days.  Certainely says he, nothing is so powerful to abolish profaneness and to root out superstition of men’s hearts, as the exercise of divine worship in preaching, praying and thanksgiving, chiefly then when the superstitious conceits of merit and necessity are most pregnant in the heads of people, as doubtless they are when the set times of solemnities return; for then it is meet to lance the oposterne when it is ripe.

Answer:  This is a very bad cure and is not only to heal the wound of the people slightly [Jer. 6:14], but to make it the more inveterate and festered.  I might object that little or nothing is preached or spoken by him and his companions at the revolution of those festivities against the superstitious keeping of them; but though they should speake as much as can be against this superstition, their lancing being in word only, and not in deed, the recidivation will prove worse than the disease.  The best lancing of the oposterne were not to observe them at all, or to preach against them, which are tried to work this effect more powerfully than the bishop’s cure has done: for all know, that there is none so free of this superstition as those who observe not the holy-days.”

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On Lent

Clark, R. Scott – ‘Resources on Lent’  2018

Clark quotes the following against Lent:  Whittaker, Sibbes, Owen, reformers in Basel, Lefevre d’Etaples, Manton, Calvin, Zwingli & Cartwright.

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In Latin

Hospinian, Rudolf

Of Christian Festivals, that is, of the Origin, Continuation, Ceremonies & Rituals of the Festival Days of Christians (1611; Geneva, 1674)

Hospinian (1547-1626).  “Not the day, but the Word of God…  puts us in mind of the nativity, resurrection and ascension of Christ.'” – Ch. 2

‘Excerpts Unfurled out of the Book of Christian Feasts, by Rudolph Hospinian, on the Feast Day of St. Martin’  appended to Gottlieb Samuel Treuer, Untersuchung Des Ursprungs und der Bedeutung Des Märtens-Mannes Wobey aus den Urkunden…  (Helmstadt, 1733), pp. 83-94

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The Continental View

These resources are here for reference.  For an antidote to the Continental View, see Gillespie above.

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1500’s

Zanchi, Girolamo – Excursus on Festivals, pt. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9  in his Commentary on Col. 2:17

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Related Pages

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The Lord’s Day