Whew. I didn't guess that this post would generate such "interest" (in fact, that post had the largest number of comments in the short history of this blog). While I don't have time to respond to all the comments, I wanted to respond to the general themes of some and then write a separate post about Christmas and Easter.
1. This may surprise some of you in the light of what you think I said (as opposed to what I actually said): I think Wayne Larson's approach makes a lot of sense. He wrote:
What if our session chose to do this by way of organizing a good portion of those 52 Sunday's around, say, the major events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ? We could have a series of Sundays in which our Scripture readings and prayers reflect on his promised coming (from both the vantage points of OT Israel and our present hope in his return). Then perhaps we could have a few Sundays in which our Scripture readings and prayers center on the incarnation of our Lord. We might then even have a few Sundays that reflect on those portions of the Scriptures where we see the Son of God revealing himself to his people and the nations and consider how we might take that message of the gospel to all of the world. Then we could have a few Sundays where our readings and prayers consider why our Lord came for us in the first place - to redeem us from our sin and bondage - even noting that our Messiah was rejected by men, smitten and afflicted. We could then have a few Sundays where we give special attention to his death, resurrection, ascension, and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.
However, I would suggest that there is a difference between a church's session structuring its Sunday worship services around major themes and texts like this and a deliberate ordering of the church's life around the historic church calendar. I agree that we need to teach and preach the whole counsel of God and doing so in this fashion would assist our people in inculcating the Gospel. Once that teaching and preaching moves into a full observance of the church calendar with the rites attached to those observances--such as the placing of ashes on the forehead, for example--then it strikes me that we've moved beyond or beside the expressed command of Scripture. And that is my concern.
2. That would then be my answer to the several charges of hypocrisy: "well, you preached at a Reformation Day service; a Valentines Banquet; a pro-life service; a Christmas service; an Easter service, etc." In preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God, it is appropriate to order the ministry of the Word to draw people into the major themes of the Gospel itself. The fact that our culture still views Christmas and Easter as major poles of our calendar makes it convenient to preach and teach on the themes of Jesus' advent(s), death, and resurrection. [I'd also note that the Valentine's Banquet is tonight, Friday; and it is always appropriate to bring God's Word at such settings--but it is not a stated service of the church, either.]
I must admit, however, that I am very uncomfortable with the way some churches I have attended have "candle light" services on Christmas eve or decorate the sanctuary with greenery for Advent or have (what we called) "the creeping cross," which progressed toward the center of the sanctuary in the Sundays leading up to Easter. I wonder about the biblical warrant for these things and worry that people are led to believe that those things are necessary for the worship of God--which is only a few steps removed from formalism, legalism, and superstition, which were concerns of the Reformers themselves.
3. Kyle Wells asked the best question--where is all this talk about the conscience in the NT especially? It strikes me that a key text on this point would be Colossians 2:16-23--Paul clearly urges the Colossians not to allow their consciences to be bound ("let no one pass judgment on you...with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath") by religious observances that were no longer in effect ("the substance belongs to Christ"). These things "may have the appearance of wisdom," but I wonder whether such observances actually led people to trust in the ritual actions rather than in Jesus himself.
4. Finally, Luther. While Jeff Meyers raised the appropriate comment regarding my use of Luther, even he would agree that I was not appealing there to Luther as liturgist, but to Luther as defender of liberty of conscience as bound by God's Word. I thought when I typed that in someone would probably suggest that it was a bit of a non sequitur, but I had just finished doing my Luther lecture in class and used the Diet of Worms clip from the Luther movie--so I thought it was a good place to end.