Time-Regulated Worship


While few of us spend much time in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, when we do we discover an exciting truth: our God loves to party. In fact, he prescribed three seasonal festivals of worship and remembrance for his people. He prescribed a one-week party in the spring of the year, which included the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of the First-fruits. In the early summer God prescribed the Feast of Weeks, and in the autumn He prescribed three festivals to mark the end of the calendar year and the beginning of a new year: Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles.

I don’t know about you, but as a person who loves to work those prescribed festivals encourage me to break away from work to glorify God and enjoy him. But they also teach me something about worship. The divinely ordained festivals prescribe the practice of an annual worship calendar or time-regulated worship. In his excellent book Recalling the Hope of Glory, Allen Ross identifies a handful of benefits of this practice. He states that time-regulated worship:   

  1. Helps people subordinate all the experiences of life to the Lord,
  2. Preserves the heritage of the faith,
  3. Distinguishes church from the world,
  4. Provides believers with a regular opportunity to fulfill religious duties,
  5. Fosters unity among the people, and
  6. Provides opportunities for greater praise.

If those benefits resonant with our mission as a people of God, how can we adopt or adapt the practice of time-regulated worship? Some choose to follow the Church Year to meet that goal–and that works. Others develop a context-friendly annual calendar built around the celebration of Christmas and Easter–and that works. Casual observation suggests that few congregations simply ignore the calendar and treat every Sunday the same. 

On a practical level, the practice of time-regulated worship invites us to distinguish between Ordinary Time and Festival Time. For a variety of reasons, we can't handle a festival every Sunday! If we try to do so, our festival time becomes ordinary time. Plus, we blow up our budget.

Still we must have Festival Time! There must be seasons throughout the year when we amp it up and we need look no further than the book of Leviticus for biblical support for such a practice. Our God loves a good party and invites us to celebrate our salvation together.  

Of course, festival time will look different for every congregation because ordinary time looks different for every congregation. A festival for one congregation may feel pretty ordinary to another congregation. One congregation’s ordinary time is another congregation’s festival time–and that’s OK. The basic question for each congregation is “When do we party?” 

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Excellent article; thank you for your thoughtful reflections. We just talked about this in our PM teaching service last Sunday. I'll have to check out that book by Allen Ross; it sounds like it might have some good sermon fodder in there.

There is one small typo in the list, #1: "subordinated" should be "subordinate."

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Thanks for the positive feedback, gentlemen.    Allen Ross book is a gem.  It is a good resource for a sermon or teaching series on worship as he looks at the worship of God's people at various times in their biblical history.


Thanks for the article.  I agree that it is important that we help our people get into a rhythm of celebration throughout the church year for the very reasons Allen Ross suggests.  We live in a world that loves to celebrate all kinds of things; holidays (even from other countries), political markers, national achievements, etc... The church can easily falter and miss opportunities to celebrate together the wonderful gifts of God or make them somehow less important.