Eight Reasons Why We Love The Historic Lectionary

lec·tion·ar·y: noun, portions of the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels appointed to be read at church services throughout the church calendar year.  (Click Here for an example.)


1)  The historic lectionary does not allow for hobby horses.

Every year I seem to bump into a family friend.  Let’s call him, Dan.  Since Dan knows that I am a pastor, the conversation often shifts to the church.  After I share about the parish I serve, I return the favor and ask Dan about his church. With excitement, he most recently shared with me, “We are thrilled that our pastor is preaching through the Book of Revelation.  It is so exciting!  People are really enjoying it.”  What I find interesting is that it seems as if Dan’s pastor has been teaching incessantly through Revelation for the last ten years.  Unless I am getting senile or experiencing weird déjà vu, it seems as if this is the 3rd or 4th time that Dan’s pastor has gone through a year-long sermon series on Revelation. 

Now, is there anything wrong with preaching through the Book of Revelation?  Yes and no.  It is never wrong to preach God’s Word; however, the problem arises when pastors focus on hobby horses to the exclusion of everything else in the Bible.  Hobby horses can inadvertently cause a church to be reductionistic.

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary prevents the pastor from preaching all the time on hobby horses; the lectionary prompts the pastor to give the church a balanced diet from all of the Scriptures. 


2)  The historic lectionary gives a balanced theological diet.

The screen was blank except for a flashing cursor.  Pastor Banner scratched his head and sighed.  He had 52 Sundays, plus an additional 12 services for major Christian festivals, that he was hoping to plan out.  Out of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, what verses should he include in these 50-60 church services?  What verses are the most important?  And how could Pastor Banner ensure that he was not subconsciously going the way of his hobby horses or perhaps missing out on essential aspects of the Bible? 

Dating back hundreds of years, the historic church has had its own calendar.  The church calendar has seasons and appointed scriptures from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels.[1]  And with the different seasons and selected scripture passages, comes different Biblical narratives.  Narratives such as the creation of the world, the redemption of Israel, the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, the beginning of the church, the second coming, and so forth.  Themes also appear, such as judgment, grace, forgiveness, suffering, joy, persecution, death, life, hope, etc.   The point being, the historic lectionary presents to the church approximately 250 portions of scripture from the whole Bible - the Old Testament, the Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels.  It is there to help pastors – like Pastor Banner – to know what to preach during the 50-60 church services each year.

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary gives the church a balanced theological diet from the whole Bible (over one year) resulting in the church receiving the whole counsel of God. 


3)  The historic lectionary does not shy away from challenging Scripture. 

First Lutheran Church loves to hear positive and uplifting sermons.  And their pastor, Pastor Thompson?  Well, he likes to be liked by his parishioners.  As a result, it is easy for Pastor Thompson to tell First Lutheran what they want to hear with only uplifting-easy-to-hear Bible verses.  And likewise, it is easy for First Lutheran to encourage Pastor Thompson to tickle their ears with Bible verses that avoid politically incorrect subjects. 

The historic lectionary, though, does not bend to the wishes of Pastor Thompson or First Lutheran Church.  In fact, since the approximate 250 portions of Scripture have been assigned to certain days within the church calendar, the historic lectionary is not easily manipulated by what is and what is not politically correct in culture. In fact, the lectionary contains many difficult Scripture passages that a pastor and church may want to bypass.        
Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary directs the pastor to tackle difficult Scripture passages and preach to uncomfortable and forbidden taboos.

4)  The historic lectionary prevents lame sermon series.

Pastor Joe feels a tremendous pressure to come up with something ‘new’ and ‘current’ for each Sunday that will captivate his flock.  Furthermore, when Pastor Joe develops so-called ‘relevant’ sermon series, he not only has to build his sermon series from scratch but he also worries if the series is as hip as the other sermon series at the neighboring mega-church.  As a result, Pastor Joe invests countless hours in creating, fretting, comparing, and marketing his sermon series in his church and on social media, when in reality, most onlookers see his sermon series as lame.   Yes, lame.  While the sermon series does not seem lame to Pastor Joe or his church at present, five to ten years down the road, they will blush when they look back.  What is culturally relevant today will be embarrassingly lame tomorrow, for culture fads change but God’s Word is timeless.   

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary keeps things timeless and simple for the church and the pastor – the pastor does not have to fret, compete, or sell a sermon series every week.  And most importantly, the pastor does not have to invent lame sermon series. 


5)  The historic lectionary prevents the culture from setting the agenda. 

Pastor Jim is an enthusiast for politics, social ethics, and social justice issues.  Furthermore, he is an avid watcher of a nightly news show where lively debates occur over politics and culture.  As a result, the vast majority of Pastor Jim’s study time, conversations, and sermons seem to be reacting to the most recent weekly news.  While Pastor Jim is very theologically astute, he lets the culture set the agenda for his local church.  That is to say; he is reactive to culture by allowing the culture to define what he talks about in his sermons, rather than being proactive from the Word.  Pastor Jim is failing to realize that the church is not captive to the culture but speaks into and in spite of the culture.  Furthermore, by being reactive, his church is not receiving a balanced theological diet from the Word and is more often than not, receiving Pastor Jim’s political and cultural hobby horses.    

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary helps the church and pastors to be proactive from the Word and not primarily reactive to the culture.  The historic lectionary sets the agenda rather than allowing the culture to set the agenda for the church.     


6)  The lectionary shows how all of the Bible is united.

When I was a child, I used to think that the Old Testament was full of Law and that the New Testament contained only Gospel.  As a whole, the Bible worked, but not in parts. The lectionary helps correct this severe error.  That is to say; the lectionary shows how Jesus – as the eternal word and author of the whole Bible – speaks Law and Gospel from both the Old and New Testament.  For example, when the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel lessons are read on a Sunday church service, a clear theme and coherent message are presented to the congregation from all four readings.  The congregation will hear about Law, Gospel, mercy, judgment, suffering, hope, and so forth, from both the Old and the New Testament.  

Why do we love the lectionary?  The lectionary shows how all of the Bible is united, having the same author from Genesis to Revelation. 


7)  The historic lectionary allows pastors to build off of the past. 

I’ve been told by my musical friends that some of the most excellent musicians in the history of the world were those who built off of previous great musicians.  The key word is ‘built.’  Yes, they built off of greatness that came before them. 

The same thing happens with the historic lectionary.  Since the historic lectionary has been used by pastors and theologians for hundreds of years, a pastor can read sermons from people such as the sixteenth-century Reformer, Martin Luther, or the great Swedish theologian, Bo Giertz, or the early American Lutheran, C.F.W. Walther.  That is to say; the pastor not only can build off of previous pastors and theologians who have come before him, but the pastor can also build off of his previous sermons and studies on the lectionary Scripture passages. 

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  The historic lectionary allows pastors to build off of great theologians and pastors of previous generations. 


8)  With the historic lectionary, less is more. 

According to David Kinnaman in his book, You Lost Me, younger Christians in their 20s used to have regular church attendance like those in their 60s.  However, since the 1960s, younger Christians began to show drastic disengagement from the church, and that trend has continued to this day.  As a result, church attendance among parishioners is much more sporadic than it is consistent.[2] 

As a result, churches are faced with the reality that less is more.  In other words, with consistent attendance in church services and Bible studies, a pastor and church can cover a lot of Biblical content and build on previous content.  However, when attendance is sporadic at best, the church will need to zero in on what is most essential and then make sure to repeat it over and over.  This is where the historic lectionary is so valuable.  Since the historic lectionary has approximately 250 portions of scripture and since these portions of scripture are repeated year after year after year, the historic lectionary ensures that even those who have less than stellar church attendance are still receiving a balanced theological diet.  That is to say; if a person misses Trinity Sunday and All Saints Day in the year 2019, they will not hear Isaiah 6:1-7 and 1 John 3:1-3.  However, if they make it to Trinity Sunday in 2020 and All Saints Day in 2021, they will hear both Isaiah 6:1-7 and 1 John 3:1-3. 

Why do we love the historic lectionary?  While encouraging more regular attendance among parishioners is always needed, the historic lectionary repeated year after year will not only reinforce the core teachings of the Christian faith to regular church attendees but will deliver that core message to those with less consistent attendance. Less is more.   


Why do we love the historic lectionary?

The historic lectionary is not the only way, but it is the best way.

[1] The appointed scripture passages for a particular church service in the church calendar is what is called the lectionary. 
[2] David Kinnaman, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 45-46.

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