American Presbyterians and Holy Days

Pastor Andrew Webb has a [brief paper](,%20Worship%20and%20Holidays/Sabbath/sabbath_webb.htm) describing the change in American Presbyterian practise over the better part of the last two centuries. He begins as follows.

> Dr. Samuel Miller, Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton Seminary wrote confidently in 1835, “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days.”1 Yet some 164 years after the book in which Miller made that bold declaration was published, an informal survey of 30 churches in the Presbyterian Church in America, the largest of the theologically conservative Presbyterian bodies in the United States, indicated that 83% of the churches do regularly celebrate Holy Days.

> What happened in those intervening 164 years? Did the practice of Presbyterians change significantly in that time or was Miller’s declaration inaccurate when he made it? What might have brought about such a radical change if it did in fact occur? This essay will seek to answer these questions. Because of space constraints, considerably more time will be spent examining the history of the development of Presbyterian practice in the United States regarding Holy Days than in examining the theological foundations for that practice.

Here are some interesting excerpts.

> Samuel Miller appears to be largely correct then when he declared, “Presbyterians do not observe Holy Days.” This was certainly the understanding of the first Presbyterians, it had been codified in their creedal documents, and it had been their practice both in Scotland and America for over 200 years. What then happened in the 19th and 20th centuries to change the practice of Presbyterians?


> The 1906 edition of the [PCUSA] Book of Common Worship was eventually replaced twenty-two years later by the edition of 1932. The 1932 edition continued the advance towards a liturgical format and included even more emphasis on the Church Year, with prayers provided for Lent, Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day. The 1932 edition was also the first edition to be officially accepted by the Southern Presbyterian Church. This was even more startling in light of the fact that in 1899 the Southern General Assembly had declared:

>> “There is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary (see Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed Faith, conducive to will worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”23


> So while we can answer clearly why Presbyterians who belong to the PCUSA observe Holy Days, for they changed their doctrinal standards to allow for the practice, one cannot answer that question when it comes to members of other bodies that have not, such as the PCA. Their doctrinal standards clearly do not permit the practice, and yet it would seem that the majority of PCA churches observe Holy Days anyway.

*TE Andrew Webb is Pastor of Cross Creek Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, N.C.*