Friday, November 20, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

We here at As Bereans Did would like to take a moment in advance you wish you a happy Thanksgiving! We hope our readers in the United States will enjoy a meaningful day with family and friends giving thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I discovered something interesting while doing research for an upcoming post. Last week I was looking back at one of xHWA’s posts that refuted the pagan origins of Christmas. I found that one of the ancient festivals in question was really several weeks away from December 25th. Instead, it falls uncomfortably close to the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The ancient Roman festival Bruma – one the Churches of God associated with the “so-called” Christian Christmas holiday - was held on November 24. Some scholars believe that Bruma was a one-day celebration that marked the unofficial beginning of winter and heralded the coming solstice. Others believe that Bruma was the beginning of the Brumalia festival, which lasted until December 17.

Wait a minute. A November 24 Roman holiday associated with the solstice? Gasp! Could this possibly taint the American Thanksgiving holiday? Thanksgiving is November 26 this year. When you are gathered around the table with your turkey next week, it will be on the third day of the Brumalia! And next year, Thanksgiving will actually fall on Bruma! Gasp!

No, no, no, you say. Bruma was a Roman holiday. Thanksgiving is totally unrelated. It’s a uniquely American celebration.  Its roots only go as far back as the 1621, when the Pilgrims held a feast to thank the true God for a bountiful harvest. Sure, most did not worship God “in Spirit and truth,” since they kept a Sunday “Sabbath”. But that doesn’t make Thanksgiving wrong.

Hmmm. That’s an interesting point of view.  One which the COGs have used in reverse to criticize anything deceived “Christianity” does for decades. But anyway, back to that first Thanksgiving. Who else celebrated it with the Pilgrims?  Native Americans, of course! Specifically, the Wampanoag Indian tribe.

Now, accounts of how the Wampanoag warriors ended up at the Thanksgiving feast are mixed. We have the classic storybook explanation – that the grateful Pilgrims invited the Native American tribe to share in their harvest feast. Wampanoag historians tell it differently – they say the tribe heard celebratory gunfire and sent warriors to discover whether the Pilgrims were being attacked, or about to attack them. Either way, the Wampanoag warriors came back with their own contribution to the feast – venison and berries and corn and whatnot.

Perhaps the Wampanoag were quick to contribute because they themselves held similar festivals. In fact, the Wampanoag gave thanks many times a year, following each of their harvest seasons. These particular Native Americans held celebrations thanking both Mother Earth and the god Kehtannit at the end of each harvest season. Over time, some came to associate Kehtannit – the supreme deity and creator – with the Christian God.

One celebration during which the Wampanoag thanked the gods was Cranberry Day, an official tribal holiday that celebrates the ripening of the last wild berry.  On Cranberry Day, the Wampanoag thank the creator for this staple fruit that’s stored and used throughout the winter. Some tribal calendars place the celebration in the first week of October; while other Wampanoag experts place it, in antiquity, around the time of the winter solstice.

Many historians date the first Thanksgiving celebration to between September 23 and November 11, 1621. Could it have possibly overlapped with the pagan Wampanoag tribal holiday? If Cranberry Day was in October, then it definitely could have overlapped. And if it were around the time of the winter solstice… GASP!  Could the Wampanoag have subtly influenced the Pilgrims to participate in a solstice celebration? Does the fact that Kehtannit became associated with the true God redeem the celebration of the cranberry harvest? Or does the cranberry celebration’s association with earth-worship taint Thanksgiving?

Bruma, which occurred on November 24, looks forward to the solstice. Bruma kicks off the Brumalia season of debauchery. The Wampanoag tribe, which was a key part of the first Thanksgiving story, celebrated a harvest festival - sometimes associated with the solstice - around the time of Thanksgiving. It even featured a traditional Thanksgiving food! And oh, did I mention that modern researchers have determined Yule did not start as a solstice holiday, but instead was celebrated in mid-November?

There’s no getting around it. Sure, I'm speculating here. But the dates and subject matter do rise to the level of reasonable doubt. There's a good chance that Thanksgiving - or at least elements of it - could be pagan, if you use the same standards the Churches of God and Alexander Hislop use to malign Christmas.

No, Martha, you’re wrong! It doesn’t matter what the Romans, Germanic tribes or Wampanoag were doing! We are not worshiping Cronos, Saturn, Mother Earth or Kehtannit! We are giving thanks to the true God.

Hmmmm… now where have I heard that argument before? Oh right. In the United Church of God's latest issue of The Good News. According to UCG, no matter how well-intentioned a celebration is, worshiping the true God with practices taken from paganism is considered syncretism and an abomination to God.

"No matter how warm and family-oriented your festival is, it is futile and empty before God. Even if you don't care, He does." (The Good News, November-December 2015, p. 15)
So which is it, UCG? Can we create celebrations to honor the true God or can't we? If so, must they be 100 percent free of items that any pagan culture, anywhere, used for non-Christian celebrations on proximal dates? And if the humble cranberry isn't safe, then what is?

I hope by now you realize that I am not trying to discourage anyone from celebrating Thanksgiving. I am just showing how easy it is to create speculative associations with pagan symbols and holidays, superimpose them on an innocent celebration and malign anyone who celebrates it. Speculative associations and proximal dates alone do not make something pagan. There are only 365 days in the year (at least on our modern calendar) and thousands of years of pagan cultures. Put a calendar on the wall, throw a dart at it and you're bound to hit a date that was associated at some time with something pagan.

It is appropriate to thank God for your blessings on any day of the year, no matter what else may have occurred on that date. Just like it is appropriate to thank God any day of the year for sending His Son Jesus Christ to die in your place. And to rejoice in the fact that his birth, life and death make it possible for your sins to be forgiven and for you to inherit eternal life. I hope you’ll be just as generous and open-minded as you are about Thanksgiving when, in the coming weeks, we explore the speculative claims the COGs make about Christmas. For a head start, please read The Quotes Before Christmas and The Plain Truth About December 25th - after you emerge from your turkey coma, that is.

All joking aside, Thanksgiving is positive celebration that's consistent with Christian ideals. Scripture exhorts Christians to show thankfulness, engage in fellowship, share meals and praise God - all elements of a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday . This festival provides a wonderful opportunity for families to reconnect and offer gratitude to their Creator. We sincerely hope our readers enjoy a happy Thanksgiving.

Although you might want to pass on the cranberries. I’m just sayin’.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dear COGWA: You're Still Not Israelites

I'm not the most sentimental gal in the world, but I've always had a soft spot for Sarmatians. Maybe it's because they rhyme with "dalmatians," which are undeniably cute, even to a tomboy like me. Maybe it's because, up until a few years ago, I believed they were my ancestors. Females are allowed to be indecisive, right?

Anyway, when I saw that COGWA just posted an article today discussing artifacts excavated from the tomb of a Sarmatian noblewoman,  I just HAD to read it:

"This past summer, an amazing discovery was made near Rostov-on-Don, a Russian port city on the north coast of the Black Sea," wrote COGWA blogger Erik Jones. "Archaeologists were excavating the 2,000-year-old tomb of a Sarmatian noblewoman. To their surprise, among the artifacts discovered in the tomb was an object they never expected to be there: a carnelian seal engraved in ancient Hebrew!"

Jones posits that archaeologists will probably explain away this discovery as an example of trade in the ancient world.

"But could there possibly be more to it?," he asks. "In fact, it is very possible that this discovery sheds light on an even greater ancient mystery."

Jones goes on to explain that this astounding finding supports COGWA's teaching, carried over from the theories of Herbert W Armstrong, that the "lost" 10 tribes of Israel migrated west and eventually settled in Europe and the United States of America.

Oh, THAT'S right. Now I remember why I like the Sarmatians so much. It's because they and their Scythian cousins totally ruin Armstrong's theory on the lost 10 tribes, also known as British Israelism.

Jones, COGWA and other Armstrong-inspired groups claim that the Scythians descended from the lost 10 tribes of Israel. The Sarmatians pushed the Scythians out of the Black Sea region into continental Europe.

It's true that the Sarmatians dominated and eventually displaced the Scythians from the Black Sea region, likely in the 2nd century B.C. But we aren't talking about a clash of cultures here. We are talking about a tribal rivalry. The Scythians and Sarmatians were closely related. Sarmatians even spoke Scythian.

What's more, we know that the Scythians were not related to Western Europeans. Oh yeah? How can you say that? What did you do? Dig up some Scythians and test their DNA?

In a word, yes. Not me, personally. But essentially, that's what happened. Tombs containing Scythian warrior bodies have been discovered in the Mongolian-Alatia mountains. Researchers excavated more than twenty tombs containing frozen and mummified human remains. Artifacts and possessions buried within them identified them as Scythians.

DNA testing proves that Scythians are closely related to the Sarmatians. Who, incidentally, worshiped fire, not Yahweh, according to the source Jones cited. And Sarmatians are Persians - Iranians. The Human Genome Project has determined that Palestinian Jews are and Arabs are related. While Persian DNA was a bit more diverse, likely due to the region being at the crossroads of ancient societies, testing showed many Persians came from the same genetic background as the Jews and Arabs. Which is in no way connected to the most prevalent genetic backgrounds in Western Europe. It's true that some Persians did migrate west into Europe. They were the predecessors of the Slavic peoples.

Please don't disregard these scientific findings just because they came from the same guys who brought you evolution. This is not biased scientists looking for the missing link. This is very specific research, done on a specific portion of human DNA, from actual people with proven ethnic and national origins who are walking the earth today. Or, at least, they were walking the earth during the Human Genome Project. Project research also included DNA gleaned from tribal artifacts and intact bodily remains. This scientific evidence is solid enough that it would be considered "proof in a modern court of law."

Jones' source promises to keep up with the Hebrew Seal mystery. We can be sure that COGWA will be checking in and using any discoveries to promote its failed theory of British Israelism. And you can be sure that we will be keeping an eye on COGWA.

For more information on the Human Genome Project and the disproven theory of the lost 10 tribes, please read our post, "Happy Thanksgiving, from my Gentile Family to Yours!".

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's Written Between the Lines in LCG's "Tomorrow's World"?

 Man, LCG. You got me again. I don’t know how you do it. Maybe it’s the attractive mushroom cloud on the cover of your magazine. Maybe I have mommy guilt because I’ve let my emergency canned food supply dwindle. Either way, when the November-December issue of the Living Church of God’s Tomorrow’s World arrived in the mail this week, I couldn’t resist turning to the issue’s featured story, “Are You Ready for Christ’s Return?”

The thing I enjoyed most about this article was that it never actually mentioned how to be ready for Christ’s return. Instead, the author, Richard Ames, detailed the terrifying events that will lead up to the Battle of Armageddon - in between heart-warming pictures of fiery oil wells and abandoned gas masks lying in piles of rubble.

Now, I don’t mean to imply I think there’s a way to be physically prepared for the Second Coming. Bottled water, food rations, whatever – it isn’t going to cut it. But I would assume there would be some spiritual admonition given here, like “start keeping the Sabbath,” “Throw out your Christmas decorations” or even something vague like “Get right with God.” But there was none of that. It didn’t even mention contacting LCG.  Ames totally missed the point.

Unless that wasn’t the point.

Once again, I’m inclined to believe that this article is largely intended to scare LCG’s disgruntled membership into staying with the embattled organization. Sure, it might frighten a few anxious newcomers into Rod Meredith’s cold, clammy embrace. But with no mention of the Sabbath, Holy Days or other standard COG doctrines, my guess is it’s intended for folks who already agree on these points.

When you consider that, just pages earlier in the magazine, Meredith warns that “within the next several years, a genuine ‘spirit’ war will break out,” after which Satan will finally be cast into the bottomless pit, we can almost certainly conclude the target audience is LCG members who are ready to jump ship. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “several” as more than two - but not very many more - which seems to undermine Meredith’s longstanding teaching that Christians cement their  salvation through a lifetime of obedience.  Are we to believe a human who joins LCG this year could prove him or herself trustworthy “not to become another Satan,” as the COGs teach, in just a few short years? Hardly. Fresh fish don’t seem to be his target.

Honestly, I struggled to find a true “action point” that would get me “ready” for Christ’s return. Ames warned that that our world will experience increasingly severe weather extremes “unless we wholeheartedly return to God.” Can’t do much more than I’m already doing with that one, although I’m sure Ames would disagree.  Still, I can’t do anything about the rest of humanity. What else? I should “wake up and heed what is happening around the world.” Check. “Be spiritually alert for signs of Jesus Christ’s second coming.” “Look forward to His return with confidence, hope and faith.” Besides that? Have a satchel packed for Petra? Buy extra can openers? A portable water filter? Anything?

And this is why I suspect this is article is intended more to control than to inform. It’s certainly in line with LCG’s track record and modus operandiDon't look around. Don't ask questions. Don't prayerfully consider why God has led you to this blog. If it doesn't come out of Charlotte, it's heresy. 

Ames did have ONE helpful recommendations - to check up on LCG and all preachers by reading my Bible. Luckily, my “false Christian” preacher recently gave a message on the end times. That makes my job easy. Ok, Richard. Let’s see how my pastor is misleading me and the rest of his flock about Christ’s return. These are quotes directly from the sermon transcript:

“It (the Day of the Lord) will include what the Bible calls the Great Tribulation.  That's a seven-year period during which the anti-Christ will rule the earth as a self-proclaimed god.  And during the second half of those seven years, God will begin to pour out His wrath upon the earth.  That's part of the Day of the Lord.  The Day of the Lord also  includes the coming of Jesus Christ.  He'll come to the earth, and He'll rule on a throne in Jerusalem, and for a thousand years, Jesus Christ will rule the earth.  The Bible talks about that, not only in the book of Revelation, but also in Isaiah and other places in the Old Testament.” (Revelation 11:2; 13:5, Daniel 8:19, Daniel 12:7, Revelation 6, Revelation 8, Revelation 16, Revelation 20)
(Note: The COGs dispute that the Tribulation will be 7 years but agree that the destructive phase, when God pours out His wrath, will be a period of about 3-1/2 years)

“Now, you drive up to a railroad crossing, and as you drive up to that railroad crossing, the crossbars come down, the bells begin to ring, the lights are flashing, and you see the train coming  down the line.  When the train comes and crosses in front of your car, when you see that engine coming, there is something that you know for certain.  Now, think about this: When you see the engine coming, there's one thing you know for certain.  Here's what it is: Eventually, the last car on that train will pass by.  Would you agree with me on that?  If you see the engine, eventually, you're going to see the last car.  Now, it may come in five cars, or it may be 10 cars down the line, or it could be 100 cars down the line.  You don't know how long that train's going to be.  But eventually, the last train is going to come.  It's coming.  The Bible says the Day of the Lord comes.  It is coming.  It is certain.  It may come in 10 years.  It may come in 100 years.  It may come in 1,000 years.  It may come in 10,000 years.  I believe it's coming very soon, very shortly, but it is coming.  Time on earth is running out.  The Day of the Lord is coming.  The end of time is coming." (Matthew 24:32-33; 36)
“Do you know something?  The Bible shows us that the people who ridicule us or scoff at us or make fun of us because we believe that Jesus is coming and that judgment is coming and that the end is coming, those people themselves, and their mockery, is a sign that judgment is coming.  Look in your Bible over in 2 Peter, chapter 3.  I want you to see what the Bible has to say.  The Bible says that one of the signs of the end times is that people will mock those who believe that the end times are coming.  Isn't that something?  Look in 2 Peter, chapter 3, beginning in verse 3.  This is a picture of the world today.” (2 Peter 3:3)

Wow. That guy has some nerve. What twisting of God's Word. What distortions of scripture. I guess everyone outside LCG, certainly everyone outside the COGs, is totally deceived about Christ's return. I guess he's also deceived when he reads the following: 

(2 Peter 3:9)  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Now wait a minute. Why would Jesus delaying His coming keep anyone from perishing? And how is this whole “perishing” thing necessarily a bad thing, eternally speaking? Why would He be concerned whether as many people as possible come to repentance before He returns? Wouldn’t they just come up in the second resurrection and get their chance to repent and accept God’s way? Out of all the Armstrongist teachings I was raised with, this is the one I desperately want to be true.  But the more I study, the more I come across stuff like this: 

(Hebrews 9:27) And as it is appointed for men to die once, then after this the judgment.

My pastor makes his reason for speaking on this topic clear - he cares about your eternal destiny:
“Why would God choose to warn us about the Day of the Lord?  Why would He choose to warn us about judgment? Does He do it to scare us?  Does he do it to frighten us?  Does He do it because He has a bad intent toward us?  No.  He warns us against the Day of the Lord, and He warns us against His judgment, because He does not want you to experience judgment and condemnation at the Day of the Lord."
 You can nitpick him on the rapture (a theory on which I'm undecided) or scoff at him because he thinks unbelievers will go to hell immediately after they die (a theory which gains more credibility the more I look at it) rather than rising in a second resurrection. But in this discussion, my pastor, Ames and Meredith are all in agreement that the saints will rise; that Christ will return; that there will be a real Armageddon; and that there is a real hell. They're mostly in disagreement about the timing.  

You can write off my pastor and others like him in the "so-called" Christian world as deceived loons because they disagree with the COGs about timing. But at least they are forthcoming about their motivations for preaching about the end times: they hope you will avoid the judgment and repent, place your full faith in Jesus Christ's sacrifice for salvation and then grow to be more like Him in the time you have. What is Richard Ames' reason for publishing his article? It's not to get anyone ready for Christ's return. It's not to implore them to leave "false" Christianity. So what is it? You can be sure they're not just spending their dwindling tithe dollars for the fun of it.

If you are happy in LCG, stay. If you believe it is God’s true church and you see the fruit of the Spirit there (Galatians 5:22-23), then stay. If you admire your leaders, aspire to be like them and desire the kinds of outcomes in your life that their conduct has produced in theirs, (Hebrews 13:7), then stay.  But don’t stay because Rod Meredith and Richard Ames tell you that anything outside LCG is Sodom and Gomorrah. Because they hint that the end is imminent, and that you just have to endure the miserable environment they’ve created a couple more years. Or risk the Lake of Fire. 

Don’t let Rod and his henchmen bully you. You are more than a tithe check. You are more than a backside in a chair, or a number LCG gets to claim in the ongoing COG grudge match for the most members. You are a human being. Jesus loved you enough to die a brutal death for you on the cross. And He still loves you that much today. Any message about the judgment or the terrifying times to come must be rooted in that love. That love is the reason the Lord gave us those sobering passages of Scripture in the first place. To reassure those who are His that He is still in control, no matter what unfolds on earth. To plead with those who are not yet His to turn to Him while they still can. Any message about Armageddon that is not grounded in God's love for you is nothing more than an attempt to scare you, manipulate you and control you.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Friday, October 9, 2015

Works, Faith and Salvation - or Faith and Parachutes, Part 2

We hope that those of our readers who just finished celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles enjoyed safe travels home and have been refreshed with meaningful worship and fellowship.

For those readers who have never celebrated this festival: The Churches of God descended from Herbert W Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God teach that the Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to the time that true Christians who qualified for literal deification will rule with Jesus Christ after He returns to earth.

If you celebrated the Feast, you probably heard sermons that capture the joy of that message. Some that discuss the grace by which you'll find yourselves there. And, unfortunately, possibly some prideful ones that celebrate a foretaste "making it" into God's Kingdom.

In a recent post, we explored what salvation by grace through faith means and what it doesn't mean. In light of this recent festival, which pictures the time when "true Christians" will know they have "made it," let's consider whether we will "make it" into God's Kingdom by grace through faith or by our works. How do we safely get off the crashing airplane of humanity? How can we be sure we have a parachute and not a backpack?

Just how do the writings of the apostles fit in with what we've already discussed about salvation by faith? Publications from today's Churches of God regularly cite James 2 to criticize the Protestant Christian teaching that salvation comes through faith in the shed blood of Jesus alone.

(James 2:18-20) But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe - and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

Let's do our due diligence first. The word translated as "believe" in verse 19 is the Greek word pisteuo, which can mean "to believe," "to give credit to," or to be of an opinion (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study of the New Testament, p. 930). It comes from the Greek word pistis, which is translated as "faith" in verse 18. Pistis implies a knowledge of, assent to and confidence in divine truths, especially those of the gospel, as produces good works.  Pistis can mean a simple assent to religious truths without accompanying good works, or “false faith,” but it generally indicates a “lively faith in Christ.” (Zodhiates, p. 930).

But understanding pisteuo and pistis is not nearly as important as understanding the full context of James 2:14-20, as indicated by both the Expositor’s Bible Commentary and by theologian John MacArthur. One cannot just hone in on one or two verses in a vacuum and build an entire doctrine around them, as the COGs are so fond of doing.

The key to understanding the passage is found in verse 14 – “if someone says he has faith.” The NIV makes James’ implications even more clear – “if someone claims to have faith.”

(James 2:14) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
“James does not say that this person actually has faith, but that he claims to have it.” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1887). “Again, the verb’s form describes someone who continually lacks any evidence of the faith he routinely claims.”
“James is not disputing the importance of faith. Rather, he is opposing the notion that saving faith can be a mere intellectual exercise void of a commitment to active obedience.”  (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1888.)
When we take a step back and look at the whole passage, we can see that James is not contrasting salvation by faith with salvation with a component of works. He is contrasting the behavior of someone who has genuine, saving faith in Christ with that of someone who only claims to have placed his faith in Christ. The behavior of someone who is wearing a parachute with someone who is claims to have a parachute but is only wearing a backpack.

So what role do the works play, since they are a topic of concern in this passage? The works of which James speaks are not deeds performed to earn merit with God according to Expositor’s.  Instead, works are the manifestation – the fruit – shown in the life of someone who has genuine faith.

“Faith without works cannot save; it takes faith that proves itself in the deeds it produces,” according to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Exposition of James.

The example James gives in verses 15 through 17 – of a man who claims to have compassion on a starving brother but who gives him no food – helps illustrate what James is saying about faith and works. Compassion isn't really compassion if it doesn't move one to action. And on the flip side, giving a hungry brother food doesn't create compassion. The compassion, the state of heart and mind are already there, and the action follows. It's the same with faith - it is already there, and the evidence of that faith is visible when the opportunity arises. And when the opportunity comes, one's actions - or lack thereof - indicate what's on the inside (Luke 6:45). It shows whether or not they truly have a parachute, so to speak.

And that is the key difference between the demons’ belief and Paul’s. The demons believe in God; they have more evidence than any of us. But their belief - their direct knowledge of His existence - has not changed them. In contrast, Paul’s belief changed him to the core, and his life after the road to Damascus was the evidence of that change.

(One side note before I leave James 2. Most of the COG magazines I read this summer that quoted James 2 cited the passage to support their stance on things like keeping the 10 Commandments and Holy Days. UCG vaguely linked it to commandment-keeping and baptism earlier this year. Yet James focuses his letter on things like showing favoritism, providing for the poor and taming the tongue - areas where the track record of COG leadership is poor. Don't blame me - comments on this blog and others tell me you guys know it's true. Like I said earlier, it's theologically unwise to hone in on an individual verse and ignore everything around it).


So why would faith change us? Does conviction simply make you choose to change your behavior in the future? Does a lack of works indicate that you just need to try harder?

Saving faith goes hand-in-hand with what mainstream Christianity calls regeneration - or what some call being "born again." Regeneration occurs when God imparts new spiritual life through the Holy Spirit. In terms of our analogy, it is when you are given your parachute. Some debate whether regeneration comes before saving faith and is what allows a Christian to place full faith in Christ or whether it occurs after a Christian places his faith in Christ. Regardless, it is evident that the two go hand in hand. The fruit of this faith and regeneration is physically invisible, but the evidence will show in a man's life, as James 2 indicates. And the fruit of empty claims of faith will show in the unregenerate heart too.

Traditional Christian teachings on saving faith, regeneration and sanctification harmonize the seeming contradictions between verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14-19. But the COGs reject traditional teachings on regeneration; insisting that Christians are like spiritual fetuses in this life are not born again until Christ returns to earth. This teaching forces them into uncomfortable cognitive dissonance - claiming that obedient works do not save you, but that they maintain your justified status with God:

“To remain justified after being forgiven, one must behave in a righteous or just manner from that time forward.” – UCG, The New Covenant: Does it Abolish God's Law?
“Integral to salvation is the matter of justification. This term refers to being made just, right or righteous. Literally, it means being made straight—perfectly lined up (with God). We are initially justified or aligned with God when, on repentance and faith in Christ’s shed blood for atonement, we are forgiven of sin and reckoned by God as righteous. This is referred to by Paul as “imputed” righteousness (see Romans 4:20-25). (Martha's personal note - UCG is using biblical language but does not accurately portray imputed righteousness, which we will see later on in this post). Justification in this sense is also known as reconciliation. It corresponds to the past sense of salvation—in which we have been saved from sin and death as long as we continue in God’s way.
                                             – UCG, The New Covenant: Does it Abolish God's Law?
“Now we just "accept Christ" and His righteousness is somehow "imputed" to us—without any requirement for righteous works” LCG, Rod Meredith, Who or What is the Anti Christ?
 “Even though we have not yet been changed from flesh and blood to spirit and must remain faithful to God’s instructions in order to have our mortal bodies transformed, God already considers us members of His future family and Kingdom because we are voluntarily living by the laws of His Kingdom.” COGWA, “Believe in the Gospel


So why are the COGs so preoccupied with works? I suspect it comes from the perennial fixation on the law. If your definition of righteousness largely comes from the Sinai Covenant, you trip over the same stumbling block as the Jews. 

(2 Corinthians 3:12-16) Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech - unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." 

The Sinai Covenant made the Jews prideful. They considered themselves better than everyone else. They were God's chosen people. They had special knowledge. They knew the path to righteousness! (Does any of this sound familiar? If you're not sure, think about the typical opening or closing prayer you heard last week). Righteousness - concretely defined in the Sinai Covenant - almost seemed attainable. If they just tried a little harder, they could "make it!".

But Martha, the New Testament is referring to the Jews, not us! We're not like them. We believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He died for our sins. We know we can't earn salvation. We are totally different.

No. It would seem that anyone who believes works are a component of salvation is vulnerable to this trap, according to Romans 10:2-3:

"For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God."

If we could become righteous by submitting"God's laws," then our obedience would make us righteous. So it would seem that the righteousness of God must come from somewhere else besides obedience. I would submit to you that this "righteousness of God" is the imputed righteousness discussed in Romans and other NT books. In short, imputed righteousness, explained in Philippians 3:8-9, is the process through which Jesus' righteousness is credited to those who place their faith in Him, just like it was to Abraham, and our sin is credited to Christ.

"Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith."

The Expositor's Bible Commentary expounds on Romans 10:1-3:

"In trying to establish their own righteous standing before God, they have refused submission to God's righteousness. By looking forward to verse 4 where the law is mentioned, we see that this attempt of Israel to achieve a standing in righteousness was related to finding satisfaction in their imagined success in meeting the demands of the law of Moses. Paul is able to analyze their trouble in expert fashion, for he has been over the same route in his spiritual pilgrimage. It was a great day for him when he gave up his cherished righteousness, based on service to the law, in exchange for the righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith (Philippians 3:9). Israel's covenant relation to God and reliance upon law keeping do not add up to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). For this reason Paul points to Christ and His righteousness as Israel's great need (verse 4).

Rather than scoffing at the doctrine of imputed righteousness as "cheap grace," or as a cheater's shortcut to artificial righteousness, we should cling to it with grateful thanksgiving. Because Israel couldn't establish their own righteousness through obedience. The COGs don't teach that Christians need to establish their righteousness based on law-keeping, but they certainly do teach that Christians must maintain it through law-keeping. But we can't, certainly not to a level that would qualify us for the Kingdom.


Focusing on a checklist only distracts us from realizing the true depth of our wickedness. It is the James 2:15-16 moments that cut us to the heart and shows us how desperately we need a Savior. When we look away from the checklist and look at our hearts and our true prognosis for righteousness, we have no choice but to cling to the cross as our only hope.

But if we fail to look into the mirror of the Law of Liberty (James 1:23-25), we will never see what kind of people we really are. We will fail to perceive our blindness, our nakedness, our bankruptcy. We will continue believing that we are almost there, that righteousness, or at least good-enough-ness, is right around the corner. We will remain fixated on the dirty rags of our works instead of praising Jesus in thanks that our salvation is not linked to our behavior.

Next time, we will look at the life of a Abraham - a man whom New Testament authors held us as an example of both faith and works. A closer look at Abraham's life will give us further insight into harmonizing Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-19

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Did Jesus Say In Relation to the Sabbath?

Wm. Hohmann

The Sabbath: What did Jesus Say?
There has been of late a popular Christian practice of asking, in relation to one's Christian walk and behavior, "What Would Jesus Do". Bracelets with the initials WWJD were quite the fad for awhile in this regard. So then, in relation to the Sabbath I ask the logical question, "What did Jesus Say"
When it comes to important doctrinal issues, we should consider the teachings and commands of Christ above all else. We should not assume that Jesus will automatically concur with Moses and the prophets, thereby defaulting to those authors, with the potential of overlooking something important said by Jesus the Christ.
Sabbatarians are quick to claim their Jesus kept the ten commandments, with an emphasis on keeping the Sabbath. They further claim that if He had indeed broken any of ten commandment laws, He would have sinned as a result, and would have disqualified Himself as our Savior. With this rationale, the Sabbath is kept intact and inviolate for all, for Christ is, after all, our example, and we can't have a Christ who sinned. If He kept the Sabbath, we should keep the Sabbath; goes the rationale. If John wrote in John 5:18 that Jesus "broke" the Sabbath, John must have meant something else other than Jesus actually "breaking" the Sabbath.
But this begs the question, "Can God sin"? Or, to word this another way, can God sin against Himself? If God could sin, then how could He be God? God is perfect. It is man who is imperfect and subject to sin, and not God. This creates a dilemma of sorts for the Sabbatarian. If Jesus is God, and cannot sin, yet He broke the Sabbath, then there is a problem with understanding the Sabbath law, and not God. The solution grasped by the Sabbatarians was therefore to deny the divinity of Christ as God. Your first reaction may well be one of incredulity that I would make such a statement, but upon careful examination of the beliefs and teachings of Sabbatarian groups, that is exactly what they have done, albeit surreptitiously. Read on.
I would point out here that in all "Christian" cults, Jesus/God is diminished in some fashion in order to emphasize their distinctive, whatever that might be. With Sabbatarian organizations, it is, obviously, the Sabbath.
When it came to the Sabbath, Jesus went out of His way to heal people on the Sabbath. One of His greatest miracles was that of healing a man born blind on a Sabbath. It was a miracle that would be extremely difficult to deny, perhaps even more-so than raising one from the dead, for it would be a relatively easy thing to claim the dead person was not really dead after all to begin with, through a variety or circumstances and/or trickery. But a man born blind, known to untold numbers people over time, would be nearly impossible to fake.
The religious leaders of the time were faced with what seemed like an impossible dilemma. They agreed and understood that only one who was not a sinner could have performed such a miracle, yet they held Jesus to be a sinner. What possible "work around" was available to them? The modern Sabbatarian work around is to claim Jesus did not really break the Sabbath. They claim that He broke or transgressed the added prohibitions; the "fence around the Law" that the Jewish religious leaders had created in order to further prevent one from actually breaking the Sabbath, having given their added restrictions the weight of Scripture so as to conclude the transgression of their Sabbath prohibitions was to also transgress the Sabbath itself.
This indeed sounds reasonable and plausible. The problem with it though is that it is not true. The Law was quite specific regarding the Sabbath in that no one was to do "any" work. The modern day Sabbatarian Pharisees resort to Clintonian semantics in order to circumvent the plain wording of Scripture. "Any" does not really mean "any". As evidence, they cite Jesus' statement regarding pulling a sheep out of a ditch on a Sabbath, with no foul or sin being inferred, but it was still a case of breaking the Sabbath. There were times when a justification existed for breaking the Sabbath, even as David was deemed guiltless when he and those with him ate the consecrated show-bead which was not lawful for him to eat.
The problem is further compounded by Jesus' declaration that His healing people on the Sabbath was indeed "work" and that in relation to the Sabbath, even the (His) Father in Heaven, works.
Sabbatarians today insist we follow the example of Jesus in keeping the Sabbath. Jesus was following the example of the Father by working on the Sabbath.
There was tacit agreement that the Father in Heaven did work, always, but they had to turn all this back on Jesus in order to discredit Him, seeing as they already perceived of Him as being a sinner, and His attempt here at associating Himself with the Father in Heaven was the claim and distraction they needed to take the emphasis off of the Father and on to Jesus working on the Sabbath, and now associating Himself as equal to God: Blasphemy.
The Sabbath was not greater than the Father, but it had to be demonstrated that the Law; the Sabbath, was greater than the Son, and His association with the Father was blasphemous, despite His explanation cited from the Law.
So a miracle, that could only be attributed to God, was denied in favor of the Sabbath law. The Sabbath became greater than the Lord of the Sabbath. The Law, and the Sabbath, were their true "god". They served the Law. You are the servant of the one you serve. The Law and Sabbath were held in the highest regard and esteemed above all else. The Law and Sabbath were their idol, and "God" backed them up in all this, for it was, after all, "God's Law and God's Sabbath".
Our modern Sabbatarians are quick to point out that Jesus is the "Lord of the Sabbath" and that it would be incongruous for the Lord of the Sabbath to "do away" with the Sabbath. Contextually though, Jesus referred to Himself as being Lord "also" of the Sabbath. Nothing is outside His perview. With this understanding, that there is nothing Jesus is not Lord of, it is interesting that the modern day Sabbatarian argument is that Jesus is not "Lord of the first day of the week" aka "Sunday". It is claimed by many Sabbatarians, especially the Seventh-day Adventists, that this day was stolen from God by pagans for pagan sun worship, thereby forever spoiling it for any godly purpose, so much so that anyone today worshiping on this day is perceived as having received the mark of the beast of Revelation upon themselves as a result.
God is diminished in order to proffer a particular belief system. God was too weak to protect one of His days He is the Creator of and Lord of. The almighty Pagans stole that day from God, thereby forever spoiling it for any godly purpose, such as corporate worship of God.
Seeing as Jesus is the "Lord of the Sabbath" we should study the Scriptures to see what Jesus actually had to say and teach in regards to the Sabbath.
Two things of note are discussed by Jesus in relation to the Sabbath.
Judging righteous judgment:
Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? 20The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? 21Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. 22Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. 23If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? 24Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. John 7:19-24
Note if you will that Jesus referred to healing a man as "work". What is implied is that the act of performing a circumcision was also "work"; a work that took precedence over the Sabbath requirement to abstain from work.
Understand also that if righteous judgment is being contrasted to judging according to appearance, then to judge according to appearance is to judge unrighteous judgment. Defining this as such is avoided by Sabbatarians, for it exposes their belief and practice as unrighteousness. A man is judged by them as guilty of sin should a man be found working on the sabbath; the same work that on another day would not be sin. This is an enormous departure from the old covenant laws, especially the Sabbath law. It is no longer the action that follows intent one judges, but the intent only, for God, ultimately, judges the heart and intent of heart, and this holds true for God even under the old covenant. This is covered in greater detail below.
It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath:
And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Matthew 12:10-12
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. Mark 2:23-28
And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. Mark 3:1-4
If this declaration were not in Scripture, and asked by any critic of Sabbatarianism today, that person would quickly be accused of asking a loaded question. But it is not so easily dismissed, seeing as it was asked by Jesus of His antagonists.
Just as there was a conflict between circumcision and the Sabbath, we now have a conflict between the instructions of Moses, not to do "any" work and the declaration by Jesus that is is lawful to do good works on the Sabbath, as contrasted to evil works. The implications to Sabbatarianism are devastating. Is it any surprise that the modern day Sabbatarian leans towards Moses and their own contrived list of what is permissible and what is not in an attempt to make it look like they are accommodating and incorporating Jesus' instructions?
Here then is where the Sabbatarian dares not tread. If it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, and not lawful to do evil, and seeing as the Hebrews were prohibited from working on that day, then the conclusion is obvious; their works were evil. Being faithless, stiff-necked and rebellious were their hallmarks.
Do we have Scriptural backing for this conclusion? Yes, we do.
For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:30
We also have this relevant Scripture:
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5
According to this, those people were destroyed in the flood because of their evil hearts and the resultant thoughts and imaginations of their hearts. This is a departure from the Sabbatarian paradigm where it is the transgression of that "Ten Commandment" Law as cited in the flawed translation found in I John 3:4 in the KJV that results in sin and the resultant condemnation. A Sabbatarian reads the following, and opts for the flawed definition of sin in I John 3:4, ignoring what Jesus actually said regarding sin:
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mark 7:20-23
By opting for I John 3:4, evil thoughts as sin are side-stepped by the Sabbatarian. They want sin to be a person's actions, for by "keeping" the sabbath, they can cloak their hearts and appear righteous.
What is too often overlooked in this context is how God judges mankind. It is what Jesus referred to as "righteous judgment" which he contrasted to judging according to appearance. Sabbatarians look to the law of the Sabbath and judge according to appearance. The religious leaders of Jesus' time did exactly the same. When a Sabbatarian claims one sins by "breaking" the Sabbath, unrighteous judgment results. The emphasis is placed on the action and the intent of heart is ignored. You are denied a justification for your actions solely by the whim of those who administer the Sabbath law. If you were the typical Sabbatarian legalist, judging according to appearance allows you to ignore your own heart and intent of heart. It allows you to use the Sabbath law as a means of persecuting your enemies, all the while cloaking your own evil heart of hatred. An evil motive is hidden, not by the one breaking the Sabbath, but by the one upholding the Sabbath law.
Understand; Jesus went out of His way to work on the Sabbath. And being God, His works could only be good works. He "broke" the Sabbath, not due to evil motive as the Pharisees and other religious leaders inferred, but through a godly motive of love and compassion, not unlike pulling a sheep out of a pit on the sabbath.
Are we not called to emulate Him?
What then of the work of employment? Sabbatarians desperately want to draw the line here when confronted with this good versus evil argument. They claim the end result is that no Sabbath is kept as a result. Well, that is the logical end point! Even our works of employment, being a Christian, are good works in the eyes of God. Otherwise, what do you have? God judging according to appearance, and not righteous judgment. This is what is untenable. The Sabbath letter of the law gives way to the spirit of the law; good works, performed every day for the furtherance of a Christian life. The reality here is that adherence to the Sabbath letter of the law is completely incompatible with real Christianity.
Sabbatarians are fond of citing James chapter 2 where it says, "faith without works is dead". What then of faith and works on the Sabbath? If there are no works of faith; good works on the Sabbath, then it can hardly be claimed by the Sabbatarian that their faith is "alive". Their faith is dead faith one day a week. Keeping the Sabbath in the old covenant letter of the Law results in a faithless state of being on that day. Small wonder Paul wrote that the Law is not of faith; a statement of fact incomprehensible to a Sabbatarian.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:14
One of the nearly innumerable claims/accusations of Sabbatarians in regards to the Sabbath is that the devil will stop at nothing in order to get people to transgress the Law, especially the Sabbath. It is one of those claims designed to psychologically instill both fear and pride in the Sabbatarian. Fear of transgressing the Sabbath; pride in believing they alone "figured it out with God's help" so as to avoid sinning against "God's Sabbath".
But what is it that the devil really wants? He wants people under condemnation, and the Law serves that purpose quite nicely. It is, after all, what the apostle Paul called the ministration of death and condemnation. All who lived by the Law were condemned by the Law. All who lived by the Law broke the Law. The Law was, and is, a "dead end".
Sabbatarians believe they have thwarted the wiles of the devil by embracing and keeping the Sabbath. All they have accomplished is to develop a harder heart of stone that works against good works. Any good works they perform on the Sabbath are those on their "approved list". There is no personal decision and by extension, no personal responsibility for making said decision, in an attempt to remain safe in the never ending quest against sin; a vain pursuit that takes one's focus and goal off of Christian development and growth. One "buries" their talent/pound in a vain pursuit. How does one grow spiritually by doing essentially nothing?
The devil desires Christians, who are not under the Law, hence not under the Sabbath, to abandon good works. The Sabbath now serves his purpose in this regard also. If a Sabbatarian does a "good work" from the approved list, then that work is not motivated by the Spirit, but a list. "I can do this because it it approved by my church. I cannot do this other thing because it is not approved by my church." There is no true moral agency involved. Motive of heart is supplanted by motive through permission or restriction. If they were truly motivated by the Spirit, there would be absolutely no need for a list of what is permissible and what is not.
Everything done by Christ is undone by Sabbatarianism. The Sabbatarian theological model creates a God of contradiction, removing righteous judgment from the equation. Through redefinition of sin and how God judges, the gospel itself is the real casualty of the Sabbatarian belief system. A Christian, called to do good works always, who is seen as being dead to that Law, is resurrected back to some of it for the sole purpose of putting him or her back under the Sabbath and the resultant restrictions against "work" unless specifically addressed by the Pharisaical Sabbatarian leadership; a yardstick religion of do's and don'ts where one comes under their control and influence; the hallmark of a cult. The works of a Christian, wrought in God (John 3:21), are declared sin if wrought on a Sabbath. The Sabbatarian declares, through the use of deceptive reasoning and manipulation, that evil is good, and good is evil.
Woe unto them.
Everything is backwards in the Sabbatarian theological worldview. The Hebrews sinned by working on the Sabbath because their works were evil. Only by not working were they able to refrain from violating the sanctity of the Sabbath. If they happened to do an act of mercy or compassion, such as pulling an animal out of a ditch or pit, it was a work justifiable with no sin being associated with the action. God judged the heart and intent of heart even then as He does now. The Sabbath was "broken" but the transgressor was not deemed guilty, simply because of the situation of the heart. GOD DOES NOT CONDEMN ONE FOR DOING GOOD, EVER. To do so would be for God to violate His own nature. What then does this say about the "God" that the Sabbatarians perceive? It is a twisted, distorted, perception that produces an evil "God" who maintains a double standard and judges according to appearance and whim, just like people, or more precisely, just like Sabbatarians. Their "God" is an anthropomorphic creation of their own perversions. They make God over into their own image.
In II Corinthians chapter 3, the apostle Paul makes an observation that Sabbatarians reject out of hand, simply because they believe it impossible to be true, yet there it is, written for all to see. Those who remain in the writings and teachings of Moses have a veil before their eyes, blinding them from seeing the true Jesus. Their Jesus kept the Law. Their Jesus kept the Sabbath. Their Jesus judges according to appearance, for that is what the law of Moses is about, for the most part. Jesus brought out that there were more weighty matters of the Law; judgment, mercy, and faith. Somehow, these things get overlooked when the focus is on the letter of the Law.
Did Moses write down and teach the Ten Commandments? Yes, but to the Sabbatarian, this can't possibly be what Paul was writing about. The Sabbatarian is under a strong delusion, even a curse, for the end result of the Sabbatarian theology is ultimately a false gospel. They say they believe and teach the gospel; salvation as a matter of faith only, yet disguise their true beliefs through semantics. You have heard the arguments and rationalizations in order to justify keeping the Sabbath, as though all the Law were embodied in the Sabbath. One need only ask a simple question in order to verify their true belief regarding salvation, being works oriented and a false gospel.
What happens to your salvation should you quit keeping the Sabbath?
If one is condemned for "keeping" Sunday; worshiping God on that day, how can there not be condemnation for abandoning the "right" day?
The most often heard response is that one would not be permitted entry into paradise should they abandon the Law and begin a life of murder, adultery, theft, etc. and that the Sabbath is no different. Thus they admit to their false gospel through this back door rationalization of their true belief.
Murder is an act of hatred. Hatred is the spirit of murder. Violating any of those other laws is a reflection of a godless spirit. Violating the Sabbath and being guilty was done by being of the same spirit. Having God place His "Law" within the believer; His Holy Spirit; that "new heart of flesh", changes the dynamics. The believer's motivation is from the Spirit, and not the flesh. One's motivation is to good works. The Sabbatarian insists one is still motivated by the flesh. Why? Because this is all they truly know.
Are your works good, or evil?

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Friday, September 18, 2015

Does Colossians 2 Teach That You Should Keep the Holy Days?

Fall is here, and there’s so much to love about it. Crisp air. Sweaters. Pumpkin spice everything. Colossians 2.

I just might love Colossians 2 as much as I love my pumpkin spice coffee creamer. Until last year, I probably never even turned to it, except when my Church of God pastor would get up and read verses 16 and 17 almost every Holy Day.

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ.”

The COGs routinely quote this passage to support their doctrinal stances on the Holy Days, Sabbath and clean and unclean meats. Although, ironically, not new moons. Last year, COGWA did it. This year, UCG does it, in their latest issue of the Good News magazine:

 “It’s commonly thought that he was telling the Christians of Colossae to disregard Jewish criticism over their not following Jewish observances. But the reality was just the opposite. This was a gentile congregation that had not participated in such observances before. The truth is that Paul was telling the Christian converts to disregard outside criticism over how they were now observing these occasions.”                                                        - “God’s Annual Festivals: Foreshadowing Great Coming Events!” The Good News, September/October 2015.

I wish there was a gentle way to say this, but I can’t find it, so here goes nothing:

Looking closely at the Greek language and the context of the passage shows that UCG’s claims about Colossians 2:16-17 are unfounded.  I was shocked to discover how flimsy the claims were when I studied what COGWA had to say last year, and we all know COGWA and UCG got their misinformation from the same source. As did James Malm just this week on his The Shining Light.

I’m sorry, UCG, COGWA and any other COGs who makes this argument, but it’s commonly thought that Paul was telling the Christians at Colossae to disregard Jewish criticism because he WAS telling them to disregard Jewish criticism. Most of the first Christians were Jews, and many were reluctant to accept Gentile converts as their equals. The COGs are blinded to this fact because they, in large part, hold the same beliefs as the Judaizing Christians in the early church. But the New Testament gives ample evidence that Jewish Christians pressured Gentiles to adopt Jewish traditions and little evidence that the opposite happened, at least during the time frame that Colossians was written. Yes, that came later, and it is a different discussion for a different day. But it is not what Paul addressed at Colossae.

These links specifically address COGWA’s claims about Colossians 2:16-17, but they apply to what UCG and most other Churches of God teach about this passage:

  • The COGs largely ignore the historical and scriptural context of Colossians 2 to fit their narrative.  Contextual clues tell us that Paul was not simply arguing against Gnostic ascetics, but against syncretists that combined elements of Gnosticism, Judaism and Christianity – possibly an Essene sect.

      • The COGs play word games that defy logic to try to make this passage say what they want it to say. They try to shoehorn the rules of modern English into ancient texts.  They invent Greek tenses that do not exist to support their claims.

  • The COGs uphold other practices from Colossians 2:16-17 but ignore new moons, which they logically should keep if the other ordinances listed in Colossians 2:16-17 are still in place. They plead ignorance on how new moons were marked in Christ’s day, while many historical sources, including Josephus, document the 600+ year old Jewish tradition discontinued only years before the temple fell. It's possible to conclude that the Rosh Chodesh fires are only Jewish tradition and not mandatory. But if the COGs contend that Holy Days, the Sabbath and food laws are still required of Christians based on Colossians 2:16-17, then so are new moons, and they need to observe them as commanded. Not sure how? Maybe there's a reason new moons, and potentially the other commands from this passage, are murky when applied today.   But anyway, I'm sure they could find a way if they wanted to - they've established plenty of Sabbath traditions found nowhere in Exodus or Deuteronomy. I'll at least give James Malm bonus points for being consistent and advocating that new moons should be kept today.

Please understand this criticism is not aimed at you, dear reader. I know that you are trying to obey your Creator the best you can. I understand that you are depending upon your spiritual leaders to help determine the best way to do that. I was in your shoes. For decades.

Interestingly, every non-Internet source I cited in my research on Colossians 2 was on our family's bookshelf while I was in the COGs. All of them were recommended by COG ministers, which also means they are likely owned by COG ministers. Who often missed these points because they, in turn, depended upon their spiritual leaders to guide them. This is why it is so important for those in today's COGs, who may have never heard of Herbert W Armstrong, to understand where they came from. The truth - about Colossians 2, about the Churches of God, and about HWA - is out there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11