Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Armstrongism and the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Even to you current Armstrongists.

Yes, you too. Because, whether you like the New Year's Day celebration or not, you operate under the Gregorian Calendar and January 1 is the start of a new year for you every bit as much as it is for everyone else who uses the Gregorian Calendar.

Do you deny it?

YOU DO TOO

What month is it? January. What day is it? Thursday, January 1st. What year is it? 2015. When will you go to church next? Saturday, January 3rd. When is the Passover in 2015? April 3rd. Is it not? Is that not what the Holy Day Calendar says? Let us see for ourselves.
Here is a link to the Holy Day Calendar on the UCG website: http://www.ucg.org/holy-day-calendar
See that? Ordered by Gregorian year, month, and day. Let's do that again. Let's see the old Worldwide Church of God's "God's Sacred Calendar '86-'87" publication. Why, just look at the name. The pagan designation "'86-'87" is right there in the very name of the sacred calendar! And, once again, we see it is ordered entirely around the Gregorian Calendar.

So, not only do you know the Gregorian Calendar, you use it. Not only do you use it in your personal and business life, but you use it to order your religious life as well. You use and respect and honor the Gregorian Calendar in every possible aspect, every bit as much as anyone else does who uses it, only you rail about how pagan it is and refuse to celebrate the New Year's Day.

Now, who can tell me what the name is of the eleventh Hebrew month (don't cheat and look it up)? What about the fourth month? Who can tell me what year it is according to the "sacred calendar"?
Chances are you don't even know the names of the Hebrew months, let alone in proper order. If you did, there wouldn't be any false claims about March/April being the time of weeping for Tammuz.

If the Hebrew Calendar is so very sacred, and the Gregorian Calendar so very pagan, why the continuous intermixing of the two? I thought you were supposed to "come out from among them, and be ye separate ... and touch not the unclean thing" (II COR. 6: 17). It looks bad when you're steeped in what you condemn (ROM. 2: 17-29). If the COGs are going to lambaste every calendar but the Hebrew as "pagan" and the Hebrew calendar as "God's" or "sacred" or "true", then why not dispense with the hypocrisy and cease using the Gregorian Calendar in its entirety? You meant what you said about it being pagan, didn't you? You have a proper calendar from God at your disposal, don't you? Yet, you order your life around the pagan calendar and pay lip service to the "true" calendar a few times each year - at the New Year and holy days.

But, to be completely fair, is a To Quoque argument really any better of a defense? Let us see that the underlying claim in the article is patently empty and devoid of substance.

THINKING REALISTICALLY

The United Church of God paints the time-honored tradition for us yet again in their article "Dropping the Ball on New Year Celebrations." In it, they say this,
"God's New Year begins in the spring. From ancient times, God's calendar has been in use and the beginning of the year has continuously been at the same time."
-Gayle Hoefker, "Dropping the Ball on New Year Celebrations.", United Church of God, ucg.org, 12-29-2014
Notice that the article is dated using the Gregorian Calendar. So, if the article is anything at all, it's inherently hypocritical. If you truly believed the calendar to be so pagan, you would stop using it. The true viewpoint of the COGs towards the pagan calendar is revealed - it's only pagan seven or eight times a year. "Think vertically" is a cute catch phrase and all, but we suggest thinking realistically. Maybe even honestly.

First, we know from history that the beginning of the month of Abib/Nisan was determined visually by a representative of the Sanhedrin sighting the New Moon from the hills outside of Jerusalem. Yes, the sacred calendar is entirely dependent upon New Moons. (I do suggest you read our post "New Moons - What Josephus Says They Were Really Doing".) The representative would report to the Sanhedrin what was seen, and the Sanhedrin would make an official proclamation. If the New Moon could not be visually determined, the start of the year could be delayed by a day. Over the centuries Israel devised a system of calculations, so they knew roughly when the start of the year would be. But history leads us to understand that they would still visually determine the first day of the year regardless. The Diaspora would then be alerted to the time via signal fires. Thus, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Second, we know from history that the modern Hebrew calendar is not that original Hebrew calendar, but a reconfiguration of the Hebrew Calendar devised by Rabbi Hillel II in the 350's AD. Hillel altered the calendar by necessity, since the Temple was destroyed and the Sanhedrin banished from Jerusalem therefore the calendar system they had used was now impossible to maintain. The New Year had crept back to where the first day of Abib/Nisan happened before the Spring Equinox. One of Hillel's main goals was to prevent this. Additional changes have been made since. The COGs make a grand to-do denouncing the Gentile Christians of abandoning the "sacred calendar" in 325 AD. But they purposefully ignore that the Jews themselves revamped the calendar system a few years later. The modern Hebrew calendar is not the ancient calendar. Once again, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Third, a complex system of intercalations - adjustments like leap months and added days at the end of certain years - are mandatory to keep a lunar calendar in line with the solar year (to keep Passover immediately after the Spring Equinox, for example). The Bible never sets up these intercalations. Therefore, they were devised later. Herbert Armstrong set a great deal of importance on these intercalations. Anyone familiar with Armstrong's writings knows about the "19-year time cycles." They were supposedly a vital key to understanding prophecy. These intercalations are mandatory to keep the system working, yet the Bible is silent about them. If you don't do intercalations, then your months move around the year. The Muslims do not do intercalations on their lunar-based religious calendar, therefore you see Ramadan occurring at any time in the year. How many years did it take for the Hebrews to perfect their intercalations? No one knows. Did the Babylonians help them with this? Notice that the Hebrew months are never named by God. The months of the Hebrew Calendar are all named with pagan names, mainly from Babylon. Therefore we can know for a fact that the Babylonian calendar had an influence on the Hebrew calendar. We cannot know how deep this influence goes, but we can see that the two calendars are not that different. One of them, or both, had to have changed for this to be so. For a third time we see, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Fourth, we know there are miracles mentioned in the Bible that deal with alterations in the visible motion of the Sun in its course. For example, Joshua's "long day" in Joshua chapter 10. Not only that, but it has been a widely accepted thing in the COGs for decades that the length of the year prior to Noah's Flood was 5 days shorter than it is now. In other words, many in the COGs believe that the year used to be 360 days long, not 365.25. So, in a proper year, each month should be 30 days long. Is this really true? Who can know! Many ancient cultures were based on 30-day months and 360-day years (eg. ancient Egypt). It is true that the lunar and solar calendars would match up better in a 360-day solar year. At any rate, the calendar between Creation and Moses could not escape any of these changes unscathed. Therefore the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It must have varied somewhat.

Fifth, we know from history that there were multiple calendars in Israel by Jesus' day. The Temple had one calendar, the Gallileans another, and the Essenes perhaps another (not to mention the Julian calendar or any other regional calendars in use at that time). Not only were the Temple and Gallilean calendars off by a day from one another, the Gallilean calendar started days in the morning. All were "Hebrew calendars." Which is the one true Hebrew calendar? Yet again, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Sixth, in the article, Genesis 1: 14-18 is referenced, where it is stated that the heavens are to help us tell time. Then the article skips nearly 3,000 years to Exodus 12: 2 where God tells Moses when the first month of the year should be. What we are expected to believe from this disjointed proof-texting is that God operates under one and only one sacred calendar, and the Hebrew Calendar is the unbroken continuation of a divine system of time-keeping God had set in place at creation, making Abib/Nisan the one true start of that divine year.
Except there is nothing in the entire Bible making any claim remotely like this - that there is to be one and only one calendar and the calendar God set up with Moses was it, and a continuation of a calendar set at creation. There is no time marker in Genesis 1 or Exodus 12 to let us know exactly when that first day was. The COGs assume that the Jews never lost track of that exact day, which is demonstrably false on its face (see points #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5). There is no reason to assume that the Jews, even by Jesus' day, had kept a tight lock on the precise mechanism of when to determine the New Year (we hardly consider the barley crop a "precise mechanism"). There are very good reasons to believe that the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time."

And as a possible seventh point, because everybody knows a good list should have seven points, I submit the theoretical Lunar Sabbath. If this theory is accurate, then the entire Hebrew manner of marking dates has changed dramatically over the ages. But let's go into that some other time.

At any rate, the base assumptions made by the COGs about the Hebrew Calendar are highly unreliable. There are two main assumptions being made here:
1) That the start of the year which God gave to Moses is exactly the same as Creation Day 1,
and
2) That the Jews have continually protected the correct start of the year from Moses until now.

These assumptions are both exceedingly weak. Holding the Jews up as a calendar authority while simultaneously saying how desperately wrong they are on calendar issues (eg. Rosh Hashanah as New Year, timing of Passover) even to the point of using disparaging epithets against them is opportunistic, to put it mildly. So they are both sacredly correct and sinfully wrong in their chronological reliability?? Spring may very well be the right time for the start of Abib/Nisan. The barley crop does ripen in spring after all. Problem is, demanding that the start of Abib/Nisan was "continuously at the same time" is simply not backed up by much other than wishful thinking, but what's worse is basing the condemnation of the rest of the world on these assumptions is dangerous!
Note: We aren't in any way knocking on the Jews here. We support Israel.

Continue in the assumption if you will, but even so you will only continue in principle, seeing as in practice you respect the Gregorian calendar in nearly every aspect of your life. This effectively renders the entire complaint against celebrating the New Year a great noise. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

SUPPLEMENTAL INCIDENTALS

Since even the COGs, regardless of how much they prefer to continue in their assumption, cannot deny these points are the historical reality of the situation, they are reduced to ignoring the historical reality, bickering with each other over certain hyper-legalistic minutiae (like when to time Pentecost in a year where Passover is on the weekly Sabbath), and fundamentally relying on certain "guilt by association" accusations. To show just how very much nothing there really is, let's look at a few of these accusations from the UCG article quoted above. For example:
"Many New Year’s parties include the drinking of alcohol to excess."
[ibid]
True! It is well known for that. Is drinking to excess mandatory at New Year's? No. So don't do it. There is no need to get inebriated in order to wish "Happy New Year" to friends and family. But! No one ever drinks to excess during the Feast of Tabernacles?? It didn't get the nickname "The Feast of Booze" for nothing, you know! Drinking is a time-honored tradition at the Feast. If you're going to use drunkenness as a serious excuse, then you should be honest about it and apply the standard across the board by skipping the FOT from now on.

Or look at this anachronistic claim:
"...Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year’s Eve are common. It is believed that this originated in ancient times when noise and fire were used to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck"
[ibid]
So fireworks originate in ancient times? Even though our first record of gunpowder in Europe was in the 1300's AD? The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582. What ancient times could the article possibly be talking about? Where does this guy get his information? Don't tell me. I know. Alexander Hislop. Lights were used anciently, therefore these lights couldn't possibly be anything besides? Are we to believe that all lights and sounds are the modern descendant of those ancient superstitions? Seriously? Are we to avoid anything with noise and lights and pagan symbols? Better not attend another wedding for the rest of your life! Not a single one. Best to avoid Independence Day as well. To be safe, don't watch television or drive either. For Heaven's sake, never ever ride in an ambulance.

Or, here is one of my personal favorites:
"Many celebrate by making New Year's resolutions. This practice dates back to ancient Babylon when people made good behavior promises to the gods. Of those that make resolutions, less than half keep them six months later. Wouldn’t it be better to live by good godly principles every day of your life?"
[ibid]
This sounds very reasonable on the surface. Sure, people do make resolutions and regularly fail to keep them. Guilty! It would be better to live a godly life indeed. It's a terrible thing to assume that a godly life isn't being led just because a person wants to improve themselves, but we'll pass that by. Is that really a reason to dump New Year's Day? People don't keep their resolutions, so don't ever celebrate New Year's Day? This is a mighty stretch indeed.

When I think of what "living a godly life" means to an Armstrongist (law-keeping), I can't help but notice the similarity between a New Year's resolution and what Armatrongists do regularly with the Old Covenant law. Tell me, do you believe you should keep the law? Yes. Do you actually keep it, perfectly? No. Over and over again we have demonstrated that it is not the keeping of the law that the COGs require but the attempt at keeping the law. Tell me the truth, when you feel right guilty because you've failed to keep the law yet again, don't you make a resolution in your prayerful negotiations with God to do better next time? Of course you do. Do you succeed? Be honest! So in all actuality you have made a resolution, a good behavior promise to God, which you don't keep. Are we to conclude that you should not ever go to church again?
How the standards do shift.

CONCLUSION

The COGs believe that when God gave the calendar system to Moses what God was doing was re-establishing a sacred system set up at creation. This isn't a conclusion taken from the Bible. It's a conclusion put into the Bible. It's pure eisegesis. Even as they do this, they also teach that the year has been critically altered by miraculous events over time. If they had solid Biblical support for their absolute claims then the case they make wouldn't be primarily assumption and fault-finding.
At the very least the Armstrongists certainly wouldn't have wasted decades beating each other up over New Moons, 14th/15th Passover, Sunday/Monday Pentecost, and who has the most accurate, most holy, most one true of the calendar interpretations. The intricacies and inaccuracies of the Hebrew lunar calendar engender strife among those who demand its observance. Either one glosses over the issues and presses ahead, or they spiral into ever-deeper levels of legalism causing division and leaving destruction in their wake. Legalism tends towards a church of one. Look at the FRUITS!

The COGs believe that God told the Jews that the start of the year is in the Spring. The Bible doesn't say anything about a precise day, though. God simply said that what we now call Abib/Nisan (both pagan names) was the first of the months. An observation of the New Moon is clearly required to make this determination - yet most of the COGs, maintaining their tradition of cherry-picking from the law, are adamantly against New Moons. Still, this observation isn't at a fixed day of the solar year. And where in the law does God demonstrate how and where to observe the New Moon? It's missing. The entire process is arbitrary.
So the COGs turn to rely on the modern Jews as the authority on when these things should be (even as they rail on about how wrong the Jews are on these same issues.) Except we know that the lunar calendar wanders through the year, and that the Jews didn't always have a good lock on it as they had multiple calendars, and that calendar calculations developed over time, and that we have no idea how their lunar year wandered for the first few centuries until the intercalations were set, and that the Babylonian and Hebrew calendars were intermixed somehow, and that the modern Hebrew calendar is not the ancient Hebrew calendar.

Let us come to the heart of the matter. What law is there that says that there should be one and only one calendar? There is no such law. Israel, who ought to know best, supposedly set up a second calendar in the time of King David. What law says that one must not celebrate the New Year? There is no such law. "Where there is no law there is no sin," right? And what's more, the COGs have yet to prove why the Gentiles are in any way bound to the terms and machinations of an abrogated covenant designed specifically for the Israelites in the land of Palestine until the coming of the Messiah. What case do you have against the Gregorian calendar and celebrating the New Year then? Circumstantial, misinformed, and weak at best, and I'm being generous. Herbert Armstrong said it was wrong, and the COGs, although many claim HWA is not important to their faith, continue to teach his traditions to our day. It's a tradition, not a law. Will you condemn so many for a tradition, especially when you use the same calendar in every other respect? I have a resolution for you which you can easily keep - dump the hypocrisy.

I say again, HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU! May it be blessed and filled with grace and love. May this be the year that you finally step into the New Covenant in the finished work of Jesus Christ!



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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
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5 comments:

Bill said...

Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

As a new member of the Worldwide Church of God, when I was trying to avoid being tossed alive into the Lake of Fire, I, too, pondered the church’s inattention to the proper, righteous names of the weekdays and months. I learned early on in the church that conventional holidays and birthdays were to be deliberately avoided, as they were claimed to be “pagan” in origin. Celebrate Christmas or one’s birthday and you weren’t really chosen nor a real member. You were destined to the Lake of Fire. You knew the Truth, but failed to diligently follow it. You were doomed. So, for 13 ominous years I struggled to put away the paganism the church so clearly drew my attention to. (And yes, it essentially destroyed my marriage, but that’s another story.)

But I knew that “Saturday” was “Saturn’s Day.” Every Saturn’s Day (oops, Sabbath), I had to travel by myself 30 miles to a somewhat dowdy meeting hall for Worldwide Church of God services. As mentioned in this article, proper Hebrew names were never used for weekdays. The pagan names were entirely adequate and appropriate. It never made sense to me — but who was I to try to be more righteous than the clergy.

In my mind, the same issues revolved around just which parts of the Law we were to “keep.” I read the clear instruction to wear a blue tassel, but never once heard even a sermon on this.

From the beginning, it seemed apparent that the things the church decided to teach and require were inexplicably selected.

But, paying tithes and offerings was never in question. One’s salvation absolutely depended on paying these. I had to buy my way to Petra. If my non-member wife needed a new clothes washer or some new school clothes for the kids, those would have to wait or be put aside.

Despicable hypocrisy or abject falsehoods on virtually every doctrinal point.

Thanks, here, for continuing to lay out all of these lies and mis-truths.

Had I then only known....

xHWA said...

"Had I then only known." Oh, how I feel that. Amen!

Anonymous said...

"Had I then only known…"

Not a day goes by when I don't pray to God above asking why upon reflection I'm filled with regret and disappointment over the choices I've made in my past and why I have to suffer the consequences without any seeming hope of redemption--I can't go back in time and change the direction I was heading at those pivotal crossroads of life ya' know--For if I only knew then what I know now oh how my life would be very different than what it is now! So what is the point I wonder when it's not until AFTER I've made a choice--and usually the wrong choice!--that I realize which choice I should've, could've, would've, made if I only knew the consequences of taking this or that route. I guess I'm still looking through a glass darkly…and hope for the Immortal God to one day make it all clear for me and everyone else who are thrust into this "evil age" to make do apart from Him making endless choices that seems right to us at the time, but ultimately leads nowhere except death...

Martha said...

Anonymous,

I'm so sorry that you live with this struggle every day. The weight of our own decisions and the consequences that flow from them can truly be crushing, especially if we feel like God's approval and our salvation hinges upon them. But He knew this, too, which is why Jesus urged us to take up his yoke and to give our burdens to Him.

Don't judge yourself too harshly. Paul said he saw through a glass darkly, too, and said he would only see clearly in the next life. God's thoughts are not ours, and His ways are not ours. Don't beat yourself up for not having the same wisdom and foresight. Pray for that wisdom and foresight.

You are not beyond God's reach. He loves you, He died for you, and nothing will ever change that. Some consequences may remain, but He can use even those for His glory. I have seen it. It is such a blessing that our hope does not rest in the choices we make in this life, but in the shed blood of Jesus. There is nothing, no one so broken that God can't redeem it.