Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Do the Holy Days Reveal "God's Plan for Mankind"?

If there's any phrase that brings to mind my years of holy day observance, it's “plan of God.”

God has a plan. Not the overused, Jeremiah 29:11 kind. The Leviticus 23 kind. The capital "P" Plan kind. One that reveals God's framework for redemption of mankind through the holy days. The one we must rehearse each year "throughout your generations forever" to keep it in the forefront of our minds. Or so the Church of God narrative goes.

So how exactly did the COGs arrive at their understanding of this Plan? Most splinters of the Worldwide Church of God explain it similarly. The United Church of God concisely explains it like this:
“God's overall plan can be discerned in the voluminous pages of the Bible. Yet it may be compared to a jigsaw puzzle in the sense that vital bits and pieces of that plan are discovered in different books.” wrote the late John Ross Schroeder
in a July 2010 article on the Holy Day plan. “It is the Church's sacred task to preach it to this world – crafting it together correctly, 'rightly dividing the word of truth' as the Bible puts it." 
Wait just a minute. This "Plan of God" thing is a theory? Like evolution and Pangea? Like relativity or cigarettes causing cancer? Like fluoride? No, I didn't say all theories were inherently wrong. But they are often controversial and must be explored with caution. So anyway, the holy day “Plan of God” appears to be a theory that someone pieced together from many different books of the Bible, at least from the admission of some COG's.

UCG's sister splinter, COGWA, simply sidesteps this detail and presents it as fact.

"We need God's festivals for what they picture," writes Eddie Johnson on COGWA's Life, Hope and Truth web site.

No mincing words for COGWA. They intuit and state that, "from this short passage" (Revelation 20:4-5) we can tell this chapter "records future events that are also represented in the last two of the festivals listed in Leviticus 23."

Hmmm. Maybe I'm just deceived, but I'm slightly uneasy eliciting the meaning of a celebration that's "required" for salvation from two short verses of scripture. I know, COGWA, it's my inexcusable "absence of biblical understanding in traditional Christianity" that drives my reluctance to label people "false believers" over the selective interpretation of a handful of isolated verses.  No, it couldn't be the years of study that I've done in the process of/years after leaving the COGs.

For example, I somberly take issue with COGWA's statement that every human who has ever lived "will be resurrected and come to understand the implications of all seven biblical holy days. Nobody who has ever lived can come to God, or knowingly turn his back on God, without first knowing and understanding God's offer of eternal life."

Don't get me wrong. I deeply wish this errant doctrine were true. It's about the only tenet of Armstrongism to which I am tempted to cling. Unfortunately, it directly contradicts 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (among other scriptures), which discusses what will happen at Christ's return:

In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because or testimony among you was believed.                                                                        
                                                                                       - 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10

Those who do not know God are done, according to his passage. They do not pass go. They do not collect $200. They receive the brunt of the "flaming fire" and subsequent "everlasting destruction" at the time of the return of Jesus Christ. Not after some mythical "second chance." It is game over. I get no pleasure from relating this. I wish it weren't true. I only point it out because I want you to understand that this "holy day plan" doctrine is a theory, and further, not a theory without major holes.

So anyway, where did UCG and COGWA get these ideas? Who first put the puzzle together, and what assurance do we have that they got it right?

A man named Herbert Armstrong – who founded today's Church of God movement – taught that man was required to keep the Hebrew holy days. He claimed that the populations of Europe and the United States were descended from ancient Israel and had simply lost their traditions through captivity and migration. These claims, and his attempts to impose them on the Church of God Seventh Day, got HWA disfellowshipped from the organization. The only basis for the authority of his theories were his own claims of divine revelation, putting him on par with individuals like Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of God of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

Of course, Armstrong apologists might claim that the Apostle Paul's vision sounded sketchy, too. In which case, we must obey biblical admonition to judge our leaders by their fruit. So let's see. After his encounter, Paul was transformed from a zealous Pharisee intent on murdering Christians to one who was tortured for spreading the faith he persecuted. What of Armstrong? I cannot judge his heart, but I am commanded to judge his fruit.

BUT I absolutely am NOT judging the sincerity of those who have been taught to keep the holy days and believe they honor God by doing so. Many were drawn into Armstrong's theories during vulnerable, turbulent times, both in their personal lives and on the global scene. Others have been raised with these traditions since they were in diapers. I accepted the symbolism I was handed and celebrated these days for decades. They're listed in the Bible. They are given passing reference in the New Testament. Heck, the very first event Israel commemorated foreshadowed the entire basis for the Christian religion. The symbolism behind the other holy days is strong, too. Especially when your leaders make it up.

In a way, many outside the COGs DO believe that the Hebrew holy days revealed God's plan for salvation. And that plan was Jesus. Many, including Messianic Jews raised in Orthodox Jewish communities, believe that the festivals God gave to Israel were intended to demonstrate their own insufficiency to solve the problem of sin, as well as show them their need for a Savior. The Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles  - they were shadowy symbols that could teach us lessons, but never stand in the place of the real thing. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:

But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. - Galatians 3:23-25

So, what's the big deal, Martha? HWA said the holy days revealed God's plan for salvation, you say that the holy days pointed to Jesus, who was God's plan for salvation. Same difference. Besides, it seems like your hero Paul still kept the holy days and even discussed them with the Corinthian brethren. Now what?

Fair point. But it's no surprise that Paul, an ethnic Jew, may have continued to keep the holy days. Although it's unclear whether he treated them as days of worship, or as opportunities to share the gospel with his countrymen. We know that many Jewish believers pressured gentiles to accept Hebrew worship practices, thanks go Acts 15 and pretty much the entire book of Galatians.  So, it's not shocking to see gentiles discussing holy day practices in the older books of the New Testament. I won't even get into the book's context and the Days of Unleavened Bread being a tangential theme.

Seriously, Martha, what don't you accept about not "one jot or tittle"?

Probably the same thing you don't accept about what is meant by "Israel," "forever" (Leviticus 23), "finished" (John 19:13), "covenant" and "obsolete" (Hebrews 8:13). This is Acts 15 all over again, except using binary code and keyboards instead of scrolls and speeches.

Whatever Martha. Peter and Paul kept portions of the Sinai Covenant and I'm pretty sure they “made it" into the Kingdom.  Even experts in your Expositor's Bible Commentary can't agree on what Matthew 5:18 means. Isn't it a safer bet to just continue keeping the holy days? What's the big deal?

I'm so glad that you asked. We'll talk about that next time.

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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