Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Is Ceremonial Law Removed?

Something has been on my mind. It regards how Armstrongism treats the Old Covenant law. The way it binds itself to some parts of the law and excuses itself from all other parts. It has never sat right with me how things are had both ways.

We would regularly quote Matthew 5: 18 when referring to holy days or the other laws we wanted to keep. "Not one jot or tittle," we would exclaim! That was our proof-text. The law is eternal. But did we keep the whole law? No. We only kept a small percentage. When we did not want to keep a law, like travelling to Jerusalem three times a year (EXO. 23: 14-17, 34: 23-24; DEU. 16: 16), or building booths at the Feast of Booths, we would say those laws were gone. "Ceremonial laws are done away," we would state. Well, isn't that convenient! The law is eternal ... except the parts we don't like. And thus we had things both ways.

That is what I would like to write about today. Ceremonies and standards. Is the ceremonial law really as "done away with" as we said?


The laws in the Old Covenant seem to fit into one of three groups: moral laws, national laws, and ceremonial laws. In Armstrongism, two of those groups are discarded - the national and the ceremonial. They are considered to be removed, abrogated, abolished.

Where does the Bible define what is a moral law versus a ceremonial law and a national law? The Bible does not tell us because these are divisions realized after the fact. The divisions are manmade. Some astute person was reading and realized, hey, it seems the law has three groupings. This dividing the law into three groups is not something specific to Armstrongism. It is a very old idea. And it's not just Protestant, either, as the Catholics also write about it in the Catechism.

Where is it stated the moral law remains but the ceremonial and national laws are gone? Nowhere. That is also manmade. It is simply part of the Armstrongist doctrine that certain terms of the Old Covenant come forward into the New Covenant. That's how we could make claims like, "Jeremiah 31: 33 says, 'I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts,' therefore the law cannot be gone," and yet turn right around and claim two of three groups of law were gone. Completely contradictory, yet we held both as true, depending on which we wanted at the time.

Have you ever said these words: "I only believe what the Bible says, I don't hold the traditions of men"? Yes? Except that you do hold some traditions of men. This is one of them.

So, what are the divisions? Very (actually overly) simply put --
Moral law: those laws which distinguish righteousness from evil (e.g., you shall not murder).
National law: those laws which were specific to the functioning of the nation of Israel (e.g., sanctuary cities).
Ceremonial law: those laws which prescribe the rituals of worship (e.g., animal sacrifices).

Simple. Right?


Now we get to the hard part. Things that don't cleanly fit the categories. Grey areas. An example would be the Ten Commandments.

Just about everyone believes the Ten Commandments are moral law. Hard to argue with "you shall not commit adultery" (even when someone is trying to excuse away their adultery). But then we have that weekly Sabbath. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." What really is moral about that? To rest is beneficial, but is it morally beneficial?

Let's compare the weekly Sabbath and see which one fits better.

"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" is:
A) Morally good versus evil.
B) Part of the rituals of worship.

Option B fits much better. So, why is it not gone?

Someone out there is thinking the day is holy, therefore it is moral. I want to remind you that holy usually means sacred, consecrated, set apart for a special ceremonial use. It is not exactly the same as morally good. Unholiness can be contracted through physical touch (LEV. 5: 3). Immorality cannot. Inanimate objects can be holy (EXO. 35: 19). Days can be holy (LEV. 23: 4). They cannot be moral. Almost everything that was called holy was part of the ceremonial law (holy place, holy oil, holy garments, holy sacrifices, holy altar, Holy of Holies, etc).

Is it true, then, that the Sabbath is somehow moral just because it is in the Ten Commandments? That's not one of the definitions of moral law that I've ever read. "Distinguishes righteousness from evil, or is one of the Ten Commandments."

What if there is a ceremonial law dropped in the middle of a list of moral laws? What then? Why do we see the Ten as one single unit? Why aren't the individual commandments categorized based on their own characteristics? They are the Ten Commandments, after all, not the One Commandments. Seems the only thing causing us to refuse to accept the Sabbath is ceremonial is ... tradition.

For the sake of argument, let's move forward granting that the weekly Sabbath is a moral law only because it is in the Ten Commandments. I grant that so we can complicate matters even further.


The weekly Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments, but only the weekly. What then of the annual sabbaths? Why are they not gone?

Does the supposed moral goodness of the weekly Sabbath bleed out into the annual sabbaths? How? If the weekly day of rest is only said to be morally good because it is in the Ten Commandments, then how can other days escape their ceremonial nature? Days cannot be morally good, so how can moral goodness extend to the annual days?

You will be hard pressed to find anyone who agrees with Herbert Armstrong on the holy days. Just about every other church, including nearly every flavor of Adventism that existed prior to Herbert Armstrong, considers the annual holy days to be ceremonial. The Adventists don't keep "biblical days". The only thing that saves the weekly Sabbath from the same fate is its part in the Ten Commandments. Why mention the Adventists? Because Armstrongism is a branch of Adventism. Herbert Armstrong's ideas about the Sabbath come directly from the Seventh Day Adventists. Yet, they disagree with him on annual days. One of the reasons Herbert Armstrong was fired from the Church of God (Seventh Day) was for teaching the annual days are required. But where did he get that idea? Armstrong took his ideas from one G. G. Rupert. Rupert supposedly got his ideas from a small fringe-group that mixed Judaism and Mormonism.
Traditions of men?

So, the weekly Sabbath is only morally good because it is one of the Ten Commandments, but the holy days are also morally good because ...they are associated with the word Sabbath?? They are moral by association?

Again, that's not one of the definitions of moral law that I've ever read. "Distinguishes righteousness from evil, or is one of the Ten Commandments, OR has the word Sabbath associated with it."

Then what do we do with the holy days that are not annual sabbaths? The day of Passover is not, five of the Days of Unleavened Bread are not, the Day of Firstfruits is not, and six of the days of the Feast of Tabernacles are not. Why are those not abandoned as parts of ceremonial law? They aren't Sabbaths and they aren't in the Ten Commandments. So, they are moral by association with something that is moral by association?

Yet again, that's not one of the definitions of moral law that I've ever read. "Distinguishes righteousness from evil, or is one of the Ten Commandments, or has the word Sabbath associated with it, OR is associated with something that is associated with the word Sabbath."

Perhaps you think you can't just do away with any annual day once you start keeping annual days. You keep them all or nothing. Or perhaps you think you must keep Passover because it has significance with Jesus. Alright. But then, what of the Day of Firstfruits?

Armstrongism completely ignores Firstfruits. This day is every bit as annual as the others. And it has significance with Jesus. Passover is the day Jesus died; Firstfruits is the day Jesus was resurrected. Herbert Armstrong didn't believe Jesus was resurrected on Firstfruits, but even he taught the rituals of Firstfruits pointed to Jesus. According to the standard set above, does this not make Firstfruits a moral law? So, why is this day ignored while Passover is observed?

And don't get me started on the "Night To Be Much Observed" which is entirely made up. It is made up because Herbert Armstrong misread Exodus 12: 42. Passover is the Night to be Remembered. A made up day is observed, but a legitimate day is ignored?

So, Armstrongism does not teach the keeping of all annual days, or keeping all annual days that have significance with Jesus, but they do keep an invented day. Consistency, anyone?

And not just that, but as we saw in my last article, "Why Not Keep Biblical Days?", even when people say they're keeping a biblical day, they're not keeping it the way the law said to. The name of the day is kept, but nearly everything was removed that made the day what it was. How can the days themselves be moral, but all the things that made the days what they were are ceremonial? Can a day be both moral and ceremonial - at the same time? Parts are moral, like the obligation to "keep" it, but parts are ceremonial, like exactly what you were supposed to do to keep it. How on earth does that work?
And if a single day can be both, why can't the Ten Commandments?

I am at a complete loss. What is the standard here?

Can we get some form of consistency in here, please!


There are some other issues besides days that fit this same pattern of being ceremonial but not gone. Take tithes, for instance. Why are tithes not gone?

The Levitical priesthood was entirely ceremonial. The whole Levitical priesthood is gone, the Temple is gone, and the system is gone - replaced entirely by Jesus and the church. In the Armstrongist system, can something that was replaced be moral law? No.
Tithes existed to support the Levitical priesthood because they had no other means. If the priesthood was not moral, why would the system initiated to fund the priesthood be moral? It is not. So why is it not gone? How do we justify saying the priesthood and everything associated with it was ceremonial, except the system for funding it?

Tithes were for Levites (NUM. 18: 21). If tithes remain, who can receive them? Where is the law that says churches can now accept tithes? I can't find that law anywhere. To make that adjustment, the unchanging law had to change. Are ministers Levites, then? I thought the priesthood was gone!

What is so moral about tithing, anyway? The amount? Nine percent is evil, eleven percent is neither here nor there, but ten percent - righteous! How does that make sense?

Are we to believe that being required to hand over money is moral? Then explain Paul's statement in II Corinthians 9: 7, "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." It says not out of necessity. A tithe is definitely by necessity. One does not "give" tithes and more or less than one "gives" taxes. Tithes are a requirement, not a gift. Charity and tithes are not synonyms.

Tithes were an offering (NUM. 18: 24). Tithes are closely associated with offerings in multiple verses. Almost all verses where tithes are discussed there is the connotation of an offering.

(DEU. 12: 6) There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 

Offerings are ceremonial and gone. Why not tithes?

And what of second tithe? Armstrongism teaches not one but three tithes. The second tithe, we believed, was for funding one of the annual days - the Feast of Tabernacles. We had to travel and do activities, so we needed funding. Second tithe only exists because the annual days exist ...and we still don't quite know why the annual days still exist.

Yet again, that's not one of the definitions of moral law that I've ever read. "Distinguishes righteousness from evil, or is one of the Ten Commandments, or has the word Sabbath associated with it, or is associated with something that is associated with the word Sabbath, OR it is associated with something that is associated with something that is associated with the word Sabbath."

What's more, why was second tithe only associated with the Feast of Tabernacles? Because that was the one time per year church members were required to travel. Is that what the law says, though? No. The law required travel three times a year, not one.
Armstrong started out requiring travel three times per year, but it was too expensive, so he took that down to once per year. What then? Two of the three travel requirements were ceremonial? How does that make any sense? How is that justified? I was once told, "Herbert Armstrong changed the law out of necessity." Changed the law!??
The law is eternal ...except the parts that are gone, or that we've changed.

Hopefully by this point you see the absurdity of the standard here. Or, rather, the complete lack thereof.

Oh, but there's more!


What about clean / unclean meats laws?

In the Old Testament, clean and unclean pertain to ritual purity. From the first mention, clean and unclean animals references ceremonial cleanliness for the purposes of sacrifice.

(GEN. 7: 1-2) 1 The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven of every kind of clean [ceremonially pure; Strong's 2889] animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean [not clean; Strong's 2889] animal, a male and its mate.

CLEAN [Strong’s 2889, Heb. Tahor, from 2891]: pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial, or moral sense):- clean, fair, pure (-ness).

Do you think the animals were morally pure or impure? No. They are animals. By their nature, they cannot be held accountable for the morality of their actions. No, they were ceremonially pure or impure. This is entirely ceremonial. This can be confirmed by observing what Noah did with those animals.

(GEN. 8: 20) Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

He sacrificed them! They were clean for sacrifice. That is entirely ceremonial. And that is precisely their use throughout the Old Covenant.

For more, see our article "Clean and Unclean for Noah".

In Acts 10, God sends Peter the infamous Sheet Vision. God lets down a large sheet, filled with all sorts of unclean animals, and says, "Go, Peter, kill and eat." What did Peter take from that? Here was his conclusion:

(ACT. 10: 28) 28 Then he said to [Cornelius and his family], “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

There were a series of laws to keep the Jews separate from the Gentiles: meats laws, marriage laws, circumcision laws, and etc. God revealed a second purpose of the meats laws was to separate Jew from Gentile.
These are the two parts of meats laws, sacrifice and separation. Every separation in the church between Jew and Gentile is removed. Every animal sacrifice is removed. So why would meats laws remain? There is no purpose for it to remain.

For more, see our articles on the Sheet Vision.

God goes out of his way to get rid of meats laws and people cry, "No! No! I need to observe meats laws!" Why? It has been gutted. What purpose is left? Certainly not because they are moral laws. So why? I can't even repeat my "not one of the definitions of moral law that I've ever read" line here because meats have nothing to do with anything moral at all (MAR. 7: 18-23).

And before you say it - no, meats laws are not health issues, either. There is nothing in the Bible to substantiate that. There is nothing in the Bible about meats laws being about health or dirt or anything like that. The only thing you'll find are the two things I mentioned.

Do you want to know why Armstrongism teaches clean/unclean meats laws? The real reason? Its roots in Adventism. Ellen G. White was big on foods, and that came down to Herbert Armstrong. That is the reason. Traditions of men.

Can we get some form of consistency in here, please!


Today, we have seen the three divisions of the law, of which two are supposedly gone. Yet, we have seen several examples of ceremonial items that are not gone, according to Armstrongism. And so, we have asked -- is the ceremonial law removed or isn't it?

It seems the answer is no.
But why not?

In my experience, I have most often had people answer these questions with statements like, "Until heaven and earth pass, not one jot or tittle will pass from the law." But two complete sections have passed from the law. Or, "God changes not, therefore the law changes not". But the law has changed (HEB. 7: 12). Or, "Why would God initiate the law only to get rid of it?" But He did get rid of two full sections of it. Or, "The law will be written on our hearts." But which laws? The laws that are gone?

The point of those statements is to say the law will never be done away. But that offends reason and denies reality. Not a single person who says those things intends to keep the whole law. Every single person who says those things knows they are only referring to certain laws. So, those statements are absurd. Do those responses explain why one law is kept and another discarded? No. Do those responses explain why the examples we reviewed today are not ceremonial? No. Do you know what those statements will do? They show that we talked out both sides of our mouths.

Since those things we reviewed today are ceremonial, tell your Minister you're not going to do them anymore.
What? That makes you uncomfortable? Why? Are the ceremonial laws removed or aren't they?
Fine. Tell your minister the ceremonial laws are not removed.
What? That makes you uncomfortable?

There are more examples than this. I could go on about things like circumcision, the gateway to the law. But I think we've seen enough. I think the point is sufficiently made.

My point is really about the standard - the shifting standard -- the lack of standard. One standard is used here, another standard is used there. Keep this part of the law here, don't keep that part of the law there. Demand the law will never change here, demand the law has changed there. Say we don't like traditions of men here, keep traditions of men there.

Standards and ceremonies and traditions of men. It's a double-standard. And that has always bothered me.

I don't want to go without leaving you a solution to this dilemma. Dear reader, beloved by God, I pray God guides you to step into the New Covenant in faith.


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



Anonymous said...

Paul makes it abundantly clear. Of course, one could reject Paul and most of the New Testament I suppose…

“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭4‬:‭21‬-‭31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Miller Jones/Lonnie C Hendrix said...

Another well-articulated commentary regarding the lack of a plausible rationale for cherry-picking Torah. This goes to the heart of the weakness of the Armstrongist teaching about a Christian's responsibility to keep/observe the commandments of Torah. While dividing Torah into categories can certainly help us to understand it, we must not forget that those distinctions (moral, ceremonial, civil/national) do NOT appear in scripture. Indeed, both the Old and New Testament perspectives view Torah as a WHOLE, not as separable parts. In other words, the various categories which scholars use to parcel out Torah commandments are not scriptural. As you pointed out in your post, even a cursory examination of the implications surrounding the placement of commandments within certain categories renders such notions illogical and impractical.

Once again, the truth is that Torah pointed to and was FULFILLED by Jesus Christ - ALL OF IT - ceremonial, civil, and moral. Moreover, that includes the Ten Commandments! ALL of those individual commandments are comprehended in the two Great Commandments which Christ gave to his disciples, and we find our righteousness in Christ's fulfillment of Torah.

xHWA said...

Thank you!

"the truth is that Torah pointed to and was FULFILLED by Jesus Christ - ALL OF IT - ceremonial, civil, and moral. Moreover, that includes the Ten Commandments! ALL of those individual commandments are comprehended in the two Great Commandments"

Absolutely spot on.