"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
Form Over Substance – A Modern-day Feast Story
The annual fall festival season so much anticipated by the various Churches of God has nearly arrived once again. Second tithe has faithfully been saved, reservations made, and time off work arranged. Friendships will be renewed, sightseeing enjoyed, and weight gained. But also, in all too many cases, debts will increase, families will be split further apart, much-needed jobs will be lost, and faith will be stretched to the breaking-point – possibly even destroyed. Such is the saga of the feast of tabernacles: once a tool used by God to effectively accomplish his will for a particular people in a particular part of the earth for a particular time period, but now an out-dated tool, replaced by the Master craftsman with something much better, but continually misused by many not familiar with its originally intended purpose – often with disastrous consequences.
The feast of tabernacles, a dust-covered Jewish implement from yesteryear, has been resurrected by legalists from its rightful place back in an old dusty box back in the corner, and is being touted as one of the long-lost wonder tools that has been missing from every serious Christian craftsman’s tool chest. Those who insist that it is still an important tool of God’s could be likened to those who would insist that a carpenter use a penknife to craft a piece of furniture from a massive oak tree. It is certainly not the tool of choice, and although something similar may have been used to craft crude furniture somewhere in antiquity, it has rightly been replaced by much more effective tools. In fact, to misuse the penknife in this manner could cause serious injury. In like manner, misapplying old covenant scriptures regarding the observance of days in the new covenant setting can, and has had, serious injurious repercussions.
Before we proceed with this fictional (but totally believable) account of an average Armstrong-influenced feast- keeping husband and wife, let me preface it with this: I am not criticizing those who wish to honor and worship God by observing certain days, whether it be holydays, Sabbaths, Sundays or even Tuesdays. Romans 14:5-6, 10 instructs us:
"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks…(vs. 10)... but why do you judge your brother?’
The above scriptures are telling us that just as it is a matter of personal conviction and choice which foods we eat, just so we give God thanks for it, so it is also a personal decision, just between you, your conscience and God, which days you decide to devote to the honor and worship of God. For example, if you decide to pray and fast every Wednesday (with the right heart and attitude), this honors God and He is pleased. If you decide to take off from work for 8 days of church services and worship in the fall, corresponding with the old covenant Feast of Tabernacles, this also is fine.
But if you condemn and look down upon others for not doing the same, this is not pleasing to God, and most likely will totally negate any spiritual benefits you might have derived from your praying and fasting or from those days spent in church services. And if you belong to and/or financially support a church or organization that teaches that the observance of certain days and the non-eating of certain foods is a necessary requirement to please God and to secure salvation, this also is definitely NOT pleasing to God, as it is promoting false religion and may actually impede your salvation – so says your Bible.
In Galatians 4:10-11, 21, 24, & 26 Paul tells the Galatians, who were being proselytized by the Jews into observing old covenant ways, "You observe days [Sabbaths] and months [new moons] and seasons [spring and fall holyday seasons] and years [years of release and Jubilees]. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored in vain…(vs. 21) Tell me, you who desire to be under the law [under the old covenant], do you not hear the law? …(vs. 24) …For these are the two covenants: the one from Mt. Sinai which engenders bondage…(vs. 26)…but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all."
Clearly Paul is not urging the Galatians to quit observing pagan days and seasons as some have argued, but is referring to old covenant Jewish days. For in verse 21 of the same chapter, in discussing the very same subject, he accuses them of wanting to come under the law of Moses, which he in verse 24 calls the Mt. Sinai covenant of "bondage." This would, of course, include all the various Jewish days, months, etc. mentioned above, and would not be referring to wanting to return to pagan days. Therefore, according to Paul, those who suggest that the observance of old covenant days is commanded for us today are truly unable to see the forest for the trees, or the Law of Love for the 613 laws of Moses. A veil lies over their eyes, and it can only be removed when one turns to the Lord of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:15-16). They have chosen, instead, to turn to and focus on Moses.
In the following story, we will be observing a modern-day family that belongs to a church that does not understand Paul’s teachings in Galatians 4, but rather has come under the influence of those who teach and observe what Gal. 4:24 would define as "Mt. Sinai covenant bondage." This is a family that observes the same old covenant days that the Jews of old did – not because they believe that they have a choice in the matter, but because they have been told that to do otherwise would be a sin against God that would exclude them from God’s kingdom. They have also been taught that for the same reason they need to keep rigid tithing laws (laws that have been found to not even have applied to a goodly number of old covenant Jews, let alone a new covenant Christian).
But the greatest tragedy of all for folks such as this is not financial, but is what this teaching has done internally to those who have accepted it as truth. Surely Paul would say of this family, and those like it, "I am afraid for you." (Gal 4:11). Why? Because they are filled with pride in the fact that they focus on and are predominately preoccupied with the "shadow," and not on He who threw the shadow. Not only that, but they have judged as guilty their brothers who are not deceived in this matter. It has fostered a spirit of pride and unjust condemnation of others, and a reliance on form rather than substance – on routine rather than on a relationship. Truly, Paul would have had reason to fear for them! The spirit of pride, combined with the harsh (and erroneous) judging of others, are two of the hardest sins to see in oneself, let alone to repent of. Witness the example of Satan, and that of the Pharisees.
Our story is about a family that attends a split-off of a split-off of a split-off church of the original "true" church of God in this era (i.e., the Worldwide Church of God, raised up by that man of renowned character and moral fortitude, Herbert Armstrong). Although this story may have never occurred exactly as told "in fact," I am sure that it has occurred numerous times "in spirit."
The principal characters in this story are just plain, simple folk (with emphasis on "simple") who have fixed their eyes on a goal, and will not be dissuaded by either fact or reasoning, as they have been continually warned (ie., "programmed") to resist any force that might come against them in the guise of light or truth which might in some manner snatch from their hands the sure crown that they hold. Little do they realize that the "crown" they are gripping so tightly is actually a dunce’s cap, and that by their actions they are unwittingly giving an all-new and deeper meaning to the term "cognitive dissonance."
Our story begins late one August afternoon, several months before it will be time for members of this "one true church" to observe that old covenant festival known as "The Feast of Tabernacles." Let’s listen in:
Wife: "Honey, have you made our airline reservations for Florida yet? You know the feast is getting pretty close and we want to get that all taken care of before the last minute!"
Husband : "Not yet. Thanks for reminding me."
"Let’s see, what else do I need to get done. Car rental, stop the mail. . .I’d better make a list. While I’m at it I should sit down and go over our expenses again to make sure we have enough to cover everything. Let’s see … we make $60,000 a year. 10% for 2nd tithe is $6,000. Minus "tithe of the tithe" leaves $5400. Airline tickets are $550, car rental should be about $500. Motel should be about $750 for 9 nights. Oh yeah – I’d better double check on those reservations. It took me a whole afternoon on the phone to get those accommodations nailed down once headquarters gave us the OK to make reservations. Sure wish there was a better way. Meals, including wine for the room and taking a guest to dinner now and then, will run about $100 a day, or $1000. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat that well the rest of the year! Let’s see, that adds up to $2800. Lay back another $1000 for entertainment and incidentals, that gives us a grand total of $3800 in expenses."
Meanwhile, the front doorbell issues out its melodic chime.
The husband, as he arises from the chair at his desk, yells out: "I’ll get it, dear."
The front door is opened to reveal a pleasant looking young lady, sporting a concerned look on her face.
"Hi there. I’m Mrs. Harmon, your neighbor from down the street," she begins. "A number of us are going door to door around the neighborhood to see if any of the neighbors would like to chip in to help out the Nestors, who, as you’ve probably heard, lost everything in that house fire the other night. Sarah Nestor, their 12 year old, is still in the hospital with 3rd degree burns. They have no insurance, as Mr. Nestor was between jobs, so we’re trying to raise some money to help them out. We haven’t been able to raise very much so far, so anything that you could contribute would really help."
The husband shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other, somehow unable to meet her steady gaze with much confidence.
"We would like to help out, but truthfully, we give so much to our church that we’re just not in a position to give at this time. Sorry."
The young lady nods her head understandingly, and replies with a quiet "I understand," as she turns and leaves.
The husband returns to his desk to take up where he left off before the doorbell had rung.
"Hey, honey, it looks like we’ll have about $1600 in excess tithe to use or lose! Maybe we should have tried to go to Hawaii this year."
Wife: "Don’t be ridiculous, dear. How would we ever explain such extravagance to our creditors if they should find out? You know we’re behind on the car payment and on several of our credit cards. We have to use some common sense here! We’ll just have to turn the excess in to the church. Then at least it’s tax-deductible.
Husband: "You’re probably right dear. Say, have you seen the Newman’s at church lately? I need to pay back Chuck that $50 that he loaned me a year ago when we had that car trouble. Sure wish we didn’t have to replace that old ’85 Reliant we got from your mother when your father died. We certainly didn’t need to get back into more car debt."
Wife: "Haven’t you heard? Chuck and Mary left the church over 3 months ago! I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. They always seemed to be so spirit-led and teachable. I heard that they started to read some literature from some of the Armstrong haters, and then began to do a lot of outside reading and research. You know what God says about allowing Satan into your mind! We can’t ever let Satan even get a toe-hold in our thoughts. They should have known better than read anything not approved by headquarters. Look where it got them – out of God’s true church, and possibly facing the tribulation and eternal destruction. And you know what? Sarah Smith told me at church last week that she saw the Newman’s buying Christmas ornaments at a garage sale she was at last month! Can you believe that they’ve returned to their pagan ways so quickly?"
Husband: "Wow! I hadn’t heard. That’s too bad …so sad. It’s just like a dog returning to its vomit! Now they won’t be blessed by God for obedience like we’ve been. And observing Christmas! Just imagine all the expense of having to buy a Christmas tree, and presents for the relatives. What a blessing it is to be out of that rat race. That can cost many hundreds of dollars a year. What a stupid expense!"
"Which reminds me – how are we going to make ends meet this month? I just sent off our monthly tithe payment to headquarters for $500 plus $20 extra, as the work has really been hurting for money lately, and of course I put $500 in our 2nd tithe account. And I’ve got to set aside some extra money for the upcoming holy day offerings. We’re still paying on your old medical bills, and after food, utilities, payment on that new refrigerator, the mortgage payment and some of the credit cards, there’s not much left."
Wife: "Don’t worry, God will provide, as long as we obey him. I’m glad you sent in that extra $20, by the way, as we’re only unprofitable servants if we just give what is required of us.
"You know, I didn’t tell you this earlier, but Mary Newman had the nerve to call me last week and try to explain to me just how wrong our church has been, and how we are still trying to observe obsolete old covenant days and laws. She had the nerve to read Romans 14:5-6 and Galatians 2:16 to me from the Bible, and try explaining how days and times were but a shadow and were fulfilled by Christ.
"She also tried to get me to buy into the idea that the 10 Commandments aren’t the "end all and be all" of God’s will for us, but just point to something she called "God’s Royal Law of Love." And she had the gall to tell me that the church’s tithing system isn’t Biblical, either, and is part of the reason we’re in such debt. Well, I could only listen to so much – then I had to shout at her to repent, and return to the truth once delivered. I actually had to slam down the receiver, as what she was saying was starting to make sense, but I knew that it had to be of Satan."
Husband: "Good. I’m proud of you. We have to keep ourselves separate and apart from such sinners. Thank God we keep His laws and are righteous in His sight. For we abhor Christmas, fast on the day of Atonement, and pay our tithes faithfully, and are not like those Newman sinners."
And with that, the husband and wife both put aside what they are working on, and start striding toward each other – holding their heads up high all the while – and lovingly reach out for the other’s hand. After a quick embrace, they give each other a pat on the back (as they found that this was much easier on the shoulder joints than trying to pat themselves on their own backs).
Meanwhile, back in the real world, a creditor has just pulled up in front of our loving couple’s house, and is proceeding up the sidewalk in the hopes of getting some kind of payment on a long overdue bill. He would have preferred just calling them on the phone, but their service was disconnected two months earlier due to non-payment of their bill.
Mrs. Harmon, now down the street a ways, puzzles over whatever happened to real Christian concern for one’s neighbors.
And somewhere in the heavens, God sighs.
Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya!