Tag Archives: worship

Should Christians keep the Old Testament feasts?

We enjoy exploring the symbolism of the Old Testament feasts, but we don’t recommend that Christians observe them on a regular basis. The feasts of the Old Testament were intended to be an opportunity for the Israelite people to acknowledge the goodness of God as their provider and intercessor.

Although the Jewish religious festivals are celebrated by Jewish Messianic believers, they are not relevant to Gentile Christians. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Lord’s Supper, therefore, has replaced the Passover. Hebrews 7:27 and other passages declare that man has been once and for all reconciled to God by the death of Christ. Other passages such as Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5-6 declare that the Old Testament feasts are no longer to be observed:

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 of Christ (Col. 2:16-17 nkjv).

God’s moral law proceeds from the righteousness of God and can never be abolished. The Mosaic Law, as an expression of this moral law, is “passing away” in that it has been superseded by another law, that is, the standard of grace revealed in the New Testament. The believer is now under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; cp. Rom. 8:2-4). Although the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life, some of the Law of Moses is restated in the New Testament—nine of the Ten Commandments are included. The Mosaic Law still constitutes a revelation of the righteousness of God and remains as a part of Scripture which “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17 nkjv; cp. Rom. 15:4).

Baruch Maoz, an Israeli pastor of Jewish extraction, doesn’t believe it is wrong for Christians of Jewish cultural background to keep the feasts. At the same time, he explains why Gentile Christians shouldn’t observe the Old Testament feasts or other aspects of Old Testament ritual—they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They are the “shadow”; He is the reality.

The Mosaic Law in its moral aspects has lost none of its commanding authority. The moral aspects of the covenant are now the rule of life for all those who live by grace. That is one of the reasons why the English Puritans and the Scottish Covenanters identified so warmly with our forefathers. While they longed and prayed for the salvation of our people and our restoration to grace, they knew themselves to be bound to our destiny by the common duties they shared with us as promulgated in the Mosaic Law.

Messiah and the Law

Of course, the ritual aspects of the Law, its symbols, hopes and expectations, all find fulfillment in Jesus. Having been fulfilled, they no longer have the religious value they had in the past yet, for us Jewish Christians, they form part of our national culture. The shadows have passed to give room for the reality, and it is not right for us to insist upon those shadows as if they were still in force. The Mosaic religious institutions, including the sacrifices; the feasts; the specific form of the Sabbath duties; and the restrictions and requirements in terms of dress codes, beards and the such like, are no longer binding. Nor may we exercise our liberty by living as if they were binding. It is our glad and happy duty to demonstrate by our lives, our worship and our communal behaviour that Messiah has come.

The ritual aspects of the Law, particularly the sacrifices, intimated God’s method of salvation, but salvation itself was never provided by it except as it reflected the sacrifice of Messiah. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could provide a sufficient sacrifice (Heb. 10:4). The promise of forgiveness made in the Torah was dependent on the sacrifice of Messiah and derived its strength from that ultimate sacrifice.

To act now as if Messiah came but did not affect our relation to the Law is—as I said before—to deny with our lives what our mouths profess. To think that the coming of Messiah did not alter the Mosaic Law’s relation to us is to ignore the biblical message, which declares that the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus the Messiah (John 1:17). Whatever else we may want to say about this passage, there is no doubt that it contrasts two periods—that of the Mosaic Law with that of Jesus, the Messiah (Judaism Is Not Jewish, pp.127-28).

If a Christian congregation occasionally reenacts aspects of an Old Testament feast day for the sake of better understanding their old covenant heritage, it would be within the bounds of Christian liberty. However, such reenactments should be done with a clear, conscious awareness that they are not required of Christians, convey no special spiritual benefits, and are strictly of educational value.

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Why don’t Protestant Christians pray to Mary and other saints, seeking their help and intercession?

Christians who pray to Mary and saints in heaven to intercede for them sometimes say that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking living fellow believers to pray for them. They say that the Scriptures tell us to uphold each other and intercede for each other in prayer (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16).

Though Scripture doesn’t affirm it, it is conceivable that friends and loved ones who have preceded us to heaven are able to pray for us. But when Christians ask living friends and loved ones to pray for them, they don’t worship or attribute godlike qualities to them. They don’t assume they have unique intercessory abilities and special influence with the Savior. They don’t approach particular strangers and ask for their prayer support. Above all, they don’t “pray” to living friends. They ask them to share the burden of their prayer concerns with the Lord.

Christians who pray to Mary and the saints are assuming much more, believing that Mary and the saints are in a position to help in unique and specific ways: St. Anthony helps locate lost objects; St. Anne combats infertility; St. James the Greater heals arthritis; St. Jude offers hope to “lost causes”; St. Sebastian protects athletes; and many other “saints” are reputed to do specific things for many other categories of needy people.

The pagans of the Roman Empire once prayed to specific gods for help relating to the problems and challenges of life; and when Theodosius I officially outlawed pagan worship in ad 380, many people transferred their devotion from pagan gods to the saints. Thus, prayer to saints came to parallel devotion to the pagan gods of popular Roman religion.

Scripture doesn’t support the idea that “specialist” saints in heaven share with God the ability to hear thousands of prayers simultaneously. Nor does Scripture imply that particular people in heaven are able to intercede with God in a unique way in the case of particular kinds of needs. By attributing such abilities to these saints, we detract from the centrality of Jesus Christ as our divine and human mediator. We project the Savior’s unique qualities (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2) on fellow believers who share our own sinful tendencies and frailties. Instead of honoring the Son of God who gave His life for us, we glorify the needy creatures He came to save. (See the ATQ article Why don’t Protestant Christians worship Mary and the Saints?)

 


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Do the Sabbath Requirements of Old Testament Law Carry Over to Sunday?

The Christian church came into existence during a time when the Gentile world did not recognize a day of rest or worship. Pagans observed holidays and times of religious celebration, but they had no weekly day of rest or worship. Consequently, Christians in the Roman Empire had to carry on with their normal occupations even while taking time to worship and fellowship on Sunday. Most people couldn’t set Sunday aside as a “day of rest” or substitute Sabbath. These circumstances continued until Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, made Sunday a special day of rest and worship (early fourth century).

Some people, both in the present and the past, have mistakenly transferred some Old Testament Sabbath restrictions to the first day of the week. The New Testament offers no clear support for this. It simply declares that Sunday was the day on which believers met to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. In this age of grace, the New Testament actually requires no special day for worship or rest (Romans 14:1-6; Colossians 2:16). The Sabbath was given to Israel as a symbol of their special relationship with God (Exodus 31:13-17), but was not given to the church or to Gentiles.

Even though some Sabbath restrictions were transferred to Sunday for the wrong reasons, a strong case could be made that setting Sunday aside in the West as a day for worship and rest was a blessing for most people. The “Sabbath rest” principle may transcend even Old Testament Law (Genesis 2:2-3). In The Lost World of Genesis One, Old Testament Professor John H. Walton shows how after 6 days of setting creation in order and establishing its functions, God took up residence in His cosmic temple on the 7th day. God is now “resting,” enthroned in His rightful place (Psalm 132:7-8,13-14) as the active Lord and governor of the universe.

When we “rest” on the Sabbath, we recognize [God] as the author of order and the one who brings rest [stability] to our lives and world. We take our hands off the controls of our lives and acknowledge him as the one who is in control. Most importantly this calls on us to step back from our workaday world—those means by which we try to provide for ourselves and gain control of our circumstances. Sabbath is for recognizing that it is God who provides for us and who is the master of our lives and our world. We are not imitating him in Sabbath observance, we are acknowledging him in tangible ways (p. 146).

A day of worship and rest shouldn’t be coerced by “blue laws” or the kinds of Mosaic or puritanical rules that limit spontaneity and Christian liberty.1 But setting aside the day that the apostles gathered for worship as a special day will make it a time of unique joy and spiritual refreshment.

  1. If we have to be reminded or coerced to observe it, it ceases to serve its function. Sabbath isn’t the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules. It is the way that we acknowledge that God is on the throne, that this world is his world, that our time is his gift to us. It is “big picture” time. And the big picture is not me, my family, my country, my world, or even the history of my world. The big picture is God. If the Sabbath has its total focus in recognition of God, it would detract considerably if he had to tell us what to do. Be creative! Do whatever will reflect your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos. (This is the thrust of Isaiah 58:13-14.) (The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 146). Back To Article
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Do We Disobey God When We Don’t Worship on Saturday, the Sabbath?

Sometimes Christians prefer to worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) for personal reasons, or they have a desire to reach out to Jewish people. Although we respect the motivations of these brothers and sisters, we must emphasize that Sabbath observance isn’t required of us today.

Sabbath-keeping was part of a covenant with Israel that is not a moral obligation for the church. Even when Christians worship on the Sabbath, they aren’t “keeping the Sabbath.” To “keep the Sabbath” as it was required in the Old Testament would involve compliance with stringent regulations (e.g. Exodus 16:23; 35:3; Leviticus 23:32; Jeremiah 17:21 ) that were strictly enforced.1

The early Christians may have worshiped on the Sabbath, along with other days of the week. It would be natural for them to do so, because most of them were Jews continuing to associate with their Jewish brethren. When Paul traveled from synagogue to synagogue in the Mediterranean world preaching the gospel, he often preached on the Jewish Sabbath. This was a matter of necessity. After all, Sabbath was the day Jewish congregations met and Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles associated with the synagogues were the natural recipients for the gospel message. However, Scripture ( Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 ) and the writings of the church fathers show that the primary day for worship in the Apostolic church was not the seventh day of the week, but the first.

Ignatius, the Apostolic church father who was probably born during the time of our Lord’s ministry and was, along with Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, said this about the Sabbath and Sunday worship:

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death—whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith . . . . (Epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 9).

Justin Martyr, a disciple of Polycarp (mentioned above) wrote:

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration (Comments on weekly worship from chapter 67 of First Apology).

Along with Ignatius and Justin Martyr, many other Apostolic and early church fathers clearly declared Sunday the Christian day of worship. This was long before the centralization of church authority in Rome and the “Christianization” of the Roman Empire under Constantine.2

Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and other church fathers attribute Sunday worship to the fact that Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week. This isn’t surprising, not only because of the symbolism involved with the day of our Lord’s resurrection, but because the Lord Himself emphasized Sunday rather than the Sabbath by choosing it as the day in which He met with His disciples in His post-resurrection appearances (Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20:19-29 ). Further, Sunday was the day the Holy Spirit manifested Himself and the church was born (Acts 2 ).

While the moral principles underlying the other nine commandments are repeatedly expressed in the New Testament, not once does the New Testament instruct Christians to keep the Sabbath commandment. To the contrary, Colossians 2:16-17 states that we should let no one judge us regarding a Sabbath day. In Romans 14:1-6 the apostle Paul made it clear that he opposed controversy on “disputable matters.” He declared, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (v.5).

God gave the Sabbath to Israel as a sign of His special covenant with His chosen people. It was part of an elaborate system of sacrifices, rituals, and offerings (Exodus 31:13-17; Nehemiah 9:13-14 ). The Epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear, however, that the coming of the Messiah invalidated these regulations (Hebrews 10:1-18 ). It emphasizes that the Old Testament has been replaced by a new covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13 ). Paul warned the church in Galatia about legalism relating to the Mosaic law, saying:

How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! ( Galatians 4:9-10).

When the Jerusalem counsel met to establish the obligations of Gentile believers in respect to Old Testament law, it concluded that the only “requirements” were to “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29 ). Circumcision was rejected, and Sabbath-keeping wasn’t even mentioned.

No longer do we need to linger in the shadows of Old Testament law. The New Testament—not the Mosaic law—is our standard. For Christians, the significance of the Mosaic system has been abolished. Its rules and regulations have authority only when they coincide with the unchanging moral principles affirmed in the New Testament.

Because the New Testament makes it clear that Sabbath-keeping is neither essential to salvation nor a crucial aspect of Christian living, we consider any insistence that Sabbath worship is essential to the Christian walk as legalistic and divisive. We respect fellow Christians who have personal reasons for preferring to worship on the Sabbath, and we consider their choice a matter of Christian liberty. We also recognize that there may be profound spiritual benefits involved with setting aside a day for rest, worship, and meditation—whether that day be Saturday, Sunday, or another day. But bitter controversy over the Sabbath serves only to interfere with the proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus.

If you are interested in reading more on this subject, contact the Department of Biblical Correspondence at RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids MI 49555-0001 and request a copy of Sunday: The Lord’s Day.

  1. “Violating the Sabbath was a serious offense, and the person who worked on the Sabbath was to be ‘cut off from among his people’ (Exodus 31:14 ). During their wandering in the wilderness the Israelites brought to trial a man found gathering wood on the Sabbath. He was stoned to death according to the commandment of the Lord for profaning the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36 )” (D. A. Rausch in Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology). Back To Article
  2. Evidence that Apostolic Christians began observing the Lord’s Day—the first day of the week—is so strong that Michael Green, F. F. Bruce, and other church historians cite it as important evidence for the resurrection. Back To Article
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How Can It Be Consistent with God’s Character to Demand Our Worship?

The Bible makes it clear that God commands that we worship Him:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-5)

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

However there is a difference between a “command” and a “demand.” When a military officer gives an order it is a command, not a demand. A legitimate command can be given only by someone in authority, while a demand can be made by anyone.

To use the word “demand” in relation to God’s expectations of us is to imply that there could be something arbitrary, petulant, selfish, or egotistical about them. We experience many “demands” in life that are just that way.

God’s command that we worship Him” needs to be taken in the context of the cross. God doesn’t “demand worship” out of egotism or a sense of insecurity, like a Pagan god or Roman emperor. The authority of His command is based on His self-sacrificial love and its purpose is to save and protect His beloved creatures. He commands it because He knows that we are lost outside of a proper relationship to Him. There are no other options. He is the only source of life, and to require anything else would be unloving.

If we have a proper relationship to our Creator, we will automatically be drawn towards worship. Worshiping because we “must” or because we are being coerced, or out of fear, will be the farthest thing from our minds.

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