Why Christians Celebrate Biblical Memorial Days
by: Robert (Bob) Somerville
In our celebration of traditional Christian holidays, the Biblical Holydays should not be excluded. The motive for the Christian to celebrate Biblical holidays is neither to masquerade as quasi -Jews nor to plunder Jewish customs and traditions, but to honor what our Lord has instituted.
"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.'" (Lev 23:1-2)
Notice, He did not say these were the feast of the Jews or the feasts of the Christians but "the feast of the Lord". They are memorial days that both Christians and Jews have good cause to celebrate. These festivals were institute by our Father God (Yahweh) in the first Testament and reaffirmed by Jesus (Yeshua) in the New Testament.
Sense the apostle Paul tells us that "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:11), these feast days find their deepest meaning in Jesus the Messiah. Here is perhaps the most compelling statement in the New Testament as to the continued influence and recognition of the Biblical Holydays by the body of Christ in the first century, even among the Gentile Christian churches.
"....For even Christ our PASSOVER is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast ....." (I Cor. 5:7-8)
It could not be said more clearly, "Therefore, let us keep the feast [of Passover]." Further evidence of first century Christians celebrating the feast days is found in the book of Acts. "....I must by all means Keep this FEAST that cometh in Jerusalem..." (Acts 18:21 KJV)
"For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of PENTECOST...." (Acts 20:16)
"But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost." (1 Cor 16:8)
Nearly thirty years after the death of Jesus (a time when many believe the importance of these celebrations had ceased) the Apostle Paul is still highly motivated with Christian zeal to return to Jerusalem and celebrate the day of PENTECOST. Would he discourage the practice today? Clearly, he would not! The Biblical feast day celebrations were instituted by our God as a system for teaching and served as a liturgical calendar. They identified special times in the year for offering praise, thanksgiving and honor unto our heavenly Father for specific acts on behalf of His people. Every major event in Biblical history occurred on a feast day. The precise dates of Noah's Ark landing on Mt. Ararat, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, the dedication of Solomon's Temple, the birth of Jesus, His death, burial and resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, are all prime examples of God's faithfulness to His appointed times and seasons. Proper recognition of these special days of memorial is being restored to the church as a vital part of worship and celebration.
Traditionally, Christians have not given formal recognition to the seven Biblical feast days (Leviticus 23). The preference has been to continue the honoring of such traditional holidays as Christmas, Easter and All Saints Day (Holy Evening or Halloween) etc. Interestingly, these are calendar days for which there is no biblical support even though the events so honored may be biblical. How did this condition come about and who is responsible? There is certainly no record that the first century church ever celebrated the traditional holidays, as we know them. They were an "invention" of the subsequent church leadership. There is, however, abundant evidence to confirm that the early church continued to celebrate the biblical feast days.
The historical record confirms, that the cessation of celebrating biblical Feast Days by the followers of Jesus Christ was, brought on by a growing anti-semitic spirit (resentment of Jews and things Jewish) that invaded the church by the second century. Regrettably, this spirit has resulted in almost total deletion of everything Jewish from the doctrine and liturgy of the church, replacing it with alternative forms and titles adopted from other religions and introduced by various church fathers. By the beginning of the fourth century, Constantine, who had become both head of the church and Emperor of Rome, forbade the recognition of anything that remotely smacked of Jewishness to the point of imprisonment and even death. An example of this can be seen by the actions taken at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The Church, which had been commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ on the Passover day, changed the date for observing the resurrection to make it correspond with the pagan carnival Easter instead of what they considered to be the Jewish feast of Passover. Today we are victims of that orchestrated effort and therefore the Christian's sense of value for celebrating Biblical Memorial Day became almost non-existents but that is changing.
A better understanding of the Biblical festivals in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being fully restored to the church. Still the question invariably arises, but what about the New Testament scriptures, which seemingly discourage the practice of observing "special days"? Such conclusions are often drawn as a result of misinformation, faulty interpretation of scripture, unbelief, and fear and with some degree of hypocrisy. For example, the following scripture is often cited as a proof text for non- observance of Biblical feast days:
"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Gal.4:10-11
Here is a classic example of faulty interpretation of scripture. This reference has nothing to do with Biblical memorial days. Paul's statement to the Galatians is concerning their returning to former pagan or heathen practices. Clearly he is not speaking of the Biblical celebrations. This is borne out in the very structure of the letter itself. Notice, this was something they were re-instituting that they had been practicing when they worshiped false gods (see verse nine). The Galatians had never celebrated Biblical (Jewish) holy days. They were Gentiles, therefore, they could not have been returning to the Jewish festivals as some might claim.
The truth is, few Christians actually believe this scripture to be absolute or if they do, their actions are inconsistent with their beliefs. If taken at face value, we would simply have to refrain from celebrating or memorializing any "days" religious or secular. As it now is, we often go to great lengths and great expense both at home and in church to celebrate such times as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, etc. To be sure, we "observe days" and they are often accompanied with great pageantry and extravaganza. The point is that many have somehow concluded that apparently we are free to celebrate any holidays except the Biblical days; these are somehow forbidden and viewed as being strictly Jewish and therefore anti-Christ, non-Christian and indeed dangerous. Yet the ones we have arbitrarily created for ourselves which have little or no Biblical support are somehow "safe" and honorable, even sacred. The intent here is not to denigrate the non-biblical times of celebration but rather to expose the duplicity inherent in the Galatians 4:11 stance for not honoring the Lord's appointed feast days while proceeding to devise our own. Again, Paul's reference here is concerning pagan holidays and not the God ordained memorial days, which the same writer had encouraged the Church to "therefore keep" (1 Corinthians. 5:7-8).
Here is another example of faulty interpretation of scripture concerning special days:
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:" (Colossians 2:16)
This is not an indictment against feast day celebrations but a caution about judgmental attitudes. One would be hard pressed to find anyone who practices this as is commonly interpreted. The truth is, there are on-going judgmental attitudes manifested in the church about meats, drinks, holydays and Sabbath observance. Those who don't observe such things tend to reflect on those who do as "legalists" (strict adherents to the Law). Those who observe them quite often view those who don't as unrighteous or at best, second-class citizens of the Kingdom. Simply stated, "those who do judge those who don't and those who don't judge those who do" and on it goes. Yet the Christ-like attitude is "Judge not" (Mt. 7:1). The Apostle Paul gives similar advice to the church in Rome.
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. ...But why dost thou judge thy brother?" (Romans 14:5, 6, 10)
No one's righteousness should be judged on the basis of these issues, any more than one should be judged as to whether or not he is a Christian on the basis of his church attendance. Righteousness is simply not of works. If one is "persuaded" that celebrating feast days enhances his worship of God, he should not be judged for it. All judgment of men's hearts is best left in the hands of God.
There is a third judgmental group who are selective in their interpretation of some aspects of Col. 2: 16. They arbitrarily select the particular things they are for or against and proceed to categorize them as a do or don't. For example: some who would extend liberty for one to eat any and all kinds of meats might well be the first to place restrictions on what is acceptable to drink, then proceed to preach and teach that judgment. In our zeal for righteousness we must guard against the possible distortion of scripture. Paul is simply trying to avoid the pharisaical attitudes of judgment and nothing more.
A MATTER OF WORSHIP
Now, let us establish some proper motivational factors. Out celebration of the Biblical memorial days are not a matter of salvation or acceptance before God. Therefore our motive in celebration should be as God originally intended; remembrance and honor for what He has done. God said his feasts were to be celebrated "forever" (Ex. 12:14, Lev. 23:21, Lev. 23:41). If God never changes, and we have His word on that He does not (Mal. 3:6), it is obvious that He still desires to be worshiped in this manner. The feast days retain a deep abiding meaning for the Christian since their fullness (not termination) is found in Jesus the Messiah. It is safe to say that the Christian has as much reason for celebrating these festivals as does the Jew and perhaps more (1 Corinthians. 5:8). The feast days contain more divine information, spiritual lessons and prophetic reflections than perhaps any subject of scripture. Subsequently, It is through our deliberate recognition and celebration of them that the riches of truth contained in them is released for our understanding.
The things that are done to celebrate these days are not so important as the acknowledgment of the day itself. We need not be concerned with ancient ritualism from which we were liberated in Christ (Heb. 9:10) but focus on the basic principle of their prophetic and spiritual meaning as is revealed under the New Covenant. Since it is not a matter of salvation but one of worship, there is liberty and flexibility in what we can do as a remembrance practice. The spirit of praise and worship simply demands the recognition of the Biblical feast days. No other conclusion can be drawn.
The question before us is; should Christians celebrate the feast days? Clearly we should. Why? Because they are Biblical, Christ-centered and God ordained. While feast celebrations may not be essential to salvation, they are certainly essential for a more perfect worship order in the church. Reason simply dictates this conclusion.
Feast days are not Jewish in an ethnic sense or Christian in a religious sense, but they are divine in a Biblical sense and therefore eternal and universal.
THEREFORE, LET US ALSO KEEP THE FEAST!