Some Coal in Your Stocking?

Contained in the Law of Moses were commandments regarding special observances: Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement, as well as many others. These were commanded by God.  These observances were symbolic of the reality fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We are called to live in the real and not in the shadow of symbolic services. Therefore, those special days no longer have validity for our observation or keeping, inasmuch as their fulfillment is written on the mind and heart through the Messiah. Members of the early church tried to incorporate the ancient feast days into the service of God.  Paul wrote to the Galatians; “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” (Gal.4:9-11) Apparently, keeping these things as a doctrine of Christ was the same as committing idolatry. Upon this testimony, the Bible points us to a clear conclusion; the church cannot approach God through these observances. Nor can we approach Him by any other means not revealed or commanded through Jesus Christ.

What about personal observances? These would be observances kept out of private conviction or as a matter of custom. I believe there is some leeway here. In the 21st chapter of Acts we read about Paul and those who accompanied him coming to Jerusalem. Among the Jews there were many followers of Jesus who were zealous for the Law. Paul and company were counseled by James and all the elders to show their harmony with the Law of Moses in order to allay the misunderstanding they had toward Paul; “. . . but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” (Acts 21:21) Paul and those who were with him, complied with the given advice. This shows there was respect for customs. It also shows there was a gentle hand toward those who had not yet grown into a more mature understanding of faith. Bear in mind, keeping the Law as a matter of necessity was equated with idolatry, as witnessed in the book of Galatians. Surely the Jewish brethren were taught these things, and were shepherded into seeing these as matters of custom. They knew they could not bind these things on the Gentiles. This was established earlier, as is recorded in Acts chapter 15. Yet, the observances of the Law were still kept, and Paul didn’t dispute the issue.

Does this mean that Paul forsook the truth to accommodate those of weak faith? This could not have been. Rather, the foundation of God’s love is what guided his actions.

  • Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
  • 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. (Rom.14:4-6)

Notice that this teaching applies to the individual’s regard for another. This does not point to open ended religious observances for the church. Just as it was wrong for the Galatians to teach circumcision and observance of the Law’s days, months, seasons, and years, it would be wrong for the church to teach Christmas, Easter, or any such practice as a means of serving God.

I believe it is becoming for the followers of Jesus to be kind, individually, to one another on this matter of holidays. It is good to give elbow room to those who keep customs, even if some of us don’t. And we must practice gentleness to those who do not yet understand.  By the same principle, we must be realistic about what God has given; to honor what He has given, and not confuse the inventions of man with holiness. The church cannot support and promote the holy days of man’s making. The assembly cannot do this without being in danger of falling away from Christ.