The Observance of Days
By Mark Mayberry
Old Testament Religious Festivals
Doctrinally-mandated religious festivals were an essential part of the Mosaic Code. For example, Leviticus 23 sets forth laws that govern the Sabbath (vs. 1-3), the Feast of Passover and Unleaven Bread (vs. 4-8), the Feast of Sheaves/Harvest/Weeks/Pentecost (vs. 9-22), the Feast of Trumpets (vs. 23-25), the Day of Atonement (vs. 26-32), and the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (vs 33-44). Likewise, Leviticus 25 provides instruction for celebrating the Sabbatical Year (vs. 1-7) and the Year of Jubilee (vs. 8-55).
One can also read of doctrinally neutral religious festivals being celebrated (without censure) during the Old Testament period. Note, in particular, the feast of Purim and the Festival of Lights.
The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday, dating from the period of Persian domination, that commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from the wicked plot of Haman, a story recorded in the Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies (Esth. 9:20-28).
The Feast of Dedication, also called the Festival of Lights/Hanukkah, was a Jewish festival observed for eight days, beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Keslev (i.e., during the month of December). Instituted by Judas Maccabeus, and the Jewish leaders, in the year 165 B.C., Hanukkah commemorated the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, following the desecrations ordered by Antiochus Epiphanes. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus attended the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem; while walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon, He engaged in a discourse regarding sheep and the Shepherd (John 10:22-30).
The danger of false religion is clearly indicated by the example of Jeroboam’s apostasy (1 Kings 12:26-33). God had specifically revealed the Old Testament pattern for worship, but after Jeroboam lead the northern ten tribes of Israel in rebellion against the house of David, he began instituting widespread changes in their religion. Jeroboam changed the symbols of worship, the place of worship, the priesthood, and the religious calendar. The Feast of Tabernacles was supposed to be held in the 7th month, but Jeroboam changed the observance to the 8th month.
It is no surprise that the Old Testament writers refer to Jeroboam as “the one who made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:16). A substitute religion, rather than no religion at all, has always been Satan’s most effective weapon. The devil is a great supporter of man-made religion. He knows that God will not accept unauthorized worship. If men want a form of religion, fine! If Satan can get us committed to a false system, he has won the battle (Isa. 29:13-14; Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:5-9).
New Testament References
The New Testament also contains a doctrinally-mandated day of assembly and a divinely ordained feast. Christians assemble on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). In addition to this memorial feast, other authorized acts of worship include singing, praying, giving, and abiding in the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
One can also read of doctrinally neutral religious days being observed (without censure) during the New Testament period. For example, at the end of his third missionary journey, the Apostle Paul hastened to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:13-16). Arriving in time, he went up to the temple and worshipped, completing the purification rites, and participating in the sacrificial system; afterwards, Paul was arrested and charged with defiling the temple (Acts 21:26-30; 24:1-9). In his subsequent trials, Paul steadfastly denied all such accusations, stating simply, “I went up to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 24:10-21; 25:6-12; 26:19-23). According to my understanding, his conduct fits the pattern of Romans 14:5-6.
Just as the Old Testament contains examples of doctrinally objectionable festivals, the New Testament also warns of the dangers of corrupt and false religion. In the context of warning against the Judaizing heresy, Paul also said, “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:8-10; cf. also 2:1-5 & 3:1-5). Worship is rendered void and vain whenever we set aside God’s revealed pattern and substitute our own religious systems (Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:5-8; Col. 2:16-23).
Let us keep the doctrinally mandated requirements of the Gospel. Let us avoid the doctrinally objectionable corruptions of men. Let us also show forbearance toward one another regarding matters that are morally neutral.