By Ron Halbrook
“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, where-unto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain” (Gal. 4:8-11).
We must distinguish days God forbids us to observe from days he permits us to observe. Galatians 4 forbids imposing upon the church special days of religious observance, but does not forbid what we commonly call holidays. A holiday appointed by custom or government celebrates some person, event, or season, often including cessation from work. National, seasonal, secular, and family activities are emphasized. God may be recognized, as he should be in all phases of life, but the day’s activities are not the function of the church. A holy day is appointed by a church or other religious body to be observed as a religious festival, often including cessation from work and special worship activities. The following chart summarizes the distinction between the two kinds of days:
Holy Day Holiday
Set by church of other Set by custom or
religious body government
Special religious services National, seasonal,
and activities not secular, and family
authorized by God activities
Bind as church function, Recognize God, but not
claim to honor God bind as church function
Some holy days are recognized only within a certain religion, such as Hanukkah by the Jews (commemorating the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem after its defilement by Antiochus of Syria) or Ramadan by the Muslims (commemorating Muhammad’s first so-called revelation). Other holy days have developed into national holidays with both religious and secular elements and activities, such as Christmas or Easter. Separation of church and state has diluted some holy days into holidays of national, seasonal, and family significance.
God has set aside no holy days involving religious festivals and exemption from work in the Gospel Age. God ordained that Christians worship him on the first day of the week, but otherwise there are no special instructions or limitations defining what can or cannot be done on that day. Holidays should be limited to national, seasonal, and family oriented activities and not imposed upon the church.
Authority to Appoint a Holy Day
Only God has the authority to appoint a holy day. Under the Law of Moses, God commanded the Jews to “remember the sabbath day (our Saturday), to keep it holy” by abstaining from work and reflecting on their deliverance and rest from Egyptian bondage (Exod. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15).
God ordained three annual feasts requiring all Jewish males to come to Jerusalem (Exod. 12; 23:14-17; 34:18-23). The Passover Feast or Feast of Unleavened Bread in the spring commemorated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. God’s blessings in the first fruits of the harvest were celebrated as the Feast of Harvest or of Weeks, also called Pentecost because it occurred fifty days after Passover (thus on our Sunday). The Feast of Ingathering came at the conclusion of the year’s harvest.
The Annual Atonement involved sacrifices offered “for all their sins once a year” (Lev. 16). Every seventh year was to be “a sabbath of rest unto the land,” when no crops were planted, and every fiftieth year was proclaimed The Jubilee, when all debts were cancelled (Lev. 25). Holy days were to be observed exactly as God commanded to the detail.
The Law of Moses made man more conscious of sin and of God’s provision for forgiveness which ultimately would come in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When Christ died, he removed the Old Law, “nailing it to his cross, ” thus ending all of its holy days (Col. 2:14-17). Christ arose “on the first day of the week” and his church was established on Pentecost Sunday (Mark 16:2; Acts 2). Through his Apostles, Christ ordained that Christians meet for worship “on the first day of the week,” especially to eat the Lord’s supper in remembrance of his death and to give a portion of their financial prosperity for the work of his church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Christians may meet any time, even daily, to teach his word, sing, and pray (Acts 2:46).
Christ ordained his church to worship on Sunday but authorized no holy days, feasts, or festivals requiring exemption from work or other special observances. The Holy Spirit warned that when Christians teach people to “observe days, and months, and times, and years,” they return to “the weak and beggarly elements” of false religion (Gal. 4:8-11; 5:1). Weak Christians may feel compelled in con-science to set aside a certain day for special devotion to God on a personal and private basis, which God permits until growth removes the scruple, but to bind such scruples on others is “contrary to the doctrine” of Christ (Rom. 14:1-6; 16:17-18).
Holy Days Appointed by Men
As prime examples of what the Holy Spirit forbad, Holy Days in Roman Catholicism are festivals honoring God, Jesus, or dead people declared “saints” (Mary, the Apostles, and others). Such observances were borrowed from Judaism and pagan-ism in an effort to “convert” people by adopting and adapting their false practices. Easter began as Pasch when apostate Christians of the 2nd-4th centuries revived the Jewish Passover as a festival of Christ’s death and resurrection each spring. The celebration gradually absorbed pagan concepts and practices associated with Estera, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility in the 8th century (with roots back to Astarte, an ancient Chaldean goddess of heaven). Christmas began in the 3rd-4th centuries as a festival of Christ’s birth, absorbing Roman celebrations for the sun gods Mithra and Saturn in December. God has always warned his people not to borrow or copy pagan practices (Deut. 12:29-32; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Such compromise with error is the work of “the man of sin,” the spirit of all who “depart from the faith” (2 Thess. 2:3-4; 1 Tim. 4:1).
Many such days have been designated by Catholicism through the centuries. Holy Days of Obligation are feast days other than Sunday on which Catholics are obligated to attend mass and abstain from unnecessary servile work. There are ten such days but the number in force varies from one country to another: Circumcision (of Jesus; Jan. 1), Epiphany (first manifestation of Christ to Gentiles, the Magi; Jan. 6), Saint Joseph (earthly father of Jesus; Mar. 19), Ascension (of Christ to heaven; 40 days after Easter), Corpus Christi (Christ’s body offered in the Eucharist; Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), Assumption (Mary taken bodily to heaven; Aug. 15), All Saints (Nov. 1), Immaculate Conception (Mary not inherit original sin; Dec. 8), and Christmas (birth of Christ; Dec. 25). God authorized none of this.
Holidays, Not Imposed Upon the Church
Holidays are not necessarily holy days, but some holy days have a dual status as holidays involving seasonal, secular, and customary activities not imposed upon the church. A number of these activities had their roots in religious associations which largely have been lost (just as the names of the days of the week originally honored ancient gods). Common U.S. holidays include New Year’s Day (first day of calendar year; Catholic holy day focused on events of infancy of Jesus; Jan. 1), Valentine’s Day (token of affection sent to one of opposite sex on anniversary of third century Christian martyr; Feb. 14), Easter (resurrection of Christ; first Sunday after first full moon occurring on or after Mar. 21), Mother’s Day (memorial honoring mothers began in West Virginia, then in churches of Philadelphia on May 10, 1908; proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914; second Sunday in May), Father’s Day (memorial honoring fathers began in Spokane, Washington in 1910; third Sunday in June), Independence Day (American colonies declared independence from England on July 4, 1776), Halloween (British tradition developed from All Saints’ or All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before Catholic “saints” are honored, originating 600’s-800’s to replace night druids feared god and spirits of wicked dead; Oct. 31), Thanksgiving Day (day to thank God for blessing families and nation, began in Plymouth Colony in 1621; proclamation by President George Washington in 1789, made legal holiday by Congress in 1941; fourth Thursday in Nov.), and Christmas (birth of Christ; Dec. 25).
Guidance From God
What does God teach us to do about holy days and holidays?
1. For the church to observe holy days not authorized by God dishonors God. We cannot obey God’s word by adding to or diminishing from its commandments (Deut. 4:1-2; Rev. 22:18-19). God’s faithful prophet cried out against King Jeroboam when he “ordained a feast” not ordained by God himself (1 Kings 12:32-13:2). One of the marks of men who “pervert the gospel of Christ” is that they teach men to “observe days, and months, and times, and years” such as Christmas and Easter (Gal. 1:6-9; 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-23). The church honors God by worshipping as he directs in song, prayer, and Bible teaching, and on the first day of the week giving and the Lord’s supper (Col. 3:16; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
2. Christians must avoid compromising with error by participating in holy days. God teaches us not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” by supporting their error but rather to “come out from among them, and be .. . separate, . . . and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:14-18; Rev. 18:4). Holy days ought not to be brought into a true church of the Lord, and Christians ought not go into digressive and denominational churches to participate in their holy days. Neither should Christians compromise by allowing their children to sing religious songs with instrumental music in school holiday programs, or to sing songs promoting holy day error even without instruments (such as songs teaching Christ was born on Christmas, Christmas honors Christ, worship of Mary, etc.). Rather than having fellowship with such activities, we should lovingly and firmly reprove them (Eph. 5:11).
3. Civil rulers, families, and individuals can acknowledge God without imposing holy days on the church. After King Darius saw Daniel delivered from the lion’s den, he proclaimed that all men should “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever,” but he did not propose a new feast day be added to God’s pattern of worship for the Jews like Jeroboam did (Dan. 6:25-26). We should pray that all rulers today will acknowledge and honor God both privately and publicly (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Jewish families banded together to form synagogues to teach God’s word in a setting similar to family devotions, but did not compete with the Temple worship by offering sacrifices or by calling Jews to Jerusalem for a new feast day. God approved the synagogue system, just as God approves of families providing religious training today without intruding on the work and worship of the church (Deut. 6:4-9; Luke 4:16; Eph. 6:1-4). Governments and families can thank God for his blessings on such occasions as Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day without imposing any of the trappings of a holy day on the church.
4. Christians must use caution in authorized liberties. Holy days are not authorized for the church, but most holidays in America can be observed on an individual basis where national, seasonal, and family activities are involved. Some people may confuse liberties with obligations. The scruples of new converts and weak Christians may make them feel obligated to offer special devotions to God on an individual basis on certain days until they learn better, but such acts must not involve sin or be imposed on the church (Rom. 14:1-6; 16:17-18). A person converted from Judaism or from a sabbatarian denomination might feel conscience bound to offer God certain devotions on Saturday. Those who understand such liberties should not compel the weaker Christian to violate his conscience.
We must remember the rule, “Let not your good be evil spoken of’ (Rom. 14:16). That is, we might do something that is technically right, but do it in a way which misleads others. We could violate that rule by causing someone to violate his conscience, or even by doing something that suggests approval of sinful error. It is right to eat meat, but if someone makes a point of saying the meat was used earlier to honor an idol, Paul said do not eat it lest people think we honor idols (1 Cor. 10:25-29). It is right to sing songs about the birth or resurrection of Jesus, but if young people are asked to sing such songs in Christmas or Easter programs at school, they should decline lest people think we honor such days as holy. Songs like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” are simply seasonal and leave no such impression.
5. Sin is still sin on holidays. Holidays do not justify willful absence from worship services, failing to give as prospered each Sunday, drinking intoxicants, or wearing immodest dress (shorts, swimsuits, tank tops, and other revealing attire in the presence of the opposite sex). Drinking parties, beach parties, extravagant spending, and other sins are very popular on certain holidays. Christians should stand out as beacon lights of purity in a world darkened by sin (Matt. 5:14-16).
God is not honored by perverting the gospel to add holy days but by obeying his word in worship as in all things (Col. 3:17). If we are in a church which observes holy days, we are not in a church approved by God. We leave sin and error by accepting the gospel of Christ. When our faith in him leads us to repent of our sins, to confess him as God’s Son, and to be immersed in water by his authority, our sins will be washed away in his blood. Then, we will learn to observe all things he commanded and to abstain from all other things (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 3:19; Rom. 10:10). Christians who err confess their sins and pray for forgiveness in order to be cleansed by Christ’s blood (1 John 1:7-9).
Guardian of Truth XL: 7 p. 16-18
April 4, 1996