Has the COG movement arrogantly taken over Jewish beliefs? Do you appropriate Jewish traditions by keeping the holy days?
… what species of arrogance does it take for an ostensibly Christian group to appropriate Jewish traditions, modify them, impose new meanings to fit in with their literalist eschatology, and then imply that they can teach someone else…?
~ an actual typical flawed anti-COG argument
Is the COG anti-Semitic? It is an old argument I have written about before, and it simply is even more flawed than the normal Protestant approach to “Jewish” holy days. What is it that sets the Sabbatarian Church of God movement apart from regular Protestantism? Well, you could name any number of items, but the most obvious is probably the fact that we keep “Jewish holidays”. It becomes obvious when asking for time off work or school at least once a year if not once per week for some who have to negotiate the weekly Sabbath. Does that mean we “appropriate Jewish traditions”? Does that make us anti-Jewish?
Yes, there actually are some (not necessarily the particular person I quoted above, at least that I know of) that will go so far as to state the Church is anti-Semitic because it mimics Judaism! This is the most ludicrous conclusion that can come from the flawed idea that we are somehow taking over, appropriating, Jewish traditions, when in reality they are not “Jewish” traditions at all. In fact, it ignores the very basic point that Christianity was originally a sect of Judaism. Most often, critics will charge that we run counter to centuries of scholars and Jewish rabbis, learned men, and therefore are not credible. People will even charge that we do not have the right to “change” the meaning behind the holy days and festivals. Naturally, this is an extension of their fundamental ignorance as to why the Church, now and in the first century, has run counter to the ideas of men. Most of all, however, it is simply just the other side of the all too human argument that Christians today do not need to keep these “Jewish” days and that everyone should do what is right in their own eyes.
The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
Every day, I shake my head at a culture that has lost its collective mind. The presidential race makes it obvious to the world that we have lost our way. The race has come down to two entitled candidates, people who act as though they can get away with murder, and we allow it! Insanity at many levels runs deep.
Not long ago, I heard about a teacher who criticized a white student for wearing dreadlocks. She accused him of trying to appropriate black culture. She accused him of a type of racial bias.
Well, perhaps he was biased, but in the opposite way she was implying! Whatever happened to “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? For that matter, whatever happened to common sense? Do people imitate others they hate or even dislike? Only if they are doing a parody! Otherwise, normal people imitate the fashions and ways of those they respect and like.
It is an extreme argument, and it doesn’t come up often because it is easily defeated.
It isn’t very often I encounter that argument, and frankly it is because it is downright stupid. It takes a real hater to make that charge. It is so beyond the pale that this verse adequately sums it up:
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
~ Pr 26:4
Are They Jewish Traditions?
Even the more reasonable argument that somehow you or I appropriate Jewish traditions fails the sniff test, though. It simply defies logic. It implies that they are Jewish traditions in the first place.
If anyone could be charged with such a charge, I suppose it would be the Messianic Jews and/or the Hebrew Roots movements. Even though the COG is often lumped into the Hebrew Roots movement, that is an incorrect application of the term.
Simply put, it assumes that the Jews got it right. It assumes that Jesus did not criticize the Jews of His day. It requires that one “get back” to Judaism. However, no one in the Church really declares that they are trying to be Jewish other than in a symbolic sense where the entire world, because only the faithful will ultimately be left, will become descendants of Abraham (Gal 3:6-7)!
More to the point, it assumes we are trying to be like the Jews! Simply put, we are not trying to be like modern Judaism at all, but what really is being missed here is that when it comes to the very basic point that there is only one true religion of YHWH, and Christianity is a continuation of the type of Judaism that Jesus and the Apostles kept.
The fact of the matter is that first century Christianity was virtually indistinguishable from contemporary Judaism. That is because Jesus and the Apostles were not trying to create a new religion!
You know, either Jesus was God in the flesh or not. This article isn’t going to attempt to persuade you He was, and the real fact is that if you are prejudiced against Christ there is no way to persuade you anyhow. Still, if He was God in the flesh, then it stands to reason that He would have given Israel the perfect religion to begin with. It would stand to reason that He railed against the religious leaders of His day because they had departed from that religion, not because He came to change it.
In fact, the reality is that 98% of all anti-COG arguments boil down to this: God is a flip-flopper Who cannot make up His mind on how to be worshiped, so He unjustly punished ancient Israel for not following some nit-picky laws and sent His Son Jesus to unfairly lift these “burdens” on succeeding generations.
In short, the traditional Protestant “god” is not one worthy of worship, but somehow the COG is wrong for giving God the benefit of the doubt that He says what He means and means what He says.
Of course, the critics don’t believe God. It was not a Jew who called them “Feasts of the Lord“, but God Himself (Lev 23). In order to appropriate Jewish traditions, one has to want to be a Jew. In reality, we in the Church of God are following what God said to do, not that we are trying to be like any other group of people.
In reality, I cannot think of anything more anti-Semitic than a “god” who would impose a bunch of nit-picky rules on the Jews and then punish them for not keeping them all the while letting everyone else do whatever they want. That is bias, that is discrimination and that is an unjust view of God.
True Christianity Is a Form of Judaism
At the heart of the matter, Wikipedia says of the so-called “Hebrew Roots” movement, in which it erroneously puts the COG into:
Joseph Good provides a good summary of religio-political history: “To support the Jewish people, or even Jewish customs, was interpreted as not being loyal to Rome…pressure was being put on Jewish believers from three sides: first, from the non-believing pagans who hated anything Jewish; second, from the non-believing Jews who feared their power among the people; and third, within their own congregations by the new gentile believers who were entering the faith already affected by the rampant anti-semitism.”
In short, it isn’t at all about co-opting Jewish traditions. It is about following what the Bible says to do, which is what the Apostles did from the start.
Christianity — even the name comes from the title given to a Jewish Messiah. Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. The original Church was Jewish!
4 Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words.
5 For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
~ Ac 24:4-5
22 But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.
~ Ac 28:22
In fact, Paul, whom many have misattributed as being anti-Jewish, never renounced Judaism in spite of the constant persecution he faced from many Jews of his time:
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:
~ Ac 26:4-6
People like Polycarp, who was a (very likely gentile) disciple of John, kept Passover and the Sabbath, and apparently other holy days (depending on how you interpret his only remaining writing), as he was taught even into the second century.
The truth is quite plain: True Christianity really is a continuation of true Judaism.
Running Counter to Jewish Scholarly Thought
The critics disbelief of the Bible don’t stop at the lack of believing what God says are His feasts. The critics apparently do not even read the Bible. They charge that anything that runs counter to centuries of scholarly and rabbinical belief. They charge that it is arrogance that makes one think that a less than a century old belief system knows more than all the experts through time.
Of course, that is the weakness of the argument, isn’t it? Not only is it most definitely not less than a century old, but the actual charge they level is just as old as true religion itself.
The Prophets Ran Counter to Common Thought
Again, it is obvious they either do not read the Bible or believe what it says. The OT prophets were not believed either. They were persecuted and even often killed for proclaiming that the people were doing wrong in God’s eyes.
The kings of northern Israel went as far as to establish their own religious system, which would have been the prevailing religious scholarly thought of their time. Yet, the Bible records that they were wrong in their thinking.
The scholars and experts of the southern kingdom weren’t much better. In fact, the experts of Jeremiah’s time seemed determined to do exactly the opposite of what Jeremiah proclaimed they should do.
Amos went one step further:
14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:
~ Am 7:14
Amos claimed no credentials. His credentials were that God had sent him. Perhaps some of these modern-day “prophets” could learn a little bit from Amos!
The patriarchs were prophets as well. Jacob was the youngest, not the oldest. Joseph was not the firstborn in his family, either.
Not only prophets, but judges were often the least in their family (cf Jdg 6:15). Some, such as Samson, were significantly flawed, even.
God does not usually call the brightest, strongest, richest, most charismatic or the most confident. More to the point, He often calls the average, the least one you would suspect, the unglamorous in order to correct the “experts”.
Jesus Was Not an “Expert”
Jesus was a rabbi, but He was apparently self-taught. Some believe He may have used the gold given to Him as a gift early on in order to take time out to study at the Temple where the books of the Law would have been.
However, He ran counter to the scholars of His day. What was their charge?
14 Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.
15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
~ Jn 7:14-16
Obviously, Jesus was “learned”, so their charge really is aimed at “He never learned from us, the experts.”
Basically, critics who make this particular charge are showing that they would have rejected Jesus as Messiah on the basis that He ran counter to prevailing religious thought garnered through the centuries. Not only did Jesus not conform to their ideas, He often criticized the so-called “experts”!
The Apostles Were Not “Experts”
The “experts” not only killed the Messiah they claimed to be looking for, but they persecuted the early Church. Over and over again, we see that the prevailing religious notions of the day are wrong and only a minority hang onto the truth.
On what basis did the “experts” criticize the disciples?
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
~ Ac 4:13
Amazingly, some things never change, and the criticism that someone is not a “learned” expert is as old as persecution against the true followers of God. Apostasy is the norm, and those who go against the grain and follow what the Bible says are the minority. The “experts” are many, but true followers are few. And, no wonder! Jesus Himself said so!
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
~ Mt 7:13-14
The truth is, if it is the accepted theology, if it is what the experts agree upon, then it is the wrong path!
Yeah, but You Change the Meaning of Jewish Traditions
This is the having your cake and eating it too argument. On the one hand, we supposedly appropriate Jewish traditions, but then we supposedly change their meaning. Even on the surface of it, there is an inherent contradiction. Either you are going along with Jewish tradition, or you are not.
The truth is, we are not going along with Jewish tradition any more than we are going along with traditional Protestant theology. We are going along with what the Bible says.
So, what about the meaning of the holy days? Do we have the right to re-apply their meaning?
First of all, this argument assumes we are the ones assigning the meanings, just as the overall argument assumes that they are “Jewish” days in the first place! The meanings of the days come about through a combination of fulfillment and revelation.
The Bible itself points to the Passover being fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. Even the “experts” acknowledge this! “We” did not assign this meaning; God did!
The Bible itself makes a link between the timing of Jesus appearing before God after His resurrection and the wave sheaf offering. That is why the passage of Him telling Mary to not embrace Him exists. It is the Bible that recognizes Him as the first of the firstfruits (1Co 15:20), and the wave sheaf is naturally tied to the Feast of the Firstfruits.
The Bible makes an obvious link between the giving of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. It is not we who tie that together, but the Bible!
From understanding God’s plan and the Holy Spirit, the rest follow naturally in line for those who are submissive to God’s will. It might not explain perfectly what will come to pass, but neither does prophecy. Rather, it gives us a general guide and signs to look for along the way.
It is by understanding those signs that we even have a warning message for the world. It is by understanding those signs that we have a message of hope for those who would believe.
Frankly, it is because we believe the Bible and not “experts” that we have any real hope at all in an obviously doomed world.
We have solid precedent for looking for spiritual meanings in physical holy days:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
~ 1Co 5:8
Here we see Paul solidly giving spiritual meaning to one of the feasts. This is an example that there are meanings to the feasts beyond the experiences of ancient Israel.
Why the Church Has the Right to Interpret the Holy Days
Rather than appropriate Jewish traditions, then, the Church adopts the feasts and the meaning of the feast from the Bible itself. Any other claim is simply a lie.
The early Church was persecuted by the Jews for heresy, for claiming Jesus was the Messiah and raised from the dead. So much for rabbinical experts. Then, the true believers were persecuted as “Judaizers” and “Quartodeciman” for following the real Passover and keeping the seventh day Sabbath by the actual anti-Semites of a counterfeit church.
What separates the real Church from traditional Christianity? Certainly, the holy days are the most obvious, but that isn’t the real thing that separates true Christianity from the counterfeit. The Apostles were given the Holy Spirit at the physical start of the Church. That is and always has been the difference (Ac 1:8; 2:38; 8:14-15; 19:1-6).
But, of course, the critics do not have the Holy Spirit, either, so they are just as blind as the rest of the world. Else, they would believe the Bible and believe God.
Jesus said that you must be called by God (Jn 6:44), and we see that all around us in this Babylon of religious confusion. It is not their time to understand, and it is not their time to be saved.
Holy Days Are Not Done Away
The simple fact is that Jesus did not come to do away with the Law.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
~ Mt 5:17-18
So, you either believe Jesus, or you do not. Take your pick. You can try to twist this passage many different ways, and I’ve heard a few, but in the end either the Law exists or it does not. If the Law has been “done away” or “nailed to the cross”, then in reality it has been discarded, destroyed, made null and void. If that is the case, then Jesus lied in the above passage, because one thing is certain: Not all has yet been fulfilled. Heaven and earth still stand, and Jesus has yet to return and rule.
The entire chain of the claim that “you appropriate Jewish traditions” really is just a flip-side of the argument that the feast days are not relevant for Christians today, that the Law has been done away. It is older than persecuting Christians for being “Quartodeciman” and keeping a fourteenth of Abib Passover instead of Easter. It contains arguments even older than that, that the “experts” are all right and the true followers of God are wrong.
Jesus summed up this attitude quite well in speaking of the religious authorities of His day:
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
~ Mt 23:13-15
Please allow me to count myself glad to run counter to the experts of today!