Speaking Sound Doctrine


Divine Worship

VIII.       Errant Worship Forms

A.          The Apostacy

Scripture reveals that religious error is born out of the desires of arrogant and self-righteous men having no love for the truth.  The apostles warned about an impending departure from the faith, which was in fact already at work in their day.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12  Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

We can only speculate regarding those about whom Paul is specifically referring, but there is little doubt that the Thessalonian Christians know exactly who or what he is talking about.  "The falling away" (verse 3) translates the Greek APOSTASIA {ap-os-tas-ee'-ah}, meaning "as a condition resulting from changing loyalties: revolt, desertion; as a religious technical term: apostasy, rebellion, defection, abandonment" (BTF).  Consider these sober warnings:

1 Timothy 4:1-3  Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

2 Peter 2:1, 2  But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

2 Peter 3:2-17  …Be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and… the apostles… 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts…. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.

Jude 1:4-21  17 But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: 18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts….

Paul warns that soon after his passing false teachers would arise even from among the overseers (bishops, pastors, elders) of the churches.

Acts 20:28-30  Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

The so-called early church fathers – ancient and influential theologians and writers – are accredited in secular history with establishing "the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity" (WP).  These men, many of whom were elders of the churches, wrote primarily during the first through the fifth centuries, and from their own words, we see the early adoption of human creeds by episcopal councils, and their writings are held as authoritative among men.

People forsake the truth for three reasons: ignorance, tolerance, and arrogance.

      The ignorant are unsuspecting, though perhaps having good intentions.  However, being deceived and unable to recognize the error, they follow the delusions of the lawless.

Hosea 4:6  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge….

      The tolerant recognize the error, but in cowardice, they are unwilling to stand against the voices of over-lording elders for fear of their power and threat of punishment.

John 12:42, 43  Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

      The arrogant only listen to what they want to hear and only accept what they want to believe.

2 Timothy 4:3-4  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

B.          Misunderstanding Praise

1.      Praise defined

We literally praise God by speaking of His majesty in preaching, singing, and praying.  However, in a figurative sense, we demonstrate praise to God by merely manifesting general deeds of love and kindness to others:

Philippians 1:9-11  And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

To explain, in the New Testament, the word "praise" often translates EPAINOS {ep'-ahee-nos}, meaning: "an expression of high evaluation… approval, commendation" (TBF), "approbation… as it were, a tale for another" (JHT).  It is a noun form of the verb AINEO {ahee-neh'-o}, meaning "1) to praise, extol, to sing praises in honour to God 2) to allow, recommend…" (JHT), "to speak of the excellence of a person, object, or event" (LN).  The usage in verse 11 is clearly figurative, because in doing the things mentioned, one is not literally with their voice expressing words of praise or telling a literal tale of God's glory, as in Luke 1:64; 2:13, 20; 18:43; 19:37, 38; 24:53:

Luke 19:37, 38  …the disciples began to rejoice and praise [AINEO] God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, 38 saying: "Blessed is the King…."

In the Old Testament, the word "praise" is often translating HALAL {haw-lal'} in the verb stem Piel meaning "…2b1) to praise 2b2) to boast, make a boast 2c)…" (BDB).  The same literal and figurative uses of this word also appear:

      Literally, with vocalized words:

Psalm 51:15  O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

Psalm 145:21  My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD….

      Figuratively, without vocalized words:

Psalm 69:34  Let heaven and earth praise Him, The seas and everything that moves in them.

Psalm 148:3  Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light!

The stars and the sea creatures do not have actual voices by which they can literally speak words of approbation.  In these verses, the Septuagint renders it as "AINEO," as previously defined.

2.      Praise misapplied

When statements in scripture which ought to be taken literally are applied figuratively or vice versa, lawlessness is the inevitable result.  For example, authority for instrumental music in worship today is proposed from a figurative application of the word "praise," as often cited in the Psalms:

Psalm 150:3-5  Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! 4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! 5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!

The logical argument would be presented as follows:

      Major Premise: The translators of the Septuagint use the word "AINEO" to include praising God with musical instruments.

      Minor Premise: The inspired writers of the New Testament use the word "AINEO" in reference to praising God in worship.

      Conclusion: Musical instruments may therefore be used for praising God in worship today.

The error of this reasoning resides in a logical fallacy of ambiguity called "equivocation."  Most all words in any language have more than one meaning, and the intended meaning will always be indicated by the context.  The fallacy of equivocation occurs when one word meaning is applied in the major premise of an argument and a different meaning is applied in the minor premise.  In this process, the logical inference between the major and minor premise is unfounded so that the conclusion thus derived is faulty.  Specifically, in the argument attempting to validate instrumental worship music today, the figurative usage of "praise" is applied in the major premise but the literal in the minor premise, making the argument invalid.

3.      The role of scriptural authority

There are other aspects of this that also need to be considered.  To explain, in the rules of figurative language, a statement ought to be taken literally if possible, unless it is somehow otherwise forced by the context.  In all the occurrences of AINEO and its kindred forms in New Testament scripture, it is never used in the figurative sense with instrumental music.

We must also remember that instrumental worship music under the Old Testament was performed, not because it was an expedient method of "praising" God, figuratively, but because it was ordered by a direct command from God through the prophets.

2 Chronicles 29:25  And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by His prophets.

The ordinances for worship under the Old Testament have been superseded today by the New Testament, and such a command for instrumental worship music is not found in the New Testament scriptures.

4.      "It is all to God's glory."

The performance of a talented instrumental musician is testimony, figuratively speaking, to the praiseworthy God who created music, instilled in human hearts an appreciation for it, and bestowed upon certain individuals its gift in special measure.  However, if instrumental worship music is authorized because it figuratively "praises God," then, by the same reasoning, the actions of any and every other talented performer should also be authorized for worship in the church: acrobats, jugglers, magicians, comedians, dancers, artists, and so on.  A racecar driver after winning a 500-mile race will sometimes say, "It is all to God's glory."  Seriously, God is not interested in motor racing.  There would be effectively no end to the carnal church activities for which scriptural authority could be hereby claimed, and this is exactly what we see today in the man-made religions of denominationalism.  For examples, with the assertion that it "gives glory to God:"

      Artisans create elaborate church murals, sculptures, and stained-glass windows.

      Architects build ornate church cathedrals and gardens.

      Choreographers compose church ballets and theatrical staged performances.

It should not be necessary to say more, but the following discussions involve some of the most prevalent additional worship practices in so-called Christian denominational churches today.

C.          Social Fellowship Is Not Worship

In Luke 14:7-24, Jesus offers instructions on feasts and celebrations and presents a parable.  However, not every reference to feasts, suppers, and banquets in scripture are necessarily instructions for special worship functions but on the activity of everyday life.  Because Jesus teaches about proper behavior in such occasions does not mean He is ordaining them as special worship activities in the assembled church any more than building towers (Luke 14:28) or making war (Luke 14:31).  We have already given much consideration to this in previous sections.  Worship is spiritual, not physical, social, or recreational.

D.         Sabbath Observance

1.      Origination of the Sabbath

The Ten Commandments given to the nation of Israel include the decree to "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8).  Those practicing Judaism today as well as some so-called Christian denominations still honor this command.  The task before us is to examine whether this ordinance is mandatory for us today.

In Genesis, God rested and ceased from all His work on the seventh day, and He blessed and sanctified that day, but nothing is yet revealed here how this is to be observed in practice.

Genesis 2:2, 3  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

The word translated "rested" is SHABATH {shaw-bath'}, meaning (verb stem Qal) "1a1) to cease 1a2) to rest, desist (from labour)…" (BDB, reference Nehemiah 6:3).

It is during the gathering of manna that we first see the word "Sabbath" in scripture indicating a religious observance for those wilderness wanderers.  "Sabbath" is a transliteration of the Hebrew SHABBATH {shab-bawth'}, which Strong indicates is an intensive form of SHABATH (to rest).

Exodus 16:23  Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance, a holy Sabbath to the LORD.  Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning."

Here, we begin to see that God's intention for Israel is that they rest from labor on this day.  Later, God formally establishes this as a divine ordinance within the covenant of Moses, explaining how the day was hallowed at creation by God resting on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-11).

From antiquity, the passing of time has been observed by periods of sevens (Genesis 7: 4, 10; 8:10, 12; 29:27).  It seems, incidentally, to be a profound testimony to creationism.  From the very first week, man has marked time by weeks, even by those not under the Law of Moses.  So today, our weeks consist of seven days, just like the six days of creation plus one in which God rested.  The seventh day, that is, the last day of the week, is clearly identified in Scripture as the Sabbath day.  It is the day we call "Saturday."

2.      A covenant change

Observance of the Sabbath was limited to those under the law of Moses: the Nation of Israel.  Gentiles, or non-Jews, were given no such divine ordinance to keep the Sabbath day holy.  We are all today under a new covenant.  The Hebrew writer explains at length that the former covenant, that is, the Law of Moses, is made obsolete:

Hebrews 8:7, 8, 13  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…." 13 In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Many other passages deal with the old covenant being no longer in effect.  The book of Galatians almost entirely deals with this.  Galatians 4:22–5:1 tells an allegory regarding Abraham's two sons.  The sons represent the covenants.  Isaac, the son of promise, represents the covenant of Christ.  Ishmael, the son of bondage, represents the covenant of Moses, of which, he says "cast out the bondwoman and her son," that is, to be no longer under obligation to observe the Law of Moses.  Along with Sabbath observance, the Law of Moses required animal sacrifices, circumcision, tithing, and many other special observances and ceremonies which are no longer required in Christ.  The letter to the Galatians makes clear in particular that circumcision is no longer a requirement.  The Gentile Christians who are coming into the church in those early days had not been keeping the Mosaic ordinances, and they are not required to do so to become Christians (Acts 15:23-29).  Neither are we.  Moreover, Paul writes to the same effect to the Colossians and specifically mentions the Sabbath observance as an ordinance set aside under Christ:

Colossians 2:14-17  …Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.  So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 

This matter is largely misunderstood today.  Many people are upset that the ten commandments are removed from our public schools.  However, the ten commandments are part of the Law of Moses, and as such, we are not actually under them today.  Before thinking this heretical, bear in mind that nine of the ten commandments are reiterated in the New Covenant.  Notably, the command to observe the Sabbath is not.  Nevertheless, it is sad to see the indication of a lack of moral and spiritual concern that characterizes our public schools today.

3.      That which is required

Now, if Sabbath observance is no longer a binding ordinance in Christ, then what are we required to observe today?  As we follow the journeys of the apostle Paul in the New Testament scriptures, we see him, upon arriving at some new city, going to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The indication is clear that he does this not to observe the Sabbath as a Christian ordinance but simply because that is where he will find God-fearing Jews assembled – ready-made audiences for gospel preaching (Acts 13:14-16).

As we look further, we see Christians performing special worship activities particularly on the first day of each week, Sunday, such as observing the Lord's Supper (Act 20:7) and contributing to the church treasury (1 Corinthians 16:1).  We also see early Christians singing (Ephesians 5:19), praying (1 Timothy 2:8), and preaching (2 Timothy 4:2) in their assemblies.  The scriptures are otherwise silent regarding any collective church function required on the Sabbath or even being connected with God's resting day in the creation week.  Where the scriptures are silent, we have no command to act.

For us today under the dispensation of Christ, the Sabbath rest is allegorical.  Hebrews 4:1-11 explains that God did not allow his people who rebelled in the wilderness to enter the promised land of rest (Psalm 95:7-11).  There is now a promised eternal rest in heaven after our work in this life is complete, but we are admonished to not rebel as they did so as to not enter that rest.

Hebrews 4:9-11  There remains therefore a rest [SABBATISMOS {sab-bat-is-mos'}] for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

E.          Oil Lamps, Burning Incense

1.      Old Testament requirements

Under Mosaic law, the provisions for oil lamps and burning incense in worship are divinely appointed with detailed specifications (Exodus 25:31-40; Exodus 30).  These continual priestly services in the tabernacle are later transferred to the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:4; 1 Kings 7:48, 49) and are still utilized in the Jewish temple service in the time of Christ (Luke 1:8-11). 

These appointments are given exclusively to the nation of Israel and never imposed upon the Gentile nations.  As noted earlier regarding Sabbath observance, these ordinances are merely types and shadows taken out of the way and superseded by the New Covenant, the substance of which is of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 8:4-6; 10:1).

2.      Symbolic significance

In Old Testament scripture, figurative implications appear and continue in New Testament scripture:

a.        Of lamps:

      The presence of God (Leviticus 24:4),

      Strength in the Lord (2 Samuel 21:17; 22:29),

      Guidance, protection, and salvation (2 Samuel 22:29; Isaiah 62:1),

      Life and prosperity (Proverbs 20:20, 27; 24:20; Jeremiah 25:10),

      God's covenant (1 Kings 11:36),

      Scrutiny and judgment of God (Zephaniah 1:12),

      Influence and proof of faith (Mark 4:21, 22; Luke 8:16-18),

      Preparedness (Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 12:35, 36),

      Discernment (Luke 11:34-36),

      Divine sanction of the churches (Rev 1:20; 2:5).

b.        Of incense:

      In homage as an appeal for mercy and atonement (Leviticus 16:12, 13),

      King David's prayer (Psalm 141:2),

      The prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8; 8:3, 4).

3.      Modern-day church practices

In the New Testament scriptures – our source of authority in religious practices today – there is not the first command, example, or inference of the Lord's church burning literal oil lamps or incense as ordained worship functions.  These elements are sometimes mentioned as a matter of coincidence (Luke 1:9-11; Acts 20:8) and sometimes figuratively, as cited above, but their actual use is not divinely appointed for the church.  Similarly, circumcision is also mentioned in the New Testament, literally as a Mosaic rite (Luke 1:59) or coincidence (Acts 16:3) and sometimes figuratively (Romans 2:25-29; Colossians 2:11).  However, it is not ordained as a religious rite today (Acts 15:24) but flatly renounced (Galatians 6:12-15).  Those who practice these things as worship in the church today are going beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6) and not abiding in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9).

Even so, many people today in denominations are following the commandments of men in error.  The burning of candles and incense in worship and as a religious rite is profuse.  Many different types of candles and incense along with their detailed procedures for implementation are prescribed in human creed books.  Moreover, the merchandizing of these articles is big business, reminiscent of the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:12) and of those who burn incense without authority (Leviticus 10:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 26:16-19).  These things ought not be.

Galatians 4:9-11  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. (NAU)

Colossians 2:18, 19  Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

F.          Shouting

Suppose at some point in a worship service, the leader would say, "Let's all make some noise for Jesus and give Him a big 'hooray,'" and the entire congregation breaks out in a roar like at a soccer game.  Again, someone might say, "Let's all stamp our feet for Jesus," and the auditorium is filled with the sound.  To validate the action, perhaps one would site the many verses in the Psalms that call for us to shout for joy before the Lord:

Psalm 98:4-9  Shout joyfully before the LORD, the King.... 7 Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell in it….

The phrase "shout joyfully" reads "make a joyful noise" in the King James version and translates the word RUWA` {roo-ah'}, meaning: "to shout, raise a sound, cry out, give a blast" (BDB).  This does not necessarily indicate unintelligible sounds but would include spirited singing and emphatic preaching.  Context always determines what shade of meaning applies, and in every case in the Psalms that this appears, the context involves literally and verbally praising God, especially in song, as discussed earlier at length.

Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 14:1-33, Paul explains in detail that our utterances in decent and orderly worship should only be in words that teach and have clarity and substance.

1 Corinthians 14:26-28  How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church.

Anyway, the typical motivation behind this would be for emotionalism, not instruction.

G.         Christmas

It is difficult to talk about Christmas from a biblical perspective, because there is no mention or insinuation of the observance of this festival in any form in all of scripture.  The descriptions that follow of the origin and perpetuation of the religious celebration of Christmas are taken from secular sources that are not bibliographically cited herein.  It is not the intent of this work to accurately teach the history of Christmas but to accurately teach the gospel as revealed in God's holy scriptures alone.  The fact that Christmas is religiously observed today by churches is already self-evident.  A brief yet casual review of the origin and traditions of Christmas will serve only to reinforce that it is founded upon the will and doctrines of men, not the word of God.

1.      The origin of Christmas

Records indicate that the earliest organized celebrations of the birth of Christ sprang up from the devotions and good intentions of some individual Christians in the second century AD.  The first celebration of Christmas in the church is recorded as occurring in 336 AD by appointment of the Catholic church in Rome, and it was promoted in other regions over the decades that followed.  Also, with no separation of church and state, Christmas carried imperial sanction as well.

The exact time of the birth of Christ was a matter of debate and conjecture in those days, and it is admittedly not known with certainty.  Knowledge of the precise date was ultimately considered irrelevant to the intended celebrations.  Some hypotheses for the selection of December 25 are indicated as follows:

      One hypothesis suggests that the date was chosen based on a prior unscriptural celebration of the conception of Jesus observed at the spring equinox, March 25, on the calendar then in use.  December 25 was nine months later, assuming a full gestation period.

      Another hypothesis suggests that the date of the winter solstice was selected as symbolic of Christ as our sun and a time after which the hours of light would continually grow longer.

      Yet another hypothesis suggests that the date was chosen to compete with the pagan celebration honoring the sun during the solstice.

There is debate on all these hypotheses, but the clear indication is that this was not by the ordinance of God, or else it would appear in scripture.

The inauguration of the feast of Purim by the Jews in Esther 9:17-32 ought not be compared to the inauguration of Christmas.  Purim was not a religious holiday, like Passover, but a national holiday in Israel celebrating peace and rest from their enemies, like Independence Day in the US.  Without religious significance, the feast of Purim did not undermine Mosaic law; likewise, Independence Day does not breach the doctrine of Christ.  However, the religious observance of Christmas is contrary to worship ordained by divine law in scripture and so is in a different category.

2.      The development of Christmas

As centuries passed, Christmas observances adopted many elements of existing winter celebrations, such as feasting, decorating, and gift-giving.  With the protestant reformation in the 1600s, some of the newly formed denominations adopted Christmas as a religious rite, and some sternly opposed it.  In the 1800s, through folklore and fables, Christmas was portrayed as a time of goodwill and family-centered merriment rather than Christ-centered homage.  This gave rise to widespread acceptance of Christmas as a secular, national holiday, its commercialization, and the inclusion of drunkenness and lewd behavior, which generated a plea in the 1900s from those still holding the religious aspect to "put Christ back in Christmas."  Today nearly all so-called Christian denominational churches celebrate Christmas as a religious observance.

3.      The commandments of men

The point of this is to demonstrate how the practices of man-made religion ebb and flow at the whim of human opinion or the desires of popular demand.  To the contrary, the order of New Testament worship that the Holy Spirit ordained in scripture has not changed, and we dare not assume that we can make improvements to it.

The wrong mode of worship offered to the true God is as much idolatry as is the right mode of worship offered to a false god.  Alternate worship modes are often substituted because they are more appealing to the carnally minded.  Several errant worship forms instituted out of convenience are observed in scripture.

Exodus 32:1-5  Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." 2 And Aaron said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me…." 4 And he … fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.  Then they said, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" 5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it.  And Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD [YEHOVAH]."

The people evidently see the image as their new god, but Aaron identifies it to them as worship to Jehovah God – right God but wrong worship form – invented by the need of the moment at the desires of the people.

At the time of Christ, the Pharisees are augmenting God's law with many traditions that they believe will bring them closer to God.

Mark 7:6-8  [Jesus] answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men – the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do."

Paul also deals with problems of man-made religious regulations in his ministry:

Colossians 2:20-23  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

This text involves forbidding activities that are divinely authorized, but it is applicable to allowing activities that are unauthorized.  Though religious Christmas celebrations today appear pious, like those things, they really do nothing to guard against carnal indulgences.  Some conservative brethren are of the opinion to be happy that at least in some small way more people are thinking about Jesus during the Christmas season, but it is fundamentally not possible to be led closer to God while not following Him.

H.         Easter

As with Christmas, it is difficult to speak from a biblical perspective about Easter among churches as a formal, annual celebration of the resurrection of Christ, because there is no reference or inference of this observance in any form in all of scripture.  This section of our study will be very similar to the previous section on Christmas for the same reason.  The descriptions that follow of the origin and perpetuation of the religious celebration of Easter are taken from secular sources that are not bibliographically cited herein.  It is not the intent of this work to accurately teach the history and rituals of Easter but to accurately teach the gospel as revealed in God's holy scriptures alone.  The fact that Easter and related celebrations are religiously observed today by churches is already self-evident.  A brief yet casual review of the origin and ceremonies of Easter will serve only to reinforce that it is founded upon the traditions and doctrines of men, not the word of God.

1.      The origin of the celebrations

Secular records indicate that the earliest celebrations of the resurrection of Christ occurred in the second century AD and that well-organized annual celebrations in the church came in the middle of the century.  There are also indications that these celebrations propagated out of the annual Jewish Passover feast.  Since the resurrection of Christ is the strongest evidence of His divinity (Romans 1:4), it is proposed that Jesus effectively gave new meaning to the Passover at His observance in Luke 22 to commemorate this, which was to continue in the church afterward.

Luke 22:15-16  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."

An attempt is made to bolster this "new Passover" continuation hypothesis from Paul's remarks in 1 Corinthians 5.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.  For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

These annual celebrations were called PASCHA {pas'-khah} in Greek, meaning, "1) the paschal sacrifice …2) the paschal lamb …3) the paschal supper 4) the paschal feast, the feast of the Passover…" (Luke 22:15, JHT).  This word is derived from the Hebrew noun, PECACH {peh'-sakh} (Exodus 12:11, 21), meaning, "1) passover 1a) sacrifice of passover 1b) animal victim of the passover 1c) festival of the passover," which is derived from the Hebrew verb, PACACH {paw-sakh'} (Exodus 12:27), meaning, "1) to pass over" (both BDB).

By traditions and interpretations of these New Testament passages, the Catholic Church established two separate sacraments: the Eucharist (what the Bible calls "the Lord's Supper") and the Festival of Pascha (what is called in English "Easter"), being "fulfilled in the kingdom" as a type of annual Passover continuation but with new meaning.

Please be aware that these descriptions of Easter exhibit some hermeneutical difficulties, which are now examined.

2.      Difficulties with the "new Passover" interpretation

a.        "Fulfill" does not mean "continue renewed"

The word "fulfilled" in Luke 22:16 translates PLEROO {play-ro'-o}, meaning, "1) to make full… 1a) to cause to abound… 2) to render full, i.e. to complete 2a) …so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure… 2b) to consummate… 2b1) to make complete in every particular… 2b2) to carry through to the end… 2c) to carry into effect… 2c1) …to perform, execute 2c2) of sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish 2c3) …to cause God's will… to be obeyed… and God's promises… to receive fulfilment" (JHT).

Words in all languages have multiple meanings, and the context will always indicate the proper nuance to be applied.  As we seek to understand what it means for the Passover to be "fulfilled in the kingdom of God," it is immediately evident that the concept of continuing with a renewed purpose is nowhere indicated in the definition.  Instead, with fulfillment, a ceasing is involved.  To illustrate, imagine putting water into a bucket.  Once the bucket is filled to the brim, no more water can be added, and the filling process necessarily ends.  This is the typical essence of the word in the New Testament, as shown in the following examples:

      Matthew 13:48 – Once the net is full, they stop filling it and come to shore.

      Matthew 21:2-4 – Once Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, He does not ride into Jerusalem on a donkey again.

      Luke 4:20, 21 ­– After Jesus stops the reading, He then declares that the passage is fulfilled.

      Acts 12:25 – When Paul and Barnabus complete their ministry in Jerusalem, they return to Antioch.

Jesus being the fulfillment of the Passover in the Second Covenant means that His sacrifice is one time for all time; He does not need to be continually sacrificed, as was the Passover lamb in the First Covenant, which is taken away.  This is fully developed in Hebrews 9:6 – 10:18.

Though related, the Passover and the Lord's Supper are two separate entities.  The Passover was merely the fitting time when the Lord's Supper was instituted.  The Passover was not given new meaning but only the bread and fruit of the vine.  Besides, if Jesus had intended to pronounce a continuing Passover celebration with a new meaning in the church, it would have been to remember His body and blood, according to His words.  If Jesus wanted an annual celebration of His resurrection, He would have said so, but He gave no such instruction.

b.        "keep the feast" is not "keep the Passover"

Paul extensively uses allegorical language in 1 Corinthians 5, explained as follows:

      Paul is not talking about the Passover feast here (verse 7).  The definition of PASCHA includes also just the lamb or its sacrifice exclusive of the feast, as the context indicates relative to Christ.

      Also, the leaven is not literal, as in bread, but refers to the fornication, malice, and wickedness abiding among them (verse 1, 2, 6-8).

      The feast is not with literal food but figuratively refers to feeding upon sincerity and truth (verse 8).

      They are to put away from among them this leaven of evil (verse 9-13).

This text does nothing to support the hypothesis of an annual, literal, Passover celebration with new meaning in the church.

c.        Old testament practices are abolished in Christ

Gentiles were never required to keep the Passover or the sabbath or circumcision or to abstain from unclean meat, and these elements are not extended to the church in any form or fashion under the new covenant in which we are now all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

Colossians 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 2:8-17  Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ… 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.  And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross…. 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Colossians 3:11  …There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

The Passover was part of the dispensation of Moses, and the Lord's Supper is part of the dispensation of Christ.  The two cannot be simultaneously in force due to a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12).

3.      The customs of Easter

According to scripture, the Passover was observed on the 14th day of the first month of their calendar (Leviticus 23:5).  Translating this to modern calendars is a challenge, because early calendars were based not only on the relative position of the sun but also on the phases of the moon and the barley harvest.  To standardize a date in later calendars, a council in 325 AD set Pascha on the first Sunday after the new moon on or after the spring equinox.

It was not until the eighth century that an English monk assigned the name in the Germanic language derived from the spring goddess of the dawn that was honored around the equinox, which later came into modern English as "Easter." 

We are made to wonder where the story of the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunting were derived.  This is not known with certainty, but one hypothesis is that prolific rabbits and eggs adopted from pagan worship rites would have been fitting symbols relative to the regeneration of Christ's physical body.  Other variant hypotheses are recorded, but none have any better plausibility than this. 

In Catholic doctrine, Easter is the culmination of a holy season up to 40 days long, which includes Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Good Friday, and they observe many other holy days not found in scripture.  It is noteworthy that the observance of Lent involves various forms of self-deprivation, such as fasting, which is directly condemned in Paul's admonition that man-made prohibitions, self-imposed false humility, and abasement do not bear the appearance of true wisdom or guard against fleshly lusts (Colossians 2:20-23).  God seeks our simple obedience in faith above all else.

1 Samuel 15:22  Then Samuel said: "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams."

4.      The commandments of men

Nothing in connection with any of this holds a place in scripture.  The purpose of this is to demonstrate how the doctrines of men are formed by speculations in the misapplication of scripture. 

We can be certain of this: if God wanted His church to ceremonially memorialize the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit would have revealed it to His first-century saints in scripture as a command, approved example, or necessary inference, as He did for the Lord's Supper.  Assuredly, the resurrection of Christ is the keystone of our faith.

1 Corinthians 15:14  .…If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

Because of this, we are commanded by our Lord to preach it (Acts 10:34-43).  This reflects the wisdom of God, which is greater than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 2).  It should be enough to preach the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the world as we are commanded, and we have no authority to add to this command.  "Preach" does not mean "institute a festival."  We are in no position to presume to invent a better way.

I.           Matters Of Conscience

Perhaps some individuals today observe the Sabbath merely out of tradition or heritage.  If someone has the opinion to observe any day by refraining from work, he has the liberty to do so, as long as the Law of Christ is not violated and he does not try to bind it on others. 

Similarly, some Christians today observe Christmas or Easter only traditionally as a secular holiday without a religious significance, engaging in family time, festive decorations, elaborate meals, seasonal songs, and gift-giving.  These things are wholesome and permissible, as they do not violate God-ordained worship forms.  The apostle Paul similarly participates in a vow of Jewish custom as a matter of coincidence in which is no transgression of New Testament doctrine or worship ordinances (Acts 21:20-26).

However, some Christians coming out of Judaism or denominationalism might be so accustomed to religiously celebrating the Sabbath, Christmas, or Easter that their conscience would be violated to not continue to do so.  Paul deals with matters of conscience extensively in his epistles, and he explains that if someone has the opinion to observe any day to himself in some special way or to refrain from eating certain meats, he has the liberty to do so, providing the Law of Christ is not violated and he does not try to bind it on others.

Romans 14:5, 6  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.

Paul further explains that if someone behaves in such a way that he believes he is sinning, even if he technically is not, to him it is sin. 

Romans 14:22, 23  Do you have faith?  Have it to yourself before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

It needs to be noted that Romans 14 concerns those who are weak in the faith.  Those who are weak might not yet understand that God no longer requires a cessation from work on Saturday or that God does not require a religious celebration of Christmas or Easter.  These individuals need time to grow and patient instruction in the scriptures to come to a more perfect knowledge of the truth. 

However, the celebration of the Sabbath or Christmas or Easter is nowhere revealed in scripture as a divinely ordained worship form for the church as a collective body.  To do so is to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6), to transgress the doctrine of Christ without God (2 John 9), and to come under the judgment of the Lord (2 Peter 3:7).



Copyright 2022, Speaking Sound Doctrine