Can we remain together when we observe different sets of worship days? If Christ is in us, we can. This may go against our human nature, but with Christ it is possible — even imperative — to love people who have different opinions and practices on this topic. Let me point out some basic principles:
- Paul says that worship days don’t matter (Rom. 14:5). That applies equally to Easter, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Tabernacles and Christmas. None of these days are so important that they should cause animosity between members. If we have the “right” day of worship, but the wrong attitude, we gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
- In Christ, we are free to meet on any day of the week, any day of the year. But no matter when that is, we are to preach Christ, not the day. Our worship and our messages must focus on him, not on the day. People who observe one day are not necessarily better or more obedient than those who observe another.
- The focus is on Christ. We worship him, and we commemorate salvation in him. Traditional Christian holidays do that more directly than traditional Jewish festivals do. In Western nations, almost everyone knows that Easter commemorates Christ’s resurrection, whereas almost no one has heard of the Feast of Tabernacles as a Christian holiday.
- The Old Testament tells us that the Israelite festivals picture the Exodus from Egypt, and the Israelite harvest seasons. Colossians 2:16-17 tells us that they also foreshadowed Christ, but this was in an indirect and undefined way. The entire old covenant ritual system foreshadowed Christ (Heb. 10:1), but different rituals pictured different aspects of spiritual redemption. After Christ, we can look back and see points of parallelism, but it is difficult to start only with the Old Testament rituals and from them get a clear picture of what Jesus Christ would actually do. Some details had significance, and others did not. The Old Testament does not give us a clear picture. Perhaps it would be like trying to determine the color of an object by the shape of its shadow.
- The principle of the old covenant days was that God’s people were to commemorate the saving events in their history. The same is true for Christians today. The Israelites looked back to a physical salvation, but we look to a far more important spiritual one. We look back not so much to the Exodus, as to Jesus Christ, specifically his crucifixion and resurrection, and also his birth. His crucifixion is vital to our salvation, his resurrection is vital to our faith, and the birth of Jesus was a cause for celebration among the holy angels.
- The early church apparently worshiped at the temple on the festivals — with no complaint from Paul. He did not castigate the Jewish believers for any deficiencies in their understanding. Paul strongly objected to seeing the old covenant days as requirements for gentiles, but he seems to have no objection to them as options. Paul felt free to go into the temple, and free to preach on Sunday.
- Since days do not matter, we offer worship services according to the needs of our members, and the needs of the people we hope to reach. It means that most congregations will offer worship services for Easter and Christmas. Our desire throughout is 1) that Christ is preached and 2) that no one judges others because of the days they observe.
- Every pastor will lead in such a way that Christ is honored, preached and taught. That means pastors will not be teaching that old covenant days are in any way required or expected, or that keeping them is an act of obedience to God.
- A smaller and smaller percentage of our members prefer our old traditions, and an increasing percentage observes traditional Christian days. Wherever and whenever we gather as God’s people, we have an opportunity to preach and worship Christ!
Christ should be our focus. As we draw closer to him, as we become more like him in love, days on a calendar will decrease in significance. The days on the calendar are useful for worship, but they are not our primary goal. Our goal is not to force one set of days in, or to force another out — our goal is to lead people to Christ, and to let him live within us, to let his attitudes dominate us — attitudes of love, of respect for others, of humility, of being God-focused. Our sense of community, our devotion to fellowship within the church, must be based on these internal truths, not the external matter of considering one day better than another. Which days will better lead people to Christ?