A Thorn That Refuses to Be Extracted – To Keep or Not Keep Festivals

More holy days for Adventists?

This is a question that has been a thorn for Adventist leadership since the late 1930s when Herbert W. Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God. Today, it’s almost as heated a topic as another that’s been stirring up discussion since the 1950s—whether or not the church accepted the 1888 message.

It doesn’t seem to go away. No amount of effort seems to be able to extract this thorny question. It just festers and festers.

Could this possibly be because in Leviticus 23 it repeatedly says that these are the festivals of the LORD and many Seventh-day Adventists feel they should take God’s word at face value? Or is this a thorn because Evangelicals have it right? Was all this stuff nailed to the cross? With so many questions, I can’t answer them all. So I’ll address the points brought up in a recent Adventist Review article.

In the article by Roy Gain in the weekly Adventist Review (May 17, 2012), Gain says that these festivals celebrate the lordship of the God of Israel. There are some thought provoking comments in the article that are worth our consideration. Gain points out that we cannot keep the festivals because we cannot go up to the temple.

Which Temple?

It is appropriate that today it is not possible for us to travel to a temple in Jerusalem, for was not the literal Jerusalem a type of the heavenly Jerusalem to which no Christian today can literally travel. Yet, we as Seventh-day Adventists have long taught that we are living in the great anti-typical Day of Atonement. We believe that we enter into the sanctuary that was not made with hands—the heavenly anti-type.

Gain also points to the fact that after the loss of the temple, Jews have adapted their keeping of the festivals. He calls this “a lively and powerful system of celebration and teaching designed to preserve the memory of God’s mighty acts from one generation to another (compare Ex. 13:8). But such adaptations should not be confused with the biblical manner of festival observance, which has animal sacrifice at its core.”

What Was the Core of the Sacrifices?

Gain is correct. Sacrifices were a core part of the sanctuary types that pointed to the way of salvation. The question we must ask is this “What was each sacrifice pointing to?” Jesus! We believe that Jesus is our sacrifice, and as we enter boldly before the throne of grace, we present that sacrifice instead of an animal. We claim it. We identify with it. Thus adaptation is a core component of bringing the truths of the sanctuary into the vital Christian experience. Type meets anti-type. We don’t evade the truth taught through the type. It is applied in our lives as we accept our position in Christ. This is Paul’s core message.

Blessings Versus Curses

We have missed great blessings by not recognizing that God’s ordained calendar can be a hedge about us, especially our children. When the purpose and focus of each festival is remembered on a yearly basis, it is far more difficult to forget what the plan of salvation is really about, both past and future aspects. This was the purpose of these Festivals of the LORD.

When I was a child, I heard much discussion upon the Day of Atonement. By the time I was in college, it had been relegated to Bible class. Not once in four years at an Adventist college did I hear a sermon on the topic. I heard many sermons on righteousness by faith. Maybe I wasn’t hearing, but I never connected this truth with the sanctuary. Aren’t the two inseparably linked?

In the thirty plus years since, it has been rare to hear a sermon on this topic. If we had embraced an annual remembrance of this truth so core to our faith, I cannot believe we would have so many—young people to adults in my generation—who have no idea what Adventism is all about.

We’d know why we put off jewelry and the drinking of alcohol. Instead, we are a church that has lost much of its distinctness. It’s easy to walk out the door into another “faith-based” fellowship because there doesn’t seem to be much difference.

We’ve been cursed with the loss of so many of our children. Could it be because we’ve overlooked this teaching tool that can lead both our children and ourselves into deeper gratitude for what God has done for us?

Difference Between “Have To” and “Want to”

We don’t “have to keep the festivals.” But I ask myself how many blessings have I lost over the years by not embracing God’s desire to remind me through a yearly schedule of what He has done and will do for me. Case in point: I’ve heard many an exciting sermon, that I thought I would never forget. Years later, I’ve slipped that camp meeting CD into my stereo again, and it has seemed like a new message. This is why I personally have embraced God’s yearly cycle. I don’t trust my memory!

Is “More holy days for Adventists?” the question we should be asking? Why not ask, “What could God want to teach me?” As spiritual children of Israel, could these appointments deepen our experience of His glorious salvation so it reaches deeper depths than ever before? That’s something I want. And it’s something I can personally say these appointments have delivered.

I don’t have to keep the festivals to be saved, yet I do think showing respect for them might make God’s job of reproducing His character in me a bit easier. Embracing the weekly Sabbath (as a sign of my confidence that He who has created and redeemed will never fail to sustain me) draws me into fellowship with Him. Could God’s appointed times do the same?

Why wouldn’t we want to restudy each aspect of salvation systematically from year to year—especially the day we consider the birthday of Adventism? And why not use God’s calendar to do it?

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