Worship: GCI Position on Annual Days of Christian Worship
For nearly two thousand years, the Christian Calendar of Worship has not included the festivals God gave to Israel. Of course the reality is that the days upon which we worship God do not give us salvation. In reality the days do not matter because they cannot confer nor maintain our salvation. A quick review of the historical issue may be informative for all.
God gave ancient Israel a lunar calendar based on observation with the high priest observing from the Jerusalem Temple in order to determine the precise timing of their festivals. We should not be reluctant to acknowledge that God ended that sacred calendar of ancient Israel with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, it wasn’t as easy for people to meet and listen to these passages. As a result, the Sanhedrin established a fixed, rule-based form of the calendar. Maimonides fully described the modern Hebrew calendar around the year 1178 CE. So we should understand, it was between 70 and 1178 BCE that the ancient observation-based calendar was replaced with one that was more calculated by mathematics. This is not something God sanctioned, nor does Scripture mandate this calendrical change.
We must acknowledge there is no scriptural mandate for this to have been converted from an observational calendar to a calculated calendar. Rather, it was accomplished by those who wanted to maintain Judaism within their Jewish culture. The Hebrew Calendar is used in modern times in the practice of Judaism for their religious observances, and this calendar is the official calendar of Israel, which requires official documents to have the Hebrew date on them. God does not require us to astrologically calculate the precise time to worship him throughout the year. Rather, we follow the scriptural example of honoring Jesus’ first coming, as well as his death and resurrection. Recall that even the angels sang and inspired all to worship Jesus’ birth as a new sign (Luke 2).
Therefore, in GCI we do not endorse or promote the ancient calendar of Israel, nor the Hebrew Days calculated by that obsolete calendar, and we do not host festivals related to these days. If we have active GCI members who choose to keep Jewish festivals on their own, or participate with non-GCI churches, we do not forbid this. These folks are welcome in our fellowship as long as they do not create division or cause discord in the matter of Hebrew days. We will continue to point people to Jesus, and our annual GCI Worship Calendar is what we endorse, promote, and celebrate.
The Christian Worship Calendar celebrates the saving acts of Jesus in our lives, whereas the Hebrew Calendar celebrates God’s blessed intervention in harvest seasons in Israel’s history. We may say that all the festivals of Israel pointed to Jesus, who would become our Savior and Redeemer. Now that he has come, we no longer celebrate that which points to him, rather we celebrate him in all aspects: his first coming, his life, death, resurrection, sending of the Holy Spirit and his ascension. Theologically speaking, the days don’t matter. Orthodox teaching affirms that worshipping on any day does not give you salvation. Only our Savior does that. Nevertheless, we must confess the most effective way to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior is pointing to what he has done and continues to do for us.
Not eating leavening during the Days of Unleavened Bread does not give or maintain salvation. Fasting on Yom Kippur does not give or maintain salvation. Jesus is the only one who gives and maintains our salvation. Our mission is to proclaim Jesus as Lord, Savior and soon-coming King in as clearest manner as possible. We point people toward Christianity, not to Judaism, which rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
“Faith Forward” is the theme for 2021, and as we focus on the Faith Avenue, it is beautiful timing for us to bring the members into a deeper faith and relationship with Jesus. We whole-heartedly place our attention on our Lord Jesus who was, and is, and is to come. We have moved from the shadows of an old covenant system that was for the nation of Israel and we now embrace the reality that is Jesus with his better promises of the new covenant for his bride, the Church.
(By Joseph Tkach, Board Chair / Doctrinal Committee Chair, and Greg Williams, GCI President, Doctrinal Committee Member)
Related article: Relationship of Worship Days to Mission and Vision