Letter to friends and associates regarding religious holidays*
Why we do not celebrate holidays
15 December 2000 (Rev. 17 December 2003)
*Note: This letter was composed by and reflects the views of James and Laura Hilston and is not officially representative of the views of TGF assembly or its officers.
To our friends and associates:
If you have been referred to this link, it is probably for one of two possible reasons: (1) We have recently met you, and wish to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding of our position on holidays, or (2) we have already had an awkward encounter and hope that this will clarify the reasons why we do not celebrate religious holidays.
The aim of this letter is to explain our actions and convictions regarding holiday observances, celebrations, traditions, etc. Our desire is that this letter will provide a foundation of understanding from which future discussion may be developed, but only if you are so inclined.
This letter consists of two parts:
- The practical issues concerning our participation in family and social functions on religious holidays
- The theological details regarding the observance of religious holidays
Part 1: The practical issues concerning our participation in family and social functions on the holidays*
*Please note that "holiday" comes from "holy day." We use these terms interchangeably throughout.
Definition of what it means to celebrate/observe a holiday:
Celebrating/observing a holiday involves doing anything distinctive, special or exclusive by reason of the holiday.
Holidays we do not observe:
- Feast of unleavened bread
- Pentecost (or Pentecost Sunday)
- Feast of Weeks
- Day of Firstfruits
- Feast of Harvest
- Rosh Hashanah (Day of blowing trumpets)
- Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
- Feast of Tabernacles/booths
- Halloween (All Hallow's eve)
- All Saints Day
- Festival of Lights (Hanukkah)
- Christmas Eve
- Fast of Esther
- Feast of Purim
- Ash Wednesday
- Assumption of the Virgin Mary
- Ascension of the Lord
- Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
- Holy Thursday
- Good Friday
- Holy Saturday
In addition to these is any observed holiday that is artificially made to be religious. One example might be if the 4th of July day were made into a religious holiday - if it included prayer, scripture reading, religious symbolism, religious decoration and church attendance as part of its celebration. This may sound ridiculous to some but we've seen this "christianizing" of holidays done on numerous occasions.
Why these holidays?
The above holidays are religious by nature, origin, and/or practice and are not, according to the Scriptures, to be celebrated by members of the Body of Christ. (See section 2 for details and biblical position concerning this issue.)
What to expect regarding our behavior during and on the holidays:
(Please note that following list will apply to our children as well until they are adults, at which point they will decide for themselves whether or not to follow this proscription)
- No giving or sending of holiday greeting cards
- No participation in holiday meals
- No holiday greetings:
- "Happy Easter," "Merry Christmas," "Happy Halloween," etc.
- No participation in holiday gift exchanges
- No attendance of holiday church services
- No participation in holiday traditions:
- Visiting Santa
- Visiting Easter Bunny
- Easter parades
- Easter egg hunts
- Easter baskets
We recognize that gift-giving is important to many people on certain holidays, but it can be very awkward and uncomfortable when we are offered gifts on the holidays we do not celebrate. While we would not want to insult anyone by rejecting a well-meant gift, we can only politely decline and hope it will be understood that we would rather not receive gifts on such occasions at all.
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Part 2: The theological details regarding the observance of religious holidays
Israel, God's chosen people
The history of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel is rich with ceremonies, feasts, fasts, rituals, sacrifices, and holy days.
According to Israel's Biblical history, these practices were instituted and mandated by God in the Law of Moses. Israel at one time was God's chosen people and as such, he gave them specific and detailed instructions on how to understand, worship and represent their God through ceremonial practices expressed in nearly every area of their daily lives. From the clothing they wore, to how they dealt with disease; from settling disputes, to the cooking of their food; from birth to death, ceremonies and rituals regulated their activities -- daily, weekly, and yearly. It is especially important to note that God's angels were intrinsically involved in these ceremonial activities, rites and holidays. The angels functioned as mediators between God and men. In fact, the Bible teaches the Jewish people were governed by angels as commissioned by God. Scripture tells us that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai through the mediation of angels (see Ga 3:19 Ac 7:35,38,53 He 2:2).
Throughout the Jewish calendar year, the Israelite people were required by the Law of Moses to keep certain religious holidays. These, and only these (see Judges 8:24-27 17:3), were to be celebrated with the utmost care and attention to details. Failure to participate in these holidays and carelessness regarding the observance of the Law of Moses were considered defiance against God and was sometimes punishable by death. Israel's relationship with God as a nation was inextricably dependent on these practices and they were repeatedly warned against straying from them. Furthermore, through his prophets, God made it clear to Israel that they were not to partake of the religious holidays or customs of the pagan nations (Jeremiah 10:3-5).
Deuteronomy 4:1,2"Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do [them], that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."
At the time of Christ (Greek word for "Messiah" that means "anointed one"), God's requirements had not changed. Jesus, Israel's promised Messiah, came to teach the gospel of the Kingdom (gospel means "good news" or "good message") to the Jews of his day. This gospel concerned the long-standing promises to Israel and her future Kingdom and the righteous standards by which it was to be governed. But the Jewish leaders had, over time, distorted and added much to the Law of Moses. This corruption of scripture resulted in an oppressive yoke upon the Jewish people (Mk 7:5-9, 13 Mt 23:13 Lu 11:52).
Jesus, as Israel's long-awaited Messiah, faithfully and consistently kept the Law of Moses and commanded his disciples to do so (MT 8:4 23:1-3, 23 Mk 1:44 7:10 10:3 Lu 5:14 16:29). He criticized and pronounced judgment upon those who had distorted the Mosaic Law and refused to acknowledge who he was. The gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was in full accordance with the Mosaic Law. His message was distinctly Jewish and directed to the people of Israel and their proselytes (converts). Jesus' teaching was always concerning the kingdom of God on earth as proclaimed by Moses, which will someday be reestablished in and governed from the Land of Israel (Gen 22:17 Isa 45:14 60:1-16 Zech 2:10,11 8:20-23 14:16-19 Mic 4:1,2).
After Jesus was executed, entombed and resurrected, he commanded his disciples to go out and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom to the nations about the kingdom; to baptize them and to teach them all that he had commanded them (adherence to the Law of Moses; See Mt. 28:19,20 and the references in the above paragraph, first sentence).
Paul & the Body of Christ
As stated above, at the time of Christ, the Jewish leadership was corrupt, had distorted the Law of God, and rejected their Messiah. Jesus pronounced judgment on that generation and, as a result, the Jewish nation was temporarily set aside until a future time when God will again establish Israel as the Kingdom of God on earth (Mic 4 Amos 9 Jer 3:17 Ps 86:9 MT 19:28 Lu 22:30 Col 2:17 He 8:5). Once Israel had been officially set aside (Ac 13:14-52), the apostle Paul, in accordance with the private instruction and commission of the risen Lord (GA 1:11-20 2Co 12:1-4), began to openly preach a new, unprecedented gospel. This message Paul learned directly from the risen Jesus (i.e. not from the other apostles, Gal 1:11-12,16-17) was fundamentally different from that which Jesus taught His apostles (GA 2:7). In fact, this gospel (called the Mystery) had been kept secret, held in silence, from the foundation of the world (Ro 11:25 16:25,26 1Co 2:7 Eph 1:9 3:3-9 5:32 6:19 Col 1:26-27 2:2 4:3 1Ti 3:9,16). It was revealed to Paul that he would be the one who would bring the Mystery to the world (see references below).
The other New Testament writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, and Jude) addressed their letters to a Jewish audience, teaching them about Christ's life, all the things Christ commanded while on earth, and about Israel's future as a kingdom/nation. Paul's audience comprised believers of many ethnic backgrounds, yet he recognized no ethnic distinctions (Eph 2:14-16 1 Co 12:3 GA 3:28). He preached a distinctly non-ceremonial and non-symbolic gospel, very different in content from the gospel taught by the twelve apostles. The observance of religious ceremonies and symbolism was forbidden by Paul, including water baptism, circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, dietary laws, religious meals, fasting, etc. The hope (future expectation) of Israel was to dwell in and possess the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ge 50:24 Ex 6:8 33:1 De 1:8), whereas the hope of the Body of Christ is to be seated with Christ in heaven (Eph 1:20 2:6). Paul called his teaching to the Body of Christ "my gospel" (Ro 2:16 16:25 2Ti 2:8 cf. 1Co 4:1 9:17 Col 1:25 1Ti 1:11 2:7 6:20 Tit 1:3)
There are many differences between the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Gospel of the Body of Christ. Here are just a few:
|Gospel of the Kingdom||Gospel of the Body of Christ|
|Israel's future is a kingdom on earth (GE 12:1-3 Deu 30:1-10 Isa 60:1-16, see also the section on One Hope in the Seven Ones study)||The Body of Christ's future is in Heaven (Eph 1:20 2:6)|
|Israel was a favored ethnic nation (Isa 45:14 Zech 2:10,11 8:20-23 Mic 4:1,2; See also the section on One Body in the Seven Ones study)||The Body of Christ is non-ethnic (Ro 10:12 Gal 3:28 Col 3:11)|
|Israel was governed by angels (See many references to angels in Israel's scriptures compared to the very few references in Paul's writings; See also sections on One Spirit and One Lord in the Seven Ones study)||The Body of Christ will govern angels (1 Corinthians. 6:3; 13:1) and are not to worship them (Col 2:18).|
|The Jews were required to observe many baptisms (Heb 6:2 Ac 19:3,4 Ex 2:5 19:10,14 29:4,17 30:18-21 40:12,30-32; See also the section on One Baptism in the Seven Ones study)||For the Body of Christ, there is only ONE baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, i.e. no water baptism (Eph 4:5 1Co 1:17 cf. MT 28:19,20)|
|Israel's relationship with God was demonstrated through keeping religious ceremonies, holidays, feasts, etc. (See entire book of Leviticus; see also the section on One Baptism in the Seven Ones study)||The Body of Christ is forbidden to participate in religious ceremonies, holidays, feasts, etc. Participation in these is considered the angel worship (Col. 2:16-18, Gal. 4:10,11).|
The following are some extended passage that address several of the issues above: Ro 10:5-10 GA 4:7-11 Col 2:8-23. In addition there are many exegetical studies available in hard copy, on audio tape and downloadable from the TGF website, www.tgfonline.org.
Conclusion and summary
The Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God to his people. Parts are written to his people of the kingdom of Israel. Parts are written to his people of the Body of Christ (Paul's epistles). All of scripture profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul clearly teaches us that believers today are members of the Body of Christ and are to follow his gospel and not the gospel of Kingdom (1Co 11:1,2 4:14-17 Php 3:17 1Th 1:5,6 2Th 3:7-9). Members of the Body of Christ are to live according to Paul's gospel, and are forbidden to participate in religious holy days, ceremonies, symbolisms and rituals. To participate in these practices not only misrepresents Christ, who is Head of the Body (Col 1:17,18), but also violates the created order by the worshipping of angels (see notes above). It is a denial of the believer's biblical role as a member of Christ's Body and is disobedience to the Word of God.
We realize that these things are difficult, potentially divisive, offensive, and may result in hurt feelings. Humanly speaking, for the sake of those we love and care about, we wish that things could be different -- that we could set aside these issues for the sake of friendship and relationships. But as members of the Body of Christ, we simply cannot violate our consciences and the clear directives of the Bible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. We are eager to further explain anything that may not be clear and to hear your views as well. It is our aim that the information contained in this letter may assist in bringing us closer to a mutual understanding and to be a starting point for future discussion, but only if you so desired.
Jim and Laura Hilston and family James Hilston (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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