Easter/Pascha: Bobby V, Theology and Freedom … Part OneAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Bible, Bobby's World, Christian hope, Church, Church History, Culture, Easter, Hermeneutics, Jewish Backgrounds, Patternism, Restoration History, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship
Who does not love a holiday? Our society is saturated with them. We celebrate Presidents Day. Independence Day. Thanksgiving. Halloween. St. Patrick’s Day. Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day. New Years Eve. Martin Luther King Jr Day. In some places I have lived I found out what Confederate Veteran’s Day was. Jefferson Davis’ Birthday and others. Holidays are welcome.
But I grew up in a religious tradition that was conflicted on days like Christmas and Easter. We lit our trees in our homes, sang Christmas carols and were filled with joy. We bought new clothes, had baskets with chocolate and painted eggs. Then we would go to “church” and have sermons on why “real Christians” do not celebrate Christmas or Easter. To say I was confused by some of these things as young person is an understatement.
Why? Because there was no “authority” for it. By observing either we would actually sin! “Apostate” churches observe such “man made “traditions.” So it is a great irony that Churches of Christ were actually secularists, at least as far as the Editor Bishops were concerned. It was totally ok to participate in the Civil Religion of the state by “worshiping” on its holy days like Independence Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day, etc. I continue to find this astounding and many do not even realize that we are withdrawing the presence of God from “time” rather than filling “time” with the Holy God.
But I do choose to celebrate not only Easter and Christmas but generally follow the Christian calendar in structuring my life. I have written on the importance of the notion of time in the Bible and how God structures time in a calendar. In my view this teaching is part of sound and healthy doctrine and I have explored it in this blog: Lent: Theology for Ash Wednesday & Bobby V. That article can help inform this one.
Why Do I, Bobby Valentine, exercise the Christian freedom to celebrate Easter/Pascha as a holy day?
Because of … Good Biblical Theology
Because I believe 2 Timothy 3.15-16 actually means what it says. Restorationists cite this text all of the time to establish the authority of the Bible (and rightly so). The irony is that they then functionally deny the authority of the very Scriptures to which 2 Tim 3.15-16 refer; the “Old Testament!” But I believe Paul meant what he said.
Have you ever noticed how stunningly little the New Testament documents actually say about the Lord’s Supper, the most central act of Christian worship? A brief window opens on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians. There is not a single reference to the Lord’s Supper in the writings of James, Peter, Jude, and John. None. In Paul’s epistles it not mentioned a single time in Galatians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians. He never mentions it even in Romans or 2 Corinthians. There is only one letter in the entire NT that says anything overtly about the Lord’s Supper and that is 1 Corinthians. And the only reason it is mentioned in 1 Corinthians is because there was a controversy about it. What we learn from the Lord’s Supper and Corinthians is what we see in other places in the early church, things are often never mentioned in the extant writings until and because there is a “problem” with the item. There was no need to write about something that everyone was already doing. The exorbitant cost of writing in the ancient world precluded mere musings on unnecessary things.
In fact what is true about the Lord’s Supper is true of the other so called “Acts of Worship” I grew up on. There is virtually nothing said regarding any!! … so do we argue from silence and say the early Christians did not worship? Some have argued such absurdities precisely because they do not listen to the whole orchestra, as the saying goes. What we have are fragments of early hymns (if there are hymns then someone sang them!) recontexualized into the Epistles. When we do get some insight into early church worship it is surprisingly Jewish in character even in Gentile congregations. In Acts we see that the church followed THE hours of prayer and participated in the temple worship (I know this bugs many people but it is still a fact that is as brilliant as the sun. See my blog They Continued Steadfastly in THE Prayers, Acts 2.42), the Festivals of Unleavened Bread/Passover and Pentecost retained importance for no less than Paul (Acts 20.6; Acts 20.16; 1 Cor 16.8). The book of Revelation uses the word “worship” more than all of Paul’s epistles combined and its depiction of worship is deeply “Old Testament” in character (see my blog Revelation: The NT’s Most Ignored Book & Worship).
The worship language of the NT comes, without exception, from what we call “The Old Testament.” I have come to the conviction that the NT does not say much of anything about worship because it was never an issue in the early church. The first believers in Acts 2 had worshiped the One True God all of their lives, it was not a new concept. Paul, James, John, etc already knew what worship was. Some draw radical – and wrong – inferences from Galatians or parts of Romans when it addresses the issue of Gentile JUSTIFICATION (not worship) and apply them to everything. They then argue that the Hebrew Bible has nothing to teach about Christian worship. This creates conflict with the practice of the very Apostle that wrote those letters! It seems to me that if the Spiritual treasures of Israel are now the inheritance of Gentiles because they are by grace grafted into Israel … like adoption, the oracles of God (certainly a reference to the “Old Testament), the divine glory, the promises, the covenants … if these are all now part of Gentiles because they are also sons and daughters of Abraham than why would the one item of “the worship” (Romans 9.4) have no relevance to Gentiles?
Because I believe in the example of Jesus. Jesus was completely immersed in the worship (both corporate and individual) of Israel. Luke tells us that he grew up attending the festivals and as an adult worshiped in the synagogue each Sabbath habitually (Lk 4.16). Interestingly enough, Luke tells us that Paul (using nearly identical language) went to synagogue “as was his custom” (Acts 17.2). Jesus participated in the worship of Israel by attending the festivals of the Sabbath, Passover, Weeks/Pentecost, Tabernacles and Dedication. The fact that Jesus participated in Hanukkah drives many to some amazing mental gymnastics but by far the simplest and most straightforward reading of John is that Jesus participated in Dedication (John certainly uses imagery from the festival and the Hebrews preacher pronounces the world not worthy of the Maccabean martyrs so those who deny Jesus did this I find guilty of massive special pleading). Jesus refused to let secularism rule the rhythm of his life. The fact that Jesus, the supreme example, ordered his own life according to the rhythm of this wisdom of festivals weighs heavily upon me. Jesus even felt utterly free to honor his Father by observing the Feast of Dedication better known as Hanukkah. Please see my blog Jesus the Jew & Hanukkah.
Because of … Free Will Worship
Because I believe in the principle of “free will” worship. Throughout the Hebrew Bible we find grateful Israelites offering Yahweh spontaneous and even unauthorized worship! If the Lord is “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (Deut 10.17) then worship simply flows because he is worthy not only because we are commanded! In fact the gracious Law of Moses built loving free will worship into its very fabric. The first three chapters of Leviticus are all about non-required, FREE will, sacrifices that allowed an Israelite to return joyous gratitude and worship to God for salvation simply because he/she wanted to. These chapters are about spontaneous worship.
In the Wilderness (i.e. Numbers) some Israelites were “unclean” and thus forbidden to worship in the Passover (9.1-8, v.6). These unclean Israelites took upon themselves the initiative and sought a change in the law (!). So the Lord granted a worship mulligan!! Moses is instructed to tell these unclean Israelites that it was not God’s intention to ban them from worship! So they were given permission, imagine this, to have a second Passover!! But not only are the Israelites invited to this feast of grace but so are the “aliens” (non-Israelites were initially excluded!) What a story the speaks to the heart of God (Numbers 9.9-14) .
These free style abnormalities continue with the Passover. Hezekiah called Judah, and the remnants of the northern kingdom of Israel, to celebrate Yahweh’s grace in a lengthily told account. The inspired author flat out states the whole affair was technically unbiblical (this one story destroys the notion of salvation by precision obedience) in the sense that it was not “authorized” (see 2 Chron 30.18). But like the folks in Numbers these Israelites were motivated by gratitude and “humbled themselves” (30.11, interesting words for people who broke the law! I grew up calling doing something like this was “rebellious arrogance.”). So as a proclamation of unity (30.12) and of seeking God (30.19) they not only celebrate Passover but then on their own free will decided to add to the Bible by observing the Passover a full second week (30.23ff, who gave them permission to celebrate God!?)
Because I believe in Romans 14 and 15. It is my own conviction that many Christians (even in the first century) continued to celebrate the rhythm of life thru the liturgical calendar of Israel. I believe I can make a very good case for this historically. In fact I think this is plainly evident and explains why we find days of fasting in the first century document Didache and in the middle of the second century very conservative and traditional Church Fathers embroiled in the Quartodeciman controversy over the date of Passover and “Easter.”
But regardless of my conviction the bottom line is that this is an area where – like our Spiritual ancestors – we have some freedom to offer spontaneous worship. It is neither required nor banned. It is shocking to me how many disciples do not grasp this concept. Holy days are part of the biblical heritage of Israel, Jesus and the early church. This is beyond reasonable dispute. But Paul made it clear that one cannot sit in judgement on another’s Spirituality if they do or do not choose to celebrate holy days (Romans 14.4-6).
Those who condemn we who choose to celebrate a day are in gross error, they are not precisely obedient. They are in violation of the direct and explicit word of the apostle … who in his own Spirituality (as we saw above) did in fact continue following the festive calendar of Scripture (and Paul claimed to be among the “strong” in Romans 14). Nor can those who observe, condemn those who do not. This is equally true.
But it is not the case that we celebrate Pasha simply, or merely, because we are allowed. As we have seen there are actually good reasons for doing so. In our next I will argue that what we call Easter today is almost certainly a first century practice. It is not an invention of the Roman Catholic Church as some rather ignorant preachers claim and it has nothing to do with Ishtar as Richard Dawkins claims (and surprisingly ignorant brethren have latched onto some of his claims but any historian knows to be absurd)
I will testify to the value of having a rhythm or cadence to our life that consciously brings to my mind the wonders of God in life. So as for me and my family we will sacralize time rather than secularize it.
Maundy Thursday 2016