Letter: April 5, 2001
[Paragraphs about another issue removed.]
Jim and I are considering the possibility of traveling to the Feast site in Chadron, Nebraska. We have a couple of questions about it, since we have never been to one of your Feast sites. What is your format for Bible studies? Do you follow a typical Worldwide format, with shorter sermons and time for discussion; a Messianic Jewish format where at least 1/4 of the time is spent on saying Hebrew blessings (mostly at the beginning) during each service; or something in between? The reason we ask about this is because we heard that some Messianic Jews we know from here are thinking about maybe going to Chadron, and they are very big on the Hebrew blessings, which we kind of consider to be a waste of time (we prefer actual bible study, not just blessings, music, and a little time spent discussing the Torah portion from commentaries).
The other question we have right now is about other Jewish traditions connected with the Feast. We have nothing against having a sukkah, and even feel that it is a good reminder at the Feast (as long as it is not decorated with fruit and paper chains, etc., like a Christmas tree). We are not anti-Jewish or anti-Messianic Jewish. We just do not accept their traditions unless we can prove from the Bible that they are correct, or unless we can prove that they are not of pagan origin, like so many of them are. That brings us to the lulav. We know that some of the Feast sites have a tradition of marching around waving the lulav, etc., which we feel is of pagan origin (and we believe we can prove it). As Jim told me, we don’t have to participate in anything like that if it occurs, and that is true. I guess I just like to know ahead of time what to plan for, if we definitely decide to go to Chadron.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, and I hope you and your family have a very blessed Passover week.
— Jim & Mindy Diller, Colorado
Response: The only plans that I had for Hebrew blessings were those said at the optional Kiddush—partaking of symbolic bread and wine—which are less than a minute long. This has never been part of the main service at the Feast as most brethren do not choose to participate in it. I feel that everything in a service should be done for edification (1Cor 14:5,26). Blessings in a language that most of the brethren do not understand does not edify them.
On the other hand, for the people who do understand them, I would certainly try to make a room and a time available for them to do them. There is certainly nothing wrong with singing or reciting blessings in Hebrew—it is like singing memorized songs in English. The people should be able to do what edifies them at the Feast, but they should not be there with a mission to convert others to their form of worship.
I am in agreement with you on your approach to Jewish tradition. I think some are from God, some are clearly pagan, and some I really do not know about. I have never made lulavs (or is it lulavim?) a part of the Feast and if someone else has brought them to our Feast sites, I have no specific memory of it. I know the scriptures that the lulav tradition are based upon, but I have not checked into the history of this or the possible pagan connections. It might make an interesting segment of a Bible study at the Feast. I would not make any effort to discourage people who wanted to wave lulavs unless I was thoroughly convinced that it was a pagan practice.
Letter: Mar 23, 2001
Recently I have noticed a number of statements in SN regarding fellowship with non-Sabbatarians and the lack of Sabbath pounding in the apostolic writings (the NT). First, let me say that I am not profoundly disagreeing with the down-playing of the Sabbath as a measure for fellowship. The Adventist/Armstrongist use of Ex 31/Ezek 20 in this regard holds some problematic aspects. However, some of the points made in SN in this regard fail to take into account the cultural situation into which the NT was written. Studies into the writings of Josephus, Philo, and (in our times) Bacchiocchi are especially useful in this regard.
An examination of history shows that seventh-day Sabbath observance was extremely widespread in the Roman world at the time. This included not only Jews and Gentile God-fearers (cf Acts 13) (as well as, perhaps, some informed members of the northern Israelite tribes), but also full-blown pagans. Between the spread of Jewish/OT culture and pagan traditions about Saturday being “unlucky”, knowledge and practice of the Sabbath institution to one degree or another was essentially a given. People all through the Empire knew of it, much as most in Western culture today know about Christmas or Easter regardless of their religious persuasion. Hence, the apostles, etc., did not need to specifically “teach” it, anymore than someone today would need to “teach” Christmas.
In the recent SN, it was said that passages like 1 Timothy 1 do not reference Sabbath breaking, while indeed referencing the other nine. In actual fact, though, it is referenced; terms like “profane” and “unholy,” objectively viewed, would include very directly violation of the Sabbath (cf Lev. 19:1ff; Ezek 20). And given the almost certain intent, in 1 Tim 1 at least, to directly allude to the Decalogue, such a view of those and similar terms seems the likely intent.
This is not to say that the Sabbath is indeed THE ultimate “test commandment”. If someone truly does not recognize the requirement of seventh day Sabbath observance, then even as all of us have probably at one time been sincerely wrong or lacking in our obedience to God (e.g., Pentecost), non-Sabbatarians might also be sincerely wrong but not automatically to be declared “profane” or “unholy” in their standing before God and Christ. 1 John 3 discusses having confidence before God because “our heart does not condemn us.” If an individual is upholding what he/she knows as God’s will, then in his/her heart he/she is “keeping the commandments of God”. Under the grace of Christ, ignorance can be an excuse. Even now, no doubt each of us has some error in their walk before God to which they are oblivious. And given the widespread corruption of Christianity today, such an error regarding the Sabbath would be especially understandable.
Another cultural factor to be considered is the effect of this widespread observance or knowledge of the seventh day Sabbath in civil society, compounded by Saturday’s “unlucky” image in many people’s eyes. All of this would combine to make Sabbath observance far easier than one might think for slaves and soldiers, much like Sunday observance in past times in our own culture. A devout pagan might not even try to work his Christian slave on the Sabbath out of reverence to Saturn. And as for soldiers, recall that the military apparatus of the time included far less bureaucracy than ours today (just look at the size of the Pentagon!). There would have been far less routine paperwork or housekeeping. The weapons of the time involved far less maintenance than our modern arms—no disassembly and cleaning of rifles or deep mechanical maintenance of vehicles or weapons systems. And what commander would really demand that sort of preparation on an “unlucky” day? And as for such 24/7 work of guard duty or actual combat, the OT does not seem to hold such unavoidable activities as violative of the Sabbath (cf. Neh 13 and—though arguable—Josh 6)
I hope this input will be helpful.
— Lee T. Walker, MO
Response: Thank you very much for your writing on this subject. You have helped me better understand why there is so little about the Sabbath in the New Testament—Saturday work was probably not an issue. However, the Romans obviously did not keep the Sabbath the same way the Pharisees did with all of their Sabbath restrictions. However, since Christ preached against some of those restrictions, it is likely that the Christians had a more relaxed Sabbath observance. Is it possible that the Romans observed Saturday in a manner similar to the Christians? If so, then how is the Sabbath a “sign of God’s people” if the Romans were keeping it as well as the Christians?
God obviously knew what was being written in the New Testament and could have inspired somebody to write clearly about the Sabbath in the lists of commandments in the New Testament. Since He does not impute sin to people who are truly blind (John 9:41), he may have caused the New Testament writers not to write much about the Sabbath so that it would not be such a difficulty during the hundreds of years when church-men taught that it has been changed to Sunday. Whatever the case may be, we know when the Sabbath is today, we are not blinded, and have no excuse not to do it.
Letter: June 28, 2000
According to J. H. Allen, the author of Judah’s Sceptre & Joseph’s Birthright, page 229, When Jeremiah went to Ireland with the Princess, he also took a harp, the Lia Fail Stone of Destiny and the Ark.
It must be somewhere in the “Isles”.
— EK, Pennsylvania
Response: Even if J.H. Allen’s sources are right, a lot has happened since that time. The stone moved several times—it was even stolen once—so where might the ark be? I have heard many “I know where the ark is” stories, some very believable, others not. At the Sabbath service I attend, one man showed a portion of a video of a rabbi involved with reconstructing all of the instruments of the Temple so that they would be ready for service. He said that they would not be building an ark because they knew where the original one was.
Part of the reason that there may be so many ark stories is that it appears two were made to begin with. Bezaleel made an ark (Ex 37:1-9); and Moses was commanded to make another one into which he put the 10 commandments (Deut 10:1-5). It seems that this latter ark survives into the era of the kings (2Ch 5:10) and the altar Bezaleel made survived also (2Chr 1:5). I cannot be certain what happened to Bezaleel’s ark.
If the Jews again begin to offer sacrifices, it will certainly have a prophetic meaning. And there will certainly be many opinions about what that prophetic meaning is. But it is even more wonderful to know that we can have meaning and serve God in our lives now, whether or not the ark is ever found or Christ returns in our life-time.
Letter: April 23,2001
In the Nov/Dec 2000 issue of Servants’ News (page 10), reference was made to “Aboth 1:5” and “Niddah 4.1”. What are “Aboth” and “Niddah”? Thanks for any information you can provide!
— J.R., West Virginia
Response: Aboth (Hebrew for “Fathers”) and Niddah (Hebrew for “Menstruant”) are the names of two of the names of tractates in the Mishnah, probably the single most important book of Jewish teaching, written around 200 A.D. It is about the size of the Bible. The better-known Jewish Talmud contains the Mishnah and additional commentary several times the size of the Mishnah. The Talmud was written over the next couple centuries.
I believe that these books contain a mixture of truth and error, like the religious writings of so many other serious groups (including Sabbatarians). The Jews will say that much of these writings are from oral tradition given to Moses. I would think that some might actually be, but many obviously are from a much later time. (For example, the Mishnah speaks of Samaritans and many other peoples that did not exist at the time of Moses.)
The Mishnah was quoted by the author of that article, Linda White, to establish the Jewish Custom during the first century. I think it is probably accurate in these matters—as long as there would not be some compelling reason to change it. I have found some of the Talmud references to Christians and Christianity to be inaccurate.
English translations of the Mishnah and Talmud are available on CD-Rom from www.davka.com. Bible and Jewish bookstores will have them as hard-bound books. You will need close to $100 if you plan any kind of purchase—they cost more because they are not widely published like the Bible. Rabbis read the works in Hebrew, and most English-speaking Jews do not read them at all, but read other works that summarize their contents.
Letter: April 9, 2001
Mr Edwards, just wondering if you might help me. I have a book titled A Bible Reading for the Home Fireside, and the Bible Made Easy, seventh edition by A.N. Dugger. But it does not have a printed date. Could you have any way of knowing when it was written? Thanks for being so helpful as we have written you before & appreciate your kindness.
— M & G Burgess, West Virginia
Response: The used book section of www.amazon.com had a 5th edition published in 1919. Another site, www.bn.com had two books listed, but they were gone when I checked. The seventh edition must be a few years later than the fifth edition. The book is also posted here: http://giveshare.org/churchhistory/instructor/INSTRUCT0.html#TOC but no date is given.
Another source of used books is www.half.com. The Internet has really made it easy to find, buy or sell used books. For people without home access, libraries can usually do the job.
Letter: April 30, 2000
I just wanted to alert your readers to be careful about the newsletter from the United Hebrew Congregations in Picayune, MS called The Hope of Israel. It teaches about a coming Messiah, but rejects Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
Notice on page 8 of the Dec 1999 issue, “Anytime we refer to The Holy Scriptures we are referring to what is commonly called the Old Testament. However, we consider it to be the only Testament or Covenant.”
Also, page 9, #7 under policy statement, “United Hebrew Congregations does not believe that Scripture requires the shedding of blood for salvation, but that salvation is based on repentance, and a humble and contrite spirit of the individual before the Ancient of Days.” Would Servants’ News please comment on this?
— [Name Withheld]
Response: Thank you for letting us know about this group’s teaching. I believe that this group has made some effort to try to “convert” CoG brethren away from Jesus and the New Testament, though I am not aware that they are having any great success at it. Paul said, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1Cor 11:19). To the extent that they challenge mature believers and help them to study and know why they believe what they believe, they may be helpful. But I certainly would not help them do their work. When it comes to confusing a new believer, the Bible is a little more specific: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me [Christ] to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).
How will our Father deal with people who do not believe in the New Testament and do not believe that they need a Savior for sin? There are Old Testament verses, which if read by themselves, talk about forgiveness of sin and do not mention a Savior, so they have some basis for their thinking. In the “parable of the minas” (or “pounds”), a man had some problems serving Christ and did nothing with what Christ gave him. Christ did not judge the man out of scripture that he did not believe, but out of what he did believe (Luke 19:20-23). The unfaithful servant did not even do what he knew to be right. If these people believe it is possible to live a righteous and love-filled life without Jesus, then let them see how well they can do it.
Christ, in the judgement, will tell the difference between a sincere error, and someone who deliberately opposed Him.
Letter: December 15, 2000
There is a certain ministry (that affects many ex-COG members) preaching that Christ was 100% flesh. Some teach that Christ was 100% human and 100% God. How can Christ be all flesh when the Bible says that God was His Father? What is the Bible definition of antichrist?
Response: When people ask me questions about the nature of God, I like to think about children arguing about where their dad works: “He works for Mr Baldwin, Dad and I went to his house one time.” “No, he works for Davis Electric—I saw the sign on the door when Mom picked him up from work.” “No,” said another child, “he works for Davis & Heston Companies, I have his business card right here!” They are all right, but none really understands the whole picture. Adults probably understand the who picture: Mr Baldwin is his supervisor, Davis & Heston Companies is a larger group of companies. “Dad” does work for all of them, but he does not work 33% of his time for each of the three—nor are all three the same thing. They are different aspects of the same thing. Mr Baldwin may give him assignments; he works in the Davis Electric building; but Davis & Heston Companies pays him. A young child may have a very difficult time with this.
Now when we, as mere people, try to completely understand and explain the nature of God and Christ, we too may have a lack of understanding. We have some clear statements from the Bible: “I [Christ] and My Father are one” (John 10:30). “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). “…Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:16). “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The first two scriptures indicate that Christ is God and therefore a spirit, the last two indicate he was born of flesh and is therefore flesh.
Trying to assign a “percentage of God” and a “percentage of man” to Christ is pointless—there were aspects of him that were completely like a man and other aspects that were completely like God. He was tempted like a person, but without sin like God (Heb 4:15). We must realize that we cannot specifically define what a “person” (here) is: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1Cor 2:11). It does not make sense to try to define a believer as a certain percent “flesh”, a certain percent “spirit of man” and a certain percent “spirit of God”. In all my studies on eternal judgment, I could not find any place where the Bible says that we will be asked to explain the nature of God in our judgement. But we will be asked a lot about how we obeyed God and how we treated our neighbors.
What does the Bible say about “antichrist”?
The answer is fairly easy. There are only four verses that contain the word, and they are all in two letters of John. Many prophetic teachers have written many books on “The Antichrist” and have frequently said he is a single, end-time individual, probably the same as the “false christs” (Matt 24:5, 24), the “man of sin” (2Thes 2:3) and the “beast” or “false prophet” in Revelation. Some probably will tie in the prophecies of Daniel. But what do the four references to “antichrist” say?
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1Jn 2:18-19). This verse clearly states there were many antichrists at that time—which simply means many people against Christ. At one time, they must have appeared to be in the church, because they “went out from among us”.
The same thought continues for three more verses and we get more information: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1Jn 2:22-23). This seems to be a good definition right here: an antichrist is “whoever” (can be more than one) denies the Father and the Son. It also states that the antichrist is a liar—meaning that he knows the truth—at least intellectually—he is not simply deceived.
Bible translations vary considerably on their use of an article in these verses. Some will say “the antichrist”, others “an antichrist” and some just “antichrist”. If we look in the original Greek, the definite article (similar to “the”) is used in all but 1Jn 2:18. Yet many translators leave it out. Why? Because the Greek article does not really mean “the one and only” like the English “the” does when used with a proper name. If I say, “I talked to Bill Gates about my computer problems”, and you say, “Do you mean the Bill Gates?”, you are asking the specific famous “Bill Gates”, and the word “the” indicates that. It is clear to everyone that there would be only one “Bill Gates” that would qualify for a “yes” answer. But suppose I were to ask, “Did you hang up on the salesman?” I am not talking about a one and only salesman, but just the one you were dealing with right now. If I ask, “Did you ship the package?” It does not mean that is the only package I will ever want shipped, but I am just referring to a specific package. Similarly, “the antichrist” does not mean “the one and only, but describes the person who is opposing Christ—whether there are one or a thousand of them.
“And every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1Jn 4:3 ). Again we see more than one, “every spirit”, and that they were already there in the time of John.
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2Jn 1:7). Again, this reference starts out plural—there is more than one antichrist. It adds the detail that those who do not confess Jesus Christ as “coming in the flesh” are an antichrist. This relates back to the original question.
We simply have to accept this statement as we find it. If someone claims that Christ was not flesh—that He was a spirit without a body or something like that, then they would be an antichrist. But if one claims that Jesus was “100% flesh”, and another says he was “100% God and 100% flesh”, and another says he was 50% each, I will not be in a hurry to label any “antichrists”. I believe that many congregations have been split up and even wars have been fought over minor points of the nature of God and it has accomplished almost nothing. People write down hundreds or thousands of scriptures and think they have it all worked out and spiritually they say “‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17).
Letter: Feb 1, 2001
Both the current Journal and the Servants’ News both have articles about women participating more in services. I think there is a trend in this direction. New ideas in what Paul really meant and new studies in the linguistics have emerged. Even our little fellowship group who seemed to me so far off the mainstream seems up for the idea.
What will this mean for CoGs? I like women. I enjoy talking to them and listening to them. But I’m somewhat apprehensive that the CoGs will become like the religions around about where women have taken the place of men and… there are no more men. And without the men they sort of lose the family.
In the Jewish reformed and Conservative synagogues, the women have taken over the Bema or equivalent pulpit and they are every bit good as men. Women rabbis give sermons, they read Hebrew, but they do so over a room that is largely empty of men most of the time.
I visit a Seventh Day Adventist group here in Reston. They have small groups which meet, but they are largely devoid of men. One hears of large Protestant churches where men wait in the cars while the women go in.
I heard a Messianic leader speak once and he said that if women wanted men to develop into leaders, they would not be leaders themselves. He had the concept that men leaders and women leaders just don’t grow at the same time. Can we apply what he said to CoGs? Will the CoG of the future be mostly women and fewer and fewer men? We’ll see
We had a situation at the feast this year that I only heard about. We had a feast leader who was all for what many us, is a new role for women. I don’t know what exactly she did (read or give a study), but the feast leader, who was an enthusiastic supporter of this new role, just sort of thrust her onto the meeting. Well, most of the people had other ideas and just left the room. Wouldn’t it have been better if he asked the audience permission first? That way they would have had an opportunity to “act with one accord”. If there is objection to it and people are going to just leave, what good does it do to just force it?
— Rod Koozmin, VA
Response: I understand that there are books that claim that there are poor translations and disagreements among manuscripts in some of the verses where Paul “puts restrictions on women”. I have not studied them yet, so I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other.
I think it is important to realize that the major emphasis of the New Testament is on people doing what God, by His Spirit, has given them the ability to do. There is not much (though some) emphasis on whether the person is black or white, male or female, bond or free, young or old, etc.
The people who should teach in a service are the people who have a gift to teach. If all the people that teach in a service are middle-aged white men, there is no need to try to have some people of another race teach, some younger men teach, some older men teach or some women teach. If God gifts some of these people to teach, they should not be restrained. But to think that a congregation must be gender or ethnic balanced, I think is a mistake.
The scriptures obviously show a great majority of male teachers, and the people who seem to want to teach in Church of God fellowships are mostly men. However, the Bible shows that when someone fails to do what God asks of them, He finds someone else. If God finds women to do jobs initially given to men, who will say, “No”?
If a man believes that it is biblically wrong for him to listen to a woman teach the Bible (whether she is teaching truth or error), then he should not do it. However, I have been amazed to find men listening for hours to a man teach whom they believe is largely in error, but will walk out of the room where a woman is teaching just on the possibility that there might be some error.
While this subject has been debated a lot, I have found that it has not been a practical problem in many groups. The main place it is a problem is where either somebody wants to talk about it and will not get off the subject, or where somebody wants to do as you described in your letter—surprise their audience, and it does not go too well.
May God give us wisdom and understanding of His word in these things.