Should Christians celebrate Jewish festivals?
Question #1: Should Christians be celebrating the Jewish religious festivals?
Response #1: I do have some mixed feelings of my own, because I understand that many Christians wish to participate in e.g., Passover as a means of showing friendliness and tolerance, and even for the purpose of indirect evangelism. All of those goals I heartily endorse on the one hand, and, on the other hand, I would not personally ever wish to give any offense either to those of the Jewish faith (Rom.1:16; 2:9-10; 3:2; 9:4-5), or to those who want to improve Christian-Jewish relations.
That said, from a biblical perspective I would generally advise against such participation in any of the biblical festival, although for the reasons advanced above and to avoid conflict and offense I am careful not to be overly overt in my expression of this point of view. One entire book of the Bible, Hebrews, is largely devoted to the issue of believers participating in Jewish ritual, and Paul most certainly is emphatic in his condemnation of it. This is not because of any ill-feelings toward his fellow Jews who had not believed in Christ (for he said elsewhere that he would gladly be "cursed" on their behalf if it would mean their salvation: Rom.9:3), but because of his concern for the spiritual health and safety of those who had believed.
There is much to say about the details, but I will stick to the main principle. All of these rituals have at their core the teaching of the coming of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. To use Passover again as the example, elsewhere Paul tells us that "Christ our Passover has (i.e., already) been sacrificed for us" (1Cor.5:7-8) - that is, Passover proclaims Jesus' future sacrifice, and that sacrifice is now a reality that needs to be proclaimed as completed, not yet to come. To participate in the old is to say, in a way, that the new never happened. That is the point behind the often debated Hebrews 6:4-6. For the Jewish believers of that day to participate in ritual sacrifices which proclaimed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah was tantamount to denying the actual work of Christ on the cross, "crucifying Him afresh", as it were, as if what He had done needed to be re-done. For more details, please see the following links:
Finally, there are extra-biblical festivals as well, Hanukkah and Purim, for example. The former celebrates an event that occurred after the closing of the Old Testament, and the latter, though based upon the events of the book of Esther and celebrated in antiquity, is only peripherally described in scripture (and as a historical fact rather than a biblical mandate in contrast with the festivals described in the Law). Indeed, in neither case are any of the "rites" involved mandated by scripture. Therefore an argument can certainly be made that to participate in either of these (or similar) festivals or holidays is not prohibited because they do not overtly (or at least biblically) teach or portray the sacrifice of Christ as still future (the basis of the objection in Hebrews of continued participation by believers in the ritual of the Jewish community at Jerusalem). Jesus replaced Passover with communion on the night before His death on our behalf, so I would be very wary of Passover participation (see the link: Communion and the Blood of Christ). For believers who are ignorant of the issue (and ignorance of all things biblical abounds in the church-visible of the present day), I would not want to make an issue of this "for conscience sake" (1Cor.10:23-33; cf. Rom.14; 1Cor.8). But for those of us who understand what Passover truly represents, it is hard to see how our participation in it can avoid spiritual compromise while sending the wrong message in the bargain. See the link for more on Passover:
In Him who died once and for all for us all, Jews and gentiles both, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I know of many professing Christians who are very involved in a movement to return to their Hebraic Roots. There are many different aspects to this. If you are aware of what I am referring to, could you elaborate on your understanding of this trend (if that is what one should call it)? In particular, I am interested in the emphasis for Christians to honor the Sabbath and other festivals and feasts as the Jews do and the teaching that the Temple will be rebuilt and the sacrificial rites returning. Why as a Christian having faith in Jesus' sacrifice would I look forward to the sacrificial rites returning? In reading on your website I recall your mentioning the return of the sacrificial rites as a "memorial"- I believe? Thank you for your time. God bless you in your work for the Kingdom of God. You are a blessing.
Thanks so much for your interest in Ichthys and for your encouraging words. I quite agree with the skepticism you indicate. I have written extensively about the unique role of Israel in God's plan, and how that role, far from being over, will again become supreme as the Tribulation begins, coming to full fruition during the Millennium and Eternal State beyond (see: "The Uniqueness of Israel", and "Israel the Ultimate Organization of the Church"). That said, it is a mistake to think that we, the present day Church, should start to pretend that we are something we are not, and we are not the divinely appointed nation Israel charged by God with observing the Mosaic Law.
Quite to the contrary, the rituals, festivals, sacrifices and regulations of the Law were shadows of things to come, things which have already been fulfilled, namely, foretastes of the coming of the One who would die for us all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Heb.10:1; cf. Col.2:16-17; Heb.8:5). The main point of the book of Hebrews was to warn Jewish believers to stop continuing in the rites of the Law (all of which were still being practiced in Jerusalem before the second temple was destroyed). Paul's main point to his fellow Jewish Christians who were sliding back into the old ways was that by participating in these rites it was as if to say that Christ had not died, or that His death had not been efficacious for the forgiveness of our sins, and that in turn was to "trample the Son of God under foot", an eventuality that made spiritual recovery impossible as long as the offender persisted in such compromise (Heb.10:26-31). So I believe it to be quite clear from scripture that for Christians to embrace superseded rituals of the Law in this same way is to send exactly the wrong message (not mention flirt with their own spiritual disaster), no matter how pure and noble the motivations to do so may be.
We have seen this sort of thing occur in the Church from the beginning. Besides the historical example above, there is also the famous case of embracing the Saturday Sabbath. Here is what I have written about this in Part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series under the link:
Area #2: Holiness toward Life (sanctifying and separating ourselves from reliance on theworld):
It is true that, like the memorial sacrifices to which you refer, Sabbaths will be important in the future millennial kingdom, and, of course, the Millennium itself is a Sabbath. Where I would wish to put in my own point of emphasis is on the subject of the uniqueness of this present age. Right here, right now, in the Church of Jesus Christ "militant", we are in a fight. We are to be attacking and advancing all the time - not just on Sunday (or Saturday); we need to be in an attitude of moment-by-moment Sabbath rest (i.e., Heb.4:1-13), precisely because we are in what is (short of the Tribulation) the most intensive part of the conflict between our Lord and His rebellious creatures also known as human history; we are here, here and now, to perfect a walk that is truly honoring to Him at all times, not just at certain ceremonial times. This is the true "one day at a time" approach to which our Lord refereed when He told us to pick up our cross every day (Lk.9:23). Emphasis on Sabbath observance, however, undermines this step-by-step, day-by-day focus.
It should also be noted that the Roman church has gone to great lengths to co-opt the Jewish priesthood and rituals in their own practices and ceremonies. Here is what I have written about this in Part 2A of the Coming Tribulation series under "Philadelphia":
I rejoice in the Israel of God, and rejoice for the spiritual heritage of Israel. However, I am careful not to allow this love for Israel to translate into anything out of keeping with the Word and the revealed plan of God.
Hope this is helpful.
Yours in Him who is the God of Israel and of us all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.