Propriety of Christians Celebrating Passover and Seder--Frequently Asked Questions
|Copyright © 2007 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Question 1: Is it biblically allowable for a Christian to participate in Old Testament feasts and ceremonies?
Is it biblically allowable for a Christian to participate in Old Testament feasts and ceremonies?
When Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and the Law of the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:17-19), He ushered in an entirely new "law." We often refer to this as the Law of Grace or the Law of Christ, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Again, the Word says, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).
In fact, the Law of Moses has been made obsolete, "When He said, ĎA new covenant,í He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear" (Hebrews 8:13).
Keeping the old law never saved anyone. The purpose of the law was to identify sinful behavior, to show that no man can be perfectly holy (Romans 3:20, 7:7-8, 8:3, Galatians 2:16, Hebrews 7:19, 10:1, 1 John 3:4). Jesus, standing all alone in human history, kept the whole law (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5).
Along with showing man how sinful he was at heart, the law provided glimpses of Godís nature, and of heaven. It was also very prophetic regarding the Messiah who was to come. Yet these "pictures" of heaven should not be confused with the reality of being in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). These "pictures" are but shadows and impressions of what was and is yet to come, "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year" (Hebrews 10:1-3).
As shadows and glimpses of Godís nature, heaven, and perfection, the law used food, sacrifices, and days of the year as symbols to represent (albeit in part only) those things which God would have us understand about the eternity to come. But when He made the old law "obsolete," and told us we are no longer "under the law," He removed from us the requirement to keep the law (Romans 6:14-17).
In fact, He forbids anyone to impose the law upon us, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17).
Paul proclaimed that having been freed from the Law of Moses (the Law having become obsolete--Hebrews 8:13) the church was no longer captive to the Law, its ordinances, and its festal days. This left the early church without any prescribed feast days and no formal days of celebration.
In those early days of the faith, after Jesus fulfilled the Law for us, we find that the church had no consistent calendar of or schedule of holidays, Sabbaths, or festal days. Every man, every church, rightly and properly established their own memorial days, and some, established no special days at all. Scripture was written to expressly allow every church, indeed, every man, to either keep or not keep ceremonial days and feasts.
Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:4-6)
With regard to the propriety of observing special days, such as Christís birth or the Passover celebration, Paul instructed the Christians of the first church that they were not to subject themselves to the men who forbade the use of festal days; for such decrees as "do not celebrate this holiday or that feast day" are just as steeped in legalism (manmade law) as was the religion of the Judaisers.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (Colossians 2:8, 16, 17, 20, 21)
In Christ, we have the freedom from the Law and freedom in Grace to celebrate any holiday, new moon, feast, or Sabbath as we deem will most honor God, or perhaps, remind our hearts to compliant to God. It is for that precise reason that the early church stopped worshipping on Saturday and began worshipping on Sunday as their new Sabbath day (Acts 20:7)--the day on which Christ was found to have arisen from the dead. Later, John refers to it as "the Lordís Day" (Revelation 1:10).
As the years progressed, new converts around the world redeemed their pagan celebrations, converting them into Christian feasts (just as they themselves had been converted), adopting both the birth of Jesus (Christmas) and the resurrection of the Lord (Easter) as feasts of remembrance unto God. Such practices as adopting days of feasting to honor God no man may deny before the Lord, for this is the freedom of Christ at work, converting the pagan heart and mind into one which is transfixed on the Lord and ever mindful of Him.
Therefore, as men free of the law we subject ourselves willingly to grace. In grace, while not imposing upon others our preferences, we may choose to remember Godís mercy on the nation of Israel with a Passover-like feast. We do this to simultaneously relish the rich prophetic pictures of Christ that were woven into both the feast and the actual historic event that night in Egypt.
If I participate in a feast from the Mosaic Law, am I not then obligated to keep the whole Law?
That depends upon your heart and motives. If you participate in the feast of the Passover because it is your intent to fulfill (keep) the Law of Moses to establish your righteousness with God, then you have essentially converted to Judaism. So, yes, as a proselyte of the Jewish religion, you may well have obligated yourself to the Law.
For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them." Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "the righteous man shall live by faith." However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "he who practices them shall live by them." (Galatians 3:10-12)
It is not permissible for a person to pick and choose specific laws from the Law that he wishes to "obey," because to select one law obligates the person to obey "all things written in the book of the law, to perform them." How is that a "curse"? Because no one is able to keep the Law, and beyond that, "no one is justified by the Law before God."
To elect to practice any part of the old Law as if one were under obligation to do so, whether to keep a feast day under obligation, or to get circumcised under obligation is to bind oneself to learning and adhering to every aspect of the Law of Moses.
And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:3-4)
No one is justified, made righteous, or saved by keeping the Law. Therefore, to keep one feast day (i.e. Passover) in order to attain salvic favor from God actually results in the opposite. It impels one to a life of Law keeping, or, as Galatians 3 states it, places the person under a curse.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2:10)
Yet, we do not keep the feast day as part of Law. We, who choose to do so, celebrate Passover as a true celebration of grace. We keep it not to win saving favor from God, to keep the Law, or as being under any form of obligation by which to keep from sinning, but rather to remember Him. Whether we observe Passover one year, or whether we do not keep it the next, is of no eternal or moral consequence. We do it solely for personal edification. And just as we do not obligate ourselves, we obligate no one else to keep the observance.
Some proper motives and intentions by which one may properly participate in such a feast might include:
Such reasons do not obligate a person to the Old Covenant nor compel one to adhere to the entirety of the Law.
What if I get the feast "wrong"?
Since the feast my family assembles (and the script we follow) is not precise with regard to either the Haggadah (Jewish tradition) or the Mosaic Law (Scripture), it is in one sense or another "inaccurate" and "wrong." Though we attempt to keep it close for the purpose of realism and experiencing the symbolism as fully as possible, there are aspects which are either inconvenient or impractical to accommodate.
Does this invalidate the feast, or worse, relegate our observance to sin? No. The feast is voluntary and not subject to the Law. It is illustrative and symbolic, not prescribed. So long as the feast we keep neither degenerates into mockery nor boastfully claims to be a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law of Passover, we have liberty to remember Passover as both grace and the Holy Spirit permit and lead.
Doesnít the Law instruct that the Passover is a rite to be performed forever?
Yes, and no.
And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. When you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children say to you, 'What does this rite mean to you?' you shall say, 'It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.' And the people bowed low and worshiped. (Exodus 12:24-27)
Certainly the observance is part of the Law. And so long as the children of Abraham adhere to the Law of Moses, they will observe this rite. To my knowledge, it is likely that the Jewish religion will continue until the Lord returns, at which time He will then bring the ultimate fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). So it is true that the Jews will keep this rite forever.
Are Jews who have been saved by the mercy and grace of Christ obligated to keep the Passover observance? No. Just as the Gentiles are under no such obligation, neither are those Christians who can trace their genealogical lineage back to the Twelve Tribes any longer under such obligation (Galatians 3:10-12, 5:3-4). For us, Christ has already fulfilled the Law, having built both Jews and Gentiles into a living temple.
If you have a question about celebrating the Passover or participating in Seder, please send your question to the contact specified below.