Le salut vient des Juifs. Jésus (Jean 4:22)
J’éprouve une grande tristesse, et j’ai dans le coeur un chagrin continuel. Car je voudrais moi-même être anathème et séparé de Christ pour mes frères, mes parents selon la chair, qui sont Israélites, à qui appartiennent l’adoption, et la gloire, et les alliances, et la loi, et le culte, et les promesses, et les patriarches, et de qui est issu, selon la chair, le Christ, qui est au-dessus de toutes choses, Dieu béni éternellement. Amen! Ce n’est point à dire que la parole de Dieu soit restée sans effet. Car tous ceux qui descendent d’Israël ne sont pas Israël, et, pour être la postérité d’Abraham, ils ne sont pas tous ses enfants; mais il est dit: En Isaac sera nommée pour toi une postérité, c’est-à-dire que ce ne sont pas les enfants de la chair qui sont enfants de Dieu, mais que ce sont les enfants de la promesse qui sont regardés comme la postérité. Paul (Romans 9: 2-8)
Je dis donc: Dieu a-t-il rejeté son peuple? Loin de là! Car moi aussi je suis Israélite, de la postérité d’Abraham, de la tribu de Benjamin. Dieu n’a point rejeté son peuple, qu’il a connu d’avance. Ne savez-vous pas ce que l’Écriture rapporte d’Élie, comment il adresse à Dieu cette plainte contre Israël: Seigneur, ils ont tué tes prophètes, ils ont renversé tes autels; je suis resté moi seul, et ils cherchent à m’ôter la vie? Mais quelle réponse Dieu lui fait-il? Je me suis réservé sept mille hommes, qui n’ont point fléchi le genou devant Baal. De même aussi dans le temps présent il y a un reste, selon l’élection de la grâce. Or, si c’est par grâce, ce n’est plus par les oeuvres; autrement la grâce n’est plus une grâce. Et si c’est par les oeuvres, ce n’est plus une grâce; autrement l’oeuvre n’est plus une oeuvre. Quoi donc? Ce qu’Israël cherche, il ne l’a pas obtenu, mais l’élection l’a obtenu, tandis que les autres ont été endurcis, selon qu’il est écrit: Dieu leur a donné un esprit d’assoupissement, Des yeux pour ne point voir, Et des oreilles pour ne point entendre, Jusqu’à ce jour. Paul (Romans 11: 1-8)
C’est dur d’être juif. Proverbe yiddish
Si le judaïsme n’avait qu’à résoudre la question juive, il aurait beaucoup à faire, mais il serait peu de chose. Lévinas
La principale opposition de frères ennemis dans l’Histoire, c’est bien les juifs et les chrétiens. Mais le premier christianisme est dominé par l’Epître aux Romains qui dit : la faute des juifs est très réelle, mais elle est votre salut. N’allez surtout pas vous vanter vous chrétiens. Vous avez été greffés grâce à la faute des juifs. On voit l’idée que les chrétiens pourraient se révéler tout aussi indignes de la Révélation chrétienne que les juifs se sont révélés indignes de leur révélation. (…) Il faut reconnaître que le christianisme n’a pas à se vanter. Les chrétiens héritent de Saint Paul et des Evangiles de la même façon que les Juifs héritaient de la Genèse et du Lévitique et de toute la Loi. Mais ils n’ont pas compris cela puisqu’ils ont continué à se battre et à mépriser les Juifs. (…) ils ont recréé de l’ordre sacrificiel. Ce qui est historiquement fatal et je dirais même nécessaire. Un passage trop brusque aurait été impossible et impensable. Nous avons eu deux mille ans d’histoire et cela est fondamental. (…) la religion doit être historicisée : elle fait des hommes des êtres qui restent toujours violents mais qui deviennent plus subtils, moins spectaculaires, moins proches de la bête et des formes sacrificielles comme le sacrifice humain. Il se pourrait qu’il y ait un christianisme historique qui soit une nécessité historique. Après deux mille ans de christianisme historique, il semble que nous soyons aujourd’hui à une période charnière – soit qui ouvre sur l’Apocalypse directement, soit qui nous prépare une période de compréhension plus grande et de trahison plus subtile du christianisme. René Girard
Il y a deux grandes attitudes à mon avis dans l’histoire humaine, il y a celle de la mythologie qui s’efforce de dissimuler la violence (…) la plus répandue, la plus normale, la plus naturelle à l’homme et (…) l ’autre (…) beaucoup plus rare et (…) même unique au monde (…) réservée tout entière aux grands moments de l’inspiration biblique et chrétienne [qui] consiste non pas à pudiquement dissimuler mais, au contraire, à révéler la violence dans toute son injustice et son mensonge, partout où il est possible de la repérer. C’est l’attitude du Livre de Job et c’est l’attitude des Evangiles. […]. C’est l’attitude qui nous a permis de découvrir l’innocence de la plupart des victimes que même les hommes les plus religieux, au cours de leur histoire, n’ont jamais cessé de massacrer et de persécuter. C’est là qu’est l’inspiration commune au judaïsme et au christianisme, et c’est la clef, il faut l’espérer, de leur réconciliation future. C’est la tendance héroïque à mettre la vérité au-dessus même de l’ordre social. René Girard
Le Messie a été représenté dans les écritures hébraïques et dans la tradition juive comme une étoile, une étoile isolée, la dernière étoile qui annonce la venue du jour: l’étoile de David, celle-là même qui est représentée sur le drapeau israélien. Les chrétiens ont si souvent mis l’accent sur l’événement passé de la crucifixion qu’ils se sont souvent arrêtés à la croix. Ils n’attendent plus. Ils sont déjà sauvés. La croix a éclipsé l’étoile. Jacques Doukhan
Because of the painful and shameful history (…), the name of Jesus has been associated in the Jewish consciousness with the memory of massacre, discrimination, and rejection for 2,000 years, the systematic « teaching of contempt » all climaxing at Auschwitz. Many Christians still do not realize the nature of that connection; and, consciously or not, they keep nurturing their mentalities with the old poison teaching and preaching the curse against the Jews who are charged with the most horrible crime of humanity, deicide: the killing of God. Meanwhile, there is the supersession theology, which denies the Jews and Israel the right even to be Israel, since the « true Israel » is another people. (This theory has been denounced as « a spiritual holocaust. ») This goes along with all kinds of strange ideas that Christians still entertain about the Jews: the myth of the Jewish plot, the association of the Jew with deception and money, etc. I am here referring to the old beast called « anti-Semitism. » You asked me if there is hope of reconciliation after Auschwitz. As long as Christians, whoever they are and whatever community they belong to, do not understand and recognize their responsibility at Auschwitz; as long as they are still fueling the fire and pushing in the same direction; as long as they keep in their heart anti-Semitic ideas and feelings there is no hope of reconciliation. With Auschwitz, Jewish-Christian history has reached a point of no return. After Auschwitz, it is no more decent to think or act or feel in the ways that have produced Auschwitz. To hope for a reconciliation after Auschwitz amounts then to hope in a genuine « conversion » on the part of the Christians. As long as Christians will not take this sin of anti-Semitism seriously, as long as they are not ready to turn back, repent, and recognize the Jewish roots that bear them, there is no hope for reconciliation. As a result, we can even say that there is no hope for any other reconciliation, and I mean here especially the Christian reconciliation with the God of Israel Himself.
According to the Jewish law (Halakhah), a Jew always remains a Jew whatever he does, even if he identifies himself as a Christian. Ironically, the Nazis have demonstrated the truth of this observation. The anti-Semite Drumont used to say, « When a Jew becomes Christian, we have one more Christian, but we don’t have one less Jew. » (…) Today, after the Holocaust and centuries of Christian effort to eliminate the Jews from the scene of history, any open at tempt to « convert » Jewish people will trigger strong reactions. Christians who want to share with Jews « the hope of Jesus » should, therefore, first of all ask themselves a question about their real motives. Why do they want to « convert » Jews? Do they intend to transform them into their image and thus erase their Jewish identity? (…) In other words, the conversion of the Christian is a prerequisite for the conversion of the Jew. (…) But in saying that, he does not imply that we have to change our identity in order to be able to reach out to Jews. A man does not need to become a woman in order to be able to reach out to women, and vice versa. (…) Jews and Seventh-day Adventists are not aware of the common ground they share with each other. In addition to the Shabbat (Sabbath), there is the holistic view of life, the dietary rules, the importance of the Scriptures, etc.
Avoid the use of pictures of Jesus and of « crosses. » These signs are often interpreted by Jews as marks of idolatry. As for the cross, it is always associated in the Jewish mind with the painful memory of oppression. Remember that it is the cross reminding of the crucifixion that inspired the Crusades (derived from the word cross) and the pogroms. Besides, the traditional Christian taste for « crosses » can suggest a morbid preoccupation with death that hurts the natural Jewish sensitivity about affirming the value of life.
Paradoxically after the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, more and more Jews are able to disassociate Jesus from the offensive Christian testimony. It is interesting that much more has been written about Jesus in Hebrew in the last thirty years than in the eighteen previous centuries. Along with Christians who begin to reconsider their Jewish roots and learn to love the law of the God of Israel, many Jews begin to realize that Jesus belongs to their Jewish heritage and as such deserves their attention. Jacques B. Doukhan
The festivals are nothing but a pedagogical or evangelistic tool to be used, just as we sometimes do when we use the model of the sanctuary to witness through this object lesson to our unique message. It should be descriptive and instructive, not prescriptive. If we desire to mark the festival, it would therefore be advisable to do it during its season, not because we want or need to be faithful to agricultural, ritualistic, and legalistic norms, but rather as an opportune moment when other people think about it, just as we traditionally do for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving (although these festivals contain some elements of pagan origin, such as Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the Easter bunny). Outside of the season, this practice will look awkward for all, be offensive towards others, and lose its communicative and signifying/ semantic power. (…) Festivals have lost their normative quality as they have essentially been fulfilled in Christ and are no longer dependent on the categories of biblical revelation. The laws of the feasts are distinct from other laws such as the Sabbath and the dietary laws, which are not related to sacrifices or dependent on time, and are universal in character. It is indeed important to note and realize that God has not provided us with any instruction, any law regarding the way those festivals should be observed outside of the temple. If God has not indicated to us how to observe them in these conditions, how could He then require the observance of these laws? We are here dependent only on human traditions outside of biblical revelation. (…) Jewish Adventists, like the early Jewish Christians, should not feel obligated to abandon the enjoyment of festivals; and no one should discourage them from doing so. Not only do the feasts belong to their cultural heritage, but they also provide them with an appropriate means of reaching out to other Jews. In this particular instance, in the light of the prophetic and theological dimensions of the Seventh-day Adventist message, their experience of the feasts may still become even more meaningful than in the past. These practices will be implemented, however, with a clear understanding that these laws and traditions are not prophetic revelation and no longer normative. Jacques B. Doukhan
Attention: un symbole peut en cacher un autre!
Suite à notre précédent billet sur les funestes conséquences de l’abandon du Sabbat pour les relations judéo-chrétiennes …
Pendant que, sous l’étiquette antisioniste, l’antisémitisme s’offre à nouveau en France la vitrine électorale des législatives …
Retour, toujours avec le chercheur franco-américain Jacques Doukhan, sur l’impact négatif que peuvent avoir, pour lesdites relations, certains symboles chrétiens tels que la croix.
Mais aussi la différence entre le Sabbat qui en tant qu’objet du quatrième commandement n’a rien perdu de sa normativité et les autres fêtes juives qui, bien qu’ayant perdu avec la destruction du Temple et la venue du Messie leur caractère obligatoire, peuvent néanmoins conserver un intérêt pédagogique notamment pour les juifs chrétiens …
Comme, avec la création de l’Etat d’Israël et même Auszchwitz, la possibilité d’un dialogue renouvelé entre l’Eglise et la Synagogue …
Jacques B. Doukhan , John Graz
In this interview, Jacques Doukhan exposes important insights for Christians as they relate to Jewish people.
John Graz: You have dedicated your life to a better understanding between Jews and Christians. Isn’t this a « Mission Impossible »?
Jacques Doukhan: I do feel a particular burden for Jewish-Christian relations. Is it a « Mission Impossible »? I don’t know.
It is certainly a challenge for many reasons: because of the painful and shameful history between them; because of so many prejudices and so much ignorance; and worst of all, because of so much indifference on both sides. The fact that I have dedicated my life to that effort, however, implies that I believe it is worthwhile. There is always hope that it is not a « Mission Impossible. »
It is also my profound conviction that, to a certain extent, the nature and destiny of both Judaism and Christianity depend on the quality of their relationship. It is significant that both have often built themselves in relation to each other. Through this relationship, Jews and Christians may therefore not only learn to love and respect each other but also discover from each other something important in regard to their own identity. This is not only important for historical and psychological reasons but also important to the more vital question of salvation. I suppose the main reason for devoting my life to this relationship is not merely theological or academic. For me it is an existential matter. I have carried the Jewish-Christian tension in my flesh.
JG: You grew up in a Jewish family, but you and your father accepted Jesus as your Messiah. This means that you personally experienced in your life the tensions between these two strong identities. Is it possible to be Jewish and Christian?
JD: My father was on his way to becoming a rabbi when a number of dramatic circumstances confronted us with the possibility that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.
For him and also for me, this discovery was traumatic. It was a shock for all our family and the Jewish Sephardic community of our little town of Constantine (Algeria). My mother never followed. She was very opposed and fought against it forcefully. Many members of the family from both sides intervened. Several friends and the rabbis came and talked with us. It was not an easy choice. My father struggled all the more, because he remained faithful to his Jewish identity. He still attended the synagogue and observed the Jewish festivals. My father always considered himself a Jew.
It is in that context that I was exposed to the Christian message. It is through my father and with my father through his questions and through his suffering that I learned to discover the figure of Jesus the Messiah. Like my father, I never rejected my roots. I immersed myself in Jewish tradition, and my father insisted on maintaining in me the Jewish values, the intense study of the Hebrew Scriptures, the importance of ethics, the reverence of the Sabbath, the affirmation of life, etc. As a Jewish boy, I attended the Hebrew school from the age of five. But I wanted to go further, so I extensively studied the Hebrew language, rabbinics, and even modern Hebrew literature at the University of Strasbourg, where I obtained a doctorate in Hebrew and Jewish studies under the direction of the Jewish philosopher Andre Neher. I even attended a yeshiva for several years. I wanted to learn as much as I could in order to ensure that I was making the right choice. In the course of this spiritual journey, I not only learned from my father, but I also understood the passion of my mother’s fight.
So to your question « Is it possible to be Jewish and Christian? » I am at first tempted to respond Yes. Remember, the first Christians were Jews, and for them the two identities were not mutually exclusive. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John never rejected their Jewish roots. As far as the content is concerned the value, the truth, so to speak yes, it is possible to be Jewish and Christian. It may even be considered as a valuable asset, however difficult. There is a Yiddish proverb, « Shwer zu sein hayid » (« It is difficult to be a Jew »), but it is more difficult to be a Jew and a Christian. And that’s because it is difficult, and to some extent unbearable, to recognize and embrace the values and the truth from a people when those people happened also to be your oppressors.
JG: I suppose that when a Jew hears the word Jesus he does not think of the person of Jesus but of what the « Christians » have done: pogroms and concentration camps. In other words, is there any hope of reconciliation after Auschwitz?
JD: You just hit at the most sensitive cord. As American President Bill Clinton once said: « It is difficult to disassociate the message from the messenger. » Because of the painful and shameful history you just evoked, the name of Jesus has been associated in the Jewish consciousness with the memory of massacre, discrimination, and rejection for 2,000 years, the systematic « teaching of contempt » all climaxing at Auschwitz. Many Christians still do not realize the nature of that connection; and, consciously or not, they keep nurturing their mentalities with the old poison teaching and preaching the curse against the Jews who are charged with the most horrible crime of humanity, deicide: the killing of God.
Meanwhile, there is the supersession theology, which denies the Jews and Israel the right even to be Israel, since the « true Israel » is another people. (This theory has been denounced as « a spiritual holocaust. ») This goes along with all kinds of strange ideas that Christians still entertain about the Jews: the myth of the Jewish plot, the association of the Jew with deception and money, etc. I am here referring to the old beast called « anti-Semitism. »
You asked me if there is hope of reconciliation after Auschwitz. As long as Christians, whoever they are and whatever community they belong to, do not understand and recognize their responsibility at Auschwitz; as long as they are still fueling the fire and pushing in the same direction; as long as they keep in their heart anti-Semitic ideas and feelings there is no hope of reconciliation. With Auschwitz, Jewish-Christian history has reached a point of no return. After Auschwitz, it is no more decent to think or act or feel in the ways that have produced Auschwitz. To hope for a reconciliation after Auschwitz amounts then to hope in a genuine « conversion » on the part of the Christians. As long as Christians will not take this sin of anti-Semitism seriously, as long as they are not ready to turn back, repent, and recognize the Jewish roots that bear them, there is no hope for reconciliation. As a result, we can even say that there is no hope for any other reconciliation, and I mean here especially the Christian reconciliation with the God of Israel Himself.
The relation between the two connections is such that a Christian theologian has gone so far as to denounce anti-Semitism as a sin against the Holy Spirit, i.e., an unforgivable sin. This may sound exaggerated for many who have not come to comprehend the hideous nature of this sin and its implications, and that’s simply because they have gotten so used to it.
JG: In one of your books, you explain how it is difficult for a Jew who believes in Jesus to be accepted as a Jew by the Jews. What about the Christians? Is it easy for a Jew to become a member of the Christian family? Do you feel well-accepted among us?
JD: It is true that for the last few years some Jews who identified themselves as Christians have had their application for Israeli citizenship turned down. This has not always been the case; and some political experts think that this law may change in the near future. I must also add that according to the Jewish law (Halakhah), a Jew always remains a Jew whatever he does, even if he identifies himself as a Christian. Ironically, the Nazis have demonstrated the truth of this observation. The anti-Semite Drumont used to say, « When a Jew becomes Christian, we have one more Christian, but we don’t have one less Jew. »
As far as I am concerned—and you asked me a personal question—I must say that, in spite of their disapproval, my family and my Jewish friends never rejected me as a Jew. They consider me as a little marginal, but they respect me even when angry with me at times.
When it comes to my integration into Christian society, this is more complex. I have never hidden my Jewish identity; I have ever affirmed it in my lectures, my writings, and my private conversations. And it is clearly recognized in my professional life: I have chosen to teach Hebrew and Jewish studies; I am involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue and am a member of the Society of Jewish Studies. I am the director of the newly created Institute of Jewish-Christian Studies at Andrews University. I am the editor of two Jewish-Christian journals (Shabbat Shalom, L’Olivier). All this speaks loudly of my Jewish identity.
Yet the very fact that you are asking me this question in those terms suggests that to some degree I have remained a foreigner. So my answer to your question must be ambivalent. Yes, I feel well-accepted; I feel that I am one of you. Yet being a Jew in a Christian society, I am constantly, at each step of my life, reminded of the Jewish-Christian problem: « innocent » jokes, theologically sweeping statements, suggestive smiles, and also some unpleasant experiences always reviving the same wound. But I have many good friends, and you are one of them, with whom I feel at ease being myself, whatever that may mean, and with whom this question becomes irrelevant.
JG: The public lectures that you give around the world are very successful. Eighty percent of the attendees are Jews. How can you explain that?
JD: I have lectured all over the world in many cities in France, Switzerland, Canada, and, more recently, in Australia. I am always amazed by the great interest many Jews and also Christians have nowadays in the issues I am debating. It is always difficult to explain success, especially if you are personally involved. I think, however (speaking in human terms), that the attendance of so many Jews is perhaps due to my personal as well as my academic back ground, my studies in Jerusalem, my writings. The people are intrigued.
It is also true that my presentations as a university professor give me a more neutral, and therefore less suspect, image. I also think that many Jews attend my lectures precisely because of the topics I choose to speak of and because I am discussing issues that are theirs as well as mine. And yet, in my lectures, I am not addressing Jews only; I am also speaking to Christians. Because the issues are interrelated, I have found that the most effective way to communicate with this one group is through relating to the other group.
My lectures revolve around the Jewish- Christian tension, and I confront the two parties. Speaking just to the Jews would end up being offensive and is always suspect. At the same time, this method is not a shrewd strategy for attracting the Jews. I present my findings and my message with honesty and candor but also with passion and deep conviction. I also do it in such a way that new perspectives and fresh insights are suggested. Although I remain respectful to various cultural and religious sensitivities, I bring up hot theological issues such as the Torah, the Sabbath, the Messiah, the condition of people in death, but I also touch on human issues such as anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Israel, the interconfessional dialogue.
I remember at one of my lectures a Roman Catholic theology doctoral student who came to me in shock. She had never heard what I was saying, and she wanted to hear more. I also remember a young Israeli man who was puzzled by my explanations and asked for some literature through which he could pursue the issues further. Then there was a Polish Jewish lady, an Auschwitz survivor, who was moved to tears and with whom I had a long conversation. I also recall a Presbyterian lady who was surprised and « so disappointed » that my lectures had not been more broadly advertised in Jewish-Christian associations.
JG: How does the Jewish community react to your lectures?
JD: I must say that the acceptance is ambivalent. At first, they are suspicious. Some are angry. But after the first lecture and private conversations, I have discovered that they become more attentive and interested. At Marseilles, I was even invited to speak on the Jewish radio. I was not only interviewed, but my book was advertised there, and some of my lectures were broadcast. A rabbi bought several tapes of my lectures about « Sabbath and Hope. » In Melbourne, I was interviewed on the Israeli station and could speak in Hebrew on the very issues about which I was lecturing. The conversation was broadcast throughout the country where many Israelis live.
JG: Several Christian organizations are trying to convert Jews. The reaction of the Jews is very strong against this. Is it possible to share the hope of Jesus without hurting their sensitivities?
JD: Today, after the Holocaust and centuries of Christian effort to eliminate the Jews from the scene of history, any open at tempt to « convert » Jewish people will trigger strong reactions. Christians who want to share with Jews « the hope of Jesus » should, therefore, first of all ask themselves a question about their real motives. Why do they want to « convert » Jews? Do they intend to transform them into their image and thus erase their Jewish identity?
So, to your difficult question, I will simply answer: Yes, it is possible for Christians to share this hope with the Jews. But, as you say, it must be done without threatening their Jewish identity. The richness and the beauty of their Jewish heritage should be respected.
Another question Christians should honestly ask themselves relates to the content of this hope we are talking about. Am I really bringing to the Jews something that will enrich them or impoverish them? Do they really need what I intend to share with them? This question may shock some Christians who hardly see any other values and truths outside of their own set of values and habits of thinking. This question is important, however, for it is a way of testing whether or not we have the right approach. Through that question, the Christian is compelled to resituate himself/herself, to test his/her convictions to make sure that his/her Christian faith is not a mere veneer of culture; that it is, indeed, a rich, vital, and profound experience that has a universal quality. In other words, the conversion of the Christian is a prerequisite for the conversion of the Jew.
JG: Do we have to become Jewish to be accepted by the Jews?
JD: No, this is not what I mean. Of course, the apostle Paul suggests that approach: « Greek with the Greeks and Jew with the Jews. » But in saying that, he does not imply that we have to change our identity in order to be able to reach out to Jews. A man does not need to become a woman in order to be able to reach out to women, and vice versa. The Greeks knew that Paul was a Jew. He could not hide it. But at least he could try to speak their language and understand their culture and start from where they were even if it meant referring to a pagan god, as was the case at Athens. But again, he did not play the Greek; he did not disguise himself into a Greek nobleman. He remained a Jew and addressed the people while taking into consideration their culture and social context
JG: Are you referring to the « missiological » principle of contextualization?
JD: Yes. But there is often confusion when it comes to this principle: You cannot be naturally what you are not. Otherwise, it becomes a comedy, often not a well-played comedy, and then the message does not pass; or if it does, it is received as a fake. It will not be taken seriously. I have observed that very quickly the game is unmasked, and the result is catastrophic. As for the Jews, the intended audience, you can be sure that they have easily detected what is phony about it. Either they will be offended and angry with you, or they will laugh.
This attitude has nothing to do with the principle of contextualization as understood by the apostle Paul, not to mention the ethical problem. You cannot witness to the truth while not being true. This is common sense. Remain yourself, but at the same time do not force them to become a mechanical duplication of yourself. Respect their difference; let them remain Jews in themselves. Then, true communication will work, and you will be able to listen to each other and receive from each other.
JG: What can be done to improve the connection between Jews and Christians?
JD: There is so much to be done. And this work, of course, concerns both Jews and Christians. This is why we have the journal Shabbat Shalom. The title of the journal is already suggestive of the program and the philosophy behind it. We want to promote a better understanding between us and Jews. It aims at the Jewish reconciliation, the Shalom, the peace. And it roots this ideal in the common anchor of Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom is a journal sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Jews and Seventh-day Adventists are not aware of the common ground they share with each other. In addition to the Shabbat (Sabbath), there is the holistic view of life, the dietary rules, the importance of the Scriptures, etc.
Jews and Seventh-day Adventists need to know more about each other. This is the reason Shabbat Shalom contains interviews with rabbis and famous Jewish personalities, such as Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel, as well as Christians and especially Seventh-day Adventist personalities such as Dr. B. B. Beach. This journal treats various topics such as « Suffering, » the « Sabbath, » « the Law, » « Hope, » etc., from a Jewish- Christian perspective. Not only Jews but also Christians, and especially Seventh-day Adventists, should read the journal and then share it with a Jewish or Christian friend. This common reading will help to create a framework for further discussion.
JG: Could you suggest a few measures to help us in this enterprise?
JD: I have at least seven:
1. Work seriously within your soul and mind and mouth to purify yourself from any kind of anti-Semitic prejudice. Become friends with a Jew.
2. Create opportunities for interaction. Set up cultural events of Jewish-Christian interest on special occasions, such as a Jewish festival, a Friday night, a national anniversary (Holocaust Day). From time to time attend events organized by the Jewish community. Be the member of a Jewish- Christian association.
3. Introduce into your liturgy songs and even readings of Jewish inspiration. These will often enhance your understanding and communication of your truth. Invite Jewish friends.
4. Avoid the use of pictures of Jesus and of « crosses. » These signs are often interpreted by Jews as marks of idolatry. As for the cross, it is always associated in the Jewish mind with the painful memory of oppression. Remember that it is the cross reminding of the crucifixion that inspired the Crusades (derived from the word cross) and the pogroms. Besides, the traditional Christian taste for « crosses » can suggest a morbid preoccupation with death that hurts the natural Jewish sensitivity about affirming the value of life.
5. Organize workshops in your community to create a « Jewish awareness » (invite a specialist; see no. 7).
6. Promote Shabbat Shalom. Read, enjoy, and share it with your Jewish and Christian friends (see ad on p. 19).
7. Call upon the services of the recently created Institute of Jewish-Christian Studies at Andrews University. Workshops, books, pamphlets, and tapes will be available soon.
JG: Dr. Doukhan, do you think that one day a good Jew will be able to use the name of Jesus without feeling deeply hurt?
JD: Definitely yes. And I believe the day has already come. Of course, I am one example among many others. Paradoxically after the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, more and more Jews are able to disassociate Jesus from the offensive Christian testimony. It is interesting that much more has been written about Jesus in Hebrew in the last thirty years than in the eighteen previous centuries. Along with Christians who begin to reconsider their Jewish roots and learn to love the law of the God of Israel, many Jews begin to realize that Jesus belongs to their Jewish heritage and as such deserves their attention. Yes, I believe that there is reason to hope that our task isn’t, indeed, a « Mission Impossible. »
Jacques B. Doukhan
What does the significance of feasts and festivals of the Old Testament hold for Christians today? How should Seventh-day Adventist theology, that recognizes the validity of the Seventh-day Sabbath, view the Levitical feasts?
Arguments in support of and against the observance of the feasts have been debated in church circles recently, including Adventist churches. Therefore, this issue must be addressed. This article proposes to take up this task in two parts. The first part will examine five arguments generally employed with respect to observing the feasts: (1) the pedagogical value of the typological interpretation of the feasts; (2) the usefulness of being reminded of the historical connection between Israel’s feasts and Christian proclamation; (3) the relationship of the feasts to the Sabbath; (4) the relationship of the Feast of the New Moon to the Sabbath; and (5) the potential for better Jewish-Christian relations. In dealing with each issue, I propose to examine the problems raised by the Christian observance of the feasts and then discuss the negative arguments that oppose such practice. The second part of the article will suggest “a proper way,” further directions to take, along with some practical applications for the life of the church.
Jewish festivals as a teaching tool
The biblical festivals were intricately linked to the sacrificial system. Indeed, the sacrifices were not mere rituals or cultural expressions of piety; they were central to the very meaning of the festivals. The Feast of Passover, for example, did not just require the slaughter and eating of a lamb (Exod. 12:3–10); in fact, the lamb gave Passover its fundamental meaning and raison d’être. The Passover was specifically designed as a reminder of the sacrifice of the lamb offered in the Exodus event: God’s passing over the blood of the slaughtered animal, thereby granting redemption (Exod. 12:13). This connection is so strong that Passover is actually identified with the lamb itself. Pesah (Passover) is the lamb (2 Chron. 30:15).
Not only Passover, but also all the other festivals revolved around sacrifices in connection to atonement. The biblical texts dealing with the feasts stipulate the sacrifice of a goat as a sin offering to make atonement for the people (Num. 28:15, 22, 30; 29:5, 11, 28). In the New Testament, the sacrifices point to the coming and function of Christ. Jesus is identified with the Passover lamb (John 1:36; cf. 1 Cor. 5:7), with the whole sacrificial system seen as the shadow of “things to come” (Heb. 10:1; cf. Col. 2:16, 17). The sacrifices convey a prophetic message concerning the process of salvation: God will come down and offer Himself as a sacrifice in order to atone for sin and redeem humanity.
The effect of Christ’s sacrifice is definitive and perpetual. In that sense, we have to understand the phrase “ ‘ “statute forever throughout your generations” ’ ” (Lev. 23:14, NKJV). The phrase “statute forever” does not mean a perpetual stipulation; otherwise this would mean that we still have to do all the sacrifices. Indeed, the same phrase “statute forever” is also used for the sacrifices (Lev. 3:17) and all the other rituals associated with the tabernacle: the ablutions (Exod. 30:21), the priestly garments (Exod.28:43), the lamps (Exod. 27:20, 21), etc. In other words, the use of the expression “forever” does not mean a perpetual obligation but should be understood within the context of the temple—that is, as long as the temple was standing. Now that the sacrifices are no longer possible because of the absence of the temple, and because prophecy contained within the sacrifices has been fulfilled in Christ, it follows that sacrifices and related rituals, such as Levitical festivals, are no longer mandatory. The type has met the Antitype. To engage in festivals with the idea that they are compulsory for our own salvation makes the Antitype, the Messiah, altogether irrelevant.
Also noted, the same expression “forever” is used for the covenant of the circumcision (Gen.17:13). Does this mean that circumcision continues as still valid today? If that were the case, this would then contradict the recommendation of the apostles in Acts 15. All these observations help us understand why the expression “forever” with respect to feasts does not support an everlasting requirement.
That argument aside, it is precisely this typological/prophetic function of the feasts that inspires those who support the keeping of the feasts. They argue that the observance of the feasts will help Christians gain a better and richer understanding of the plan of salvation. The profound meaning of the feasts was already attested to in the New Testament; they not only commemorated past events of salvation, especially the going out of Egypt and the miracles of Exodus, they also pointed to the cosmic and eschatological salvation. It is indeed significant that Jesus died and was resurrected during the time of Passover, which He not only celebrated, commemorating the Exodus, but also invested with fresh meaning, applying it to Himself (Matt. 26:17–30). Also meaningful is the event of the gift of the Spirit, associated with the proclamation of the gospel to the nations, taking place during Pentecost, the time of harvest. Basically, the spring festivals pointed to the first step of salvation: the first coming of Christ, His death, His resurrection, His enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the universal broadening of the covenant through the global proclamation of the gospel. The fall festivals pointed to the second step of salvation: the judgment in heaven and the proclamation of the three angels’ messages on earth, preparing for the cosmic salvation and the second coming of Christ (Rev. 14:6–13). As Richard Davidson notes, “[T]he first and last feasts of Israel’s cultic calendar seem tied to the inauguration and consummation of Israel’s salvation history respectively.” 1 The progression of the feasts in the yearly calendar, following the progression of the historical plan of salvation, has then been used as an argument in favor of the adoption of these festivals as a part of our religious life. But the pedagogical function of the feasts does not imply that these feasts are divine laws to be perpetually observed.
The main problem remains, however, as to whether those feasts should be observed by Christians today.
The historical connection
One function of the feasts was its application to the historical life of Israel in Canaan. When the temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from the land, they were obliged to create and develop new traditions for the observance of the feasts adapted to the situation of the exile, that is, without the temple and the sacrifices.2 Also, the fact that Jesus and His disciples observed the festivals and, later, early Christians (Jewish Christians) as well, even without sacrifices, suggests that it is not inconceivable for Christians to celebrate the festivals.
Yet, this example cannot be used as an argument to justify the Christian celebration of the feasts since Jesus and the early Christians kept not only the Jewish festivals but also other cultural and ceremonial practices, such as circumcision, the wearing of the tallith (prayer shawl), etc., practices that were not adopted by Gentile Christians on the basis of Acts 15. Furthermore, Christians, especially Seventh-day Adventists, do not have a historical festival tradition showing how to celebrate those festivals. How, then, will they celebrate the festivals? On what grounds will they justify one practice over another? Their claim to observe the festivals the biblical way stumbles on the fact that the biblical way requires the offering of sacrifices in the temple (Deut. 16:5). Without the support of a historical and cultural tradition, the keeping of the feasts is bound to generate tensions and dissensions in the church. Moreover, since no specific biblical law exists indicating how these laws should be observed outside of the temple, they will have to produce laws and traditions of their own. Ángel Rodríguez is right when he warns, “Those who promote the observance of the festivals have to create their own personal way of celebrating the feasts and in the process create human traditions that are not based on an explicit expression of God’s will.”3
The Sabbath and the festivals
The practice of festivals may even affect our theology of the Sabbath. The Bible clearly explains the essential difference between the feasts and the Sabbath. Festivals are not like the weekly Sabbath. Unlike the festivals, the Sabbath, as a sign, reminds us of the creation of the universe and is therefore eternal in its relevance. God gave the Sabbath at the end of the Creation week when there was no sin on earth and hence no sacrifice and no feasts. The Sabbath, unlike the festivals, was a part of the Ten Commandments and given to all of humanity. In fact, its origin predates the gift of the Torah to Israel on Sinai (Exod.16:23–28). Furthermore, Leviticus 23:3, 4, which lists the festivals along with the Sabbath, clearly suggests that an essential difference exists between the two categories of holy days. In Leviticus 23, the Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the list (v. 3). Then the other holy days are listed under the designation “ ‘ “these are the feasts of the Lord” ’ ” (v. 4, NKJV), suggesting thereby that the Sabbath belongs to another category than the feasts. Although the Sabbath also implies sacrifices (Num. 28:9, 10), it is significant that the regular phrase “sin offering for atonement,” which always appears in relation to the festivals, is absent in reference to the Sabbath. This clear distinction suggests that the function of sacrifices in the context of the Sabbath is essentially different from their function in the context of the festivals. The Sabbath differs, not only from any other day of the week, but also from any feast day. It is noteworthy that this difference and even the superiority of the Sabbath over the festivals is systematically indicated in the liturgic reading of the Torah: we have more ‘alyot (ascents to the platform to read the Torah) on the day of Sabbath (seven) than on any festival day. To equate the Sabbath with the festivals is fundamentally wrong and affects the true meaning of Sabbath, ultimately compromising its mandatory character.
Realizing that the Sabbath differs from the festivals, and is even more important than them, will help us understand the nature of the connection between the two holy appointments. The fact that Leviticus 23 brings them together while marking the difference between them suggests, indeed, that the Sabbath is the crown, the climax of all festivals.
Paradoxically, this special connection between the Sabbath and the Levitical festivals brings out, in fact, a lesson about the relative value of the festivals versus the absolute value of the Sabbath. Instead of leading to the promotion of the observance of festivals, the study of the festivals should lead to a better understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath “is the foundation of all sacred time,”4 and thus contains and fulfills all the values and truths intimated by the festivals.
The Sabbath and the New Moon Festival
Within the festivals, the New Moon Festival occupies only a secondary place. Unlike other biblical holy days, the new moon never qualifies as a sacred day on which all labor is prohibited.5 During the period of the first temple, it was relegated to a “semi-festival” status, and its observance disappeared totally during the second temple period; thus, by the middle of the fourth century when the sages had established a permanent calendar, the proclamation of the new moon day was discontinued.6 Jewish tradition generally assigns a “minor” role to the New Moon Festival.7
Therefore, it is surprising that the New Moon Festival has received renewed attention, especially among Messianic Jews and even some Adventists. One justification for such observance is Isaiah 66:23 (NKJV), “ ‘It shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the Lord.” This text is used to suggest that the New Moon Festival will be observed in heaven along with the Sabbath. But the text does not speak so much about the observance of those two days, per se; rather, it emphasizes the continuity of worship, a characteristic of the new earth. For that purpose, the biblical author refers to the two extremities of time: “from . . . to.” What this verse actually says is that the worship continues as an activity of eternity—“from New Moon to New Moon” and “from Sabbath to Sabbath”; as if to say, from month to month, from week to week.
A second reason offered for the observance of the new moon feast is that the moon determines the Sabbath day. On the basis of biblical texts, such as Genesis 1:14 and Psalm 104:19, it is argued that the weekly Sabbath was originally tied to the lunar cycle. Indeed, both texts relate the moon to the seasons (mo‘adim). Since Leviticus 23 includes the Sabbath in the category of (“seasons,” “convocations”; see v. 2), and since the moon rules the seasons (Gen. 1:14), some conclude that the moon also rules the Sabbath. This argument raises a number of problems, including the following:
1. The meaning of the Hebrew word mo‘adim. This word relates to the verb y‘d with which it is also associated (Exod. 30:36; 2 Sam. 20:5). This verb means “to appoint” a time or a place (2 Sam. 20:5; Jer. 47:7). The word mo‘adim refers to “appointments,” “meetings,” or “convocations” in time or space. Now, not all the appointments (mo‘adim) are ruled by the moon. When Jeremiah 8:7 uses the word mo‘adim to refer to the migration times of the stork and other migratory birds, it does not imply that the migrations of the stork are governed by the moon, since the stork returns to Palestine regularly every spring. The word mo‘adim simply refers to a specific time or place appointed, either by humans (1 Sam. 20:35) or by God (Gen. 18:14), and could be weekly (1 Sam. 13:8), monthly, yearly (Gen. 17:21), or even prophetic (Dan. 12:7); and is not necessarily always dependent on the moon.
2. The idea that the Sabbath is dependent on the moon was in fact originally borrowed from the historical-critical presupposition of the Babylonian influence on the Bible. According to that view, the Sabbath was originally taken either from the Babylonian custom of the lunar days, evil/taboo days associated with lunar phases falling on days 7, 14, 19, 21, and 28 of the month, or from the monthly, full-moon day (shab/pattu). But this claim has no biblical support whatsoever and is no longer taken seriously by biblical scholars.8
3. The idea of the dependence of the Sabbath on the moon—placing the Sabbath on any day of the week, depending on the movements of the moon—goes against the testimony of history. First, it goes against the testimony of the Jews. Indeed, millions of Jews have kept the seventh-day Sabbath on Saturday for thousands of years, and this practice was never changed or lost by either the Julian or Gregorian calendar; the change only affected the number of the days and never the days of the week.9 The Jews still keep the same seventh-day Sabbath that was given at Creation, the same day that was commanded at Sinai and kept by Jesus and the apostles; that is, our Saturday. The claim that connects Sabbath to the moon and makes it fall on Tuesday, or any other moon-dependent day, is, indeed, a way of replacing the true Sabbath with another day, based on human speculation, just as human tradition replaced Sabbath with Sunday.
4. The argument that the day of the crucifixion of Jesus was Passover— that is, the 14th day from the new moon (Exod. 12:6; and, at the same time, the Sabbath day}—cannot be used to support the idea that the Sabbath depends on the moon. According to the testimony of the Gospels, Jesus was crucified on the preparation day (Friday) and not on Sabbath.
5. The fact that the function of the moon begins on the fourth day of Creation week (Gen. 1:14–19) makes it impossible to identify the Sabbath, coming three days later, as a moon day.
The Jewish-Christian relation
The Christian practice of the festivals may be counterproductive in regard to Jewish-Christian relations. Christians who engage in those festivals, adopting traditions that belong to another culture, will appear artificial and fake. They will also be offensive to Jews who will perceive in this endeavor a usurping intention in the line of supercessionism, 10 or a deceitful means to trap them into conversion. Christians, who imitate the Jews in the practice of the festivals, tend to do it in the context of a church liturgy, involving a whole community, as a public event. No need to say that this Christian adaptation of the Jewish custom totally misses the point and is shocking for the Jews, as traditionally those feasts were designed to be celebrated only at home, in the intimate circle of the family, and not in public. The Christian reproduction may, therefore, often become a caricature or a misrepresentation—at best, a pale imitation of the Jewish original. Instead of being a means of reaching out to the Jews, the Christian adaptations of the Jewish festivals may turn them away.
The marking of festivals may, on the other hand, draw Christians closer to the Jews, whom their tradition has taught them to despise. Indeed, anti-Semitism was the main motivation for the repudiation, not only of the Sabbath, but also of the feasts. It appears, then, that by marking the festivals, Christians could make a statement not only against the anti-Semitic voice of various groups but also, at the same time, produce a way of contextualization for reaching out to the Jews.
Yet, the situation is not this simple. As I have indicated earlier, the observance of festivals encounters serious theological, cultural, ethical, and practical problems that invite caution and serious reservations.
1 Richard M. Davidson, “Sanctuary Typology,” in Symposium on Revelation–Book I, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, vol. 6, ed. Frank B. Holbrook (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 120.
2 See the Babylonian Talmud, Ber. 4:1, 7; 26b; 32b.
3 Ángel Rodríguez, Israelite Festivals and the Christian Church (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2005), 9.
4 Roy E. Gane, “Sabbath and Israelite Festivals,” Shabbat Shalom 50, no. 1 (2003): 28.
5 Ibid., 414.
6 The Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 591; Encyclopaedia Judaica,
corrected ed. (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1994), 12:1039.
7 Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 411.
8 Gerhard Hasel, “The Sabbath and the Pentateuch,” in The Sabbath in Scripture and History, ed. Kenneth A. Strand (Washington, DC : Review and Herald, 1982), 21; and id., “The Sabbath in the Prophetic and Historical Literature of the Old Testament,” in The Sabbath in Scripture and History, 45.
9 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Gregorian calendar,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar (accessed March 30, 2009).
10 On the meaning and dangers of supercessionism, the idea that the church has replaced, “superceded,” Israel, see ibid., 55–70; cf. id., The Mystery of Israel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2004), 11–47.
Jacques B. Doukhan
Editor’s note: In part one of this series, we reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of five arguments generally employed by Christians and some Adventists for celebrating the Levitical festivals of the Old Testament. In this issue we offer a possible proper approach toward such festivals.
Valuing the riches and blessings associated with festivals but also being aware of the problems that are implied in observing them, Christians, if they wish, may search for a proper way to engage in festivals. They could explore some way to mark the festivals. This practice should not only be conducted with theological lucidity but also with prudence and balanced wisdom, humility, openness, and a willingness to learn. A number of practical suggestions may help Christians find a meaningful implication of the festivals in their Christian life and worship.
The would versus the should
First of all, to understand the non-normative character of the festivals is important. The New Testament offers a good example of how Christians should relate to the festivals. Indeed many texts provide us with the typological function of the sacrifices and then warn against the idea that they are still normative and necessary for our salvation. On the other hand, nowhere in the New Testament do we hear that we should not observe them. Actually, Jesus and His disciples kept celebrating them; and, later, the early Christians (Jews themselves living within a Jewish environment) as well as Paul, himself, followed the same practice. But they never felt it necessary to enforce the observance of the feasts on the Gentiles who desired to join the community of believers (Acts 15).
Wisely, they came to the conclusion “that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols [idolatry], from sexual immorality [ethics], from things strangled, and from blood [Levitical dietary principles]. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read . . . every Sabbath” (Acts 15:19–21, NKJV). Thus, the apostolic decree refers to three domains of the Law of Moses: idolatry, ethics, and the mosaic dietary laws. All these prescriptions were based on the reading of the books of Moses “every Sabbath,” suggesting that respect for the fourth commandment, “the Sabbath,” was also implied in the apostolic decree. No reference to the festivals is even implicitly given in the text. This attitude contains a principle of tolerance, not only towards the Gentiles who were not to be troubled by the new, unnecessary burden, but also implicitly towards the Jews who wanted to join the church. For if it was considered inappropriate by the apostles to trouble the Gentiles by imposing on them a new lifestyle implying the observance of the laws of circumcision and the Jewish festivals, it would also have been inappropriate to trouble the Jews by imposing on them a new lifestyle implying the abandonment of those customs. The word should should not be used either to impose the festivals or to defend them. We should not say, “You should observe them,” nor say, “You should not observe them.”
Wisely and significantly, Ellen White uses the word would and not should to express her rather positive view on that matter: “Well would it be,” she says, “to have a Feast of Tabernacles.”* Although her statement only refers to one festival, it suggests that Ellen White could have been in favor of exploring that possibility also for other festivals. For the reason she gives to justify this practice, “a joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to them,” could apply for the other festivals as well. At any rate, this remark shows not only an attitude of openness on the part of Ellen White—she was not afraid of exploring new avenues—but also an attitude of tolerance and wisdom. Indeed, the use of the word would rather than the word should not only denotes humility and openness but also shows respect for another point of view. Such an attitude of tolerance and prudence is to be commended, for it will avoid the risk of reaction and polarization, which has always degenerated into radicalization and fanaticism and ultimately led to divisions in the church.
A marking calendar
If we choose to mark the feast on the yearly calendar, we should do it with a clear understanding of what that feast means from a specific Seventh-day Adventist perspective. The choice of my words here, marking calendar rather than liturgical, and mark the festivals rather than do or keep or observe, is deliberate and intentional. The marking of the festivals should not be imposed as a doctrinal, liturgical/religious, or even an administrative obligation for the church as a whole entity. It should rather be suggested as a free opportunity to remind of God’s plan of salvation and of our prophetic identity and mission. It could serve as an opportunity to teach, learn, and proclaim at home, in the church, and in the world, the great dimensions of God’s plan of redemption.
The festivals are nothing but a pedagogical or evangelistic tool to be used, just as we sometimes do when we use the model of the sanctuary to witness through this object lesson to our unique message. It should be descriptive and instructive, not prescriptive. If we desire to mark the festival, it would therefore be advisable to do it during its season, not because we want or need to be faithful to agricultural, ritualistic, and legalistic norms, but rather as an opportune moment when other people think about it, just as we traditionally do for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving (although these festivals contain some elements of pagan origin, such as Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the Easter bunny). Outside of the season, this practice will look awkward for all, be offensive towards others, and lose its communicative and signifying/ semantic power.
The main problem resides, however, in the way the festivals could be marked outside of the Bible, considering the absence of revealed instructions in this context and without the help of a developed tradition of observance as we have in Judaism. To avoid wild, creative initiatives, which may undermine and compromise the whole project, two fundamental principles should govern and guide any attempt to mark the festivals:
1. The respect of the original place from where the inspiration of the feasts has been taken, namely the Scriptures and the testimony of Israel. Learn about the genuine character of the feast and inform yourself about the Jewish traditions associated with it. Avoid deceitful and confusing misrepresentations. Make sure the feasts do not become occasions for the promotion of your personal ideas, fantasies, and hobbies that have nothing to do with the feasts, such as dances, spiritualistic and charismatic applications, inconsiderate blowing of the shofar, or putting on of exotic garments. Such expressions might be perceived as a disguising game and disrespectful behavior.
2. The respect of the new place where the inspiration of the feast has been imported, namely your church. Consult its leaders, including theological authorities and your friends (even and especially those who disagree with you), to make sure that your ideas of festivals and the information you have collected are well founded and consistent with the theology you profess as a Seventh-day Adventist. Make sure also that your experiment will not be misunderstood, will not hurt other members, and will, indeed, serve the good of the church. Avoid separate initiatives, remain humble and modest, and do not try to impose your views and practices upon other church members who may not share your perspective and spiritual sensitivity. Be prudent towards your sentimental and mystical emotions on these matters and your convictions, and do not confuse them with the divine truth or the gift of the Spirit.
To the question “Should we observe the festivals?” my answer is, on the basis of the above discussion, a clear and an unambiguous “No, we are not required to observe the festivals,” for the following reasons:
(1) Festivals have lost their normative quality as they have essentially been fulfilled in Christ and are no longer dependent on the categories of biblical revelation. The laws of the feasts are distinct from other laws such as the Sabbath and the dietary laws, which are not related to sacrifices or dependent on time, and are universal in character. It is indeed important to note and realize that God has not provided us with any instruction, any law regarding the way those festivals should be observed outside of the temple. If God has not indicated to us how to observe them in these conditions, how could He then require the observance of these laws? We are here dependent only on human traditions outside of biblical revelation.
(2) No Christian or Adventist historical tradition and/or custom exists about how these festivals have been and therefore could be observed.
(3) The specific mission and identity of the Seventh-day Adventist movement is not defined as a liturgical entity with a historical liturgical tradition to witness to. Instead, the Seventh-day Adventist Church identifies itself as a prophetic messenger with a universal scope and mission, transcending the variety of cultures and traditions, and pointing to the eschatological order.
On the other hand, this clarification should not exclude the following options:
(1) The pedagogical value of exploring and communicating (verbally or otherwise) the rich truths associated with the festivals, namely, their meaning in regard to the plan of salvation for the past, present, and future. Yet all this beauty and richness testified by the feasts does not make them normative laws to be imperatively followed. They remain just a pedagogical tool.
(2) The marking of the festivals may be used as a means of contextualization in order to reach out to the Jews, just as it is done for other cultural groups whether religious (Christmas, Easter) or secular (Thanksgiving). Even here, however, one may wonder about the efficiency and even the questionable ethics of this evangelistic method of contextualization.
(3) Jewish Adventists, like the early Jewish Christians, should not feel obligated to abandon the enjoyment of festivals; and no one should discourage them from doing so. Not only do the feasts belong to their cultural heritage, but they also provide them with an appropriate means of reaching out to other Jews. In this particular instance, in the light of the prophetic and theological dimensions of the Seventh-day Adventist message, their experience of the feasts may still become even more meaningful than in the past. These practices will be implemented, however, with a clear understanding that these laws and traditions are not prophetic revelation and no longer normative.
The last lesson to learn from the festivals is to relax and enjoy our religious life. All these tensions and discussions on whether we should observe the festivals, in fact, go against the very spirit of the feasts. Far from urging a serious and tense discussion and pressing obligation to observe or not observe, the message of the feasts is, on the contrary, a gracious invitation for joy and peace.
* Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1958), 540, 541.