For several years there have been movements encouraging Christians to get back to their roots, their Hebrew roots. Many movements, called Messianic movements, have led some Christians to celebrate Jewish feasts and to feel spiritually superior to other Christians who do not follow Jewish feasts. These movements are not new. Paul dealt with “Judaizing” in the first century. Many of the teachers believed that people had to become Jewish before they could become a Christian.
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV). Here Paul deals with the same idea of keeping feasts and observing sabbaths. Some believers felt superior to others and required them to observe festivals, new moon celebrations and sabbaths.
Today some Christians worship on the Sabbath. They feel that they must do so because the Ten Commandants say to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. They feel that not to have church on Saturday is a violation of that commandment. Many Christians worship on Sundays in honor of Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week. Christians followed this tradition in the New Testament. Jesus appeared after his resurrection on the first day of the week as the apostles gathered together (John 20:19). Christians gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread and Paul preached (Acts 20:7). Paul also asked the Corinthians to take up an offering for the church in Jerusalem on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). No commandment was ever given for a day to esteem as holy among the Christians.
Paul also wrote in Romans 14:5, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Paul never indicated that one day to worship was better than another. He said that each person should be convinced in his own mind. If you and your congregation worship on Sunday, Paul said that it was all right. Those who worship on Saturday should not try to force others to worship then. Those who worship on Sunday should not seek to force others to do so. Whichever day you chose, you do it unto the Lord (Romans 14:6).
Besides Sabbath worship, Todd Friel lists nine additional things that characterize Messianic movements:
- Celebrating Old Testament festivals
- Obeying select Old Testament laws
- Circumcision upon conversion
- Keeping kosher or partially kosher
- Elevating unbiblical texts like the Mishnah to the level of Scripture
- Calling Jesus by his Hebrew name, Yeshua
- Never spelling G-d
- Women wearing long skirts and head coverings
- Men wearing untrimmed beards
(Judge Not, p. 163, 164)
Friel calls this a confused effort to live like Old Testament Jews and help Christians to appreciate Hebrew roots they do not actually possess (p. 164). The New Testament never even hints that Christians should follow Old Testament Laws or extra-biblical teachings. The danger is that we cannot select which laws to obey. A Christian who tries to follow certain laws becomes obligated to keep all of them. This is what Paul meant by falling from grace, not losing one’s salvation, but trying to earn salvation by keeping the law (Galatians 5:2-6). Paul wrote: “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21).
James echoed the same message: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (2:10). If we try to keep the law, we must keep all of it, not just certain parts, like the festivals or Sabbath attendance. If we fail in one part, we become guilty of breaking it all. We cannot keep the Law regarding sacrifices because there is no Temple and no altar. If we try to follow the Law, we will fail at the point of sacrifices.
The Church dealt with issue at the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15. There the Judaizers wanted to make the Gentile Christians follow Jewish practices to become followers of Christ. The Church and the Apostles debated the issue. They finally arrived at the conclusion that they would not “test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (15:10).
Can we Christians learn from studying the festivals? Yes. Can we learn from studying the Laws? Yes. Are we better off if we follow them? Resoundingly no. These things were shadows that led us to Christ, who is the substance. Why do we need to go back to the shadows when we have the light? The old covenant is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13)