Why I use the standard calendar to determine yearly feast days
The writer publishes a Web site that examines religious movements, teachers and ideas. See "Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion" at www.isitso.org/guide. For other views of the feast-day calendar, see the articles by James Ussery, beginning on page 9, and Dave Havir, beginning on page 3.
By Pam Dewey
ALLEGAN, Mich.--Every year since 1996, shortly after the Feast of Tabernacles ends and long before Passover comes, the perennial topic of the so-called sacred calendar appears on the Internet forums frequented by former WCG members.
Long discussion threads form on issues such as whether the month begins with the first sighted crescent of the moon over Israel or perhaps with the calculated "conjunction" of the earth and moon or some other possibility.
Some invariably insist that believers should contact representatives of the Karaite Jews near Jerusalem and inquire about the state of the development of barley in the area in spring before they decide to declare that the first month of a new year has begun.
Others will insist the barley is irrelevant and one need only to accept the first new moon after the vernal equinox as the beginning of the year.
Still others will insist that considering the vernal equinox as part of determining a calendar is a pagan practice to be avoided.
Nary a resolution
I have participated on several such forums since early 1996. I watch the discussions, dialogues and debates on the forums year after year and have come to see that there never is any resolution to any of these matters.
After the first couple of years, the same people seem to periodically bring out the same arguments from storage and post them one more time.
The same people seem to pull out their same rebuttals in response.
I have seen nothing new as part of the mix since 1997.
New participants may come along who have only recently become aware of the issues. Such people may wish to gather input from others on the forum on aspects of the topic.
I can understand that. But again it doesn't seem to end with each side posting its best information and then letting the buyer sort it through. Once again endless point-counterpoint threads develop that end up going only in circles.
Sincere question, sincere answer
After the first couple of years I decided to bow out of such dialogues most of the time. I had stated my position, and most regulars on the forums knew what that was. I saw no profit in trying to rephrase my few points over and over.
But on the Likeminds forum recently a participant asked a pointed question of some of us who do happen to use the modern Hebrew calendar to decide when to observe the holy days.
I believed his question to be sincere and not just looking to pick a fight. I knew he had come to different conclusions from mine on these matters long ago, but I respect his diligence and zeal as he attempted to understand how best to serve God.
I also appreciate his attempt not to let his calendar convictions separate him from brethren who look at matters differently.
So I decided to post an answer to his question.
Here's why I follow the calendar
After I posted my comment on Likeminds, a friend wrote me to note that my words echoed his reasons perhaps even more clearly than he could have expressed them himself. He suggested I put the post on Ron Dart's Christian Educational Ministries forum and submit a version of the material to The Journal.
I posted it on CEM, and Ron Dart, the CEM's founder, immediately responded that I had expressed his own perspective on the matter and suggested I submit a version of it to The Journal.
Others noted to me publicly and privately that they share my perspective and found my explanation helpful. One fellow in Australia asked permission to print out what I wrote and take it to his fellowship group as the basis for a discussion on the issues.
I therefore share in this article the original information similar to the way it appeared on the forums: why I follow the calculated Jewish calendar.
No exact dates foreordained
It might help to understand that most of us who prefer not to change have no desire to convince you that you should keep any particular calendar. We have merely chosen our own course and are willing to explain why.
I believe the reason I look at the calendar issue differently from some others is that we come to the table with entirely different assumptions from which to reason about the matter.
Let me describe first what I believe the average assumption system to be of those who are convinced they must dump the modern Hebrew calendar in favor of one or the other alternate calendrical systems.
Their concept seems to be that they have appointments to keep between themselves, as individuals, and God.
Thus, if they can't figure out what calendar He uses, they will miss those appointments and make God mad.
This must surely include the assumption that God foreordained an exact set of dates for all eternity from the foundation of the world upon which He was willing to meet with those who worship Him. And, as time moved forward, He showed up on those exact dates willing to accept worship.
If the individuals miss them, it is their tough luck.
I believe every aspect of this assumption system to be in error.
First, I see no indication in Scripture that the holy days as instituted at Sinai were to be kept "between an individual and God." They were commanded assemblies. They were a corporate (relating to a unified body of individuals) observance. They were times when the whole nation got together.
The individual who decided he didn't agree with the priesthood's decision on what day to declare as the Day of Atonement, for instance, was not at liberty to pick a different day and invent some little ceremony to replace the goats at the temple ceremony (such as the Jews have invented since the temple is gone. The orthodox sling a chicken around their head and declare that to be their atonement).
Days for Christians
Another set of assumptions I believe to be in error regards the purpose of the days for Christians. In ancient Israel the average individual Israelite did not have an individually separate covenant with God; the covenant was with the nation.
It was by being a part of the nation that he kept his connection to God.
He could be "cut off" from his people for various reasons under the law, and those would, in essence, cut him off from God.
He did not have the personal freedom to perform ritual sacrifices, including the Atonement sacrifices. He was dependent on the intermediation of the priest, for he had no access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.
Keeping the appointments of the holy days was extremely important, because they were the times God came down close to the nation.
No appointment necessary
Speaking as a Christian, for me this has all changed. The veil is rent; the priesthood has been changed; I have access, 24-7-365, into the Holy of Holies.
Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is with me and in me at all times. I don't have to wait for Him to show up to an appointment.
I don't have to go to the temple in Jerusalem, at only the appointed times, to worship God. I worship Him in spirit and in truth at all times.
To try to go back and superimpose upon this reality the kind of ritualistic approach to worship that fears to make a mistake in "timing" seems to me to reject the reality of the New Covenant.
Thus the issue for me of the purpose of the holy days is not to individually worship God and come into His presence. I worship Him all the time, and He is ever present with me. The purpose of the holy-day times is to be with His people--whom I really can't be with all the time.
The holy days are for corporate (relating to a unified body of individuals) worship, in which we raise our voices together. They are for edifying and building up one another so we may reach out to a dying world with hope. They are to bind us together in love as a family.
A calendar can unify
So how should we decide when to come together?
Historically, for most of 2,000 years, the Jews have maintained their unity throughout the world with their calendar. It has served as an agreed-upon standard that allows for all of them to plan to be together for times of corporate worship.
Most of the Christian groups of the past 100-plus years who decided that the holy days of Leviticus were relevant to Christians (there were quite a number outside the Worldwide Church of God) have chosen to adopt the Hebrew calendar for the very reasons I just gave here: It has a track record of bringing people together; it allows for planning.
Enter the contemporary Church of God calendar arguments.
Happy to make changes
I am convinced that most people who feel like I do would be happy to make a change regarding the calendar if all the people proposing change would come up with the same alternative.
For instance, if the only complaint anyone had was that we ought to dump the postponements, and all could agree that that was the only change that should be made, I would be happy to make that change.
Unfortunately, from day one of the calendar bickers, large numbers of calendar proponents seem unable to agree on the elements to make a new, improved calendar to take the place of the one they consider to be old and icky.
Thus we have at least a dozen differing propositions, proposed equally and equally adamantly by equally adamant folks.
Given the assumptions I share with you here--about my meeting with God all the time and don't need an appointment to get in to see Him but I believe He wants me to use the yearly cycle of the holy days to draw closer to other people--what should I do when I view these dozen distinct options?
The One True Calendar
One last assumption before I answer this question: I believe that if God wanted me to keep an exact date for the holy days He would not play peekaboo with me and make me try to guess which of the many variations has His imprimatur as the One True Calendar.
I didn't raise my own child either of these ways:
If the holy days are a blessing from God--which I believe they are--then I do not believe He would insist that I must keep them by some system that He refused to state clearly in the Bible.
Just what do you mean?
Just why do I go along with the contemporary Hebrew calendar?
It's not because I believe it to be the calendar God gave to Moses. It's because I am not convinced that any one specific alternative is superior to the others for the purpose I believe to be the most important aspect of holy-day observance: bringing His people together.
What I have seen instead is that the debate has divided God's people into smaller and smaller pieces, down to where quite a few commanded assemblies contain exactly one person in observance of the holy days.
I believe this to be a distortion of the purpose for the cycle of holy days as it applies to the Body of Christ.
A miss and a mile
Even if I believed I must tremblingly approach only one point in time for an observance, else I will displease God, I fail to see how leaving one system that has imperfections and jumping to one of the dozen or more alternatives with their imperfections would assure me of pleasing God more.
If there is that one perfect time, then only one--or none--of those dozen or more can have it correct. The rest are as wrong as the Hebrew calendar, whether they are a day off or a month off. If God will show up on only one specific day, then a miss is a good as a mile.
After 20 years in the corporate COGs (1968-1978 WCG, 1978-1988 Church of God International), I spent eight years isolated from any holy-daykeepers in organized groups.
I spent eight years apart from a Feast of Tabernacles with others of like belief except for my family and a handful of close friends.
That wilderness experience was over in 1996 when I got back in contact with the COG world via the Internet.
I want to gather with as many brethren as possible now. I believe that pleases God. I believe He is in the midst any time we get together. I believe He will show up this fall among the 1,000-plus people who will be where I will be for the Feast of Tabernacles (in the Destin, Fla., area).
We will schedule that gathering based on a calendar we can agree on, not because it has some fanciful abstract perfection but because we can agree on it so we can make our plans.
Before calendar issues were cool
If you think God would be more pleased with me if I would choose one of the other calendars, possibly including one that might make it impossible for me to find any others to assemble with, I must disagree with you.
I don't expect you to agree with any of my assumptions in this article. I didn't offer them to try to convince you. I offered them because some people on a forum asked.
I didn't come to these assumptions, nor the conclusions I've drawn from them, lightly, nor without much prayer and many years of careful consideration of the calendar issues.
As I've mentioned before, I was studying calendar issues before calendar issues were cool in the wider COG circles.
I wept over the division they were causing clear back in 1989.
Time has not brought the debate any closer to resolution. Nor has it brought any new information into the mix. Folks just don't seem to realize they are not quibbling over the facts; they are passing one another in the night because their basic assumption systems are just different.
I have no problem with those whose assumptions are different from mine in this matter. I respect their conclusions that apply to themselves. I wouldn't want anyone to go against his conscience in this or any other issue. Each of us is accountable to God for walking in the light he has on any subject.
A few weeks ago on one of the forums, someone who was new to the calendar controversies posted how pleased he was to learn about a new way to have a biblical calendar.
He suggested that the leaders of the COGs get together and have a big calendar conference. Surely, this person implied, if people of goodwill who simply want to please God get together in a room and present their ideas, they will speedily come to a consensus.
This person seemed to think that all the COGs' calendar problems are a result of "poor communication."
The following comments are based on my response to that forum poster.
Sounds good, but watch out
I'm happy when someone finds what he thinks is a simple answer to issues he has only recently become aware of. Unfortunately, many, many others who have gone before, for two decades and more, have not found things quite so simple.
This is why the calendar issues are still so volatile in COG circles and why the sincerest of people function with several contradictory calendars, each claiming to be the One True Calendar.
You have probably not considered certain issues of the calendar, and that's putting it mildly. To paraphrase a proverb, the first person to bring his case sure sounds good--until the next guy comes along and shoots holes in it.
The idea of a calendar conference--perhaps a modern Sanhedrin meeting of COG folks--is trotted out every so often as a solution.
Sometimes the newly enlightened will suggest a big study session. He assumes sincere people of goodwill who are led by the Holy Spirit will come to a unanimous decision.
Others have suggested everyone put forth his best solution and ask the group to draw lots after prayer for God's guidance and agree to abide by the decision so arrived at.
One such suggestion:
"Have a time of prayer and fasting and then have different members of each church gather together and draw lots to see which calendar God wants us to follow. I for one would be willing to accept this path because it is possible that I could be wrong, and so can you."
I'm right and you're not
What's wrong with this supposed solution?
Although flipping a coin--which is much the same idea as casting lots--may be a way to settle disagreements such as what time to have services or who gets to speak at a gathering, I do not believe this is a useful way to settle the matter of calendars.
You would have to assume that God, indeed, was a cooperating party in this exercise.
But, unless He came down and told you, through the mouth of a valid prophet, that He wished this to be done to settle this matter, I think it would be unacceptably presumptuous to assume His benediction on the process.
Besides, the losers in this sort of exercise would never accept the decision of the lots if they were cast against their preconceived notions.
Thus flipping the coin, casting the lots, would be useful, perhaps, only for those few who were convinced they could be wrong.
That doesn't include a whole lot of folks these days.
This very method was suggested and soundly rejected in at least one Sabbatarian setting I am aware of. In 1996 my husband, George, and I and Norm Edwards of Perry, Mich. (editor of Servants' News magazine), attended a conference, national in scope, called "Unity Conference on the Calendar," presented by a loose affiliation of sacred-name groups that had a congregation near where we lived in Michigan at the time.
Many Church of God folks may not realize that precisely the same arguments over the calendars have raged for years in sacred-name circles that have tormented the COGs.
These particular people had decided that surely, if they could just get together in one room and lay the possibilities out and discuss them openly and seek YHWH's face on the matter, He would make the matter clear to them.
The opening session was full of warm fuzzies and heartfelt prayers and pleas for unity. Then the calendar presentations started.
Discussions familiar to the COGs began:
And on and on and on.
Presenter after presenter presented his slant. As the two days wore on, so did tempers, which got shorter and shorter. At one point, during a break, two men were almost nose to nose, red-faced, shouting. I was afraid they would break into fisticuffs.
At another point a whole delegation from one area stomped out in protest over an obscure issue and stood outside on the lawn for an extended and appropriate period.
Herb Solinsky of Carrollton, Texas, was there as a guest presenter, even though he was not in these sacred-name people's extended fellowship.
For those who don't know Herb, he created the main massive calendar research paper starting in the mid-1980s that began much of the brouhaha in COG circles over the calendar.
Others have conducted their own studies and written their own papers, of course. But Herb has outdone them all for thoroughness. At this gathering he gave a talk, complete with more than 100 overhead-projection diagrams, that lasted, I think it was, for about six hours--with no potty break!
I sat through the whole thing because I wanted to get as much out of it as I could.
Norm Edwards wasn't there that day, and George got worn out about two hours into the presentation and went out to our car and took a nap.
Herb had covered the bases: everything from consulting with the nation's foremost expert on barley (and thus he had copious notes on how barley grows in the Jerusalem area) to doing primary research--that is, an examination into original material about the topic rather than just reading encyclopedias and other reference works--on just about every aspect of the Hebrew words, ancient customs, astronomical concepts and so on.
No challenge from the audience could phase Herb; he had at hand a copious note to answer to every inquiry and objection.
Yep, you guessed it. Nothing Herb Solinsky said changed anyone's mind about anything.
I remember watching Herb, who is not all that tall, and a guy about twice his size go toe to toe during a break, with the other man virtually shouting at him: "Let's cast lots to settle this once and for all! Don't you believe YHWH would answer?"
The man towered over the soft-spoken, ever-courteous Herb. I almost expected him to try to squash poor Herb like a bug.
But Herb kept his cool, and his calm answer was essentially what I noted earlier: Lots aren't for settling doctrine.
Everyone else in attendance but the hothead who had wanted to cast lots agreed with Herb.
The rub is there
When you and your friends and brethren can come to an agreement that allows you to gather in peace on what you agree to be the correct dates (whatever that means), then there is no problem for you, even if the decision you come to is shown someday to be just as incorrect as the Hebrew calendar with its postponements.
The problem comes when you hope to influence a wider group. You will find that whatever system you have decided upon is just one of many in the marketplace of COG calendar ideas.
Now you know
Now can you understand why many of us have decided to stick with the standard Hebrew calendar, especially since God has not revealed a clear, definitive alternative?
The Hebrew calendar, from my perspective, leads to the most productive situation. It will allow me, for instance, to meet on the same days with close to 1,000 people in Destin this fall for the Feast of Tabernacles, where I will see many Internet friends and have a great time worshiping and rejoicing with them before God.
A perturbed gentleman
After I posted some of the above comments on the CEM forum, one gentlemen was quite perturbed with me. He insisted I was not correct when I stated I "use" the Hebrew calendar, because I do not observe such celebrations as Purim and Hannukah and I do not follow the Jewish custom of observing Pentecost on a specific calendar date (Sivan 6, which may fall on various days of the week).
Instead I count 50 days beginning with the Sunday during the week of Unleavened Bread, always ending up on a Sunday.
My response to him was that he was mistaking the items scattered on the calendar with the underlying calendar itself.
I use the modern Hebrew calendar to decide when to observe the holy days. I accept for sake of communal observance the dates on that calendar on which to start the months. I don't "follow" the Hebrew calendar. I "use" its most basic form, which sets the beginnings of months, to help me act on the biblical statements about the holy days.
The issue of the timing of Pentecost is no problem for me. Pentecost is one of the events scattered across the base of the calendar. I happen to believe that the Bible is clear on counting it, thus I can use the calendar to count it myself. I cannot dogmatically account for why the Jews have chosen to count from the first day of Unleavened Bread to get to a Sivan 6 Pentecost because I find the text clear that one needs a "morrow after the seventh Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:6) as part of the equation.
Because I am convinced of the symbolism of Jesus being the fulfillment of the wave-sheaf offering, and since His appearance to Mary was early on a Sunday morning, and because I do not believe the first day of Unleavened Bread was Saturday that year, I find this corroborates in my own mind that the count should be from a Sunday rather than Nisan 16.
A calendar is not an oracle
George and I use the Hebrew calendar not because we believe it is endorsed by the biblical statement that the Jews have the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2).
We believe that statement to refer to the preservation of the text of the Old Testament.
Rather, we use it because we have not seen one clear alternative that is obviously a perfect calendar upon which all holy-daykeepers can agree and that has God's endorsement. Until we do, we see no persuasive reason we should withdraw ourselves from large numbers of our brothers and sisters and go off and try to keep a supposed perfect calendar with just our family or a handful of others who happen to agree on some calendar variation.
I have friends from all over the country with whom I gather during feast times. Last year at Tabernacles time several families of us who rented condos near each other near St. Petersburg, Fla., got together in my condo for informal services to sing and worship and study and talk every day (see "Like Minds Like the Feast," page 14, The Journal, Oct. 31, 2001, and "Church Members Become Fast Friends on Likeminds," page 1, Nov. 30, 2001).
We had come from locations as distant as Michigan, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas and even Germany.
At other times we have participated in larger, more-formal independent Feast sites such as the one sponsored by CEM. That's where we'll be this year.
We have been blessed by these celebrations and believe them to have pleased God.
A godly choice
That someone doesn't embrace the newest calendar fad does not mean he is a blind, ignorant sheep following a guru who tells him what to think and do.
I have independently studied the calendar controversies since the 1980s. I have no guru. I am not unusual in this regard. Many in noncorporate COG circles have come independently to the same conclusion.
When we find others of like mind to rejoice with us using an alternative calendar, and we attempt with all our hearts to worship the Father in spirit and truth, then I believe our activities please God.
I wrote this article because I believe it useful for those embroiled in calendar controversies to understand that it is possible for others--even those who follow the Hebrew calendar--to understand the issues yet conclude that the use of the Hebrew calendar is a godly choice.
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