19 April 2011

Easter and Holy Week 2011 - Part 1*

As usual, I'm behind. This was supposed to be done last week, but here it is...just in time for Maundy Thursday!

Well, the full moon is illuminating the night sky. Beautiful. It must be getting close to Easter. You know the connection right? A lot of people seem unaware. We all know the date of Easter varies from year to year, but how many know why?

First of all, it has to be after the Spring Equinox which always falls roughly around 21 March. So you can never have Easter before that.

Second, there has to be a full moon…after the Equinox.

And then and only then can we have Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday AFTER the Full Moon, AFTER the Spring Equinox. So some years, like this one, we had a full moon just a day or two before the Spring Equinox. So that means we have to go through another lunar cycle to have Easter. So this year it's very late. Other years, the full moon might arrive just a day or two after the equinox and we can have a March Easter.

Now I'll state the obvious…none of this can be found in Scripture.

How did it come about? Just a quick explanation.

The early Church started at some point…when is debatable…to keep Easter. Originally it was kept in correlation to Passover…kind of a Passover-Plus or a New Israel Passover. Remember the Crucifixion took place at that time, Christ being in the grave on Passover itself. Passover in the Jewish calendar falls on the 14th of Nisan. The Jewish calendar is different than our Gregorian calendar and so not only will the 14th of Nisan fall on a different day of the week every year, over time it could end up actually being in the winter, overlapping with other Christian holidays.

There's evidence that some of the early Apostolic fathers like Polycarp kept Easter and kept it on the 14th of Nisan. The old Celtic Church in the British Isles also used this older dating method.

Later, as the Church was developing the Liturgical Calendar they wanted Easter, the Holiest Day, to fall on Sunday, the Holiest Day of the Week, and the Day of Worship. So they developed a floating day-system, the one I mentioned above that guaranteed Easter would always fall on a Sunday after the Equinox. There were numerous controversies but in the end the floating system was ratified at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Now I will readily admit that there is evidence for Easter about the year 150 or so. The Apostle John had been dead for about 50 years, and more than a few were alive who knew him personally. Polycarp a very old man by his mid-second century martyrdom was one who claimed to have known him, and we still have a letter he wrote to the Philippians. We have far more when we turn to Irenaeus, one of Polycarp's disciples. Irenaeus wrote that Polycarp kept Easter following the 14th of Nisan dating practice. Irenaeus even says that Polycarp learned this practice from John as he and the other Apostles practiced it.

Now if this is true, we have a huge problem, one that many don't seem to grasp.

If there are traditions that we are to keep outside of the Canonical Scriptures, (like the Church Fathers) then the Scriptures alone cannot be our only guide and authority.

Some might suggest that we can use the Scriptures as the lens by which we judge traditions. If they don't contradict Scripture then they are permissible. This is the old Lutheran argument. Okay, let's look at Easter. How can we determine if it's valid?

This whole dating system…it's not in the Scripture. It's made up. So if it doesn't 'harm' the gospel it's okay?

Jesus said in Matthew 15 that the Pharisees worshipped in vain teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Paul says in Colossians 2 that we are free from the ordinances that were against us and that we're free from such obligations. Obviously here he was combating the Judaizers who were trying to bind Old Covenant practices upon the Church. We're no longer under dietary laws, Sabbath or other holydays etc… They were shadows fulfilled in Christ.

14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: (or Sabbath Day----Proto)

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

And he seems to attack the whole notion of traditions and innovation in the realm of worship:

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Commandments and doctrines of men. Whether they are Jewish or Gentile in origin he seems to reject the idea that man can develop these ideas, ways to approach and please God.

But what if Easter is Apostolic? Then I have to ask…why isn't it in Scripture? The Resurrection if of course Scriptural but where are we told to keep this day as special? What about all that goes with it?

What about the notion of a Liturgical Calendar, holy seasons etc…?

You see if you're going to argue that we can keep Easter as an Apostolic Tradition that's extra-Scriptural, then what can you possibly say when Roman Catholics and others argue for Lent and the entire Liturgical Calendar? How is it anti-Scriptural? It's no more or less Scriptural than Easter itself. It's simply not there. If it's okay to make up holidays and/or appeal to some kind of tradition, then where do we stop?

Of course Rome would say they are the custodians of these 'traditions' that have come down and thus we cannot appeal to Scripture alone. We need the Church to help us interpret the Scriptures and define the Faith.

Celebrating a Sunday after the full moon after the equinox is a nod to the entire liturgical calendar system and the authority upon which it is built.

Roman Catholics have rightly laughed at Protestants who keep some of these days but then sanctimoniously reject Lent and the supplemental calendar that goes with it. Of course that's changing…

Every year I hear of increasing numbers of Protestants who are keeping Lent or at least a 'lite' version of it. There are also many others who are turning to Passover.

Now Passover at least has some Scriptural basis, but it is a denial of the Gospel to turn back to it. Dispensationalism in its validation of Judaism has looked with great fondness toward the Jewish system and of course believes it will be restored. Since the system does indeed point to Christ some feel validated in keeping these feasts despite what the New Testament clearly teaches regarding their fulfillment and abolition.

As far as Lent, Paul couldn't be any more clear.

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

6 ¶If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.

7 But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.

Many think that Paul is talking about jogging or going to the gym…keeping your body healthy. That's not what he's talking about at all. He's talking about piety rooted in physical practices, like abstaining from foods or marriage. He's saying that men will arise, demonically inspired men who will teach that in order to be a good Christian you have to abstain from this or that…contrary to the liberty of the New Testament.

I've used the chocolate cake illustration before. I'll reiterate. A single piece of chocolate cake isn't evil in and of itself. But if you have a five pieces in one sitting, you get sick and you took something that was just food and made it into something sinful. Some people as we all know make food into an idol. People will do it with anything. That's what happens when you possess a sinful nature, the flesh.

The Pharisees and many Christians respond by building a hedge, forbidding those things. The problem is they don't have the authority to do that, only God does. And they're fooling themselves, because man can commit this idolatry with absolutely anything…we all do. They're not protecting themselves or others from sin, instead they're erecting a false notion of spirituality that utterly fails to deal with the real issue……..the heart.

It's the same spirit that tells us that we have to wear a certain unofficial uniform, wear our hair a certain way…whatever.

Some things are more prone to abuse and the believer must be wise and careful…but man does not have the authority to forbid or bind..only God does.

That's what tradition does when it is established as an authority. It binds the conscience. To be a Christian, you can't have a beard…I've heard that one and I've talked in The Good Old Days about why that happens, where people come up with this stuff. Bottom line, this is the same kind of binding that Paul here calls demonic. If you want to have a clean shaven face…fine. If you want to have a beard (I do) that's fine as well. To tie this in with one's walk with Christ is out of line.

Continue Reading Part II

*Formerly Common Week. I don't think new readers would get the title so I changed it.

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