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Understanding Covenants (For feast-keepers)

As I have had discussions with feast-keepers over the past twenty years or so, I have tried to understand, first of all, the reason why feast-keeping is so attractive to some people and secondly, what are the reasons presented by feast-keepers in defense of the practice. Many feast-keepers speak of the wonderful “blessing and fellowship” they enjoy during the time of the feasts, however, personal feelings are a very poor way of determining what is true and what is false. I am sure many who go to church at Easter or Christmas get equally warm fellowship and “blessings,” as feast-keepers find during the feasts, but this does not mean that their practice is ordained of God. It is kind of similar to how many Mormons claim that they know the Book of Mormon tells the truth because when they read it they get a warm feeling in their bosom. I was urged to try it by some Mormons once, and wanting to be fair, I reluctantly agreed. When I read it, I did not get a warm feeling, but got a distinctly cold feeling.

Of course feast-keepers, like everybody else, present Bible verses to support their views. Those of us who oppose feast-keeping read the same biblical evidence differently. Unless we understand the underlying principles behind what we believe, we will manipulate Scripture to make it say whatever we want.

The covenants Misunderstood
The heart of the confusion lies with the misunderstanding of the two covenants. Feast keepers lean to the interpretation of E.J. Waggoner. Waggoner taught that the two covenants were really the same one covenant, and that the only difference was in how people approached the covenant. In other words, there was not really an Old Covenant and a New Covenant established by God, it was how people responded to what God set up which made it either Old or New. So he taught that the covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai is the same covenant which he made with Abraham and is the same covenant that we are under today, better understood as “the Everlasting Covenant.”

In his thinking, the covenant is really an agreement between man and God in which God promises to accept people and to bless them if they will be obedient to his laws. The terms of the covenant are the same in all ages – keep the law and you will live. According to him, the only difference is that at Sinai, the people promised to keep the law in their own strength, while true believers in all ages depend on Christ to give them the strenght to keep it. However, the terms of the covenant are the same – keep the law and you will live. The same law in all ages, the same terms, “obey and live.” If one depends on his own efforts, then it becomes the old covenant, if one depends on Christ, then it becomes the new covenant.

Two Time Periods
Let me say without hesitation or apology that this is absolutely not what the Bible teaches. It required a great deal of distortion of the biblical facts for Waggoner (and those who support his ideas) to arrive at this conclusion.

The BIBLICAL understanding of the two covenants is that they are two different systems by which God governed and taught people in two different PERIODS OF TIME. The period from the Exodus to the coming of Christ is the time of the Old Covenant. In this period of time, God interacted with his people through a legal system consisting of rules, ceremonies, rituals, sacrifices etc. which were shadows, types and illustrations of something to come in the future. The period of the New Covenant began with the death of Christ and extends on into eternity. In the new covenant God’s people deal with the real things. These real things were represented in the Old Covenant system by ceremonies and rituals which were types and shadows. For example, the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant were replaced by the sacrifice of Christ, the real sacrifice of God. This is the difference between both understandings of the covenants.

The Everlasting Covenant
It is true that the New Covenant is really the “everlasting covenant.” This is the plan that God had in mind from times immemorial, it was the eternal plan from which man began to benefit from the moment that he sinned. This everlasting covenant was really God’s plan, God’s promise, God’s agreement to bring humanity back to himself and to save humanity in Jesus Christ. This was God’s eternal plan and from the beginning, all who believed in God were counted as righteous and had the assurance of some day, receiving eternal life through Christ. However, while this was God’s eternal plan, the plan was not actually implemented until Jesus came to earth as a human being. Before that time it was only a promise which had not yet been realized.

This is an important fact which we need to recognize. If a trustworthy person makes a promise, then it is certain that that promise will be fulfilled. However, it is obvious that a promise is not the same as the fulfillment of the promise. If somebody promises to give me a car, I can be happy today, I can make plans about how I will use the car, I can feel-like a car-owner, but I cannot drive the car until I receive it. That is obvious. A promise is not the same as the fulfillment of the promise. Another example is that God has promised to take us to heaven, but none of us can walk on golden streets today. The promise is not the same as the fulfillment. When the promise is fulfilled, then we will actually walk on golden streets instead of just dreaming about it.

So the promise was not fulfilled, the everlasting covenant was not experienced until Jesus came and died in AD 31. Fifty days later he poured out his life upon his church, thus fulfilling the promise of the everlasting covenant by filling his people with the life of the new creation. This is the same covenant which was referred to as the “New Covenant.”

But if this was the Everlasting Covenant, why was it called the “New Covenant” at this time? It was thus called, because for a time, before this Everlasting covenant was implemented, God made another, temporary covenant with physical Israel, which governed the relationship between them and him, while they waited for the fulfillment of the everlasting covenant. This temporary covenant was implemented BEFORE the everlasting covenant, though the everlasting covenant was promised long before. So when the everlasting covenant was finally fulfilled or implemented, this temporary covenant became an OLD covenant, no longer relevant or necessary and it was abolished. In light of this, the everlasting covenant was labeled as the “New Covenant,” in contrast to the old one.

In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13)

The Sinai Covenant
Now it is important that we understand that the Old Covenant was associated with the system of government given at Mount Sinai, which defined the relationship which God had with the physical Israelites. This covenant was not a spiritual covenant and it was not intended to provide a way to everlasting life. It was a temporary relationship, which defined God’s way of interacting with these Hebrews who were called his people, but who, by and large were carnal, worldly-minded and faithless. This covenant was made with the Hebrews, not with anybody else who lived before them, or with any other nation.

And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. (Deut 5:1-3)

This covenant outlined a lifestyle based on conformity to rules and rituals and ceremonies which served several purposes. First, they were a means of restraining the carnal behavior of the people, but secondly, they served as teaching tools and illustrations which pointed to the future true kingdom of God when Jesus would come and set up the true covenant with the true people of God.

This old covenant involved all the rules, the rituals and ceremonies given at Mount Sinai. It was designed and established by God to govern the people and to serve as a teaching tool to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. This covenant was God’s plan, God’s idea, it was not the idea of the people. It was not they who established this covenant, it was God. I repeat, this covenant was not simply an agreement by the people to obey God, the covenant involved ALL the rules laid down in the law. It was a system by which God related to Israel. In other words, the covenant was limited by the terms which defined the relationship between God and the people. The people were to be his people if they lived by the system which God had set up to govern them. If they were faithful to it, he would grant them victory over their enemies, he would give them long life, he would establish them in the land. That was it. There was no eternal life promised in that covenant, no promise of heaven. It was a temporary covenant based on earthly things. It served a good purpose for a time, but it was impossible that it should last forever. When the true covenant was established, that temporary covenant with its temporary laws, its temporary ceremonies and rituals became old and vanished away.

But are we saying that God did not give those people the opportunity to be saved? Not at all. In all ages, no matter what system of government a person was under, those who had true faith in God had the assurance of salvation. Nobody was ever saved by the law, nobody was ever saved by his works. Whether it was Enoch, Abraham, Moses, or the people who lived during the time of the old Covenant, when a person had faith, it was “counted to him for righteousnessm (Gal 3:6,7).” All who died in faith had the assurance of being saved one day.

Nevertheless, the system of the law under which God placed the Israelites was not a system which provided salvation, that was not its purpose. Salvation was always ONLY through faith. The law was a system of government and a teaching tool, designed for one particular nation (the Hebrews) so that they could fulfill God’s purpose for them as a nation.

A secondary application
Let me point out that in a secondary sense, a person may apply the two covenants experience to himself. There may be a time when he chooses to approach God by the works of the law and then later he may approach God through Christ, so in a sense, he may be said to pass through the two covenants in his own personal experience. But the question is, is this what the Bible really refers to as the Old and the New covenant? Absolutely not!! The biblical understanding is that there are two ages, two periods of time with two very different systems of government. Two different ways in which God dealt with his people.

For those who hold to Waggoner’s perspective, the laws which were given at Mount Sinai with the ceremonies, the rituals etc. were not limited only to the age before Christ. In their thinking the old covenant was the same as the new, so the laws and lifestyle are the same, the only difference being whether you chose to keep them in your strength or in Christ’s strength. The rules were the same, regardless of whether it was the old or the new covenant. On the basis of this thinking, we can see that when we come to the New Covenant, there is really no need to put away the laws and the lifestyle given at Mount Sinai.

The only reason why most feast-keepers do not practice animal sacrifice and circumcision, is because those two things are specifically mentioned as done away in the New Testament. As far as they are concerned, everything else still remains relevant, still to be observed, because there is no difference between both covenants! We can see that there is no clear-cut principle which makes a division between what is still relevant in the law and what is abolished. There is no pattern or principle, so there is a hodge-podge of beliefs and practices. Some feast-keepers take the feasts, tithe-paying and the definitions of what food is clean and unclean, plus the Ten Commandments, from the law. Others practice wearing tassels, burning incense, eating bitter herbs, blowing shofars and other rituals demanded in the law. This is the reason why it is so difficult to get feast-keepers to see the folly in feast-keeping. With a false concept of the covenants, there really is some excuse for feast-keeping. Underlying the problem of feast-keeping is the greater problem of a false understanding of the covenants.

(Source: by David Clayton from Restoration Ministry)

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