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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another look at the Law of the Central Sanctuary

In previous posts regarding whether or not Christians are obligated to observe the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, I have discussed the importance of the Law of the Central Sanctuary to that issue. However, as some have suggested that this is not a valid theological argument against such observance because of Israelite practice prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place" which God eventually chose to place his name, I thought it would be appropriate to study the issue in more detail.

Some folks have pointed out that the Israelites observed these festivals prior to the establishment of any central sanctuary, and that they (the festivals) are consequently not dependent on this requirement which was added much later. They cite the fact that the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were observed by them in Egypt (Exodus 12 and 13). Likewise, they point out that the festivals were observed by the people throughout their sojourn in the wilderness and for many years after they actually arrived in the Promised Land (see Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and I Samuel). So what about this argument? Does this demonstrate that the observance of the Holy Days was/is not linked to the Law of the Central Sanctuary?

In this regard, I think that it is instructive to note what the widely respected theologian Dr Peter Pett had to say about this issue:  "This fact that Yahweh is present where He chooses is important to their understanding of Him. They cannot make Him appear anywhere that they want by erecting images and making altars. They can only meet Him where He chooses. He had chosen to do it at Sinai. Now He does it in the tabernacle in the midst of the camp. In the future it will be in a suitable place chosen by Him as He wills. But there must only be one sanctuary because He is one (6.5).
That such an idea could be established while travelling together in the wilderness, with the focal point of all the tribes being on the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh and the sacred tent containing it in their midst, makes good sense. There would be less of an incentive once they were spread over a wide area facing problems in their own localities, but the fact that they did maintain their Central Sanctuary at all emphasizes the fact that the idea had been so firmly implanted within them well before they actually reached the land and spread over it, that it never died out." --http://www.angelfire.com/ok/bibleteaching/centralsanctuary.html

In other words, the concept of a central sanctuary was present from the beginning. Even in the observance of that first Passover in Egypt, we can argue that the Israelites were assembled together in one place (Goshen), the place which YHWH had chosen for the observance (For the sake of this argument, we will assume that the events recorded in Exodus are actual history as opposed to representative history). In similar fashion, throughout the period prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place," we can see the principle being employed by YHWH through the Tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, and at Shiloh. Thus, for the Israelites, the principle was clearly established:  YHWH wasn't like other Gods - it was NOT OK to worship him wherever THEY chose to do so - it had to be at the place of HIS choosing - the place where he was present.

Moreover, it is made very clear by the scriptures already quoted in Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles, Lamentations and Zechariah that the place which was eventually designated to fulfill this requirement was JERUSALEM. The "history" of what happened prior to that event cannot negate or nullify the fact that YHWH designated Jerusalem as "the place" which HE had chosen to place his name - the only acceptable site for festival observance. Thus, the link to the Law of the Central Sanctuary is shown to be inviolable.

We must also not forget that the principle was carried forward into the New Testament as well. Please note that there is NO answer from the critics of this argument to the challenge that Jesus Christ and his disciples ALWAYS observed these festivals AT JERUSALEM. Remember too that we see this principle at work even at the founding of the Christian Church! In the book of Acts, we read:  "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord IN ONE PLACE." (Acts 2:2, emphasis mine)

Finally, the scripture which many regard as the foundation of this principle, Deuteronomy 12, clearly dismisses all activity prior to its implementation. Notice that we read there:  "Ye shall not do after the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." (verse 8) The implication is clear:  After the establishment of "the place," all other observances would cease to be valid or acceptable to YHWH! There is no wiggle room on this one! Many folks (Herbert Armstrong among them) have attempted to reason around this principle, but human reasoning is still human reasoning in the final analysis. What do you think? Where is the Scripture based challenge to the Law of the Central Sanctuary's claim on the Holy Days?

Is the theological argument against this principle to be grounded in Christ's statement recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew? We read there:  "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) For the sake of argument, let's put aside the fact that many folks have taken this scripture out of context (Christ was purportedly speaking of how to handle a brother who offends you). If we are to accept this verse as sanctioning festival observance at any place where Christians may choose to gather together, what is to stop us from making the same argument for the observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship? Philosophically, theologically and logically YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! As my grandmother used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander!" If this is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the place, it is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the time!

If you have an argument to present that refutes the points I've made here and elsewhere concerning the Law of the Central Sanctuary, please do so in the comments section. I am more than willing to entertain a scripture based argument against linking the Holy Days to this requirement, but I don't expect any takers.


  1. I found this really interesting. Not having been raised in a "Saturday church," I kind of accepted what John told me about the Sabbath and the feast days. You're right; you can't have it both was.

  2. We know that some aspects of worship change without the underlying observance changing. For example, tithing. Hebrews 7 explains that the law changed: tithes were no longer to be paid to the levitical priesthood (verse 12). Interesting that in Numbers 25:13 we read that it was a "perpetual priesthood", but for now it is gone, yet a system is still in place for people to support preachers (I Cor 9:14).

    Dt 12:8 was given to the people about to enter the promised land. The temple was not yet to be destroyed, so this audience was told that they wouldn't depart from the modalities prescribed for them. But later comes a new covenant with Israel that is then comprised largely of people that have been adopted into Israel. Never are we told that adoptees don't benefit from the observance of the festivals.

    This is a quick save-time response.

  3. Cathy and Gordon, thanks for your comments. Gordon, as you know, my thesis is that the Holy Days were not done away with, but they were transformed by Christ who filled them to the full. As you suggest, it is no longer possible to keep them in the manner prescribed in the Old Testament. That should be plain to everyone. And, although you are correct to point out that Christians were never explicitly told not to observe the Holy Days or that they wouldn't benefit from keeping them, we must also acknowledge that they were never explicitly told to change the modalities for their observance (with the notable exception of the Passover). Hence, I'm still looking for a scripture-based argument that refutes my thesis.

  4. There is more power to my argument than meets the eye. If you were a Jew on the Day of Pentecost covered by Acts 2, what would YOU have done in the matter of keeping those festivals? You would have kept right on keeping them until someone told you otherwise. You are asking the wrong question. You should ask where do we read not to observe those days? You aren't going to read an exhortation to keep them when the church already was doing so.

  5. Thanks, Gordon. As you know, the church was ENTIRELY Jewish at its founding (and for many years thereafter). Hence, everyone (including the apostles) continued to keep the Holy Days. Christ had kept them and had never said anything about not keeping them. Nevertheless, he had told them that the temple would one day be destroyed and had alluded to the fact that he would eventually FILL TO THE FULL ALL things relative to the Law. These were a shadow of the reality found in Christ. Even the ACOGs understand that these all pointed to him, and God's plan to redeem man through him. When the apostles and disciples actually began to fulfill the commission which Christ had given them (to take his message to the entire world), people came into the church in great numbers who were not Jewish. As you have noted, they were adopted into Israel through Christ and were accounted by God as having fulfilled the requirements of the Law through Christ. The Jerusalem council (Acts) demonstrates that Jewish Christians made the decision not to impose on them Jewish modalities and traditions. Jewish Christians continued to observe these days, but it is clear that most Gentile Christians NEVER observed them. Finally, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple (as Christ had predicted), it became impossible for Jewish Christians to continue to observe them in accordance with the instructions given in the Torah. My point is: No one told them to adapt and change the modalities when that happened. Can you cite any scriptural or historical evidence to contradict that?

    1. No, I am unable to do that, and there are good reasons. First, we have a scarcity of church writings from the period immediately following the temple's destruction when we would expect the issue to have been addressed. Second, the epistles are where one would expect this, but they are someone else's mail, and each deals with issues of the day and of the recipients. "The day" happens to be prior to the destruction of the Temple, so there was not yet an issue of adapting the festivals. Indeed, I would be surprised if such discussion had occurred in the epistles.

      As to the Jerusalem council, we ought to look at the reason given for the judgment. It's verse 21 of Acts 15. The gentiles were already learning about these traditions through the synagogues. We must keep in mind that the church was a part of Judaism. Even their tithes would still have been paid to the Jewish priesthood until much later. And this was somewhat offset by the the fact that "a great many of the priests" had become believers and no doubt were collecting tithes from non-believing Jews. When a gentile came into the church, I do not believe he assembled on sabbath alone with believers; I think he went to synagogue, and then on the first day assembled with believers if they held an assembly (e.g.: Acts 20:7; I Co 16:2).

      The rest of your comment seems to be on the notion that the law was fulfilled in Christ, and you seem to take the position that this means we don't need to keep it. It's a common teaching, and it is one that goes over my head. I don't get it. When I read that he fulfilled the law, to me the plain meaning is that he kept it.

      And there is nothing wrong with shadows. Marriage is a shadow of the wedding supper of the Lamb. Baptism is a shadow of faith in the messiah. The festivals are shadows also, and they have shapes that reminds us of the realities they portray, but not the fullness of the reality just like baptism doesn't have the fullness of the reality it portrays.