Chapter 10: Cultic Judaism and Catholic [Universal] Faith

God's purpose in history required that the people of Israel maintain their distinct identity until the coming of Christ. They had to be a people living apart from all other nations (Numbers 23:9). In the law of Moses, God imposed regulations that had the practical effect of keeping the covenantal nation separate.

First, there were food regulations which strictly forbade the consumption of "unclean" animals. "Unclean" did not mean dirty or unhealthy. If a food is not suitable for man's diet, God has left man to discover this from general revelation. In the Mosaic food laws, "unclean" was a ritual taboo associated with the religious cultus. Anyone who ate "unclean" food was also considered "unclean." These religious prohibitions had the practical effect of keeping the Jews separate from all other people. They could not even eat with "unclean" Gentiles without risking defilement. Devout Seventh-day Adventists can appreciate how difficult it is for those who take these food regulations seriously to socialize with other people. Those who cannot eat together will seldom become close friends. Because man is a social creature, food taboos create a formidable barrier between people.

In the law, God also designated an approved place of worship. Sacrifices were acceptable only at the appointed place in Jerusalem. In the primitive world of the Old Testament, holy places were generally associated with some mountain. The pagans had their sacred hills. As a concession to this primitive religious tendency, God designated Mount Zion as the place wherethe worship of Yahweh was to be conducted by the religious cultus. This law had the practical effect of separating Israel geographically from all other people.

The law not only designated where God should be worshiped, but when God should be worshiped. An elaborate sacred calendar, enjoining yearly, monthly and weekly festivals, was imposed on the Jews. The obligation to worship God and even to devote a portion of time to corporate assembly and divine teaching is a perpetual moral obligation, but we should recognize that the selection of times is in the same category as the selection of places. Israel's entire existence revolved around the Mosaic calendar, and as long as it did, guaranteed her separate identity.

Although the law as administered by Moses fulfilled the divine purpose despite Israel's sinfulness, the perversion of the divine purpose was also a factor in Israel’s history. The Jew took occasion from the law to despise the non-Jew. Every day the pious rabbi would thank God for two things -- that he was not a woman and that he was not a Gentile. The Gentile also took occasion from the law to hate the Jew. The major barriers -- the middle wall of partion -- between Jew and Gentile were circumcision, the Sabbath, the food laws and the holy places, from which the Gentile was excluded. There was a wall in the outer court of Herod's temple which barred a Gentile from entering further. A notice in three languages (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) warned the non-Jew on pain of death not to pass beyond this dividing wall.

To Paul this wall was a symbol of the Mosaic ministration of law. He saw that God did not design that this should last forever. It was an emergency measure only necessary until the coming of Christ (Galatians 3:19). (1)

For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. -- Ephesians 2:14-16

The cross put an end to the distinction between Jew and Gentile, male and female, as far as worship in the one family of God is concerned:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." -- Galatians 3:28

Maintaining the idea of Jewish national privilege is to Judaize and to deny the gospel just as much as advocating the continuance of Mosaic regulations. The coming of Christ ended all cultic distinctions. The new age of Christ inaugurated a religion that was truly catholic or universal. Judaism had prepared the way for this by its monotheism and covenantal faith. In this there is continuity between Judaism and Christianity. But Judaism is cultic, whereas Christianity is catholic.

The regulations of the written code, adapted to the needs of the pre-Christian cult, gave God's people a conscience which attached defilement or holiness to substances, places, and times. Such a conscience is infantile. It does not belong to the maturity of Christian faith.

First, let us consider the conscience regarding "unclean" substances. The New Testament emphatically declares: "No food is unclean in itself ... All food is clean" (Romans 14:14, 20). "Uncleanness" is a spiritual reality which exists in a man's heart (Mark 7:17-23) and in his attitude. "If anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean" (Romans 14:14). "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15).( 2) Only a person who has not come of age in the gospel can impute religious uncleanness to an amoral substance.

Then there is the matter ot ascribing religious value to geographical places. The woman of Samaria wanted Jesus to enter into the age-old argument over whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim was the right place to worship. In reply Jesus affirmed the law of Moses by saying that Jerusalem was the place which God had chosen. ("Salvation is from the Jews.") But He also declared: "A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24). That is to say, the Christian faith will ignore the kindergarten letter of the law with respect to places of worship. This it had to do if it was to become a catholic faith transcending all national and geographical boundaries. While the prophets speak of the nations being gathered to Mount Zion (e.g., Isaiah 2), we should not interpret this according to the Palestinian letter but according to the New Testament spirit.

Apparently Stephen, a Hellenist, was one of the first to grasp the implications of the gospel in the matter of holy places. While the Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians were still worshiping at the temple, Stephen declared that God did not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48). The Old Testament prophets had hinted at these things, but the New Testament openly declares them. The Mount Zion to which we gather is not found in Palestine but is equally accessible to God's people everywhere (Hebrews 12:22). Holiness is no more found in a place than defilement comes from a substance. The Christian faith needs no holy mountains, temples or shrines. Jesus Christ has become the reality of which all these things were only a shadow.

Finally, there is the matter of the times prescribed as holy according to the law. Just as a truly catholic faith must transcend places, so it must also transcend times. No time is holy in itself any more than any place is holy or any substance is unclean. Strict laws regarding places and times were temporary regulations imposed on the religious cultus until the time of reformation. Christ is Lord. Therefore the whole earth is His footstool and every day is the Lord's day, ideally suited "to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42, 46).

The infantile conscience of Judaism imputed defilement or holiness to substances, places and times--to mere things which Paul calls "the elements of the world" (Galatians 4:3, KJV). The Christian faith rises above all this because it recognizes that holiness is found only in a Person. Now that He who is the reality of all shadows is come, we cannot maintain the cultic regulations of the Old Testament without being involved in a superstitious regard for substances, places and times.

The person who thinks he cannot worship with others on Saturday without Judaizing is as weak in the faith as the one who fears he cannot worship with others on Sunday without paying homage to Rome or the pagan sun god. If those strong in the faith can eat food offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8), they can worship on days consecrated to pagan festivals. A religion which maintains the superstitious reverence of holy places and holy times disqualifies itself as the universal faith for the salvation of the nations. The imputation of either defilement or holiness to substances, places and times is cultic. Yet various cultic forms are often found within the Christian church. Those who insist that members within their church must obey the letter of Mosaic laws (or any laws for that matter) in these external, non-ethical matters disqualify their church from being truly "an house of prayer for all people" (Isaiah 56:7, KJV)

Does not a religious group qualify as a cult when it cannot receive into Christian fellowship those who follow necessary and honorable vocations? For example, it is difficult for an airline pilot or policeman to become a Seventh-day Adventist. In the judgment of Seventh-day Adventism, no one who breaks the regulations regarding holy times is entitled to Christian fellowship. I have personally met people who were forced to choose between remaining in the police force and becoming a Seventh-day Adventist. But would not society benefit by having Christian airline pilots and Christian policemen? And if they are truly Christian, how can they be disqualified from the "remnant church" which all are supposed to join if they are going to be saved in the final generation?

Still another matter needs to be pressed. Are not those who bar such believers from fellowship rather hypocritical because they themselves are glad to have the beneficial services of airline pilots and policemen -- even on the Sabbath day? And what of other essential services (besides medical care) which minister to the Sabbatarian's needs on the Sabbath? Will he refuse to use his electric lights on the Sabbath because power stations must be manned then? Or will he be like certain Jews who will not light a candle on the Sabbath yet have a Gentile light it for them?

I once met a gentleman who was a member of a large Sabbatarian community and was employed in one of its educational institutions. As a key maintenance engineer, he worked every Sabbath. It was his job to check the boilers and other facilities so that Sabbath-keepers would not freeze during Sabbath services. This gentleman was accepted in good and regular standing in the church because his work was considered essential. But his church would not tolerate a member who did the same work for the municipal authorities. In such a case a person would be forced to resign his job or leave the church. Anomalies of this kind are rather common in Sabbatarian communities.

The Old Testament Sabbath laws, like other regulations in the Mosaic ministration, were adapted to the needs of one nation living in Palestine. (3) Israel was a primitive agrarian society. The regulations of the law did not have to deal with the technical problems of a round world, (4) the social problems of a highly industrialized society or the economic problems of an international community. If we are to enjoy the benefits of our modern society, there are services and facilities which must be maintained seven days a week. Do Sabbatarians seriously want everyone to become Sabbatarian? If so, the entire society would have to return to a simple agrarian economy.

One evidence for the inspiration of the New Testament apostles is the way they responded to the mandate to take the gospel to all nations. They did not bind the gospel with regulations which would have imposed great difficulties on other cultures and other civilizations. They erected no barriers to prevent the saving gospel from reaching every culture and age. They taught that faith in Christ and love for one another are all that ultimately matter. Such Christianity transcends all boundaries of place and time.


(1) It is interesting to compare Paul's comments about the dividing wall in Ephesians 2:14 with Ellen G. White's remarks: "I saw that the holy Sabbath is, and will be, the separating wall between the true Israel of God and unbelievers" (Ellen G. White, Early Writings [Washington D.C.: Review & Herald Publishing Assn., 1945], p.85).

(2) Paul says this in the context of opposing Jewish Christians who are evidently urging Jewish food laws on Gentile Christians (Titus 1:10, 14).

(3) There were no Sabbath laws prior to Moses. Genesis 2:2-3 contains none of the regulations imposed on Israel.

(4) It was not until Magellan's men sailed around the world in 1519-1522 and discovered that they were a day off in their reckoning of time that the International Date Line was found to be necessary.

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