The Doctrine of the Stones
An article from SVM Fall 2016
Anyone will become aware of the various contentions that arise over doctrine, often surrounding points of view about the nature of God or proper worship. Although in this article we will touch on a couple of specific teachings that give birth to contentions and controversy, we do so only to illustrate and shed light on a greater over-riding perspective of the New Covenant regarding worship and proliferation of the gospel that may be often lost on us. The intent here is to step back for a moment to hopefully get a proper healthy perspective on learning and growth, and to re-affirm our appreciation of the scope of the gospel message that was intended to transcend generations and nations.
We are not attempting to enter into the arguments with exhaustive proofs often demanded by those involved, nor do we have a vested interest in proving or disproving a particular doctrinal point of view.
Some may meet this article with some resistance, however we would like our readers to take an open mind to the content, as it is written to promote a more mutual understanding. We are not going to advocate tolerance of those who take contentious doctrinal positions that are not supported by scripture.
In my experience, the longer a person has had an adamant position, the more difficult it is for them to see their error. It seems there is an unhealthy situation in the Church of God where it has become more about being right and correct on an issue or a doctrine, than actually giving glory to God and giving Him the credit that He alone is right and had the foresight to ensure that His offering of the gospel was to reach everyone. After all, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12, 2 Corinthians 5:10), do we plan to say “Yes, Master” or do we plan to argue our doctrinal understanding? When we admit error in our own thinking and accept the correction of scripture and the work of the Spirit, we give God the glory. So is it not better to admit error than to try to defend wrong thinking?
Be Careful How You Learn
To begin, given all the ideas that have proliferated in the Church of God and the Sabbath keeping world, and all the teachers making themselves available, let us turn to the Savior on His advice that we would do well to heed regardless of our self-confidence:
“Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him” (Luke 8:18).
Regardless of the century in which the Christian lives, Jesus Christ foresaw the potential in our nature to lock into erroneous mindsets regarding the faith that limit our potential to experience and share the gospel. Notice that I use erroneous mindset, not doctrine as we traditionally understand doctrine, which can limit our potential. The reality is your doctrine is what is truly sewn in your heart and mind that controls your behavior. A devout Sabbath keeping individual who refuses to love his enemies as Christ commanded has an element of false doctrine. A devout Sabbath keeping individual defending the faith who refuses to love his brother is a liar (1 John 4:20) and does not represent Christ on this earth, no matter how well he confidently espouses sound doctrine otherwise.
Another trap seems to be finding doctrinal security through a man rather than in the One, the Christ, Who saves. We have seen more than a few who find security in the group they associate with, repeatedly being told they have the most doctrines right and others are disobedient for not recognizing their teaching. Some. on a more individual basis, can begin to identify with their particular doctrine or revelation they believe brings them closer to God and have zeal to promote their truth by any means possible.
All of this happens to varying degrees, but any deviation from security in Jesus Christ invariably leads to arrested development. Jesus Christ even tells us by this verse that the believer is unaware of what he is losing, even though he still believes he has it, or is growing in it; a sobering reality.
So in the zeal for their own teachings some have brought their growth in Christ to a grinding halt or have derailed their walk altogether. More fruitful learning and the joy in the Christian experience in Christ has eluded them. From what I have witnessed over the years they seem to have plenty of knowledge and experience, but Christ’s prophecy of losing what they seem to have has already come to be.
Let us look into more detail how this may be occurring. I believe there are two approaches we can take a look at as to where we get derailed in doctrine that leads to unnecessary division. One is failure to grow in grace alongside doctrine, and the other is confidence in the flesh.
Knowledge AND Grace
Knowledge must grow together with grace (2 Peter 3:18). The knowledge, if not understood with the grace that God has in Himself and has given to us, can actually become a detriment to our ability to freely worship. Knowledge that has not grown with grace will also limit our fruitful interactions with both believers and unbelievers.
Grace may be best described as divine enablement, it is something that comes from God and increases from God. Even beyond unmerited pardon, it is the ability to overcome in our lives for the purpose of realizing greater possibilities (As Paul recognized in 2 Corinthians 12 for example). It is given with perfect wisdom, and allows us to live more peacefully with others and our lot in life. Grace is a word that describes the multifaceted condition under which the Christian lives.
If knowledge is not balanced with grace, we will find ourselves spending a great deal of our energy proving a doctrinal point, and disproving anything that opposes us. Knowledge without grace must be a frustrating and perhaps a lonely experience in increasing isolation. The grace of God understands our limitations that knowledge alone cannot correct. Even with the right knowledge, without grace we may not be able to apply it correctly.
Conversely, grace without knowledge lacks structure and direction. Worship and obedience requires the knowledge of God’s expectations.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
The good Christian who has wisely learned the law of God and has balanced his learning with grace will be effective in communicating the gospel:
Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52).
With that background, let us advance our discussion on the subject of grace and the extent of its implications with our covenant with Jesus Christ.
It takes a while for a developing believer to understand the totality of the following verse as recorded by John:
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:16, 17).
This statement shows the superiority of the New Covenant over the covenant that Moses inaugurated. John was contrasting the dominant characteristics of the two covenants. Whereas the law came by Moses, grace and truth came by Christ. Scripture reveals to us that the law expresses God’s standards and structure, but grace and the truth behind His laws help us to fulfill His will. Grace existed in the Old Covenant, but it is now expressed fully to us through Jesus Christ.
There are two examples in this article of the grace of God that believers today have substantially overlooked. I believe the Church as a whole would have benefited greatly regardless of what side of the fence they were on regarding these two doctrinal matters. Not only in these two examples, but also in numerous others. Before we look at them, the second item we need to discuss is confidence in the flesh.
Confidence in the Flesh
Every one of us at some point has carried ourselves in the faith with some confidence in the flesh and not in God, and it is likely to some degree we still do. It is in our nature to do so, and any degree of self-awareness should bring us to admit it. God’s grace has made provision for us in this regard, but it does not give us permission to continue with fleshly confidence, or to try to build with it. If we can still be taught and are willing to submit ourselves to the will of God, which is to say, to be led by the Spirit of God, we will come to this awareness and find and accept the correction that is needed. This is not always the case, as experience has taught us, as there are those who have arrested their growth in Christ by not letting go of their own confidence in themselves, but have developed a self-confidence in:
- Secular knowledge of evil and scandal (see SVM Winter 2016 The Spirit of Truth and Light vs. The Knowledge of Evil).
- The group they belong to and their leader(s)
- A unique observance or understanding of the Holy Days; accusing others of being in error.
- Attempting to orient their faith with Hebrew roots – either in language, dress, or identification with a Tribe of Israel.
- Self-exalting ideas about their calling.
Confidence in the flesh is a common occurrence in Church of God circles, and scripture tells us this is nothing new. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul spoke of a right to claim confidence in the flesh:
For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:3-11)
As Paul excelled in the law and the prophets, it is fair to assume he also knew the Psalms and Israel’s history well. As a Pharisee he dressed the part, wore the right clothes and hats, and probably had an appropriately trimmed beard. He knew and practiced his stuff.
There are at least a couple of important things for us in this passage that we need to bring our attention to. The first is that it suggests worshiping God in the Spirit and rejoicing in that same Spirit is not in union with confidence in the flesh. Confidence in the flesh limits worship and rejoicing regardless how we might try to stir up worship. Anything that we allow to interfere with our worship is disobedience.
Secondly, even with the extent in which Paul confidently excelled in the knowledge of the law and Judaism, he compared it as rubbish to knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ, and the power of His resurrection. So here we have an example to consider for us all: whatever confidence one may have in the Old Testament scriptures, their own genealogy to Jacob, what is really going on in the world, Biblical symbolism and typologies, when a new moon is appearing or when the barley is ripe in Palestine, they do not compare to a personal relationship with God, the gratitude, the simple joy in salvation, and the power that comes by faith in His Son. Worship comes about naturally this way.
Knowledge of the scriptures, genealogies, symbolism and typologies and all that we listed above and more are not in opposition to our faith in Jesus Christ. SVM has dedicated numerous articles on some of these topics in the past.
Understanding the power of His resurrection includes understanding the grace of God that came by His resurrection. There is a power behind the grace! Grace is not a weak word expressing tolerance of ignorance; it is a powerful presentation of God’s capacity to enable a true believer in his overcoming and his walk with God.
It is unlikely anyone would disagree with the preceding paragraph, or admit confidence in the flesh, but let us bring this closer to home.
Paul, in reference to the law, does in fact include proper and correct observances of new moons, Sabbaths, God’s annual Holy Days at their most appropriate times, and all the ways to say the various Names of God; why and when. What we have just listed here is a sample of the things in which some today have developed an unhealthy confidence.
In regards to the Holy Days, they can be exaggerated in the mind of some to such an extent they would have others to believe that if they were not kept on the appropriate days, and for the right reasons, and even in the right way, an individual would fall under a category of disobedience, falling short of some kind of definition of acceptability, and subject to a new form of accountability. These kinds of assertions may have had a place in Israel under the Old Covenant, particularly as it pertained to Israel as a national theocracy, but they are entirely inappropriate for sincere Christians and their personal covenant under grace they have made with their Savior.
We want to emphasize at this junction to our readers that a personal belief in how to observe a day, a sacred name or timing of spring or fall festivals is between you and your Savior. If your conscience guides you in regards to these observances, then let your conscience be your guide, for that which is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23). We will point out however that experience has also taught us that certain belief practices are less innocuous than others in this regard, and we are looking at a couple of them in this article.
Confidence in the flesh is an attractive and alluring path as it does give a degree of self-assurance that one is saved and in good standing in Christ, so it does become prevalent. The carnal mind feels more in control, building on its own self-confidence. Submission to Jesus Christ, faith, hope and love are things the believer must instead yield to continually. They are weapons against fleshly confidence.
Paul makes an effective generalization regarding confidence in the flesh:
These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).
We may think the kind of things Paul is talking about in Colossians 2 are of no concern to us, but anything that creeps into our thinking, regardless of how we might justify it Biblically or otherwise, must not enable confidence in the flesh. How do we detect it in ourselves and how do we prevent it from happening?
It is not hard to detect it in others. This writer has encountered it repeatedly, and the symptoms can become evident if we are paying attention. These symptoms vary but they all seem to revolve around adding some form of regulation into their faith. Often this seems to lead to attempts to promote such a regulation on others.
On one occasion I had a fellow at a feast site tell me of his past findings regarding the proper Passover date of observance, and proudly told me of his past contentions with ministry over the matter, eventually being asked to leave a congregation or two because of his continued assertions. He was quite proud in this regard. He then advised that if I believe the way I did regarding the day and way of observance that is perfectly fine, but I better be ready to explain myself to the Lord when I see Him. Is this what our faith is all about? Is it not better to be ready to accept what the Lord says, rather than to have confidence in our flesh that we will be right, no matter what He says?
Let No One Judge You
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16,17).
The context of this verse deals with Judiazers and Gnostics that were attempting to forward their doctrinal agenda on the brethren in Colossae. I am even confident that this short list is not exhausted in what we should not allow others to impress on us to doubt our worship. We know this as this encouragement comes from the simple fact expressed in a few verses earlier:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power (Colossians 2:8-10).
Those who argue the need for a certain calendar observance, name pronunciations, or adherence to rituals and dress rooted in Hebrew culture should soberly consider what the scriptures teach us above, which transcends generations of believers, evolution of languages and circumstances.
Let us be clear: nothing, no religious system or association, ancient or original language, or some kind of religious discipline of rules will add to your experience of your life in Jesus Christ.
Time to grasp the meaning of “To the Ends of the World”
Let us refresh ourselves on the scope of the Great Commission.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).
And He said to them, “Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18).
When Jesus instituted the New Covenant, it was instituted in a distinct form that opened the door wide for an international church, where neither Jerusalem nor the Temple were at its physical worship center, nor the Levitical priesthood as the center of “worship authority”. The individual is now part of a chosen priesthood, and Christ promises His presence anywhere in the globe where 2 or 3 are gathered together, at any time for any reason under His authority (Matthew 18:20).
The gospel of the Kingdom of God is not custom centric, Jerusalem centric, harvest centric, moon centric or language centric. The gospel is Christ centric. This is necessary for the gospel to move forward without unnecessary restriction. Sabbath/Holy Day observing Christians who are by nature sincerely looking to obey and worship God in an appropriate biblical manner without man-made influences may eventually be challenged to investigate the Hebrew Calendar. We find the same or others who come to terms for the same reasons on what really is the pronunciation of the name of their Savior and perhaps of the Father. This in itself is perhaps a good thing, but again, be careful how you learn.
How can we properly observe Holy Days without a central authority, and how do we justify modern languages in worship that pronounce the name of the Messiah differently than the original? Should we be concerned because Hebrew names have meaning, and that the Name of God as supposedly assumed, loses meaning in modern languages? God has made full provision for this by the fullness of His grace expressed to us.
In case the reader might be concerned or needs clarification regarding the direction this article is heading, realize that we are not rejecting the Ten Commandments or other clear commands of Scripture. We are discussing grace-covering questions of Scriptural interpretation and application. There is no section of the bible saying: “These are the rules necessary for calculating your calendar.” There is no section of the New Testament explaining how to teach the pronunciation of divine names to those who do not speak Hebrew. If there were such Scriptures, and we ignored them, it would be a sin. But the actuality is numerous bible teachers interpreting various scriptures and history in numerous ways, each concluding that they know the Father’s will on the matter. The grace of God gives us confidence not to fear these uncertainties.
The Hebrew Calendar
It does happen when looking into the calendar that there seems to be the conclusion by some that those following the calculated Hebrew calendar are being disobedient, not being blessed, or falling short in some capacity for accepting the influences of man-made calculations and postponements. Those following the calculated Hebrew calendar have done their fair share of finger pointing as well.
In regards to the annual Holy Days it was Israel’s religious authorities who were to declare, announce or officially proclaim the beginnings of the months and the precise days on which God’s Feasts were to be observed (Leviticus 23:4). It was first given to Aaron and Moses, and then to the lineage of Aaron’s offspring.
Both biblical and secular history show that the Jewish religious leaders (the priests) had a solemn duty, as well as God-given authority, to make binding decisions concerning the Hebrew calendar. It was they alone who declared the New Moons. If it was agreed necessary to make an adjustment to observation, then they did so. Jesus Christ even acknowledged that those who sat in Moses’ seat carried this kind of authority:
“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do …” (Matthew 23:1-3).
Those days are gone now, so who has the authority? If I am not mistaken in reading my New Covenant scriptures, you have the authority:
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4,5).
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9,10).
The above scriptures are not light-hearted religious speak to make us feel good. They are a powerful presentation of the authority we have in Christ in our worship and service toward God. Here is the grace of God to the believer, which is the divine enablement to do His will. These amazing words elevate reality of the believer in Christ beyond measure. In these brief passages of scripture, Peter lays hold of the entire wealth of Israel’s identity and applies it to Jesus Christ and the believer. When we come to Jesus we come to a Living Stone, not the city of Jerusalem and not to Judaism. A royal priesthood is a priesthood with authority, and it is given to us to exercise this authority.
If the Levitical High Priest who had the authority to proclaim the Feasts, and alone had limited access to enter into the physical Holy of Holies, how much more authority does the believer who now boldly enters into the real Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:19)?
Therefore in regards to worship practices, collectively believers who are being led by the Spirit can agree within themselves as groups just how they observe the Feasts of the Lord, and have the authority to do so. It is of little value now to try to argue there is an ultimate more God honored New Moon or calendar that only more obedient Christians will be observing.
Language and Sacred Names
Part of the enticement of the Hebrew roots movement is that the Hebrew language has meaning with its words, so the use of Yeshua, Yahshuah or Yehoshuah for the name of the Messiah, meaning salvation, or shalom (meaning peace) is getting more common, particularly among Sabbath keepers wishing to be as authentic as possible. This writer does not take exception to the use of Hebrew names or words if the believer does feel more comfortable with their use, nor do we wish to enter into the arena of arguments surrounding sacred names. Some folks here at our local congregation use “Yeshua” as they feel more comfortable with this pronunciation of the name. However, what is important to us, because it is important to Jesus Christ and the Father, is that the scope of the gospel is understood, and that no one limits that scope in any fashion, even if in ignorance.
On Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given, Jesus Christ sent a strong signal to all those present and to generations to come. The message was that language will not be a barrier to the expression of the Gospel. That famous message was heard “each in our own language in which we were born” (Acts 2:8)—not in their own language with added Hebrew words. No language, past present and future has any insufficiency in expressing the greatness of God as far as He is concerned.
This includes the fact that languages transliterate names and places. Do we think God did not anticipate this occurring? Jesus is an eventual transliteration of the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iesous) and Greek was the language of the original gospels and commonly spoken at the time as the language of the people. If someone uses Jesus (English), with all its variants in pronunciation in English in the world it is of no less value than its pronunciation or writing the disciples used. Any argument to the contrary denies what the Lord mandated on Pentecost. Again, do we see and appreciate the grace of God?
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).
All Christians wishing to serve God and the brethren must come to terms with the overriding truth that Jesus Christ can save to the uttermost as High Priest. If there are those who continue to insist on presenting arguments for proper or better worship tied to the pronunciation of the Name, observation of new moons, genetic lineages or other distractions, they may be causing harm and division, and harm and division are things that will weigh in on God’s judgment of us.
Let Us Hear the Conclusion of the Whole Matter
This sub-title is drawing from the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, where after the Preacher, having set his heart out by wisdom to set in order all things done under heaven, ended only knowing the vanity of trying to figure it all out and getting it all correct, and the weariness it is to the flesh in all that he may have done researching to get there. There are limits to wisdom and knowledge. This seems to be an appropriate parallel to those who have an honest appreciation of the way in which they were called. An experiential awareness of Christ over time reveals the grace of God and what it does mean to live by faith.
Living by faith is, by definition, living a life without knowing. You do not know all that is happening and why, and you only see through a glass darkly. If there is something you really need to know, then through your study of His Word God will see to it you know it, and this especially applies to your overcoming.
The grace of God also tells us by definition that there will always be some degree of error in our thinking, whether it be about God, ourselves, the Church, or where we are in the universe. So we all need to get over trying to prove it all out and figure it all out. Your ultimate decision in life, and in every day of your life, is that you continue to believe in His Son and what He did for you and what He will do, and this you can ONLY do by faith. This is not to be done without knowledge so that we do not believe in vain.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
However, if you want to take the above appeal by Paul to its very end, then consider that eventually your last proof or test will be that it is in the end by faith you are what you are in Christ, and you are saved by grace in spite of all the errors that still reside in your thinking and your ways, and the inaccuracies in even what you have right! So there is no room for confidence in the flesh.
But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24).
This statement helps to embody the work and life of Jesus Christ. I believe that as a people we need more room for rejoicing that has been too often taken up by this need to be right about what it is we believe.
If Not Us, Then it will be The Stones
Luke made the following account of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem on a colt:
Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him. And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road. Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”
But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:35-40).
Let us ask ourselves where we find our place in this account. How sophisticated in doctrine were those who enthusiastically and selflessly proclaimed blessings and glory to God, laying out their clothes as an act of homage? On the opposite end of the spectrum, the sophisticated and learned Pharisees found themselves restricted in their praise, and wanted His disciples disciplined. Whose feelings did Jesus appreciate the most? Evidently the dead lifeless stones would do a better job of worship than the Pharisees. Confidence in the flesh leads to pride and eliminates selfless worship, so where would we really place ourselves in this account?
This answer depends on where you might spend much of your heart and mind these days. If you have been directing your attention to the evils of the world and conspiracies, or on past church grievances, or if you impose on others and even on yourself the kind of doctrinal discipline exposed in this article regarding Holy Day observances, calendars, genealogy to a tribe, or some form of Hebrew root/Christian syncretism (among other such things), or in summary trying to be all researched and right about it all, then the stones around you may be clearing their throats in preparation for praise.
If you have learned carefully and have not sabotaged your faith, and have not suppressed the inner joy God has granted you, but have cultivated love, giving, and mercy, in the knowledge of God, then I congratulate you. These things are the spirit of worship, which is to have the desire of what He desires.
“… but whoever does and teaches them (the commandments), he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
May the stones be left silent, and may God’s people glorify Him freely without restriction under the grace of God in which they live.