Many of us saints have, in the past few years, come to a greater understanding of true Christian responsibility and freedom in Christ regarding church governance. We have seen the proper role of leadership and that there are not different classes of God's people, i.e., "minister" versus "lay member". Some were ahead of most of us in this understanding and we would not listen to them because they were classified as "dissidents" back in the '70's and '80's. Some of the understanding that we have come to is that God's holy spirit can work in all of us. We all have spiritual gifts and do not need some man or system to squelch them.
Every year when the Feast of Tabernacles comes around, many of us have wondered where we would go. We have more often than not settled for a site where our only spiritual role would be that of a "hearer of well-established doctrine." With all that in mind, it is time for some Feast sites to be planned that fulfill our need to participate, learn and grow.
A small group spearheaded by Norman Brumm is intending to host/coordinate one or two feasts sites and assist any others who desire to do the same. While we do recognize that some groups have been doing this for years, we would like to help publicize such events and to expand them to make them available to more and more of God's people. We are in the process of setting up our own guidelines and encourage others who are interested in doing the same to incorporate as many of our guidelines as they choose. We hope also to communicate with other groups planning feast sites with similar principles and to assist members in finding these sites. (For example, a person may wish to travel to a different part of the country and would like to know if there was a feast of this nature there.)
We have put out a few feelers and have received some feedback already. We would like to receive much more feedback from any who are interested in giving it. Following are some incomplete guidelines that have been put together so far. At this point, nothing is set in stone.
One of the main purposes of a feast of this nature is to promote true, godly unity among God's people, a unity not based on some man's or on some organization's doctrines but on godly love. Jesus did not say in John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you all see eye to eye on every point of doctrine." He said that we will be known to be his disciples if we "have love for one another."
While some have felt that it would be good to have sites of 500 to 700 or more people, others feel it would be better to keep the size of the sites between 200 and 300. The thoughts regarding the larger numbers have considered those from a WCG/UCG/GCG mentality who might feel that a feast site about the same size as their local congregation might not seem much like a feast at all. The thoughts for the smaller sites have shown that many have attended a smaller site and have found them much more inspiring. Also the smaller sites would allow a higher proportion of people to be a part of the service.
Some existing sites with which we have had some communications already include places like Knoxville, Tennesee, the Florida panhandle, West Virginia, the Oregon coast and the Vancouver, BC area. Potential areas that we might directly coordinate include somewhere in the Rockie Mountains, Springdale, Arkansas and maybe in the New England area. We hope to plan so that a last-minute surge of attendees at any given site can still be accommodated. We are hoping that this idea ventures into some international areas.
This would include areas such as Parking, Seating and Meeting Hall related (set-up, clean-up, bathroom, etc.). A parking crew may be necessary in areas where parking is scarce, where handicapped individuals need help or where parking spaces are not marked. Helping others to carry bags or find seating is something everyone should be doing when it is necessary. In years gone by, the most significant function of some of these crews was reserving special parking and seating for the "ministry." By eliminating this unnecessary separation, the entire job can be reduced or eliminated.
Regarding the Meeting Hall: This is a low-profile area that does need attention. It is a big job for one individual to always open up the hall as the first people arrive, close it down after the last people leave, and keep it clean every day. We are looking for a good method of spreading around these duties as much as possible.
The first thing to consider is what kind of format would a "service" be? This may even vary from day to day. How packed would the schedule be? What should the balance be regarding activities, lecture-type messages (sermonettes, sermons), open Bible studies or free time? While we have all seen a time when activities and lectures have been overemphasized, we want to emphasize allowing God's spirit to work with all of us. We do know that attendance will never be coerced.
What activities should we schedule? We definitely want some social activities (a family dance and/or variety show is usually a big success) and enough free time to allow spur-of-the-moment small group studies for individuals who love that kind of stuff and for families that just want to be together.
Song Service: This is much more complicated than it used to be. We need to focus more on enjoying this portion of worshipping our Creator than having some polished professional lead us in the same old songs every day. Many of us come from groups that use different hymnals. Also, many are recognizing that this is one area of our worship service that definitely needs expansion and improvement.
Special Music: This should not be limited to solos but also include duets, quartets, octets or any other combination of people and instruments. We do not plan to have an audition for approval but we will encourage those who can truly praise God in music and/or song to step forward and be a part of the worship service in a special way.
Obviously, some sites will be run by small organizations and will have their speaking schedule determined by their organization. Our thoughts are as follows: Messages will be allowed to be given by any and all who have something worthwhile to say. Now, if we have a site of 250 people and 100 people wish to speak to the group, we will then obviously have a scheduling problem. Regarding the messages, it is so far a consensus that time (10 to 30 minutes) always be allotted after the message for a question and discussion session regarding what was just said. A large part of our Savior's ministry consisted of answering questions asked of him. Now, when those 100 people wishing to speak realize that they will have to answer questions from a Bible-studying congregation right afterward, the potential speaker list may dwindle down to 10 or 20!
Regardless, someone will have to coordinate or oversee the scheduling of messages. With that being the case, those interested in giving a message will need to make themselves known and volunteer themselves and the following information: topic of message, length of message, type of message (i.e., opening, middle or end of feast, Bible study, Youth, Singles, etc.) and any other relevant bit of information that may affect a scheduler. The schedulers should give wide latitude to the topics sent in and should just manage what comes in and refrain from directing what the topics actually will be. We need to learn to trust in God and His holy spirit.
Regarding time limits, both points of view are present here as well. Yes, limit the messages; get to the point! No need to ramble on. How many times have you heard a 15 minute message stretched and dragged out to fill up an hour's sermon? Yet, how do you fairly limit a message that definitely has more time to go? Putting a time limit on the initial message may not be too difficultjust use the speaker's own original estimated time. Putting a limit on the discussion period afterward is usually harder. While these sessions can get quite lively and invigorating, some also can seem to drag on and on.
Deuteronomy 16:16 commands all the males to appear before the Eternal three times not empty handed. We are able to fully recognize that this scripture says three timesnot sevenone of the times mentioned is at the Feast of Tabernacles. We do not plan to pass a basket on any given day. We intend to have a box for people to put money in as they desire and are moved to. This appears to be more consistent with Biblical offerings. At the beginning of the Feast we intend to publish already incurred expenses and anticipated expenses. Obviously, the money collected will first cover all festival expenses, but what should be done with any extra money?
If there is extra money early on in the Feast, that can always be used to subsidize some later activity. A small amount of extra money (assuming there will be some) will be held over to help out next year's Feast. Communication will be continuous throughout the feast regarding this issue. We will encourage those who have a relatively large offering budget to send part of their offering to the cause of their choice. We do not wish to receive too much money nor do we intend to get into redirecting funds from members to organizations. After the feast, all expenses and revenues will be published in detail, sent with receipts to the donors and made available to any who ask.
This will be a low-keyed area. A rented hall can be deeply discounted if a certain number of rooms are rented out in the same facility and/or if certain events are catered by the same facility. While we hope to take advantage of any and all discounts available, no one should ever be pressured to stay at such-and-such a place. Granted, the convenience of staying at the same place does have its advantages. We hope to go to a variety of nearby housing establishments and inform them of the Feast dates. We will offer to include them in a brochure of housing establishments and ask them what kind of discount they will give those calling under our name. Individuals will be free to make an arrangement that they deem best.
Miscellaneous Areas to Consider:
Attendance: Attendance will be open to anyone. We intend to "advertise" this Non-Aligned Feast and any Open Feasts (see box on page 15) as far and wide as possible as an invitation to individuals, groups and organizations, no matter what their affiliation or background is. "Ordained Ministers" (from the WCG way of thinking) are also welcome to attend and speak. This is not an "anti-minister" Feast. We are all brethren and ministers (servants) of one another. We understand that many are "suspicious where ex-WCG 'ministers' are involved", but they, as brethren, are invited to be a part of the feast. There will be neither a hierarchy nor a class distinction of people.
Festival Assistance: We do not intend to collect any moneys for the purpose of Festival assistance. We will encourage those who are in need to ask for help from any they may know who are able to help. We also encourage that any of these helpers provide the need and not just money (e.g., take the person to the Feast, pay for a rental contract or provide a room). We do not mind to assist connecting those who need help to those who can give it.
Literature Distribution: The Feast can indeed be a place to proselytize your point of view! We do realize that at a non-aligned, independent Feast of Tabernacles, the doors are wide open for promoters of various points of view. It can also provide an extremely vibrant exchange of fellowship and it is this latter we hope to accomplish. A suggestion has been made to have an area where literature can be displayed with a these guidelines: People should not distribute literature any other way (such as placing it on seats, handing it out at the door, etc.). Everything in this area should be free. If someone has something to sell, a catalog or flyer should be given away describing the item(s) and where and how they can be purchased. Private selling is fine, but we want to avoid the atmosphere of people selling their wares in the temple.
The above list is by no means complete, but it does cover many major areas and gives a flavor of what we are working to accomplish. We do have some immediate needs.
Immediate Need #1: We need to have an idea of the numbers of people that would be interested in attending a Feast of this nature and what part of the country they would like to go to. We need to begin nailing down some locations. We are not looking for any commitments yet.
Immediate Need #2: We need volunteers to assist us in coordinating sites. We already have some tentative offers and there may be others with various skills in various areas. In addition to the physical aspects we are also looking for some plain old advice. In the multitude of counsel there is safety and wisdom.
For anyone thinking of doing this as well, individuals will need to start thinking of doing the coordinating. Someone needs to be responsible for securing the hall, arranging for the setup, seeing that deposits are paid and seeing everything through to the issuing of a final statement of income and expenses. Since no funds will be available until the Feast begins, a site coordinator will need to have some financial resources of his own to get the process started. Obviously, this is an opportunity to serve, not to be exalted.
Immediate Need #3: We need feedback on everything mentioned above. It seems that almost everybody has thought of a better way to run one aspect or another of the Feast. Also, surely there are areas that need to be considered that are not mentioned above. Anyone interested in volunteering for one area or another would be very welcome to come forward now.
Please contact us via any of the below methods:
Feast '96 Non-Aligned
510 Gillespie St.
Locust Grove, Oklahoma 74352
Phone: (918) 479-8111
Fax: (918) 479-8555
We do not have any idea how many people will be interested in attending. We will not base our judgment of success on numbers. If only 50 people attend, we believe that it can be just as much a success as it could be if we have 1,000 people. If more than 1,000 people want to attend, the more the merrier!
One member wrote to us, "There's no doubt that God's church is out there scattered in small groups and that they would flock to a true Feast convocation that avoided the mistakes of the past and the patterns of the WCG clone groups." That is the kind of Feast that we dream of seeing. We feel that the ekklesia is ready for something like this.
- Norman A. Brumm
Jubilee '95, a three-day conference, was sponsored by Friends of the Sabbath [no relation to Friends of the Brethren]. It was held in San Antonio, Texas, December 23-25, 1995 at the La Mansion del Rio Hotel. The primary subject of the conference was the Holy Days, with a secondary theme of cooperation among Sabbath-keepers. See box on page 9 for a list of all topics.
Speakers included life-long professional theologians employed by large organizations, people from small groups, and Bible students that have never earned any money from their religious activities.
The conference was open to the general public and approximately 240 people attended the conference. Those attending listed affiliations with over 20 organizations.
Friends of the Sabbath is not attempting to unify these various organizations or to establish a "church of their own." The Missions statement of Friends of the Sabbath is to Cultivate "Through Supportive Communication and Continuing Education" a Greater Appreciation of and Devotion to One Another Among the Community of Sabbath Believers, with Each Contributing According to the Gifts which God has Granted Us to Accomplish His Work.
While many of the individual presentations were very interesting and instructive, the overall atmosphere of the conference was the most impressive. The fact that so many people from so many different backgrounds could speak to each other, listen to each other and learn from each other was truly encouraging. This is a great difference from the suspicion with which most organizations speak of other organizations in their own meetings.
I was reminded of our Savior's and the apostle Paul's instructions not to try to stop others who are teaching in His name (Mark 9:38-40, Phil 1:15-18). We are also reminded of Biblical examples of men such as Cornelius and Apollos that became leaders in the congregations, but were not trained directly by the apostles (Acts 10-11, 18:24-26, 1:1-5; 1Cor 3:6). We learned that we could learn from each other without having to control each other.
We believe that learning is much greater in an environment like this because speakers must justify their teaching from scripture and historythey cannot simply say "this is our church doctrinebelieve it or get out." A microphone was placed in the center of the conference rooms and many sessions allowed people to ask questions or make comments. Most people were able to defend their beliefs.
Rather than attempt to cover every session in detail, we will cover some of the outstanding sessions and note that a complete set of tapes, or some individual tapes, are available from Friends of the Sabbath. Their address is on the bottom of page 10.
We will cover what we believe to be some of the highlights of the conference and some of the important things we have learned there.
Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi
The featured and most frequent speaker was Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi. He was born in Italy, very close to the vatican. His father was given a Bible by a Waldensian (a religious group that relied on the Bible and rejected much of mainstream "Christian" theology). After studying his Bible, Dr. Bacchiocchi's father concluded that the seventh-day Sabbath should be kept. He looked for a seventh-day-keeping congregation in Rome, but could find none so he began keeping the Sabbath on his own. Young Samuele was persecuted in School because he did not attend the Saturday classes. The only kind of exemption that was allowed was medical. Fortunately, they found a doctor that declared him "mentally incompetent to attend school on the Sabbath."
Later on, the Bacchiocchi family found some other Sabbath-keepers to meet with. Today, Samuele Bacchiocchi is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church and teaches at Andrews Universitya Seventh Day Adventist school. He also derives a significant income from the 11 books he has written. Mr. Bacchiocchi's books are widely read within his organization as well as by the general populace.
It is interesting to note that Dr. Bacchiocchi's research sometimes puts him at odds with his own church organization. Of the 12 Seventh Day Adventist Universities, only 2 will allow him to speak on their campuses. Nevertheless, the fact that he is able to publicly disagree and still remain employed is an improvement upon the practices of many other hierarchical church governments.
But does this allowance of disagreement just create confusion? It may create some confusion, but it also has advantages. One advantage is that the Seventh Day Adventist Universities welcome Sabbath-keeping students that are not members of their own church organization. Servants' News readers might want to communicate this option to young people they know that are seeking a place for further education.
An even greater benefit of allowing disagreement: truth can be learned. Mr. Bacchiocchi's latest book is entitled God's Festivals in Scripture and History, Part I: The Spring Festivals. Mr. Bacchiocchi concludes that these festivals have much meaning for us today and should indeed be kept. While the governing body of his church organization does not seem likely to accept this idea, it does seem that there is much interest among some Seventh Day Adventist leaders and members. If only 10% of the eight million Seventh Day Adventists begin to keep the holy days, they may be the largest holy-day keeping group of people anywhere!
In another session Samuele Bacchioc-chi explained how he was able, as a non-Catholic, to graduate from the Pontifical Gregorian university in Rome. While there, he was able to examine documents from the first few centuries AD and conclusively show how various church leaders gradually changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. Much of this information is included in his book From Sabbath to Sunday. It is interesting to note that the professor who was in charge of Bacchiocchi's study program has since been persecuted for allowing him to study and the Vatican has "shut the door" to any further such non-Catholic students.
Dr. Bacchiocchi gave several other sessions that we found interesting and mostly in agreement with our understanding of the Bible. His delivery was full of gestures, emotions and an Italian accenta real attention-keeper. If there was any criticism of him, it is that he went overtime, spent a little too much time plugging his own books, and occasionally monopolized the question and answer time of other sessions.
Jim FranksChurch History in USA
Jim Franks' presentation was extremely interesting in light of the doctrinal changes that many organizations are going through today. From 1981 to 1987, Mr. Franks spent a lot of time in old churches, museums and grave-yards researching Sabbath-keeping in the original 13 American colonies. Preachers that did not obey the Church of England in the 1600's were often persecuted and sometimes executed. Puritans came to the colonies seeking relief from the persecution, but they often persecuted others (such as Sabbath keepers) that did not agree with their doctrines.
Rhode Island was founded as a colony with complete religious freedom. Some of the early political leaders either kept the Sabbath or were very sympathetic to those that did. A walkway crossing the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island is still known as the "Sabbath Path" today. Its name came from the citizens of Connecticut that would travel it down to Rhode Island each Sabbath where they could safely attend Sabbath services. One of the largest Rhode Island newspapers is still not published on Saturday.
What happened to all of these Sabbath keeping congregations? Are they still there today? A very few are. Some of these congregations saw no need to name their organization, just considered themselves part of the body of true believers. While this is a Biblically sound concept, it is more difficult to trace the history of a group without a name. The majority of the congregations, and even a college founded by Sabbatarians, seemed to do something we are witnessing in our time: gradually change from Sabbath-keeping to Sunday-keeping organizations. Sometimes a confrontation would occur and the Sabbath-keepers and the Sunday-keepers in one organization would be forced to separate. Jim Franks' presentation helped us to see that many of the Eternal's people have striven to preserve truth while others strove primarily to preserve an organization.
Dr. Ernest Martin
Departing from the Worldwide Church of God in the mid seventies, Dr Ernest Martin has continued to study the Bible and write articles since that time. While his positions on some subjects probably differed greatly from most of his audience, his research was very thought provoking. He spent most of one session explaining how Zechariah 12-14 is a single long prophecy which indicates a great revival before the returning of our Savior. He felt that the returning to the holy days of some Seventh Day Adventists and some of the Church of God 7th Day groups is part of that revival. Cases of independent Sunday-keeping churches switching to the Sabbath are also growing in frequency.
Holy Day Messages
Gerold Aust, Ronald Dart, Peter Nathan, Larry Salyer, Larry Walker and Donald Ward all delivered very useful messages largely in agreement with traditional "Church of God" teaching. Certainly some aspects were brought out in ways that we had never heard before. Though we are not covering these messages individually, we do not mean to imply that they were any less worthwhile than the others.
Calendar and New Moon Issues
Panel discussions were held on Biblical and Historical Calendars and on New Moons. These two discussions were very closely related and for the sake of brevity we will highlight the calendar discussion. In it Norman Edwards presented an overview of calendar issues. Most of the information presented is in the paper entitled Biblical Calendar Basics, offered on the back cover of this issue. Also, Herb Solinsky presented a summary of his research on what he understands to be the Calendar used during the time of Moses. Of all the various calendar systems in use by various groups, we feel that Herb Solinsky's writings are the most thorough. His writings exceed 100 pages, but we hope to be able to set it in different type and include it as a future literature offering. A limited number of copies of his writings are for sale from Friends of the Sabbath.
Three sessions were devoted largely to Sabbatarian Cooperation. Richard Nickels had the first session. He has run an organization known as Giving and Sharing since the mid 70's. He makes many Bibles and helps available at wholesale cost and freely distributes many of his own writings and the writings of others. Nickels pointed out that too many Sabbath-keeping organizations are far too interested in how much money they bring in and not enough in teaching their members to use their gifts and to teach others. The Giving and Sharing Order Form is available from our literature list on the back page.
The Diversity Among Sabbatarians panel presented a number of issues about preaching and teaching apart from large organizations. Alan Ruth presented his plans to share information on the Internet, Norman Edwards presented the basic concepts of Assembling on the Sabbath, and How Does the Eternal Govern through Humans?, Richard Nickels explained some of the great historical variety of Sabbath-keepers, and Dr. Greg Walburn spoke from a converted Jewish perspective. We feel that the tape of this session would be quite worthwhile. Much of the final session, The Professors Answer, consisted of questions relating to this session and was also quite worthwhile. In this final session, the scheduled conference speakers were joined by Yaffa King, the founder and principle speaker for the Roots of Yeshua radio program.
Many Sabbath keepers today are unaware that there are dozens maybe hundreds of groups that have a Jewish background but have accepted Yeshua (the man we call "Jesus") as Messiah. While some of these groups are essentially protestantthey believe in the Trinity and that the law was "nailed to the cross," other groups seem to be much like the first century believersJewish in background and custom but accepting Yeshua as the one sacrifice for sin.
As the Sabbath was ending on the first day of the conference, Greg Walburn and Yaffa King performed a brief Havdalah ceremony and lit Hanukkah candles. While many Sabbath-keepers today would consider these things as unnecessary Jewish traditions, few understand the Biblical references to these things. Historical records indicate the Havdalah ceremony was in practice during the first century and Paul is apparently conducting one, though he spoke much longer than normal (Acts 20:7-11). In John 10:22-23, we find Yeshua in the temple on the Feast of Dedicationanother name for Hanukkah. This feast was begun to celebrate miracles performed on the Jew's behalf (1 Maccabees 4). These customs were not presented in an attempt to convince anyone else to practice them, but in an effort to help others understand that these customs are based on scripture and were probably practiced by the early believers.
We conclude our remarks on Jubilee '95 by repeating how important it was to see people from different backgrounds work together to increase their understanding. Yes, there were some disagreements and even an instance where one man shouted at a speaker for taking a certain view of a specific scripture. But later, the "shouter" publicly apologized for his action and received a great applause from those at the conference. Much more learning takes place in an environment where people make mistakes, admit them and change, than in an environment where leaders "know" they are right, do not allow any public disagreement, and simply ignore any private disagreement.
We would like to thank Dr. John Merrit for all his work before, during and after the conference. He made sure that the conference ran smoothly, but did not try to control what was said. We look forward to Feasts of Tabernacles conducted in a similar mannerwith a diversity of speakers, questions, and lots of open Bibles, concordances and other related books. We believe this is the process by which truth will be learned, not by a few men meeting to decide what is "truth" for their organization.
- Norman S. Edwards