A long, well-established doctrine in the Church of God is the teaching that we should avoid eating animals God says in the Old Testament are unclean and we should not eat.
This doctrine is not controversial in the Church of God, though most mainstream, traditional churches do not observe this doctrine. But we have observed it even before Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong came on the scene. Church of God Seventh Day was observing the distinction between clean and unclean foods when Mr. Armstrong came among them almost a century ago.
God commanded that we avoid eating pork, seafood not having fins and scales, and other unclean meats. When you put all scriptures on this subject in the Bible together, it is clear that the prohibition against unclean meats is still in force today (see for example, Acts 10:9-28).
But God has not said in the Bible, why we are to avoid unclean meats. We do it because God said it, even without knowing definitely why.
It may be a matter of health. God made the human body and He also made plants and animals to provide food for our bodies. It may be that He did not design the flesh of unclean animals to be food for man and there is something harmful to our health in unclean meat. Although food scientists may or may not see problems in eating pork, God knows far more than man about the human body in all its complexity and about the real causes of disease. It may be that there are things in unclean meats that are harmful to our health that God knows about but that food scientists and doctors do not know about.
Mr. Armstrong believed that God's laws about clean and unclean meats were a matter of health, as he indicated in his autobiography.
Yet, there may be more to it than that.
God may have several reasons for giving us His law of clean and unclean meats. It may be more than just a matter of health.
For one thing, there is a spiritual lesson in avoiding unclean meats.
God sometimes uses physical practices to teach spiritual lessons. What we physically practice reminds us of spiritual lessons and principles. What we do affects how we think.
God has given us physical baptism to teach us spiritual lessons (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism reminds us, for example, that we are to bury the old self and rise in newness of life. It reminds us of the burial and resurrection of Christ. Passover symbols remind us of the sacrifice of Christ.
Avoiding leavening during the Days of Unleavened Bread reminds us to put sin out of our lives. Eating unleavened bread during those days reminds us of the spiritual lesson of putting the righteousness of Christ into our lives every day.
Avoiding unclean meats may also be a physical action that teaches us a spiritual lesson. The spiritual lesson may be simply to always be alert to avoid sin.
When you eat in a restaurant during the Feast of Tabernacles, you often have to be alert to what various dishes contain. Sometimes you have to ask the waitress if a certain dish, maybe soup for example, contains pork. We have to be alert to choose the good and avoid the bad.
I am writing this post in a restaurant after having a meal of pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The menu said this dish includes bacon or sausage. So I had them substitute a hamburger patty for the bacon or sausage.
The spiritual lesson is a reminder to resist temptation to sin, to make a distinction, based on the word of God, between what God approves and what He forbids. We are to live by every word of God, rejecting the wrong and doing the right.
Just as I rejected bacon or sausage for breakfast and substituted beef, based on God's word, so I must reject sin and do what is right in God's sight, based on God's word. When a thought comes into my mind, I must reject it or accept it, based on the Bible, just as I reject unclean meats and accept clean meats based on the Bible.
So if wrong thoughts come into my mind, thoughts of hate, or lust, or vanity, I should put those thoughts out of my mind, based on God's word, just as I told the waiter not to bring bacon or sausage with my pancakes and eggs. But if right thoughts comes into my mind, such as giving God thanks or using an opportunity to serve others, I can accept those thoughts, just as I accepted the pancakes, eggs, and hamburger patty (Colossians 3:1-2, Philippians 4:8-9, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Being alert to what I eat, avoiding unclean meats based on what the Bible says, is a reinforcement of the habit of being alert to what I am thinking, saying, and doing based on the Bible, rejecting sinful thoughts, words, and actions just as I avoid ham, bacon, or shrimp when I eat.
It is the same kind of lesson and reminder of avoiding sin that we learn by avoiding leavening during the Days of Unleavened Bread, but the lesson of unclean meats goes on all year.
There may be another spiritual lesson to be learned from clean and unclean meats, and that is the lesson of faith.
Mankind and the world of science do not necessarily say there is anything unhealthy about pork. Yet God tells us to avoid eating pork and other unclean meats without telling us the reason why. When we obey God in this, we are demonstrating and practicing faith and trust in God and His word.
In effect, we are saying to God and to ourselves, "I don't know why God tells me to avoid unclean meats, but I believe Him and trust that He knows best."
We learn and reinforce the spiritual lesson of doing what God says even when we do not know the reason for it. That is an important spiritual lesson, the lesson of faith and trust in what God says, and it is a principle and trait that should become part of our character to prepare us for eternity in the Kingdom of God.
When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, fellowshipping with brethren at the Feast of Tabernacles, and you are looking at the menu, rejecting foods that are unclean and choosing what is clean, remember the spiritual lesson, that just as you choose what to eat or not based on your trust and faith in God and His instructions, so we are to choose what to think about, say, and do, and what to avoid, based on God's word. "And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man' " (Mark 7:20-23). "But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" ' " (Matthew 4:4).
As we are alert about what we eat, let us be alert about what we think, say, and do during the Feast and all year long.
And if you are ordering pancakes and eggs, and the menu says it comes with bacon or sausage, try asking the waitress, "Can I substitute a hamburger patty for the bacon or sausage?" It works for me (sometimes, anyway).
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Clean and Unclean Foods, Chapter 2