Is there a connection between the fall holy days and Feast of Tabernacles and the Church of God brethren that God describes in Revelation as Philadelphian in spirit, attitude, and character?
I think there is.
I will summarize the meaning of the fall holy days and Feast in the second half of this post, but first I want to explore a connection between the holy days and Feast and Philadelphians.
I have said before, that of all Mr. Armstrong's books and other writings, the most important for Church of God members is his autobiography. His book, Mystery of the Ages, is the best one-volume summary of all his major teachings, and his book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, may be the single best book for those outside the Church of God to read and be introduced to the truth of the Bible and the true gospel.
But Mr. Armstrong's autobiography reveals the thinking and background of Mr. Armstrong. It shows the basic principles by which he lived, which made it possible for God to use Mr. Armstrong to help reveal lost truth to the Church of God in our time. Mr. Armstrong was a Philadelphian in the way he lived. In his autobiography, he gets personal in the way he thinks and why he did what he did.
The autobiography is important for Church members because it shows how he dealt with problems in the Church, even as a lay member.
Mr. Armstrong was a Philadelphian. He was blessed with an open door, and he went through that door. His autobiography helps us identify the characteristics of a Philadelphian.
It is important for Philadelphians and those in the Church who are striving to be Philadelphians and develop the character that Christ praises in Revelation 3:7-13, to be able to identify some principles that Philadelphians must have.
I have read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, and I think I can identify three characteristics Philadelphians will have. These may not be the only three, but they can serve as visible yardsticks for measuring and examining ourselves. And while these principles are visible in Mr. Armstrong's life, they are also easily proven in the Bible to be right principles we should follow.
Two of these characteristics tie in with the holy days, principally how we know about the need to observe the holy days and feasts and how we know the meaning of these days.
First of all, Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first. He never let any man, even a minister in the true Church, interpret the Bible for him, but he learned to let the Bible interpret the Bible. This was his way of life from the beginning of his conversion.
He even tried to correct and teach new knowledge from the Bible to the Church of God Seventh Day while he was only a lay member.
He submitted a paper to COG7D on the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, showing from the Bible and from history that the English speaking people are descendents of Joseph and thus part of Israel. This was new knowledge, yet COG7D rejected it, not by contradicting it, but by mostly ignoring it. He also submitted a correction to their existing doctrines. Mr. Armstrong does not name this in his autobiography, but it is likely this correction was regarding the Church's obligation to observe the annual holy days and feasts of God. The reason I say this is that Mr. Armstrong later made clear in his writings and speaking that he and his family observed the holy days from the beginning, and that he learned of the need to keep the holy days at the same time he learned about the Sabbath, and this was before he was baptized. But COG7D rejected this also.
My point is that Mr. Armstrong did not submit to any authority of man, even to the leadership and ministry of the Church of God Seventh Day while Mr. Armstrong was only a lay member, newly baptized, when it came to reading and understanding the Bible. He never let any man tell him what the Bible meant. He believed what he saw in his own Bible and let the Bible interpret the Bible.
In other words, while still a lay member, not yet ordained as a minister, he believed what he saw for himself in the Bible more than he believed the ministers of the Church of God fellowship he was attending.
He believed the Bible more than the Church.
Later, when he did a work over the radio, he said to his listeners, don't believe me, don't believe any man, believe God, believe what you see in your own Bible. He preached that and he practiced that, and God blessed him with an open door.
It is important to God that we put our faith in Him, not in man, not in any man, not even a Church of God leader or minister.
Some today may say that this approach can lead to confusion in the Church of God, with every man deciding for himself what the Bible means and spreading his ideas to others. But that does not have to happen if the Church leadership simply teaches the members not to discuss their disagreements over doctrine with other members and not contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine. Members should be taught this principle, and if anyone violates this even after a warning, that person can be disfellowshipped, and if necessary, marked (Romans 16:17).
Instead, some ministers compete with God for the faith of the membership, telling the members to believe the Church, its leadership, and its ministry in matters of doctrine, even if the members see something different in the Bible. Thus, when a member sees something different in the Bible, he must choose to believe God or the Church, and some ministers teach him to believe the Church rather than God. That is wrong. It is idolatry. It is the making of a man, a minister, into an idol in the place of God. It is what many of the churches of this world do. And it is a reason why those churches have lost the truth.
Church of God leaders and ministers do have binding authority over the doctrines that the Church teaches (Ephesians 4:11-16). But they do not have authority to command the members to believe them more than what they see in their own Bibles, to believe the Church more than God (2 Corinthians 1:24). Ministers do not have dominion or rule over the faith of the members. How are these principles - the Church having authority over what is taught in the Church, but not having authority over what is believed by the members - reconciled?
Simply this, that if a member sees something in the Bible that seems to contradict what the Church teaches, he should refrain from discussing it with other members and contradicting the ministry, but meanwhile he should believe what he sees in the Bible. If appropriate and if there is opportunity, he may, if he feels it is important, discuss it privately and respectfully with the ministry. And it may be resolved there. But if not, he should continue to quietly believe God more than man, not spreading his ideas and causing division in the Church.
Mr. Armstrong, whom God blessed, always put the Bible first.
And it is because of this principle that Mr. Armstrong was able to see the need for keeping the holy days and feasts of God. If he had believed Church of God authority, he would not have kept the holy days. If he had not kept them, he would not have learned their meaning and through their meaning learned many truths about the plan of God and the true doctrines of the Bible.
Mr. Armstrong kept the holy days and feasts for years before he understood their meaning. He only believed and obeyed the God of the Bible. But when God saw his faith and obedience, faith and obedience towards God more than towards the Church, God blessed him and helped him understand, from the Bible, the meaning of the holy days and feasts. And through the understanding of the meaning of these days, Mr. Armstrong understood the true gospel with a depth he had not known before.
If you have ever read chapter 2 of my book, Preaching the Gospel, where I explain most of the doctrines of the Church of God, you will see how many of the basic doctrines of the Church can be organized according to the holy days and feasts. The doctrines of the Church are revealed in the holy days.
And it is because Mr. Armstrong believed the Bible more than the Church that we have this knowledge today.
Believing the Bible more than the Church ministry and leadership is a characteristic, I believe, of true Philadelphians.
A second characteristic of true Philadelphians is zeal for preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and a warning of the great tribulation to come as punishment upon Israel, including the English speaking people, if our nations do not repent of their sins. This also is illustrated in the life of Mr. Armstrong.
If you read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, you will see the zeal he had for preaching the gospel. I think that is evident. Doing God's work was his life.
It is necessary for Philadelphians to have zeal for the gospel, because it is the Philadelphians who have an open door for that purpose, and they must have the courage and zeal to go through it. In fact, their zeal is part of the open door. It is one of the things that separates Philadelphians from Laodiceans. Nearly all the COG groups have access to the same resources - freedom and prosperity - to preach the gospel to the public. But what causes one fellowship to be successful and another not is not resources, but zeal. Those ministers and members who have Philadelphian zeal for the gospel will find a way.
Preaching the gospel to the world and the warning of the tribulation to come is an act of love towards our neighbors. There is no substitute for it. Opening doors for strangers, giving aid to flood victims, and praying for Christ to come is no substitute for doing the hard work and making the financial sacrifices to get the warning message out to a world that desperately needs it. Setting a good example is not enough.
Our people need to hear the warning now while there is time for them to repent and escape the death and suffering to come. Even if they do not repent, they will remember the warning we give them, and they will know that God was merciful and fair to at least give them a warning. That will make their repentance in the tribulation easier and more likely. It will prepare them for the millennium, which is what the Feast of Tabernacles is about.
What are the fruits of Mr. Armstrong's zeal for the gospel? We have the truth. We would not have it if it were not for Mr. Armstrong's zeal to preach the gospel.
So the second characteristic of a Philadelphian is zeal and willingness to sacrifice for the preaching of the gospel and the warning to the public.
This second characteristic ties in with the first, for it is those who believe what God says in the Bible who have zeal for the gospel. Some who refuse to support the preaching of the gospel make various excuses: our example is sufficient, only Mr. Armstrong could preach the gospel, we must grow spiritually and get close to God before we can preach the gospel, etc. But those who believe God know that God commands the preaching of the gospel and the warning message to the world. The Bible shows the falseness of all these excuses, for those who are willing to believe what God says.
There is a third characteristic of Philadelphian Christians, and that is respect for and obedience to the principle of top-down governance in the Church of God, rather than voting.
This is a principle Mr. Armstrong always followed. And if you look closely at the history of the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive, I think you will see that there were times when, if Mr. Armstrong relied on the voting of men, those men would have elected to cut back on the preaching of the gospel. Mr. Armstrong was able to move forward and deal with severe problems because he made the decisions, under Christ. And it was Mr. Armstrong, not a voting board, who had the faith and zeal to go through open doors to preach the gospel when it may have seemed, in human terms, to be impossible.
This also ties in with the first principle, putting the Bible first. Those who prefer voting have their reasons and excuses, but they do not hold up to the truth of the Bible. The Bible shows very clearly that God's government in the Church is governance from the top down, not by voting. I show, in chapter 8 of my book, the many scriptures that prove that godly government is from the top down.
In my opinion, those ministers who participate in a system of voting to elect leaders in the Church, or who submit to such leaders, have rejected the administrative leadership of Jesus Christ over the Church. They are making their own decisions, choosing their own leaders, not submitting to Jesus Christ.
Those are three main principles Philadelphian members of the Church of God live by:
1. Put the Bible first and believe the Bible more than the Church. By this we show God that our love, faith, and trust are towards Him more than towards man. But don't cause division by openly disagreeing with the Church in conversation with brethren.
2. Practice zeal and sacrifice for the gospel and the warning message about the coming tribulation. By this we show God that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
3. Believe, understand, and practice top-down governance in the Church as taught in the Bible. By this we show God that we trust Jesus Christ to appoint our leaders and make His choices known by their fruits.
Christ says to the Philadelphians: "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11).
Much has been said in the Church about "holding fast". Many who use this verse apply it to the individual doctrines and details of doctrines that Mr. Armstrong taught us: the holy days, the plan of God, God reproducing himself in mankind, the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, the three resurrections, etc. But I think that misses the point.
Certainly these doctrines are important. But Mr. Armstrong practiced Philadelphian leadership before he knew all these doctrines. Learning these things was a process over time, and the Church was Philadelphian during the time it was learning these doctrines. Mr. Armstrong had some of these doctrines, but not all of them when he started a Philadelphia work in late 1933 and early 1934.
So in 1934, 1935, 1936, etc., how could Mr. Armstrong and the Philadelphian members of the Church supporting him have heeded this message and held fast to doctrines they did not yet have? In fact, if they had held fast to the body of doctrine they had at that time, they would have made no changes and probably no additions. They would not have learned new knowledge about the truth of God. They would not have learned that God is reproducing Himself in mankind. They would not have corrected the error about keeping Pentecost on Monday.
Then what are Philadelphians to hold fast to?
They are to hold fast to the principles they had from the beginning, the principles they had from the time God showed, by the good fruits of growth, that they are Philadelphians, that they have an open door. And it is those principles, the three I listed (Bible first, gospel, and top-down governance), that have helped to reveal all the other doctrines that came later. THAT is what we are to hold fast to. Not a list of doctrines.
For if we put the Bible first, the doctrinal correction and growth will come. God will see and reward our faith in Him and His word, the Bible, and will reveal knowledge to us. If we show zeal for the gospel, as the Bible teaches, God will see our willingness to love our neighbors as ourselves - our willingness to live the give way of life by sharing the truth God has given us - and God will bless us with more truth. And if we believe and practice what the Bible teaches about top-down governance, we will trust Jesus Christ to show us by the fruits (not the voting of men) those whom He has chosen to be our leaders, and we will submit to those leaders in the administrative decisions for the Church of God. And God can bless the leader or leaders He has chosen by helping those leaders understand truth from the Bible.
Understanding and holding fast to these principles that Mr. Armstrong practiced and that the Bible teaches will help Philadelphian members of the Church of God (and those who are striving to become Philadelphians in character and spirit) to be useful tools in God's hands and really finish the work of God.
So as we keep the coming holy days and Feast of Tabernacles, as we hear sermons and conversations about the meaning of these days, let's remember how the Church of God received this knowledge. We received this knowledge because Mr. Armstrong and his supporters and new members that came in from the radio broadcast believed the Bible first, practiced zeal for the preaching of the gospel to the world, and practiced and supported government in the Church from the top down. Let's think about these things in the coming holy days and Feast, and let's practice these principles as a way of life, because without them there would be no holy days or Feast of Tabernacles for us, and we would not have the knowledge that comes from observing and understanding these days.
Soon, we will be observing the fall holy days and the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a blessing to understand the meaning of these days, and we should reflect on that and give thanks to God for these days as we observe them. We should also spend some time reflecting on how we came to know about these days and their meaning, and that ties in with the three Philadelphian principles I described. Our knowledge of these days is a fruit, a direct result, of the principles I described.
This might also be a good time to read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.
The first of the fall holy days and feast days is the Day of Trumpets. It is an annual sabbath, a day of rest and assembly. It pictures a number of events prophesied to occur in the near future. It pictures the Day of the Lord, a tremendous time when God directly intervenes to punish the world for its sins. At the seventh trumpet, Christ will return to the earth to set up His kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and the saints of God, the faithful members of the Church of God, will be resurrected to immortal life if dead or changed to immortality if alive, and they will rise to meet Christ in the air.
Before the Day of the Lord will be the heavenly signs. The heavenly signs and the Day of the Lord are described in Isaiah 2:12-21, Isaiah 13:6-16, Ezekiel 30:1-3, Joel 1:15-18, Joel 2:1-11, Joel 2:30-32, Joel 3:14-16, Joel 3:18-20, Obadiah 15-16, Zephaniah 1:7-18, Zephaniah 2:1-3, Zechariah 14:1-5, Matthew 24:29-30, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, Revelation 6:12-17, Revelation chapter 8, Revelation 11:15-19, Revelation chapters 15 and 16, and Revelation 19:11-21.
The resurrection of the Church is described in Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:50-56, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, and Revelation 20:4-6.
The meaning of the Day of Trumpets helps us understand that man does not have an immortal soul, for we need the resurrection from the dead. The scriptures that describe that resurrection show that we will be made immortal at that time, not that we have immortality already.
The next of the fall holy days is Atonement. Members of the Church of God rest and assemble for services on Atonement and fast on that day, refraining from food and water from sunset to sunset (Leviticus 23:26-32). Atonement represents the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ paid the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins so we can be forgiven and saved. But Satan also has a responsibility for our sins because he deceives us and tempts us into sin. He will bear his own guilt for that.
After Christ returns, Satan will be bound and put away in a condition of restraint, so he will no longer be able to deceive and tempt mankind into sin. He will be released for a little while after the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ and the saints, but during the millennium he will not be able to influence mankind. Atonement represents these events.
Here are some passages that describe these events: Leviticus chapter 16 and Revelation 20:1-3. Passages that describe Satan's character and role include Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:11-19, John 8:44, Luke 4:5-8, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Ephesians 2:1-3, and Revelation 12:7-9.
The next holy day is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast that lasts seven days. The first day is an annual holy day, a sabbath of rest and assembly. The entire seven day feast pictures the happiness and joy that will exist all over the earth during the 1,000 years that Christ and the resurrected saints rule the earth and Satan is put away.
Members of the Church of God save a second tithe all year to spend at the Feast. We travel to various locations where the Church has set up Feast sites and stay in temporary dwellings - hotels and motels - for the duration of the Feast. We attend services every day, but in the afternoons that are not sabbath days, we enjoy good food and drink and fellowship and enjoy the recreational opportunities the area has to offer. The sermons in services rehearse the scriptures that describe the joy of the millennium, and the speakers help the membership understand what the millennium will be like and what lessons the Feast has to teach us. All this helps us to picture the happiness of the millennium and the Kingdom of God and the richness of the reward that awaits us.
The Feast of Tabernacles pictures something else also. Because we stay in temporary dwellings, in hotels and motels, as the ancient Israelites stayed in booths made of leafy branches, we picture the temporariness of this life, of this journey towards the Kingdom of God. We are travelers in this age, and this age, this physical life, is not our permanent home - the Kingdom of God will be our permanent home.
There are many scriptures that describe the Feast of Tabernacles and what it represents. Here are some: Leviticus 23:33-43, Psalm 98:4-9, Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 19:23-25, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 35:5-10, Jeremiah 30:8-10, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-30, Daniel 2:27-45, Daniel 7:13-14, Amos 9:13, Zechariah 2:10-11, Zechariah 8:20-22, Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 19:11-26, Revelation 20:4-6.
Immediately after the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles comes the Last Great Day (John 7:37-38), also called the eighth day of the feast. This is a holy day, an annual sabbath, a day of rest and assembly (Leviticus 23:33-36).
This day represents a time, immediately following the millennium, when all who have lived and died without having an opportunity to be called by God and drawn to Christ (John 6:44), including all who have never heard the true gospel because of circumstances of their birth and life, will be resurrected back to physical life and will have their first real opportunity to be saved. They will be judged for their sins, but will also learn about Christ's sacrifice, and they will have the opportunity to believe and repent and be saved. Here are some scriptures that describe that time: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Matthew 11:20-24, Revelation 20:11-15.
God has been very merciful to reveal His wonderful truth to us, for the vast majority of mankind is not able to know these things because Satan deceives them and God has not yet called them. We should be very thankful for our calling and the truth God has revealed to us. And we should be very thankful for Mr. Armstrong and the early members of the Church of God who supported Mr. Armstrong. We should be grateful that they lived by the principles that allowed God to use them to further the gospel and all of God's truth: loyalty to God's word the Bible, sacrificial zeal for spreading the message to those who need it, and submission to and support of God's government in the Church from the top down.
Let's think about these things and imitate those who have helped to make God's truth available to us by practicing these three principles that they lived by.