The Calendar:  Part 2
Respectfully Questioning the Traditional Methods

John Plunkett
January 18, 2014

In this new series of sermons, I would like to delve, with you, into the important topic of God’s Sacred Calendar.  

I am going to entitle today’s sermon “The Calendar – Part 2” because a couple of weeks ago on December 28, 2013, I gave a sermon entitled, “Should Christians keep New Year’s?” in which we went through the mainly-heathen history and falsehoods of the January 1st New Year celebration.  Much of the history that I went through in that sermon is very relevant to this series; so, rather than going into all that detail again, I believe that it would make a worthwhile prologue and background message to this series.

I apologize in advance that I will not be quoting very many scriptures in this sermon today. Today’s sermon is going to be somewhat "administrative" in nature, as you will see as we go along.  It is meant to set the stage for the rest of the series.  In the future episodes I hope to make up for today’s lack of scriptures.

Why am I preaching about this subject now?  Why am I broaching this subject of the sacred calendar at this time?  Why do I think it is needed at this time?  There are a number of reasons.

The first one is that this subject of the New Moons and the Calendar has relatively quite recently, I would say, become a somewhat thorny subject within the Church of God.  

More than just a few brethren in various Church of God groups – as well as independent brethren – both in Europe and in North America – have told me that they have become sincerely concerned about this topic over recent months and years – concerned to the extent that they fear that they may not have been keeping God’s Holy Days on the correct days! 

And this is not only just in North America and Europe.  It may well be a truly global issue, affecting many – or virtually all – of God’s people around the world.  

A few of our brethren have urged me to cover the Calendar subject in the same level of detail – or an even finer level of detail – that we recently covered our “Sabbath Food” topic.  I agreed to those requests and I have been chomping at the bit for the past couple of months to get started on it.  Finally, here we are!

Especially now, as we are only about twelve weeks away from Passover and we know that those twelve weeks are going to fly by very quickly, I want to personally do my best to be sure that we are keeping God’s Holy days on the "right" days.  If you think about it, if they are not on the right days, then they are not Holy Days at all!

When we started the "Sabbath Food" series, I didn’t know how it would end up, nor how it would practically affect myself and my family.  But it did affect us very much as we modified our Sabbath-keeping standards as a result of those studies.  Likewise, as we embark on this new study today, I will tell you right at the beginning that I have no preconceived ideas about how it might end up.  I cannot foresee what conclusions we might draw from it as we go along and I have no real idea of what changes we will make (in our household, that is) as a result.  

If I don’t yet know how it will affect our own household, I certainly cannot know how it will affect yours.  But it is not my goal to change your mind, or your belief, or your actions. My goal with this set of Bible studies is to look into God’s Word and to see if my beliefs and my actions have been wrong in this area, and to modify them if necessary.  You must make your own decisions for your own households.  I can’t do that for you.  I don’t have that responsibility or authority.  But you do!

Also, I don’t want you to believe and agree with what I say just because it is me who is saying it.  Because I am a nobody.  Trish and I listened to a message last week by a minister by the name of Stephen Glover; and just to plagiarize his words when he said, "I am just like a Nazarene; and Nazarenes were despised by the Jews."  So like Stephen, I consider myself to be just a spiritual Nazarene who is striving to participate in the work of the Lord.

In this series we are going to discuss a variety of different points of view regarding the calendar.  I am asking you, please, to always defer to God’s Word first.  Go by what your Bible says.  That is the priority.  My words are not the priority.  God’s Word is!  If you hear me saying anything that you feel disagrees with God’s Word, I want you to let me know.

Also, rather than this just being a one-way sermon/Bible study series from me to you, I want it to be a two-way study, with your participation.  As we go through it step-by-step, I want you to give me your views on the topic for further, ongoing discussion; also to share your Bible-based beliefs and opinions and yes, even your concerns and your fears.  I know that by the mere consideration of the possibility of changing what we do in this regard, there is likely to be a certain level of trepidation.

In the past I know that some of you have approached ministers in the church groups you belong to (or in some cases did belong to) and that, in some cases, they gave you the brush-off.  In some cases, instead of accepting your sincere concerns as something to be dealt with and discussed seriously, with sensitivity, respect and gentleness, they either poo-poo’d your concerns, or gave you incomplete, unsatisfying "stock answers."

I believe that in many such cases (and I am not being judgmental here), some of those ministers were unable to give you any better answers, because they had not proved their own beliefs for themselves from God’s Word.  I can say this with confidence and I can say this without being judgmental because, just like so many of them, I have not adequately proved it for myself either!  Hence even more need for this study!

Let us be fair; there are some ministers who have taken the time and effort to delve into the topic in more detail than the average; but even those who have gone into it in detail, after having done so, many or most of them appear to have led their members to stay with the old “traditional” Worldwide Church of God/Jewish way of looking at the subject, purportedly for the for the sake of unity of belief among the brethren attending with “their” groups and apparently not wishing to rock the boat. 

Is this what we should do?  Is this what I should do?  Two well-known scriptures come immediately to mind:

I Thessalonians 5:21: 
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

My second scripture was, I believe, written by Luke the Physician and inspired by God the Father and Jesus Christ:

Acts 17:
10: And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming there went into the synagogue of the Jews.
11: These
{Bereans} were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Those Bereans proved all things!  

Again, there are some ministers and some members of God’s Church who might criticize or even ridicule you and I for embarking on such a deep level of searching, receiving and proving, as we have been admonished to do.  However, through these words of Luke, God makes it clear that He looks upon those who do take the time and effort for such deep searching, receiving and proving as “more noble” than those who do not. 

I don’t want us to be comparing ourselves amongst ourselves (II Corinthians 10:12); but again, have you done a Berean kind of searching, receiving and proving regarding God’s Sacred Calendar?  And have I?  I admit, to my shame, that in all my time in God’s church, I have not!

I would like to just go back and look at some of our own church history, which I'm sure corresponds with that of many of you, regarding the Sacred Calendar.  I am not talking about going way back to the history of the church in apostolic times; I am talking about our own.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Trish and I first came into contact with God’s church through the Worldwide Church of God, we learned from Herbert W. Armstrong, from Garner Ted Armstrong and from many other ministers and long-time members that God’s people should be keeping His true Holy Days and not the pagan holidays of Satan and his world. 

Probably, like many other new brethren – possibly including many of you – we accepted without question "their views" (i.e. those of the Armstrongs and the other ministers) on many, or even most of the doctrines – including relating to what they called “God’s Sacred Calendar” and also their timing of the Holy Days. 

I put "their views" in quotes because the WCG ministry freely admitted right from the beginning, that they had plagiarized their timing – at least in part – from that of the modern mainstream Jews and their calendar.

Trish and I accepted that timing – that Jewish/WCG stance – without really proving it.  Without really even questioning it!

What was our excuse?  Although we may have occasionally wondered about how those timings on the little cards that they gave us each year were worked out, we assumed and unquestioningly trusted Herbert W. Armstrong, the higher Worldwide Church of God ministry, the Ambassador College professors and faculty, the Jewish scholars and the other so-called “experts” with all of their combined wisdom, experience, expertise and scholarship, that they knew and understood these things so much better than the average “lay member.”  (I don’t like to use that term; but that was the term that was in use back then).  And especially "newbies" like us. 

Yes, like many or even most of you, when we first came in contact with God’s church, as “babes in Christ,” we thought that, by rejecting the Roman calendar and by adopting the WCG/Jewish version of what they called “the Sacred Calendar,” we believed that other people – people much more knowledgeable and expert on these things than our young selves – had done all the necessary spadework for us; and that all we had to do was to follow their lead.

That was forty-odd years ago now!  In the late-1990’s, Trish and I first became aware of some questions and doubts with regards to the Sacred Calendar and the proper timing of the Holy Days, when we had a visitor, Frank Nelte, an independent Church of God minister originally from South Africa, who rejected (still does!) the traditional WCG/Jewish Calendar and their Holy Day timings. 

Although a few of our Victoria members spent some time looking into what Frank said and wrote back then in the 1990s, most of our group did not study it as we perhaps should have.  Most of us basically rejected and even ignored Frank’s “different calendar” timing as being what was commonly at that time referred to as “dissident opinion.” 

The common mind-set of our group back then seemed to be this one: 

At that time we had parted company with two Church of God groups:  Worldwide Church of God in 1995 and United Church of God in 1997. 

As many of you know by painful experience of your own, moving from one Church of God group to another can be very disruptive and upsetting.  At that time, we felt like we didn’t need yet another move, and that it was more important that we needed to settle down with the one group that we were in at that time (Church of the Great God).

As a result of that mindset, what happened?  A certain level of spiritual and mental laziness set in.  A certain level of what I call "sedentary wishful thinking" set in.  Our little Victoria church group appeared to harbour these excuses.  This is how we collectively thought at that time:

Even though we later found out that these so-called "experts" had plagiarized their beliefs from the mainstream Jews, over our years in the church, as we look back to those days, to a certain extent we found that we had been somewhat programmed to think and to respond in that way.  Actually, not to “think” too much; but just to accept what the powers-that-be within the church spoon-fed us! 

I am not knocking Herbert W. Armstrong.  I sincerely believe that God did use him to give us so much at that time.  Without what he did for us, I for one would probably be nowhere.  I would probably still be in the Church of England.  But Herbert Armstrong frequently said in his broadcasts: “Don’t believe me!  Blow the dust off your own Bible!  Read it and prove it there for yourself!” 

How many times did you hear him say that?  But, once we came into the church, any questioning of the high-ups’ interpretation of the scriptures was severely frowned upon with suspicion, and was looked upon as dissident – even rebellious – behaviour!

The unspoken implication that was given was: "We have done the necessary research; so, what we tell you, these are your beliefs now!  These are your doctrines!"  Sadly, that reminds me of the words of the misguided Aaron with his golden calf, when he said: "These be thy gods, O Israel! (Exodus 32:4-8).

That expectation for unquestioning acceptance is, at best, tantamount to respect-of-persons and at its worst, is pseudo-idolatry – in other words, the worship – not just of mere human beings – but the worship of the opinions of mere human beings.  Such an expectation and demand for unquestioning acceptance flies in the face of God’s preference for a "Berean" attitude in which we are to prove all things for ourselves.

The important thing that I wanted to get across here is that Trish and I had not ever proved it one way or the other? 

"Did you?"

Maybe some brethren did.  Maybe some brethren did ask pointed and valid questions to their local ministers and/or to the church high-ups – questions that have only just during the past year or so come to us to ask.  Maybe many or most of those questioners were discouraged – or even silenced – by the powers-that-be in their church groups – from voicing or following through with their sincere concerns.

Again, I admit that it wasn’t until just a few months ago that Trish and I felt compelled – through God’s Spirit, I believe, in combination with the voiced concerns of some of our brethren – to embark on our searching, receiving and proving of the truth of this matter.

So now, from this standpoint, after all those decades in God’s church, we can look back, realize and admit that, in so many doctrinal areas (including this one), we have not been sufficiently Berean-like.

Although in all good conscience, we sincerely believed that we had been receiving God’s Word with all readiness of mind from those we believed to be God’s true ministers throughout the years, and although we sincerely thought that we had been searching the scriptures daily, we have to admit that we did not adequately prove all of the details of some of the those doctrines as they had been presented to us.

A few months ago, one of our local church members gave me a true pearl of wisdom.  Sitting in our living room one Sabbath, he told me that, because of his advancing age and his declining health, it had recently become more and more important to him that he “get serious,” to find out what God wants of him, and that he make any necessary corrections now… rather than having to meet his Maker with some lame excuses about why he hadn’t gotten serious earlier about some of the things that he had been harbouring doubts about. 

My own recent gall-bladder attack and surgery shocked me into the realization that I’m no longer a spring chicken; that I am, in fact, at the very earliest, in the autumn of my life, and that I, too, need to be getting serious about some of these insufficiently studied doctrines and details.

I feel that it is important that we all feel this way, no matter how youthful we may be – or feel!  Life is short, and it flies by so quickly!

It is not my purpose in this series to cause division, to stir up trouble or foolish contentions, as the apostle Paul warned both Timothy and Titus.  It is not my purpose to bring unnecessary doubt or worry to you, nor to get you to disagree with – or to part company with – your present church group or congregation.  But I do sincerely believe that this is a topic whose time has come.   Even if only for myself, it is time for me to put it on the table for honest and open discussion and study.  We have nothing to fear from the truth of God – even if our findings turn out not to agree with our long-held beliefs and opinions.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and put together an initial set of questions on this topic that I feel need answering from God’s Word.  I will go through this list for you later in this message.   I do not claim that my list is complete.  I am just as human, imperfect and limited as anybody else; so I want to ask you to suggest to me any other relevant questions that you feel that we should add to the list for discussion in future sermons.  Please ensure that your suggested questions are strictly relevant to the Sacred Calendar issue, because we have time constraints between now and the spring Holy Days, and we really do need to keep it to the point.

Other than Frank Nelte (who I mentioned earlier), I understand that there are a number of ministers and other non-ministerial individuals out there who have rejected the traditional Jewish/WCG version of the sacred calendar and have pre-empted me by many years in asking and publishing many of these same questions that we are going to be asking.  I find it quite amazing that, although all of these ministers, teachers, scholars and brethren have come to the same set of doubts and questions and (it should go without saying) have all gone down on their knees in sincere and fervent prayer to God the Father, pleading with Him to give them the right answers; but that they tend to disagree with one another’s findings on some important issues, that they have not come up with the same answers as one another, and that in some of their answers, some of them appear to diverge widely from the others!  I am not sure what to make of this.  It is almost like they are saying, "Their calculations are wrong.  Mine are the only right ones!"  This concerns me very much.  I certainly do need help on that.

In this regard, I will now quote from an article by John Ritenbaugh of the Church of the Great God.  The article is called “The Cancerous Calendar Controversy”:

From time to time, and in some specific cases seemingly endlessly, a controversy arises within the church that is never resolved to the satisfaction of all interested parties.  Such an issue is which calendar should be used to set God's holy days.  It continues to be a focus of research, writing and discussion, with very strong opinions—sometimes coupled with a great deal of sarcasm, even angry finger-pointing and accusation—being expressed by those of opposing views.

These angry denunciations over the calendar are taking place within the church of God, not the world!

That last statement is not quite true, as we will see in a minute.  Continuing with John's quote:

No subject, unless it is church government, has divided more people for as long a period of time.

I have seen research papers written by men of church of God fellowship with such titles as God's Sacred Calendar; The Calendar God Gave to Moses; God's Calendar in the Heavens; The Hebrew Calendar; Postponements: Another Mystery of the Ages; The Original Calendar in the Twentieth Century; From the Beginning It Was Not So; What's Wrong With the Calendar?; Whose Calendar, God's or the Jews?  Additionally, I have read a significant number of shorter articles and letters from church of God sources, and also materials from secular sources on the same basic subject.  What is interesting is that most of them disagree with each other on major points.

An interesting fact of history is that once a split occurs, whether in a large or small group, whether calendar determination motivated the split or not, the new group soon devises their own calendar, as if to accentuate the separation and put a stamp of finality on it.

I find that paragraph interesting, because John Ritenbaugh also developed his own calendar, which differs in at least one significant point from most of the traditional Church of God ones.

Please remember that John wrote earlier that the sacred calendar problem was peculiar to the Church of God, not the world.  But as he concludes the introduction to his article, he quotes: 

 J. B. Segal, in Intercalation and the Hebrew Calendar, p. 260, states, "There has scarcely been a single dissenting movement in Judaism (N.B. not just the Church of God) that has not been associated with a desire to manipulate the calendar."

The reason that I quoted John’s article is that I don’t know what to make of all these disagreements between various Church of God groups and individuals on this topic – because logically, there can only be one totally correct set of rules.

I am aware that some of our listeners and readers have already formed preferences for the opinions and teachings of one or other of these men or groups.  And that, of course, is fine.  But I want this series to be an open and honest study and I do not want it to get bogged down with any one individual point-of-view, with disagreements between various listeners or readers, or with what the Bible calls "foolish contentions."  So I would like to set some ground rules.  They are not my ground rules; I believe they are God’s.  I want to ask that, throughout the series:

John Ritenbaugh wrote about finger-pointing and sarcasm.  We certainly do not want any of that.  We want to have love and respect for our brothers and sisters.  In this regard, I want you to turn over to one of my favourite scriptures.  I may be quoting it out of context; but still, I believe that it does apply to what we are saying here:

Colossians 2:16: 
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

I am asking that we also apply the converse of this verse to ourselves during this series; that we refrain from unrighteously judging our beloved brothers and sisters in regards to (in this case) the timings of the new moons and holy days.  Please, as necessary, let’s all be willing to "agree to disagree; but without being disagreeable."  Let’s all be willing to exercise all the fruits of the Holy Spirit and to maintain love and peace with one another.

Please join me in praying for God’s blessing and inspiration upon this upcoming Bible study series.  Please ask God to inspire our studies, because we are all sincere about it and we want to do what He wants us to do.

I would like to briefly touch on the side-topic of "sacred names" because I know that there are quite a few of our brethren who adhere to the "sacred name" concept.  We have sincere respect for your belief and sensitivities on this point.  But there are many listeners, including myself, that have not proved it one way or the other; so throughout this study, I will be using the conventional English and Greek terminology: God, Father, Lord, Jesus, Christ and occasionally, from the Hebrew, YHVH and Elohim.  I hope that this is not offensive to anyone who might disagree with such conventions; and I hope that it will not put you off joining us in our studies.

So, now let me begin my list of questions for discussion during this series.  Here are some of the questions that I have come up with.  In the main body of the study I will probably not go in this order.  However, I thought that this was the best order to put them in, in point form, at this time.

  1. When is the first day of God’s true New Year?
  2. How does God want His people to determine the first day of His new year?
    a) From the first new moon after a certain specified level of growth of barley in a certain place?
    b) From the first new moon after the spring equinox?
    c) From the new moon closest to the spring equinox, whether before or after it?
    (There may be other choices as well).
  3. What is an "equinox"?  And are equinoxes important to the sacred calendar?  If they are, why?  Are they mentioned in the scriptures, relevant to the sacred calendar?

By the way, Trish and I recently watched an excellent, very worthwhile, three-part BBC documentary series on Knowledge Network called “Orbit.”  It really is an eye-opener on the meaning of the equinoxes and solstices, how the earth tilts, how fast it is moving and how fast it is spinning.  It was amazing that they would broadcast this series at the time while we are studying these things.  Strongly recommended!  Continuing with our list of questions:

  1. How does God want us to determine when His months begin?
  2. How does God want us to determine the timing of the first day of each month?
    a) On the day of the Lunar Conjunction?  And what is the Conjunction?
    b) On the first full day after the Conjunction?
    c) On the day of the first sighting of the new crescent moon?
    d) On the first full day after the first sighting of the new crescent moon? 
    (There may be more options).
  3. Where must the new moon be sighted and/or timed from? 
    a) Jerusalem, Israel? 
    b) Greenwich, London, England?
    c) Our own individual locations where we live?
    (These questions are also relevant for the barley sightings).
  4. Must the new moon be sighted with the naked eye? 
    Or are enhanced viewing aids permissible (e.g. telescopes of various strengths, binoculars, eyeglasses)?  This question might seem picky; but if sighting is required, this could be an important  point.
  5. What if it’s cloudy and the new crescent moon cannot be seen? 
    What if it is cloudy for weeks on end -- for months even?
  6. How should the New Moon days be observed/kept?
  7. When and why did the Worldwide Church of God and other Church of God groups generally adopt the mainstream Jews’ calendar and timings?   Were they right in doing so?
  8. Should the people of God's church accept the Jews’ methods and timings? 
  9. If the Churches of God were right in adopting the Jews' methods, why were they right?
    Because God entrusted the Jews with his “oracles” (Romans 3:1-2)?  Are the Jews still entrusted with His oracles?  Just what are the oracles of God?  What is included in them?
    Is the determination of the timing for God’s sacred calendar included in the oracles of God?
  10. Whether or not the calendar details are included in the oracles of God, have the Jews done an acceptable job of maintaining God’s will with regards to His oracles, specifically with regards to His calendar and the timing of His Holy Days?
  11. What about the Jews’ timings of Passover, the Wavesheaf Offering and Pentecost which many – or even most – of the Churches of God believe to be erroneous?   Can one generally agree with the Jews' timings of the Holy Days and the Calendar; but disagree with their Passover, Wavesheaf Day and Pentecost timings?
  12. What about the Jews’ postponement rules, which some churches of God believe to be erroneous?  What are the postponements?  Were the postponements commanded and/or inspired by God?  Or were they man-made additions to God’s Holy Day laws?  When were the postponements first instituted?  In the 4th Century AD by a Jewish elder by the name of Hillel II?  Or were they in force during Jesus’ human lifetime, as some Churches of God believe?  Is there any scriptural authority for the postponements?
  13. Did the leaders and scholars in our old Worldwide Church of God fellowship and other Church of God groups now, adequately ask and answer all of these questions we are asking today?  If they did, have they clearly explained them to their memberships?  Or did they "sweep them under the rug" as being too controversial or too complex for the “lay-members” to understand?
  14. Is church unity more important than the adherence to doctrinal accuracy?  Or vice-versa?
    Should we accept any CoG’s erroneous or “agnostic” (we don’t know) teaching for the sake of church unity?  Or should we reject erroneous and "agnostic" teachings at the risk of being rebuked by CoG groups, leaders and/or ministers who prefer to hold on to the traditional WCG/Jewish timings?
  15. Most importantly, for all of these questions:  What does God’s Word say?  How many of our answers come from God’s Word?  And how many come from merely human sources?

In this particular study, it is going to be necessary for us to delve into what we call "profane" history and astronomy.  But, as with all things, the most important input must be from the true Experts on the topic – our Father and our Elder Brother. 

I apologize once again for the lack of scriptures in today's study.  I really do feel that in this subject, we need very much to make absolutely sure that the bulk of our information comes from God the Father and Jesus – through their holy, written Word.

Answering all of these questions in a clear and acceptable level of detail will be quite a task.  But for me, it will be a labour of love, which I believe has become very necessary and important.

If you think I have missed anything from my list, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your suggestions and I’ll add them to my list of sub-topics for discussion. Please make sure that they are relevant to the issue. 

In conclusion, let me ask all of you individually: Do you think that this study is important?  Do you think that these questions are important ones to be asking and seeking accurate answers to at this time?  I believe that they certainly are.

I want to assure you that I am not doing this study for vain reasons.  I am not wanting to initiate foolish contentions.  I am not wanting to purposely be contrary or argumentative against the mainstream Churches of God, the Jews, or their traditional teachings.  But I sincerely want to know what God the Father and Jesus Christ want of you and me.

I am going to leave you with this thought: 

Please think about the Israelite High Priests of yesteryear, when they went through the veil into the Most Holy Place each year.  What if they had got it wrong?  What if they had not done their homework?  What if their sightings or calculations were wrong?  What if they had gone within the veil on the wrong day?  Please think about this and ask yourself again:  Is this study important?