Editor’s Note: This article is a reprint of a Pastor’s Report, July 31, 2020, from Jon Bowles of the Church of God in Wales. It gives a lot of very good information regarding the Feast of Tabernacles in the light of the COVID 19 restrictions.
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” (Isaiah 28:9)
It’s not usual to write about the upcoming Fall Festivals eight weeks ahead of time, but we are not living in ‘usual’ times. Plans laid down in January have had to be scrapped, and with the Feast site canceled, the vast majority of us are facing a very different Feast experience this year. We seem to have gone full circle. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong kept the Feast for seven long years totally by themselves. They did it out of obedience – not knowing the reason why – but God revealed His plan to them after a further 12 years. When we come to my mother’s experience in the early 1960s, the Feast consisted of a crash course of lectures and Bible studies with two services each day 3 on the Sabbaths and Holy Days, with Bible studies, slotted in between. It was done this way because most of the members in the UK didn’t have a local church to attend. There were no cassette tapes to listen to, no radio broadcasts and certainly no internet! All that was available was in the written word: The Plain Truth, Good News, Bible Correspondence course (no Worldwide News back then), and a limited assortment of booklets.
By the time we reach the ’70’s the emphasis had changed yet again, as there were only a very few who couldn’t attend regular services. So the emphasis was on a depiction of the Millennium and the new world that was coming – the Wonderful World Tomorrow. Following the apostasy, however, we found ourselves once again scattered across the world and so the Feast became almost the only opportunity for fellowship that we’ve had.
But what of the Feast this year? What indeed is the big lesson that God wants to get across to us, in a world filled with lockdowns, canceled flights, self-quarantine, masks, and social distancing? Just as many are currently experience each Sabbath, it appears now that most of us will either be alone or with a very small group indeed perhaps just immediate family members. Yes, there will be services broadcast each day and two services on the Holy Days but without planned social activities of one kind or another, what is God wanting us to do the rest of the time? Could it be that He wants us to THINK? To realize that time is very short now and mentally divorce ourselves from the cares of this life and deeply meditate on the messages given? To really get to grips with the vital meaning of the Feast for this wretched world… ie. the peaceful, millennial rule of Jesus Christ and our own incredible place within that rule. To comprehend to a much greater level the fundamental reason for our individual calling, which is to become the loving teachers within the world – whose words and example, along with God’s Holy Spirit will produce a glorious Utopia for all mankind.
- And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
- And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
- O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:3-5)
We need the spiritual perception to see God’s hand in allowing our current situation, to see how this will help fulfill His purpose for each and every member of His church. Just as the focus of the Feast has changed in the past according to the needs of the members so also the level of individual responsibility has been steadily increasing – particularly in these latter years – for each of us on a person-by-person basis.
Back in the zenith of WCG, it sometimes happened that the ministry was unnecessarily heavy-handed and felt they should be involved in the minutiae of the lives of the church members, even to the extent of advising what color car to buy and who to marry. Then along came, the apostasy and the membership, was faced with serious far-reaching decisions that only they could make. At the same time as having to decide who to fellowship with, the church of God groups became much smaller, giving the members many more opportunities to serve. Men were now giving sermonettes or sermons who in the past might have occasionally only been asked to give the opening or closing prayer. Many ladies found themselves organizing activities and holy day meals, whereas in the past they were merely bystanders. It appears that what God is doing is steadily advancing – refining the curriculum for those He has called to be those future teachers.
So the question is, are we learning? Will we be fit to teach when the time comes? Or will we be like those the apostle Paul admonished in the book of Hebrews:
- For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
- For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
- But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
It is vital that we truly appreciate our calling and the unique purpose of having been called now. That purpose is to become the teachers in the world tomorrow as Mr. Armstrong vividly brought out in his final Pentecost message – just months before he died. But do we yet understand what he was saying? Do we yet, “get it” – as he so often asked us:
…Why are we the firstfruits? I am going to try to make it plain this afternoon, and still, I think you won’t get it. So much Protestantism has rubbed off on us we can’t get it out of our heads. They think God is trying to save the whole world; and then we think, “Well, He’s just saving us first.” And that is not the answer at all…
…God cannot start the Kingdom of God until He first trains teachers. And He has called you and me to become those teachers! THAT’S WHY WE’RE THE FIRSTFRUITS. WE ARE CALLED TO BECOME TEACHERS! And it is, let’s see, I believe it’s the 5th chapter of Hebrews (Isn’t it?), where the apostle Paul says to them, “You ought now to be able to be teachers, and you have to be taught just the kindergarten truth about the Kingdom of God. You haven’t learned. You should have been better students.”
We are NOT CALLED just for salvation; and, if it were for salvation, we wouldn’t have been called at all. You wouldn’t have been called at all just to get you into the Kingdom. THAT’S NOT WHY YOU WERE CALLED. You were called to become a student. You were called to learn how to save others when God’s Kingdom comes when Jesus is sitting on the throne on this Earth. Brethren, YOU DON’T GET IT…
… Has my teaching been in vain, brethren? Sometimes I wonder. I get terribly discouraged. I don’t think you get it. I think so much Protestantism has rubbed off on you that you just don’t understand the truth when I give it to you. And it is really Christ giving it to you through me because I’m certainly not competent to give it to you. Of myself, I could not do it at all. ( Why The Firstfruits – 26 May 1985)
A Unique Time:
Indeed, our entire calling revolves around us being trained – trained for a unique teaching position – trained during an utterly unique time in human history – a time totally unlike anything that has been before. Even the writing of these words graphically illustrates this fact: I am using a machine that existed only in the realms of science fiction when I was a boy. During the 1950s computers were barely a step removed from the hush-hush code-breaking world of Bletchley Park and the military secret service. When I was a student at Bricket Wood in the late ’60s, the mainframe computer rented from IBM and housed in a dust-free temperature and humidity controlled environment basically just churned out the address labels for the magazines and booklets. But today there is hardly a home in the West that doesn’t have at least one personal computer and printer of some description. And not only can I graphically type and edit these words with an ease that would make the apostle Paul gasp in amazement and drool with envy, but – with the click of a button – it can then be sent simultaneously to hundreds of separate locations across the entire globe in microseconds and then posted to a website where it can be accessed by millions. When Daniel was told to seal his prophecies until the time of the end, the angel described this end-time as a day when, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4). Today’s world of mass communication and science is indeed that time.
But there’s more. Along with communications and science, there is also a god completely unknown and un-worshipped by any of our forefathers. Evolution and all the myriad ideas and cultural changes that flow from it have changed, and continues to change our world dramatically – and it is most certainly not for the better. Today, for the first time in history, much of the world has blindly accepted the absurd concept of a creation without a creator, complex design without a designer. Accepting this philosophy, forces animals onto an equal footing with humans, and so we have ‘animal rights’ and simultaneous human degradation of all kinds. We do indeed, “worship and serve the creation more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25), producing a world of spiritual human darkness that is becoming ever darker as the age moves toward its inevitable end.
But within this end-time – within this time of spiritual darkness, and in the midst of this awesome technical progress – and at a time when the true Church has been shattered – there is also prophesied to exist “the elect” (Matthew 24:22). The very teachers required for the world tomorrow being trained within this unprecedented time of human history, who will personally have a pivotal part in bringing Utopia to this earth. Without them, God implies that He would allow mankind to destroy himself. So the real question is: what is God doing with His elect at this time? Where is His focus, and what are His plans for them? The answer has to be that He is looking ahead to the future – placing them very clearly in the context of His coming Kingdom:
- Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
- In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place [office, a responsibility] for you.
- And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:1-3).
If we are in fact to be counted as part of that elect, this is also what we must be doing – viewing even our current position in the light of the future, and not bogged down by the cares of the present, however unsettling and disturbing they may be.
When the Kingdom finally comes, those who comprise it are to be the teachers – Spirit-born kings and priests – over all mankind. At that time they will need to “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.” (Malachi 3:18) They will be the ones to say, ” This is ‘the way’, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21). For years within the Church, we understood the Place of Safety would also be a place of final training. We understood that it would not be a time spent in idle ease, but used by God to complete the preparation of those He wants to use for ‘pillar’ positions in the Kingdom (Revelation 3:12). But what no one foresaw was the shattered time we find ourselves in today. And certainly not the age of Covid-19! According to Revelation, this too is a time of ‘final training’, though it describes it slightly differently. John was told in time sequence to, “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” (Revelation 11:1). This measuring, this testing, this assessment is, quite frankly, “a time to spiritually mature”.
A Time to Mature:
“Mature” A dictionary definition (Merriam Webster): “having completed natural growth and development, having attained a final or desired state.” And synonyms expand on the concept… with: “adult, fit, grown, prepared, ready, ripe, seasoned, perfect”.
Thinking back on our years in primary school, and sometimes early on in high-school, we expected to be spoon-fed by our teachers. Lessons were a case of either memorizing facts presented to us or remembering the right approach to solve problems. Whatever was taught was then expected to be regurgitated at exam time. However, university or college life was very different. There we were expected to read around a subject and to a great extent, teach ourselves! We had some weekly lectures and tutors to guide us but in no way were we spoon-fed. It was designed to be a preparation for the real world where, as self-starters, we would have to put into practice the things we’d learned. In just the same way, the time of God’s Church today can be loosely compared to upper high-school or A-levels (‘advanced level’) over here in the UK, where the curriculum is readily available, but you are expected to read around each subject yourself and initiate your own deeper research. Half the school day – on the surface – appears ‘free’, but only those that make good use of that so-called free time will find they manage to pass the exam. A ‘last-minute cramming’ approach isn’t going to get us very far in the difficult situations we will inevitably face in the near future.
That ‘Way’ together with God’s spirit will be what will literally shape the Millennium into the Utopia prepared for the Great White Throne Judgment period. And the training of those future teachers is right now. The question is are we appreciating and valuing – using! – that training? All of us to one degree or another find ourselves currently in lockdown, being given free time to read around each subject. As I said above, today it is time for a much more mature approach to our learning – for each and every one of us. (Matthew 5:48, John 17:23)
For example, some time ago I came across an article from the Good News of September 1966 on womens’ dress. The points brought out are as valid today as they were when they were written during the ‘swinging 60s’, but there are distinct differences. The onus given within the article at that time was very much on the ministry – who were expected to act almost as primary school teachers within the church to enforce the rulings. But in most cases today there is no minister around to correct the Church when outfits are too short, too tight, or otherwise revealing. The onus now is on each individual, in the privacy of their own homes, to ask themselves “where is my center?”, and to understand the Way of God when it comes to dress and personal grooming and this can apply as much to the men as to the ladies.
And that same principle applies in virtually every aspect of our lives. We may well find ourselves alone when logging in for the Feast services this year, so will we make the effort to appear before God and Christ in our best? The word “Laodicea” as we know means “let the people decide”, but it also carries the implication that around this time in history, God will be also deciding about us… where, if anywhere, we will be able to fit in His coming Kingdom.
Time is short and we are going to have to be ready to teach God’s Way in possibly just a few short years from now! Unless we can do so, accurately, honestly and properly, how can we be used? In such a case we are still babes, still needing to be spoon-fed, unable to “rightly divide the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). We all started life as helpless babes in arms, but we grew physically so we could fulfill our eventual calling as human beings, and so must we grow spiritually … not remaining children – needing to be watched over, corrected and guided 24/7… if we are to fulfill our spiritual calling and be chosen to be part of the loving, ruling Family of God.
- When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways.
- Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.
- So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the [greatest] of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:11-13 God’s Word Translation)
Position as Firstfruits:
The Feast of Tabernacles is to remind us of the Millennial rule of Jesus Christ – and our role as teachers within it. Let us be sure we try to look at the present situation correctly – the way God is undoubtedly looking at it and realize we must aim higher than 1st or 2nd grade, if we are shortly to become sons of the Almighty God – sons with the kind of power that can create, or destroy, at a given word!
- Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
- Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
- For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:6-9)
We now find ourselves out of kindergarten – no longer spoon-fed by the ministry. We are being prepared, measured, tested, assessed – by Jesus Christ Himself – being made ready so that we can “as living stones, be built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2:5). In the few months since the last Feast, we have lost some dear friends, who probably didn’t realize they wouldn’t be alive right now. They have completed their course, their individual training program, while we’ve been given more time to work through ours.
- Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
- For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
- Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
- That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
- Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16)
This Year’s Feast:
I’ve had a few queries about whether brethren should maybe live in a tent in their back yard during the Feast … as a ‘temporary dwelling’. Over the years our condos and apartments have certainly added to our experience in that area, i.e. the temporary nature of this life while allowing us to enjoy the fellowship we’ve missed the rest of the year. But to really answer this question, let me leave you with an article that Mr. Armstrong wrote to the ministry shortly before the Feast in 1980. In it, he deals with the reason we do not make physical booths of branches as mentioned within Leviticus 23:40. But more than that, he shows that as part of the New Testament Church we must have a very different focus for the Feast than ancient Israel – the glorious future Millennial rule by the Kingdom of God in just a few short years from now. Also, notice how he wanted the messages to concentrate on an aspect of that Millennial rule. It was to be a spiritual feast – with each of us doing our part individually to ensure this.
The Feast of Tabernacles 2020 will probably mirror not only the early days of Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong’s conversion but go much further back than that. In the past 2,000 years since the inception of the New Testament church, I would think most Holy Days and the Feast of Tabernacles were scattered, individual affairs more than large gatherings. This might even be the last Feast we have access to the internet! So even if we are having to keep it alone in our home this year, fellowshipping via video conferencing and deeply missing the usual face-to-face contact – we must still focus on the future – reading around the subject of each sermon in the extra ‘free’ time we will have been given. As the world around us careers to its destruction, we can rehearse to ourselves the glorious nature of the very meaning of life given to us within the structure of the Holy Days, revealing God’s Plan of Salvation… RESCUE of all mankind! And what an incredible privilege to have a part in the re-education of this suffering world. And what a reason for us all, even in lockdown, to obey the instruction in Deuteronomy 16:15 – to REJOICE!!
Pastor General’s Report – September 15, 1980
Must We Dwell In Booths
by Herbert W. Armstrong
Back in the spring of 1927 God opened my mind to see that not only is the weekly Sabbath binding FOREVER, but the ANNUAL Sabbaths as well. God had not yet revealed to me WHY, I just knew He commanded, and I obeyed. For seven years my wife and I kept these days ALONE. When I made the truth plain to the Sardis brethren in Oregon they laughed me to scorn.
Seven years after my conversion the Philadelphia era of God’s Church was raised up, through a, six weeks, six-nights-a-week campaign, in a one-room country schoolhouse near Eugene, Oregon. They were mostly my own new converts. They did listen, and with Mrs. Armstrong and me join in observing them. But it was 12 years later, 1945, when God finally revealed to me the MEANING of His annual Festivals – the real REASON WHY He had commanded them FOREVER!
God is working out a PURPOSE here on earth! That PURPOSE is dual: a) God is reproducing Himself – forming future GOD BEINGS from mortal humans made from material soil, b) restoring the GOVERNMENT of God through these future born children of God.
For this transcendental PURPOSE, God has a MASTER PLAN for its accomplishment. There are seven major steps in that Master Plan. The annual Festivals of God PICTURE that Master Plan.
God, commanded these Festivals to be kept FOREVER – WHY? For His CHURCH His purpose and reason, is, to remind us every year – so we never forget – each of these seven steps in the working out of His Supreme PURPOSE.
Just going through the motions of meeting together on each of the Feasts would not accomplish God’s PURPOSE in GIVING us these feasts – IF WE DO NOT PROCLAIM SERMONS TO THE PEOPLE on the MEANING of these Festivals. By two or three years ago many ministers had drifted into preaching on these feasts just whatever subject they themselves liked to speak on – with not a word about the MEANING of the feast God wants the congregations to bear in mind.
In the PAGAN religions, they believe that going through certain motions – doing certain physical things – is the religious duty of people. For example, one branch of “traditional Christianity” is merely a continuation of the ancient BABYLONIAN MYSTERY RELIGION (Rev. 17:5). One motion they go through, for example, is to cross themselves. It is merely a SUPERSTITION. Without actually realizing it, the reason they do this is that they suppose a harsh, stern, angry GOD of some kind is watching. If they don’t go through this motion this god will be angry, and they will have bad luck. They think just going through the physical motion will please this false, non-existent god.
But the REAL GOD is a God of LOVE – a God of KNOWLEDGE – of UNDERSTANDING – who wants to develop in us HIS holy, righteous, perfect CHARACTER.
He gave us these annual Feasts to renew yearly in our KNOWLEDGE His Purpose – what He is developing in us!
Now in Old Testament Israel they did not have the Holy Spirit. They could not UNDERSTAND the SPIRITUAL meaning of these Festivals. But the New Testament Church is the FIRSTFRUITS – that is, the first GROUP or BODY to receive the Holy Spirit AS A BODY to become the FIRSTBORN as finally resurrected and born GOD BEINGS.
Ancient Israel did not understand the MEANING of these Feasts. In them, God takes the MATERIAL HARVEST in Judea to picture to His Church annually His SPIRITUAL HARVEST of GOD BEINGS.
True, God ordained the Feasts to be observed FOREVER. But to ancient Israel – AT THE TIME when they were in the desert BEFORE they entered the Promised Land, God said to them, “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born” (NOT us that are Christians begotten of GOD) “shall dwell in booths.”
WHY? “That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel” (NOT the begotten children of GOD) “to dwell in booths,” WHEN? “When I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43).
They were in a hot climate where they could find branches of certain trees – palm, myrtle and olive branches. Later in Palestine, a part of Israel only (of Judah) under Ezra and Nehemiah used these booths (Neh. 8:14-18). But, for example, myrtle branches are found only in Palestine, and palm and olive branches are found only in some hot climates.
But now the Church, then to be made into the Kingdom of God, ruling the earth, in the time PICTURED TO US BY THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES will cause ALL NATIONS to go to Jerusalem for this Festival. WHY? To make booths of tree branches and live inside them? – each alone by himself seven days – in order not to DISplease an angry god? NO! But “to worship the KING, the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 14:16).
Jesus observed the Feast of Tabernacles when He was in human flesh on earth. Did He make a booth of tree and shrub branches to dwell in for seven days? NOTICE!
Jesus was in Galilee (John 7:1). The Feast of Tabernacles was at hand (verse 2). His brethren urged Him to depart at once for Jerusalem for the Feast (v. 3). But Jesus remained behind in Galilee for a while (v. 9). But after their departure, Jesus also went up secretly (v. 10). About the middle of the Feast, Jesus went into the Temple (v. 14). He taught the people there. On the last Great Day, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit (v. 37-39).
But there is NOT A WORD that Jesus or any of His disciples (future Apostles of the Church) made “booths” of tree and shrub branches, or dwelt in them. Jesus met with them IN THE TEMPLE, where He taught and preached. They thus had services – or teaching – in an auditorium – JUST AS WE DO TODAY. We call these meeting halls tabernacles. Jesus and the first Apostles SET US THE EXAMPLE – but there is no evidence or record that they dwelt in booths.
The dwelling in booths was not the PURPOSE or reason for this fall festival.
The Feast of Trumpets is to teach God’s people all over again every year about the coming of Christ as KING of kings to RULE THE EARTH! The Day of Atonement was given to keep us in the knowledge that Satan shall be taken away so that we may be AT-ONE-MENT with God and with Christ. The Feast of Tabernacles was commanded forever and is to teach the CHURCH today over and over every year about the MILLENNIAL REIGN OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD OVER THE WHOLE EARTH – with Satan gone – with EVERYONE then living being, at last, CALLED to judgment and opportunity for eternal salvation.
That is the PURPOSE of the Feast – not gathering branches for a booth to shelter us. Today we have houses and buildings to shelter us.
So we find NO dwelling in booths in the New Testament Church, nor in the millennium AFTER Christ returns!