By Michael E. Brooks
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Romans 14:5-6a NKJV).
Sometime in April a year ago my wife and I rose at sunup in Khulna, Bangladesh and went down to the front garden where all the students and staff of Khulna Bible College were gathering. They were dressed in their finest clothing and were prepared to celebrate.
Soon we were served a traditional breakfast of panta bhat (cold rice), ilish mach (hilsha fish fried in oil, with no batter) and lal moori badgi (fried red chili peppers). It was the Bangla New Year, and all were happy and excited to be able to welcome it in the traditional way.
Each culture has its own special days. We are currently preparing to celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States. One of the things to which I have had to adjust when traveling in other countries is the fact that I don’t always have opportunity to enjoy all the holidays traditionally recognized here in my home country.
I have missed July 4, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and many others, not to mention various birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family members. Such times are meaningful, but not normally critical. We celebrate them as and when we can.
In the first century, Christianity was brand new and suffered many growing pains. As the Gospel was preached to different peoples of different lands and languages, many cultural barriers were raised. One involved the celebration of days, especially days of religious meaning. Most commentators believe that the special days referred to in Romans 14 were probably Jewish holy days – Sabbaths and special days of feasting like Pentecost and Passover.
A study of the book of Romans strongly indicates that there was tension between Christians in Rome who had formerly practiced Judaism and those converted from pagan religions. The Jews were adamant (correctly so) that Gentiles must renounce all their idolatrous practices and beliefs. But the Jewish Christians continued to follow many teachings of the Law of Moses, including circumcision, dietary customs, and special days (Acts 20:16; 21:20ff).
Gentiles may have legitimately asked, “If we must give up our former religious customs, how can Jews practice theirs? Is their previous religion not also no longer valid?”
Some Christians today raise similar questions about special days other than the first day of the week, which is clearly authorized in the New Testament as a day of worship (Acts 20:7). “If we honor mothers on Sunday, does that not detract from worship to God and celebration of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?” Again, that is a legitimate question.
Paul’s words in Romans 14 are on point. If such days are kept “to the Lord,” he stipulates that they are a matter of personal judgment and choice. That phrase is critical. One cannot keep an idolatrous feast day “to the Lord.”
Only days which recognize the one true God and his son Jesus are included. Only practices on those days which are consistent with New Testament principles may be used. Within those parameters, each Christian may choose whether to celebrate the day.
Let us not forget that every day is a special gift from God and is to be used to his glory. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Every day is a “Holy Day,” whether or not it is recognized as a “Holiday.” Let us choose to use this day wisely and well.