Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Feast of Tabernacles - Church of God version

Many [FOT] observances this year will fall from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5. The Feast is eight full days, counting the last day, but falls on nine days or partial days on the Gregorian calendar. (The Journal, July 31)
If you have a background in the Churches of God - a Sabbatarian fundamentalist movement originating in the ministry of Herbert Armstrong (1892-1986) - you'll know exactly what this is all about. If you don't, it'll be a bit of a mystery, so here's the "skinny".

Florida feast site for the 2nd largest Armstrong splinter, the Living Church of God
The Feast of Tabernacles is based on the Jewish feast of the same name - also known as the Feast of Booths or Sukkot. In the Armstrong tradition members and their families head to a "feast site" with (if they follow the recommended practice) ten percent of their annual income - yup, a full tithe - to spend on travel, accommodation, meals and liquid libations (which is why it is sometimes jokingly referred to as "the Feast of Booze"). During the day they attend church services lasting around two hours - one hour set aside for the major sermon, often on prophecy, preceded by hymns, announcements and a 15-minute warm-up sermon known as a sermonette. On the most important days (Holy Days) they double-dose: AM and PM services with the added bonus of Holy Day Offerings (separate from the festival tithe, naturally).

As a week-long bonding activity it's pretty powerful. People have been known to quit jobs to attend the feast when an employer refuses leave. There are a variety of social activities. Oh and that tithe (called "second tithe" - don't even ask about "third tithe") is supposed to be spent during those eight days exclusively, with any "excess" handed in at the end. Eight days high on the hog and then back to grim reality; COG members tend not to be in a wealthy demographic.

The Feast is interpreted - with the thinnest of foundations - as being a foretaste of the millennium, the coming kingdom of God (or in COG parlance "the world tomorrow") when Christ has returned to reign over the Earth. Jewish people would find this an interesting deviation from the norm.

But the origin of the Feast goes well back beyond the texts in the Hebrew Bible. COG leaders are invariably keen to point out the "pagan origins" and trappings of standard Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter, but seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the alternate festivals they have appropriated from the Old Testament.
"The Jewish festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which later became the Christian Easter, originated as early spring festivals celebrating the resurrection of nature to new life after the death of winter. The Feast of Pentecost originated as the early harvest festival. The Jewish Feast of Booths originated in the vintage festival." (Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God, p.229)
Put another way, Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles - all festivals celebrated in the Churches of God unto this very day - began as nature festivals... or fertility festivals. Tabernacles was the vintage festival, which perhaps adds to the irony of the "Feast of Booze" pun.

Kind of takes the sting out of the rhetoric about the evils of the Easter Bunny.

For those well advanced in their preparations for the 2015 FOT, I really hope you have a great time. Just remember not to uncritically swallow everything - hook, line and sinker - that you hear. And for those of us who no longer perform the annual trek to "the place God has set his name", enjoy spending (or saving!) that hard-earned "second tithe" in a more considered way.

4 comments:

  1. You've got it backwards. Second tithe is for the feast. Third tithe is paid every three years to assist the widows, the orphans, and church leaders who need money for self-aggrandizing construction projects, personal home improvements, jet planes, etc., etc. And don't forget the tithe of the tithe. The tithe of the tithe is a tithe on the second tithe to pay for use of the buildings you go to with the second tithe you have left after you pay the tithe of the tithe.

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    1. Oops, you're right. Correction made.

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  2. Old Testament Christianity at its best: A physical ritual devoid of the spiritual.

    It's when the sermon starts in on British Israelism is when I'd get up and leave for the exit: A supposed celebration of a time of peace with preachments of doomsday.

    All in all, a complete waste of money and really, it's all for the social context anyway, isn't it?

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