The Phony Feast of Tabernacles by MAM

Also by MAM: Tithing, HWA - Racist

Nothing sends followers of Armstrongism into a tizzy faster than the word “Christmas.” Christmas was the focus of evil in the realm of darkness known to Worldwide Church of God members as “the world.” Christmas embodied all that was wrong with Christianity. It (supposedly) had its roots in ancient paganism. The evil Roman Catholic Church adapted it from the Saturnalia of the Babylonian Mystery Religion. Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ, Saturnalia/Christmas actually celebrated the birth of Nimrod, the founder of the Babylonian Mystery Religion. You can read all about it in Genesis 10:8-14. Or can you? Nimrod was credited with everything from founding the pagan worship practices that morphed into Roman Catholicism to instituting the practice of child sacrifice. But the Bible’s references to Nimrod are sketchy, at best. 

And then Armstrongites point to Deuteronomy12:29-32: “When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” Adapting a pagan holiday for use in Christian worship was a heinous sin that stinks in the nostrils of God.

Christmas stank in the nostrils of Herbert W. Armstrong, the patron saint of the churches of God. The greatest beneficiary of WCG member tithe money was Armstrong himself, who lived a regal lifestyle befitting his position as God’s self-proclaimed Apostle. He resented anything that ate into church income because church income was his income. As Armstrong wrote in his booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas, “…this is exactly what people the world over are doing! They honor a day that is not Christ's birthday by spending every dime they can scrape together in buying presents to trade back and forth among friends and relatives. But I can say by years of experience, as I believe most pastors and ministers can say, that when the month of December rolls around, nearly all professing Christians forget to give gifts to Christ and His cause almost altogether! December often is the most difficult month to keep Christ's work from dying! People are too busy trading gifts back and forth among themselves to think of Him and His Work, it seems. Then, in January and even into February it seems they have to catch up from what they spent for Christmas, so they seldom get back to normal in supporting Christ and His Work before March! (p. 20)…. Christmas has become a commercial season. It's sponsored, kept alive, by the heaviest retail advertising campaigns of the year. You see a masqueraded ‘Santa Claus’ in many stores, Ads keep us deluded and deceived about the ‘beautiful Christmas spirit.’ The newspapers, who sell the ads, print flowery editorials exalting and eulogizing the pagan season, and its ‘spirit.’ A gullible people has become so inoculated, many take offense when told the truth. But the ‘Christmas spirit’ is created each year, not to honor Christ, but to sell merchandise. Like all Satan's delusions, it appears as an ‘angel of light,’ is made to appear good. Billions of dollars are spent in this merchandising spree every year, while the cause of Christ must suffer! It's part of the economic system of Babylon… We have professed to be Christian nations, but we're in Babylon, as Bible prophecy foretold, and we don't know it! ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partaken of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues’ - now soon to fall - is the warning of Revelation 18:4…. This year, instead of gift trading, why not put that money into God's Work? (p. 23)” Since “putting money into God’s Work” was the same as putting money into Herbert’s pocket, it is no surprise that Armstrong hated Christmas. Like Scrooge, Armstrong hated Christmas because it cost him money.

I was a follower of Armstrong for many years. I, too, looked down on Christmas as rank paganism. I looked forward, not to Christmas and Easter, but to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Days of Unleavened Bread. In recent years, however, I have returned to Christmas and have abandoned Old Testament Holy Day worship. No doubt, some Armstrongites will recoil in horror when they read this. Others will shake their heads in pity that one who knew the truth has departed to embrace the ways of “the world.” Most readers will wonder what the fuss is about. Whatever your opinion, this is my attempt to explain why Feast of Tabernacles is a poor substitute for Christmas.

First, some background. I am 42 years old. I received my first Plain Truth magazine when I was 17, began attending services shortly after I turned 20, and was baptized at age 22. I stopped observing Christmas as a teenager, shortly after I subscribed to the Plain Truth. I attended the Feast of Tabernacles annually for 17 years. For my entire adult life, until I left Armstrongism, I never observed Christmas. In 1997, the year I left the Worldwide Church of God, my wife and I bought gifts for everyone in our families and showed up at the family Christmas gathering. This put our family members in an awkward position because they hadn’t included us in their gift-giving plans, but that was OK with us. It was our way of announcing that we were back. Since then I have observed Christmas every year, and am looking forward to celebrating it again in 2002. For me, the true joy of the Christmas season beats the fake joy of the Feast of Tabernacles any day.

For the first time in 20 years, and for the first time in my adult life, I celebrated Christmas. My mother was there, along with my brothers, sisters and their families, about 20 in all. Christmas was always a special holiday for my mother for just this reason. It was one of the few times during the year when all five of her children and her grandchildren got together. It hurt her for many years when I was absent from Christmas celebrations because of my misplaced religious zeal. Sadly, she lived to see only one more Christmas. She died of cancer a few months after Christmas, 1998. I’m glad I was able to be with my mother the last couple of times we celebrated Christmas. One of my biggest regrets is that I stole joy from her by giving myself to the church. My family took me back without recriminations when I returned home for Christmas. Members of my former church, however, feign politeness when they see me and try to get away as quickly as they can.

The differences from the Feast are striking. At Christmas celebrations, you get together with family. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody is happy to be there. The most important thing is that you can be yourself. In the stifling totalitarian environment of the Worldwide Church of God, it was completely different. At the Feast, one could easily become lost among the thousands of strangers. One could make friends, but how deep a friendship can one develop in seven days, and how many of these friendships lasted beyond the Feast? I collected dozens of addresses from people I met at the Feast, and I fully intended to correspond with all of them, but when I got home and got back into my routine, it was easy to forget about the addresses. On the few occasions that I did write, half the time I didn’t receive responses. Of those who did reply, I never recall sending a second letter. I just didn’t have anything to say to people who were essentially strangers. The relationships developed at the Feast were always superficial. After a few years I didn’t bother asking people for their addresses because I knew I wouldn’t bother writing to them.

All of this is said assuming that Feast goers were actually willing to be friendly to strangers. This was the ideal portrayed in church literature, and the ministers encouraged the members to seek out those who seemed to be alone, especially those who were new to the church. Quite frankly, most of the people at the Feast simply couldn’t be bothered with strangers. They had their families, or their circle of friends with whom they were content to socialize, and viewed strangers as intruders. For the first fourteen years of my church membership I was unmarried and usually traveled to the Feast alone. The friends I made were usually other single church members who were in the same predicament. By the end of the Feast, I was anxious to get home and get back together with my friends and family. 

In spite of their admonitions to the membership, ministers were among the unfriendliest of church members. In one sermon shortly after I started attending the WCG, my first pastor explained why he didn’t socialize with lay members – if he got too friendly with them, they wouldn’t respect his authority. “Familiarity breeds a certain amount of disrespect,” he said. Ministers, with few exceptions, maintained an arms length relationship with lay members as a matter of policy. At the Feast of Tabernacles, ministers socialized with other ministers. When you saw them dining in restaurants, they dined not with lonely lay members, but with other ministers, usually their chums from Ambassador College. They had their own parking spaces, their own ministerial luncheons, and reserved ministers-only seating during services. Even if they participated in social activities open to lay members, such as dances and luncheons, they sat at reserved, ministers-only tables. “Ministers Only” signs were ubiquitous in the Worldwide Church of God. The ministers segregated themselves from lay members by staying in the best hotels and dining in the most expensive restaurants. The ordinary member couldn’t afford to patronize these establishments, but the ministers could because of the generous festival allowance they received from church headquarters. This is yet one more example of the Worldwide Church of God ministry applying one set of standards to the membership while applying another less rigorous set of standards to themselves. Needless to say, there are no “Parents Only” signs on the dinner table when the family gets together for Christmas.

The Feast separated me from my family. The church ministry always taught that the church was our family. Supposedly, our church family was more real than our physical families because we had a spiritual bond, rather than a mere fleshly physical bond. It works in theory, but not in practice, and a theory that doesn’t work in practice is a bad theory. The church didn’t love its members. It accepted them only if the members gave unquestioning obedience to Herbert W. Armstrong and his ministerial minions. If we had an opinion that differed from Herbert and his stooges, we became persona non grata. The church wasn’t a family. It didn’t feel like a family, look like a family and behave like a family. Members weren’t treated as family. The Feast of Tabernacles was a phony family gathering, with a phony family and phony joy. Everything about the Feast was a put-on.

In church literature, much was made of how expensive Christmas was. As quoted above, Herbert Armstrong complained that donors to his church cut back on their contributions in December. Income levels did not get back to normal for at least two or three months. As usual, the facts tell a different story. Christmas is actually much less expensive than the Feast of Tabernacles. My wife and I found this out the first time we celebrated Christmas after leaving the Worldwide Church of God. We purchased gifts for our families and everyone in our office (we work for the same employer), approximately 40 gifts, for about $1,000. The Feast is far more expensive. Church members were expected to save ten percent of their income to pay Festival expenses. It didn’t matter what kind of burden this placed on the church member. Food, clothing, shelter and everything else were to be sacrificed in order to keep the Feast. Even taxes were to go unpaid if that’s what if took for the church to get its ten percent. (This was on top of another tithe, which was paid directly to the church.) Whatever money was not used for food and lodging during the Feast was to be sent to church headquarters for the benefit of the ministry. The ministers did not save 10 percent of their incomes for their own Feast expenses. The members were expected to “donate” their “excess” festival funds so that the ministers could afford to insulate themselves from the lowly lay member at next year’s Feast. Nobody expects you to go bankrupt in order to give Christmas gifts, but the Worldwide Church of God demanded that you go bankrupt if necessary in order to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

One of the minor annoyances of the Feast were the lines. You were always queuing up for something. When we first celebrated Christmas, my wife and I did some last minute shopping on Christmas Eve. We were going to visit my brother that evening, and needed one or two gifts. We drove to the store and were in and out in no time. The whole trip took less than an hour. I thought we would be overwhelmed by last minute shoppers, and there were many of them at the store. But the management had hired extra staff to handle the increased volume of business for the holiday season, and our purchase was handled competently and expeditiously. The lines at the Feast were longer and slower. At the Feast, it sometimes took more than 15 minutes to get to a toilet. And many of us have memories of spending most of the afternoon stuck in traffic in the parking lot. At many Feast sites, the local area was not equipped to handle the thousands of people attending. This was especially true in sparsely populated rural areas, such as the notorious Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania site, where feast goers outnumbered the town’s residents. (Larger cities, like Tucson, Arizona could easily accommodate 6,000 Feast goers).

I’m sure many who continue to observe the Feast of Tabernacles will disagree with what I have written. For them the Feast was truly joyful, and their memories pleasant ones. More power to them. For me, the Feast was one hassle after the other. The people were generally unfriendly, the ministers were arrogant, the sermons were boring. It was crowded, the planned activities were inane, the music amateurish, the Young Ambassador films painful to watch. Christmas is more enjoyable and more joyful. It is better in every way. If you can tell a tree by its fruit, then the Feast of Tabernacles should be chopped down, decorated with tinsel, and strung with lights. The only joy it will bring me is if it is used as a Christmas decoration.