The Bible’s Viewpoint
Do All Religious Festivals Please God?
The faithful, 20,000 strong, celebrate a special Mass in the city’s square. When the service ends, the procession begins. The crowd of worshipers now swells to 60,000 persons, who wend their way through the streets, all following the image of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the patron “saint” of Brazil. At noon, loud cracking is heard near the sanctuary as pilgrims set off a display of dazzling fireworks.
SUCH religious festivals with their processions are common in many lands. But what moves crowds to join the processions? Tradition and devotion are two of the basic motives for Catholics, Buddhists, and those of other religious persuasions. In addition, as in the past, entertainment may be an important element. The World Book Encyclopedia states that in medieval times “many religious festivals stressed recreation. They allowed people to forget the hardships of their daily life.” The same is often true today. For example, Salvador, Brazil, is well-known for its religious and popular festivals, mixing mysticism and merrymaking in various celebrations and revelries that culminate in the carnival. However, while some religious processions may be festive, others are solemn.
“Accompanying the image and the priests, a few were singing a hymn while others followed along quietly,” observes a visitor to a typical procession in Brazil. “But what dominated the scene was seriousness, or rather sadness, as if the crowd were attending a funeral.” And Lúcio, from the northern part of Brazil, says: “As I once did, people desperately seek a cure or a solution to family or financial problems. Often devotion to a patron ‘saint’ includes kissing the image, climbing stairs on one’s knees, or walking long distances with a stone on one’s head.”
Such self-imposed sacrifices may seem strange to nonbelievers. However, the participants feel that they are pleasing God. But are they? The Bible helps us to see whether such religious festivals and processions please God or not.
Do They Bring God’s Favor?
History tells us that ancient Israel celebrated both annual and periodic festivals with rejoicing. Such feasts honored Jehovah God. (Deuteronomy 16:14, 15) Concerning Biblical feasts, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary says: “The joy expressed was heartfelt. Religious commitment was not incompatible with pleasure in temporal things conceived as gifts of God.” In spite of religious celebrations, the priests and the people of Israel neglected their spirituality. (Isaiah 1:15-17; Matthew 23:23) However, the question now is, Were religious processions part of first-century Christianity?
Although Jesus Christ observed certain Jewish festivals, neither Jesus nor his apostles initiated religious processions. The Encyclopædia Britannica says: “Processions seem to have come into vogue soon after the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the empire by Constantine in the 4th century.” And The World Book Encyclopedia states: “Church festivals [with their processions] took over many pagan customs, giving them new meanings.”
Christians are under no obligation to join in such religious festivals and processions. In referring to festivals that had been required by God’s Law to ancient Israel, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Colossians 2:16, 17) The Christians in Colossae were to let no one judge their standing before God on the basis of observance of festivals of the Mosaic Law.
Something Better Than Processions
For the Colossians to identify their Christian belief with ritual would have been a retrogression in their faith. Paul’s reasoning was, Why follow only a shadow of truth? The real truth is in Christ. Therefore, to cling to a prophetic shadow is to obscure the spiritual reality to which those things pointed. Why? Because, as Paul said, “the reality belongs to the Christ.” Thus, such religious observances today are no part of true Christian worship.
Christians, then, are no longer required to observe these customs of divine origin, and certainly they should avoid festivals of pagan origin, which may involve the use of images and revelries. (Psalm 115:4-8) The apostle Paul warned: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15) In other words, if we want to please God, we cannot mix true worship with false. How could we ignore God’s will and still please him?—Matthew 7:21.
No, God does not approve of pagan religious festivals with their processions. In fact, they will disappear together with all customs that dishonor Jehovah, as foretold in God’s Word. At Revelation 18:21, 22, false religion and its practices are linked to the pagan city of Babylon. It reads: “A strong angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying: ‘Thus with a swift pitch will Babylon the great city be hurled down, and she will never be found again. And the sound of singers who accompany themselves on the harp and of musicians and of flutists and of trumpeters will never be heard in you again.’” Recognizing that Babylonish religious festivals displease God, what will you do?
Imagine that you are on a trip to an important destination and have lost your way. If someone kindly points out how to arrive at your destination safely, would you not be grateful for having found the right way? Similarly, having learned how God views religious processions, why not look further into his Word to see what does please him? Acting on what you learn from the Bible will contribute to a fine relationship with God—which is far superior to observing religious festivals and processions.—John 17:3.
[Picture Credit Line on page 20]
Dutch Easter procession, Harper’s, 19th century