Hezekiah's Passover (2Ch 30)
It was the time of the great reformation which the zeal of
Hezekiah had set going. The appeal had gone out to all the tribes of Israel,
regardless of boundaries or political loyalties, that they come up to Jerusalem
to keep the Passover after the manner of their fathers. And although the
messengers of the king had met with much derision and contempt, there were also
many in the region of Galilee who responded and came with gladness to join in
their new surge of godliness.
But there were hindrances of many kinds, with the result that
it was not found possible to hold the Feast at the normal time -- the fourteenth
of the first month. However, the Law of Moses provided for a second celebration
a month later (a kind of supplementary Breaking of Bread!) for the benefit of
those who were unclean through contact with the dead or who were away on a
journey when the proper time came round. Strictly speaking, neither of these
"exceptive clauses" applied to these late-comers from the north. Even less were
they a valid excuse for the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
Nevertheless the Feast went forward in the second month with
zeal and rejoicing. It was not that king or priests or people were ignorant of
what the Law laid down. There was no disposition to cover up or evade the
technical infringement with any kind of clever argument. Rather, the issue
became quite simply this: 'Is it better for us and more to the honor and glory
of God that we keep the Passover with an irregularity of procedure, or that we
do not keep it at all this year?' Faced with this alternative -- especially in
such circumstances -- the proper decision was obvious.
Yet it was not to be denied that some commandment of the Law
was infringed. Had they desisted altogether, still the Law said that the
Passover must be kept. Had they kept it in the second month, then they were
found guilty of appropriating to themselves the concessions of Num 9:10 which
clearly did not apply in their case. Also, many of those coming from the north
were not ceremonially purified to keep the Passover (2Ch 30:18). Here the Law
was infringed again in unmistakable fashion. Yet the Feast was kept, "for
Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth
his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed
according to the purification of the sanctuary', and the Lord hearkened to
Hezekiah, and healed the people."
None would dispute that, infringements and irregularities
aside, Hezekiah and the people did the right thing -- or, rather, the best thing
possible -- in the circumstances.
This kind of tension between two conflicting laws and
principles of God's appointing, both of which apply in a given case, is not
uncommon. It happened under the Law of Moses, as for example the dilemma of
circumcision on the eight day when it chanced to fall on a Sabbath; Jesus
entered into several controversies between the traditional interpretations of
the Sabbath law and his own greater law of loving service to mankind.
Similar situations are not unusual in the life of the disciple
today. If a young Christadelphian is commanded by his unbelieving parents to
miss the Breaking of Bread so as to accompany them on a visit to an aged
relative, which commandment does he break: "Do this in remembrance of me", or
"Honour thy father and thy mother"?
Is it right to buy some magazine which will further one's
study of the Signs of the Times if this means giving indirect support to some
unrighteous cause which that publication happens to advocate?
Should an ecclesia spend thousands of dollars on the purchase
of a fine organ to enhance its worship and praise of God if a quarter of its
members believe that this money should be devoted instead, say, to the Bible
We begin to see now the bearing of the foregoing
considerations on the vexed question of fellowship. Without any doubt, division
and fragmentation arise because brethren resolve in different irreconcilable
fashion yet another conflict of principles:
'Here is the beginning of apostasy,' says one; 'I cannot with
clear conscience belong to a community which tolerates such denials of truth; no
matter what the cost, the Faith must be kept pure.' And he gathers round him
some of like persuasion and goes away to make a fresh, clean start -- until the
day when a like situation recurs once more, and then the process begins all over
Says another: 'Here is teaching which grieves me very much and
which may well show itself ultimately to be destructive of our Faith. I do not
like it. I am worried by it. Then I must do all in my power to counteract it.
Since my brethren who are in a better position than I to exercise a good
influence do nothing about it, ought I not to withdraw for the sake of purity of
the Faith? But then, there is also my responsibility to the rest who do not
assess the situation as urgently as I do. These sheep, what shall they do? Have
I no duty to them, to nurture and guide and warn them?'
Thus the conflict rages in the minds and hearts of faithful
men. Undefiled separateness? Or love of the brethren in time of difficulty? This
is the great issue. How is it to be resolved? Some have one solution, some
another, and the outcome is mutual recrimination and division. Stark
What, then, is the right way, and therefore the best way, to
resolve this greatest of all spiritual contests for the loyalty of the believer?
Whatever decision is reached, it is almost certain that a serious disadvantage
will be involved. One evaluation, however, seems quite suitable in facilitating
our choice, and this is the test of Jesus: "By their fruits ye shall know
Apply this test, then, to the "purity-at-all-costs" school of
thought. What fruits have been gathered from this tree? The largely unchallenged
assumption that root-and-branch disfellowship en masse is demanded by the Bible
has left a phenomenal trail of Christadelphian wreckage scattered across the
past century. Even at the present day several small boats toss on the waves,
when united effort to manage one adequate vessel and keep it seaworthy would be
an obvious policy of sanity. More than this, an invariable result of every
crusade of every seceder has been a long-sustained campaign of harsh criticism
and self-righteous censure against those from whom the separation has been made.
"By their fruits ye shall know them!" What a contrast with Daniel who, belonging
to a nation hardened in apostasy and riddled with guilt, prayed for them and for
himself as though he shared their sin and their condemnation.
So the "separatist" solution has been weighed in the balances
and found wanting. But the more "broad-minded" school of thought may also be
lacking when "fruits" are considered, for false teachers if allowed to run wild
do damage to others as well as themselves, and the lines of demarcation between
Truth and Error may become blurred.
Is there an alternative to either of these extremes? As long
as an ecclesia holds to a true foundation of faith, that ecclesia should not be
abandoned. There may be unfaithfulness latent in any ecclesia, but if the formal
basis of fellowship is sound, then as long as faithful brethren exist there,
they should continue an unfaltering witness against error. This was the function
of the prophets in a decadent Israel, and the counsel of the apostles to
ecclesias with doctrinal and moral problems in the first century.
Such an attitude of mind and the solution here proposed can
hardly be altogether satisfactory to the out-and-out idealist, but like Hezekiah
he must learn to make the best of imperfect situations. The great evils are
schism and apathy. Let us shun both, and choose instead the middle road, of
loving, careful, unceasing entreaty and witness for truth. If we do this then we
have the assurance that Hezekiah had, that God will pardon the failings of those
who prepare their hearts to serve Him, even though their service may prove less
than perfect. [From "Conflict of Loyalties", by HAW (Tes 38:377-380).]