In the 4th Century A.D., the subject of Passover and its celebration within the Church created confusion and sometimes even violent confrontations. The after effects of this tumultuous period of Church history are still in evidence to this day. Each year, the celebration of Passover begins at sunset on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish religious calendar. In Ephesians 2:13-22, Paul speaks of the unity God desires between Jewish and Gentile believers as a witness of the Gospel in all the world.
Is it any wonder then that tearing apart this unified witness is a primary objective of our common enemy, Satan? How did this happen? In 314 AD, at Arles (southern France), it was decreed by Church bishops that the date of the Christian Passover would be afixed by bishops in Rome. All of those bishops were Gentiles. Because their decree was not universally obeyed, the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. attempted to settle the matter once and for all.
Council of Nicea
Two letters emanating from the Nicean enclave provide the record of their discussions and decision. Consider the circular letter sent by Emperor Constantine to Church officials throughout his realm. By decree, the celebration of Yeshua’s resurrection was required to be celebrated everywhere on a Sunday, and never on the day of the Jewish Passover. The primary motives for this action were based on militant opposition to Jewish people, blaming the crucifixion of Jesus at Passover on them.
Constantine penned the following: “We would have nothing in common with that most hostile people, the Jews; for we have received from the Redeemer another way of honoring God [the order of the days of the week], and harmoniously adopting this method, we would withdraw ourselves from the evil fellowship of the Jews. For what they pompously assert, is really utterly absurd: that we cannot keep this feast at all without their instruction. It is our duty to have nothing in common with the murderers of our Lord.” This is but one highlight of the complete letter.
The Nicean’ theft of Christianity’s earliest observances of Passover, with its rich imagery of the Lamb of God’s life, death, burial, and resurrection eventually held sway. It took Christendom several hundred years to gain majority control of the Church’s religious calendar. Today, the Paschal controversies of the past are largely unknown by the Gentile believers of the 21st Century.
I love Easter. I love it much, much more than I do Christmas! Any day that points to Jesus‘ victory over death is a great day. A sad truth remains, however. Easter replaced Passover as an annual remembrance of the work of the Sacrificed Lamb in the 4th Century. Most Christians have little understanding of when, why, and how this happened. Furthermore, little thought is given as to how Satan has used ignorance in the Church to create roadblocks to Gospel proclamation directed at Jewish people who need to meet “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
As Walter Cronkite used to say… “That’s the rest of the story.”
Recently, Arlie Francis presented a paper at the North American meeting of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism in Boca Raton, Florida. This paper was an appeal to Jewish and Gentile believers to return to the “one new man” witness of the earliest Church. This paper is available for your consideration. It is entitled. “HIStory’s Best Argument.”
Restoring an awareness of the Jewish background of our Savior, the Scriptures, and the Church is one of the primary objectives of Disciple Daily. Arlie Francis is available to do presentations on Passover in a variety of settings including the presentation of a complete Seder remembrance celebration at your church. Contact Arlie Francis if you would like to explore this further.