From Mourning to Celebration

The Vatican II Council and the Celebration Movement


Have you ever wondered why, in recent years, people have begun to celebrate in Adventist churches at funeral services? When I was a boy, people mourned at funeral services. But of late we find Adventist clergymen and Adventist relatives of the deceased talking about celebrating the life of their loved one. Where and when and how did people get indoctrinated that they should celebrate at a funeral?

To delve into the answer to this question we must go back almost forty years. After Pope Pius XII died in 1958, a man was chosen to be pope who was elderly, and many people thought he would be more or less a stand-in pope for a few years until his death. However, Pope John XXIII convened the second Vatican council in 1962 and, in this council, Rome planned the beginning, growth and development of the celebration style of worship. The documents of the Vatican II council were published and the 1975 edition was analyzed by Elder Bob Trefz. It contained the following major points or objectives:

  1. Introduce celebration terminology and the celebration concept into all churches so that every function of the church becomes a celebration.
  2. Get the churches accustomed to a new style of worship. Through the celebration service obtain reduction of inhibition and vastly increase congregational participation verbally and through physical gestures and bodily attitudes of movement.
  3. Promote in the celebration service dialogue between the celebrant (that is the pastor or priest) and people as external signs of celebration in common and to engender and foster unity between celebrant and people.
  4. Use as much variation as possible in these celebration services to encourage active and willing participation.
  5. Use music in celebration services as a most effective celebration utilizing popular religioussongs and relating the music to the various cultures and temperaments of the people.
  6. Narrow the gap between eucharistic celebration and the Lord’s supper, soon to be called communion celebration in the other churches. Educate the people that this service forms the basis of all Christian unity and fellowship.
  7. Demonstrate the inextricable tie between the eucharistic celebration as the foundation of all unity and the Lord’s day, or Sunday celebration.
  8. Perform any endeavor necessary to promote Sunday observance involving rest from work.

As we look around today, we find that almost all of these eight points have been introduced and implemented in various Protestant churches of the world and in many Seventh-day Adventist churches. The fact that these eight points from the Vatican II documents have been largely implemented in many Seventh-day Adventist churches should cause the serious reader to ask a number of questions. First of all, we can ask if it would be possible for such a thing to happen by chance? And the answer is no. It would be impossible that within a 25 year period the very objectives outlined in the Vatican II documents would spontaneously develop in Seventh-day Adventist churches if there were not people in these churches, leaders or laity, who were promoting these concepts. However, there are more serious questions than this to ask. What is the final objective that the Vatican has in introducing this worship style in the various Protestant churches? By promoting a universal worship style, Rome can strengthen ecumenical ties among Protestants and between Protestant churches and herself so that eventually, either through direct or indirect influence, she can influence all the Christian churches in the world. According to these Vatican II documents it is evident that it is the intent of Rome that all churches should be gathered together ecumenically under one leader, namely the pope of Rome. It is also their purpose that these concepts should be introduced into all institutions of higher education including Adventist colleges and universities.

When the time comes that most of the Christian churches in the world have accepted the same liturgical format it will be easy to suggest that since we are all one in practice why not join together as one. That development would exactly fulfill the prophecy in Revelation 13. Evangelicals and Pentecostals were some of the first to embrace these celebration ideas from Rome. Adventists, in turn, pattern their celebration formats after these Protestant churches. It is openly admitted by our leaders that they have gone to Pentecostal or other Protestant churches to learn this new science of celebration worship all in the name of church growth. The garden of prayer ceremony, which includes walking from person to person during prayer and the laying on of hands, is a charismatic ceremony of Roman Catholicism.

One of the effects of these celebration services is to excite the participants into a more emotional state of mind and in this emotional excitement a person can more easily be led to make theological or experiential changes.

The purpose of promoting celebration services is simply to establish ecumenical ties. And it is one of the steps leading the various churches to a single worldwide church under the leadership of the papacy. For students of Bible prophecy, especially those who have become Seventh-day Adventists and are studying and attempting to follow the Three Angels’ Messages, this celebration worship has several apparent fatal flaws. Number one, the First Angel’s Message proclaims the fact that the investigative judgement is in progress. In the celebration style worship, nothing is taught about the judgement. People are taught about love, acceptance and forgiveness, but nothing is said about the judgement that is in progress and how to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ. No matter how much one worships, no matter how much one goes to church, no matter how much singing or praying a person does, if they are not ready for the judgement, their religion is all in vain.

Living in the time of the investigative judgement means that our lives are coming up for review before God. The criteria that decides the verdict in the judgement is not whether a person goes to church, nor is it even what church one belongs to, not his profession of faith—the verdict reached in the judgement is based on a person’s character. The Bible teaches, throughout, that we are judged according to our works in reference to God’s law. (See Revelation 20:11–15 and James 2.)

If a person has broken God’s law, of course he will be lost. But if, during the time of probation, he repents and confesses his sins, his guilt can be taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ. However, he is not then saved because he is forgiven; forgiveness is a necessary component of salvation, but it does not prepare you for the judgement. There are no texts anywhere in the Bible that say that the verdict in the judgement is based on whether our sins are forgiven. After a person’s sins are forgiven he must then be cleansed from his sins or, in other words, sin must cease to be a part of his life. He must not only be delivered from the guilt of sin (forgiveness, pardon, justification), but he must be delivered from the power of sin within (sanctification, holiness of life, purification of character). His life must come into harmony with God’s law.

This transformation is the proof that the Holy Spirit is working in his heart and his life, giving him a new heart and new mind. (See Romans 8:1–14.) If this does not happen and, as a result of this lack of a spirit-filled life there are no spirit-filled works and no spirit led living, then any profession of religion is vain. This has always been true. However, it is even more critical today because we are living in that time when probation will close not only for people who have died, but for people who are still alive upon the earth. The celebration style of worship does not at all address this most fundamental fact of the judgement, which is a central theme of the First Angel’s Message. That is just the beginning. The Second Angel’s Message, in Revelation 14:8, is a call to come out of Babylon. Babylon is a woman according to Revelation 17:1–5 and a woman is the Biblical symbol of the church. This church is a harlot church, or an apostate church, which commits spiritual fornication. (Revelation 17:1–5.)

God’s ancient people (His church), the Jewish people, were also referred to by this symbol of a woman, and when they taught people to break the commandments they were referred to as a harlot. We read in Ezekiel 23:37, 38: “For they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths.” Israel committed adultery by breaking the Ten Commandments. Babylon is a church, a mother church who has daughter churches who are harlots, churches that teach people to break God’s commandments. And these churches who are teaching people to break God’s commandments are world-wide in their influence. Revelation 18:23 says, ” The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived.”

What is Babylon condemned for? Revelation 18:4 says, “And I heard another voice from heaven saying ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’” Sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4.) Babylon, then, is a church that breaks God’s law, and her daughter churches also teach people to break God’s law. Those who will be saved from the last generation must all come out of Babylon. God does not give people a warning to do something if it is not important, and Revelation 14:8 says that Babylon is fallen and has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication and Revelation 18:4 says that all people are to come out of her lest they share in her sins and also receive of her plagues.

Since sin is the transgression of the law, sharing in her sins has to do with co-operating or participating with these churches in breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. These churches which are teaching people to break the fourth commandment, the second commandment and other commandments, have been rejected by God and He is calling His true people to come out of them. But the celebration style worship service does not call people out of Babylon, rather it is derived from Babylon and leads the participants closer and closer to full fellowship with Babylon, making it impossible for them to be part of the group who will be saved from the last generation.

The Third Angel’s Message is a call to keep the commandments, as you can see in Revelation 14:12. It is a strict warning against engaging in image worship —worshipping the image to the beast. It is a strict warning against receiving the mark of the beast. The characteristics of the beast power are outlined in Revelation 13:1–10, in 2 Thessalonians 2 and in Daniel the seventh chapter. In Revelation 13, we see that this beast power is a religion, because people worship it. (Revelation 13:4.) We see that this beast power was not one of the nations of the earth, but rather a super-power which would have influence over all the nations of the earth, because it says that authority was given him over every tribe, tongue and nation. (Revelation 13:7.) Also we see that it has been a persecuting power, because it makes war with the saints and overcomes them. (Revelation 13:7.) It is a blasphemous power (Revelation 13:6) that blasphemes God, His name,His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.

The special mark of this power, given in Daniel 7:25, is that it would attempt to change times and laws. There is only one time in the Ten Commandments, and that is the seventh day Sabbath and this is the time that men have attempted to change. This attempt to change times and laws is the mark of Babylon’s authority. If a person accepts the authority of men, instead of the authority of God, in the last generation, they will receive the mark of the beast. The Third Angel’s Message includes a call to worship God by keeping His commandments, which would include the seventh-day Sabbath. By contrast, the Vatican II documents, with the celebration concept, were established to induce everyone to celebrate on Rome’s day—Sunday. We can clearly see that the foundational objectives of the celebration style worship are directly contrary to the most fundamental principles of the Third Angel’s Message.

A final objective of the Vatican II council was to unify liturgical functions and celebration and thereby focus attention on Sunday as the Lord’s day. When we study history, we find that the adoption of Sunday worship is not something that happens instantly. It is something that creeps in over a long period of time and there are many steps leading eventually to Sunday observance. That which took generations in the second and third century has been refined so that the same process can take place much more quickly in our day. It would be well, at this point, to review briefly some of the ways that Sunday keeping was introduced into the Christian church in the second and third centuries.

At the time of the Passover every year, it was common for Christians to remember the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. It is natural and easy for us to see how that they would do this, because for 1500 years, in the Jewish system, the greatest feast of all the year, in the spring, was the Passover feast. It was at the time of the Passover that the real Passover—Jesus, the lamb of God—was sacrificed for the sins of the world. (See John 19.) It was on the third day, two days following this, that the wave sheaf was offered when Christ arose and took with Him to heaven a group of resurrected saints from every generation as the first fruits of the plan of redemption.

It has been the devil’s design, ever since the Garden of Eden, to mix good and evil together. It is in this way that the devil has succeeded, in every generation, to deceive most of the world’s population. The good is emphasized and applauded, but with it is mixed the evil. Jesus rose on the first day of the week and the devil discovered in this fact a way to mix good and evil in the Christian church. His purpose was to eventually persuade the professed followers of Christ to break the law of God, which commands worship on the seventh-day Sabbath. (See Exodus 20:8–11.)

The heathen nations, who were sun worshipers, had adopted the day of the Sun as a festival day and it is for that reason that the first day of the week was called Sunday. The devotees of the sun worshipped with their faces toward the east, at sunrise, on Sunday. Scarcely were the last of the apostles dead when certain bishops in the church, in order to make easier the conversion of the heathen and by this to increase their own influence and authority, began to adopt heathen customs and forms. One of these heathen customs and forms that was early mixed with the practice of Christianity was an imitation of Sun worship.

One of the church fathers defended the Christian’s practices around 200 A.D. in the following words: “Others again certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude believe that the sun is our god. The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer, but you, many of you also under pretense sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies move your lips in the direction of the sunrise. In the same way if we devote Sunday to rejoicing from a far different reason than Sun worship we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury.” His argument is in effect, “You do the same thing and you originated it so you have no right to blame us.”

As a result of the influence of Rome, the entire western empire adopted the practice of celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Sunday instead of the Passover day which would occur at different days in the week. The bishop of Rome ruled that the celebration of the resurrection of Christ must always be on a Sunday, the Sunday nearest to the Passover. If the Passover should itself be on Sunday, then the celebration was not to be held on that day but upon the next Sunday. This was the origin of Easter. Victor, who was bishop of Rome, A.D. 192–202, wrote a letter to the Asiatic Christian clergy commanding them to imitate the example of the western Christians with respect to the time of celebrating Easter. But the people in Asia declared that they would by no means depart in this manner from the custom handed down to them by their fathers. The result was that Victor, the bishop of Rome, broke communion with them and pronounced them unworthy of the name brethren; He excluded them from all fellowship with the church of Rome. This happened around the end of the second century.

It is evident, from a cursory examination of these facts from history, that the celebration worship style lies very close to the foundation of the development of Sunday observance by the Roman church. It was not a long time until the yearly celebration of the resurrection of Christ, on one Sunday a year, was replaced by a weekly celebration of the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week. Adventists for several years have been taking the initial steps into Sunday observance. The fact that Adventists, for many years and in many places, have joined ecumenically with Sunday churches in worshipping on Easter Sunday, often out of doors as the sun emerges over the eastern horizon, is a replica of what was done in the early church when Sunday was introduced. When people take the first steps into Sunday observance, just as they did back in the second century, unless they repent and are converted, there is no question that eventually they will take the last steps and will receive the mark of the beast, maybe without even knowing what they are doing.

We are living not only in serious times, but in very deceptive times. We have been warned that the mark of the beast will come in some form to every institution and every individual. Many Adventists who receive the mark of the beast will not understand what has happened until it is too late. (Early Writings, 71.) Will you be in that group? It is a very solemn thought. May God help us to live by every word that proceeds out of His mouth and not to be deceived by the sophistries of the devil, even when they look harmless.

Next month we will look deeper into this topic and see some of the weighty spiritual issues that surround the celebration movement in Adventism.

Editor’s Note: Much of the material for this article was taken from the book Adventist Carnivals by Dr. Rosenvold. A much fuller description of the topic covered in this article is given in his book.