06 January, 2011

The Christian and the Sabbath Day (Lord's Day)

A number of Christians today struggle with the principle called Sabbath keeping. Many see the Sabbath as an ordinance that was connected to the Mosaic Ceremonies and as a result deny the binding nature of the Sabbath Day on the New Testament Church.

The problem though is not a problem with the text of the Scriptures though. The problem is in the way that we understand the Scriptures. The Christian Sabbath is binding upon the Church and it is both supported by the historical documents of the Church as well as the Scriptures themselves.

Take for instance the Westminster Standards (WCF, WSC, WLC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony (RPT). These documents defend the Sabbath as a perpetually binding obligation to the New Testament Church. Notice the words of our Confessional documents:

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (WCF 21.7)

We reject the teaching that the Fourth Commandment is no longer binding under the New Testament. (RPT 21.11)

Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day. (WLC 116)

Of course, these are only subordinate standards. These documents are not the Word of God. What does the Word of God say in regard to the Sabbath Day?

The Sabbath shows up in the Scriptures long before Moses was ever on the scene. The pattern of six days of work and one day of rest is on the first pages of the Scriptures. God did not need rest, but he was setting up a pattern that was to be followed through-out time. We call this a "creation ordinance." This was not something that was connected to ceremonies, but something that God intended BEFORE sin ever came into the story of mankind.

Genesis 2.1-3 records, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."

Notice here that God rested after the work was created. What was the reason for God resting? It was so that he could set up the pattern for man to follow. Notice that Moses records that because God rested he blessed Sabbath rest and he made Sabbath rest holy. How is that connected to ceremonial law when sin has not entered the world? The answer is that it is not connected to ceremony, but to creation.

We see this again in the 10 commandments. When God gave the moral law to Moses he did so as a way to reflect His own character and to give a visible representation of what expectations he had on his creatures. Who argues that in the New Testament Church that people are now free to commit adultery or free to steal or free to worship other gods? No Christian would argue that these things are allowed in the Church. How is it that the fourth commandment is ripped out of the text of God's moral and perpetual law?

Also notice in the giving of the fourth commandment that God does not say that the law is connected to ceremony. God himself argues that Sabbath rest is a perpetual obligation on all men because of the pattern that He has set. This is BEFORE sin.

Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Again, Moses is arguing that the Sabbath is not connected to ceremony, but to morality. God set this pattern up at creation, and God himself argues from the fact that this is a pre-fall moral obligation that is connected to blessedness and holiness.

The Sabbath principle is found through-out the law, the writings, and the prophets as well. A high point in the prophetic writings argue that Sabbath keeping is connected to the well-being of the Church in the Old Testament. Isaiah 58: 13-14 states, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

In this text we see that the Sabbath is not connected so much with ceremony either, but with spiritual well-being. The prophets constantly were pointing towards a relationship with God and reminding the people that the ceremonies were only to point towards something better. You would think that Isaiah would use this opportunity to say that the Sabbath only represented something, but he doesn't. Instead he says that the well-being of the Church is connected to the keeping of this moral law. Notice some of the benefits that Isaiah points towards: 1. Taking delight in the Lord. 2. Riding on the heights of the earth. 3. Being fed with a spiritual inheritance.

Has the Church turned from this inheritance? Has the Church stopped delighting in the Lord? Has the Church stopped "riding high" in their relationship with God? If you answer yes, then Isaiah tells us to reexamine our principle of Sabbath keeping. He associates it with revival in the Church, doesn't he?

You may think. Well, Presbyterian Thinker, that is all well and good- but these are Old Testament things. What about the New Testament? Besides the fact that we see the Church in Acts worshiping on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, as it is called by John, we also see that the principle of Sabbath keeping, or Sabbath rest remains in the Church. Remember this is a moral obligation, not a ceremonial one. The author to Hebrews writes his epistle (or sermon) to defend that Christ is better than all of the ceremonies that were part of the "types and shadows" of the Old Covenant. What an opportunity to let the Church know that the Sabbath keeping is no longer a part of Christian worship.

But he doesn't do that. He actually does quite the opposite- and tells them that despite the fact that all of these ceremonies and types and shadows have gone away- the Sabbath, a Christ-centered, Sabbath rest remains. Hebrews 4.9 argues, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." If the author of Hebrews saw Sabbath keeping as something that was done away with as a type or shadow of Christ, then he absolutely fails at this point. Instead of arguing that it is no longer binding, he actually argues that it remains! It is an obligation in the New Testament era.

Now these texts merely scratch the surface of the whole body of texts that deal with Sabbath rest and the Lord's Day. The depth of biblical evidence and historical evidence is overwhelming when one opens their heart and mind to the teaching of the Word of God.

So what's the problem? If the biblical evidence is clear, the Confessional material is clear, and the history of the Church points us to Sabbath keeping, then why does so much of the American Church reject the fourth commandment as a part of God's moral law?

Joel Beeke says it best in the book, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, "The forces of secularization and the rise of the leisure culture, obsessed with pursuing recreations of all kinds, have extinguished concern for Sabbath observance in the general population. Even more tragic is the steady erosion of conviction on the part of Christians. The great damage was done by modernism’s attack on the authority of Scripture, thus undermining and overthrowing all biblical norms for living. However, Fundamentalism must also bear its share of the blame.

Under the influence of Dispensationalism, a growing antinomianism developed in the most conservative circles of American Christians. The Old Testament in general, and the moral law in particular, came to be regarded as monuments of a bygone era. The result has been wholesale destruction of conviction regarding the Sabbath, even among Presbyterians who subscribe to the Westminster Standards–notwithstanding the jarring inconsistency involved! p.112"

Wow! This should really make us do some self-examination! What about today's culture influence the way that we are reading the Scriptures? What about the milieu of modern evangelicalism has actually caused God's law, and the way in which he would have us live, has actually trampled the Word of God? Now a single blog post is not going to change any hearts, but I believe that Christians do need to stop and reflect and ask ourselves whether we have bought into the errors that our culture, and even our church culture has imposed on the Word of God. Is this worth reflecting on? Yes! The Sabbath holds great spiritual freedoms and blessings for the Church- are we putting ourselves in bondage by not walking in this freedom?

Beeke goes on to conclude, "The Sabbath stands as an institution as one as creation itself. It belongs to the order of things as they were at the beginning, before man’s fall into sin. It is as universal as any other creation ordinance, holding the promise of blessing for all mankind. The promise of redemption and its fulfillment only add to the significance of the Sabbath as a day to be observed by the redeemed of the Lord. The Sabbath is a sign of the promise of redemption, both in its fulfillment now, and also the consummation which is yet to be. It is God’s day, a holy day–a day for Christians to keep holy p.115."

Will you reconsider what the Scriptures teach as we walk together towards that Great Day of eternal Sabbath rest?


Hun said...

Good point. Next task would be to have a deeper understanding on what it means to "keep the commandments", especially regarding the 4th commandment. For instance, it's a rather immature thought thinking Sunday is holy, since the current Sunday is defined relative to the Date Line, which was also defined by men.

Adam K said...

To piggy-back on your reference to the OT prophets, listen to the words of Isaiah (56:1-7) as he describes the future expansion of the gospel to all nations under the New Covenant:

"Thus says the LORD: 'Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.'

'Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.'

'Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, 'The LORD has utterly separated me from His people'; nor let the eunuch say, 'Here I am, a dry tree.'

For thus says the LORD: 'To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.'

'Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants -- everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant -- even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.'

'Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.'"

According to Isaiah, Sabbath-keeping would be a distinguishing mark of gospel expansion throughout the Gentile world! Since most American Christians today are converted Gentiles, this is huge!

Pablo said...

And ye shall know the truth,and the truth shall make you free.

John 8:32

Constance Walden said...

If you want to observe the Law, you must follow all of the Law. (Romans 3: 10-12). You cannot pick and choose out parts of the Law of Moses to follow...such as the Sabbath. You must do it all.

Jesus never commanded Christians to observe the Sabbath, neither does New Testament Scripture, so why are you binding it on others?

Whitey Lawful said...

I see it as a interesting argument and practise lost in history for a time. Until... Seventh Day Adventists and their claim that Rome pulled the wool over peoples eyes. I understand that they claimed Saturday observence was Judaization -but claimg that it was to homage a pagan diety is a stretch--even for Papists. Sunday is the day of resurection not the sabbath. I'll take both days--rather then one or the other.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this post. I'm convinced that observance of a sabbath is binding on the church at this point. I'm wondering if you can go into more detail on where Scripture binds a specific day of the week to be observed. Thanks again.