Here are some of the questions I (and I’m sure many) have about application of the Sabbath command?
- Can we not work our regular jobs at all on Sundays?
- Must we refrain from things we are free to do on other days?
- Are we not supposed to cook then on Sundays?
- Are we causing others to sin if we go out to eat?
- Travel on Sundays?
- Is it sundown to sundown or midnight to midnight?
- 24 hour period exactly?
- 24 hour worship?
- Isn’t Sunday tiring for a lot of Christians? Pastors? How is the Sunday gathering restful?
What other questions come to mind for you?
Let me give another big apology: I cannot do just one more post on this. There’s too much application to think about. So pretend this is a brand new series, just on application. And I will not say how many posts I intend. I have no idea right now. I’m thinking and learning as we go.
Let me address just one point of application: I said in an earlier post “if you focus on do’s and don’ts, you have become a Pharisee.” I’m thankful for one of our members, Ezra Mell, pointing this out– it is not bad to think about what we should do and not do. That is mere Christian obedience. So I think I misspoke.
What the Pharisees tended to focus on were definitely a lot of “thou shalt nots” at the expense of “thou shalls” (think of rebuking a healed man who carried his bed on the Sabbath). And they tended to think a lot about specific kinds of obedience at the expense of getting the more important heart matters right (think of tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but forgetting justice and mercy). So I think what I meant to say is “if you focus on external quantities of obedience when it comes to the Sabbath or focus on all the things you should not be doing at the expense of focusing on what you should be doing, you have become a Pharisee.” (I’m sure there’s a more concise way to say that)
I do believe the Law of Christ written on believer’s hearts now helps us to think more about the 10 Commandments the way Jesus intended. So what I would caution against is things like:
- make sure it’s an exact 24 hour period that you guard (whether Sunday midnight to Monday midnight, which makes no sense; or Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown), or anything along those lines.
- make sure you never cook, never make anyone else cook, never make your dog or cat hunt, never go to your regular job, never do anything that will support someone else doing their regular job, etc. Avoid a “thou shalt not”-only mentality.
- seeing Sunday as better than other days, in that if I sin on Sunday it’s worse than sinning on Monday, or if I do my quiet time on Sunday it’s better than any other day.
I think we can all agree that what the Pharisees struggled with was focusing on the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of the Law. So my hope is to never get bogged down with an exact 24 hour period or how many different things I must never do, but simply aim to guard one day in seven as holy unto the Lord. And clearly, we are to guard it for rest. Where my mind goes (and what you may never have thought much about) is “rest from what?” and “rest in order to what?” So that’s what I plan to tackle next.
- We are not under the Law- I believe I have covered this in this series, but it is worth repeating. Whenever the bible says “Christians are not under the Law,” we must rejoice! But it is a specific way that we are not under the Law: we are not under the Law of Moses (i.e. the Old Covenant Law). Even though there is a one-ness between the NT people and the OT people, there are parts of the OT Law that do not apply in the same way to the NT people. But we are still “under law” in the sense that God still binds our consciences with certain commands. All Christians basically agree that 9 of the 10 Commandments are still binding. If God said “the Sabbath is no longer binding” (or something along those lines), we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. You just have to ask yourself, “do I believe God has commanded all people everywhere to set one day aside (as holy) to worship Him?” And also ask yourself, “doesn’t it just make sense that 10 of the 10 would still be binding?”
- Sabbath was not about worship, but about rest- I would have been persuaded several years ago if I thought more about this. At first glance, the 4th Commandment does not appear to be about worship at all, but rather about work and rest. But as all Covenant Theologians say, God commanded His people to rest in order to worship. Do you think all He meant was physical rest? What does a Christian do when they think about God as Creator and Redeemer? I fear many people are not Sabbatarians because they don’t have a biblical category for “rest.” Rest for so many means temporary leisure and pleasure. Biblical rest involves reliance and trust. The more you consciously rest in God, the more you find conscious worship (prayer, singing, listening to His Word) ends up being the only appropriate way to rest.
- Wouldn’t God make something so important more explicit?- this would cut both ways, and I think much more burden of proof is upon those who think one of the Ten are abrogated. Now as to why the NT never explicitly calls the “Lord’s Day” the “Christian Sabbath,” you’ll have to ask God. But you just have to decide: did God remove the Sabbath and create “the Lord’s Day” as something new (even though it has so much overlap in practice already), or did He simply call the New Covenant Sabbath “the Lord’s Day”?
- Romans 14- I used to think the strong vs weak faith issue referred to those who saw Sunday as the Christian Sabbath as the weaker brother (v5-6). It could simply be that someone saw the Sabbath as “better than another” day, where some might think their prayers are more spiritual on Sundays than Mondays, or something along those lines. It could also be a number of possibilities besides a Sabbath debate, since Paul never says “Sabbath” in the chapter. This is not as strong an objection as I once thought.
- Colossians 2- Paul calls the “Sabbath” a “shadow of thing to come,” leading many to see the Sabbath as a part of the Ceremonial Law. This is perhaps the strongest objection to the traditional view. However, Paul could actually be referring to ceremonial Sabbaths (all Sabbath observances besides the seventh day each week), which are no longer binding on Christians. Or he could be refuting legalistic views of the Sabbath, which we would all stand against. Again, this one passage does not bear the burden of overturning a big piece of Covenant Theology all by itself.
- Matthew 11- Jesus says “come to me and I will give you rest,” leading many to say Jesus is the true Sabbath. Well, that is a fine hermeneutic, to conclude something theologically even though the text does not explicitly say that. And all Covenant Theologians would say “amen!” But that does not explicitly overturn a command to observe one day a week as holy for worshipful rest. It simply aims that day even more accurately.
- Hebrews 4- there is a Sabbath rest in the New Heavens and New Earth. We again all say “Amen.” That again, does not necessarily overturn a weekly Holy Day to point everyone to the final day. Doesn’t a weekly Sabbath make that final day all the more visible, so as to help believers “see the Day drawing near”?
A better hermeneutic is to say “unless the New Covenant explicitly overturns an Old Covenant command, it is better to find unity with God’s people across the ages.” So now, for me personally, it’s just a matter of figuring out what application looks like through a New Covenant- Spirit-empowered- Christ-centered lens. This next one will be the final post in this series, I’m pretty sure.
I said this would be the final post in this series, but (I don’t know why I say stuff like that) I will probably do two more after this: one on common objections and one on thinking about application.
But for today’s post: what did faithful Sabbath observance look like for the ancient Israelite? Let’s look at five passages to get an idea and then draw a conclusion:
- Exodus 20.8-11: this is the first giving of the 10 Commandments. There is a command to work six days but to not work on the seventh day. Two great keys for understanding the Sabbath: one- everyone must rest from work; it was the entire believing community that needed to shape their work week around the Sabbath. Two- the reason for this rest was to pattern after God’s creative work week. God made that day holy, specifically after His work as Creator. It seems fairly obvious that part of this holy rest was to reflect on God as Creator. But the question is: what does it mean to “rest”?
- Leviticus 23: God commanded multiple feasts throughout the Jewish year. But He starts the explanation of the feasts with a repeat of the Sabbath command (3), and this time He calls the rest “a holy convocation” (or a called assembly). And each feast in this chapter involves Sabbaths, convocations, and food offerings. And “Sabbath”, “seventh day”, and “convocation” appear to be interchangeable a majority of, if not all throughout, this chapter (2, 4, 8, 21, 24-25, 37-38); and all Sabbaths-convocations involve the offering of food (worship). It seems fairly obvious that the weekly Sabbaths inform what the occasional Sabbaths were to look like, and vice versa. It is also fairly obvious that Sabbath was more than just “do not work,” but rather, “rest from work in order to gather.” Sabbaths were solemn rests by the community unto the Lord and in response to God’s provisions.
- Deuteronomy 5.12-15: This is the second giving of the 10 Commandments. The one difference here from Exodus 20 is the reason for the Sabbath, namely, “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out…therefore…keep the Sabbath day.” So rest in God, first because He created all things, and now secondly, because He redeemed you.
- Psalm 92- “A Psalm. A song for the Sabbath.” Interestingly, it is the only psalm with that title. But that is not an argument against the Sabbath as being a day of worship for the Jews. We can debate about the silences of Scripture all day. We cannot debate the fact that by the time Psalm 92 was written, it was an accepted practice that singing of songs was something to be done on the Sabbath day. And that makes sense given Israelites were reflecting on God as Creator and Redeemer, and used the Sabbath to offer worshipful sacrifices, and did it in assembly with other believers.
- Acts 13: On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey they stopped in Jewish synagogues in Pisidian Antioch on the Sabbath (13-15), where they heard the Scriptures read in a gathering, and where they were invited to speak. So they preached the gospel, and then the people begged them to come back the next Sabbath to preach some more (42-44). The point here is Paul and Barnabas knew where they could get a good hearing of the gospel because people who loved God (though they were misguided) gathered on the Sabbath to worship God.
Conclusion: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But in what way does the Sabbath serve man? It allows man a whole day to spiritually rest in God, thinking about all He has done for us, particularly how He created and redeemed us. If that leads you to focus on do’s and don’ts you have become a Pharisee. If that leads you to worship, you are honoring the Sabbath. No wonder when the first Christians saw the resurrected Lord, saw Him bringing in the New Creation and saw their Redemption secured by His exaltation to the throne, there was no other response but to worship on that new Holy Day, which we call the Lord’s Day.
What biblical evidence do we have that the Sabbath commandment is written on every human heart?
- Genesis 2.1-3: after God created Adam and Eve (on day six), “he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” From the beginning of time, Adam and Eve knew the seventh day of the week was holy. They were there. What does “made it holy” mean except that the first man and woman would have set it apart? Does anyone really think that God set it apart but kept that a secret from Adam and Eve? From the very beginning, human beings have known the seventh day was for rest from regular work. It was not an Old Covenant distinctive. It was a creation distinctive.
- Exodus 16: God commanded the Israelites to gather manna for themselves six days a week, and on the sixth day, to gather twice as much, because the seventh day was a day of rest. Some disobeyed God and went out on the seventh day to gather bread and found none, and the LORD rebuked them: “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath” (28-29). And so the people rested on the seventh day after that. The key here is that this is before the covenant at Mt. Sinai in chapter 19-20, and the giving of the 10 Commandments! The Sabbath is not an Old Covenant ordinance. It is a creation ordinance.
- Exodus 20.8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Fourth Commandment is a call to remember. You cannot remember something you never knew. God calls Israel to remember the God-ordained day of rest; He does not tell them He is starting something new in the Law of Moses. He is codifying a Law on stone tablets that is morally written upon the human heart to begin with.
- Mark 2.23-28: in a passage that many non-Sabbatarians might use to show that we were never meant to obey the Sabbath to the “letter of the Law”, Jesus actually makes abundantly clear that the Sabbath is a law written on every human heart. His point is that we are to do good on the Sabbath, and that He is Lord over the Sabbath; the Sabbath is not authoritative over Him. And in saying this he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, the Sabbath was to be a gift to man; man is not subservient to the Sabbath. But notice the truth that escaped me for so long: Sabbath was made for man. When was the Sabbath made for man? On the seventh day of creation. And every human being ever since was intended to benefit from it.
Of course we have all failed in this. Thank God for the God-man who came into the world to show us exactly how to observe it, and observed it in our place.
But what did faithful observance for ancient Israel look like? And how does that inform how the Christian church should observe it? Stay tuned for the fourth and final post.
What is a Calvinist?
Many Christians would equate Calvinism with Reformed Theology. They are not one and the same. All Reformed Theologians are Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed. If you are a Calvinist, cool. But if you do not hold to some form of Covenant Theology and/or if you are not in a Reformed church, then you are not Reformed. And hey, it’s ok, who cares about labels? Just, if you are going to use labels, use them rightly.
The word “Calvinist” comes from the name of the great Reformer, John Calvin, and Calvinism is a summary of his teachings on the doctrine of salvation. Please remember that the historical term “Calvinism” only has to do with the doctrine of salvation. John Calvin has taught me about as much theology as anyone in the history of the Church, but I disagree with him on a few things. Calvinism does not mean you believe all things John Calvin.
Calvinism was also a consensus of teachings among many pastors in Europe in 1618, in response to a guy named Jacob Arminius, whose teachings started becoming popular. This was about 50 years after John Calvin died, and it is worth noting that Arminius thought Calvin was a fabulous teacher. But the point here is Calvinism has come to us historically as a polemic against Arminianism, which is why the way the teachings are often worded sound strange to a lot of Christians. Here is a brief explanation about the five points of Calvinism:
- Total Depravity- mankind is wholly (totally) unable to make any move toward real righteousness without the grace of God (Genesis 6.5; Psalm 14; Romans 3.9-20).
- Unconditional Election- how then can anyone be saved? As I just said, they need the grace of God. And God has graciously chosen to save many people from before the foundation of the world, not because He foresaw anything good in them (it is unconditional), but wholly by grace alone (Deuteronomy 9.4-5; Romans 9.1-18; Ephesians 1.4)
- Limited Atonement- God then sent His Son to purchase those elect to be His holy bride. The purpose of the atoning death of Christ was to actually purchase their salvation. He paid the penalty for their sins, bought the work of the Spirit for them, bought their new hearts for them, bought their justification, sanctification, and glorification. In other words, this is an actual atonement. Limited Atonement is a little bit of a redundant phrase in that you simply have to understand what “atone” means to understand this work is not on behalf of every single human being, but rather for the incredibly large number of undeserving sinners God chose before the foundation of the world (Jeremiah 31.31-34; Luke 22.20; John 10.11)
- Irresistible Grace- God then sent the Spirit to draw all those Jesus paid for to Himself. He effectually calls them to salvation through the preaching of the gospel. It is grace in that it is undeserved. It is irresistible in that this is a reference to the mysterious work of the Spirit to blow on whomever He wishes, but when He blows, people are awakened to spiritual life (John 3.5-8; John 6.44; Romans 8.30)
- Perseverance of the Saints- All whom the Spirit truly regenerates will grow in sanctification until they become perfectly like Christ on the last day. Anyone who professes faith but falls away– and never returns to Christ– was never born again to begin with (John 6.44; Romans 8.30; 1 John 2.19)
If you want to find out more about these great truths, and about a growing movement of Christians in America who are upholding these truths, come watch the Calvinist documentary with us tomorrow at 5pm. I am a Calvinist, and you should be too!
We recently moved to weekly Communion on Sunday mornings. The two best reasons I have ever heard for not doing it weekly:
- It will become less special
- In order to really guard the Table, we should do it less
Regarding number 1, is there really anything else that we treat like that? Regarding number 2, is there really anything else we treat like that? For both, I think the answer is to just do it well every time. I try to kiss my wife goodbye everyday when I go to work. As long as I really mean it, I think it is a valid kiss. And even sometimes when my mind is not as fully there as it should be, it is still a good thing.
To those I will add one more possible reason for not doing it weekly: in Calvin’s Geneva, the civil government did not allow it. Ok, maybe in that case, that is a good reason to not do it weekly.
Outside of that, there are a lot of reasons to do it every time the church gathers for worship on the Lord’s Day:
- It appears to be the NT pattern (Acts 2.42, Acts 20.7)
- As often as you do it, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11.26). I repeat, as often as you do it, you proclaim the death of Christ!
- It forces Christians to examine themselves every week
- It helps non-Christians in attendance see who the Body of Christ is, and understand they are not a part of it yet
- It is the central benefit to church membership- anyone under the discipline of a church should be barred from the Lord’s Table; taking the Lord’s Supper once a month is like barring everyone three times a month
I could go on and on. It really comes down to what you think “this is my body” and “this is my blood” really means. Unless you say “I think Jesus meant this is not his body and blood,” I think you always give up a good thing if you do not practice it on any given Sunday.
Lord willing, and to the praise of His glorious grace, we will be baptizing two young men in a couple weeks. At our church, we make sure we completely immerse someone in water. Unless someone is completely immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I am inclined to say it might not be Christian baptism. Many of my professors from seminary would say it much stronger than that. And I understand. Either way, everybody should think the mode, or the method or the form, of baptism is important.
Why do Baptists care about the mode of baptism so much?
- Westminster Confession of Faith says “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”–mind you, it was Presbyterians who wrote this, who largely disagree with Baptists on the mode of baptism. But we all believe Christ appointed something “until the end of the world,” and that something means a lot of good things for the believer. We should want to do exactly what Jesus commanded when it comes to the sacraments.
- Related to this, the word “baptize” in the Bible clearly means either to immerse or dip or wash. Paedobaptists believe “wash” can include sprinkling. Baptists are famous for over-emphasizing “immerse” as the only meaning of that word sometimes. I have been guilty of that. But I do assert that “baptize” means “immerse.” It can mean other things, but it does also mean “immerse.” And if burial with Christ is really meant to be communicated in baptism (Rom 6.4), then immersion is a fine form, is it not? Some argue that Jesus was buried above ground, therefore, you do not have to “bury” someone under water. Even if Jesus’ tomb was above ground, I am fairly confident you could not see any part of his body sticking out of the tomb. In other words, he was buried! Because of all this, why not err on the side of caution when it comes to one of Jesus’ sacraments, and immerse?
- When Jesus says “be baptized” regarding baptism, it is the equivalent of him saying “take and eat” regarding the Eucharist. Some have argued that for Baptists to care about mode so much means they should never have grape juice for the Lord’s Supper! Nice try. We can argue about what “fruit of the vine” means later, but that is an argument about outward elements, not mode. We all agree water is the outward element in baptism (please tell me we all agree on that!). But the issue in this post is mode. The equivalent of “be baptized” in baptism is “take and eat” in the Lord’s Supper. Do you think Jesus cares whether you actually put elements in your mouth and swallow in Communion? Then you should equally care whether you are immersed or washed or sprinkled.
To not care about the mode of baptism is like saying “I’m going for a run” and then walking, or “I’m going to kiss my wife” and then shake her hand. To not care about the mode of baptism is to not care about what baptism is. And if you do not care about what it is, it is probably because you do not care enough about what it means.
Thankfully, there are probably millions of believers who do not care much about anything I’m talking about here, yet because of God’s grace, will receive all the benefits of the Son, and baptism, through their faith in Him.