Category Archives: Worship

Sabbath Application part 3

Should Christians ever work on Sundays or not? The best answer is “they should do all they can to avoid it.” You can quibble and nitpick all you want with that answer, but I will go to the grave with that answer. I used to say that before I was officially Sabbatarian. I am pretty sure most New Covenant Theologians and Dispensationalists would say that too, anyone who values the Lord’s Day.

One caution: I believe the Pharisees had a tendency to focus on “thou shalt nots” as opposed to “thou shalls.” So thinking too long upon this question can turn you into a Pharisee.

However, God gave 8 of the 10 Commandments in the form of “thou shalt nots” so as to help us, make it very easy to fulfill whatever He positively calls us to. For instance, one way to make sure you worship God and God alone is to make sure you never bow down to any other god! And one way to make sure you value the sanctity of human life is to never take a life!

By God’s grace, He gave two of the 10 Commandments in positive form: “Remember the Sabbath” and “honor your father and your mother.” With the Sabbath commandment, He then gives us a lot of help to fulfill that. One of the helps is “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…” Therefore the 1689 Confession states that we should refrain from “worldly employments” on the Sabbath.

The complex factor in the New Covenant is that we are not a Theocratic society, as Israel was. In other words there is a God-ordained separation between church and state. Israel was both Church and State, in so many words. And so back then, it was necessary that “Church-State” workers worked on the Sabbath (priests and Levites). That is why it is absolutely necessary for Church “workers” to work on the Sabbath today. It is also why I think any government workers that are required by their employers to work on Sundays is still a good thing ordained by God (don’t forget, though, that statement I will go to the grave with).

Lots more we could say there, but my contention is the differences between the Old Covenant and New Covenant make for slight differences in application today. We will tackle more Sabbath-job questions in the next post.

 

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Sabbath Application, part 2

I hope we can all agree the Sabbath Commandment is about rest. So what are we to rest from? The simple answer is we are to rest from work: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath…” Clearly, that Sabbath day is a day where you rest from the work you had been doing the other six days.

A couple thoughts of clarification come to mind:

  • This may be obvious, but we are not called to rest from being awake. In other words, the Sabbath command is not a call to sleep. No matter how busy you get, 8 hours of sleep a night is PLENTY sleep. That has little or nothing to do with Sabbath observance (not saying at all you should not sleep on Sunday afternoons; I do it all the time; that is simply not what the Sabbath rest is calling you to)
  • This is more than a call to rest from your 40/hr a week job. In other words, Christians should attempt to not work their “job” on Sundays, but it is resting from more than that. In response to my brother’s comment on the last post, we are not called to positively work six days at a secular job.

So what are we truly “resting” from? What is the “work” that the Lord is calling us to rest from? I think this is where we have to broaden our categories for work. I think of “be fruitful and multiply” and “have dominion” as the work God had given Adam and Eve. I also think of “do all things for the glory of God” as the continual work He has given us.

That applies to all things we do throughout the week: jobs, chores, and recreation. It’s all the “regular” stuff we do for the glory of God, and I would say it’s all the stuff that are not 24-7 realities (like being a parent or husband). Our “work” days should be full of doing and serving and accomplishing and playing (even hobbies are a kind of practicing dominion over the earth).

So the 1689 Confession says Christians should rest on the Sabbath “from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations.” When it says “worldly” it does not mean “sinful”. It just means your “secular” job. Well, that raises a lot of questions about whether a Christian should ever work their secular job on Sunday. And what about “recreations”? Can we watch football on Sunday or not!? (that’s really what this whole blog series is about, isn’t it? Not really, but it is the kind of question that is impossible to avoid). Please give me a few seven-day cycles to ponder…

Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 2

The Sabbath Commandment is binding on the Christian. I used to object, “but we are not under the Law of Moses! We are under the Law of Christ!”

A few responses:

  • check out my brother’s blog. He basically has come to the same conclusion as me. And my conversation with him as he was working on his seminary paper was the final straw for me that brought me into the Sabbatarian position. You can read his reflections on his paper here
  • Whenever we say “we are not under the Law” we rightly utilize biblical language (Romans 6.15) but do not think deeply enough about what we mean by “under.” Amen, we are not “under” the Law of Moses, but in what way? To simply say “we are not under the Law” therefore, we are not obligated to obey the Sabbath is the same exact line of thinking that liberals use to say “we are not under the Law of Moses, therefore we do not need to obey the homosexuality laws.” And it actually should be the same thing we say about “do not murder” and “do not steal.” We are not “under” the Law as a way to get right with God, or as a way to remain in His favor, or in His promised Land, etc. That is not why we choose not to murder. We’re Christians! We are not obeying the Law out of covenantal obligation, but rather out of Spirit-wrought, faith-filled, Christ-centered love of God.
    • When Paul says “we are not under the Law” he means “we are not under the Old Covenant”
    • But Paul would also say “we are under moral obligation before holy God.”
  • To say “we are under the Law of Christ” is also good, biblical language (Gal 6.2). But what exactly is the “Law of Christ”? Did the Eternal Son not have ownership over the Law of Moses? Was the Law for the Old Covenant people not in some sense Messiah’s Law? If God’s Law given to God’s Covenant people in the Torah does not help God’s Covenant people today know what we are called to do as His Covenant people, what in the world can we trust?
    • Many today would say the Law of Christ is all and only what is revealed in the New Covenant; many would say we obey 9 of the 10 Commandments because those are the ones repeated in the New Testament
      • Does that hermeneutic stand up to careful scrutiny? Would the Sabbath Commandment apply to Christians if it had simply been repeated in the New (and of course we Sabbatarians would say it is repeated in places like Matthew 23.23)?
      • Would a Christian in AD 35 not know that “Do not murder” applied to them until they read it in the Bible or heard it from an Apostle?
  • This whole issue is about trying to figure out how a human being is supposed to know what God requires of them. The bible says even the most biblically illiterate unbeliever still knows of a Moral Law that is given by their Creator (Romans 1.32 and Romans 2.15)

So what is the Biblical evidence that the Sabbath Commandment is written on the heart of every human being? And how did ancient Israel understand that specific Commandment should shape their lives? That is the next two posts

Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 1

A couple years ago I wrote a series of posts called “It is a sin to not gather on the Lord’s Day.” I have not changed my view on that. But I have changed how I get there biblically. In that series I started off by saying I was not a Sabbatarian. Then about a year ago, I became 50/50 on the issue. Now, though I may always have the attitude of “I could be wrong here,” I am now a Sabbatarian.

I think this is a good thing for me to write about because most of my close theological friends are not Sabbatarians. I graduated from Southern Seminary in 2008, and most (if not all) of my professors are not Sabbatarians– guys like Bruce Ware, Tom Schreiner, Steve Wellum, and Don Whitney. Heck, I have heard Al Mohler is not a Sabbatarian.

Virtual mentors of mine like Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman are not Sabbatarians. My elders at my old church are pretty much all not Sabbatarians as far as I know, including Ryan Fullerton, my favorite preacher in the world. Am I crazy?

My aim in this series is to challenge all of my closest friends to re-think this issue and to challenge current Sabbatarians to think more deeply about application. One of my biggest obstacles to becoming Sabbatarian was that I looked more Sabbatarian in practice than a lot of Sabbatarians I knew personally.

So let me begin with a definition by grabbing from what I said as a non-Sabbatarian a couple years ago:

First, I am not a Sabbatarian, meaning I do not believe the Sabbath Law from the Old Covenant carries over into the New Covenant. If I were, then I would simply say the Fourth Commandment is where God commands us to gather on one day out of the week for worship, and that we can infer from the early church and from the resurrection that the Sabbath has moved from Saturday to Sunday. But as I said, I am not a Sabbatarian.”

Hopefully in obedience to God, today I am a Sabbatarian, meaning I do believe the Sabbath Law from the Old Covenant carries over into the New Covenant. Therefore, I would say the Fourth Commandment is where God commands us to gather on one day out of the week for worship, and we can infer from the early church and from the resurrection that the Sabbath has moved from Saturday to Sunday.

I used to object, “but we are not under the Law of Moses! We are under the Law of Christ!” Obviously, that held a lot of weight for me for a long time. So let’s think about that a little next post.

 

What exactly is the Lord’s Day gathering?

What it is not:

  • an evangelistic rally of some sort- any church who makes Sunday morning more geared for the non-Christian than it is for the Christian is at best a parachurch ministry
  • the church- we often say “let’s go to church” on Sunday morning. We kind of know what we mean. Or do we? Any church who thinks of “church” as mainly Sunday morning is confusing a little bit what the church does versus who the church is

What it is:

  • the main gathering of the church (Acts 20.7)
  • a mixed gathering in most places I know of, where it is mostly the church, often mixed with visiting Christians looking for a church, and almost always mixed with some unbelievers who either think they are Christians or are looking into Christianity
  • a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)
  • the main time of the week where the flock (Christians) are to be fed, pray together, fellowship, and break bread together (Acts 2.42)
  • a great time for unbelievers to be saved (1 Corinthians 14.25); the church should evangelize 7 days a week, and they should not depend on the preacher to evangelize their friends, and Sundays are mainly for Christians to get fed. BUT, it is still a perfect time for the unbeliever to hear a skillful delivery of the gospel, and to see what the gospel does to the Church.
  • It is a time of worship! It is for God. It is to please Him. It is to approach and engage the living God in exactly the way He desires to be worshiped. Every decision about Sunday morning that does not begin with God in mind is a decision starting off on the wrong foot.

What we try to do on Sunday morning is make it so for God, that it will automatically be foreign to the unbeliever. If an unbeliever ever feels right at home in our worship gathering, something is seriously missing. One of the things we have been trying to communicate recently to guests is that if they are not a Christian: 1) We are so glad they came! 2) Until they become a Christian, they can only observe worship; they cannot truly participate.

May the Lord increase the number of His worshipers on the Lord’s Day!

Church is not fun

I am not quoting anyone. I am making a statement about reality. I am also making a statement about the way it is supposed to be: church is not meant to be fun.

I often encourage children to stay for the whole service, even while I preach. One simple reason I encourage that is because it seems to communicate something very contradictory when I say, “the preaching of God’s Word is the most important time of the week for you,” in one breath, and “ok, kids, go away while I preach” in the next.

Probably the biggest reason in anybody’s mind as to why they might be hesitant to force their child to sit through a sermon is because they think their child will not enjoy it. Just a few thoughts in response to that:

  • Teach them what to enjoy. We enjoy whatever we like. Teach your kids to “like” God’s Word
  • “Force” your kids to sit through sermons in the same way you “force” them to eat vegetables or go to the doctor for shots or do homework; those are not necessary evils!!! Those are necessary goods!
  • Ten years of seeing adults revere God’s Word will do more to teach kids about God’s Word than ten years of children curriculum. I do not remember hardly anything from “children’s church” growing up. But I can remember my dad’s desire for me to be in the Word. I remember the seriousness of worship services (I also remember being in churches where skits were more attractive than the preaching, and what harm that did to my soul).
  • Gospel preaching is what saves people. Period. Why would you not want them to be under gospel preaching?
  • Do not sell your kids short by thinking church needs to be fun for them. Fun is not the only good in life. I do not want anyone to be drawn to our church by “fun.” Teach them that church is not fun. But it is good.

The glory of being un-seeker-sensitive

Of course we know why churches do it. They want to reach more people. We all want to reach more people. But there are several reasons why our worship services should not be tailored to “reach” anybody:

  • We should tailor it to God, and God alone.
  • Unbelievers do not want to worship God. If people who are dead in their trespasses and sins are comfortable attending your worship service, I wonder if worship is really happening (I am speaking of those who are obviously not interested in repentance).
  • By tailoring your service to any Christian based on mere preferences, you automatically exclude someone else’s preferences
  • The automatic response to the last point is usually: “Well, you’re gonna be tailoring it to someone’s preferences no matter what.” To which I say: “No. Just tailor it to God’s preferences. Period. And always make that clear.”
  • It should be the gospel that draws people in. Not music. Not culture. Not arts. Not communication style. Gospel.
  • Should a worship service be where we expect to meet most non-Christians? You should invite non-Christians to your worship service. You should expect God to save non-Christians through the Lord’s Day preaching. But it is only by God’s mercy that you meet a non-Christian for the first time at one of your worship services. And to tailor the worship of God to someone who may know nothing about our God just sounds kind of silly when you say it out loud.
  • Related to that, I now have this fear that those who have “missional” worship gatherings are the least missional of all. If you make your worship service EXACTLY how you think God prescribes worship to be (which would be extremely foreign to the world), it solves two issues: one, we worship God on God’s terms. Two, it forces us to be missional, to actually go out and meet non-Christians and try and introduce them to Jesus before they ever step into our worship service.

We should expect the only people to show up on Sundays are believers and true seekers, those who are beginning to be drawn by the Holy Spirit. And we should expect that for both groups the gospel is what interests them, not contemporary music, not a large number of people their age, not their ethnic culture, not the cultural relevance. Gospel.