Sabbath Application, part 1

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.


Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 5

Common objections:

  • 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.

Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 4

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:

  1. 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”?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 3

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.

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.


Let’s get past the technicalities

Imagine two church members have a conflict (imagine that!), and they both sin against each other, and never reconcile over the conflict. And now imagine that you get wind of this from one of the parties. I would exhort you with Ephesians 4.1-3: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Let that be your guide, among many other big NT ideas, to help you wade through this situation to bring about a stronger unity in the Body of Christ.

No need to worry about:

  • Is this gossip? Gossip is 99% of the time in the heart of the speaker, that is between them and God.
  • Should I be hearing this? It doesn’t matter; you just heard it.
  • Should I tell them they need to go back to that person one one one in order to follow Matthew 18? Once there is a two-way conflict, it is no longer a true Matthew 18 situation. Matthew 18 is a situation that envisions one person has sinned against another, not a situation in which both have sinned.

Let’s just get past all the technicalities and help each other for Heaven’s sake! Let big, clear principles of love, faith, and unity of the Spirit be your guide and simply help people work through these things. Do not leave it up to somebody else. In God’s providence, if you have heard about the situation, it is YOUR responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of our high calling.

And then if you need help thinking through it still, ask one of your elders for wisdom. And no, you’re not gossiping if you do that!