Do You Teach The Sabbath?

Pulpit Magazine (John MacArthur's people) posted an article this morning arguing that Christians are not bound to keep a Sabbath. They wrote:

We believe the Old Testament regulations governing Sabbath observances are ceremonial, not moral, aspects of the law. As such, they are no longer in force, but have passed away along with the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, and all other aspects of Moses’ law that prefigured Christ.
A few months back Timmy Brister posted several articles on this topic. He presented the historic Baptist position that believers are still bound by the fourth commandment. In his corner were Joel Beeke, Jonathan Edwards and J. L. Dagg. He quoted Dagg:
As the whole decalogue binds us, so does this commandment. No man has a right to separate it from the rest, and claim exemption from its obligation. Christians, therefore, must observe the sabbath; and, as a day which God has hallowed, it is specially appropriate for the public worship of God (ibid.).
So what do you practice? What do you teach you church? Is the Sabbath a moral or ceremonial law?

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- posted by Tony Kummer


R. Mansfield said...

The article states, "Sunday has not replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. Rather the Lord’s Day is a time when believers gather to commemorate His resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week."

I would essentially be in agreement with that sentiment. It's interesting that in the earliest chapters of Acts, Jesus' followers continued to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath, often as an evangelistic exercise. But gradually as persecution came from the Jews, sabbath observance and synagogue attendance dropped off. One can split hairs over a word like replace but it's undeniable that as Christians stopped observing the last day of the week, they began setting aside the first day of the week.

Do Christians observe the Sabbath? Technically, no, we observe the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus rose from the dead. The article correctly quotes Col 2:16 as foundational to our non-obligation in regard to the Sabbath:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (TNIV)

But at the same time, the NT also says "let us not neglect our meeting together" (Heb 10:25 NLT). 1 Cor 16:2 speaks of setting aside funds on the first day of the week. From the first century forward the tradition has been in place to still set aside (as in the OT tradition of the Sabbath) a day for God, a day in which we rest from our normal weekly toil. But this is without the OT trappings of the Sabbath and without legalism.

If anything threatens our modern observance of the Lord's Day, it's our busy schedules: work weeks that no longer allow for Sundays off, soccer games that now take place on Sunday, etc. It's very easy to point to Col 2:16 and say, "Well as long as you set some day aside exclusively for God..." but I wonder how many would set aside a day like Tuesday or Friday or whenever with the same significance and with the same sense of community with other believers?

Tony Kummer said...

Thanks for your comments.

I was glad to see you interact with the scriptures on this question. I think most people I know would go with MacArthur rather than Dagg.

Are you saying the commandment to rest is a ceremonial requirement of the law rather than an expression of God's holiness in the life of his people?

G. F. McDowell said...

It's clear that the earliest practice of the church was to gather on the first day after their labors. Dr. Mohler agrees this was the case in his chapel message on the sabbath commandment, but then he winds up arguing in favor of a sabbatarian-esque view. No matter how many times I've listened to the chapel message, I still haven't been able to follow his argument on that.
If Christ came to fulfill the law, and in Christ we rest from our works, doesn't that make every day the sabbath if WE are in Christ?

Danny Slavich said...

The argument for a "Christian Sabbath" seems to go along the lines of appealing to Creation, and thus the unchanging character of God: God at Creation rested, therefore, the Sabbath as a certain day is a moral category. This view claims to not limit the Sabbath to the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law. But instead it seems functionally to narrow it by confining it primarily to a certain DAY.

Hebrews 3-4 indicates that the Sabbath as a specific day both at creation (Heb 4:4) and in the Law prefigured the eschatological rest found in Christ, which was also typified by Joshua entering the promised land. This points toward a holistic Sabbath rest from works, found in Christ through belief. I think if we could ask the writer to the Hebrews if he believed in a "Christian Sabbath", he would say, "Yes, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." (Yes, using this quote this way is a little tongue in cheek ;)...

All of this seems to be in the same vein as the movement of "worship" from the OT ceremonies to the "whole consecrated NT life" a la Romans 12.

As far as how the "Lord's Day" differs from the Sabbath, I'm not sure, because it seems that most strict "Lord's Day" are often functionally Sabbatarians...

Tony Kummer said...

Jonathan Edwards wrote on Timmy's blog:

Let us be thankful for the institution of the Christian sabbath. It is a thing wherein God hath shown his mercy to us, and his care for our souls. He shows, that he, by his infinite wisdom, is contriving for our good, as Christ teaches us, that the sabbath was made for man. . . . It was made for the profit and comfort of our souls.

The sabbath is a day of rest: God hath appointed that we should, every seventh day, rest from all our worldly labours. . . . We are strictly to abstain from being outwardly engaged in any worldly thing, either worldly business or recreations. We are to rest in remembrance of God’s rest from the work of creation, and of Christ’s rest from the work of redemption.

R. Mansfield said...

Tony asked, "Are you saying the commandment to rest is a ceremonial requirement of the law rather than an expression of God's holiness in the life of his people?"

No, I would not say that. Although there were ceremonial requirements associated with the sabbath commandment of Ex 20, the principle and reasoning for/behind the sabbath transcends the Mosaic law and reaches back to creation itself:

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex 20:11 TNIV)

The principle of rest and offering/dedicating one day out of seven to God remains for the post-resurrection believer. But Paul's instruction in a passage such as Col 2:16 separates it from any particular day of the week (although I feel for practical reasons Sunday is still the best day for this observance).

Tony Kummer said...

Thanks again for your thoughts. This is where the issue confuses me. Does the Sabbath - being super fulfilled in Christ - then become only a principle? It seems to me that we have to go all the way to a "Christian Sabbath" or all the way to "resting from dead works is sabbath keeping."

Working all this out for you people - and children is the hard part. What does God really want us to do on Saturday & Sunday? Should we transform the ten commandments into ten principles?

It humbles me to see John Edwards and John MacArthur disagree. But I want to be consistent with all the texts you've quoted.

R. Mansfield said...

Just for sake of discussion...

Perhaps you're asking the wrong question, when you ask, Is it A or Is it B?

Perhaps we're given more freedom than that. Perhaps it's not a black or white issue (which would make it easier for us), but maybe it's one of those "disputable matters" of Rom 14:1.

Considering the fact that Paul has said not to let anyone judge us in regard to Sabbth days (Col 2:16), I would feel this is the case. At the same time, there are perameters such as Heb 10:25 which tell us that we can't just go off and do our own thing.

Can we as believers live outside of the strict regulations of the law where it's all decided for us? Obviously this was difficult during 2nd Temple Judaism, so they even numbered their steps and made distinction between what functions were allowable and what was forbidden. And Jesus chastised them for this (Matt 12).

To me, there's a burden in keeping the Sabbath (although that may not have been its intent), but there's a freedom in observing the Lord's Day. I don't need to have the specifics of it laid out for me. Some people find freedom in that, some people have trouble accepting that kind of responsibility. But ultimately who do we want to be? Who do we want to become?