Friday, 18 June 2010

Do Christians "keep the Sabbath"?

I just penned this short (750 words) article for use in the magazine I help edit. There is, of course, much more that could be said (especially if you wanted to go into the eschatological dimensions of the theme in Scripture, and its relationship to Christ's work at Calvary), but there was a word limit!

Do Christians “Keep the Sabbath”?

Many Christians discuss this question. Is there a special day of rest for Christians? If so, which day is it? Is it the seventh day of the week, or the first day? Or are all special days Jewish, and now abolished?

A weekly day of rest

We believe that God does command that one day every week belongs to him, and on that day we must rest from our ordinary work. Instead, we should give the day to worshipping him, seeking him and any other “good works” that God gives to us.

We believe this because a weekly day of rest is part of creation. It is not simply Jewish. It is part of the order that God made at the very beginning, as a pattern for all time. We read in Genesis 2:1-3 that after God had made the world in six days, he rested on the seventh day. He then blessed the seventh day, and “sanctified” it. This word means that he made it holy – separate, set apart for himself. God himself does not follow times and seasons. Therefore, this holiness is something for mankind to observe. We are to follow his pattern which he gave us. In the garden of Eden, God gave man work to do, a wife to love, and a Sabbath to keep. We still live in the same creation (even though it is fallen), and we also are commanded to work, honour marriage, and keep God's day.

This is confirmed by the ten commandments. The ten commandments are laws for all people, for all time. They are about basic, moral matters – like worshipping the true God, stealing and telling the truth. They are not Jewish either. Included in those commandments is the fourth (Exodus 20:8-11), which tells us directly that what God did in the creation week was a pattern for all of our weeks: we work six days on our own labours (for God's glory, of course), and then rest one day (also for God's glory).

The Lord's Day

It is true that the New Testament tells us that there are no “Sabbaths” and tells Christians not to observe “days, months, seasons and years” (Colossians 2:16, Galatians 4:10, Romans 14:5-6). However, we must be careful when we read these words. The Bible does not contradict itself. Paul cannot be telling us that the ten commandments were abolished, or that we no longer need to honour the patterns given to us at creation. In the context of those verses, Paul is speaking about the Jewish, Saturday (seventh day) Sabbath, and the way it was observed since the time of Moses. The Sabbath was kept in a special way in Israel. As well as remembering creation, it also became one of the Jewish festivals. It is Jewish festivals that are no longer observed by Christians.

The New Testament instead shows us that it is the first day of the week that is God's special day under the New Covenant. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day (Matthew 28:1). Our Saviour appeared to his disciples on that day, and then again one week later on the same day (John 20:19-26). He gave the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which being the 50th day after firstfruits (Leviticus 23:15) was again the first day of the week. We are told that Christians met together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and Paul told them to put aside their offering for God on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). No honour is given in the New Testament to the seventh day, or any other day. The Bible makes it clear that it is the first day – resurrection day – that Christians are now to keep. Because of his resurrection (and to avoid confusion with the Jewish “Sabbath”), we call this day “the Lord's Day” (Revelation 1:10). We do not live under the Old Covenant, and we are not commanded to keep the day with all the outward rigour of the law of Moses. Nobody today is to be stoned for collecting sticks (Numbers 15:32-36); we are given freedom in Christ. But we each must use that liberty for Christ, not to cover up our sin (Galatians 5:13). We must each give an answer to the Lord for how we used the day he has given to us, and whether we used it for ourselves or for his kingdom and glory.

2 comments:

huttonline said...

> We must each give an answer to the Lord for how we used the day he has given to us, and whether we used it for ourselves or for his kingdom and glory.

Surely that's true for every day of the week, not just the first?
There's an interesting article on the Sabbath in the current issue of the briefing.

David Anderson said...

> Surely that's true for every day of the week, not just the first?

Hence the final sentence of paragraph 4 (just before the heading "The Lord's Day") !

> There's an interesting article on the Sabbath in the current issue of the briefing.

My local bookshop pretty much only stocks health/wealth/prosperity heresy, so I doubt I'll get to see this! But I think I know what those guys think, and John Owen considered and evaluated all their arguments about 350 years ago in the 200 page essay in volume 2 (or is it 1?) of his Hebrews commentary. I've written a response to Don Carson's book which I think is the same thing as the Briefing guys say, which I can e-mail to you (or anyone else) if you're interested. I'll probably stick it on the web one day when I get organised...