Wednesday, April 24, 2019

No, You Cannot Choose "Your Sabbath"

The idea that the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath is rather unpopular today. Our culture prizes individual freedom and economic efficiency, both of which conflict with the idea of a corporate observance of a day of rest and worship. As our society has become more and more secular, its schedule and rhythm of life no longer makes space for the Sabbath. While society used to give support to the Lord's Day, now Christians must swim against the stream to carve out this time. Secular society has its own rival "church calendar" that seeks to shape our character by scheduling our time.

Many Christians have wavered in the face of this pressure. One approach that some have taken is that any day of the week can be your Sabbath. The idea is that in the new covenant the seventh day is no longer the Sabbath and there is not a specific day substituted in its place. Those who hold this position would agree that a Sabbath principle rooted in creation continues to apply (i.e. there should be one day in seven as a day of rest), but that it is a matter of individual choice as to what day of the week that is. This allows them to observe their Sabbath whenever it works best in their schedule, minimizing conflicts with the schedule of the broader society.

I believe that a specific day has been substituted for the seventh day. As my church's shorter catechism says, "From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 59). I don't intend to make the case for this position in this post, but I would appeal to texts like Deuteronomy 5:15, Luke 24, John 20:19-23, 26-29, Acts 2:1ff, 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33; 16:2, and Revelation 1:10. What I do want to point out is that even if God did not specify which day of the week was to be observed as the Christian Sabbath, the choice would not be left to individual believers. 

The Sabbath is not designed as something to be observed by individuals on their own. It is designed to be observed by a community. This requires that a day be agreed upon by that community rather than leaving it up to individuals to choose their Sabbath.

When the fourth commandment was given, not only was it commanded that "you" shall not do any work, but also "your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you" (Deut. 5:14). Exodus 23:12 also emphasizes corporate responsibility and communal benefits, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed." This is not merely a command for individuals, but a command for a community to rest and give rest and to share in this rest together. It gives leaders a responsibility to see that those under their charge observe this day, knowing that our schedules are rarely individual matters.

The Sabbath rest was not merely for the cessation of work - although physical rest was certainly part of it. It was also a day of worship. As Leviticus 23:3 proclaimed, "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places." Work was set aside for the sake of worship with God's people. Central to the idea of the Sabbath rest was worship - not only private and family worship, but worship in the assembly of the saints. Furthermore, we find this pattern of a weekly holy convocation continued in the New Testament (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 33; 16:2, Heb. 10:25). This important aspect of the Sabbath is not possible if the Sabbath is left to individuals. Even if one believes there is no divinely appointed day of the week in the New Testament, there is a practical necessity that the church chooses a weekly day to observe this holy rest and common worship. And throughout the history of the New Testament church, this day has been the first day of the week, the Lord's Day.

Like I said, I believe the the first day of the week has been divinely appointed as the Lord's Day, which is the day the Sabbath principle is observed in the new covenant. But even if one is not convinced of this, I believe one should observe the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath because this is the publicly recognized day the church observes its weekly rest and worship. Giving individuals the option to observe any day of the week as "their Sabbath" actually transforms the Sabbath - making it a day off for individuals, rather than a community holiday observed with a holy convocation. In a day in which community is weak and culture is generally secularized, Christians need a communal holy day on a regular basis. This is God's appointed means to build up His saints so that they can maintain their distinct identity in a world that seeks to conform them to its ways.

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Speaking of community, my church is hosting a men's conference next week with "building community" as its theme. For more information, go to this link

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