Sunday, October 24, 2010

More thoughts on the Sabbath

When I was reading up on Christians and the Sabbath for my post last week on that topic, I came across some posts that led to others that led to others and one led me to Do Reformed Christians Confess the Sabbath? by R. Scott Clark (he of "churches that don't baptize infants aren't 'real' churches" fame). It was a pretty typical snarky diatribe against non-Reformed people, against credobaptists and the obligatory shot at people who use the term Reformed to describe themselves but don't meet Dr. Clark's approval. Nestled in the midst of an otherwise very predictable post was this interesting statement (emphasis added):

It is interesting that the same lot of people who are going to the mat for 6-24 creation (I’m thinking of Al Mohler here) seem to miss the primary message of Gen 1: God sanctified (i.e., made holy) one day out of seven as a matter of creational order. The creation narrative culminates in the Sabbath, which was a testimony to Adam of his eschatological heritage should he fulfill the probation. The Mosaic law itself, in Exod 20:8, testifies to the creational origin of the Sabbath principle. God worked six days and “rested” the Sabbath. On the basis and example we too are to work and rest.

Huh. The primary message of Genesis 1 is the institution of the Sabbath. Really? Even though we don't see anything about the Sabbath until the Exodus from Egypt. I think Dr. Clark is missing the difference here between culminates and concludes. The Genesis 1 account concludes with God resting on the seventh day but it culminates with the creation of man. See when I read Genesis 1, the primary message I see is not the seventh day. It is God creating the heavens and the earth, God creating ex nihilo all that we see around us and on the sixth day God's crowning achievement, creating man in His own image. The day of rest is what He did after He carried out His primary purpose of creation and creation was not merely a vehicle to get Him to that seventh day. Genesis 1 is not a story primarily about the Sabbath. It is a story of creation by the Creator, a grand framework to understand who God is and who man is in relation to Him. It serves to introduce us to God and His majesty and to explain the great question that has troubled men for thousands of years: where do we come from?

In this view of Genesis 1, it is almost as if all of the work of creation, including creating man in God's image, only serves the purpose of giving God something to do for six days until He institutes the Sabbath which becomes Sunday morning church services. I don't think you will find a similar viewpoint regarding the Sabbath as the primary message of Genesis 1 among very many contemporary Reformed brothers.

The more I read and ponder what the most militant "Reformed" brothers teach, the less I see of the New Testament in it. I think Dr. Clark is right about this when he says:

It’s interesting to see where the Young, Restless, and Reformed fellows depart from the Reformed confession. What exactly in the Reformed confession animates them? So far as I can tell the only aspect of the Reformed confession that they really like is the doctrine of divine sovereignty (predestination and providence). Everything else seems to be negotiable.

I would agree with that. The younger generation is not content to merely ask "What is Reformed" as if that is the end all and be all of Christian maturity but instead seeks to ask "What is Biblical". Even the question that forms the title of his post: Do Reformed Christians Confess the Sabbath? is asking the wrong question and makes it seem as if "Reformed Christians" are a separate and intellectually superior class of Christians, not like those ignert evangelicals. For me, I embrace the Reformed confessions where they reflect the Bible, i.e. in soteriology, the grand and glorious doctrines of God's sovereign grace in salvation. As for the rest of it, I have no qualms about chucking it to the side, not because I am rebellious or think I am smarter than those Reformed brothers who have come before me. It is because in far too many places I know what is considered "Reformed", meaning the culture and traditions that surround confessionally Reformed Christian groups, and I don't find it to be faithful to Scripture. What exactly am I referring to?

A priesthood of specially set apart holy men. Holy buildings where God's people worship. Special days that are set apart for worship. A tithe system to support the priests and the holy buildings.

That is not "Reformed".

That is simply Old Testament worship dressed up in New Testament language.

I want no part of it. The church, established by Jesus Christ and described in the New Testament, was not a Sabbath keeping/observing church. If the very beginning of the Bible culminates in and is primarily about the Sabbath and if "Sabbath confessing" is so vital, why are men like Dr. Clark left arguing for it from the Old Testament, from highly shaky inferences and from silence? Why doesn't the Bible speak of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath and why is Sabbath confessing not mentioned as part of the functioning of the church?

I will leave the memorizing of "Reformed" confessions to the scholars and traditionalists. There is plenty of Kingdom work to be done that we are called to and none of it requires us to memorize the Three Forms of Unity or to argue about who is or is not "Truly Reformed. Arguing about interpreting traditions is precisely the sort of foolish, vain and prideful wasting of time that the Pharisees engaged in and we saw how that was received by Jesus.

So do Christians, Reformed and not, "confess the Sabbath"? Of course!

So then, 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. (Heb 4:9-10)

He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is our Sabbath rest, not just on Sunday but every day. Praise God for that!


Misplaced Honor said...

A timely post for me on a day when sickness and the stresses of life make me desire the quiet of my home over the gathering of believers that will meet this morning. I'm glad we can rest in Christ wherever we are and assemble with believers on any given day of the week. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

Steve Scott said...

And how the Sabbath changed from the seventh day to the first day is, I guess, another divine mystery. Even though churches had started meeting on the first day of the week, the apostles still visited the synagogues on "the Sabbbath." And just what does Col. 2:16 mean anyway?

Aussie John said...


What happened to Sola Scriptura. It seems that the Confession takes precedence over Scripture!