Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sabbath, Fourth Commandment and Lord's Day for Christians today?

I have recently been in some discussions about the essence of the fourth commandment (cf Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). I thought I would compile some of the notes here. They are very abbreviated, with little justification, but here they are anyway, as something of a summary of my present thought...
  • There is an abiding application of the 4th commandment, since the creation until now. Sunday as the Lord’s Day has become the holy/special day for Christians, rather than the Saturday Sabbath, as recognised in the New Testament and early church history. This is the day that Christians regularly assembled together for worship, encouragement and edification. There seems to still be a set day, the Lord’s Day. I understant that the Lord’s Day has always been considered as the first day of the week, both in Scripture and in early church history. (I think some of the shift has to do with a practical distinction between Mosaic Jewish administration and new Christian administration, and part because the new age has already begun on the first day of the week, when Jesus rose from the dead.)
  • The essence of our Christian observance of the Lord's Day is of keeping the the day holy and distinct from our other days. That day is specially the Lord’s, where the other six are in a sense more left to us and our particular needs in this age. The Sabbath day was never just about the past, but also about the future hope of entering God’s rest (of which the promised land was a typological fulfilment, clearly not being the real thing, but meant to make the people think in those terms). I understand that the Sabbath was primarily about hope (and not primarily about judgement or whatever else). And that hope is now kept holy by us on the Lord’s Day instead. The Lord’s Day is then a special day to look forward to the perfect rest to come (as the Gen 2:1-4 seventh day was the holy perfection of the creation account), and enjoy the anticipation of that. So part of the essence of the day is still a resting from this-worldly employment (to provide for our this-worldly needs), and depend upon and enjoy the Lord, living by his word alone (so to speak). A day when we shouldn’t be trying to make money, or force others to make money for us (like our slaves, servants, oxen, donkeys etc, to use Ex 20/Deut 5 terminology). It is a day of joy in the Lord. A day of delight. A day of holy desire and hope.
  • There are some aspects of OT Jewish Sabbath requirement that are not required in the same way for Christian believers on the Lord’s Day. There is a greater sense of freedom, joy and closeness with God for the Christian community, than there is in the OT Jewish economy. You see that for example in the difference between restricted access to God’s throne in the tabernacle/temple system, and the free access and boldness we are given as Christians. I think part of that has to do with the “typological” distinctiveness of Israel amongst the other nations, and how that needed to be displayed outwardly and legally etc, since as a whole community they did not have the Spirit dwelling in their hearts individually. And there is this kind of shift when it comes to how we think of observing the Lord's Day as the Christian holy day.
  • The difference between Ex 20 and Deut 5 also shows us that the essence of the 10 commandments is not tied to the precise and entire wording in a over-legal way.
  • Hebrews 3-4 is not about a “Lutheran grace not works” type of rest. I think it is about a future rest, and actually still points to a continuing Sabbath observance as we look forward to entering the rest of God which Jesus has already entered (for himself as the new Adam, and also on our behalf).
  • The Col 2, Gal 4 and Rom 14 passages are more about Jewish-type holy days, not about the Christian Lord’s Day (since the context of all these passages has to do with Jewish-influenced wrong thinking coming into the church).
  • I have heard many people say that Jesus broke the Sabbath. I don't think Jesus broke any OT requirement of the Sabbath, since he had to fulfil all righteousness and perfectly keep the law. What Jesus broke was only the interpretation of the law by some contemporary Jews.
  • When it comes to questions of practical situations, of what we should and shouldn't do, one principle is, if I don’t think I should do it, I shouldn't require others to do it for me, or encourage others to do what I wouldn’t do. (cf Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.) However, on the other hand there are issues of necessity, and mercy, and the dangers of Pharisaical extremes, similar to the “Corban” situation, where one thing is overemphasised at the expense of something else, and it becomes emphasis on a man-made rule, rather than issue of real sin. Or where detailed rules are contrived, which go beyond God’s requirements. And this is where things become complicated in the real situations that we face.
  • Yes, technically, we could say the “Lord’s Day” is not to be called “the Sabbath”, however I don’t think it is wrong, and often is helpful, to use the shorthand of referring to it as the “Christian Sabbath”. Particularly because we don’t have the same kind of confusions with the prevalence of Jewish influence today (at least not to the same degree and in the same form, eg food laws and circumcision are not as big an issue for us today as it was in the NT)