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Monday, May 9, 2011

Remember the Lord's Day - Is there a ‘Christian sabbath’? (Part 2)

The following is from "Remember the Lord's Day" by Dr. Peter Masters. You can purchase the book here



One of the effects of the Jewish sabbath was its witness to the pagan world. We may imagine how the nations surrounding Israel reacted on seeing them observe the sabbath. In an age when most people were farmers, they knew the difficulties of organising routines so that all work could be stopped for one day every week. They would no doubt have said to themselves, ‘How do those Jews manage?’ Those pagan nations saw an entire culture organised around one day in seven, to worship the one true God, and this was a powerful testimony.

It is the same for us today in this present age when society at large has no sabbath. ‘Who are these Christians,’ people may wonder, ‘who abstain from work and entertainments on Sunday so that they may worship? We see the churches open, and these people commemorating their Creator and worshipping together.’ The impact of such a testimony on families, colleagues and society at large cannot be overstated. The Lord's Day is partly designed by God for this very purpose, that the reality of our faith may be evident to all.

The Lord's Day is also deeply influential in the believer’s personal sanctification, a fact which should not be overlooked. One day every week we must carefully order our priorities to honour the Lord, and this trains us to do the same in every area of life. A church that treats the Lord's Day lightly (and this is typical of some of the so-called ‘mega churches’ of the USA and Britain, including some claiming to be ‘reformed’), not minding that worshippers go from the morning service to the restaurant, and then proceed to fun and leisure, playing golf outdoors, pool indoors and indulging in numerous other recreations, is a church that denies its members an immensely profound ordinance that shapes and moulds their Christian character. If we submit our personal plans to God for his day, we will subsequently order our lives and priorities for Christ more diligently and conscientiously on all other days.

We should note the words of Exodus 16.4, spoken by God to Moses in connection with manna (even before the giving of the commandments). God said that the sabbath arrangement for the collection of manna was given – ‘that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.’ The Lord's Day is a test of obedience, challenging us every week of our lives to willingly and gladly obey the Lord's will. Disregard it, and we collapse into a self-centred, self-serving, self-indulgent Christian lifestyle, as many have already done. The Lord's Day is both a day of spiritual opportunity, and a spiritual safeguard for all of life.


Before we look at the flexibility of the Lord's Day by comparison with the Jewish sabbath, we must reply to teachers who turn away from the Reformers, the Puritans, historic confessions and the overwhelming majority of Christians in past generations, to claim that the fourth commandment is not in force today, and was never repeated in the New Testament.

(1) First, we observe that the fourth commandment is certainly not abrogated (cancelled) anywhere in the New Testament. The three texts often claimed as a cancellation are nothing of the kind. In vital passages (such asJohn 14.15, 21; 15.10; 1 John 5.2-3) that speak of obedience to the commandments, their entire, undiminished, unamended authority is always taken for granted. The fourth is never retracted. The claims that the fourth commandment is purely ceremonial is refuted by simply noting that it was announced in the Garden of Eden, long before ceremonies began.

It is also worth noting that the downgrading of the fourth commandment to non-perpetual status began in medieval Catholic doctrine, and is expressed in the Council of Trent 1545-1563.

(2) Secondly, we are also told in the letter of James that the ten commandments are an indivisible unit. You cannot take them apart at whim, and dispose of one. InJames 2.8-12 the commandments are referred to as ‘the law’, two of them being specifically quoted. James then declares: ‘For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.’ It is clear that the ten commandments are an unassailable unit, an integrated expression of God’s holy standards, from which no man should presume to sever and extract a single component.

(3) Thirdly, the Lord explicitly said that, ‘the sabbath was made for man’ (Mark 2.27) and was not therefore solely for Israel. Those who say the fourth commandment is not mentioned in the New Testament fail to consider the universal scale and scope of Christ’s words, when they relegate the sabbath to the scrapheap of Jewish ceremonial.

(4) Fourthly, and perhaps this is the overtowering point, the Saviour announced that ‘the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath’ (Mark 2.28). If the eternal Son of God claimed it as his own, and pronounced his lordship over it, how can anyone possibly say this principle of one-day-in-seven for God is finished, and not in the New Testament? Can we imagine that the Lord would make this magnificent announcement over something he was about to relegate to the level of discarded ceremonies? Those who do not see a sabbath day principle in the New Testament follow a strange method of interpretation in ignoring such a colossal, primary and pivotal statement by the Lord of glory.

Christ’s lordship over the sabbath means nothing less than the following:–

– He owns the sabbath.

– He is to be the focus of its worship.

– He is its rightful interpreter (to change the day of the week, and shape its characteristics).

– He is its custodian and perpetuator.

(5) Fifthly, we must notice how the apostle John in Revelation 1.10 took up the statement of Christ that he is Lord of the sabbath, when he wrote the famous words, ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day . . . ’

The first Christians indisputably had a special day, as we learn from other texts also, the day of Christ’s resurrection, the first day of the week, which was their day to implement the moral and spiritual principles of the creation ordinance and the fourth commandment.

(6) Sixthly, we note the New Testament texts which specifically identify the first day of the week as the day for Christian worship:–

(a) Acts 20.7, referring to the church at Troas.

(b) 1 Corinthians 16.1-2, which mentions how Corinth and all the churches of Galatia had precisely the same practice. We know from Acts that the churches of Galatia included such as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, and there were no doubt others. Furthermore, if the Galatian churches worshipped on Sunday, then surely all the others founded by Paul did the same. It is simply not correct to say that a specific day for worship and proclamation – continuing the principle of the fourth commandment – is not present in the New Testament.

(7) A seventh wrong teaching asserting the non-permanent nature of the fourth commandment is the claim that it is not written in everyone’s conscience (like murder) and cannot therefore be a moral matter. We reply to this erroneous approach in appendix 3, ‘Is it in the conscience?’

(8) An eighth wrong teaching heard today is the idea that ‘Christian liberty’ releases us from adherence to the rule of the fourth commandment, and to insist on it is therefore legalism. But the doctrine of Christian liberty does not include liberty to ignore God’s will and commandments. Believers are not free to say, ‘I claim my Christian liberty to excuse myself from witness, or prayer.’ People often misunderstand what Christian liberty is, and so we provide a definition as a footnote, but it is not freedom from obedience to the Word.

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