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Is Sabbath Observance Legitimate for Christians?

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Question #1:  I read your response on the Sabbath under “True Orthodoxy and False Creeds”, but I am still at a loss. The Sabbath was instituted at creation as a memorial to the week long creation of the world and I can find nowhere in the Bible where the Sabbath had anything to do with Christ's resurrection. Is there really a doctrine for that or is this something man has invented? Didn't Jesus say something about "in vain they teach the traditions of men"? That seems to ring in my head.

Response #1:  I quite agree that the Sabbath is a memorial to the peace restored by God to the universe after the re-creation of earth and re-lighting of the heavens (see the link: “The Genesis Gap”). It looks forward to the end of this short time period known as human history which terminates with a 1,000 year Sabbath, the Millennium. As it occurs in the Law of Moses, God's Sabbath rest is a one day a week observance that teaches us to put everything into His hands and to rely on Him to work everything out rather than assuming we are in any way in control. The ritual observance of this one day, Saturday, once a week, however, is part of the Mosaic Law. It was never observed before the Law of Moses and is an integral part of that Law (to which we as Christians are no longer subject: Rom.3:27-28; 6:14-15; 8:2-4; 10:4-5; 13:8-10; 1Cor.9:20-21; Gal.2:19-21; 3:10-13; 5:14; 5:18; cf. Jas.2:8-12).

On the question of "Sabbath change", I certainly do not think that the Sabbath has ever been changed. As I said in the link you quote, “True Orthodoxy and False Creeds”, there are indications from scripture that the early Church had left off Sabbath observance and had begun to meet and worship on Sunday. That is most definitely not to say that "Sunday is the new Sabbath" - far from it. As Christians, believers in Him who replaced the Old Testament shadows of the Law with the reality of His Person and His work, we are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom.6:14-15; 10:4-5). The observance of specific days was important under the Mosaic Law, but the Law was shadow (Col.2:17; Heb.8:5; 10:1), while we have the reality in our real life, flesh and blood, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. It was important for the early Church not to meet on Saturday, for this might be interpreted incorrectly by many as a continuation of the practices of the Law. From a practical point of view, it was not feasible to meet every day but some regularity of worship was essential. Sunday was unquestionably picked as an appropriate day of worship because of the fact that it was the first day of the week, the day on which our Lord rose. There is nothing in the New Testament which stipulates Sunday worship and that is understandable. We are not to continue in the observance of feasts, sacrifices and rituals (the "elementary things" which merely hint at Christ: Gal.4:3; 4:9; Col.2:8; 2:20), but are to acknowledge, worship, and serve Him directly (cf. Rom.12:1 on the "spiritual performance" of "priestly sacrifices" by Christians).

So don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink, or in the category of festival observances, be it of new moons or Sabbaths. All these things are shadows of what was to come, but the reality has to do with Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17

I can quite understand your frustration when considered from the point of view of the way the church-visible has installed Sunday as if it were a second Sabbath. There are no more priests, but many church leaders are essentially operating as if they were priests (and some are even called that); there is no more temple, but many church edifices are constructed and venerated as if they were (and some are even called that). So it should come as no surprise that many groups, liberated from the necessity of a one day ritual so as to be freed up into the reality of a permanent walk with God have turned back to the old pattern of the Sabbath observance as well. The main danger here is to assume that if one has "done one's do" on Sunday (or Saturday), that this is more than enough until next week. As a result, there are many individuals and denominations that do hold Sunday "holy" to one degree or another, although it is clear from scripture that with the fulfillment of the Law no day is any more or less important than any other.

You [there] - who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own Lord he stands or falls - and he will stand, for the Lord is able to stand him up. One judges a day as more important than a[nother] day, while another judges every day [the same]. Let each one be fully confident in his own mind.
Romans 14:4-5

This world is a battlefield and all our days in it are evil (Eph.5:16), but we can redeem them all (Col.4:5), whatever day of the week they may be, by resting in the Lord in a permanent and continuous spiritual "Sabbath rest", rather than a 24 hour physical one (Heb.4:1).

So there does remain a "Sabbath day's rest" for the people of God. For he who has entered into [God's] rest has himself ceased from his works just as God did from His own. Let us therefore be eager to enter into that [continual and spiritual ] rest, lest anyone fall [from grace] following the same pattern of disobedience [as the Exodus generation did].
Hebrews 4:9-11

Jesus showed us the pattern clearly enough by working for the kingdom of heaven diligently and resolutely on the Sabbath just as consistently as on all the other days of the week, and it was for that reason as much as for any other that the religious leaders of His day wanted to kill Him (cf. Matt.12:1-14; Jn.5:18; 9:16). As with all the other aspects of the Law from which we have been freed, we are not to use our new-found freedom for self-indulgence, but for the daily prosecution of the battle in which we find ourselves, striving forward spiritually on a personal level, and helping others to do likewise through the ministries entrusted to us (Gal.5:13; 1Pet.2:16; cf. Rom.6:1ff.), carrying our cross daily in emulation of our Lord's daily Sabbath walk.

To sum up, then, I stand by everything I said in the previous e-mail, and it would seem to me that from a spiritual point of view there is really little difference between enshrining Sunday as "the special day" or holding that it should be Saturday. Either way, one has invested emotion and meaning in a type of ritual that has been abrogated until Christ's return when there will indeed once again be ritual observances to memorialize Him and His victory at the cross. But until that great day, we are in the middle of a fight whose stakes couldn't be higher, whose risks couldn't be greater, and whose rewards couldn't be more glorious. It cannot be confined to a single day whose observance is symbolic. For the fight of faith we now fight is real, an every day, every moment struggle, and the rest we are to have in the Lord as we fight it is also very real and must also be continuous (Jn.14:27; Phil.4:7).

See also the following links:

Sabbath Questions

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism I

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism II

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism III

Should Christians honor Sunday as the new Sabbath?

Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

In our Lord who has left us His peace which passes all understanding, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Many good points you made there! But do you think that when you receive your final reward and go to Heaven that you will be worshiping on Sundays or any other day you choose? I think God still rests on Saturday like he did ever since creation. Do you agree?

And your statement that Saturday was for the Jews is probably unsupportable, as there were no Jews around when Adam and Eve lived. I am inclined to believe that they kept Saturdays holy. Do you have reasons to reject that reasoning?

Cain and Able both brought offerings to God, but God was very picky and rejected one offering. How do you know that HE accepts Sunday worship? After all, it is similar to Saturday worship...

I think the quote about not letting others judge which Sabbaths you keep is a translational problem. The Jews had many Sabbaths that were not on Saturday. Another word could have been used to hold down the confusion. Maybe a better word would have been "celebration" or even "feast days."

After Christ died and arose, the Jews were no longer bound to the Mosaic law, but I believe that God's law stood fast and still stands fast: i.e., we would not consider taking His name in vain, bowing down to idols, killing, lying, adultering, etc. But the Mosaic law is the one that almost nobody follows, save for the Jews.

As an aside, I think the reason Christian nations have the most crime and the most prisons is precisely because people have been told that the ten commandments were done away with. Very sad state of affairs. Is that because they want so badly to ignore the fourth commandment?

Don't you think that a day shift like this would have been addressed frontally by the Bible, instead of people conjecturing what they think this verse or that verse might have meant? Also, I am not only talking about a day substitution, but a reason substitution – Like how the Sabbath went from a memorial to creation to a memorial to Christ's resurrection. It just is not in the good book. Tradition must be a very strong thing. Perhaps related to peer pressure!

Response #2:

I guess I should start by saying that I really appreciate your attitude. In my experience, all too many people who have a disagreement with me over a particular point of biblical doctrine end up breaking fellowship when I don't change my position. In a ministry such as Ichthys, where the entire spectrum of what the Bible has to say is the focus and treated - I hope it is true - in great and specific detail, it is inevitable that from time to time I will write something that rubs even the most dedicated adherents of this ministry the wrong way. Believe me when I say that I sometimes have this experience myself when I run into something that causes me to change or refine a position. Scripture is the truth, and it eventually grinds down the rough edges and wrong opinions of us all, if we let it. As I say, I admire your attitude because it exemplifies what I think every Christian's attitude should be towards every point of truth, namely, considering the truth the most important thing, and sticking with what we believe from scripture to be the truth unless and until we are convinced from scripture that we are wrong.

There have been a lot of great believers in the Church age who have held to the importance of setting aside a particular day for honoring God, some of whom have preferred Saturday, some Sunday. On the other hand, there have been a lot of great believers in the Church age who have held that we are to treat every day the same. That is not to say that it makes no difference. Every point of truth makes a difference. It is only to point out while some principles of truth are important enough to fight and die for (e.g., the humanity and deity of our Lord Jesus), there are other differences of opinion on doctrinal issues that do not rise to the level of requiring separation, and should in fact be approached with the principle of tolerance (cf. Rom.14:1-23; 1Cor.8:1-13; 9:19-23; 10:14-23).

Depending upon how one approaches it, I see Sabbath worship as falling into this category (regardless of whether one is arguing for a Sabbath as remaining on Saturday or having changed to Sunday, or, as in my case, of seeing every day as equally holy before God). As long as I am not saying that those who honor the Sabbath are apostates and you are not saying that those who do not honor it are in danger of losing their salvation, I think we can safely tolerate each other's point of view without compromising our own faith in what we believe. That said, I offer the following response to your reply, keeping in mind that such discussions can be profitable when kept within appropriate bounds (Prov.27:17).

1. God's rest in eternity to come: First, we should not think of God as ever really "getting tired". Nor is He subject to time in any way. He exists outside of time. Time was invented for us, and we have a hard time imagining existence without sequential, day-by-day time (but that situation is temporary). Scripture is filled with what are often called "anthropathisms" (a behavioral equivalent to anthropomorphism) like this, that is, representations of God as acting or reacting as if He had human emotions and characteristics (of course, since the incarnation, our Lord Jesus does: cf. Heb.2:18; 4:15; 5:7-8). Indeed, He Himself represents Himself that way to us for our benefit. He “rested” on the seventh day, moreover, not out of fatigue but because all the work of restoring the universe from the destruction occasioned by Satan's rebellion had been accomplished (see the link: “The Genesis Gap”). And that is one of the most important parts of the Sabbath message, to wit, some day all the work of restoring the human-angelic creation will be done too, just as it was with the purely material part of creation. Some day, the devil's rebellion will be over. Some day, human history will be completed. And even in our own individual cases, some day, our work on this earth will be done and we too can finally enter into our rest because everything we have been called to do (and, in our cases, "been willing to do") will have been completed.

But please understand, the cycle of days is something which only exists in this period of time known as human history. It apparently did not exist before the devil's rebellion and the blacking out of the universe, just as it will not exist in eternity to come (cf. Rev.21:25; 22:5). After this life, we enter into a blessed and eternal rest which in practice is permanent just as the moment-by-moment Sabbath rest of Hebrews 4:9 is meant to be (though in this flesh we often fail to exploit this principle as effectively as we should). But as far as God is concerned, as Jesus said to those who found fault with Him healing on the Sabbath, "My Father is working until now, and I myself am working too" (Jn.5:17; cf. Jn.5:18; 9:16). God does not need rest and doesn't rest in the sense we mean it. He will "stop" His spiritual work when He is done (i.e., in the new heavens and new earth), just as He did before with His material work (i.e., in the reconstruction of the present heavens and earth). We will not have specific days in the eternal state and the New Jerusalem. There will only be one blessed un-ending day of eternity for us to enjoy in rest and peace forever.

2. Adam and Eve: We take the "seven day week" for granted. However, it did not exist before Genesis 1:2 - 2:1, and will not exist in the future when this brief seven thousand plus period of human history comes to an end. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived as close to an eternal life as one could live outside of an eternal body. There is every indication that for them there was no apparent significance to the sequence of days or years. There was nothing to memorialize, and no knowledge of good and evil to be understood through rituals and ceremonies. They lived every day as the day before and in no anticipation that things would be any different tomorrow. Their sequencing of time seems to have been "day/night - day/night", with no appreciation of weeks, or months, or years etc., simply because before the fall such information and perception was unnecessary. Secondly, Moses wrote Genesis, and the account of the seven days along with the blessing of the Sabbath is therefore something we can say was only revealed to believers at the point when he wrote the first book of the Bible under inspiration from God. And while it is certainly possible that there was a knowledge of the seven day week and the seventh day Sabbath prior to Moses, there is no indication of this from scripture and certainly no directive written in the Bible for believers before Moses to "keep it holy" (not even for the seed of Abraham). The biblical expression of the injunction to keep it came in with the Law (and, I would argue, went out with the Law).

There is historical development in the way God reveals truth. The reality of the Person of Christ, human and divine, and the specifics of His work on the cross, for example, were not fully comprehended before the fact, and this was deliberate (e.g., 1Pet.1:10-12; and see the link: “The Mystery”). This is true of crime and punishment too (cf. Gen.9:4-6), and we have to at least allow for the possibility, in the absence of specific biblical mandates, that it may have been true for ceremony as well (cf. the fact that the seasons do not ante-date the flood: Gen.8:22).

3. The word "Sabbath": It is certainly true that there were other Sabbaths besides the weekly Saturday Sabbath. However, a) when Paul says in Rom.14:5 "One judges a day as more important than a[nother] day, while another judges every day [the same]. Let each one be fully confident in his own mind", it is certain that he is not excluding the Sabbath from consideration; and b) in the passage to which you refer, Col.2:16-17, "So don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink, or in the category of festival observances, be it of new moons or Sabbaths", Paul's breaking down of the observances into non-Saturday Sabbaths (for the new moon might fall on any day and would be a Sabbath), and general Sabbaths, makes it hard to argue conclusively that the Saturday Sabbath is definitely not being considered here (since element #1 of the dual category is specifically composed of non-Saturday Sabbaths, suggesting that the reason for splitting these up is that element #2 is composed of Saturday Sabbaths primarily if not exclusively - i.e., that is the whole point behind breaking things down into two categories of Sabbaths).

4. The ten commandments: Jesus defended the "breaking of the Sabbath" in order to do God's work (Matt.12:1-4; cf. Jn.5:18; Jn.9:16), and we know that He was sinless (e.g., Heb.4:15). As Lord of the Sabbath, He had a right to work for the Father at all times (and a responsibility to do so). As part of His Body, we are to walk in His footsteps after His pattern now that we have received the gift of the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5; cf. 1Cor.2:14-15). Sanctification requires us to turn away from all sin (Heb.12:14). So all of the commandments are valid for us. The fourth has not been abrogated so much as it has now received a new, expanded, spiritual meaning (Heb.4:1-11). As our Lord has shown us by His example, we are to be on a "permanent" Sabbath even as we strive to make the most of every day in the Lord's service (Eph.5:16; Col.4:5), ever resting in the Lord, ever relying on the power of His Spirit rather than our own flesh.

5. Day shifting: Once again, others may say that Sunday is a "special day" with a special "spiritual significance", but I am not saying that. I fully agree with you that scripture would have spelled this out if that had been the case. Indeed, it cannot both be true that we are on a permanent Sabbath and that Sunday is the "new Sabbath". There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that if Paul, say for the sake of argument, had learned from Titus that the churches on Crete were meeting on Tuesdays because that was the normal market day on the island and so most convenient for assembly, that he would have been at all upset that they had not chosen Sunday (or Saturday, for that matter). The whole point is that now every day is a day to serve Jesus Christ.

The old things have been done away with, and new things have come.

In the love our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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