The Sabbath: Mystery, Ignored, or Valid?

           As we begin the new week, today is Monday, I’m excited for it to end—why, because next week we will have our first worship service in Missoula, MT.  Therefore, in preparation for worship, I want to reflect on Sunday or as we like to call it, “the Lord’s Day.”  Should Christians worship on Sunday or is any day of the week sufficient?  This attention-grabbing question concerns the fourth commandment, a command that has aroused more controversy than its nine partners.  Many Christians deny its validity, others simply ignore it, yet for many it remains a mystery.  Is the fourth a legitimate commandment that Christians must keep it?  If so, how are they to do so?  In the Reformed church, we rightly believe that Christians should keep the Sabbath.  We do so by not hindering or omitting its Sabbath requirements.  Heidelberg Catechism question 103 asks, “What does God require in the fourth commandment?”

In the first place, that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church, to learn the Word of God, to use the holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms.  In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.

This answer reveals the general work of sanctification the Lord’s Day creates and inspires by its duties.

Before we jump into the Sabbath’s requirements, it is important to know first the basis for the Sabbath. Why does the fourth commandment remain a duty for the justified?  You do not have to look far in your Bible to see where the Sabbath comes from; the first two chapters of Genesis ground the Sabbath in creation.  Genesis 2 explains how God finished his creative work on the seventh day, rested and, “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (v. 3).  This does not exactly “indicate that God commanded Sabbath observance already in Paradise,” however, the broader context (1:26–28) does prove this.

In the end of Genesis 1, God created man after his own image.  This image determines who and what mankind is.  As image bearers we must follow the image of the one we bear. Therefore, God commanded man to subdue and have dominion over creation (v. 28) to reflect God, who did the same.  This image bearer is to work as God.  God worked.  Now the question must be answered, “How did God work?”  God is the Alpha and Omega.  The Alpha’s fiat work, “let there be,” gives way to the Omega’s “it is finished” and “behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31a; Ex. 39:43).  God the “cosmic builder” finished his work then rested.  God worked toward a goal—he worked that he might rest.  If man is to work as God, he must work toward that same end—rest.

This work/rest pattern highlights a works principle known in Reformed theology as the covenant of works.[1]  God demonstrated this covenant by finishing his work and entering his everlasting rest (2:3).  As Creator, he then waited to pronounce the verdict, “very good” faithful servant if his image bearer obeyed, or the conviction, “depart from me,” if his image bearer failed.  His creation was to enter eschatological consummation only after Adam completed his work.  Man’s goal was the tree of life held out for him but then taken away after his failure (2:9; 3:24), and so creation groans (Rom. 8:22) waiting for the second Adam to complete the work and rest (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:12ff).

Hopefully Genesis 1–2 makes it clear that the Sabbath is not peculiar to Israel for it began in the Garden.[2]  Creation grounds the fourth not Sinai, which only republished this universal moral will of God for Israel.  The Sabbath is proto-logical, looking back to creation and eschatological, looking forward to re-creation and the rest Christ secured.  As proto-logical, it sets the pattern of a six-day workweek followed by a day of rest.  Exodus 20 validates this creational order by referencing creation (20:11) not redemption (from Egypt).  It appeals to the image of God, which stimulates his people to do specifically as he did on the seventh day.  He worked then rested.  He hallowed the Sabbath and Christians are to do the same.  God sanctified the day and his people merely live according to this objective reality.  Man is a sabbatical creature made in the image of his sabbatical Creator.  Grounded in creation, the Sabbath is God’s moral will.[3]  Man must sanctify it in every dispensation.  Heidelberg 103 therefore speaks of a continuing Sabbath duty.

So, work hard this week unto the Lord, and prepare yourself to rest this coming Lord’s Day.  If you do not have a home church, please attend our worship service this Lord’s Day at 1:00pm August 28.  We would love to have you honor the fourth commandment with us as we come before our God to be cleansed of all our sins that we might turn next week and love our neighbor as ourselves.


[1]The Belgic Confession calls it a “Commandment of life,” (Schaff, 393).

[2]Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” further corroborates that this is a creational ordinance.  Jesus appeals to creation to ground the Sabbath and says it was made for man (anthropos) not Israel.  This is not a Mosaic ordinance but a creational command.

[3]Scripture and nature contain the substance of the moral law.  New Testament summaries reveal the will of God in the Decalogue (Matt. 19:18–19; Rom. 13:8–10; James 2:8–11).  The NT’s use of the Decalogue provides framework for moral analysis and exhortation (Matt. 15:19; 1 Tim. 1:8–11).  Jesus cites the sixth and seventh as a Kingdom ethic (Matt. 5:21; 27).  Paul calls Christians to obey the fifth (Eph. 6:1–4) even universalizes the land promise as entitlement to heaven.  The NT also places unbelievers under the moral law comprehended in the Decalogue (Rom. 1:18–3:20).

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Missoula Church Plant’s Direction: “To Seek and Save the Lost”

When it comes to our relationship with God, who has established this relationship?  We acknowledge that God alone established it.  He then is the only true seeker.  He is the one who sought us out—we love, because he first loved us.  Have you heard of the term, “Seeker sensitive church?”  These churches often cast themselves as the place where unbelievers can feel at home in order to seek after God.  It is a place where you will not feel awkward or condemned.  The church is a safe place to build relationships, to find healing, in order to be a productive member in society.  The church then focuses on felt needs and the fixing of the norms of society to make better husbands, fathers, employers, etc.  The theology of these churches is nothing more than 19th C.E. Protestant Liberalism, even though today they usually cast themselves as conservative.

Our church follows after 16th and 17th C.E. Reformed Protestantism and we asks the hard questions, “Can the unbelieving sinner stand before a Holy God and not feel awkward or condemned?”  Notice, I said unbelieving sinner, as good Protestants we acknowledge that we too are sinners, yet are at the same time just before a Holy God through faith in Christ.  A true seeker church, a Biblical church should recognize that the only seeker of sinners is God.  He seeks us out.  What does he find, but sinners who should feel the burden of his wrath.  We are sinners and he is a Holy God.  As sinners without Christ, we should stand before God in fear.

It is our hope that sinners, whom we welcome with open arms, will come into our church and will feel awkward and condemned, not that we personally make it awkward, but that our gospel liturgy should.  We promise to offer something foreign to the sinner–—the gospel.  Our liturgy is foreign to the unbeliever because it focuses on the gospel.  We do not use the 19th C.E. Protestant Liberal mantra, “Be the Gospel,” because you cannot, you failed at being the gospel at your birth—you were not born incarnate of the virgin Mary. To that end, this church plant promises that we will not give you what you want, but what you need.  We promise to not offer you good advice, but only the good news for that is what we all need weekly.  Does your church preach the gospel every week?  Is Christ proclaimed from all of the Scripture?  If not, then this church is for you, because that is what we all need.  Good advice does nothing for you spiritually, the good news of Christ does.  One last claim, this church will not talk politics nor do we care of your political leanings, matter of fact, we do not even want to know.  We hold to the doctrine of the Spirituality of the church, which  means we focus on one thing—Jesus Christ, who said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

So, we welcome you tonight to our meeting. The Belgrade Elders are hosting the meeting to discuss the direction of the Missoula Reformed Bible Study.  If you are interested in attending, we warmly welcome you.  The meeting starts at 7:00pm.  For direction to the meeting, send an email to www.missoulaurc@gmail.com.

The Fickle and Circumstantial: Emotions and Modern Praise and Worship

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers star on Hollywoo...

            I recently showed my wife a video clip of Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers playing Learning to Fly.  When it comes to pop culture, my wife is clueless.  She thought it was a typical American Evangelical worship service.  Why did she think so?  Because it looked like one, the people were having the same experience with this performance as many have in the worship performance of their church.  I bring this up because many against the priority of public worship say that more joy is experienced and affections rise higher in private devotion than in public worship, which is often dull.  Many prefer a praise and worship performance to a gospel logic liturgy, which we have in Reformed churches.  Many claim that Reformed worship is especially dull since we only do those things God’s word implicitly or explicitly command.  Revivalism has encouraged this dichotomy and addiction.  The contrast between outward forms such as Reformed polity, rites, liturgy, and confessions, labeled as mere human invention, to the immediate work of the Spirit in individuals’ hearts that you find in Revivalism.

            For the Reformed, there is no contrast.  God uses externals to convey spiritual grace—all spiritual things come by mediation (i.e. Word and Sacrament).  Without externals you are left with only experience as your mediator and we know what the Bible says about experience, it is deceitful warns Jeremiah when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9).  The Bible also cautions that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor. 11:14).  If he can create an experience, he can manipulate emotions.  This is a powerful weapon against a church ruled by personal enjoyment.  God’s Word is the only sufficient guide for His church (1 Tim. 3:16).  Private experience is not a sufficient rule to guide the church, because it is fickle and circumstantial.  I would also argue that praise and worship, as it is a genre of pop is not highbrow or lowbrow, but a steady diet of nobrow created by a music industry concerned about one thing—the all mighty dollar.  Songs that have no lasting value, I consider nobrow music.  Where will Briton Spear’s music be in 50 years?  The same place as much modern praise music.  There will always be top charts for the ever-increasing nobrow.  Psalms are everlasting, just read Psalm 90, the oldest of the Psalms, written by Moses.  We sing it in our church and there is nothing fickle or circumstantial in God’s Word.

Want a church that looks to Scripture alone to norm everything found inside the church, rather than Revivalism and the emotions.  I encourage you to attend an upcoming Divine Service in Missoula, as we will begin the Divine service soon.  I will post more when I know more on the time and place.  The day will always be the Lord’s Day and only the Lord’s Day, because Scripture implicitly recognizes this day alone.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

1563's edition.

Image via Wikipedia

A. That I am not my own but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior 
Jesus Christ. 

Over at Ligonier Dr. Lyle D. Bierma, a leading scholar on the Heidelberg Catechism, had this to say about our beloved Catechism,

These are the opening lines of the most famous question and answer of probably the most famous catechism of the sixteenth century: the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. Within a few months of its appearance, Heinrich Bullinger, leader of the Reformed church in Zurich, was hailing it as “the best catechism ever published.” It was soon translated from German into Latin, Dutch, English, French, Greek, and Hungarian, and today it can be found in every European language and dozens of African and Asian languages as well. Many scholars regard it as the most irenic and catholic expression of the Christian faith to come out of the Protestant Reformation. It is certainly among the most beloved…click here to continue.

The Heidelberg Catechism: The Great Truths of the Gospel

Heidelberg

Holy Ghost Church in Heidelberg

While reading Robert Godfrey’s Reformation Sketches: Insights Into Luther, Calvin, and the Confession I ran accross this quote by Philip Schaff on the Heidelberg Catechism

It combines Clavin’s strength and depth without his severity, Melanchthon’s cordiality and warmth without his indecision, Zwingli’s simplicity and clearness without his cool sobriety and aversion to the mystics.

Godfrey goes onto to say,

The strengths of the catechism remain needed by the church today more than ever. In an age that is often opposed to theology, the Heidelberg Catechism is a clear, warm, attractive presentation of the great truths of the Reformation, which are the great truths of the gospel.

The strength of the Heidelberg is sorely needed today in Missoula. I pray that one day it will be proclaimed every Lord’s Day and that it will be heard coming from the mouths of children as they confess the rich history that is Protestant Christianity at its finest.

Worship and Authenticity: My Church circa 1561 (Part 8)

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...

Is this a real castle?

            What kind of authenticity do you want?  Do you want to go on an safari, well come to Disney World, for it is a small world after all.  Companies have been selling experience for a while now in America.  What kind of consumer are you?  Don’t worry the companies will find out and they will sell you on it.  The same sadly enough has happened in the church.  What are you looking to get in church?  A cowboy, well come to our Cowboy worship, a hipster, welcome to the coffee shop church, conservative, hey we didn’t vote for Obama, oh your liberal, come over we have hope. The list goes on and on. Continue reading

Fifth Bible Study Save the Date: April 18 at 6:00pm

We will be having our fifth study next Monday.  My wife will be in attendance and looks forward to meeting and seeing everyone. As the semester draws near, we are getting excited about the future and moving to Missoula, although the winter is going to take some time getting use to it.  We have been spoiled in So Cal for the last 5 years.

We are ready to see the church plant in Missoula, to see the gospel form a communion whose soul will be the preaching of the Word.  The physical body made up of fellowship.  A body, who will be spiritually refreshed and renewed each week on the sacraments, whose breath will be the prayers of the saints.  A church that will sing back to God his Word in glad tidings.  A community of grace guarded by church discipline.  Finally, a city on a hill, whose witness will spread to every tongue tribe and nation all to the glory of God the Father, in Christ Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit as our Triune God reconciles his people and sends them out into the world with his blessing.  Amen!

Our fifth meeting will be held at Sean Kelly’s, The Stone of Accord, located at 4951 N. Reserve St., a block south from I-90 Reserve Street Exit.

The Stone offers great dinner and has the perfect size conference room (down the hall on the right).  So, come hungry for God’s Word, great food, and fellowship.  I hope to see you there and invite friends, all are welcome, whether Reformed, on the journey, or interested in hearing about a simple Gospel centered church.