Sunday Ticket and Christ’s Church

Does Sabbath rest include ceasing from various leisurely activities?  Our confessions do not prohibit modest leisure or recreation.  Modest leisure may be appropriate as long as it does not remove or hinder fellowship, worship, and avoids worldly commerce.  Christians should remain separate from worldly pursuits—remember the Lord sanctified the day.[1]  The more commerce done on the Lord’s Day, the more Christians have to work on Sunday.  The Sabbath consists in performing holy works.  In order to do or receive them, we must avoid things that hinder or omit worship.  In this hyper-stimulated culture, we face many obstacles to sanctifying the Sabbath.  Sunday is the second busiest shopping day in America—ask anyone in the restaurant business and he will tell you that Christians pack the house on Sunday.[2]  One cannot do his religious duty at the mall or in front of a big screen, much less, dare I say, at a NFL game.  Will the NFL game conflict with your religions duty, acts of necessity, and mercy?  That is for you to decide, but if the church officers have called two worship services on Sunday, I don’t know how you will get around your commitment to Christ and his Church if the Dallas Cowboys are playing next year in January?  Better to be more committed to Christ’s church than to America’s Team.

If you need a place to worship this Lord’s Day, our service begins at 10:30am and I have NFL rewind so you can watch the game with me on Monday.

[1] Think of the day like your tithe, all your money belongs to the Lord, but a certain amount is specially given to the church for the Lord.  Every day belongs to the Lord and you serve him daily, however, Sunday is a special day because the Lord set it apart for a special purpose.

[2]Most restaurants classify them as the most difficult patrons and poorest tippers.  The worst of the bunch slip tacky tracks with less than 15% in place of a good tip.  Non-Christians with tenure, therefore, often refuse to work on Sunday resulting in Christians to fill the gap, see Clark, Recovering, 324.


Janus and the Everlasting Sabbath

Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions in the ancient Roman pantheon.  Most often, he is depicted as having two faces on his head, facing opposite directions: one face looks into the future the other into the past.  So, what do Janus and the Sabbath have to do with one another?  Well, nothing really, but then again the Sabbath does function as a Janus, looking to the past and the creation in the Garden of Eden and to the future and the new creation.

For instance, the future grounded the Fourth Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12–15.  The Sabbath in Deuteronomy looks to the future as it appeals to redemption (from Egypt).  It is important to understand that Deuteronomy’s context presumes sin, bondage, and lack of true rest as Israel remembers their slavery.  While they were not free from sin and bondage, they looked to a future deliverer to come. Deuteronomy points forward to the resurrection and ultimate rest in Christ (Acts 1:6; 3:17–26; Heb. 4:1–13).  The Sabbath then functions as a sign of the resurrected Messiah.  It was a sign of one who would fulfill the covenant of works to obtain and restore rest by his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Colossians 2:17 explains how the Old Testament promises were fulfilled in Christ, “ These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”  Christians now have the substance of Deuteronomy 5.  Therefore, instead of looking forward like Israel before the cross, we now look back to the resurrection that followed the cross.  The Old Testament fathers participated in the “shadow of the things to come,” which nurtured their hope in the future reality as they longed for the coming King of Kings.  Our King has come and conquered sin, death, and the devil to release us from bondage.  So, look to that release from bondage and find rest.

Does this mean then that there is no longer a Sabbath here on earth?[1]  No, there remains a Sabbath rest for God’s pilgrims, because the Sabbath also looks back to creation.  The Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:11 looks to the past at creation to ground the Sabbath (see later post).  Men are still sabbatical creatures called to image a God who worked and rested.  We too are to work and rest just like our sabbatical Creator in whose image we are made.  All men therefore must obey creational law (i.e. Ex. 20:11).

The Sabbath as a Janus still looks to the past.  Christians on this side of the cross do a double take back.  We look to creation to ground the Sabbath and we look to the cross.  So, does the Sabbath still function as a Janus for the New Testament believer?  Yes, for after looking backwards, we also look forward for the Sabbath to come and the consummation of all things—the new heaven and earth and our resurrected bodies.

This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day letting the Holy Spirit renew us into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29).  This Sunday, we will rest on the Lord’s Day to become more and more like Christ.  This Sunday, Lord willing, we will rest knowing that God’s work will not be complete in this life, so we will continue to look forward reminded by the gospel that we do not work to rest.  We have rest in the Grace of Christ, so we have restful peace on the Sabbath.  We rest to love God and neighbor the other six days a week.  Heidelberg 103 therefore speaks of God’s sanctifying work on the Sabbath as he renews believers after his Son’s image,

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.

[1]I assume a Sunday Sabbath for the Christian.  Those who oppose Sunday argue it is a human ordinance, and not a divine command.  The Reformed church follows not just explicit commands, but the pattern set by Christ and the Apostles (Acts 20:7 breaking break on the first day of the week; 1 Cor. 16:1 setting aside offerings on the first day of the week; Rev. 1:10 calls the first day, the “Lord’s Day”).

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).

What we are about!

The Missoula Reformed Bible Study is a mission work of the Belgrade United Reformed Church in Belgrade, MT.  At this time, the work is organized and led by Jared Beaird (M.Div. Westminster Seminary California candidate) with oversight from the Belgrade Consistory.

We are about a Confessional Reformed church with “acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” according to the Word of God (Heb 13:28).  God takes worship seriously so he devotes the first four commandments directly to worship, “You shall have no other gods before me,” “You shall not make for yourself an idol”; “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord” and “Remember the Sabbath day.”

These passages reveal a Reformed doctrine known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  We may only do in worship what is required explicitly or implicitly in God’s Word.  It is not “May we do this?” but “What must we do?”  So we are about worship God’s way.

An underlying theological reason for the RPW is the doctrine of Christian liberty.  God alone is Lord of the conscience and no one can make us do what God has prohibited.  In matters of faith and worship, we can only do what God has explicitly commanded.  Parallel to this is the ministerial authority of the Church.  The Church does not have creative authority.  It can declare only what the Word of God teaches. We are only about the Word of God.

Another major theological reason is the lex orandi lex credendi; the way of worship is the way of believing.  The way we worship has major implications for what we end up believing.  We believe that our only hope and comfort is found in the fact that “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heidelberg A. 1).  What we are about is the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.