Saturday, 22 September 2012

Why Easter means I'm a Sabbatarian

I was referred last week to a blog by John Stevens the National Director of FIEC on his excellent blog 'Dissenting Opinion' on 14th April. It was entitled 'Why Easter means I'm not a Sabbatarian'. It seems late to respond to a blog but as it is a very important subject and I only read it last week I can be excused. I would have liked to comment on his blog direct but cannot find a way to do so, so I am putting it on this blog instead. You will find that you are reading one side of a conversation but I hope it makes enough sense as it stands; you can always read John's blog if you wish.

Reply to John Stevens’ blog: Theology: Why Easter means I’m not a Sabbatarian.
Dissenting Opinion - 14th April 2012.

I am only going to give a brief response to this blog as the literature is immense and most arguments have been rehearsed several times!

Taking the arguments in order:

1. The evidence of the New Testament teachings:
a) There is substantial teaching on the Sabbath in the gospels as you say eg ‘The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath’ (Mk 3:27). This suggests something for all mankind not just for the Jews, and neither was it just a ceremonial law. Also the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mk. 3:27). This is in the context of the Sabbath being a good thing for man. It is strange to think of the Lord’s lordship being limited to the period of his earthly existence; and also for something that is such a blessing for man under the old covenant, being taken away from the new covenant believer. It will not do to say that we have something better in Christ, because it was the Sabbath as a day of rest that was good, not just as a type of Christ’s salvation; and surely we still need rest and surely we still have something in terms of spiritual rest too to look forward to?
b) Acts 15: If the Jerusalem letter was supposed to give believers an exhaustive set of rules for Christian living, this point would have some weight; but it wasn’t. The precise purpose of the letter’s provisions is debated, but it is likely to be either to keep new Christians away from practices that had particularly pagan connotations; or simply to make relations with Jewish believers harmonious. The mere fact that the Sabbath is not mentioned is of no more consequence than that the fifth, sixth or eighth commandments are not mentioned.
c) Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16: these are not easy texts and probably give anti-Sabbatarianism its strongest arguments, though much depends on the biblical framework within which one approaches them. Let me just quote Greg Beale’s handling of these texts in his helpful discussion of the Sabbath in 'A New Testament Biblical Theology' p 792: ‘Each of these texts is best understood through viewing the “sabbath day” to be the Sabbath as it was particularly observed in Israel, since most commentators agree that all these texts [he deals with Gal 4:9-10 as well] involve false teachings that entailed a return to Israel’s old laws in disregard of how Christ’s coming has changed those laws.’ What is being annulled is both the Sabbath day as Israel was to observe it and also the whole system of Sabbaths- months and seasons and years and festivals and new moons (Gal 4:9,10; Col 2:16-17). It is not inconsistent to say that Christians should still observe the Sabbath /Lord’s Day on non-ceremonial grounds, what one may call creational or eschatological grounds. Beale is convinced of the Creation mandate, as I am, and shall come to it later. But these arguments do not seem to me to be ‘extreme’ or ‘unconvincing’ ‘exegetical gymnastics’. People who have observed the Lord’s day for centuries have been quite aware of these New Testaments texts and have not regarded them as glaringly inconsistent with their practice.

2. New Testament practice: the Lord appeared to the disciples on the day of his resurrection. He appeared to them one week later. Is that not already saying something special about the ‘Lord’s Day’? He poured out his Spirit on them on the first day of the week – Pentecost, fifty days after Easter. The church was clearly used to meeting on the first day of the week as you say - Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:2 – and I am not sure it can be limited to ‘the Lord’s Supper’ - 1 Cor16 makes no reference to that meal. 1 Cor 16:2 is explicit however that the early Christians were expected to meet on the first day of every week and put aside some money on that day. Clearly a pattern was established. The use of the word kuriake in Rev 1:10 (‘Lord’s Day’), suggests at least that the day was of known significance to the early Christians, rather like the ‘Lord’s Supper’.

3. The evidence of the Old Testament purpose of the Sabbath.
a) Was Genesis 2:2,3 meant for man? God rested; man is made in his image. Part of that must be to imitate him so far as a finite creature can imitate an infinite Creator. For example, in exercising dominion over the earth, Adam and Eve are reflecting the kingship of God. In their holiness they are reflecting God. In creativity and thought and speech they are reflecting God. Are we to suppose that they would not reflect God in following his pattern of a day of rest? The Sabbath as our Lord said, was made for man, not just to be utilised as a sign for the Israelites.
If that is not sufficient, then Hebrews 4 should help. The argument of Hebrews 4 depends on their being an expectation that man is to rest after the pattern the Lord laid down. God entered his rest on the seventh day and provided a rest that his people could enter on entering the Promised Land. God showed man what the goal of created life was to be – rest. Canaan would not satisfy that principle. Ultimately our rest is in heaven though inaugurated though faith in Christ here. It makes little sense to think that this goal of creation was not known to Adam and Eve in the Garden and the seventh day enjoyed as a foretaste of it.
Further, in v 9 the use of the word sabbatismos instead of katapausis (the normal word for rest) suggests strongly that the writer has something other than eschatological rest in mind at this point. There is a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God – a probable link with the Sabbath of Exod 20:11 and 31:17.
b) No mention is made in your paper of Exodus 16:22-26 where the Sabbath principle is clearly known before Sinai – the manna is only to be collected on six days.
c) Exod 31:12-18 - yes the Sabbath is a sign but that is far from saying that that is all it is. It would only cease on the ending of the old covenant if it was only a sign. But it was far more than that. It was rooted, as Exod 31:12f makes clear, in creation, a sign not only that God sanctifies his people (v 13) but that he made the heaven and earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested (v 17). The two tablets with the fourth commandment on them as permanent as any of the other nine, was given to Moses, written with the finger of God, directly after the Lord said that. The Ten Commandments were certainly not a set of laws given just as part of an entire covenant framework. It is important to distinguish between covenant and law; the old covenant could become obsolete; that does not mean the Ten Commandments have.
d) Christians do experience true spiritual redemption in Christ but it is over-realised eschatology to say that because of that there is no place for a Sabbath day. We are not there yet!
e) I am not sure that Jesus’ teaching was about what the Sabbath commanded under the old covenant but ‘not what it means for Christians’. It seems he is making clearly general statements about the purpose of the Sabbath and his authority over it ( eg Mk 3:27) , which did not come to an end once he was risen.

4. The fact that the resurrection took place on the first day of the week. I really do not follow why the great event that inaugurated the true rest for God’s people should be seen as a picture of its opposite! We work on six days, sure, but we begin the week now with a reminder of the fact that Christ is risen, that our salvation is already accomplished and precedes our work, rather than follows it, and that the new creation has been inaugurated. An epoch change has been introduced which makes it entirely appropriate to see the Lord’s Day as the replacement of the seventh day Jewish Sabbath, to remember the resurrection and look forward to the consummation as well as rest physically so far as possible. We are still human creatures as well as redeemed people.
As Greg Beale concludes, ‘Accordingly, the weekly sign of rest still continues for believers living on earth until all that it points to is completely fulfilled at the very end of the age in the bodily resurrection…those who contend that a weekly Sabbath is annulled because believers have begun to experience salvific rest in Christ appear not to be consistent in their already-not yet eschatology’ ( p 791).

If I may make one general point: I find it odd that the adjective ‘Sabbatarian’ is becoming popular in circles that wish to deny the abiding validity of the fourth commandment, as if those of us who hold to it were a rather small and sectarian minority! It is rather as if we were called life-ists because we believe in the sixth commandment or purists because we believe in the seventh, or honourarians because we uphold the fifth. This is the belief of the great majority of Christians throughout the world! It has been the belief of Reformed Baptists. Puritans and Non-conformists have been particularly devoted to the Lord’s Day and cannot be dismissed as legalists. There is a great onus of proof on those who seek to take one of the Ten Commandments and say it is no longer valid.

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