~by Randy Bushey
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).
Of the many protective gifts given by God to His people Israel in the Decalogue, unique was His specific instruction on the Sabbath Day:
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…(Exodus 20:9,10).
What the Jews refer to as Shabbat was to be a day apart from labour and routine. This weekly break in the rhythm of life quickly became a beloved day of corporate worship of God’s people.
In Jesus’ day, He claimed authority over the Sabbath in the face of criticism by the Pharisees about His healing miracles on that day. One notable skirmish was triggered by His disciples plucking heads of grain on Saturday to address their hunger. Naturally, in ultra-legalistic Israel of the 1st century, such action was seen by the Jewish elite as harvesting – a prohibited activity.
(Many hotels in Israel today have the elevators programmed on Shabbat to stop at each floor, thereby allowing the riders to avoid pressing the button for their desired floor, which would otherwise be recognized as an act of “work”.)
Jesus defended His disciples and His healing ministry by pointing out that rather than being a form of bondage, the Sabbath was to be a blessing.
And he said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
But He went one better. By claiming that He was Lord of the Sabbath He was declaring Himself to be God, the One who had instituted the commandment:
So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).
Fast forward to today.
With such a strong accent on Sabbath Day restrictions in the Old Testament, Sabbath Day observance can be confusing for Christ-followers in the 21st century.
Disparate voices demand attention… and compliance.
From what I see in Scripture, this post looks briefly at 3 issues:
• why did the Apostolic church transition the day of worship from Sabbath to Lord’s Day?
• what is permissible on the Lord’s Day?
• what if others think differently than what I’ve concluded?
The Apostolic church, initially composed primarily of Jews, made a subtle, but – given their heritage – significant shift when they made the 1st day of the week their day for gathering and worship. After all it was Resurrection Day, affectionately referred to as the Lord’s Day.
The Apostle John reminds us of that day being special to the Christ-followers of the early church by the way he referred to it: On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…(Revelation 1:10).
Luke mentions Sunday as being the day when at Troas the believers gathered to hear Paul preach and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread… (Acts 20:7).
And Paul seems to indicate Sunday as the day when the church at Corinth met and also collected financial offerings: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper…(1 Corinthians 16:2).
But did the apostles have the right to amend such a noteworthy of the 10 Commandments? To shift from day 7 to day 1? To replace Sabbath with the Lord’s Day?
As special designates vested with the particularly authority of the ascended Christ, I believe their corporate decision must be seen as being Spirit-led and Christ-honouring.
In terms of what is permissible on the Lord’s Day, the obvious contrast from the Law of Moses to the Early Church demonstrates the heavy reliance on the indwelling Spirit of God for Christians after Pentecost. The Old Testament was quite specific in law and example with detailing what prohibitions made up Sabbath rest.
However, the New Testament offers little detailed, mandated direction. The practice of the early church – as recorded both in and outside of Scripture – was to take one day off of work to assemble, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, sit under Bible preaching, and participate in prayer and fellowship, on Sunday.
In fact the early church struggled with Sabbath-keeping legalism likely due to the influence of the Judaizers – those that demanded the Mosaic Law be upheld in addition to expressing faith in Christ and seeking to honour Him in life and practice.
What about personal conscience on these matters? Paul is emphatic that if I have strong scruples about the Sabbath Day observance, I should respond to my conscience, but not impose my standards on you or others of the Lord’s people.
In Romans 14:1, Paul appears to categorize this conversation under the heading of “opinion” (ESV), “doubtful things” (NKJV), or “disputable matters” (NIV). Notice how Paul leaves room for subjective application:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…(Romans 14:5,6)
And, Paul affirms the liberty we have in Christ as contrasted with the bondage of human tradition and regulations:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath (Colossians 2:16).
Takeaway: as with any issue in life, the Christ-follower is compelled to shine the light of God’s Word on this – and every – matter to observe, interpret and apply in a way that honours our Risen Lord.
~graphic by Doru Lupeanu, freeimages.com