Why the Sabbath Blogs?

Over the past week, I’ve been blogging about Sabbatarianism, the notion that God commands Christians to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. Mostly, I’ve been critical of this doctrine. Why?

Is it because I’m against the Sabbath? Not really. I know that I called the Mosaic law a yoke of bondage in one of my posts, but that’s not entirely how I feel. In the past, I’ve read anti-Sabbatarian literature that mentioned the “terrors of the Jewish Sabbath.” To be frank, I don’t see it that way at all. Many Jews like having a day to rest, contemplate, fellowship, and leave the world outside. It’s gotten them through all sorts of misery over the years.

Also, I think that people like Des Ford and Samuele Bacchiocchi have offered some pretty decent arguments in favor of the Sabbath. Granted, their exegetical defenses are rather weak (in my humble opinion), but they do well to point out that human nature is consistent with resting one day in seven. That’s why even non-Sabbatarians rest on weekends. And, as Des Ford has pointed out, people need rest and worship, and the Sabbath provides an opportunity for both.

I also have problems picking just any day of the week for my Sabbath. Sabbatarians often responded to the “I can rest any day of the week” argument by saying: “Okay, suppose we put seven women in front of you. Will you be with any one of them, or with your wife?” I never understood that argument. I mean, what exactly is it saying? That I’m married to the Sabbath? It just shows how much Sabbatarians idolize Saturday!

But I can somewhat see its point. Monday doesn’t mean anything to me. Neither does Tuesday. But Judaism and Christianity have held that Saturday commemorates important religious motifs: creation, the exodus, social justice, liberation, resting in Christ, the millennium, etc., etc. When I keep the Sabbath, I can rest with those things in mind.

Why can’t I switch to Sunday and keep it as a Sabbath? For one, I’m not used to doing that, for I’m accustomed to resting on the Sabbath and starting my work week on Sunday. And second, to be honest, I have a hard time getting excited about Sunday’s religious themes. There’s something about creation, the exodus, and the millennium that really excites me. But I don’t get all that enthused about a dead person coming back to life. I know that sounds horrible, since the resurrection of Christ is a crucial Christian doctrine, which relates to new creation, our justification, Christ’s exaltation, our resurrection with Christ, the defeat of death and hostile spiritual powers, and a host of other concepts. But I find that I identify more with Jewish concepts than those that are distinctly Christian.

Maybe I don’t get too excited about Sunday’s themes because I was raised mostly on the Old Testament, with its stories, laws, and eschatological hopes. Some of my relatives say that I identify more with Jewish ideas because of my Jewish ancestry. That could be, but I’ve never really been drawn to Jewish modes of worship. They don’t do much for me, probably because I don’t understand what’s going on. And I’ve attended orthodox, Reform, conservative, and Messianic services. I like reading about Judaism more than actually participating in it.

And here’s another point: I’m more comfortable with the Sabbath than I am with Jesus. I know that anti-Sabbatarians say the Old Testament rituals are shadows of Christ, and we don’t need them now that Christ has come. And I think that they can make a solid Scriptural case for that position. But the Sabbath is tangible: it’s a concrete day that comes around, and I do specific things on it for my personal edification. Christ, however, is not. I can’t see him or hear him directly. I don’t even feel him most of the time.

Many people argue that they don’t need the Sabbath because they find rest in Christ. Personally, I don’t know what that means. Some are implying that they give Christ all of their troubles. I’d like to do that, but I find that I have to deal with my problems whether I give them to Christ or not. And I still get anxious, especially around people. Others interpret it to mean that they don’t strive to earn their salvation, for they are resting in God’s free grace. I have a hard time doing that because the New Testament isn’t all about free grace. Faith needs to be accompanied by good works for a person to receive salvation, or to show that he has salvation, or whatever (Matthew 7:21; I John 3:14; James 2:14; etc.). The only belief system that offers complete assurance is universalism, which says everyone will be saved. And the Bible isn’t exactly consistent with that view!

I kind of like the Armstrongite system of righteousness: you please God if you rest on the Sabbath, keep the holy days, tithe, and avoid pork. The evangelical system, however, involves reaching out to people and being a happy, happy extrovert, and I have problems with that. I prefer to pat myself on the back for picking pepperoni off my pizza!

Rituals help me out. They are reminders. Resting in Christ is too abstract for me. Not working on the Sabbath is concrete. But I’ll get more into that in another post, in which I’ll discuss the religious value of ceremonies.

I’m not sure if my posts on Sabbatarianism have made a positive difference in people’s lives. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly get my jollies if someone read them and said, “Oh, I guess I don’t have to rest on the Sabbath anymore.” But writing them has helped me sort out what I believe about the Mosaic law. To be honest, I see truth and error in all sorts of positions! The Sabbatarian position was strong in that it pointed out New Testament affirmations of the law, but it ignored the fact that Gentiles were free from some regulations related to the Torah. And anti-Sabbatarians were wrong to claim that the law was “done away,” for the New Testament cites the Torah as an authoritative source.

My position is not exactly original, but it preserves what’s positive in both sides: the law of Moses remains in force and is binding on all people, but certain parts of it have been fulfilled in Christ. Believers don’t have to do those parts literally, since they were shadows of things to come. And I conclude from Colossians 2:16 and Hebrews that these shadows include the dietary laws, the Sabbath, the holy days, the purification rituals, the sacrifices, and the Levitical priesthood.

If my posts accomplish anything positive, hopefully they will encourage Sabbatarians to cut others some slack. There’s a reason that Sunday-keepers keep Sunday instead of the Sabbath, and it’s not because they’ve never read Genesis 2 or Exodus 20. Also, I recall something an Adventist woman once said to me: “I think we’re too interested in getting people to change their day of worship, and we’re not concerned enough about helping them with their problems and needs.” That’s a problem I have with Sabbatarianism: people act like they’re superior because they worship on a particular day. Aren’t there more important things?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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12 Responses to Why the Sabbath Blogs?

  1. FT says:

    I appreciate your honest thoughts and feelings James. Some former WCGers would take strong exception of what you wrote (and may I say this that is a polite understatement to say the least), but I say, “tough”! You meant to be authentic, not nice. Again I admire your courage not be molded into somebody else’s image.

    ((Judaism and Christianity have held that Saturday commemorates important religious motifs: creation, the exodus, social justice, liberation, resting in Christ, the millennium, etc., etc. When I keep the Sabbath, I can rest with those things in mind.))

    I agree with you on this. May I add one more benefit of a day of rest in the sense that the “world” and “society” and it’s craziness of being busy and hectic does not ULTIMATELY dominate us—but God does, He is of course The King of the universe!

    Yes, I like your “third way” on this approach of the law (a blending of covnantal nomism and new covenant theology). Yes—many parts of the law are affirmed, others were simply not required of Gentiles. May add this in the mix too, the Sabbath may not be required in the NT (I must admit it is not explicit enough for me) but it is an option that has many benefits as a spiritual discipline.

    Evangelicals do have a hang up with rituals. I guess it is a Reformation thing because the Catholics were filled with rituals and attached it to salvation. As you said they are NOT a bad thing, as long as they don’t in themselves become a bureaucracy between you and God.

    Here is something I posted in my blog in January you might find of interest on what I had to say on this topic.

    http://lifeafterwcg2.wordpress.com/2008/01/06/the-sabbath/

    Keep ’em coming James!

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks Felix.:) I enjoyed your post and the comments others made on it.

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  3. Brandon says:

    Dietary laws aren’t done away with according to Isaiah 66, a prophecy. Noah was commanded to bring in the clean animals by pairs of 7 and the unclean in pairs of two. Noah was not Jewish, so the clean/unclean meats law predated Jews. Many references to things “unclean” in nature in the New Testament are referring to people or food sacrificed to idols, not the clean/unclean foods predating Moses. Moses speaks of many things in Levitical law, but they weren’t all for the first time.

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  4. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, Brandon. I’m thinking of doing a post on clean and unclean meats. I may get to it Monday. In the meantime, I have some questions:

    1. Do you take Ezekiel’s temple non-literally or as a conditional prophecy? If so, why can’t we do the same with Isaiah 66?

    2. Does it really matter WHEN the clean and unclean meat laws came into effect? Colossians 2:16 calls them shadows that point to Christ, right?

    3. I’m assuming by your links to Doug Bachelor that you are an Adventist. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Adventists believe people weren’t even eating meat until after the flood. So how could there have been clean and unclean meat laws before that? I know a distinction is made in terms of the animals Noah brought on board the ark for sacrifice. I’m just curious about how you answer this.

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  5. FT says:

    Hi again James!

    I hope you also have a look at Hope Egan’s book Holy Cow which discusses clean and unclean meats.

    Oh, by the way, I will assure you that when you approach 40 (like myself, I am 38 with less than two years to go), concept of Jesus Christ’s ressurection will be probably more attractive to you than now. Having a glorified body that doesn’t age and is neither subject to decay, aging, disease, sin and death is incredibly attractive to me, despite those who contest the concept. I would love to do things that I will know that I will never have enough time in this life (like travel the whole world—I mean all it’s parts–1000 years in a glorified body sounds good to me). 🙂

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  6. James Pate says:

    Hi Felix,

    And I’ll bet when both of us get older than THAT, the concept of an afterlife will look good to us. 😉

    I may not be able to read Hope Egan’s book, but I’ll see if there are synopses of it online.

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  7. Juan says:

    James,

    This post made me laugh. I see your points and I can see why I focus on Sunday. The resurrection means a lot to me. It is my hope. Picking any day to me comes from work. If I have Wed. off and I can go to worship God I will make that day my Sabbath. I have learned the hard way that I must rest at least once a week and let my body recover. I read and pray daily and my focus on God is a daily journey so one day is not more important to me than the other. It stinks when I cannot go to “church” because of work but I will go when I can.

    These have been great posts!
    Juan

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  8. James Pate says:

    Thanks, Juan! Yeah, I see what you’re saying: you get off work when you get off work.

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  9. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    Like Juan, your post made me laugh. I literally laughed out loud at points.

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  10. James Pate says:

    Which part, Yvette? About the dead man coming back to life?

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  11. Pascalian Awakenings says:

    “Many people argue that they don’t need the Sabbath because they find rest in Christ. Personally, I don’t know what that means.” I don’t know if you meant that to be funny, but so many people spiritualize things to the extent that it seems to make no real sense.

    And

    “I prefer to pat myself on the back for picking pepperoni off my pizza!” Needs no ‘splainin’!

    This post just captured what you were saying quite well. I appreciated your summary statement at the end.

    Still laughing at the “pat myself on the back…”

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  12. James Pate says:

    Hi Yvette,

    Yeah, I have pat myself on the back for that. It’s especially hard when the pepperoni is so entrenched inside the pizza, that I have to tear the pizza apart to remove it.

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