Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sabbath Q & A

Q: I am curious about your opinion of the meaning of Colossians 2:16-17:

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--
17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

A: My thoughts --

Sabbath and Sabbath-keeping (or Sabbath observance) is getting a lot more attention now than it did even ten years ago. I find this consistent with God's stirring our hearts and getting us out of our luke-warmness. I think the Sabbath has gotten a bad rap.

First, the idea of Sunday being the "Christian Sabbath" is rather fanciful. The antinomians ("anti-law" - the law is fulfilled in Christ so we are completely free of it. All that's required is that we love one another and love our enemies) still don't have much problem with the idea of Christians being somehow 'required' to observe Sunday as a 'day of worship.' But if you've read Pagan Christianity (for one), you know that abandoning the 7th day and having church meetings on the 1st day instead is distinctively pagan. Constantine wanted to wed the church to the state, and that's part of the way he did so.

I've noticed in my web research that there are various schemes for calculating the Sabbath. Some are based on the lunar cycles and get rather complex. I'm inclined to believe that God would not require a Sabbath observance as part of His moral law and then make compliance difficult or confusing. "Remember the Sabbath" should be no more difficult to understand than "Thou shalt not steal." True, we can make it difficult with our sophistry, but that's us, not God.

The Jews had a problem because they reasoned the Sabbath with their flesh and their mind, not with their spirit and their heart. They wanted a bunch of specific rules and wanted to quantify Sabbath-keeping. I think Jesus and Paul both dealt adequately with their errors. THAT we remember the Sabbath is a matter of the moral law; HOW we do so is under grace.

In the Colossians passage you cited, I think the emphasis is on people setting themselves up (or setting others up) to judge the quality or adequacy of the various areas cited. The point, I think, is that your Biblically-informed conscience should guide in these areas. The purpose of Sabbath-keeping was primarily as a commemoration of God's creative work. Were the Christians to actively commemorate creation, I believe the Holy Spirit would then convict the culture of the sin of embracing evolutionism. Attributing the work of God to others -- "chance" or "nature" or whatever -- is blasphemy against God. (When the Pharisees attributed a healing done by the Holy Spirit to the work of Beelzebub, Jesus called it blasphemy - see Matthew 12.)

The point, I think, is that we don't quantify the moral law, or see how close we can get to violation without 'technically' stepping over the line. This was the sin described in Numbers 15. It was forbidden to gather wood on the Sabbath. The man thought that because what he gathered was "sticks" and not "wood," (a subtle difference), that he wasn't 'technically' breaking the law. But he had rebellion in his heart, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. He didn't want to distance himself from sin, but wanted to get as close to the line as possible without stepping over.

I believe that, out of love for God and love for our fellow-creatures, we ought to observe a Sabbath and grant Sabbath rest to our employees, our family members, and our community. Were the Christians, for instance, to stop shopping on the Sabbath, all those retail clerks would have nothing to do and their pagan bosses would send them home. They would get their day of rest. So, to effect that, part of the historical Sabbath observance was to not use money on the Sabbath. Exceptional circumstances may REQUIRE the use of money on a Sabbath ... but those are exceptions. Our 'legalism' regarding Sabbath-keeping shouldn't keep us from doing good on the Sabbath.

Somewhat common sense, one would hope. But common sense is often jettisoned when legalism takes the helm.

Food, drink, new moon and Sabbath are spoken of as 'shadow' but the same claim is never made about, say, prohibitions against idolatry, or murder, or the requirement to honor one's parents. And, of interest, the dietary prohibitions are not in the moral law. Sabbath is in both the moral and the ceremonial law. So the ceremonial aspects are obsolete, being fulfilled in Christ. Our true "Sabbath" is not a day, but a Person. We rest in Christ; He is our Sabbath. However, this does not nullify or set aside our requirements under the moral law. I need not elaborate.

Sabbath is getting a lot of resistance amongst the mainstream believers. I think that's tragic, but that is God's concern, not mine. Christians set the seventh day aside for cleaning the garage, abortions (last I heard, the busiest day for the butchers), shopping, etc. When we become RADICAL about obeying and honoring God, and about saving this country from an otherwise certain doom, THEN and only then ....

2 Chron 7:14 - If My people who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

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