Sunday, April 5, 2009

Should We Have Church on Saturday? Why Not? (But Then Again, Why?)

I’ve been involved recently in an ongoing conversation about “the True Sabbath.” Emphasis on the word true. Someone has suggested that the church I’m attending should have services on Saturday, since that’s the Biblical Sabbath.

Now, it wouldn’t bother me if we had our main weekly service on Saturdays. Or on Monday evenings. Or Thursdays. I don’t think the day of the week especially matters. It wouldn’t bother me to do it every eighth or ninth day. Tuesday this week, Wednesday next week. You get the idea.

But the argument is that we should meet on the Biblical Sabbath because, well, that’s what the Ten Commandments say. It’s THE LAW.

Now, the person putting forth this idea isn’t suggesting we embrace the entire Old Testament law. The idea seems to be that the Ten Commandments are a special part of Old Testament law. They’re separate, different from the rest of the law. I’ve listened to an explanation of how the Ten Commandments were written with the finger of God (which is true) and placed INSIDE the Ark of the Covenant (also true). The rest of the law, lesser commandments under this argument, was laid BESIDE the Ark of the Covenant in a lesser place.

So according to this argument, we should go to church on Saturday because the law (the Ten Commandments) says to. And since the Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God and placed inside the Ark, they are different. They are still binding. And we should obey them because they are, after all, the law.

There are a number of problems with this argument.

The most obvious problem seems to me to be in Acts 15. Let me set that stage...
  • Stephen has been martyred (Acts 7) and the Jewish believers of Jerusalem scattered throughout the region.
  • Peter has been to the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius and seen his vision about eating snakes and lizards (Acts 10); the first Gentile is converted as a result.
  • And Paul and Barnabas go on their first mission trip and convert Gentiles in Cyprus and parts of modern Turkey (Acts 13 & 14).
Acts 15 begins with a statement about how some men from Judea who presumably at least pretended to be believers came to Antioch (the home base for Paul and Barnabas) and started teaching that you had to be circumcised “like it says in the law” in order to be Christian. In other words, to be a Christian, you had to become a Jew, first. After a few arguments with these men, Paul and Barnabas head off to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders there and settle the matter. Peter is at the meeting. So is the Apostle James who holds the place of leader of the Church in Jerusalem.

Their conclusion? The law has been preached in every city since early times and they shouldn’t burden the new Gentile believers with it.

They give some other advice. And what is lacking from the other advice is the fascinating part of this discussion. In a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, James tells them to avoid sexual immorality, not to eat the meat of strangled animals, not to eat meat offered to idols, and not to consume blood.

There is no mention of keeping the “true” Sabbath. Acts 15 leaves me with the impression that, as a Gentile, I should be more concerned with the ingredients in my pepperoni than with whether or not my church meets on the “true” Sabbath.

I know. Someone is going to say that the Apostles at Jerusalem didn’t mention keeping the Sabbath because the Gentile Christians were “keeping” the Sabbath. I’m not sure there’s much evidence for or against that idea. But the Sabbath is mentioned exactly twice in the epistles of the New Testament - the first time in Colosians 2:16 where Paul tells his readers not to let people judge them based on whether they “keep” a Sabbath day.

Should YOU feel obligated by the ten Commandments to go to church on Saturday so as to keep the Biblical Sabbath? It depends, I suppose. Where were your ancestors while Moses was on Mt. Sinai getting the law from God? I suspect that mine were roaming the deciduous forests of Northern Europe - probably mixing elk blood with their liquor and gutting their neighbors from rival tribes with dull flint knives. If yours were at the bottom of Mt. Sinai making idols out of their jewelry, perhaps you should keep the Old Testament’s Sabbath. Perhaps.

Just remember this… The “true” Sabbath is described in Hebrews 4:9 as a rest that Christians can enter into. It takes some real hermeneutical gymnastics to arrive at the conclusion that Christians today are obligated by the Ten Commandments to have church on Saturday as a way of “keeping” the Biblical Sabbath.


David C. Fox said...

interesting argument. for me what is important is observing a Sabbath--and that's a challenge these days.

Greg_Cruey said...

I feel that nine of the ten commandments are reinforced (more or less individually) for Gentiles (like me) in the the New Testament. The Fourth Commandment (remember the Sabbath and keep it holy) is not. It is simply pointed to, as an image of a great truth - that one day I will enter into His rest. I see no obligation for New Testament Christians to "keep" a Sabbath - unless, perhaps, they're also Jewish...

Anonymous said...

find one person that says its okay to kill, okay to steal, ok to be an adulterer, yet its okay to break the sabbith. When just died on the cross, the law of moses was abolished, not the new law and the new law is the ten commandments

Greg_Cruey said...

Hi Anon (June 7),

A finely reasoned argument you have. I'm guessing that you want me to find someone who says that it's not okay to kill, steal, or be an adulterer - but that it's okay to break the Sabbath. But your grammar and spelling leave me uncertain. (I'm also guessing that "just died on the cross" is meant to be "Jesus died on the cross." )

There are many such people. Most of the laws you've mentioned (other than the Sabbath) are more-or-less universal - from the Code of Hammurabi to modern times. Even the Communists think that it is wrong to murder, steal, and commit adultery. But they couldn't care less about the Sabbath.

You may enjoy Curtis Forrester on the subject.

I'd love to see chapter and verse from you on where it says in Scripture that the 10 Commandments is the new law... But I doubt I'll get that.