Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (Part 2)

Jon English Lee
| January 28, 2014

*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbat (part 1)Sabbath Typology and Eschatological RestPaul and the Sabbath,  Jesus and the Sabbath,  The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.

Sabbath and Christian Witness

Maintaining the Sabbath as a creation ordinance also has implication for the Christian witness, both corporately and individually. Regarding this corporate witness, Paul makes it clear (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:23) that the details surrounding the corporate gathering of believers have implications for the church’s witness to unbelievers. In a culture that is increasingly materialistic, a church that collectively stops working (and, therefore, stops making money), in order to devote a day to the Lord will become increasingly perceived as different. Observing a weekly Sabbath in a society that is becoming increasingly secular will become even more of an opportunity to stand in contrast to the world.

A church united in its observance of the Lord’s Day will also weekly demonstrate the unity that is found in Christ. With Christ as the Head of the church, a church that shares one faith, one baptism, and one Lord, would not the unity be best displayed by sharing one day of particular devotion to the Lord? The collective witness of a united global church giving a weekly Sabbath to the Lord would have quite an apologetic witness to an increasingly secular world that will not understand why Christians are sacrificing their time and money for God. Weekly Sabbath worship would proclaim to the world that worship is worth sacrificing our time and money, and that God is worthy of such sacrifice.

Sabbath and the Sacraments

A low view of the Lord’s Day exposes a potentially low view of the means of grace (Word, Sacraments…) & of Christ, whose death makes the means efficacious. If the corporate means of grace are truly a primary means of edification and sanctification given by God, then it is unloving for pastors not to encourage church members to attend weekly.

Sabbath and Dependence

Because of the transaction-like nature of labor and compensation, combined with a sinful heart, man is often tempted to ignore the provision of God found in every blessing. If left to himself, a man will come to lean on his own strength. In contrast, the weekly Sabbath stands as a reminder that: God is the source of every blessing; labor is a good, but not ultimate; and man is utterly dependent upon God.

  • God is the source of all blessings. The Sabbath reminds believers that they are not the true source of their own blessings and provision; their own industriousness is not the ultimate means of their survival. Rather, the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that “man does not live by bread alone.” God has built into creation a rhythm of rest designed to point man outside of himself and toward God, from whom all blessings flow. It takes faith to stop working (and, hence, stop making money) in order to spend time with God. This faithful shabat, ceasing, is both the blessing and a means of blessing from God.
  • Labor is good, but not ultimate. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that, while labor is good, God is ultimate. Labor honors God, images God, and points to our working God. However, rest also honors God, images God, and points to God. If we lose a biblical balance between work and rest, one will dominate the other, and an idol has been formed. The Sabbath points outside of our weekly routine toward greater realities: the final rest to come, and the one who has procured that rest. Sabbath rest is a weekly blessing that re-orients the priorities of believers according to the design of God. Having been re-oriented and re-minded that God is ultimate, man is then able to most effectively honor God in both work and rest. Without this weekly reorientation toward the ultimate things, fallen mankind tends to elevate the ephemeral.
  • Man is utterly dependent upon God for everything. Related it’s reorienting nature, the Sabbath also reminds sinful men that they are ever dependent upon God. When combined with the preached word and the sacraments, the Sabbath becomes a tangible reminder that believers are utterly lost without God’s provision.

Because the Sabbath points back to creation, believers are reminded that they depend on God for everything, even the common graces. Because the Sabbath points back to redemption, believers are reminded that they depend upon God for all spiritual blessings. Because the Sabbath points toward the final rest to come, believers are reminded that they must depend upon God for final perseverance to the end. From beginning to end, all of a man’s life (indeed, all of history) is dependent upon the provision of God.

The doctrine of the Sabbath has not been treated uniformly throughout the history of the church. In upcoming posts I hope to briefly trace the Sabbath/Lord’s Day doctrine and practice throughout church history.

Jon English Lee