Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi

*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include:Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 3), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarins? (Part 2), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Henry Bullinger on the Sabbath (Part 1), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 3), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 2), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 1), Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (Part 2)Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (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.

In this post I will continue to look at the evidence for sabbatarian theology in the thought of pre-Puritan theologians. Martin Bucer, like Henry Bullinger, had a strong view of the Christian Sabbath. Specifically, in this post Bucer’s De Regno Christi will be examined.

De Regno Christi

Bucer’s De Regno Christi, or The Kingdom of Christ, is a “detailed charter to guide the King in implementing Bucer’s vision of a republica Christiana in England.”[1] Bucer’s chapter titled “Setting Aside Certain Times For The Worship Of God” makes very clear his connection between the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Lord’s Day. He writes that the “Lord’s Day was consecrated for such things by the apostles themselves (1 Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10).”[2] If the Lord, by his apostles, has established Sunday as the new Sabbath day, then “Violation of the Sabbath is the highest contempt for God.”[3] Indeed, Bucer warns, “On no days is God offended so gravely as on those days which are particularly set aside for the worship of God.”[4] Clearly for Bucer, like Bullinger, the Christian Sabbath has retained the moral character that it had under the Mosaic Law.

Furthermore, like Bullinger, Bucer argued that the Christian magistrate had particular responsibility to enforce Sabbath observance. Just like the Mosaic Law mandated death for violating the Sabbath commands, so too is the death penalty an option for Christian leaders to exercise. In the case of its contemporary violations:

This matter [death penalty for Sabbath profanation] has need of much serious restoration…Since now our God in his singular charity toward us sanctified only one of seven days for the grounding of our faith and hence our eternal life, and blessed that day that religious services held on it might effectively work toward our salvation, whoever would not be eager to sanctify that day…would surely show himself a lost despiser of so admirable a blessing of God on us and entirely unworthy of living among the people of God.[5]

Bucer, as did Bullinger, makes the sanctification of the Sabbath day a serious matter, indeed a life or death matter.

The Sabbath, however, was not a burden to be yoked upon the people of God. Instead, God appointed the Sabbath and other holy days “that the people of Christ be better grounded in religion and more fully inflamed toward every devotion.” Therefore, writes the pastor, the Sabbath “has to be diligently guarded against that no occasion be given to men for doing their own will on the Sabbaths of the Lord.” Indeed, Sabbath observance is at the heart of Christian spirituality and renewal: “It must be a matter of special concern for those who wish the Kingdom of Christ to be restored among them that Sunday religious observance be renewed and established.”[6] For Bucer, faithful Sabbath observance fans the flame of Christian spirituality.

Thus Bucer’s sabbatarian thoughts, as seen in his Commonplaces and his De Regno Christ, demonstrate many parallels to the sabbatarian thought of Bullinger. Both argue for the change of day to Sunday that is binding because of apostolic example. Both argue that there is both a moral and a ceremonial component to the fourth commandment. Both argue that there is an ongoing binding nature to Sabbath observance, as well as an ongoing need for Christian magistrates to enforce Sabbath sanctification, up to and including the death penalty. Bullinger and Bucer both argued for many of the sabbatarian premises that the early English Puritans used in their treatises on the Sabbath.

In the coming posts I will examine the thought of Nicholas Bownd. He was one of the first Puritans to write on the Sabbath, and his sabbatarian thought had deep roots in the thought of Bullinger, Bucer, and other continental reformers.

[1]Martin Bucer, Common Places of Martin Bucer, trans. David F Wright (Abingdon, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), 25.

[2]Wilhelm Pauck, Melanchthon and Bucer (London: SCM Press, 1969), 251.

[3]Martin Bucer, Martini Buceri Opera Latina, ed. François Wendel (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1955), 81. Author’s translation.

[4]Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi, book 1, Chapter 11, translated in Wilhelm Pauck, Melanchthon and Bucer (London: SCM Press, 1969), 252.

[5]Ibid., 251.

[6]Ibid., 252.

Jon English serves as a Pastor of Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has earned an undergraduate degree in Microbiology from Auburn University Montgomery, a Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology from SBTS. Jon English is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a fellow for the Center for Pastor Theologians.
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