Sunday 27 March 2016

Is there a Christian Sabbath?

Many years ago the WCG published a booklet with the title "Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?"

Wrong question. Why? It just assumes there is such a thing as a Christian Sabbath, and once you've conceded that it's all downhill; off into the proof texts. When it comes to a Saturday/Sunday shootout, based on duelling with Bible texts alone, the Sabbatarians can make a very good case.

The problem is that there's a degree of dishonesty in this approach. One false trail is to assume that there is such a thing as a Christian Sabbath. Another is to imply that Christians who attend services on Sunday are doing so under the illusion that they're keeping the Sabbath command.

The idea that Sunday was the Christian Sabbath first occurred in 17th century England under the baneful influence of Calvinism and Presbyterianism. This was the genesis of Sunday Sabbatarianism and advocacy groups like the Lord's Day Observance Society. The early Adventists were seeded with these same Reformed assumptions. Most non-Calvinist churches teach that there is no divinely appointed day of rest required of Christians. It hasn't helped that Christians have occasionally referred to Sunday as their Sabbath either. This was simply appropriating a biblical term, not adopting a commandment which they regarded as abrogated.

Why Sunday then? Tradition and convenience. If pressed, they'll talk about a Sunday resurrection, but that's not a command, it's a precedent and a sanction. There's no concept in their theology of an obligatory pre-set twenty-four hour period of sacred time. Christians, under this view, sanctify time by worship, regardless of the day. Time isn't "pre-sanctified". It's an important distinction and one that most Saturday Sabbatarians seem totally unaware of.

It's also why most Christians, other than blue-stocking Presbyterians of the old school, have no qualms of conscience about visiting the mall on Sunday afternoon or going to a cafe or watching the big game. The hour of worship is special, but not the whole twenty-four hour period.

So it's appropriate to reframe the question. Is there a Christian Sabbath? A Jewish Sabbath, yes. A Saturday tradition in parts of the early church? Yes. Beyond that, if you want to argue for a Christian Sabbath - whether Saturday or Sunday - you have to do a lot better than leaping straight in with the 'Which Day?' proof texts.


Pam said...

Being totally honest, I think that the REAL issue in all of this has to do not with whether there is a "Christian Sabbath." It has to do with whether the Ten Commandments are relevant to Christians. They do seem, in the Bible, to come as a package, both in the Old and New Testaments. Not as just ten different rules plucked from a plethora of possibilities, randomly stuck together.

When Jesus says "If you will enter into life, keep the commandments," and is asked "Which ones," He immediately refers not to a random compilation of various fringe laws...such as the law of the fringe...He starts ticking off the ten commandments.

So it is not unreasonable that someone coming to the Bible with no preconceived notions, with no "traditions of the elders" (Jewish rabbis OR "ante-Nicene Fathers) to guide him as he reads, MIGHT think that The Ten should be relevant to Christians.

Mind you, I understand all of the reasoning why the concept of "special time" might not be applicable to Christians, just as special places no longer applies. When the Samaritan Woman asks where folks should go to worship God, Jesus tells her that "the time is coming" when special places no longer apply and God can and should be worshiped "in spirit and in truth." It's not unreasonable to think that this could be applied to special times also.

On the other hand, I can see why a reasonable person with no preconceived notions from those traditions of elders would think it odd that nine of the ten commandments should still apply (who's going to argue about killing and stealing??) but that the tenth is irrelevant. Especially since the Sabbath was not just described in spiritual terms of worship...but in physical terms of mankind needing rest. And not just mankind...even work animals were to be given a day of physical rest.

Now this also doesn't address the issue of just "how" a Christian would be supposed to observe such a physical day, whether any physical prescriptions and "hedges" would still apply. For of course the NT also makes it clear that one shouldn't "limit" one's worship and prayer and relationship to God to one 24 hour period. Christians are metaphorically said to have immediate access at all times to the throne of God.

And also, of course, most Sabbatarians seem to be totally out of biblical line when assuming that it is somehow "evil" to gather for corporate worship on any time other than the "seventh day of the week." And then again, as you note, Gavin, it is totally silly of "Sunday observers" to think they have any truly "biblical" mandate for Sunday morning worship as if it is the result of God "shifting" the "obligation of Sabbath worship" from the seventh day to the first day.

For those who want to base what they do in the realm of religious activity on "what the Bible says," and to judge what others are doing based also on "what the Bible says," it seems to me that the best "proof text" for it all would be the one from Romans 14, as it reads in The Message Bible. I REALLY think everyone ought to have a look at that paraphrase! It makes so much sense. I'm going to post the quotation from that in my next post, because it's kind of long. But WELL worth the read. It reads so much more profoundly than the old KJV. Oh, that everyone who is so adamant about their own perspective on debatable Bible topics would read this and take it to heart.

Pam said...

Here's how Romans 14 reads in The Message.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to believe that the Lunar Sabbath was the original Sabbath before it was corrupted to be merely the seventh day.

There are a few hints in the Bible which may actually support this. For example, the tabernacle was open on the New Moon and there was revelation to the prophets at that time.

The Lunar Sabbath would certainly positively establish when the Sabbath was without resorting to the fantasy myth that it was unbroken from the Creation in Genesis 1 (which never happened). It would resolve the questions that crop up about "has time been lost". Of course it has. What we need is a monthly lunar reset.

Oh, we can just hear the protestations now, but really, what's behind the misgivings? What's behind the howling is that it would be deucedly inconvenient to keep the Sabbath that way and having it appear on different days of the week from month to month. No one wants to believe it's true because they can't see that it's workable, even though someone posted on a blog that they kept it -- so that problem is solved and goes away. If someone can keep it, then it's possible.

Problem solved.

Unknown said...

Black Ops-

Whether your theory holds water or not, the example and practice of Jesus and his fellow Jews Sabbath keeping gives provenance to the idea of a fixed weekly Sabbath as we find it today.

James Pate said...

I think Constantine had prohibitions about what is not allowed on Sunday. But they were not as strict as the Jewish Sabbath: they allowed farming.

Byker Bob said...

There are several facts, which when taken together, lead one to certain conclusions.

Jesus and the disciples are described as going to temple on a number of occasions, one of which was Hannukah (but that's another discussion). However, the only passage in all of the New Testament which specifically describes anyone associated with Jesus as observing the sabbath refers to the Galilean women who had been preparing the spices to annoint Jesus' dead body. Did they do this as a continuation of what Jesus had taught them, or was it a reaction similar to Peter's "I go fishing."?

Another discussion might involve the fact that until Jesus actually died on the cross, the Old Covenant was still in force. Then you have the disciples picking corn on the sabbath, which is certainly no different from stooping down and picking up "mannah". And, for some reason, when Jesus is enumerating the commandments, He leaves the sabbath out. In fact, there is no New Testament sabbath command.

There is also the concept of the Christian's sabbath rest, really his or her entire new life, resting from the old, sinful self, and this encompasses every single day, not just one of them.

How about non-biblical facts and logic? How does one observe the sabbath in "the land of the midnight sun?" And, why are the Old Covenant holydays upside down with the seasons in the southern hemisphere? These questions suggest that such rituals may have been specific to a geographic region, and for a specific time.

Finally, there is fixed calendar versus the calendar being computed by the priests as the year developed which had been based on lunar cycles, and agricultural phenomena, such as maturity of the barley crop. Hillel II developed the fixed Jewish calendar at about the same time as the Romans developed theirs. They seem to have influenced one another. This is probably why, even today, our calendars show Sunday as being the first day of the week.

There is, at the very least, a tremendous amount of unclarity on this topic in the New Testament. WCG dogma seems to have been arbitrary, based on Hisloppian styled leaps.


Phoebe Havisham said...

One thing is for sure, those who do not observe the sabbath will not suffer all the terrible misfortunes that we used to be threatened with. It has been 20 years and counting since I left all the cog brainwashing behind me. I am better off financially, physically, mentally, and every other way you might imagine. All the so called blessings the faithful were promised never materialized until I left that way of life behind. I don't need to be told by some arrogant, ill-educated git how to live my life, how to treat my neighbour, or my cat. Didn't Paul make the point to the Corinthians that even the gentiles (known as non-cogs these days) knew the difference between right and wrong?

Byker Bob said...

Connie, the terms "sabbath", or "seventh day" could equally apply under fixed calendars, or on ones counted from the new moon by the priests. Regardless as to method of setting it, they would have just called it the sabbath. Rosh Chodesh was one of the commanded convocations of the Sinai covenant.

The Julian calendar was a fixed calendar, used by the Romans of that era, but the Romans allowed the nations over which they exercised dominion to largely govern themselves. Jerusalem was one of a handful of showcase cities in the Roman Empire. The Jews would nearly have to have used their own calendar for calculating the dates of the sabbath and holydays. Hillel II laid the groundwork for the Jewish fixed calendar in the 300s C.E, but his calendar was not completely accepted and used until centuries later. Basically, he foresaw the priesthood structure as falling into disarray, and wanted to establish a more reliable method of assigning dates to the holy days, in perpetuity, independent of the priests. Calendars have great implications, and have always been the topic of debate. Some Eastern Orthodox Christian groups even today use the Roman Julian calendar instead of the later Gregorian calendar.


Anonymous said...

There are several facts..Jesus and the disciples are described as going to temple on a number of occasions..

That's not a verified fact, it's hearsay from faith literature.

Stephen said...

"Wrong question. Why? It just assumes there is such a thing as a Christian Sabbath, and once you've conceded that it's all downhill; off into the proof texts."

For me, it's the wrong question because it just assumes the christian religion and the christian scriptures. Once you've conceded that, and for no particularly good reason I might add, it's all downhill.

Christian apologists can present extremely presuppositionalist arguments that the claims for christianity are more "probable" than the claim for other religions, but if you were to sit down and actually start estimating probabilities on any remotely rational basis, you could only conclude that the probabilities are vanishingly close to zero. And besides, that's not how anyone, excepting perhaps those who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, select a religion anyway. It's done on a traditional, cultural, and/or emotional basis.

We were taught to read the protestant canon as though it were inerrant, and to dismiss the wisdom traditions of all other religions as though they were not, totally out-of-hand. To me it makes about as much sense to read "The Cat In The Hat" as though it were the inspired word of a god. After all, you can't prove it isn't. Once you've bought the assumption that the protestant canon is this unique, supernatural book unparalleled in human history, you come to that text in a way that's necessarily odd, which you only notice once you start wondering what strange things you might do instead if you were to read some other random piece of literature in that same way. Trouble is, there's nothing particularly unique about the Hebrew and Greek judeo-christian scriptures, and there's nothing about them that looks particularly supernatural either. So what if they aren't?

To me, issues pertaining to specific rituals are all very much downstream, predicated upon much broader claims for which I don't find there's any credible or probable basis. But don't get me wrong, there are traditional, cultural, and/or emotional bases for them. Now, however, we begin to get into how you prioritize your life values. I prioritize probable estimates of truth, and don't want to go against the probabilities to "believe" something, even if it might be comforting. But I realize other's mileage (kilometerage?) may vary.

Anonymous said...

There is the matter that there are some estimated ~41,000 Christian sects (including Catholics).

The percentage factor makes it highly unlikely that you will have The One Totally Inerrant True Religion.

With stats like that, even luck is too improbable to consider (especially if you follow Otagosh which has demonstrated that many of the books of the New Testament have been forged and other sources show that the gospels were written between 60 to 90 A.D. and probably not by anyone who could have even seen, let alone, met Jesus... if he existed. Second, third, fourth hand accounts are the order of the day and, really, the Scriptures just don't always agree with one another in detail no matter how hard people try to reconcile them.

It would seem that before establishing the Christian Sabbath, there should be a coordinated effort to prove God exists, the Bible is His Word and Jesus is the Savior.

The Armstrongist churches of God certainly have their work cut out for them.

Gavin R said...

I have no problem with Saturday services. Actually, I quite liked the difference from other churches. It also connects with the shared OT heritage, which is no bad thing in the context of so much ingrained churchly antisemitism. In my mind, the issue isn't 'which' but 'why'. The issue lies in the absolutism of Sabbatarianism as the COGs and SDAs teach it; the idea that this is intrinsically sacred time; that Sunday-keeping is the Mark of the Beast, etc. That certainly doesn't gel with the spirit of Romans 14.

Having said that, I was always amused by occasional stories of British WCG members happily relating how they stopped by at a pub after Sabbath or HD services for further "fellowship". That kind of thing fell well below the bar for strict Sabbatarianism. SDAs tend to be more consistent (and legalistic?).

I differ from Stephen on one point. Questions about the legitimacy of the Christian Sabbath can, I think, be discussed without necessarily coming from a faith perspective, just as all questions about church history and biblical exegesis can be addressed by scholars on purely literary and historical grounds.

Anonymous said...

In my view the position adopted by Stephen and also here by Black Ops Mikey is far more formidable and is a much firmer line of argument against Armstrongism overall than positions adopted by some of my favorite persons, like Byker Bob,Connie and Pam Dewey who underestimate the problems with Christianity and the Bible itself They fail to see that the Bible itself ,given a conservative ,literalist interpretation, is the source of many of the excesses in Armstrongism
All three are still embedded in some version of conservative Christianity, with Pam and Connie still clinging to Sabbath and feast days ,however non-legalistically, and BB enmeshed in his New Covenant Christianity Gavin is liberated from all this and so his critique of Armstrongism is more logically consistent Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

I might stand corrected on Connie's embrace of feast-keeping ,but I seemed to have gathered that from one of her posts I am sure ,though, that she embraces Sabbatarianism ,which is enough to make my point Ian Boyne

Byker Bob said...

The problem, Ian, is that the Bible takes a wide variety of approaches, possibly due to the many authors contributing, and the time span which it covers. As with any great piece of literature, different readers are going to identify with different precepts, the ideas which resonate with their souls. Hypothetically speaking, an obsessive-compulsive borderline sociopath would come away with a much different set of guiding precepts than would a Mother Teresa type. It isn't so much the Bible itself that was responsible for the excesses of Armstrongism. It was the Bible, as filtered through the mind of HWA! My Jewish friends over the years have expressed amazement over the idea that the detestable practices of Armstrongism could be rooted in"their" Torah! The loving, compassionate system of law, the social justice, and the logic and wisdom are the factors which cause Jews to love Torah.

Many of the things which were taught by HWA are "in the Bible" Some of those things may or may not apply to us in our time. Others, he amplified and distorted to serve his own purposes and hyper-ego, so badly that even God would not recognize them. And, then there was the totally bizarre, the extra-biblical theories which he believed and taught as "the truth". He exploited this amalgam to create an atmosphere of fear, rather than a Christ-like climate of love.

When we speak of a poisoned well, the primary poison was in fact the mind of HWA!


Anonymous said...

@Byker Bob A reasoned,thoughtful response to my proposition There is much I could say in elaborating my view, but more anon Suffice it to say ,it is this caliber of irenic engagement I am seeking on these blogs. You are a most worthy interlocutor. Ian Boyne

Anonymous said...

And, Byker Bob, it seems clear that anyone who took Armstrongism in as taught by Herbert Armstrong, hook, line and sinker, has such poor judgment that he (or she) could not discern the things wrong with it.

What is so amazing that such a person would think that now he (or she) would be able to separate out the 99.9% bad parts -- the poison in the well water -- and come up with something pure. If the person had such terribly bad judgment, how can they ever be certain that they can get anything right after being so badly deceived -- it's pure hubris.

It also speaks volumes and becomes a real challenge if women in the congregation fast and pray for the person proposing the changes, so that he can 'see' what is wrong with him. It's amateur hour in spades.

People who have been badly abused need someone talented with experience and competence to help the people, not one of them who really doesn't understand morals and ethics and has a magnetized moral compass. It's a patient thinking that he can be the doctor and perform surgery on others, when he can't even solve the problems for himself.

And worse, wants validation.

Byker Bob said...

Douglas, when I first started reading and contributing to the Painful Truth, Ed had some former ministers contributing on a regular basis. One of them in particular, John Ouvrier, had a lot of great things to contribute. I think he helped a lot of people their recoveries. So, I'm always optimistic that there could be a few more "uncommon" men who somehow got through the Armstrong ministerial factory with their souls unseared.

But, there is no cleaning up of Armstrongism possible. At best, perhaps an uncommon man could make it a little less bad. There is also a set of phenomena associated with lay members. Often, when they find a new group with whom to worship, they try to introduce some of the elements of Armstrongism into it, or are paranoid of the ministry, or just make their new friends be on edge and unjoyful.

I firmly believe that if there ever is an end time, and if God wants to get out a message, He's going to need to raise up an entirely new and different group, unrelated to Armstrongism. Anyone who is watching for the annointed ACOG group to emerge and rise above all the others and be prominent and blessed has been as equally disappointed as the people waiting for someone to get the math right in determining the date for the second coming.


Anonymous said...


In addressing the Christian Sabbath, there doesn't seem to be anyone anywhere willing to address the obvious: Why is the Sabbath?

The standard answer that people seem to have grouped to or crowdsourced is that it's to get together with other people in a social group. Really? I may have missed something, but I thought (looking at a variety of Scriptures) that it was all about God -- as in, God the Father.

In the Gospels, one quoted as being Jesus said something about coming that we could know God the Father. This is something new, since in the Old Testament, there is only about one (count it) ONE Scripture that even hints about the Father, and, excuse me, but Armstrongists believe that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament.

But by the time we get near the end of Revelation, it appears that the whole thing -- the existence of humanity -- is about what God says, that He will be their God and they will be His people. Jesus was just a tool as a means to an end: It appears that even Jesus (the Word) is subservient to everyone ending up being the people who have God as their Father.

One would assume that the Sabbath is really about resting and taking time to get to know God as the Father, yet, this seems to be a novel idea not at all subscribed to by Armstrongists. It's all about them having their own social group. It's to keep people together.

Now if God doesn't exist and / or the Bible is not the Word of God, then fine -- the only use the Sabbath could have for Christians devoid of God and Jesus is to get together and socialize -- but if that's the case, then the Sabbath as such is useless.

I really haven't much experienced anyone describing God as the Father or revealing who and what He may be, except that He has a lot of power and you have to tithe to support the Luxury Fund of His ministry or you'll be in BIG Trouble! Otherwise, God the Father is some sort of absent dead beat dad who expects loyalty and admiration from His children without being present and spending time with the kids. Moreover, it's not just the Armstrongists. It's pretty much all of Christianity. Oh, people go to their social group and they sing and fellowship, have coffee and snacks. They have sermons about everything but God as the Father. It's not about God, it's all about them. Gee, it's no wonder that He doesn't much answer prayer, what with everybody ignoring Him and all. It's all about the social group.

Doesn't anyone ever consider how insulting that would be to God the Father?

Well, this is just one more thing that's really 'off' about Armstrongism that can't be fixed because, let's face it, the Armstrongists don't know a thing about God the Father and it's all selfish promotion of their little social group.

If God does exist, wouldn't mere socializing be the last thing you'd want to do? Wouldn't you want to know God as the Father?

It just doesn't seem like it.

Minimalist said...

"Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?"

As the blogmaster points out, it's an invalid question.
The title itself is a False Dilemma.
If the title's no good, the book's no good.

Anonymous said...

So the early governors of New York were wrong in 1674, referring to their inhabitants as having people of all religions, even those who keep sabbath like the jews.

I see many old school "black stockings" (three services per sunday (or maybe two, hair covered like the muslims). A "Christian Sabbath" has that "New England" witch hunt ring to it. Thanks for explaining the Calvinistic origins of the expression.

As I said on other blogs. As a proud American HWA was influenced by a complex and unique mix of religions. In this case adopting a formula from Scottish presbyterianism or (Des Moines, Idaho) Dutch Calvinism, I guess.