Thursday, April 13, 2006

Legalism, Pharisees, and the Sabbath Day

Inevitably, it seems, when one begins to speak of Sunday as the "Christian Sabbath," the specter of legalism raises it ugly heads. I find this accusation to be fairly limp and wet noodlish. The fact is that if an exegetical case can be made for a perpetual Lord's Day, it is no more legalistic to insist upon its observance than it is to insist upon sexual purity and truthfulness.

Let's be crystal clear here: no one will be saved through Sabbath keeping or sexual purity. Salvation is by grace through faith alone. No one is disputing that. However, if someone claims to be a believer and then ignores the commands of the Lord, they render their testimony doubtful.

I'm not trying to pick on Jim who posted a response in the comments, but I want to examine something he said because it is a fairly typical response. First, he mentioned that he breaks every commandment of the ten commandments every day. Now, I doubt this but let's give Jim some credit. He may be breaking every commandment every day. (I am certainly glad I'm not Jim's neighbor if he is killing someone every day!) This objection to not keep the Sabbath is still a non-issue. Most Christians, and I believe Jim to be one of them, would admit that they ought not to commit adultery every day, and in so much as God allows, they endeavor not to sin against their neighbor in such a manner. The other option is simply to throw up one's hands and say, "Oh well, I'm already a lying, cheating, stealing, adulterer, I might as well be a Sabbath breaker as well."

At this point, Jim moves the conversation to James and quotes, I believe, from James 1:10. Here James writes, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." I believe that Jim understands this to mean that if you lie, then you are a murderer. I do not believe that this is exactly what James is teaching here, however, for the sake of argument, I'm am going to go with this understanding.* The reason is because this understanding does not exempt us from keeping God's commands. In fact, if Jim is correct in his interpretation of this passage, and he is keeping every other commandment except Sabbath keeping, then he is a murderer as well!

I believe, then, the tradition of the Christian Sabbath must be explored to see if it is a Biblical principle. I believe that it is clear in Scripture that God took the Sabbath as seriously as any other command that He gave. For example:

1. He included the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. Nine of which are universally and literally affirmed, this one being the only exception.

2. Violation of the Sabbath was a captial offense in the Old Testament, demonstrating the seriousness of the command (Exodus 31:14, 35:12).

3. It is called a perpetual covenant for the children of Israel (Ex. 31:16).

4. God destroyed Israel for Sabbath breaking (Jeremiah 17:27).

So for the next post, I will use the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and see if they can build a Scriptural case for the Christian Sabbath. I will heartily take up Jim's advice if the document proves that this is indeed a Biblical principle and become a Sabbath keeper.

*Note: I believe that James is simply teaching that if one breaks a law, any law, then one has become a law-breaker. Any violation of God's holy law is a violation of the principle of neighbor-love, according to James. Our own law functions in a similar way. If one man steals a car, and another man kindnaps, they have both become felons. A liar and a murderer are both law-breakers and transgressors, but that does not literally mean that a liar is a murderer in the strictest sense.


Jim said...

Brad, does not anger count as murder and lust as adultery? Jesus wants us to examine the core motives, being the deceitfulness of our hearts. What about coveting?

I look forward to your discourse on the Sabbath.

And yes of course, if I steal I am not technically a murderer. As you say, I have simply become a lawbreaker who stands guilty.

God bless,

p.s. I don't think you would have any problems being my neighbour! :)

Gummby said...

Can't wait to see the next post. I think you're wrong, but maybe you can help me see the error of my ways.

Sojourner said...


As long as you don't cut me into little pieces we'd probably get along fine.;)


You think I'm wrong? About what? The James passage? I cannot possibly be wrong about the Sabbath issue because I don't even know what to think about it yet. I'm hoping that the LBC brethren will clarify things for me. I'm simply giving them the benefit of the doubt out of respect for their character.

Gummby said...

My bad. I read this So for the next post, I will use the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and see if they can build a Scriptural case for the Christian Sabbath., but took it to mean this: "I will use the London Baptist Confession of 1689 to build a Scriptural case for the Christian Sabbath."

I don't think there is such a thing as the Christian Sabbath, at least not in the sense I think you mean.

Daniel said...

I believe that the OT Sabbath pictured the NT 'rest' - though most Christians fail to actually enter into that rest, being either ignorant of it, or believing that it is something else entirely.

So, like Matt, I also do not think you will be able to make a viable "Sunday is the new Sabbath" case from scripture, even if I didn't think that "entering into rest" was the new Sabbath, I still see absolutely nothing in the NT that suggests we are too keep the OT laws (including the Law of the Sabbath) - excepting, if you will that we keep our selves from sexual purity and eating meat with the blood still in it - and even this has some context that could be discussed.

Sojourner said...


I think you meant to say that we should "Keep ourselves from sexual immorality" not "from sexual purity." :)

Daniel said...

yeah - that's the stuff.

I once had the joy of reading a statement at a business meeting for our church regarding our child care policy (I am part of the leadership, and was speaking in my capacity as the chair of Christian Education Committee). I can't remember the exact turn of phrase I used, but it was the very last thing I said, in fact, I said it just after my eyes had taken their last look at the sheet I was reading from, and as I was putting it aside I recited the last bit. I was speaking about our children requiring "supervision" or something like that but I ended up saying our children required, "circumcision."

There was much "rejoicing" at that.