Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Should Christians keep the Sabbath?

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." - Jesus (Mark 2:27)
Most Christians have already heard the basic things the Bible teaches about the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to Israel as a day of rest. Jesus healed on the Sabbath; some objected that he was a Sabbath-breaker. He explained the good of his actions, showing from their own Jewish tradition how the Sabbath did not stop someone from doing a greater good: they would circumcise a child into the covenant on the eighth day even if it fell on the Sabbath; the priests would serve in the Temple on the Sabbath; someone could rescue an animal that had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath day. He said the Son of Man was Lord of the Sabbath. After Jesus' ascension the early church leaders met to discuss which of the ancient Jewish laws applied in the church among the Gentiles, and the Sabbath was not mentioned. In the New Testament letters, we are told not to let anyone judge us about the Sabbath day. Paul wrote that some people valued all days equally, and some held one day above another -- that each of us should be fully convinced in his own mind, but that we should not judge each other or cause someone to trip up over these things.

So there we have one of the delicate balances about the Sabbath: we are not made to serve it. But still it was made for us:
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." - Jesus (Mark 2:27)
If it was made for us, we are permitted to enjoy its blessings, keeping in mind: the Sabbath is not Lord over us us; Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.

Related notes:
  1. Somewhere I read that in ancient times a pagan had criticized the Jews over the Sabbath, saying they were lazy to keep the Sabbath because a Sabbath would leave the work un-done. The Jewish response was: the command says "In six days you shall do all your work" and on the seventh rest -- so that the whole command was kept not only in the one day of rest, but also in the six days of completing all the work so that it was possible to take a day of rest without neglecting important things.

  2. The Sabbath was given as a memory of God resting from his work, and also as it says in memory of Israel's rescue from slavery. So the Sabbath is a lasting memorial of a rescue from slavery. In our age it can be a reminder not to become enslaved willingly. Some types of people become over-committed, and we risk becoming slaves to ourselves, never having a day of rest.

  3. Once in war-time the staff of an aluminum plant worked seven-day weeks. At the end of the war, when they first scaled back to six-day weeks, the plant produced more per week in the six-day weeks than it had in the seven-day weeks. I have this on the word of one of the plant managers, who was my grandfather.

  4. Again, I read somewhere that while people do produce more if they have a day of rest, that we must not imagine that is the true purpose of keeping a Sabbath: as if the true purpose of man were to be productive workers, and the Sabbath was meant to serve our productivity. Instead, the Sabbath is kept as a blessing in itself, not for the sake of something else.

  5. It's likely that the things I've remembered reading, as mentioned in this post, can be found either in the text or footnotes for A.J. Heschel's The Sabbath. I would give that book mixed reviews, but it was well worth the read.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

A dear friend tells of her dad, who died in 2010 when he was 90 something
He ran a farm all those years. She said that they worked hard, but Sun was a day for fun, even water skiing, after church.

My husband is a hard worker, at an office job. He also enjoys working hard at physical stuff outside on his off days, and he plays hard, but he always attends church. I do think that he doesn't have enough Sabbath Balance, my phrase, because he NEVER even takes coffee breaks. But he is very healthy, physically.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

By "Sabbath" do you mean the Jewish Sabbath, or the Day of Resurrection, Sunday?

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi PS -

I like your phrase "Sabbath balance". I have relatives who don't keep that, and it takes a toll.

Hi Anastasia -

Generally, Christians think of a Sabbath of worship, while the Torah spoke in terms of a Sabbath of rest. As far as a Sabbath of worship I prefer Sunday in honor of Jesus' resurrection, though I wouldn't give anyone a hard time for what day of the week they worship. As far as a Sabbath of rest, I couldn't in conscience give anyone a hard time for having no Sabbath at all. So the point of this post boils down to the fact that the Sabbath of rest was originally a gift, "The Sabbath was made for man," which leaves us free to enjoy that gift.

So what are your thoughts on the Jewish Sabbath and the Day of Resurrection? You'll often look at things from an angle that wouldn't occur to me, just because of your tradition.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

No particular thoughts. As every Sunday is a "little Easter," I believe that should be kept by Christians. But of course worship is also appropriate every day.

As far as resting, I'm sure you'll agree the best arrangement would be to do it Tuesdays through Sundays and then work on Mondays.

Yes, the Sabbath was a gift, as well as a commandment. ISTM the most important thing for us to remember is that this commandment is just like all the others in that respect. They're GIFTS, first and foremost. They were stop-gap measures, preliminary and provisional, to help people imitate (imitate only!) the spiritual life until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can live the true spiritual life, which is the life led by His promptings, enjoying the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Or as St. Paul said of the law, it was our nanny, our wonderful, beloved nanny, to keep us until Christ should come.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

When I was first into reading blogs, I searched for Lutheran blogs, and there were quite a few from a certain Lutheran group that thinks of itself as very conservative and Bible believing, but also seems to me to be legalistic.

I ran across quite a bit there about how worship had to be on Sunday; no serving the people with Sat evening services or mid week services, even if certain people always worked on Sunday.

My church has never had mid week services except for during lent, so I'm not holding up what we do as a paragon. But when looking up the various ELCA churches near where my mom lives, in several towns around there, I noticed that they all seemed to have various times during the week as an alternative to Sunday Worship.

My take on this is that if we Christians expect to be able to purchase gas, go to a Big Box Store or to a restaurant after Sunday Services, we should provide alternative worship times. In the best of all possible worlds, of course.

But getting back to that Lutheran Sub group: Interesting how they provide services to nursing homes during the week, not on Sunday. Reality hits, I guess. And they don't come there every week either.

Weekend Fisher said...

As far as a "rest" type Sabbath - I've taught Sunday school for so many years that the reality is: I "work" Sunday mornings, if only for an hour.

And while I'm all on board with wanting to worship on Sunday in honor of Jesus' resurrection, I really don't get it about *not* worshiping on other days too. I mean, is there such a thing as a wrong day to pray, study the Scriptures, or sing a hymn? It's a mystery ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I agree, every day and hour and moment is appropriate for worship. But the main public worship ought to be on Sundays.

And by the way, parents bringing their small children to church are working hard during that time, too, in fact all morning, what with getting the kids fed and cleaned and dressed and so forth...

Martin LaBar said...

I think Romans 14:1-9 is pertinent to this topic.