High Church, High Sabbath
Christianity in America today is excessively individualistic. Due to revivalism within evangelicalism (which stressed the believer’s personal experience of Christ at the expense of churchly piety and the ordinary public means of grace), many professing Christians today imagine that they can be faithful Christians without being active and responsible members of a local Bible-believing church. Many believers in America (due to their general ignorance of and lack of appreciation for church history) do not realize what an historical anomaly this is, for throughout most of church history the idea that one could be a faithful Christian without also being a responsible church member would have been viewed as patently absurd. The old Reformed view was that outside of the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (not because the church saves, but because Christ, who alone saves sinners, has entrusted the means of grace – especially the preaching of the Word – to the visible church). The newer revivalistic evangelical view is that the visible church may be a help to the Christian in his personal walk with Christ, but it is not really all that vital and necessary to be a formal member of such a church.
In adition to being excessively individualistic and manifesting a low view of the visible church, Christianity in America today also has a low view of the Christian Sabbath. Many pastors can testify to their struggle in encouraging even otherwise faithful church members to make regular church attendance on every Lord’s Day and at every Lord’s Day service a priority in their Christian lives. How often do we find that even otherwise committed church members feel comfortable occasionally skipping church in order to attend a family function; or to work some overtime to make some extra money (even though their workplace may not require them to work on Sunday); or simply to skip church because it has been a hard week at the office and they want to spend the morning sunbathing or playing golf or watching the Sunday morning news shows. (Or, because it is “Superbowl Sunday” and they want to stay home to catch all of the pre-game shows.) Even to suggest to such members that they might actually be sinning against God by skipping church for these less-than-biblical reasons could very well result in an indignant and offended response. “How dare you judge me!” “You are being legalistic!” “Aren’t you being a bit pharisaical about this?”
Whatever the reaction may be, the fact is that the worship of God in the public assembly of God’s people is both our highest privilege as well as our highest duty. I know many of us American Christians don’t like this “D” word (due to our excessive individualism and our instinctive dislike of any higher authority telling us what to do), but the Scriptures are crystal clear on the duty of Christians not to forsake assembling with other believers in church. (Yes, Heb. 10:25 appears clearly to be speaking of a public service of Christian worship, a holy convocation of God’s people gathered together for Divine liturgy, not merely an informal “home fellowship” or a laid-back gathering of believers at Starbucks to enjoy some coffee and a spiritual conversation together.) But, of course, the Scriptures also command us to set aside one whole day in seven for purposes of rest and worship (Exod. 20:8-11; Lev. 23:3; Mk. 10:27). A low view of the Christian Sabbath and a low view of church attendance and church membership often seem to go hand-in-hand. Therefore, it would seem that an important key to restoring a high view of church attendance and of church membership is to recover a high view of the Lord’s Day and its observance. After all, in Scripture Sunday is not merely revealed to be “the Lord’s hour”; rather, it is described as “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10, ESV, emphasis added). The Scriptures teach that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday), bringing in a new creation and thereby changing the day of rest and worship (the Sabbath) from Saturday to Sunday. The Book of Acts attests to the fact that the early Christians recognized the implications of our Lord’s resurrection by meeting for their worship services on the first day of the week (Sunday, the Christian Sabbath). The Sabbath/Lord’s Day is meant to be a spiritual blessing to God’s people.
Genuine renewal in the church will be evidenced by a more faithful and earnest attendance at all of the stated services on the Lord’s Day. When such renewal occurs there will be a deepened hunger among God’s people for the public means of grace (Word, Sacraments, and Prayer) and a renewed love and zeal for corporate worship. I suspect that such a renewal cannot be expected apart from a renewed stress by Ministers of the Word upon the vital importance and duties of church attendance, church membership, and observance of the Christian Sabbath. If a high view of the church is recovered, then one should expect a high view of the Christian Sabbath (or “Lord’s Day” if you prefer) to be recovered as well. Let us pray for the day when American Christians will repent of their excessive individualism, their lack of love for Christ’s church, and their Sabbath-breaking/Lord’s Day desecration. Let us pray for the day when Christian individuals and families will call the Sabbath a delight; when believers will delight in attending upon the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the other public ordinances of the church, and at both morning and evening services (in churches which offer such evening services); when believers will view the Lord’s Day as a day of intensified discipleship, spiritual and physical rest, and deepened fellowship with their Lord and their fellow believers.