The Christian Sabbath essential to the Church’s health
“Just another manic Monday. I wish it were Sunday; cause that’s my fun day; my I-don’t-have-to-run day. Just another manic Monday.”
So sang the American pop rock band The Bangles in their 1986 hit song “Manic Monday”, from their album “Different Light”. In the main chorus of the song they express a sentiment about Sunday that appears to be shared by many in our contemporary society: that it is a “fun day.” A day for recreational activity, sporting events, family activities and fun distractions.
In other words, a day for “me time.”
Sadly, it seems that many Christians today share the Bangles’ philosophy of Sunday: that it is primarily a “fun day.”
Yes, many Christians in the U.S. continue to regularly attend a service of holy worship for an hour or so on Sunday, and for that we may be thankful (1). But few Christians today seem to view Sunday as the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath. Instead, many seem to be following our increasingly-secularized culture in viewing Sunday as primarily a day of recreational activities, or an opportunity to do projects around the house, or a day to catch up on the news, or even as just another day taken up largely by secular employments, though ideally at a more relaxed pace.
Sunday has become a day when shopping malls, sports arenas, restaurants and concert halls are often jam-packed full, but church attendance is increasingly shrinking.
On a recent Lord’s Day as I and my family were traveling to church we passed a car dealership that was hosting a car show for the community. All kinds of classic cars with their hoods propped open were on display at the lot and even at that early hour crowds were starting to gather. By the time we returned home from church this car show was bustling with people. Now, I have nothing against car shows as such, but I was saddened as I thought about how many lost souls in our area viewed that particular Sunday as “car show day” instead of as what it actually was — the Lord’s Day, the day when our covenant God comes in grace to bless His covenant people with His gifts of grace and forgiveness and spiritual renewal through the means of grace.
Yet we have the audacity to wonder why God’s Name is so openly taken in vain in our society, why many Christians are so worldly-minded, spiritually-immature and biblically-illiterate, and why Christ’s churches are so weakened in their spiritual power and testimony for Christ.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Hallowed be Thy Name.” One of the ways that God’s Name is hallowed is by the hallowing of His Day, the Lord’s Day. When the Lord’s Day is desecrated through a secular, man-centered focus, God’s Name is taken in vain. When God’s Name is taken in vain, His Son, our Savior, is dishonored. When the Son of God is dishonored, His visible church is weakened in its testimony and in spiritual power. When the visible church is weakened, individual believers are also weakened. All of these things are inextricably intertwined. The honoring of God’s Day is essential to the health of Christ’s church.
In the most recent (2016) edition of The Confessional Presbyterian journal, Chris Coldwell, the general editor of the journal, wrote an article entitled “Dropping the Subject, Again? The Decline of Sabbatarianism in the Old Southern Presbyterian Church and in the Presbyterian Church in America.” In this article he offers the following powerful quote from the 1944 committee report of the Permanent Committee on the Sabbath of the PCUS (i.e., southern Presbyterian) General Assembly:
“God’s Name, God’s Book, God’s Son, God’s Church and God’s Day are ESSENTIAL factors in the spiritual life of the individual, the Church and the nation. Each is of supreme importance in itself; but the full blessings of God’s Name, God’s Word, God’s Worship and God’s Son will be largely lost if God’s Day is lost. Inasmuch as the attitude toward God’s Day is vitally linked with the attitude toward God’s name, God’s Book, God’s Son and God’s Church, the attitude toward God’s Day should be of vital concern to God’s people.” (Quoted on p. 70 of The Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Volume 12, 2016. Copied by permission.)(2)
Rev. Todd Smith, pastor of Faith Bible OPC in Brick, New Jersey, recently wrote a reflection on the recent controversy surrounding NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem. In his reflection he wrote the following:
“I saw a “Presbyterian Meme” this week that stated, “NFL quarterback violates the Sabbath weekly, no one bats an eye. Quarterback refuses to venerate symbol of nationalistic religion, everyone loses their minds.” Where is the outrage that thousands, no millions, each week violate the Lord’s Day to worship sports and entertainment? Where is the outrage that the sabbath is desecrated week after week (or the breaking of any of the other commandments)? Where are the cries of horror and despair that God’s name is maligned, rather than one man not standing for the national anthem? Perhaps the lack of outrage simply shows that in our culture today America and national pride has a higher standing in our eyes than God does. Evidently, we are more concerned with preserving the respect for our country and our flag than we are for preserving and respecting the name and the will of God.”
The sabbath was instituted at creation (Genesis 2:3), enshrined in stone on the ten commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), and honored and observed by the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry (Mark 2:27, etc.). The change of the sabbath day to the first day of the week was effected by the epoch-making event of Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week – Sunday. It is the day when the early church, under the inspired guidance of the apostles, met for worship (Acts 20:7; First Corinthians 16:2; etc.). It is not only a moral duty; it is also an eschatological sign that points the church forward to the consummated, eternal sabbath rest in Christ that she will enjoy when Christ returns in glory and ushers in the eternal state (Hebrews 4). As such it is a Day that is essential the church’s spiritual health and well being.
If we lose the Lord’s Day, in the long run we will lose the visible church. If we lose the visible church, we will lose the gospel, for Christ has entrusted His gospel to the visible church, and outside of the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2). If we lose the gospel, we lose all eternal hope, and are given over to be shackled to merely earth-bound prospects of a fleeting, fallen, sin-cursed world.
By the grace of God let us as believers and as a church strive to honor the Name of our God by observing Sunday, not as our “fun day,” but as it actually is – the Lord’s Day. Let us do so, not in a spirit of legalism or spiritual pride or pharisaical casuistry, but out of gratitude for the gift of the salvation-rest we have graciously received in Christ our Savior. As we become more consistent in honoring the Lord on His Day, I believe we will find our own individual walks with the Lord strengthened, and we will find the church’s health and vitality improving.
(1) Although many contemporary churches follow the Roman Catholic practice of offering parishioners a Saturday evening Mass by offering a Saturday evening service in addition to their Sunday schedule, thereby giving congregants the option of getting their church duty out of the way on Saturday so they can have Sunday all to themselves.
(2) For more information on The Confessional Presbyterian Journal, go here: http://www.cpjournal.com