Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.
This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.
As a child, I don’t remember any mention of Sabbath. I memorized the Ten Commandments for bonus points at Bible school one summer, so obviously the word was in my vocabulary. But I don’t recall ever giving much consideration to how this ancient-sounding term might be meant to impact life today.
But Melanie changed that.
She and her family were some of the finest people I knew, and I counted her among the classmates that I most genuinely enjoyed in high school. Her family drove quite some distance to be active in an Adventist church. If the weekly commute wasn’t noteworthy enough, they worshiped on Saturdays. How weird was that! And they used the word Sabbath – it was a legitimate term, still alive in their mouths as they lived out their days in the 20th century.
So I asked the question that every kid asks when they encounter a way of living different from his own: “Why don’t we do that?” Truth be told, I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t begin going to church on Saturdays; that would have ruined my sporting life and cheated me out of the Saturday morning cartoons and WWF served up by our three TV channels. But this was one of the earliest instances where I met someone else who valued the Bible and loved God and desired to please Him, yet did so in visibly different ways. What to do with that?
Back to Sabbath: I got my answer. Now you should know that I grew up in a fellowship of churches who prided ourselves on seriousness about Scripture and a fierce commitment to “New Testament Christianity”, a long-standing goal within the Restoration Movement from which my childhood church had sprung. In a sentence, this form of “restoration” was a deeply-convicted drive to (wait for it) restore the first-century church. (I confess to having a long list of questions about this entire venture of restoration, but that will have to be another set of posts. In this space, I share this only to provide context for what comes next.)
I don’t know who voiced it. It may have been my parents. It might have been our preacher. It may have even been whichever adult was teaching my Sunday school class at the time. The particular voice doesn’t matter, for the answer rang true from the collective consciousness of our congregation.
Q: “Why don’t we observe Sabbath?”
A: “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.”
One could do lifelong study on how Old Testament laws are handled in light of the New Testament. One current example that highlights the issue well is found in the red-hot discussion around homosexuality. Many note that the Bible explicitly speaks of homosexuality only a handful of times. Some then make the move of attempting to undercut the majority of those passages, from the Old Testament, by highlighting inconsistencies in how we handle Old Testament laws. “God hates gays” (a statement I’ve never actually heard from the lips of any Christian I know) gets rebutted with “Well, God hates shrimp too.” Sharp-witted way of stating, “We’re obviously not heeding some of these old rules. Can’t we just toss them all?”
(For a brief-but-helpful explanation of how to handle Old Testament laws with integrity and consistency, Tim Keller offers these guidelines.)
How does this speak to Sabbath? It attempts to decode the meaning behind, “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.” (JDSWHTDI) For some, Sabbath has been dismissed; it’s viewed as expired, unnecessary, burdensome, even unhelpful.
I don’t see it that way.
If the discussion revolved around cutting bacon from our diets, I’d lead the charge on playing our JDSWHTDI cards. If stoning rebellious children were the topic, loving parents the world over would lay down their JDSWHTDI cards. If circumcision were put forward as the chat of the day, you can already hear half the population slamming down their JDSWHTDI cards!
While joking somewhat, I am serious when I say: I think we need better reasons to disregard Scripture’s teaching of Sabbath. When your Maker puts out a call to regularly rest, to habitually slow, to set periods aside when “More God” is the only item on your task list – that seems to me like a time to put away your JDSWHTDI card, and instead to play your IDTUHTMTS card.
“I’ll do that until he tells me to stop.”
Just a thought.
- What do you do with the concept of Sabbath?
- Practice it? Wonder at it? File it away?
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