Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reflections on the Sabbath by Chris Shipley

My friend Chris Shipley, a recent graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and a thoughtful student of God's Word, wrote the following very interesting thoughts to me in an email. I have permission to post them here (see below). I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the Sabbath as well.

"I am currently convinced that the whole Law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ, so that now Christ is our rest, being hidden in Him and reconciled to God. Arguments of the Sabbath being a creation ordinance is true but misleading. Sabbath simply means “rest” and it is actually “rest” which is a creation ordinance, and as one follows biblical revelation, the “rest” theme builds from Eden, then lost in the Fall, but promised and linked with land through Abraham, partially realized through Joshua and Israel entering the land of rest, further realized, though still partially, through David and Solomon establishing rest in the land “on all sides”, then losing it again through Israel’s sin and being exiled out of the land and cast from their rest (much like Eden), then Israel returning to the land but with no rest, being still under foreign rule (Persia, Seleucids, Rome), then Jesus comes, who is the temple, Word, and rest of God in the flesh, the prince of peace. All the peace, rest, provision, and land that was promised to God’s people before is now fully realized in Christ, though the full consummation or experience or manifestation or establishment of it is not yet. At Christ’s return, in the new heavens and new earth, the land and rest themes are fully consummated under the rule of King Jesus and are global in their realization.

However, we live in the already-not yet stage of redemptive history, being in Christ yet having not fully entered the land yet nor fully experiencing God’s rest from all our labors (Heb.4). How then should be understand rest or Sabbath now? There is no NT command to rest on Saturday or Sunday, no teaching by Christ or his disciples on a NT Sabbath. We read of the Lord’s Day 3 or 4 times in the NT, but it was defined as a day of rest, but one of gathering together for communion with Christ and each other (a concept foreign to Israel under the Law – they probably observed the Sabbath at home alone). In fact, the NT Lord’s Day was birthed in a Roman context, a work day in which, for the first 300 years (Constantine made Sunday a holiday after 300 AD), Christians often met early on a Sunday morning, a Roman work day, and gathered to sing, pray, hear the Bible read and preached, and share the Lord’s Supper. It was the day on which Christ rose from the dead, and Christians have been meeting on Sunday ever since, actively celebrating their redemption together in Christ. This does not seem very much like the Sabbath of the OT at all.

So, I believe there is a rest for today for Christians, a Sabbath, but it is everyday (much like the priests of the OT, who worked on the Sabbath without breaking the Law), and not merely one day. We are to rest in Him daily all the while seeking our final rest, crying out Maranatha! Therefore, I believe a Christian violates no law or command of Christ if he or she works 7 days a week. Is it wise to do so? No, for such a person is neglecting the truth about the way God made us – dependent, finite, and fatigable. So, we may diligently work 7 days a week to spread the gospel, dispense mercy, and manifest the glories of Christ from a thankful heart in any working environment in the world, but also be wise to know our bodies, eat well, exercise well, and take regular rest. This position seems to take biblical wisdom and typological fulfillment in Christ together well and not do some hermeneutical gymnastics to make Saturday or Sunday excessive reverent above other days, as though it was especially set aside from the others. Romans 14:5-6 speaks well to this, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” And God receives both of them!

Certainly wisdom calls for regular rest from work, since we are finite beings. But for Sabbatarians to then elevate this biblical wisdom to a NT command by borrowing illegitimately from the OT Law without considering that the Law has been “fulfilled” and “set aside” by Christ seems wrong to me. Often what Sabbatarians do is say the Sabbath is a creation ordinance rooted in Genesis 1, but then go on to define what the Sabbath is according to the Law in Exodus and not according to Genesis. Again, this seems like an inconsistent way of interpreting things."

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