The Sabbath, Sunday, and the Lord’s Day

2014.12.03 - first Christians in KievMust Sunday be the church’s weekly day of worship? Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? This article all-too-briefly surveys numerous passages that have been used to answer these questions in different ways. This article gives my own response to these difficult questions, one response that differs from others who seek to be faithful to Scripture.

God created all things in six days and ceased His creative work on the seventh (Gen 2:1–3). There is no mention of worship, but this rest is used as a picture of the eternal rest that we have entered through salvation and will experience in full when our lives our over (Heb 4:8–11).

Shortly before the formal giving of the Mosaic Law, Israel was commanded to rest every seventh day (Ex 16:23, 25–26), likely following the pattern God Himself had given in Gen 2:1–3. When Israel did receive the Mosaic Law, the fourth commandment expressly commanded Israel to set aside every seventh day (the Sabbath) for the purpose of rest, an act in keeping with God’s example in Gen 2:1–3 (Ex 20:8–11). The Mosaic Law added that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic Covenant that God had made with Israel (Ex 31:13, 16), spoke to her release from slavery in Egypt (Deut 5:12–15), and reiterated that the Sabbath’s purpose was for rest (Ex 31:15, 17; 34:21). Israel likely worshipped God each Sabbath, and the nation gathered for feasts and worship that coincided with Sabbath days as well (Lev 23:3; cf. 16:31; 23:24, 32; 25:4). Because of the significance of this command, violators would be executed (Ex 31:14–15; cf. Num 15:32–36).

In the NT, Jesus regularly frequented synagogues on the Sabbath to preach the gospel (Luke 4:14–16). After Jesus’ resurrection, Paul did the same (Acts 17:2; 18:4). However, apart from these types of references to the Sabbath, it is clear that the NT church did not keep the Sabbath as a whole. Individuals were to keep the Sabbath if they were convinced in their own minds that they were to do so (Rom 14:5–6), but they were forbidden to pass judgment on others who did not (Col 2:16–17). To require others to observe the Sabbath yields no spiritual value and implies a rejection of God’s inward rule and a return to the externals of the Mosaic law (Gal 4:9–11).

Similar to Israel’s habit of worship on the seventh day (and this is no more than similarity), the church regularly met on the first day of the week to worship, a gathering not to be neglected (Heb 10:24–25). Just as Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1–2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19), so also do we see the example of a church assembling on the same day (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor 16:2). This pattern was true of “the churches of Galatia” (1 Cor 16:1) and likely all the churches in the NT. John worshipped on “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10), a term that many Christians use to refer to this day.

God’s rest on the seventh day of the creation week is an example for us today. Resting one day out of seven day is part of God’s created order. Along with this, Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath, but the local church should follow the example of the early church and gather every first day of the week for worship when the church is best able to do so.

Outlined Summary

  1. Old Testament
    • God ceased His work on the seventh day of the creation week (Gen 2:1–3).
    • This rest pictures our eternal rest to come (Heb 4:8–11).
    • For Israel, the seventh day became the Sabbath, a day of rest (Ex 20:8–11), a sign of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 31:13, 16), a sign of release from slavery (Deut 5:12–15), and coincided with feasts (Lev 23), and likely involved weekly worship.
  2. New Testament
    • Honoring the Sabbath is a matter of personal conviction (Rom 14:5–6).
    • Those who abstain from honoring the Sabbath are not condemned (Col 2:16–17).
    • Requiring others to honor the Sabbath yields no spiritual value (Gal 4:9–11).
    • From those three texts, I fail to see the Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. I do see, however, a day of rest each week in that God’s rest was part of the created order.
    • As for worship on Sundays, the early church met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), a pattern for us today (1 Cor 16:1–2), a meeting not to be neglected (Heb 10:24–25). From Rev 1:10, some call this “the Lord’s day.”

How to Read Scripture Out Loud in a Service: One Pastor’s Advice

Timothy was sent by Paul to preside over the church in Ephesus and restore it to order in light of a problem with its elders (cf. 1 Tim 1:3–5). In doing so, his attention to the weekly assembly was to ensure the presence of several components, three of which are mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:13. Paul commanded, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13).

I believe that this command is prescriptive for the church today. The text literally reads “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, the exhortation, the teaching.” The definite article for each item assumes their regular place at the weekly assembly. Other texts assume and example the reading of letters as well (e.g., 1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16; Rev 1:3).

A Scripture reading may look very different from one church to the next. Some have a single person read. Other churches engage the congregation by reading responsively, alternating between the lead reader and everyone reading together, typically alternating at each verse. Some churches use overhead screens to project the text. Some use only Bibles. Some congregations stand. Some do not. Some read whole chapters. Some read shorter texts. Some read a chapter of a book each week to go through the Bible. Some churches pick a text related to the sermon or the sermon text itself.

For our church, I usually pick a text somehow related to our sermon. We have a handful of men who rotate for the Scripture reading. My advice in such a situation is that the reader needs to read well―not in a flowery manner, but does well to emphasize appropriately. He should practice out loud beforehand and make sure he knows how to pronounce every word properly. Personally, I find that responsive reading is distracting because I am always waiting for when to read rather than focusing wholly on the import of what is being read. With a good reader, people can follow along and grasp the reading well.

By no means does our manner of Scripture reading stand as a prime example for others. Whatever the case, I do think Paul’s command to Timothy stands for leaders of the church today. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, whether it is you as the pastor, or someone else to whom you have delegated this responsibility.

Personal Shepherding Goals and Guidelines

I wrote this out for my church this past week. This is nothing profound but simply one man’s method of his approach to personal shepherding.

Personal Shepherding Goals and Guidelines for Pastor Huffstutler 

With my dissertation now out of the way, I can give myself to you all the more. In doing so, I thought it would be helpful to communicate my personal goals and guidelines for meeting with the folks of our church on a more regular and personal basis. In a nutshell, I plan to meet with the men regularly, families occasionally, and women as necessary.

Regular Meetings with Men

I enjoy regularly meeting with the men of our church in groups, and I am glad to meet with you individually as well. These times allow me to encourage you in your spiritual growth and even go through a specific Bible study together. By meeting with the men in our church, my goal is to reproduce my ministry by encouraging you as men to become godly examples and leaders within our church.

Occasional Visits with Families

I often think of our church in terms of our families, whether the family is a single person, a married couple, or a parent or parents with children. We have twenty-two “family units” in our church, and my goal is to meet with every family at least once every three months. I enjoy the opportunity to talk with folks in their home if possible, and I am also glad to invite folks over to our home as well. If I have met with the head of a family, I typically consider it as having met with the family as a whole even though I have not necessarily met with every single person.

Necessary Meetings with Women

Maintaining a testimony of purity requires me to have certain guidelines when it comes to meeting with women. I am glad to counsel my Christian sisters as necessary, but unless her age would allow her to be my mother or grandmother, I will not meet with her alone. I can meet with women in my office as long as there is someone else present in the church building. If the issue requires long-term counseling or could be better counseled by a woman, I will encourage you to meet with my wife or another godly lady in our church who would offer solid, biblical counsel.

Why Do You Do This?

I do not operate according to the phrase, “My door is always open to you.” When I hear this, I really hear, “See me when you really need something. Otherwise, I am going to be doing something else.” My walking through the door of your home or your walking through the door of my office or home should simply be a confirmation of the relationship that we have already have as brothers and sisters in the household of God. I will be there in times of trouble, but from my experience, I am for more able to shepherd when I meet with the flock on a regular and personal basis.

 

Understanding the Small Church

I pastor a small church and love it. Glenn Daman wrote “Understanding the Small Church,” an article for a magazine called Voice. Apart from the hypothetical story at the beginning (I am no fan of seeker-sensitive philosophy), I felt his description of the characteristics of a small church in the middle of his article applied to my own situation in many ways. This article has been reposted online in three parts: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Parenting and Ministering to Children in the Church

In my blog reading this past month, I came across a helpful number of articles on parenting and ministering to children in the church.

Here’s an an encouraging article for parents who bring small children to church: “To You Who Bring Small Children to Church.”

Here’s one for nursery workers: “7 Reasons to Serve in the Church Nursery.”

Here’s one for parents of teens: “Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make.”

A Biblical Basis for Church Revitalization

Paul planted a number of churches during his first missionary journey. During his second missionary journey, Paul told Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). So, “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). Paul repeated this process during his third missionary journey as well: “he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23).

What is significant for the moment is that Paul’s second and third missionary journeys were not focused only on planting churches. Paul used much of his time to revisit churches that had previously been established and strengthen them. It seems he anticipated the need for them to be revitalized in order to continue as they began. Even when Paul was unable to revitalize a church himself, he sent others to do so. He sent Timothy to handle a difficult situation in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), and he left Titus to Crete to “put what remained into order” (Titus 1:5).

The church in Ephesus provides a case study for a church that was in need of revitalization multiple times. Though its beginnings were marked by an excitement for the gospel that made an impression upon the whole of Ephesus (Acts 19), Paul later warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would come (Acts 20:17–38). They did, and Paul sent Timothy to deal with the matter and bring the church to spiritual health once again (1 Tim 1:3).

A generation later, the apostle John recorded these words from Christ to the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5). Though the church was now adept at identifying false teachers and their doctrine (Revelation 2:2, 6), the church had grown cold in its love for Christ and the gospel, resulting in a failure to serve God as they did when the church first began.

Though Christ rebuked Ephesus for its decline in love and works, He also gave the church what one might call “three steps to church revitalization.” They were to (1) remember what they once were, (2) repent for why they were no longer what they once were, and then (3) return to the love and deeds that they had at first.

How does a church experience revitalization? From the example of Ephesus, it remembers its past, repents for present sins, and returns to the love and works it had at first. On these matters, more will be said in days ahead.

For a more detailed discussion of the above, see pp. 19–20 and 30–33 in the book by Harry L. Reeder, From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church (rev. ed.; Phillipsburg, N. J.; P&R, 2008).