Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is a Reformed Church: Worship (Part 3)

Worship and the Christian Sabbath

Q 59: Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?
A: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath. (WSC Q59)

Which day ought we to worship God? Since God is God everyday, can we worship God on any day of the week we so please to do so? Yes, God is God everyday, and yes, God will notice whenever we worship Him. But the Scriptures and the Reformed tradition tell us that God has set aside one day out of seven, purely out of His desire to do so. That day is the Sabbath. Now of course, God can choose to tell us to worship everyday, or one day out of ten, but He did not do so. Rather, God has chosen to give us this 6+1 pattern for us to follow, a pattern that already began at creation.

The Sabbath principle of working 6 days and resting 1 day is seen already in creation in Genesis 1. The verb translated "rested" in Genesis 2:2 has the same root as the word for "Sabbath" and thus, while we are not told that Adam and Eve were to honor the Sabbath, we can infer that the Sabbath pattern was transmitted to them. After a few millennia, Moses and Isael were once again reminded that the Sabbath is to be observed because of the 6+1 pattern of creation (Ex. 20:11). Formal worship therefore is to be done on the Sabbath, based upon the 6+1 pattern of creation.

The original Sabbath was on a Saturday, Saturday being the last day of the week. But a shift in Sabbath has occurred with the transition between creation and new creation. The original Sabbath looked back at creation, but the new Sabbath looked forward towards redemption. Already in Deuteronomy 5:15, the shift has turned from creation to redemption or new creation. Thus, in the new covenant era, the Sabbath is a future reality for believers (Heb. 4:1-11), and thus it marks the new creation.

The shift in focus has resulted in the shift of the Sabbath from the last day of the week, Saturday, to the first day of the week, Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). The Christian Sabbath is now called the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10). Instead of working 6 days and then resting, we now rest then we work, portraying to us the transition from works to grace.

Worship is to be done on Sunday, the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath. That is a Reformed distinctive. Does this mean that worship is prohibited on other days? While God has commanded us to observe the Lord's Day, worshiping on Saturday is better than skipping worship altogether, and thus where worship on Sunday is not possible for real valid reasons, worshiping on Saturdays is better than nothing.

Honoring the Sabbath

In the original Jewish Sabbath, many rules and regulations were fixed so as to prevent work on that day, taking literally the idea of "rest." Now that the Sabbath has shifted to Sunday, should we continue wholesale the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance, excepting the day? No, we should not.

Colossians 2:16-17 gives us a rejection of the Jewish Sabbaths. Onto the Jewish Sabbath were added many types and shadows and extra ceremonial laws, which have been fulfilled and abolished once Christ came. The moral aspect of the Sabbath command continues to be valid for us, but the various ceremonial additions and accretions of Jewish traditions have to go.

For us today, how are we to honor the Sabbath? We primarily honor the Sabbath by going to a church service and worshiping God on that day. The rest of the day we should be spending time focused on God, but there is no definite fixed way how we are to go about doing that. Some in the Reformed tradition believe that Sabbath observance has greater implications for how we to interact with the world the rest of the day though, but where Scripture is silent, any further application is a wisdom issue.

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