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Sabbath Seriousness

Sabbath Seriousness

For, indeed, non-Christians can also cease from work and be idle, just as the entire swarm of our ecclesiastics, who stand daily in the churches, singing, and ringing bells but keeping no holy day holy, because they neither preach nor practice God's Word, but teach and live contrary to it… Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according to God's Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled. - Large Catechism

Even as a young student of theology, I've logged quite the list of theological views that I've since discarded. Many of these changes have been from my Baptist roots to the Reformed tradition. But along the way I also had a pit stop of appreciation for Luther's theology. I even spent a few solid years arguing in favor of some of Luther's viewpoints on the sacraments and Decalogue. Besides invoking arguments with people I would one day agree with, this had a profound impact on my theology that still reverberates with me today.

Though I could discuss that topic at large, I'd like to focus in particular on the Decalogue and the Sabbath. Luther placed an incredible value and importance on all of the Ten Commandments. But concerning the Sabbath Luther was especially forceful. For Luther, the only way to make the Sabbath "holy" (literally sanctify) is to wash it in the word.

Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose. - Large Catechism

Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose. - Large Catechism

This focus on the word had its roots in Luther's controversy with Rome. The negligence shown by the Roman Church at that time provoked the Reformers to systematize the importance of the word into every element of their doctrine. This was especially true of Luther who stressed the worthlessness of any Sabbath day activity that did not emphasize the washing with the word. As a young person, this focus on the Sabbath was important. I needed to know "why" and also "how." The word of God was a necessary part of sanctifying every day but especially the Sabbath. Luther was setting the stage for my later theology. He had established a foundation for the importance of the Sabbath but I hadn't yet begun to systematize the preparation for the Sabbath day.

Many years later my views would shift towards Theonomy (those interested in that study can look here and here). And while the danger of a strict legalism always remained, the spiritual emphasis of Luther hung around like a compass and guide. The stricter views on Sabbath adherence were originally not exciting to me. I wanted to cling to Luther only. But this eventually proved to be pointless. The two were not against each other. In fact they complimented each other wonderfully. If I was going to maximize the sanctifying of each Sabbath then I needed to be stricter in my preparation for that day.

But before that, let me take a step back and express my views on the Sabbath. The day is meant to be sanctified by God's word. It cannot be properly observed without a special emphasis on the study, preaching or proclamation of God's word. But God's word is boldly proclaimed and "studied" when we obey God's command to rest on this day. I've expressed previously how I think modern believers misunderstand this rest. It is not a legalistic set of "don't do" but a provision from God to free us up from work to worship and rest in Him. With this provision our family and God's word can take center stage in our lives. It must take center stage in our lives. When we don't rest properly we make a mockery of God's provision.

So how does this look in practice? Well from a Biblical perspective, it looks a lot like the collection of the manna in the wilderness. Each day the people were to collect their "daily bread." They collect their daily provisions at the command of God. But the Sabbath was different. The day before the Sabbath the people were to collect double. The Lord's provision remained sure but the people were not to collect on the Sabbath day. This did not mean work was not important. It was simply a weekly reminder that there is something more important. There is a day to rest in God. Still today Christians are called to worship and proclaim the word in holy rest.

And just like the people in the wilderness, this is true for us too. Our Sabbaths must focus on the word. But to do this we must abstain from "work" if we are to rest and enjoy God's provision. And it is this concept that is especially hard for modern people who are programmed to take advantage of every moment and opportunity. The Sabbath truly can proclaim the gospel in an amazing way in our culture. It can show the world that we don't need seven days of self-advancement. We can rest in our God to provide for us. We can trust our God to provide for us while others are seeking to provide for themselves.

So if this is to be true how can it be implemented? I've found my answer by focusing heavily on the double collection. For Sunday Sabbatrians, Saturday must become a day of "double collection" in order that the family may enjoy recreation, rest, family time, Godly fellowship and God's word.

But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment, note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed. - Large Catechism

For me as a father and husband it would be foolish to think my Sabbath provision is less important than my week's provision. What I do "collecting" is important. My family needs those provisions. But they need their sabbath provisions more. Parents must provide this for their children and fathers for their households. And this means fathers must be focused on "collecting double" on Saturdays. We must take charge in ensuring the house is clean for the upcoming week. We must make sure that provisions of food are in place and generally prepared. We must ensure that our families are not distracted by necessity from Godly rest, relaxation, family, fellowship and the word. In an effort to be a supplier of good practices, here is a list of things that could be done, but also may not be done given the situation, by fathers/husbands to accomplish this task:

  • Make sure the house is in order for the week. This means helping with the laundry, dishes, floors, etc. that could become a hindrance to your wife on Monday. You provide her a Sabbath rest by helping to complete these.
  • Make provisions for Sabbath lunch. Since many will attend church in the morning, Sabbath lunch can be a time that is under utilized. There is no sin in preparing lunch after church, but if the family needs or desires longer "Sabbath naps" than fathers should make provisions for a worry free lunch.
    • Extra practically, this is accomplished in our house by a willingness to eat leftovers but there is clearly no Biblical dogma into how this could be accomplished.
  • Prepare to make Sunday mornings are peaceful as possible. This include but is not limited to the setting out of clothes, preparation of items to take to church and removal of any other such hindrances (breakfast, pets, bathroom schedules, etc.).
  • Make provisions for your children to enjoy fellowship with others. This means children should never been disciplined in a way that prohibits their interaction with church events. And to the best of parental ability they should make provisions for their children to enjoy fellowship with their friends.

None of this is supposed to be done in a legalistic manner. Every single thing mentioned is done with only one purpose in mind, to amplify the proper experience on the Lord's day. Do extra pre-work so that you can sleep in 30 more minutes. Prepare lunch so that naps can be longer. Finish chores so that everyone can sit down to read, watch TV, etc. without obligation. For some there could be an entirely different set of actions to be taken.

Of course the preparation can also be done for our hearts with respect to the reception of the word. Family worship should be extra critical the night before service. Instruction on lessons/catechisms can be used to focus our minds on the reception of the word and Biblical teaching. Going to bed early can help ones mind be refreshed and ready for deep teaching. We can then see that to truly honor the Sabbath is rest we must put in extra work before hand. In our sinful nature this should be foreign to us. It was certainly foreign to the people of Israel in the wilderness. But it should not escape our attention that the manna was given to "test" the people if they would obey God (Exo 16:4). And to attempt to collect provisions on the Sabbath day is a refusal to listen to God (Exo 16:27-30).

It's time for a personal inspection. Though we do not want legalism in our evaluation, one must be honest about their Sabbath activities. Are they done to proclaim God's word and its testimony to our rest, relaxation and fellowship? Or do we use the Lord's Sabbath to provide for ourselves like the rest of the world? Do the things we do testify to our trust in God? Or do they testify to the inundation of a worldly mindset that tells us we must keep working to make provisions.

Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose… Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining it in memory, and do not think that it is optional with you or of no great importance, but that it is God's commandment, who will require of you how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word. - Large Catechism

How many of us are attending service as if we take God's provision seriously, while our living and profaning of the Sabbath testify that we don't care to obey God? How many of us are asking the Father "give us this day our daily bread" and then seeking to provide our own? If we want to take the Sabbath seriously we'll avoid legalistic tendencies. These include the legalistic tendencies of a freedom that says we can do whatever we want.

Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly misuse and desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their greed or frivolity neglect to hear God's Word or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine; but also that other crowd, who listen to God's Word as to any other trifle, and only from custom come to preaching, and go away again, and at the end of the year know as little of it as at the beginning. - Large Catechism

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