Results tagged “Sabbath” from Reformation21 Blog

Self-Care or Sabbath?

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A recent NPR article profiled what it called "the millennial obsession with self-care."1 Apparently, the millennial generation is engaging in the practice of self-care with a surprising frequency and intensity that a multi-billion dollar industry has been built up around it. Yet what is "self-care?" The concept itself is ambiguous at best and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The general idea seems to be that we can enhance our psychological health by engaging in certain activities which bring us peace. Christian leaders should not be surprised to find themselves initially uncomfortable with this term. However, it may just be that our initial concern is really hiding a far more primal reaction.

Perhaps this concern comes from a confusion of how to balance the terms "self" and "care" in the Christian life. When connected with a hyphen, this word seem to challenge the very heart of the message of Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Bearing a Roman execution stake doesn't seem like it has a lot to do with taking time off. On the other hand, Jesus calls us to care for others, especially the needy and the poor. Who are we to orient this care towards ourselves when others around us so obviously need it? It is also worth asking whether behind our revulsion to self-care is also a bit of guilt as well--guilt for overworking and avoiding our own rest as mandated by the Lord.

Suffice it to say many Christians have a complicated relationship with the psychological concept of self-care. So it's understandable why many Christians reject the idea outright. And yet other Christians, particularly younger ones, seem to live by self-care like it's their own personal liturgy. What then should our orientation be towards it? What we need is a biblical word on the matter. Enter a journeyman prophet named Elijah.

We must be careful not to read too much into the story of Elijah in the wilderness in 1 Kings 19 and we must beware of using it to justify a lot of unbiblical things. Yet the story is important and rich. Elijah, God's instrument, wins a great victory against Baal, but shortly after flees for his life in fear and collapses in despair. Our ever-kind God restores Elijah in gentleness through a divine whisper and a delicious meal. Off goes Elijah to face whatever comes his way.

Elijah clearly engages here in some form life-sustaining practice that strengthens him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And it is very effective. The focus on feeding Elijah in the text affirms that we are physical beings with physical needs and limits. What else can we determine from the angel's statement that "the journey is too great for you"?  In a sense, the passage affirms the importance of taking care of ourselves. Many may stop at this point and say "Look! Scripture justifies [insert favorite practice here]."

Yet if we focus on this alone, we miss the larger picture. God's strengthening of Elijah had a context and an end. Elijah isn't strengthened just for the purpose of making him feel better. He is strengthened so he can engage in fulfilling God's purpose for him in life. He gets up and then goes to Horeb to anoint Elisha and is strengthened so he can engage in the process of moving redemptive history forward. More important than what happens to Elijah is where he is going. His self-care is redemptive.

We still have one step further to go. God's care for us is not simply a utilitarian pit-stop, allowing us to fill up on the emotional gas necessary for our work. It is primarily an experience of the Lord Himself. The culmination of the story is a majestic moment in which God speaks to Elijah. Here God challenges him, blesses him, and furthers his own glory. God cares for Elijah by providing food for his body and a word for his soul.

All of this has an echo of Chatper XXI of the Westminster Confession. Here the Purian pastors and theologians charge us to be making use of the Sabbath by "the reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and consciousable hearing of the Word...[and]...observe a holy rest all the day from their own works." A biblical view of self-care is really just Sabbath-care and should be more appropriately labeled "rest." Perhaps the existence of the concept of self-care can be explained as a common grace secular acknowledgement of the Sabbath. Our American society is notoriously oriented around working, so it is not surprising that we find push-back against this national idol, nor should we be surprised to find millennials leading this charge. We cannot fully suppress God's truth.

How then should we respond as Christian leaders to such beliefs? First, we should affirm the common grace good to be found in self-care. As Christians, we should be the most vocal champions of good rest and relaxation in a culture of workaholics in both ours words and deeds. Christian pastors and leaders should be the first to acknowledge Christ's lordship by taking sabbaticals or pulpit breaks, and we should advocate the glories of rest from the pulpit and counseling chair. We can also affirm and practice less public means of self-care, including taking walks, focusing on a hobby, or engaging in quality recreation., which will undoubtedly increase our pastoral effectiveness. Even further than this, we can affirm that rest for its own sake is a quality good, whether practiced by Christians or non-Christians, because God gives good gifts to mankind and because it prefigures heaven.

Second, we should challenge the practice by showing both our parishioners and the world how self-care only makes sense in God's economy and by correcting the practice where necessary. First, it might be best for us to drop the term self-care entirely and replace it with "Sabbath"--whether it is a proper Sabbath on Sunday or a mini-sabbath during the week, encompasses all of the good parts of secular self-care and more. Second, we must be careful that our rest does not come into conflict with the call to discipleship. The Christian life will always be one of suffering, and avoiding this in the name of self-care is wrong. If our resting becomes the enemy of dying to self, then we engage in no true rest at all. Rather, as we sabbath, our hearts are turned towards the one who in His suffering earned us eternal rest. And as we do this, we find true peace in the arms of Him who gave His self to care for us.

 

Brian Mesimer and his wife live in Columbia, SC, where he works as a counselor at the counseling center of First Presbyterian Church (ARP).  He has degrees in religion, philosophy, and counseling.

The Death of the Evening Service

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At the church where I minister, we have a morning and an evening service, both of which are practically identical in their order and form. As far as I am aware, we are one of the few Presbyterian churches in Canada who have both services on the Lord's Day. In America, from what I am told, more and more churches are abandoning the evening service.

When I first arrived at Faith Presbyterian our attendance at the PM service was unimpressive; I even thought - wrongly, I might add - the service began at 6:30pm instead of 6:00pm the first time I showed up. Over eight years later, by God's grace, we actually ran out of wine at our last PM service when communion was served. The elders brought back empty trays to me, which was probably the only time in my life I've been glad the wine ran out.

When I was first asked about my "vision" for the church, I made the point that I'd like to see better attendance at the evening service. From some outside the church I received a few silly suggestions, but I resolved to do two things:

1. Not coerce or manipulate people to come to the evening service. 
2. Let the gospel do its work. 

So why is retaining the evening service a good idea?

As Christians, we need to remember the frequent warnings about family in Christ's ministry (Mk. 3:33-35; Lk. 18:29). Christ's family comes before our blood relatives. Our true brothers and sisters - those whom we will spend eternity with - are those whom we belong to as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-26). That may include our blood relatives, but not only them. A PCA minister once told me that he's against the PM service because he wants to spend time with his wife and children. Quite frankly, I want my children to spend more time with other Christian children. 

I sometimes wonder if one reason for the failure of the evening service reflects more on the failure of the church to understand she is a family, where relationships are to be cultivated, not taken for granted. The early church gave themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). The time after the services on the Lord's day is a wonderful opportunity for God's people to fellowship, ask questions about how each other is doing, see how we can better pray for one another, and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11). Why do some Christians consistently love to leave so quickly after church? 

Moreover, worship is a means of grace. When we come to hear God speak to us, we respond in faith, hope and love to our triune God. God builds up Christ's people, for we are Christ's fullness (Eph. 1:22-23). Worship makes us more like Christ, and for that reason I believe that consistent attendance at the AM and PM services, if possible, will ordinarily lead to a more spiritually vibrant Christian life. Public worship is to be preferred before private communion with God. What happens on the Lord's day is a foretaste of heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

Some might object: then why don't we have three or four services? I believe we should also keep in mind Psalm 103:14. It is possible to overburden God's people (Matt. 23:4). But two services doesn't seem to be a burden that no man can bear, especially in North America where we are free to worship. I had to be moved to a special room in China when I lectured there last year because the authorities were after us. But that isn't the case here in North America. 

We have some folk who drive in for both services, and each way is 40-50 minutes for them. They make sacrifices for things of eternal (and temporal) value. Considering most parents are willing to drive their children all over town for sports or music, I'm amazed at how many Christians complain of distance when it comes to church. 

Pastors who preach two different sermons each week also know of the strenuous demands this puts on them. My week is a lot different when I only have to prepare one sermon. Very often I'm not persuaded that either sermon is adequate, but more often than not I've also seen how God can take something very ordinary and do extraordinary things among his people. 

As a PCA minister who takes seriously our Confession on the Sabbath, I also tend to think that two services helps my family to keep the Lord's day not only a delight, but also holy. Almost every Sunday our family spends time with other families during the day and we enjoy warm fellowship. My children also understand that on Sundays we worship the Lord, not the god of sports. For us Sabbatarians, I think there's a greater temptation to let the day go astray spiritually when there is one service. (Though I do know of some who do an admirable job, even though they can only attend church once).

In addition, we have many who cannot make the AM service because of work (e.g., nurses). A PM service may allow Christians in your area to worship the Lord when it would ordinarily be unlikely. We also have many Christians from other churches come and worship with us in the evening, which (because their church won't have a PM service) is a great occasion for a more catholic Christianity. Plus, some of them would never sing a Psalm or Hymn if they didn't come to a Presbyterian Church.

So what if you're reading this and you are a minister who is currently wrestling with the idea of having a PM service? 

For what it's worth, consider:

1. Reformation takes a long, long time. We have to be patient with our people. We cannot expect change overnight. 

2. As a minister, your own attitude to the PM service will make or break whether it becomes a success or a failure. God's people can tell if you are taking the PM service seriously in your preparation and attitude. 

3. Remember that God's word will do its work. God's word changes hearts. We are mere instruments. Pray and trust that God will do the work you are incapable of doing. 

4. If you and your family are the only ones present at the church for several months at the beginning, then so be it. 

I'm surprised that we have better things to do on a Sunday evening than worship the Lord. I'm surprised we don't want to be around our brothers and sisters a lot more. 

The evening service is worth it. I've witnessed the blessing it brings to God's people. I'm not prepared to say it is explicitly commanded, and therefore people are sinning if they don't attend an evening service (however, see Ps. 92:1-2, which speaks of morning and evening worship). There are some cases where I would even advise against an AM an PM service. But I am prepared to say that of all the Christian "activities" that could fall by the wayside - and perhaps there are some that should! -, the evening service should be last on the list.   

This year God allowed me to preach and teach in Brazil, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, and the USA. Let me assure you, we have it really easy here in North America. But perhaps that explains the death of the evening service.  

Advice for Sabbath-keeping

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Having preached a sermon that touched in part on the Christian Sabbath (the text was John 5:9-18), I followed it up with a pastor's letter that gave advice to those learning to keep the Sabbath.  I though it might be of benefit to our readers here as well.

A Sabbath Conundrum for the Weekend

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I'm just on my to Taiwan to teach Koreans about the puritans (how they love the puritans! It's their experiential theology that appeals to the Asian mindset, or should I say, heart-set?). Anyway, here's a weekend puzzle to think about:

If I fly to Kaohsiung in Taiwan leaving the USA on Saturday morning, I pass the international date line arriving in Taiwan a few minutes before midnight on Sunday evening, effectively having skipped Sunday (almost) altogether! Have I broken he Sabbath? Any casuistic scholars among you who can throw some light?

Results tagged “Sabbath” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 21.8

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viii. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

How is the Lord's Day (equal in principle to the Old Testament Sabbath) to be kept/observed? It is interesting to note that discussions took place in the Assembly itself as to whether an actual period of 24 hours is in view in the observance. The answer of 21:8 is that all common affairs are to be "set in order" so that the day itself is to be a holy rest from all our works and thoughts about our worldly occupations. And, in a statement that has caused much discussion, the Confession insists that we are to be "taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."

Criticisms of the Confession as engaging in a nature-grace dichotomy are wide of the mark. More pertinent are concerns for trade and commerce. "Worldly employments and recreations" involve the issue of sport on the Lord's Day - a vital concern in puritan England. But less may be implied by this phrase than is often thought to be the case.

Matthew Henry said that the Sabbath was made a day of rest so that it might be made a day of holy work. If too much stress has been given to the ban on recreation, too little stress has been given the insistence upon works of mercy. Visiting the sick, taking care of widows and orphans - altruistic displays of the love of Jesus - these are proper displays of Jesus' own approach to the Sabbath  (Luke 4:16; 13:10-17; 14:1-6). 

The point is that our time belongs to Jesus, not to ourselves. We are stewards of the time God gives us and he asks for a day that is set apart for him, punctuated by the rhythm of pubic worship. Satan wants every minute of our time and secular society squeezes every last minute of our energy for little lasting reward. Make no mistake about it, a world without a Sabbath is tyrannical and unforgiving. It has no gospel.

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is minister of preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Chapter 21.7

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vii. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

The final two sections of chapter twenty-one refer to the principle of the Sabbath. Although no significance is now afforded to place, a significance still attaches itself to time. 21:7 assert explicitly a principle of Sabbath continuity from Old Covenant into New Covenant. The Sabbath principle is a moral and perpetual commandment of God, written into the fabric of creation itself and therefore binding upon society as a whole. Before it adopted specific Mosaic (and therefore temporal considerations relating to that period of redemptive history when the people of God were "under age" and a theocracy), the Sabbath reflected God's rest from labor in creation itself. At the resurrection of Christ, the day was changed to the first day of the week. The Confession does not address the issue as to whether this change is merely "recorded" (description) or specifically "mandated" (prescription). Technically, under the New Covenant, there is an observance of the Lord's Day - the first day of the week rather than the last day of the week (reflecting a gospel logic: rest followed by work rather than work followed by rest). This is to be observed to the end of the world.

The Divines approbation of a "law of nature" might be viewed as a step beyond merely attributing the fact that the Sabbath was a law of creation - therefore observed in principle before the Mosaic Decalogue (note the word "remember" in Exodus 20:8 and the non-provision of manna on the seventh day because it was given as a Sabbath (Exod. 16:22-30)0. That the Westminster Divines (following in the wake of the Reformers and mainstream medieval thought in general) believed in the existence of natural law is beyond refute. There is insufficient evidence here to answer how natural law relates to Scripture (if at all). 

What is clear is that the Sabbath is viewed as beneficial for man qua man - in what we might call "secular" society (and therefore civil enforcement) as well as the church. The Confession sees no change in principle as to applicability of the Sabbath principle in secular society (all men" and "all ages"). The change of day notwithstanding - with Aquinas, the Confession views it as merely a different way of counting six-and-one.  There seems no room for Seventh Adventist views of the consecration of a Saturday Sabbath and even less for the "antinomian" (utilitarian) argument that "any" day (or part of a day) will do since we clearly have a need to gather together at some point on time. Mere tradition is inadequate. There exists a "positive, moral and perpetual commandment" for the continuation of the Sabbath principle in the New Covenant economy. Positive addresses the issue of the regulative principle - it is something for which a prescription exists.  Moral suggests that sanctions apply.  There is an "oughtness" to the keeping of the Sabbath Day. And perpetual suggests that any dispensational argument confining the Sabbath to the Mosaic economy is ruled incorrect.  

Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is minister of preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.