Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Sabbath

Here I'm expanding on a Facebook exchange:

So which is worse? Not respecting the Lord on the Lord's Day or not respecting the flag of your nation?

Where does the NT say the "Lord's Day" is Sunday on the Gregorian calendar?

It's called "the Lord's Day" because it was the day upon which the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That happened on the first day of the week: 

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 

Ditto, Mark 16:2, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1

The first day of the week in the seven day week, both Jewish and Gentile, is Sunday. This is not a disputed point.

Since the Resurrection, the church has historically gathered for worship on the Lord's Day, see Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2.

I didn't ask why it's called the "Lord's Day", so your comment is irrelevant to what I said. You dodged the point about different calendars. BTW, it's not a command.

I don't think you're getting the point. The Gregorian and Julian calendars both have a 7-day-week beginning with Sunday. The Gregorian calendar didn't come in to use until 1582 to make up for the 11 minute difference in the length of a year. Prior to that time the church had always been meeting on Sunday, the Lord's Day. So the Gregorian Calendar is irrelevant to this issue.

i) Scheduling worship according to the Gregorian calendar is an ethnocentric custom, not a biblical mandate. Frankly, you need to take that difference seriously rather than conflating biblical norms with extrabiblical adaptations and culturebound conventions. What if Japanese or Chinese converts used a traditional Japanese or Chinese calendar? 

ii) That doesn't mean there's anything improper about using the Gregorian calendar to regulate worship; what is improper is to conflate localized conventions and post-biblical developments with the authority of Scripture, then condemn people for a made-up sin. That's what the church of Rome does.

Imagine you were a missionary to Chinese, Japanese, or Mayans before the Gregorian calendar became the default standard in modern times. Do you think their calendrical system corresponds to our calendrical system? Do you believe Christian conversion requires them to adopt the Gregorian calendar?

And it's only not a command if you either don't believe the command to not forsake the assembling of the church.

i) To begin with, you're guilty of equivocation by confounding arguments for obligatory public worship with a particular day on the Gregorian calendar. That's logically fallacious.

ii) Apropos (i), your thin, atomistic prooftexting falls short of your desired destination. A more sophisticated argument for mandatory church attendance would begin with the nature of the church and the fact that Christian faith as a corporate dimension. To practice fellowship, Christians must have agreed-upon times and places to gather for worship. That's a firmer foundation than cobbling together some verses that prove less than you need.

That, however, doesn't absolutize any particular day on whatever national calendar happens to be in use. Rather, it's a question of convenience and mutual agreement.

iii) BTW, the passage from Hebrews you allude is contextually referring to fear of persecution. 

Or the actual practice of the Apostolic...

i) You're turning descriptive passages into prescriptive passages. That's not a principle you can consistently apply. Do you really need me to give you counterexamples? It isn't hard. 

…and post-Apostolic church is not binding or normative.

You can't be serious. You think the practice of the postapostolic church is ipso facto normative for Christians? Counterexamples abound.

Surely a 7-day-week is ordained by God.

Whether a 7-day-week is ordained by God is distinct from whether a particular calendar day is ordained by God. We need to draw some basic distinctions. 

1. Natural symbolism

Some phenomena have naturally emblematic associations, viz. four seasons, five senses, lifecycle, day/night, sunrise/sunset, garden/desert, fatherhood/sonship. This forms the basis of poetic metaphors and theological metaphors. And this often enjoys a universal appeal. 

2. Assigned symbolism

In contrast to natural symbolism, some phenomenon have ascribed significance. Take Christmas or Easter. Christians agree on a particular day or date to commemorate the birth of Christ or the Resurrection of Christ. That doesn't correspond to the actual calendar date. We don't know what that was. So we pick an arbitrary day or date. 

3. Idiosyncratic significance

Particular people, places, and events may be significant to one individual but not to another. The high school you attended may have nostalgic associations for you, but not for someone who didn't attend your school. It's constitutes a symbolic landmark in your life.  

When they're still alive, you celebrate your mother or father's birthday. After they pass way, their deathdate is more significant to you than their birthdate. For one thing, the death of a parent is a turning-point in your own life. In addition, you experience their death in a way that you don't experience their birth. 

4. Days and dates

Anniversaries commemorate significant events. By definition, an anniversary is a year later than the original event or the last anniversary. The same date, one year later. But even though anniversaries fall on the same calendar date, a year later, they usually fall on a different day, since days and dates shift from one year to the next. 

So, for instance, you may remember the anniversary of a parent's death every year, but that's pegged to the calendar date rather than the calendar day. The interval is what makes it significant, and not whether it falls on the same day of the week. It's important to keep that conceptual distinction in mind when we consider the significance of the Christian Sabbath. 

5. Commemorations

And in terms of symbolic associations, it's not the day that makes the observance memorable, but vice versa. The commemoration reminds of us the original event, not vice versa.

6. The first day of the week

Monday is the first day of the week according to the international standard ISO 8601, so even symbolically, there's no consistent correlation between Sunday, the Resurrection, and the first day of the week.


  1. Great piece. We Lutherans have neither Sabbath nor Lord's Day but admittedly and self-consciously follow early church practice as an adiaphoron.

    Do help me with your final point: "first day of the week" would immediately be recognized by the predominantly Jewish Christian pew-pilots as Sunday, no?

  2. to follow: Saturday was the worship day for the Jews; since the ceremonial law has been fulfilled, we would say that the church has liberty to set or even change the day of worship IAW circumstances. This is certainly not the Reformed view, at least from my experience: certainly the FPC of Scotland and RPCNA are strict Sabbatarians while the continental churches are not. Are you an outlier, or is Reformed thinking shifting?