Saturday, January 05, 2019

Presbyterian Papists

Recently I got into an impromptu debate on Facebook about Sabbath-keeping and Sunday sports. A couple of preliminary observations:

1. My own position is based on ecclesiology. Given the fact that Christian identity has a corporate dimension (e.g. public worship) as well as an individual dimension, it makes sense for churches to have an agreed-upon day of worship. In principle, independent local churches could have their own religious calendar. For instance, some Messianic congregations worship on Saturday. It's logical for denominations to synchronize the day of worship. And there's value generally in all Christians having a common day of worship.

However, the choice of day is flexible. The principle is normative, but the implementation is contingent and variable. 

2. It's reckless for fathers to risk making their sons estranged from the faith as well as their fathers by drawing a line in the sand over adiaphora. Of course, hardline Sabbatarians don't think that's adiaphoric, but that's what the debate was about. 

Jake 
The NFL is one of the greatest if not the greatest affronts to God's 4th commandment. I don't see how someone can believe the biblical teaching about the Sabbath and participate in the NFL.

Benjamin
Since the 4th has already been brought up, it's worth raising the fact that there are 6th Commandment issues here as well.

Hays 
Is Calvinism anti-sports?

Mason 
No, it’s anti-trampling-underfoot-the-Lord’s-day

Hays 
Where does the Bible canonize the Gregorian calendar? Can you give me chapter and verse on where it mandates Sunday worship on the Gregorian calendar?

Does whatever calendar was used in the 2nd millennium BC match the Gregorian calendar? Did it have the same number of days per month? Does Sunday always fall on the same day in the same continuous sequence? What about leap years? 

Blake
I know you're smart enough and well-informed enough to know the WCF's position on the Sabbath, and to know that those men and the institutions where they teach/have taught have taken vows to uphold it.

Hays 
So you're ducking the substantive question. Try again. Sunday worship presumes a calendar. Which calendar does the NT authorize as the God-approved calendar for Sunday worship? The Gregorian calendar?

Blake 
lol ok have a good one

Hays 
So you run and hide because you can't answer tough questions. Got it. If the NT mandates Sunday worship, that presumes a calendar. What day Sunday falls on is a calendrical question. So what calendar does the NT mandate? The Mosaic Jewish calendar? The Julian calendar? The Gregorian calendar? The Chinese calendar? The Mayan calendar?

Brian 
Don’t be so asinine. It’s one in seven, the first day of the seven day week, calendar doesn’t really make a difference. how many times does the sun set and rise in a day on your other calendars?

Blake  
The NT endorses the second edition of the Galactic Starfleet Modified Calendar, obviously. The one that has two more nights than days and works on log scale.

Hays 
Thanks for your anti-intellectual response. Very revealing. So it doesn't actually matter whether or not we're worshipping on the same day as 1C Christians. But if that's not mandated in Scripture, if the choice of Sunday is just a culture-variable convention, what makes it Sabbath-breaking to play sports on a day that's just an arbitrary, post-biblical convention?

Ben
This is on the level of coming into this group and complaining when no one will defend infant baptism against your biblical arguments

Hays 
Actually, this is why many Reformed churches (as well as evangelical churches generally) hemorrhage young people. They can't defend their traditions. That's a great recipe you've got there for losing your kids to the world.

Brian 
Steve, I don’t know how to explain to someone that the first of the week is always the first day of the week no matter how many days are in a month, you do understand that right?. Or that the first day in seven is always the first day is always the first in seven no matter many days are in a year. You know you that if June 30 is a Wednesday that doesn’t make July 1st a Sunday right? And to answer your other “intellectual” question, Sunday is still the first day in seven even on a leap year, because that’s how counting works.

Hays 
Condescension doesn't work when you miss the point. The first day of the week according to an extrabiblical assignment. So once again, you position commits you to canonizing the Gregorian calendar.

Brian
I really just dont know what to do for if you can’t get that the first day of a seven day week is the first day of a seven day week even on a leap year.

Hays 
Your formulaic reply consistently fails to engage the argument.

Bennett 
Men who serve as officers in the PCA (and other denominations that use the Westminster Standards) affirm the validity and current applicability of the 4th commandment. The Confession, and both the Shorter and Larger Catechisms address this.

Anyone who chooses to work in professional sports (esp. football) knows that they will break their vows (held important by the Lord in Scripture, when made for godly reasons) if they do so.

This is the first issue to be dealt with, the breaking of his vow. He didn't have to make it, but he did. If he had come to change his view, and no longer thought such work (or any non-mercy work) would violate the Lord's Day Sabbath, it was his responsibility as an officer to report such change of views to his presbytery.

This cuts to an issue of integrity and honesty. An exegetical and theological discussion of the historic understanding of the Lord's Day, such as seem to want to argue, is appropriate for someone in Mr. Reich's position before he took his ordination vows, not after (until and if the PCA changes the Westminster Standards).

Hays
i) Presumably you grant a distinction between lawful and unlawful vows. Church officers shouldn't be required to take unlawful vows as a condition for church office. Agreed? 

ii) So you're claiming that Scripture delegates to the papacy (specifically Pope Gregory XIII) the authority to mandate the day of worship for all Christians. Hence, if a Christian plays sports on the day of worship stipulated by the pope, he has violated the fourth commandant, which was promulgated under a different calendar. Likewise, if a Presbyterian church officer coaches on Sunday, then he has violated the sixth commandment because his vows bind him to honor the day of worship stipulated by the pope.

iii) There's a distinction between what Scripture mandates and culturally-variable and/or extrabiblical calendrical conventions. So, are you saying the Bible mandates worship on a particular day as defined by an extrabiblical calendar? Is it breaking the Sabbath to worship on a day other than Sunday as assigned by the Gregorian calendar? Does an extrabiblical calendrical convention obligate the day of worship for Christians?

Bennett 
You're arguing with the substance of the view. This post is about confessional inconsistency and integrity. You're making your argument on the wrong thread.

I hope you see this. I don't think it's that nuanced a point.

Hays 
Yes, my point is substantive. It's your position that church officers are required to take take unlawful vows?

Likewise, It's your position that church officers violate the 4th commandment if they disobey the pope by worshipping on a day not prescribed by the Gregorian calendar or violate the 4th commandment by not worshipping on a day prescribed by the Gregorian calendar?

Landon
The reckoning of week days is totally independent of the reckoning of months. Gregorian, Jewish, Arabic, whatever- people can and do use all these calendars at the same time and all agree that today is Friday. And whatever day they moved from Julian to Gregorian calendars and adjusted the date (it was September 1752 in the future US)- the next day of the week was the same as it would have been otherwise.

Hays
If you drop ten days from the Julian calendar, doesn't that reset the days by moving them back, so that while they may be called the same days, they are not observed on the same days as the Julian calendar, but ten days earlier? For instance, I've read that Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day, December 25. 1642 on the Julian calendar (still in use in Protestant England at the time); whereas that's January 4, 1643 on the Gregorian calendar. Then there's the shift caused by leap days.

Consider a bit of relative chronology: the Gregorian calendar was promulgated in 1582 by Gregory XIII, the Westminster Assembly met between 1643-1652, while England only switched over a century later (1752). It's anachronistic to suppose the Westminster Divines were committed to a papal calendar as the litmus test of Sabbatarian fidelity.

Shane 
This group is for people who believe in the basic Reformed faith which includes a belief in the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. Your questions are answered in standard Reformed works on the topic.

Hays 
And belief in the basic Reformed faith evidently requires submission to the pope. Thanks for the clarification.

19 comments:

  1. I used to attend a sabbatarian church once. This was a SDA like church where they kept the sabbath from Friday sunset to Sat sunset. They also called it a Sabbath, and not the Lord's day, which seems to me to be right. If you believe the day was changed, then so too was the descriptor.

    What I want to point out is that we also had a high youth attrition rate. Why?
    1) We had a Christless legalism pervasive.
    2) Youth are pretty smart. They can ask some really good questions and if they are given the sort of answers Steve was given up above, then its only a matter of time before they pack their bags and go. They can see through things.

    ~ Raj

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  2. Here's my 2 cents: Romans 14, Especially v5 - "One indeed esteems a day above another day; and another esteems every day alike. Let each one be fully assured in his own mind." I've always noticed that Paul never even mentions an option of NOT having a holy day. But he definitely wants followers to be open & accepting of custom differences. I like the saying that Aquinus (I think) coined for this: In essentials - unity, in non-essentials - liberty, in ALL things - charity. Why have a holy day? Because it's good for us to set time apart from worldly matters and focus on God & His gifts. It's also supposed to be a day away from stress, fretting, & work. Why have a coporate holy day agreed upon? Because it's good to have fellowship. It helps growth & strengthens us along with many other benefits. Does it have to be Sunday? No. It's only custom & habit but it does make it easier to have a designated time to get everyone together. But it is not the day itself that is Holy. It is our behavior & intention to honor the Lord that sanctifies it. Now, before anyone who does hold Sunday as unique & separate gets angry, please allow me to ask a question. Honestly & sincerely & not just trying to score points - If you believe the Sabbath is critical & required on a specific day, do you also hold to a Sabbath year in every 7? If not, why not? Why is that requirement different? Thanks.

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    1. Yes, one can question the whole underlying premise of Sabbatarianism.

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    2. > If you believe the Sabbath is critical & required on a specific day, do you also hold to a Sabbath year in every 7? If not, why not? Why is that requirement different? Thanks.

      I assume by "critical" you mean "commanded". The answer is because one is part of the pattern of creation and enshrined in the ten commandments, whereas one was a national regulation which began (and ended) with the Israelite theocracy.

      Part of the genius of the New Covenant is that it is suitable to the entire world, unlike legalistic religions with man-made rules that can't be observed in many places. Roman slaves, for example, couldn't observe a day of rest on the first day of the week, because their masters forbade it. But as Christ extends his power progressively over the nations, many things that are impossible or can only be honoured in spirit in (e.g.) missionary situations, such things become less of a problem. So, the New Testament doesn't have explicit words "you *must* avoid all work on this day, as calculated by these rules, on pain of being disfellowshipped" (in an analogous way to it not instantly commanding universal liberty to all slaves). It's typical for Westerners, with our legalistic/systematic ways of thinking, to ignore the factor of the arrow of time, and historical progress, in our thinking. We just want to know "what are the rules?". But God's redemptive plans don't work like that.

      Analogously, a society could be so pagan that there's no recognised civil institution of marriage. What's a Christian to do? He's to live as if there were, making his vows among the people of God, even if the state doesn't recognise his relationship in any particular way. But if he lives in a society where the laws of civil marriage broadly align with Christian marriage (because of the extension of Christ's power in that culture over a number of years), then for him to say "I don't care about those laws; you know that there were no such laws in the garden, and that people in missionary situations don't register their marriage under such laws, right?" would be perverse and harmful to society, and that would be sin. By the analogy, for people to declare their own local Sabbath days, when there is a clearly established "first day of the week" is also wilful perversity.

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    3. Thank you for replying. I hear what you say about the first day of the week being sanctified in Eden but I'd like to bring up 2 challenges: 1) What do you make of Paul's statement that one person holds one day esteemed? He is not specifying which day in his statement. 2) I hold that Moses wrote Genesis originally. He was raised in the Egyption court circa 15th century BC. Ancient Egypt used a lunar calendar for the basis of their month. The first day of the month was the crescent moon could no longer be seen. From that, the month was divided into 4 weeks of 7 or 8 days according to the phases of the moon. Sorry to go on here but you can see that the 1st day and/or the 7th day would not uniformly fall on the same day from month to month or even week to week during the timeframe that Moses lived. As I said, I understand the neccessity of having one day agreed upon for the purpose of gathering & other communal events but I do not see where it *has* to be Sunday rather than say Tuesday or Friday or every day for that matter. I'm reminded of Jesus saying "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath". Yes, we are to set time apart from the world for God. Yes we are to gather together for praise & prayer & strengthening. Yes, we are to worship & strive to be holy as God as holy. But we shouldn't be condemning or critizing if some other group choses a different day to engage. Unless, of course, we're on the planning committee to arrange a picnic with the other group ;)

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    4. Hi, I've answered the question about "why not Tuesday or Friday" in my other comment further down. However Romans 14 is to be interpreted, on principle, it's a priori not possible to interpret an apostle as revoking a creation ordinance or one of the 10 commandments; that's not within the range of available interpretations.

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  3. I don’t have a lot of knowledge on this topic. But isn’t the interlocutor arguing that even if it moves 10 days, or if you go to China, Japan, Somalia, or wherever that Sunday is agreed upon by all. So that the day of the week is never in question. Which establishes his premise and avoids your objection?

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    1. That makes the day of the week a merely human social convention rather than a divinely mandated day of worship.

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  4. My favourite Sunday sport (aside from when Chelsea FC are playing on a Sunday) is watching Hays run rings round multiple opponents*. In fact, I enjoy watching this whatever the day! It is my guilty pleasure.

    *Or just a single opponent. It's all a joy.

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    1. Perhaps I'm particularly dense, I need this explaining to me. Just why do the twin facts that ... 1) Leap years exist and 2) Months have differing numbers of days ... make any difference to the continuity of a 7-day cycle? Steve asserts a number of times that they do, and the guys he's interacting with correctly point out that they don't. What am I missing? Obviously they affect things like "Saint's Days" and "New Moon festivals", etc. that depend on a monthly or annual cycle; but they can't affect a cycle that's based on a fixed number of days repeating.

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    2. I never said you can't have a 7-day cycle. By law, you could change Wednesday to Sunday, then reset the 7-day cycle from that new starting-point so that, by stipulative definition, Wednesday is now Sunday.

      That doesn't impinge on my argument. A day of worship, by human stipulation, isn't a divinely-obligated day of worship. That doesn't make you a Sabbath-breaker.

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    3. The Presbyterian position is self-refuting. Messianic Jews who worship on Saturday rather than Sunday also observe a 7-day cycle. So that's an insufficient condition to single out a Sunday-to-Sunday cycle rather than a Saturday-to-Saturday cycle.

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  5. It's not clear to me that Steve's argument meets his own conditions. Steve says that "in principle" local churches could have their own calendars. But, in practice, they've all chosen the same day; Sunday on the Gregorian calendar. On Steve's terms, how the historical accidents leading to that choice aren't relevant.

    I don't say that because I agree with how Steve's framed the argument. Personally I think he's gone for a cheap 'gotcha' argument with little real substance behind it. A wedge over a technicality in order to make clear things unclear.

    Most commentators agree that in Egypt Israel would have likely lost track of which day the creation Sabbath was. In Exodus, God announces that a certain date will henceforth be treated as the beginning of the year for the purposes of Israel's calendar. There's no indication in the text that I'm aware of that the date God announced actually was the same date as the beginning of the year would have been on the original creation calendar. Presumptively, then, there is no theological problem with a Sabbath observed following a 'calendar reset'. A "day 1, day 2, ..." cycle in operation in which the precise alignment of days is no longer the same as in the original creation calendar, but which is still recognised throughout a particular nation or tribe, can thus presumptively still be considered the normative day for observance.

    Steve asserts strongly that the Gregorian 'reset' is a theological problem for identifying a particular day to be observed as part of obedience to the fourth commandment. But I think this has been asserted rather than argued. That God would not mind a local church arbitrarily declaring a local 7-day calendar different to the 7-day calendar of the community it lives in, needs an argument, and I don't think it's been made.

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    1. 1. There are several distinct issues. (i) One is whether Sabbath-keeping in general is obligatory for Christians. (ii) Then there's the additional question of whether Sunday-worship is obligatory for Christians. The creation-ordinance argument is a strong prima facie argument for (i), but not for (ii).

      In addition, there are strong prima facie arguments against Sabbatarianism, viz.

      https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/schreiner-qa-is-the-sabbath-still-required-for-christians/

      Since I was responding to Presbyterian Sabbatarians, I granted the principle for argument's sake, responding to them on their own grounds. My point was that even if we operate within that framework, it suffers from a level-confusion by confounding a timeless principle with a human custom.

      Speaking for myself, I don't regard the Sabbatarian assumption as a given. The arguments pro and con are finely balanced.

      2. No, it's not a cheap gotcha tactic. The "technicality" is crucial. If you drop 10 days from the calendar, then you have to renumber the days. (Not to mention leap days every four years.) So there's a shift in what Sunday is.

      Now I don't have a problem with Sunday worship or the Gregorian calendar. It is, however, fundamentally confused to accuse Christians of violating the fourth commandment if they don't worship on what is merely a customary day. Even if there's a divinely-mandated principle, there can't be a divinely-mandated day without a divinely-mandated calendar.

      The Sabbatarian argument blurs the distinction between a divine principle and a contingent implementation. So the argument comes apart at the seams. That's an internal weakness of the argument. Even if the principle is normative (which, in itself, is disputable), a particular application is contingent and optional.

      Then that's further aggravated by an amoral appeal to the 6th commandment, disregarding the distinction between lawful and unlawful vows.

      The church is not the voice of God. Although there's nothing wrong with independent churches or denominations having practical arrangements, their specific arrangements lack the force of divine obligation.

      This is one reason we had a Reformation: the church of Rome invented artificial religious duties.

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    2. BTW, according to Wikipedia (I tried to find something better...) "Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752". i.e. Sunday continued to be the same day it had been on the Julian calendar.

      "Even if there's a divinely-mandated principle, there can't be a divinely-mandated day without a divinely-mandated calendar." - that's the bit that I say is an assertion lacking the argument. Analogously, God mandates marriage (as the only legitimate sphere for sexual relationships); but he didn't mandate exactly what the marriage legislation each state puts on the statute book should be. For a state to define a minimum marriageable age of 5 would be a sin; and so would 95. But how about 16? 17? 18? Is one a sin and another righteous? If no, then we've concluded God doesn't have to reveal a divinely-authorised life calendar. And thus we can say that God can give laws that have absolute and universal authority, but for which the details can have local variation within a nation/tribe without it being sin.

      I think your argument has wait against "Sabbatarianism" in the sense that is understood by Seventh Day Adventists. They really are wedded to knowing that they've correctly identified Saturday as defined by the original creation week. But, for the reasons given, I don't see it as holding weight against the doctrine as outlined in the WCF or 1689 confessions.

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    3. The Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar_(New_Style)_Act_1750

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    4. Just as a matter of math, if you drop ten days from the calendar, then it can't be the same number of intervening days, corresponding to the old calendar. If you went back seven days, the old calendar and the new calendar would match. But it doesn't work with ten days.

      These are matters of indifference unless and until someone presumes to say that worshipping on a different calendar day violates a commandment from the 2nd millennium BC.

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  6. David Anderson, very helpful answers, thanks for your input.

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