What We Believe- Article VIII, The Lord’s Day

March 5, 2009

Following the last two weeks where we were focused strongly on ecclesiology (the church and the ordinances), we now head out into the more general practices of Southern Baptist life.  Specifically, in Article VIII we are dealing with what a Southern Baptist is called to believe about the Lord’s Day:

VIII. The Lord’s Day

The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 12:1-12; 28:1ff.; Mark 2:27-28; 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-3,33-36; John 4:21-24; 20:1,19-28; Acts 20:7; Romans 14:5-10; I Corinthians 16:1-2; Colossians 2:16; 3:16; Revelation 1:10.

I think, before we say anything in particular about this statement, we must note that this article marks the first place where the 2000 BF&M is actually more liberal than the 1963 and 1925 versions, both of which call for what is often termed “sabbatarianism” in that they argue in favor of Christians “refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted,” on the Lord’s Day.  That said, I believe that the 2000 version is right in abandoning this practice.  Let’s look why.

To begin, the statement that “the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday) is the Lord’s Day” is a teaching drawn straight from Scripture and supported by asundry verses concerning the Resurrection occurring on a Sunday, as well as passages in Acts and the epistles showing early church gatherings on the first day of the week (cf. Acts 20.7, 1 Corinthians 16.1-2).  The term “the Lord’s Day” is observed in Revelation 1.10, and probably also has origins in Jesus’ statement that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (cf. Matthew 12.8, Mark 2.28).  This helps us counteract the Christians who try to be “cute” (I say that facetiously) and point out an inconsistency in the modern church by arguing that the Sabbath is actually on Saturday, as clearly we see Scriptural evidence and reasoning for why the Christian “sabbath” is to be observed on Sunday.

The instruction that it should be a “regular observance” seems to come from the matter of frequency with which the first day observances are mentioned in the New Testament and its close ties to the weekly observance of the Jewish sabbath, as other than that I see no direct instruction that this be the case from Scripture.  Curiously, the Lord’s Day observance isn’t explicitly linked to “going to church” in the BF&M, otherwise one might be inclined to refer to Hebrews 10.24-25 as evidence for a regular observance.  (I do actually believe this is the case though, that the “public” manner referred to later as a way of observing the Lord’s Day is essentially the church service.)  The fact that this observance “commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead” is taken from the circumstances of the initial Lord’s Day, the day of his rising.  That the activites of this day “should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private,” is argued in Colossians 3.16.

Now, here is where the controversy occurs for many.  As I have already mentioned, the 1925 and 1963 versions of the BF&M say that the Lord’s Day is observed “by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted.”  This view is typically referred to as sabbatarianism.  Contrary to this, the 2000 version takes a non-sabbatarian position, saying that “Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”  Personally, I think that the 2000 version is right, and have much trouble in understanding why so few Christians (historically) have come to this same conclusion.  I say this because of the traditional confessions which I would claim agreement with, all of them take at least a moderately sabbatarian position.  I actually know of no other prior confession which doesn’t read as sabbatarian.  Yet, in reading the New Testament I can’t help but reach the non-sabbatarian position myself.

So, what Scripture would I refer to?  Many sabbatarians will include Matthew 12.1-12 in their argument for sabbatarianism.  However, I do not believe this makes the point they long for, other than being an argument towards excepting rest for the doing of good on the Lord’s Day.  Beyond this, whenever the New Testament approaches actual doctrine related to the Lord’s Day (and not just historical remarks) they always seem to allow for Christian conscience in place of strict sabbath rest.  Specifically I would turn to Colossians 2.16 (“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of . . . a Sabbath“), followed by Romans 14.5-10 (“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. &tc”). The Apostle Paul seems to clearly argue that whether one observes the Lord’s Day as a sabbath or not is purely a matter of conscience that none should be judged over if they follow their own.  This is in no way contradictory to the teachings we find from Jesus on the matter of the sabbath, and actually appears to accord very well with his statement that “The Sabbath was made for man,  not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27).

I’m curious how much debate there is on this matter today.  I know of many fellow Calvinist brothers who hold to the sabbatarian position (which is in compliance with things like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the full practice of Covenant Theology), but typically this is a belief held by an older generation.  I would be interested in seeing comments from those with a position opposite mine though, to see how they handle the Pauline passages I gave in defense of the non-sabbatarian conviction; the position which I have shown is now accepted as orthodoxy in the SBC.