PROPOSED NEW ARTICLE 21 - EDITS SHOWN
Represents Deletions Represents Additions
Article 21 – The Lord’s Day
21-1 The first day of the week has been recognized by the Church as the Lord’s Day since apostolic
times1. We believe, therefore, that it ought to be observed by all believers, voluntarily and in love2,
as a continuation of the sabbath principle as a day set apart as holy to the Lord for a day of the
corporate worship of God3, a day of remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, rest
from physical toil, service for the Master, and fellowship and mutual encouragement of the saints4.
Christians should engage only in duties of necessity and mercy on the Lord’s Day.
1 Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2
2 Gen. 2:2,3; Mark 2:27,28
2 Romans 14:5; Gal. 5:13
3 Hebrews 10:23-25
4 Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:15-21; Col 3:16
Study Committee on Article 21/Sabbath: Steven J. DelDuco, Tony Feliciano, Carl C. Cassel,
Timothy J. Schmoyer, Aaron J. Susek, Daniel L. Williams.
SABBATH STUDY COMMITTEE - REPORT OF THE MINORITY
Respectfully submitted by Carl C. Cassel and Aaron J. Susek
It has been a sincere joy and privilege to work together with our brothers in searching the Scriptures
concerning the question of the Sabbath. Sincerely, there is some sadness to see our time together come to
a close. We have genuinely grown in our understanding of and deep appreciation for God’s intentions with
the Sabbath. And it is in part on account of that searching and growth that we respectfully differ with the
majority on the question of whether the BFC should retain its present understanding of the Sabbath in
relation to the Lord’s Day.
Upon a thorough investigation of the Scriptures as well as careful interaction with numerous
commentaries and theological arguments, we feel the Sabbath is not only an extremely valuable sign-gift
given by God to His people, but also an important means of corporately reflecting both the holiness of God
and the good news of His new creation in Jesus Christ. So in what follows, we will be arguing from
Scripture the reasons we feel our denomination should cherish its present perspective.
We did also feel the present article could be somewhat restated so as to present a more balanced
presentation of the Lord’s Day. It seems to us the present article overstates the case for Sabbath observance,
and in so doing gives the impression Sabbath-resting is the most important aspect of Lord’s Day observance.
Since this is an article that presents the Lord’s Day in its fuller sense, we felt this more balanced approach
was in order. So, seeking to preserve as much of the original language and intent as possible, we propose
slight changes to the present article in effort to prioritize worship of God and present Sabbath-resting
alongside the other components in equal fashion.
In this report, we will first present our proposed rewording. We will then unfold the Biblical case
for the Sabbath’s enduring importance. And lastly, we will offer some concluding thoughts and practical
implications. And it needs be said, we are deliberately choosing not to interact directly with the majority on
the issues below (mainly because we did not have their report at the time of writing). We are advocating our
positions on a broader level and interacting more with potential, though somewhat hypothetical opposition
(as responsibly as possible).
1) PROPOSED CHANGES
CURRENT ARTICLE 21 – Article 21 – The Lord’s Day
21-1 The first day of the week has been recognized by the Church as the Lord’s Day since apostolic times1.
We believe, therefore, that it ought to be observed by all believers, voluntarily and in love, as a continuation
of the sabbath principle2, a day of remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord from the dead and a day of
worship of God, rest from physical toil, service for the Master, and fellowship of the saints. Christians
should engage only in duties of necessity and mercy on the Lord’s Day.
1 Mark 16:9; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2
2 Gen. 2:2,3; Mark 2:27,28
PROPOSED ARTICLE 21 – Article 21 – The Lord’s Day
21-1 The first day of the week has been recognized by the Church as the Lord's Day since apostolic times.
We believe, therefore, that it ought to be observed by all believers, voluntarily and in love, as a Sabbath day
set apart as holy unto our God wherein the whole time is devoted to corporate and private exercises of
worship, remembering the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, rest, fellowship of the saints, and works
of necessity and mercy. (same verses in footnotes)
2) A BROAD SURVEY OF THE SABBATH THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURES
• The Origin of the Sabbath
To gain a proper understanding of the Sabbath, due weight has to be given to Genesis 2:1-4. In our
discussions as a committee, we quickly realized part of the problem with handling the Sabbath stems from
larger questions about how we should rightly handle the Old Testament law. But as we (the minority) see
it, the fourth commandment is not at all where the discussion should start.
Opening statements belong to Genesis 2:3 wherein God blesses the seventh day and makes it holy.
The two verbs here are barak and qadash, both intensive Piel forms, which means they carry constitutive
force. In other words, the seventh day is here being set apart as a sacred reflection of God’s own holiness.
In this garden sanctuary, both space and time are being arranged with elements that manifest the holiness
of its sovereign. Men and women are created as His image in space, and in the structure of time, one day
in seven is embossed with the beauty of the divine holiness.
We have to consider as well what it means that God rested on this seventh day. The narrative seems
deliberate in portraying God’s creation project as one without toil or resistance such that rest hardly seems
a necessity. Furthermore we do not imagine the seventh day was a personal day, one for taking time away
from sovereignly managing the affairs of creation.
As many commentators will point out this is more likely
a royal resting – God assuming His reign in creation. Isaiah 66:1-2 draws this out perhaps. There, heaven
and earth are described as God’s kingly dwelling, and the immediate question asked is “Where will my
resting place be?” Or note 2 Chronicles 6:18 and 41 with its reference to the temple as God’s royal house
If this seventh day is in fact a royal resting on the heels of transforming the chaotic abyss into a
life-nurturing paradise, then it seems just as other gods “built temples as a sign of their victory over the wild
forces of chaos…God institutes the Sabbath rest instead.”
And here again, just as man is called to safeguard
creation in the glorious reign of God, the seventh day serves as witness within the structure of time that the
Lord is creation’s sovereign ruler.
The writer of Hebrews would have us see there is also an eschatological tone to the rest mentioned
(cf. Hebrews 4:4-5,10). On the seventh day, God is not just taking a day off, but is entering the consummate
rest held out for all creation to enjoy at some future point (note there is no mention of day or night for day
seven as in days one through six). So this sequence of six days work and one day rest is in some way
emblematic of creation’s own larger movement from work-begun to work-consummated (more on that in the
New Testament sections below).
It is safely assumed that God’s priest-kings - the men and women called to image God to the creation
would be expected in their actions to honor the blessedness of the seventh day, preserve its holiness, and
give witness on it that life is not something we feverishly produce and secure for ourselves but is gracious
gift given from the hands of the creator-king. More than assumption though, the text itself actually leads to
this understanding. In the Old Testament, the Piel form of qadash refers most often to the setting apart of
items or men and women for cultic use. Occasionally it is used in reference to days (Sabbaths or other
festival days), and in every such instance the days are clearly set apart for men and women to observe, even
when they are described as days “holy to the Lord.”
So quoting Claus Westerman, G.K. Beale says “one
should have an ‘exegetical instinct’ that not only is the seventh day solemn to God, but also the day ‘must
in some way or other signify something related to people,’ because of the ‘fact that the verb to sanctify
expresses a cultic idea [elsewhere in the OT] and cannot be referred to a day destined [only] for God
On these grounds a large number of recent commentators understand Genesis 2:3 to be presenting
the seventh day not just as one which God observes in rest, but also as the first of the weekly Sabbaths that
those created in His image are expected to keep.
This comes through most notably in the impetus behind the fourth commandment. In Exodus 20:811,
we note that Israel is called to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy not simply in imitation of God who
rested on the seventh day, but even more because He blessed the day and made it holy. In essence, why
should Israel rest on the Sabbath? Precisely because the Sabbath is already a blessed and holy day. The day
does not become holy for Israel at Sinai. It was blessed for all humanity (cf. Mark 2:27) and constituted as
a representation of God’s holiness before all creation on the seventh day of the creation week. And since
such is already the case, Israel is called to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by their actions.
More will be said on Israel in relation to the Sabbath below. Suffice it to note at this point that
Sabbath-resting first happens at creation. Before sin, before the need for redemption, before the Mosaic law,
men and women in their capacity as God’s representative rulers were expected to honor the holiness
bestowed on the seventh day and receive the blessing God had given it. In so doing, they shared in God’s act
of signifying in the structure of time His own holiness and lordship over creation. They served as priests
mediating the beauty of holiness to the creation and gathering back the creation in praise and participation
in God’s kingdom reign and promised future.
• Israel’s Sabbath
As we transition to consider the Sabbath within God’s covenant with Israel, it’s striking to note first
of all how much creation language permeates the opening scenes of Israel’s story. From their introduction:
“The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so
that the land was filled with them,” (1:7) to the plague narratives - the seeming re-introduction of chaos into
the created order, to their redemption (or re-creation) through the separation of the sea,
we find noticeable
similarities. The comparisons are most striking though when we get to the tabernacle narrative. There we
read instructions broken up into seven units with the heading, “and God said to Moses.”
The first six
describe the setting and furnishings of the tabernacle, the seventh provides directive for keeping the Lord’s
Sabbaths. Or we notice the ordination of the priests and the consecration of the alter which each take seven
days (29:35-37). Or when work on the tabernacle is completed, we hear echoes of Genesis 2. Moshe
Weinfeld highlights the parallels:
1) Gen. 1:31 [“And God saw all that He had made, (kăl ’ašer ‘aśah), and found it (wěhinēh) very
good”]; Exod. 39:43 [“And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks (kăl
hamělā’kāh)—as the LORD had commanded, so they had done (wěhinēh ‘aśû ’ōtāh)”].
2) Gen. 2:1 [“The heaven and the earth were completed (wayěkulû) and all (wěkăl) their array”];
Exod. 39:32 [“Thus was completed all (watēkěl kăl) the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of
3) Gen. 2:2 [“God finished the work which He had been doing (wayěkăl ’elōhîm… měla’kěto ’ašer
‘ āśāh)”]; Exod. 40:33 [“When Moses had finished the work (wayěkăl mōšeh ’et hamělā’kāh)”].
4) Gen. 2:3 [“And God blessed…(wayěbārek)”]; Exod. 39:43 (“And Moses blessed (wayěbārek)
5) Gen. 2:3 [“And sanctified it (wayěqadaš)”]; Exod. 40:9 [“…and to sanctify (wěqidašětā) it and
all its furnishings”].
This tabernacle project consumes two thirds of the narrative in Exodus. It does so in two installments
separated by an episode of rebellion and false worship (the golden calf). And important for our discussion
is the fact these installments are connected to the intervening episode by way of Sabbath mandates. The
blueprint passages end in chapter 31 with a description of the Sabbath and a solemn admonition to keep it.
The construction narrative resumes on the heels of the golden calf debacle and is preluded in 35:1 with
regulations regarding the Sabbath. Peter Enns, in his commentary on Exodus concludes, “this is hardly an
accident…the references to the Sabbath are intended to con nect the building of the tabernacle to creation.
Building the tabernacle, in other words, is an act of re-creation, culminating in the Sabbath command – a
new seventh day, as it were.
The point of this brief survey of creation themes in Exodus is to highlight that
even as we come to consider the Sabbath commandment in Israel’s law, there is a much broader picture that
must remain in view. The law is given in the context of a new beginning: a new humanity with God’s
promised blessings of fruitfulness
and authority to rule and subdue,12 commissioned as instruments of God’s
gracious blessing to all the nations,
en route to a new Eden
complete with its garden-like sanctuary wherein
God resides with them.
And along the way, God’s glory journeys with them in this mobile version not only
of the future temple in Jerusalem but also the original garden sanctuary. In the chaotic wilderness, space and
time are once again marked with the beauty of the divine holiness.
The law then, more than just moral code or arbitrary directives of God, re-establishes this new
humanity as the image of God before the nations. This comes across clearly in the preamble (of sorts) to
the covenant in Exodus 19:3-6.
The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and
tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you
on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and
keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;
and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall
speak to the people of Israel.” (emphasis added)
The law derives from the holy character of God and, when it is observed faithfully, constitutes His
people as reflections of that holiness who radiate its beauty and righteousness out to the rest of creation.
This is important when thinking about matters related to the law. When we ask whether or not certain
portions of the law are still binding today, what we need to be asking is, are those portions still current
expressions of God’s holiness? The question is not so much whether certain laws are binding for salvation
or maintaining covenant relationship with God. It is more, should those laws continue to be observed as a
way of imaging God to the nations? Or more specific for our discussion, is Sabbath-keeping still a way of
corporately manifesting God’s holiness and supreme authority in creation? Is it still intended as a sign, in
the structure of time, that life is not defined by what our hands might produce, but rather by the purposes
of the creator-God who graciously gives (and redeems) it?
Sabbath discussions can often feel a bit clouded by two things: the first is, dare we say, a Pauline
view of law-keeping in relation to Christ’s redemption. Clearly Paul sees a change in the function of Israel’s
law, especially those that uniquely identified Israel as God’s people, such as circumcision and perhaps even
their way of Sabbath-keeping. And yes, our covenant membership now is through faith in the true lawkeeper
– Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t immediately negate the aspect of law-keeping as a way of representing God’s
character to those to whom we are sent on mission. The other concern that tends to cloud the discussion is
an overemphasis on the individual, personal benefits of Sabbath-keeping (“our bodies need rest”). Yes,
Jesus says the Sabbath is made for man, and yes, our bodies need rest. But we cannot miss the aspect of
Sabbath-resting as a practice of corporate representation of God’s holiness, grace, and Lordship. We have
to deal with the fact that when we leave resting up to the conscience of the individual, we are also dropping
a corporate witness to the beauty and character of God. But before continuing that New Testament
discussion, we need to first fill out the role of Sabbath-keeping in Israel.
Being post-fall and pre-Christ, Israel is given ceremonial practices that uniquely distinguish and
maintain it as God’s holy people among the nations. They have a multipart cultus which incorporates
numerous sacrifices and burnt offerings, all of which we cannot fully elaborate on here. But it should be
observed that in Numbers 28 and 29, these sacrifices and offerings are arranged according to various days
and seasons in the Hebrew calendar. There are ones assigned to the first days of the month (which also is
the new moon
), others for their Sabbaths, and still others for various feasts throughout the year. The point
to be made here is simply that in this stage of redemptive history, in the corporate life of Israel, the Sabbath
day becomes one for performing certain obligations of their unique cultus. As such, the day becomes a sign
throughout it’s generations that Yahweh is the one who sanctifies them and sets them apart (Exodus 31:13).
The Sabbath in Israel takes on a relation to the land they are given from God and is also meant to secure a
certain social/creational justice in that land. To accomplish this, the day is developed into a fuller Sabbatical
system of months and years and extended seasons. So during the Sabbath year, for instance, the land is to
receive rest. And during that rest, the poor among Israel are fed from the fields. Not only the poor, but also
the beasts of the land are fed (Exod 23:10-11). The Jubilee year (after seven weeks of seven years) was
marked for restoring the land to the tribes and families to which it was originally apportioned. Even the
actual Sabbath day itself carries tones of justice when it is described as a day of refreshment for personal
servants, sojourners, and the working animals (Exod 23:12).
Again what we are trying to point out is that Sabbath develops as it is incorporated into this new
stage in the life of God’s holy people. Or as Geerhardos Vos stresses, “It must be remembered that the
Sabbath, though a world-aged observance, has passed through the various phases of development of
redemption, remaining the same in essence but modified as to its form, as the new state of affairs at each
point (epoch) might require.
This might explain in part why in Exodus, the Sabbath command derives from
God sanctifying the day at creation while in Deuteronomy’s version of the ten commandments, as Israel
stands poised to enjoy God’s covenant blessings in His land of promise, the day is associated with God’s act
of redeeming them out of Egypt.
• Jesus and the Sabbath
Turning the page to the New Testament, a noticeable thing about Sabbath in the gospels is the level
of attention it garners. It receives more treatment from Jesus than any other command in Israel’s law. So in
all the words and teaching spent clarifying the Sabbath, if Jesus’ intention was in any way to annul the
institution, certainly we should find at least some indication. But that is not at all the case. In all the conflicts
with Jesus and His actions on the Sabbath, His defense is never, “that part of the law is no longer binding.”
When He is questioned about His disciples’ activity on the Sabbath, we don’t read, “My people have been
freed from such external observances now that I have arrived.”
What we find Him doing is asserting Himself as the correct interpreter of the Sabbath command.
In the Second Temple period, Sabbath observance grew considerably in its level of importance. Rising
nearly to the significance of circumcision and the dietary restrictions, stringent Sabbath-keeping became a
“characteristic marker of Jewish identity.”
The Pharisees and scribes fulfilled the role of safeguarding this
Jewish identity by fencing in the law with tighter and tighter regulations. But in so doing, they fenced off
the Sabbath from certain of its primary intentions such as reflecting God’s holiness in mercy. Throughout
the gospel narratives Jesus chides these misguided interpreters again and again for neglecting social
concerns on the Sabbath, as if to say the correct view of Sabbath takes into full consideration its redemptive
context and intention of being a day for bringing God’s mercy to bear on those in need.
For the question at hand, we simply assert that Jesus can in no way be claimed as an advocate for
the notion that Sabbath is no longer a defining feature of the people called to represent God’s holiness. In
fact, given (1) there is so much treatment on the Sabbath in the gospels, (2) Jesus’ is claiming Himself to be
the correct interpreter of the Scriptures in relation to the Sabbath, and (3), there is no hint of abrogation in
any of Christ’s teaching on the Sabbath, there is every reason to conclude that the gospel writers understood
Sabbath-keeping as an enduring, even central mark in the life and identity of Christ’s followers, that Sabbath
was indeed part of Christ’s reign as Lord (cf. Luke 6:5).
• Paul and the Sabbath
So, what about Paul? If you are one to see Sabbath as no longer binding, Paul is your go-to guy. If
you are one with a view of Scripture that sees Sabbath as an enduring institution, certain of his passages are
difficult to reconcile. How can one practice Sabbath when Paul appears to reprimand the Galatians for
observing days, months, seasons, and years (Gal 4:9-11)? Or why should a denomination expect Sabbath
observance of its people when he says, “one person regards one day above another, another regards every
day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5), or, these things are “a mere
shadow of what is to come; but the substance is Christ” (Col 2:17)?
However, it has to be pointed out there are certain problems with which both sides of the debate have
to wrestle. If Galatians is meant to assert we are in some way wrong (“enslaved”) to observe the Sabbath
day, then is it okay for us to celebrate the Lord’s Day or observe the seasons of advent or lent (since the
admonition, read plainly, concerns days, months and seasons in a broad sense)? If we have to grant liberty
when it comes to resting on a particular day (via Romans 14), should we not grant similar liberty with
regards to worshipping on a particular day? Once we mandate one or the other, we seemingly are violating
a plain sense reading of Romans 14.
But perhaps, what Paul is doing in these passages is a bit more nuanced than simply tossing aside
this central institution. Consider Colossians 2: “no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or
in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are a mere shadow of what is to come;
but the substance belongs to Christ” (v. 16-17). A search of the phrase “festival, new moon, and Sabbath
day” would reveal it appears seven times in the Old Testament
. And in every instance, save perhaps one,
the phrase is directly related to the system of sacrifices. For instance:
“Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for
the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the
showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and
the appointed feasts of the LORD our God, as ordained forever for Israel (2 Chron. 2:4).”
A fair question to ask could be, is the shadow in view here the days and festivals themselves or the
sacrifices associated with those days at every point of mention in the Old Testament? Could it be more that
Paul is concerned here with those modifications added to Israel’s Sabbath in Numbers 28 and 29 (see
above)? It is a valid question especially considering the passage begins by saying, “No one is to act as your
judge in regard to food or drink.” This is curious because there were no drink regulations in Israel’s law.
No one was, as it were, judging another for what they drank. However, there likely was judging going on
in relation to ceremonial laws which mandated presenting food and drink offerings in keeping with the
In the midst of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Israel’s future temple, we read,
“It shall be the prince's duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at
the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall
provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement
on behalf of the house of Israel (Ezek 45:17).”
Here is an instance where food and drink offerings appear alongside the sacrifices of the feasts, new
moons, and Sabbaths. Interestingly, as this passage peers forward in redemptive history, it looks to the prince
to furnish these offerings and so make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel. So when Paul says in
Colossians 2 that we have been forgiven all of our trespasses and have our record of debt nailed to the cross
and then goes on to say in the next two verses that no one should pass judgment on us with regards to food
and drink, feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths as these are shadows of which Christ is the substance, it is more
than reasonable to read Paul as saying Christ is the true prince who fulfills the system of offerings and
sacrifices by making atonement in his own flesh. Or, in keeping with Hebrews 10:1, the law – more
specifically, the sacrificial system of the law – was but shadow of the good things to come in Christ.
All this to say, it seems to us, more careful investigation is needed before one uses Colossians 2 to suggest
the Sabbath is done away with in Christ.
Similar questions could be asked of the Galatians passage. When Paul reproves them for observing
“days and months and seasons and years,” is he doing away with the Sabbath or is he repealing the
Sabbatical system added as Israel stood poised to enter the promised land? Or to put it another way, could
he be repealing those aspects of the Sabbath that related to the unique circumstances of old covenant Israel?
If one understands the main problem in Galatians is that of the Judaizers seeking to make gentile Christians
look more Jewish, claiming converts are not officially welcomed into God’s family without the markers of
Jewish identity, then the notion Paul is doing away with the modified aspects of Sabbath-keeping under the
old covenant makes good sense.
Paul is tireless in his effort to demonstrate that participation in God’s family is not about wearing
Israel’s identity markers (i.e. circumcision), but is all about placing faith in the True Seed of Abraham who
grants covenant blessings to those marked by His death. Thus he dispenses harsh words towards those who
rely more on the old markers for justification and compels them towards a view of justification that trusts
Christ alone, without supplement. And it must be noted Paul is more severe in how he handles this than he
is at times elsewhere. For instance, he here cynically wishes those who encourage circumcision would go
the full way and emasculate themselves (5:12), yet in Acts, he has Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).
The point in all this is to suggest Paul clearly views Christ as having fulfilled certain aspects of Jewish life,
even certain aspects of the Sabbath. Jesus is our final atoning sacrifice which means the Sabbath is no longer
a day for performing certain sanctifying ceremonies. Jesus is the true heir to the promises of Abraham, the
one through whom even Israel’s land promises find fulfillment.
And so Jesus rightly fulfills those aspects
of the old Sabbatical system related to those promises. In light of this, Paul distils the Sabbath, removing
those aspects of Israel’s observance that are fulfilled in Christ. His intent is not necessarily to throw away
the Sabbath out of hand. More so, the sense here is that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Sabbath
is now what it was before Israel, before sin and the fall. The added necessities, shadows and types have all
dissolved into the promised reality, and we are left once again with the Sabbath as sign of God’s holiness,
authority, and consummate rest. Or to again quote Vos, “From all this [the the typology of future
developments of redemption] we have been released by the work of Christ, but not from the Sabbath as
instituted at Creation.”
We are urging those wrestling with the question of Sabbath’s enduing validity to not simply begin
and end with Paul. Doing so, one might easily notice the word Sabbath in a negative context and hastily
assume Paul supports a non-Sabbatarian viewpoint. Rather, when one aims to see how the full counsel of
Scripture unfolds the question of Sabbath and view Paul in relation, then the passages above can comfortably
be understood to advance the viewpoint of Sabbath being advocated here. Furthermore, the questions raised
such as the legitimacy of setting aside a particular day for worship or celebrating advent together in this
perspective reach much more satisfying conclusions.
We realize we are pushing readers beyond a plain, surface reading of Paul. And we understand the
importance of needing good reason to do that. One could fairly ask at this point, do we have any New
Testament evidence of the Church approaching Sabbath the way we are here understanding Paul? In other
words, do we ever observe a New Covenant community resting together one day in seven in observance of
the Sabbath, all the while avoiding sacrifices and other modifications placed on the Sabbath in the old
covenant? As it is, the book of Hebrews provides us just such an example.
• An Early Church Case Study (Hebrews 3-4)
Before diving in, it is important to clarify, we are not suggesting Hebrews directly addresses the
question of the Sabbath’s enduring validity. Rather, we intend to show it indirectly affirms our understanding
of Paul and the New Testament via example. It is an interesting and somewhat complicated passage, so we
will tread carefully.
Throughout the passage, a particular intent of the writer is to clarify the identity of his audience. So
in the opening verses, he stresses the continuity of the Church with Old Covenant Israel, saying “Moses was
faithful in all God's house as a servant…Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house
if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (3:5-6).”
So why must we hold fast? The reason is, because part of sharing Israel’s identity involves sharing
a similar wilderness experience. Just as Israel, upon redemption from Egypt set out towards what God held
in store for them, so the Church upon redemption from sin’s grip and guilt journeys towards that which He
And this time of journey (“today”) is one in which the deceitfulness of sin, the threat of
hardening and unbelief are very real dangers. It is a present experience with comparison in the Israelite’s
experience in the wilderness – their own hardening and lack of faith in God’s promise.
The next question: what is this hope in which we boast? Or to phrase the question using other
passages throughout the book, what is the inheritance held in promise for us who hold fast (cf. 6:12) as the
Day approaches (10:24)? Exegeting Psalm 95 to fit the context of his readers, the writer refers to this hope
as God’s rest. Where other passages throughout describe it as our promised inheritance or the enduring city
yet to come (13:14), it is here referred to as God’s rest.
By referencing Psalm 95, he makes the point that it is actually the same rest that was held out for the
Israelites. The land of Canaan in fact was not their enduing city (11:8-10). The rest God secured for Israel
through Joshua in fact was a mere type of the greater, consummate rest that remained in store for Israel (4:8).
And this same “rest” is the hope in which the present-day Church boasts as it, like Israel of old, journeys
through sin and temptation-ridden lands with no enduring resting place (cf. 13:14).
What is important to our discussion (strikingly so) is that the writer also equates God’s rest in Psalm
95 with the Sabbath rest God entered in Genesis 2. In this way, Genesis 2:2 is used to clarify and explain
the origin and nature of the rest referred to throughout our passage. God’s rest is at the same time the rest
He entered at creation and the rest His persevering Church strives toward. Again, the rest that awaited in
Canaan for the wilderness generation is in this passage clarified as a type or shadow of the consummation
rest that awaited Israel (4:8) and awaits the wilderness Church “as long as it is called ‘today’” (v.13).
It needs mentioning at this point that the writer of Hebrews certainly has an already/not yet
perspective on eschatology. For instance, in 12:22, believers have already come to the heavenly city even
though in 13:14 they have not yet attained to that enduring city that is yet to come. Or in 6:5 we are said to
presently taste the powers of the age come. And many see that tension at play here in this passage, perhaps
when he says in 4:3, “We who have believed enter that rest.”
Some would go so far as to suggest those who
have put their faith in Christ have already entered that rest, such that there is in fact no greater rest yet to
come. Here they might site verse 10 of chapter four where he says, “whoever has entered God's rest has also
rested from his works as God did from his” and insist the works mentioned here are dead works from which
we rest by faith in Jesus Christ. But there are several fatal problems in this interpretation. First of all, the
writer is comparing our works here with the work of God in creation. This interpretation forces a jarring
incongruity between God’s good work in creation and the negative “working” of works-righteousness. It
also over-spiritualizes rest where the writer seems to talk rest in the sense of locality (as is the case
throughout the book with regards to our promised hope).
Even more than all this, the works the writer has in mind here are most certainly the works he
mentions in 10:23 when after a similar call to “hold fast” (v.22) he implores them towards love and good
“works”. Or note chapter six wherein he encourages his readers to remain sure of “better things” to come
on the grounds that “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his
name in serving the saints, as you still do.” (v.10). Essentially, we feel the rest from work in view in 4:10
is akin to that of Revelation 14:13
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from
now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds
The view that would insist the rest of God is already attained in full wrongly forces an over-realized
eschatology on this passage and in so doing noticeably distorts the narrative arc of the passage. A more
consistent interpretation reads 4:10 in the light of its surrounding verses which together serve as a summary
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has
also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest(4:9-11)”
Leaving that point and working back to the broader view of the passage, we find a very important
twist of sorts to the writer’s terminology in this summary statement. In 4:9, where we might expect the
writer to continue with the terms “my rest” or “God’s rest”, he instead uses the term “Sabbathrest”
(sabbatismos). This rest of God to which the wilderness Church is striving is called Sabbathrest. We could
perhaps go so far as to say our future enjoyment of the consummation is here being described as a sort of
The writer is actually coining a term (sabbatismos). And it is important to note, whenever the word
Sabbath is used in Scripture, it always refers to the weekly Sabbath observance. So as the writer links the
Sabbath with God’s rest in coining this term, he is revealing to us his own theology of the Sabbath - that there
is surely a connection between the final rest of God and the weekly remembrance of the Sabbath.
In light of this, we can say two things about the writer’s Sabbath theology: (1) in drawing the
connection between Sabbath resting and the rest God enters in Genesis 2:2 (in almost identical fashion as
Exodus 20:8-11), he understands Sabbath-keeping as having its origin in the creation week. In other words,
as was argued above, Sabbath-keeping is understood as a creation ordinance before it is ever one of ten
commandments given to Israel. And (2), in connecting weekly Sabbath resting with the consummate rest
of God held in store for those who “hold fast,” he views the weekly Sabbath as a God-given sign, “a
continuing reminder that human beings are not caught up in a meaningless flow of days, one after the other
without end. History has a beginning and an ending. We are heading toward final judgment and the
consummation of all things.”
So to conclude this look at Hebrews 3-4, we again admit weekly Sabbath-resting is not the emphasis
in this passage. The writer has little to no interest in directly addressing the question we are looking into.
His concern is more the eschatological Sabbath-rest to which he admonishes the church to strive and
persevere. What we observe though is an example of a New Testament author, one who undoubtedly
understands that the new covenant abolishes certain practices of the old, continuing to observe the Sabbath
as a sign - one which transcends Sinai, endures as long as it is “today,” and aides us in our attempts to “hold
fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” As such, we have here an example not only of what we
understand Paul to be advocating, but one that shows us in practice the full view of the Sabbath being argued
for in this paper.
What we have tried to show is that since the advent of Creation, the Sabbath has been a day holy to
the Lord. It has been an enduring mark of God’s people throughout redemption’s unfolding narrative and
a most important sign accompanying them on their journey from creation to new creation. It aims the
structure and routine of our lives toward the beauty of God’s holiness, defines that life as blessing fashioned
and sustained not by human productivity but the gracious working of God, provides means of witnessing
to God’s holy character before all creation, and marks us as servants of the new creation He unveiled in the
resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture presents it not just as an enduring mandate, but also a blessed sign-gift
given to the church to aid in Her mission-filled journey of faith in Christ. As such we have come to treasure
the Sabbath’s value, much the way we do the Lord’s Supper and His gracious mark of baptism.
There are undoubtedly certain questions left unanswered. For instance, we did not here address the
change from Saturday to Sunday, (1) because we felt that was beyond the scope of our inquiry, (2) because
there is no disagreement between the majority and the minority that the first day of the week,
post-resurrection, is the one now holy unto the Lord, but also (3), it seems that is more of an historical (vs.
Biblical) argument as Article 21 would indicate. We might surmise the day changed because Christ entered
God’s consummate rest (resurrection) as a first fruits on the first day of the week and in so doing also
inaugurated the new creation to which the Sabbath points as promissory sign. But again there is no chapter
and verse in explicit support. We would remind our readers at this point that our intent was not to give an
exhaustive explanation of Sabbath theology and practice. Our task was to test the legitimacy of our doctrinal
position against the evidence in God’s Word.
We understand there are good and Godly individuals who will disagree with our understanding of
Scripture on this matter, and we are sympathetic to the concern raised by some that they would remain
unable to minister among us on account of this disagreement. Truth be told, we might very well wish
permission could be granted for ministers and elders to express reservation on this point of faith. But since
we’ve come to view this as a rich and meaningful sign-command marking God’s people throughout the ages,
we cannot endorse changing our identity and belief simply because there are different perspectives on the
So on the basis of Scriptural convictions, we encourage Conference to preserve and cherish our
present position on the Sabbath in relation to the Lord’s Day. We humbly propose the wording changes
mentioned above to bring clarification and balance to the statement. We find the preamble to the Articles
of Faith expresses well our concluding sentiments having gained a renewed appreciation for the Lord’s
Sabbath. “Although these standards have been acknowledged to be of lesser importance than the inspired
words of the Scriptures, they cannot be neglected without resulting in serious impairment of the life of the
church.” We do feel this is more than mere debate on matters of doctrine. There are rich practical
implications to be benefitted. Our present position imbues the work and rest of our men and women with
a God-ward orientation. It holds before our membership a glorious sign of our gospel hope and assurance.
And it encourages our corporate witness to God’s creative glory and His mercy in redemption before a world
starved for glory, life, and hope. We urge all toward prayerful consideration of the matter and trust the Lord
of the Church to graciously guide and preserve us as we press on in faithful obedience and service to His
glory and kingdom’s advance.