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Affirmation of the Christian Sabbath


Posted on 03. Dec, 2012

Webmaster’s note: the following was approved by the Eastwood PCA Session in its September, 2012, meeting:

Eastwood PCA Affirmation of the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day

The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said that if you would destroy Christianity, you must first destroy the Christian Sabbath. Our Reformed forefathers viewed the Christian Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, as the “lynchpin” of God’s moral law, the cornerstone of all moral government. In the last two centuries in America and in the West generally, this distinction of the first day of the week has eroded. Today, most Americans treat the Sabbath merely as part of their “weekend.” The PCA has not escaped this cultural trend and finds itself struggling to uphold the biblical view of the day expressed in the Westminster Standards as well as to promote practices consistent with that perspective. Eastwood is aware that, particularly on this subject, any position taken may be viewed by some Christians as legalism and by others as license. We seek to avoid both. We affirm the application of the Fourth Commandment to the New Testament Church and urge all our members to be thoughtful of it. We believe that a biblical view of the day is the starting point for adopting a God-honoring Sabbath observance. In short, we affirm that the Christian Sabbath is intended to secure the following for the Christian: rest, not regulation; blessing, not burden; delight, not drudgery.

The above viewpoint flows largely from Isaiah 58:13-14, which was easily the favorite “Sabbath” passage in the scriptures of earlier generations of Presbyterians:

If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (ESV).

Nine Benefits of Sabbath Observance (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  1. Worship:Sabbath observance meets the soul’s need for corporate and private worship, including the preaching and hearing of the Word of God, prayer, the sacraments, and the fellowship of God’s people.
  2. War Against Worldliness:The Sabbath serves as a weekly “antidote” to the world’s influence in the heart, a reminder that we are living not for this world but for eternity.
  3. Character:Sabbath observance teaches one to fear God more than men. Even Christians may not always see the value of a consistently Reformed view of the Sabbath. You may even be viewed as legalistic for following your Sabbath convictions. But fear not.
  4. Doctrine:Studying the Sabbath in God’s Word reveals that the Bible is an integrated, unified book with an essential continuity between the testaments. Consistency in Reformed doctrine demands one’s acknowledgement of the Fourth Commandment.
  5. Witness:Sabbath observance is a visible witness to the world. While we are to live differently than the world on every day of the week, on the Sabbath we have the opportunity to demonstrate a greater distinction from the world in our outward practices.
  6. Rest:Sabbath observance provides opportunity for bodily rest. The rest of the Sabbath also reinforces the gospel truth that we cannot attain redemption by our own labors but only by receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation (WSC 86). Christ has labored for our salvation on the cross and we rest in Him alone ( 11:28-29, Heb. 4).
  7. Mercy:In Matt 12:9-13 (& Mk. 3, Lk. 6), Christ taught that acts of mercy on the Sabbath are pleasing to God. A rewarding practice during the afternoon/evening is to minister to those who are shut-in or suffering or who would otherwise benefit from some specific act of mercy.
  8. Stewardship:Just as when we tithe, believers offer one-tenth of their substance to God, thereby teaching that all we possess properly belongs to the Lord, so in the Sabbath believers offer one- seventh of their time to God, thereby teaching that all of our days are His.
  9. Order:In an increasingly disorderly society, the Sabbath offers stability as God’s primary ordering institution in one’s personal and family life; it is intended as the apex of our week.

Six Practical Suggestions. We commend as appropriate Sabbath afternoon activities at home,

  1. discussing the morning’s sermon with your family during or after lunch;
  2. spending time in Bible reading (or Christian biography, theology, church history);
  3. spending extended time in prayer;
  4. taking a rest of a reasonable length;
  5. ministering to someone who is sick, shut-in, or in need of encouragement; and
  6. teaching the catechism to your children or learning it yourself.

Some Scripture passages that reinforce the validity, obligations, and blessedness of the Sabbath include Psalm 92 (the only psalm written specifically for the Sabbath)Psalm 116:7-8 and 118:22-24 (one of the most quoted Old Testament passages, and foreshadowing the change of day), Gen. 2:1-3Ex. 16Ex. 31:12-18, 2 Chr. 36:15-21, Neh. 13:15-22, Is. 56:1-8, Is. 58:13-14, Jer. 6:16, Jer. 17:19-27, Matt. 11:28-29, Matt. 12:1-13 (& the parallel passages in Mk. 2-3, Lk. 6), and Hebrews 4.

Previous generations understood the Fourth Commandment to address one’s love for God as well as for one’s neighbor. The latter aspect is not widely appreciated today but is found in Deut. 5:13-15 where the commandment’s rationale is so that your “servant may rest as well as you” (including non-Jews, sojourners). Thus, Eastwood encourages her members, particularly heads of household, to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully their commercial activity (i.e., paying others working for you) on the Sabbath (see WCF 21, Neh. 13:15-22, Jer. 17:19-27, Is. 58:13-14, BCO 48-5).

We might close with many excellent affirmations from Presbyterian history, but here is one from a broader source. As an American Tract Society publication stated in 1835, “On the children and youth who are now growing up, will rest the responsibility of deciding whether the Sabbath shall be only a day of sport and amusement – or whether it shall be a day when the poor shall rest and be refreshed, and when souls shall be sanctified, and fitted for heaven.”


Eastwood PCA Session, Montgomery, Alabama, September 2012