LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Because God is our Creator and Redeemer, he deserves and demands the first of all that we possess. This principle is given and reiterated throughout Scripture. We are to give the Lord the firstfruits of our increase. We should give him the first minutes of our day. We should seek first his reign and rule in our lives.
When the children of Israel moved into the land of Canaan, they were not allowed to keep any of the spoils from their conquest of Jericho. Because Jericho was their first conquest, it was to be totally devoted to the Lord. Is it any wonder, then, that New Testament believers have dedicated the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord?
Some Christians have erroneously called Sunday the Sabbath, but the Sabbath is, by definition, the seventh day of the week. Furthermore, some Christians suggest that the Bible teaches that Sunday has replaced Saturday and serves as a “Christian Sabbath.” But admittedly, this is nowhere clearly taught in the Bible.
So why do Christians speak of “the Lord’s Day” and worship on Sunday rather than on Saturday? The answer to this important question lies in several biblical principles and practices rather than in any clear teaching or mandate of Scripture.
First, Christians need to understand that the principle of a day of rest after six days of work is rooted not in the law of Moses, but in creation. God was not tired. He needed no rest, yet he rested on the seventh day to provide a model for mankind. Jesus verified this when he taught that the Sabbath is a gracious gift of God given for the benefit of man (Mark 2:27). Since a day of rest is taught in creation and by Jesus, Christians should embrace the principle and observe a day of rest each week.
Second, even though we should observe a day of rest, we are not bound by the legal qualifications of the Sabbath as given in the law of Moses. That law was for national Israel and included precise definitions of just how much work could be allowed. The ancient Jews debated such matters as whether they could eat an egg that was laid on the Sabbath, or whether they could break a dead twig off a rose bush. Jesus ran up against this legalistic view of the Sabbath in his ministry.
Third, even though there is no clear teaching in Scripture that changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, there is unambiguous evidence that the early church met to worship on the first day of the week. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, which was the first work day of the Jewish week, and almost immediately thereafter the Bible records the church meeting on the evening of the first day of the week (John 20:19; Acts 20:7). In his teaching on giving, Paul instructs the Corinthians to receive the offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2). Many scholars believe that John’s phrase, “the Lord’s Day,” in Revelation 1:10 refers to the first day of the week as well.
Finally, since, like the early church, we commemorate the resurrection of Christ by engaging in corporate worship on the first day of the week, it is right and reasonable to also use this day for the day of rest in which we cease from labor that is not a work of necessity or of mercy. Individual issues and questions about whether or not we should engage in a game of touch football or watch television, etc., are best left to the individual conscience with the admonition that we strive for maximum conformity to the will and intention of God and not the minimum.
That is why Article 8 of the Baptist Faith and Message states simply and clearly, “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.”
York is the Victor and Louise Lester Associate Professor of Christian Preaching and associate dean of ministry and proclamation in the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
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Full text of Article 8: 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.
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