Sabbath and Lord’s Day

I’ll extend the Calvin kick for another post, one that centers on his view of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in the Institutes, one stemming partially from the tension I might experience on Sunday as I both engage in spiritual and ecclesial activities and also head out to the pub to take in a Liverpool match.

For Calvin, the fourth commandment has three main functions: 1) to foreshadow and to promise to Israel spiritual rest which God will bring as the sanctifier of his people; 2) to provide a day for the assembled worship of God’s people; 3) to prevent oppression and overexertion of laborers (2.8.28-9).  In the old dispensation the Sabbath promoted meditation on the forthcoming ‘perpetual repose from our labors’.  However, its figurative and ceremonial aspect is no longer in force after Christ’s resurrection (Col. 2:16-17).  By participating in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14) we begin to participate in that promised rest and ‘[t]his is not confined to a single day but extends throughout the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God.  Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days’ (2.8.31).  In this connection, Calvin also reasons that meditation on that transformation work spills over into the other days of the week (2.8.34).

In contrast to the fourth commandment’s first function, the second and third remain in force, Calvin writes.  We have to avoid superstition and therefore the Jewish Sabbath has ceased (Gal. 4:10-11; Col. 2:16-17), but we must assemble weekly for worship and therefore the church gathered and still should gather on Sunday, the ‘Lord’s Day’ (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rev. 1:10).  Romans 14:5 concerns only the superfluity of superstitious day-keeping, not the prerogative of the church to gather on whichever day it fancies.  Thus, the Lord’s Day is retained for the cultivation of orderly fellowship (2.8.32-3).  On this day we are required to abstain from ordinary tasks but not in order to submit to the prefiguring of a future rest, lest we slip into ‘Sabbatarian superstition’ (2.8.34).  Rather, in Calvin’s mind, the respite from ordinary tasks simply enables concentration on spiritual things (2.8.33).  After Calvin’s time this obligation is distilled in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession (which relies heavily on the Westminster Confession) as a matter of ceasing from ‘worldly employment and recreations’.  (Worldly here doesn’t mean ‘evil’, just ‘common’.)

Any thoughts on this?  What do you make of Calvin’s exegetical work in relation to the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day?  Is Tim Tebow making a theological statement by playing football on Sundays?  What about the church that seeks to attract newcomers by scrapping Sunday services and meeting at other times of the week?  How might this link up with the role of Sabbath-keeping in the literature on spiritual formation?


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