Monday, July 09, 2007

Sabbath Day—does it have any application for modern Christians, especially Episcopalians/Anglicans?

A self examination starter from Peter Toon

It seems to be the case that for most Christians in the West today Sunday is just like any other day, except that in the morning an effort is made to go to a church service. For the rest of the day the rules for any none-go-to-work-day seem to apply—gardening, recreation, home improvements, going to restaurants, dressing casually, shopping at the mall and the supermarket, watching TV shows and sport, traveling by air and car, paid employment, and so on.

This approach to Sunday—better "the Lord's Day," the festival of the Resurrection—is relatively new. One has only to read the Catechisms of Anglicans, Protestants and Roman Catholics from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and look through the older Lutheran, Methodist and Anglican Hymn Books to find that Christians are taught and urged to treat the Lord's Day as belonging very specifically to the Lord, and therefore to use it for corporate worship, family togetherness and prayers and an opportunity for meditation and contemplation of the things of God. And, of course, it was the common custom to go to corporate worship both in the morning and the evening—with Sunday School or catechetical instruction added.

While some groups have come close to a Christian Sabbatarianism, setting over strict rules for what was permissible in this day, the majority—until recent times—simply deduced from the name "Lord' Day" that it was unique in the seven days, and thus ought to be observed with appropriate consecration, commitment and reverence to the Lord.

What seems to have happened is that an exaggerated sense of "Christian freedom," developed in the context of modern secular ideas of freedoms and rights, has caused many of us to think that Sunday is the day on which we, out of our busy lives and because of our appreciation of God, give to God an hour or two, and then spend the rest of the day as we will. And, further, that couple of hours we donate to God, is taken back by us if something "important" comes along to claim our attention and time. (Theologically this is a bad kind of Pelagianism!)

The virtual removing of the Lord's Day is not a phenomenon that is simply what the laity do, it is also what the clerical and lay leadership do whether they are "liberal progressives" or "biblically orthodox." An example from the month of July 2007 of the what the "orthodox" do is provided by the arrangements for the Annual Meeting of the leadership of the Anglican Communion Network in Bedford , Texas.. The Meeting begins in the evening of a Sunday ("the Lord's Day") and this means that the vast majority of attendees have to travel there by plane, setting off on the Sunday morning, thereby probably having to miss Christian worship and also using the Lord's Day to travel across the country as if they were committed secularists. (Of course they may travel on the Saturday and spend an extra night in a hotel and maybe some will do so.)

For Episcopalians and Anglicans, the diminution of the Lord's Day into merely "Sunday" has not only deeply affected Anglican Liturgy (note how Evensong, the most beautiful of Anglican services, is now virtually extinct—along with Matins, and how people attend worship dressed as thought they were out for recreation); but has also has deeply affected the potential for learning by good habit and teaching, by fellowship and common prayer, the content of the Christian Faith and its application to day to day living. And the general secularizing of the day has become as a poison to affect all aspects of doctrine, morality, style and ethos—as the state of Episcopalianism in the USA reveals.

Certainly the glorious Christian hope includes the Sabbath Rest of the people of God (see the teaching in the Epistle to the Hebrews) as the final fulfillment of what the Sabbath is all about, but at the same time, the Lordship of Jesus extends very much over his day—the first day of the week, or the eighth day—in this world, now and here, when his people celebrate his Resurrection together as the Lord's people, hearing his Word, being fed at his Table, and being empowered by his Spirit. Unless there are emergencies or necessities to require our attention, the best mind of the Church over the centuries is that Lord's Day is a Day that is to be different to the other six because devoted wholly to the Lord.

Is there a way back for American Christians to such doctrine and discipline?

1 comment:

George said...

As a cradle Episcopalian, I was surprised when I first started attending Reformed Presbyterian services that there was a Sunday *evening* service, which I initially assumed was just another version of the morning service for folks that really sleep late...

I can testify to the joy of observing the Lord's Day more fully. I started by just not turning on the television, then leaving the computer off and doing no work-related labor, then not doing any shopping or eating out, then limiting my reading to specifically Christian writings. With all that and morning and evening services, it's become a glorious day to rest and give thanks to God, one towards which I look forward starting Monday.