As we pass through the penitential season of Lent at St. Jude’s Mission, we, like millions of Anglican Christians around the globe, find necessary changes in the liturgy for Holy Communion. One of these is a recitation of the commandments given to Moses. As each one is read the congregation responds, “Amen. Lord, have mercy.” We do so in acknowledgement that we, in sundry and numerous ways, have violated God’s glory, and confess our failures. For one like me who adheres to a form of dispensational theology (as did the late Anglican minister W.H. Griffith Thomas), the Fourth Commandment is particularly interesting:
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.
Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Interesting because, as anyone schooled in dispensational theology can tell you, the Sabbath was a unique sign of God’s covenant with Israel. When we scan the New Testament epistles, written to the mostly-Gentile churches, we find no reiteration of the Sabbath commandment. Many Gentile believers did not keep it. Apparently, the apostle Paul did not teach it.
I remember a situation involving my oldest daughter when she was a student at a local Christian school. Her teacher asked the class, “What day is the Sabbath?” Lindsay raised her hand and answered, “Saturday,” for which she received catcalls from her classmates and correction from the teacher. But Lindsay was quite correct – the seventh day was set aside for Israel as an everlasting statute. On the other hand, there was precedent for Christian believers to gather on the first day of the week, the “Lord’s day.” This was the day Jesus rose from among the dead. It was the day the believers in Troas (Acts 20:7) customarily assembled. That this day came to be re-interpreted as the “Sabbath” is semantical. Christians do not literally refrain from all forms of labor or travel on Sunday. We go to church, then possibly to lunch, to the park, or set up the badminton net in the yard. Faith does not preclude some from flipping on the NASCAR race or the ball game.
The matter of holy days was a touchy one for the Apostle as he dealt with diverse sensibilities within the new commonwealth, the assembly of Jewish and Greek believers.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God (Romans 14:4-6, ESV)
Neither dietary laws nor holy days were enjoined upon the whole assembly. John Chrysostom renders a similar spirit of liberality in his famous Easter (Pascha) homily:
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Still, there is one aspect of the Sabbath that does apply to all believers, regardless of race or time. It involves what the Sabbath, in type (Colossians 2:16-17), depicts: the rest that is available for all who put complete trust in the Person and work of Christ.
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone should fall according to the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11, NKJV)
To the extent that I or anyone neglects “so great salvation,” then indeed: Lord, have mercy.