Sabbath and Worship

Part 6 - Ecclesiology
Chapter 41 - John Owen on the Christian Sabbath and Worship

Calvin and other reformers on the European continent did not view the Sabbath as grounded in creation, but as part of the ceremonial law that passes away.  The Puritans mostly rejected this.  "Strict Sabbath-keeping was certainly a hallmark of the Puritans" (654), and they succeeded culturally in England in getting most of the nation to rest on Sundays.  Yet they were also ridiculed for their strictness in the details.  King James I specifically endorsed archery and dancing on Sundays.

Owen argued for Sabbath as a creation ordinance, from Genesis 2:1-2 and Hebrews 3-4.  The Sabbath was part natural law (inviolable and can't be changed because of who God is and what His world is like), and part positive law (commanded only because God said so and thus able to change).  Since it is part of the 10 Commandments, it is unlikely to be wholly positive and ceremonial, to be abolished with the coming of Christ.  Hebrews 4 points us to God's rest at creation, our spiritual rest in Christ (vs. 3), and a continued day of rest (vs. 9 uses sabbatismos in Greek, not general idea of rest).

The main way we sanctify the Sabbath is worship.  As in everything else the Puritans took the Word as the sole authority for regulating faith and life.  This led them to reject any element of worship not commanded in Scripture.  Packer and others call this a uniquely Puritan doctrine, but Calvin taught the same.  Outward worship according to revelation has always been the design, since Adam.  Even if the outward means change over time, the inward principle is the same.  With the passing of the Old Covenant, we are not freed from any and all outward forms - a better covenant will have better worship.

In worship we

  • sanctify God's name
  • profess Christ as Lord
  • strengthen our faith
  • express our love for and communion with other believers

The beauty of worship "is not to be found in the outward ceremonies and rites of men but in the triune God Himself" (678).

I really enjoyed this chapter, but the worship half needed its own chapter.  The authors charge J.I. Packer with oversimplifying the Puritans' regulative principle as an innovation.  I'm with Packer against Beeke/Jones on this one.  They don't distinguish as they should a strict regulative principle, where each element of worship needs direct Biblical command, from a more general principle of the Word being the sole authority for all of life including worship.  I think these are the same thing to them, as it was for many Puritans.  They try to muster Calvin to their view, but he was fighting superstition and traditional rites in worship that had come to dominate Roman services.  I'm not sure he would have been a strict RPW guy.

The Sabbath half was excellent, laying out distinctions between ritual law and creation ordinance very helpfully.  Fascinating that the Church of England and King James I himself advocated for sporting recreation as lawful on the Sabbath, against the puritans.

I wasn't sure how well these topics fit under the heading of ecclesiology...

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