Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: sabbath

The Mennonite view of the Sabbath

They keep and sanctify the Sabbath which is not the literal, but the spiritual Sabbath, which never ends with true Christians, not by wearing fine clothes, not by carousing, vanity and idleness, as the reckless world do, but by the true fear of God, by a clear conscience and unblamable life, in love to God and their neighbours ; for that is the true religion, Heb. 12:1.
Menno Simons, 1554 – Complete Works, page 680

For, understand, the prophecy is fulfilled which said with reference to this time, that such people have beaten their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles, rest from their works, and truly observe the spiritual Sabbath. Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3; Ex. 20:10, 11.
Headrick Alewins, 1659 – Martyrs Mirror, page 755

Because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul. Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day. . . yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Heb 4:4; 11). . .
In this Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual, eternal sabbath that has not end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained. . .
By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, and turn away from them, and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of soul, then the believer enters upon the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree; then the believer is in the day of salvation and in the day of light (2 Cor. 6:2; John 7:12; 11:9). This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both body and soul from the works of sin.
Henry Funk, 1763 – Restitution, pages 99-100

Old Testament ceremonies did not represent literal ceremonies under the gospel, but every one met a spiritual fulfilment. The literal sabbath was bodily rest; the spiritual sabbath is soul rest. He, Christ, said, “Come unto me all yea that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We must, to be able to obtain or enter into this spiritual sabbath, cease from all our work; that is works according to our sinful will, as God did from His work of creating.
The true sabbath of the gospel dispensation is not the observance of any literal day. We have a perpetual sabbath, rest to our souls.
Wendell K. Petoskey, Messenger of Truth, 1944, Issue 19

God had set the Sabbath as a day of rest, which pointing to Christ and the rest to be enjoyed in Him. In Him is brought back the day of rest as it was enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. When man accepts Christ as personal Saviour, and lives the life of Jesus he comes into this Sabbath rest, as long as he is faithful. . . The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and man need not be in unrest.
D. J. H. Schmidt, Messenger of Truth, 1955, Issue 8

[The Messenger of Truth is a bi-weekly periodical of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.]

Jesus as agent provocateur

Doesn’t it appear that Jesus deliberately did things that he knew would provoke the Pharisees to reveal their lack of compassion?

Jesus healed many people of their blindness; in some cases he touched their eyes, in other cases there was no physical contact, he simply declared them healed and they were. Why then did he make such a production out of healing the blind man in the incident recorded in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John? He spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. What was the point of that?

Well, it was the Sabbath. The work of making mud and spreading it on the eyes of the blind man was a violation of the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus went on his way and left the man to face the outrage of the Pharisees. It was not slow in coming: “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day;” “We know this man is a sinner.” When the formerly blind man did not agree with that judgment, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. (“cast him out” verse 34).

Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to talk with the formerly blind man, who now acknowledges him to be the Son of God. By this time he had seen what the Pharisees were really like, no doubt so had many of the bystanders.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).

The Pharisees were exceedingly zealous for the law, but could not get their heads around the idea that love had any place in fulfilling the law. They were sure that they had caught Jesus in flagrant violation of the law. In reality, He had snared them into revealing their lack of love.

In the end the Pharisees were so outraged by Jesus’ continual challenges to their authority that they raised a mob to demand that He be crucified. The crucifixion, rather than being the triumph of the Pharisees and the forces of darkness, was where they were defeated. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

Love is always subversive of the forces of evil.

Time shall be no more

Can you imagine an existence without time? I have tried, but I can’t. Does it mean that everything happens all at once, a state of super excitation with no ability to separate one event from another? Or does it mean a state of suspended animation where nothing happens at all? Neither of those states sounds appealing, so the Bible must mean something else when it speaks of eternity where there shall be no more time. Something that is beyond the scope of our present capacity to understand.

Our earthly existence is measured by the rhythms of the sun, moon and stars, the changing seasons, and by remarkable events. The prophet Amos was given a vision of the spiritual condition of Israel “two years before the earthquake.” The ancient Greeks believed that the position of the stars at our birth birth determined our character and the course of our life. Many people still set great store by such notions. In the Old Testament, the passage of time was marked by the weekly Sabbaths, the blowing of trumpets at the new moon and the seasonal holy days. I grew up with the ecclesiastical calendar of the Anglican Church in which every Sunday, and many other days, were given names to denote their significance. Thus we had days like Quinquagesima Sunday and Maundy Thursday. I understand there is an ongoing controversy among those who really care about such things concerning the origin and meaning of the word “maundy.”

The New Testament teaches that these markers of time should no longer govern our lives. The apostle Paul warned: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The sun still rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the changing seasons are accompanied by movements of the stars, but these are not to be the markers of our spiritual lives. When a person repents and is born again, that person enters into a continual spiritual Sabbath of rest from any labours to establish his or her own righteousness.

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:1,  3, 10).

It is still right and good to gather for worship on Sunday, to feed our spiritual hunger, to be refreshed in the company of the saints. But this is not the Sabbath, and being a Christian on Sunday only means that one is not a Christian at all. To this extent the times and seasons are no longer markers of our spiritual life, we have entered into a foretaste of eternity. Beyond that, we cannot tell just what eternity will be like.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild

GENTLE Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee:

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not:
Give me, dearest God, a place,
In the kingdom of thy grace.

-Charles Wesley

The words of the song give us an appealing description of our Lord and Saviour. There is a snare in the way, however, if the way we define gentle, meek and mild comes to resemble wimpiness. If we think that we are following “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” when we shrink back from openly confessing our faith in Him, we have fallen into the snare.

What picture do the gospels give of this gentle and meek Jesus? It is recorded in John chapter eight that the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been captured in the very act of adultery and told Him that the law of Moses said she should be stoned. Jesus did not argue, He simply said “Very well then, whichever of you has no sin may cast the first stone.” Then He stooped down and wrote in the dust. We may safely assume that He was not playing tic-tac-toe or drawing funny faces. It appears that He wrote things that made each of them feel very uncomfortable and they decided one by one that they had urgent business elsewhere.

In chapter nine Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. In other instances He simply spoke a word to heal the blind or raise the dead. Here He spits on the ground, takes the mud, smears it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Why such an elaborate procedure in this one instance? The Bible does not say, but from the context it appears that Jesus considered this a teachable moment, an opportunity to reveal the hardness of the Pharisee’s hearts. It was the Sabbath day and Jesus’ method of healing on this occasion involved work on His part and on the part of the man healed. The blind man appears to have had his eyes opened in more ways than one. He was excommunicated from the synagogue for working on the Sabbath and was not greatly troubled by it, because he had found the Son of God.

In His visit with the Samaritan woman in John chapter four, Jesus flouts the rules of proper Jewish etiquette. It was not considered proper to visit alone with a woman, nor to ask a woman for a drink. The fault was compounded by the fact that Samaritans were considered to be unclean from birth. Yet Jesus sat there at the well engaging in a banter with this woman that gently led into the revelation of the woman’s marital status. We are tempted to pause here and pass a moral judgement on this woman. Remember, though, that the Samaritans had the Pentateuch and the law of Moses, which made no provision for a woman to divorce her husband. We are not told what fault, or whim, caused her to be rejected and divorced by five men. Nor do we need to know, it was a common practice, both among the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus’ statement that “he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” is somewhat enigmatic. It may mean nothing more than that she was espoused to a sixth man, but not yet married.

The disciples were astonished to find Jesus sitting and visiting with this Samaritan woman. No doubt they were even more ill at ease when Jesus decided to enter this Samaritan town, accept the hospitality of Samaritans, eat Samaritan food and teach the way of salvation to Samaritans. These were the “fields white unto harvest” that the disciples were unable to see at first, due to their Jewish prejudices.

In all these examples we see Jesus as genuinely meek and mild, yet His conduct can in no way be described as wimpy. In other circumstances, we observe that Jesus was nowhere near so gentle with those he saw to be hypocrites. Even in those circumstances, he did not fly into fits of rage, or make baseless accusations. He just bluntly spoke the truth.

All these examples lead me to conclude that if it is my custom as a professing believer to go to great pains to avoid any danger of confrontation for what I believe, I cannot truly claim to be a follower of Jesus.

The sabbath restored in Christ

When the Lord God had made all things he rested on the seventh day, and since man was made in the image of God and was adorned with the image of God, man was right and good, and without any sin.  If man had remained in this state, he would have rested with God.  But because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul.  Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day.  Man could not, however, return to his first or Edenic rest in body and soul, yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Hebrews 4:4, 11).

But this sabbath or rest day for the soul had to be fulfilled by Jesus; and afterward also for the glorified body, when all things shall be fulfilled and restored.

Jesus went forth from the Father and came into the world, into the flesh, that he might by his flesh take away the enmity — the sin of the transgression of the law — and by his blood redeem man from the sin of Adam which had brought so much unrest to body and soul that man could not obtain rest (1 John 4:2; Ephesians 5:16).  He came and by the gospel proclaimed the peace of the kingdom of God; and by his suffering and death and resurrection, and by his gospel, rest was found for the soul (Matthew 11:29), and was obtained by coming to Jesus.   Jesus offered up sin, the enemy of the soul, by the sacrifice of his own body on the tree (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual eternal sabbath that has no end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained.

By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, turn away from them and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of the soul, the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree.  Then the believer is in the day of salvation and the day of light (2 Corinthians 6:2; John 5:12; 11:9).  This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both soul and body from the works of sin.  This sabbath shall be hallowed by the praise of God in his word, by a holy life in the wedding garment of the Spirit (Revelation 19:7, 8; Jeremiah 17:21).  Then shall the believers not carry any burden of sin through the gates of Jerusalem, nor out of their houses on the holy sabbath.

The keeping of the sabbath by the believers in Israel consists in rest from the works of sin; and even if the believer through weakness or ignorance does a work of sin then comes in his sorrow and calls upon God through Christ, Jesus is the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:12).

The true believers shall hallow the fulfilled sabbath of the Lord and not knowingly or wilfully sin against the command of the Lord, either in the inward or the outward man.  The believers must strive to live holy in body and soul, that body and soul may obtain the future sabbath restored by Christ in the everlasting kingdom.  Consider well therefore the fulfillment of the sabbath by Christ and keep it as far as lies in your power.

[Excerpted from Restitution, written by Henry Funck, the first Mennonite bishop in North America.  Henry Funck died in 1760 and the book was first published in 1763 by his children.]

What about Sunday, then?

If we cannot claim the sabbath commandment as our reason, then why do we do go to church on Sunday?

The Bible doesn’t tell us when to eat, when to go to bed or when to get up.  Yet we know that we need to do all those things for the health of our physical body.  We should also know that our spiritual being needs food and refreshment.  The best time to eat is when the food is on the table.  The best time to feed our spiritual being is when spiritual food is being offered at the house of worship.

We can skip meals, snack all day long, or gorge on the wrong foods.  We know that isn’t healthy.  In the same way, it is not spiritually healthy to be absent when the people of God are gathering to be fed.

We need to feed ourselves at home, too.  Daily Bible reading and prayer are essential to our spiritual life.  But Christian life is meant to be lived in fellowship with fellow believers, and there is a special blessing in communal public worship.  The singing, the prayers of others, the spoken word, are all forms of spiritual food that we cannot provide for ourselves at home.

Just as there was no command in the Bible for the synagogue worship system, so there is no command for weekly worship services on the first day of the week.  But the Bible does give examples of it happening.  We are no longer under the law, needing a commandment to tell us when to worship.  We are in the era of the free leading of the Holy Spirit.  If the Spirit is not giving us a desire for fellowship with fellow believers, perhaps there is something amiss in our spiritual life.

Thus, it is our practice to set aside Sunday for worship and fellowship, not because we have to, but because we want to.

Some very sincere Christians seem to fear that such an interpretation opens the door to a complete neglect of Sunday worship and fellowship.  If the true Sabbath rest is rest for the soul through the blood of Jesus, why do these believers feel so much unrest about this?  Where is the rest?  Doesn’t it seem that a legalistic attempt to enforce Sunday observance on the basis of the Sabbath commandment is a violation of the true meaning of the commandment?

In Canada, the Lord’s Day Act was passed by Parliament in 1906 and became law on March 1, 1907.  It forbade most types of work on Sunday, including paid sports, newspaper work and excursions on any transportation system.  This was the work of activism by the Lord’s Day Society, made up largely of Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and the Baptist Convention.  These were exactly the denominations that had enthusiastically embraced the social gospel.  Their concern was not to set aside a day of worship, but to provide labourers with a day of rest, probably a valid concern in those days.

Christians met for worship before the law was passed as well as after.  Some may have had to miss a worship service because of work commitments, but most found a way to be regularly present at a worship service on Sunday morning or evening.

The political activism used to bring about the Lord’s Day Act didn’t exactly honour the Lord.  There was conflict with other Canadians, other religions, other denominations.  For a time there was overzealous enforcement, then some exemptions to the law during war years.  Finally it was abandoned.

Did the Lord’s Day Act have any impact on the spiritual life of most Christians?  It would be a sad commentary on our faith if we needed the federal government to pass a law so we could live a genuine Christian life.

May we gather today with fellow believers and worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.  (Exodus 20:8-11).

These are words that God spoke from Mount Horeb.  We cannot simply dismiss them as pertaining to another people in another time and place.  But isn’t that pretty much what we do when we call Sunday the Sabbath and say we are keeping the Sabbath by refraining from gainful labour and by going to church?

First off, do we read anything at all in the commandment about worship?  No.  The Law commanded that all males should appear before the Lord  in Jerusalem three times a year, at the feasts of Passover, Pentecost (also called Weeks or First Fruits) and Tabernacles.  That was it.  No other regular public worship was commanded in the Old Testament.

The system of weekly Sabbath services in a synagogue was not commanded in the Old Testament.  It developed during the Babylonian captivity and was no doubt the general practice after the return from captivity, although it is never described.  Synagogue is a Greek word meaning assembly or meeting place and was the term used in New Testament times.  We do find the word synagogue in Psalm 74:8 in our English Bibles, used to translate a Hebrew word elsewhere translated to mean an appointed time, a holy place or a meeting place.

What this commandment does is forbid a believer to do any kind of work, or to benefit from the work of others, be they servants, animals or non-Israelites.  Can we claim to do that today?  Would we expect God to be satisfied with partial obedience to any of the other commandments?

Yet, when we come to the New Testament, we find Jesus seeming to go out of His way to violate the Sabbath commandment.  In the healing of the man blind from birth, recorded in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus works by spitting on the ground, making mud, smearing it on the man’s eyes.  Then He instructs the blind man to work by going to the pool of Siloam and washing his eyes.  He could have healed the man’s eyes simply by speaking, as He did on other occasions.  But this was a Sabbath day and a teachable moment.  The man is healed, expelled from the synagogue and becomes a follower of Jesus.  All because he worked on the Sabbath.

In Colossians 2:16-17, the apostle Paul instructs us: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

So, if the Sabbath was a shadow of things to come, what might those things be?  I think Isaiah has the best description of the true meaning of the Sabbath: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14).

To honour God, “not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words,” doesn’t that sound like a description of Christian life?

“ That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:7-10).

We are no longer under any bondage to perform certain works, and abstain from others, to earn our salvation.  The works we now do are not our own, but the working of God’s Holy Spirit within us.  We are free.

This has always been the Anabaptist-Mennonite view of the Sabbath.  Menno Simons apparently felt that this was well enough understood that he didn’t need to say much about it.  There are only two brief statements in his writings: “… the true Sabbath be kept in Christ by putting off the sinful body of the flesh…”and “They keep and sanctify the Lord’s Sabbath (which is now no longer literal, but spiritual, and never terminating with the true Christians)… by the fear of God, by a clear conscience and unblameable life, in love to God and their neighbours”.

Henry Funk, the first Mennonite Bishop in North America, who died in 1760, summed it up very succinctly and clearly.  He wrote:

“Jesus, who was the beginning and author of the sabbath, came to restore the sabbath in its full powers and significance, in order to restore mankind to rest of soul.  He offered his own body for the sin which was committed in the garden of Eden and which fell upon all mankind and so bringing unrest of soul upon all mankind.  (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24).  Hence the body of the sabbath or the real sabbath was fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 2:16,17), so that now man has true sabbath rest for the soul in Christ.”  (Restitution, page 244).

%d bloggers like this: