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Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 2b: What are the Motives?

Bruce Ray (CS-Puritan) asks an interesting question of his readers: What two motives do many people have for opposing a day set apart for rest, worship, and celebration? His answer to this question is paired with the fact that there exists conflicting opinions about this matter.

“Those seeking profit and pleasure have often been impatient with the Lord’s command to rest, and have chafed under it. People who think the world exists for their own personal peace and affluence have never embraced God’s command to abstain from work and to rest as he did. The prophet Amos exposed the greed and dishonest business practices of merchants in his day, who only tolerated the Sabbath, but never enjoyed it. . . Many people see the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, as an infringement of their personal liberty—a day that God has taken from them instead of a gift that he has given to them for rest, worship, and celebration.”[1]

Ray surmises that the person is too busy with life “to give up one day in seven for God” and conflicts occur “when our will contradicts his (God’s).”[2]

I do not know what kind of persons Ray is thinking of. It appears that those who seek a profit on the day that he believes should be given to rest, are the employer and employee who are working. If someone works on Sunday, is it always because they think the world exists for their pleasure and affluence? Does Ray allow exceptions for people to work or manage a business on Sunday, even though financial gain is obtained thereby? It is also difficult to know just what “pleasures” in life Ray has in mind that conflict with his concept of a 24-hour rest. His mention of Amos seems to implicate religious people who actually attend church, but has he uncovered multitudes of them who just can’t wait for church to be over so they can tend to their occupations and avocations?

Perhaps Ray is speaking of Christians within his own circle who have expressed disagreement about appropriate Sabbath activities, or who sit in church with eyes half shut, or those who don’t return for the evening service. Perhaps Ray is addressing those Christians who object to calling the Lord’s Day a “Christian Sabbath.” He does mention churches that offer abbreviated Saturday night services so church members can attend secular events that are scheduled on Sunday.[3] And perhaps Ray is thinking of unbelievers who apportion no time for God and have no internal reason to attend church (but they probably won’t read his book either).

Regardless, this example of disparagement erects an “us versus them” mentality about Sunday/Sabbath behavior, and elevates those recommended behaviors as meritorious, obligatory, and/or conscionable. Those who comply with Ray’s concept of proper Sabbath-keeping apparently have the right attitude and motives, while others don’t. It does not appear that Ray has considered any other motives of those who “oppose” a day of rest.

Consider Paul’s motives when he confronted Peter about separating himself from Gentiles. Paul was interested in protecting the liberty of believers in Christ from bondage to Jewish cultural norms (Gal 2:4) and preserving the clarity and simplicity of the gospel (Gal 2:14). What some considered virtuous activities, i.e., circumcision or separation, Paul decried as anathema. Consider, too, Luther’s motives in posting his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. He eventually recognized that climbing “Pilate’s staircase” on his knees or selling indulgences to remit sins of those in purgatory was valueless. For Luther, protecting the conscience and liberty of believers was tantamount to protecting the message of the gospel.

“What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church, not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them without offense to others.”[4]

Unless someone explains to you what motivates them to take or not take an action, we can only suppose. And in supposing, we can cast someone’s motivation in either a positive or negative light (1 Cor 13:7), hopefully taking account of the external and internal factors involved. Understanding motivation is certainly a topic for Christians to comprehend. We would like to think that our motives are always pure, but unfortunately we can deceive even ourselves (Jer 17:9). We can do the wrong thing with good intentions, and we can do the right thing with bad intentions. The matter is further complicated by the emotions and feelings people experience that subliminally influence or reinforce behavior. Let God’s word be the discerner of our motives, and may His Spirit help us understand ourselves better (Heb 4:12).

My suspicion is that whether you attend an LD, CS, or SS church, there is someone there who would rather be somewhere else; and there’s someone not there who could have or should have been there. That’s understandable. In a church that prioritizes attendance and exerts more control over church members, the above ratio leans to the first of these two groups. And in a church that emphasizes Christian liberty, the ratio leans to the second of these two groups. However, the majority of church-goers are favorably motivated to attend church services each week to worship the Lord, to give attention to God’s word, and to fellowship with like-minded believers. But are the motives of CS believers different than the motives of SS believers, simply because they worship on different days of the week? Does a LD believer attend church with a different motivation than a CS believer, even though they differ on how they spend their afternoon? Not really. But they have differing intellectual beliefs about the proper day for worship, the order of worship and style, the significance of it in their life, and how that is expressed in terms of their activities on that day. Most church-goers believe they are approaching this topic biblically; that is, they believe they are following God’s will. So, perhaps this is the ultimate question: What is God’s will on this matter? Again, this must be determined primarily by a thorough study of Scripture, motivated to pursue truth with intellectual honesty and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, while acknowledging the subtle, yet powerful, influence of our feelings, fears, and frustrations.

And what about those who do not attend church? Are they remaining home because they can’t decide what day of the week they should worship on or what activities they may or may not engage in? What importance do we place on the opinions of those who remain home while we attend church services? Whether those absent from the pews are believers or unbelievers, this does not affect the answers to any of the previous list of questions (Part 2a). Therefore, this is primarily an issue that must be determined by a thorough exegesis of Scripture. We shouldn’t be second-guessing other’s motivations (Pro 18:13; Rom 14:4; Jas 4:11-12) when it is really a theological matter. Furthermore, I hope our motivation is to properly understand the relationship of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day and to order our thinking and behavior accordingly.

[1] Chantry, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 4.

[2] Chantry, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 4, 5.

[3] This is an interesting side topic—a confounder—in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy. I do not hold to the CS position, but I agree that churches should keep their official congregational meetings on Sunday. Ray does discuss labor and recreation elsewhere in the book…

[4] Augsburg Confession, Article 28.

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