Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sabbath: A Different Perspective

I remember the first time I visited a Seventh-day Adventist Church.  I strongly recommend one if you ever feel the desire to understand what Seventh-day Adventists believe.  Though in the most basic of senses, Seventh-day Adventists believe in the same core values as any other Christian denomination.  That Christ is the Savior, and that by his blood, the sacrifice of the Old Law as required in the Covenant with God as detailed in the Old Testament, was fulfilled permanently.  And that Christ, on the third day of his death, rose and ascended to Heaven as the Son of God, but also God as described by the concept of the Holy Trinity.

One of the most significant beliefs of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church is that of "The Sabbath."  For those who are unaware, the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week, usually accepted as Saturday, where it is believed that God has commanded us to rest and take a day off.  On such a day, it is argued that man should do no work and that nobody with the Israelites should do any work either.  No the livestock or the animals or immigrants or guests or anybody.  Take a day off to remember God and his wonders, provision, and gifts that He has given us.  For a more detailed description of The Sabbath from a Biblical perspective, see Genesis 2:2-3, and Exodus 20:8-11.

But let me throw a little reason into the mix.  From a practical, real-world perspective, having a day off is a healthy and necessary thing to maintain a healthy body.  Most work cycles in our society are built around the two-day rest, five-day work cycle.  To maintain a good healthy body, the body must rest from strenuous labor from time to time to heal from the strain undertaken from any kind of work, whether physical or mental.  It gives the mind and body time to relax, to refresh, and for the mind, time to enjoy the pleasures of life, whatever those may be.  So, when we look at scripture, and we see a great deal of emphasis being put on observing the Sabbath...what that tells me is that having a day off was very important.  It also stands to reason that the Sabbath important enough to be codified with a death penalty for anyone violating it during the times of The Exodus.  It was also important enough for Jesus to speak about during his ministry as accounted and detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

In the times of "The Exodus" as well as later up through even the 1800s I'd argue, the standard of living was low for many people.  Some civilizations had attained a level of advancement where there was a great deal of leisure time, and others required massive amounts of labor hours to keep things even at a subsistence level.  Would it stand to reason that in the times of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, that God, and Jesus both would set aside a day for people to take a break?  And not just people, but land, animals, labor, and of course anyone.  Did you know, that Exodus commanded the Israelites to leave their land fallow once every 7 years.  On the 7th year of a planting season, they were demanded to keep the land free from planting, and let it lie fallow.  The scientific reason for this is so that the land could replenish it's natural nourishment.  A real world and relatively recent example of this going wrong is the Dust Bowl of the early 1900s, where the farm lands of the Midwest were depleted of any usable value due to over use and over-planting.  It resulted in a period of history where many farmers lost their farms and many people starved due to food shortages.

I personally believe that all people should have a day off.  There is no question in my mind that that is a necessary and proper part of being a healthy human being.  But also, do I believe the Sabbath is required as part of a Christian Walk?  I am of the viewpoint that, in the Character of Christs' teachings, and in line with the consistency of walking by faith simply to walk by faith and no other reason, no.  I do not believe that "The Sabbath" as defined by Judaism or by Seventh-day Adventists or any other denomination of Abrahamic Faiths is a necessary mechanism to reap the rewards of walking the path of Christianity.  I do believe that its a couple of things though:

1) I believe it is a necessary biological need to have a day off.  I believe that the emphasis was placed so heavily on the Sabbath was to instill with urgency that human beings cannot sustain in the long term, they're physical health, if they work continuously.  A day off functions as both biological rest and as personal self-reflection or spiritual renewal.  There's a reason why such Sabbath regulations in Exodus also included animals, aliens, strangers, travelers and/or other guests/non-believers.  It was to ensure that you didn't make others who were traveling among the Hebrews weren't forced to work when everyone else had the day off.  It was strict, and it was reasonable given the time.  "Honor the Sabbath and Keep it Holy" is a very a-typical demand as opposed to the rest of the 10 commandments.  Was it truly a mandated day off for all time in all generations?  Or was it a command that could be more loosely observed given the way life treats you.  Or is it purely pragmatic to ensure people get a day off from everything?  That's the mystery.

2) I believe that as a believer in Christ or any other variation of Judeo-Christian beliefs, Judaism, Islam, and the like, that having a day of worship is a VERY good idea.  That such a day should be observed for the purposes of refreshing yourself spiritually and mentally, as well as interacting with those in your faith community collectively.  It also is a launching ground for civic action and services for the poor and needy.  And I believe that worship, whether on a Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, or Monday or whatever day you choose to congregate with other believers are equally important.  I don't see Jesus judging one because they chose to worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, or Wednesday, or whatever day.  Because, I argue in Christianity, it's the motives of the heart that matter most, not the dogmatic ritual of a thing.

Overall though, you must follow your heart on this issue.  If you believe the Sabbath is the literal Sabbath, then by all means, honor your conscience and observe the Sabbath as your faith and personal convictions require you to do so.  I personally don't think I give a lot of credit to the strict observance to the Saturday-Sabbath.  But I do believe in taking a day to rest, and taking a day to reflect on creation, on God, on the nature of the universe and to just flex those existential intelligence muscles.

Tell me what you think.  I encourage good dialogue.

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