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The Christian Sabbath?

The daily and weekly rhythms of life are the foundation to to the way we keep time. If I regularly set aside a weekly ‘Christian sabbath’, I will be different than if I only worship when I ‘feel’ like it. The same could be said of daily prayer, monthly fasting, or any number of other habits.

Early Christians understood this and intentionally molded their time around the Gospel. I’d like to take a brief look at the way Christians have allowed these considerations to affect the way they spend their time.

Daily Rhythms of Life

There is evidence from the first-century that spiritual habits were shaping the lives of Christians. The book of Acts reports that early believers gathered together daily and devoted themselves to prayer, the apostles teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship with one another (Acts 2:42-47).

Likewise, the Didache, a church document dating from the late first-century, “instructs its readers to pray three times a day…morning, noon, and evening were probably what were intended, as these are mentioned in some third-century sources” (Bradshaw 70). The third-century document Bradshaw references was likely The Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus which “reports the following daily rhythm of prayer: 9 AM – Meditate on the suffering of Christ for at that hour Christ was nailed to the tree. Noon – Meditate on the suffering of Christ for at that hour all creation became dark. 3 PM – Meditate on the death of Christ. For at that hour he died” (Webber epilogue).

It should be evident that spiritual concerns shaped the early Christian’s daily life.

The Development of the ‘Christian Sabbath’

Since most early Christians were Jewish, they would have been used to worshiping on Saturday – the Sabbath. This has led some to reject Sunday worship as pagan in origin. (This is especially true of the Seventh-Day Adventists and members of the more recent Hebrew Roots Movement.) I’ll admit that there are only a handful of references to Sunday worship in the New Testament; however, that evidence along with what can be found from extra-biblical witnesses have led most scholars to “believe that [Sunday worship] was adopted as early as the first generation of believers” (Bradshaw 75).

So, Sunday is not – and never will be the ‘Sabbath.’ But since Christianity’s earliest years, Sunday has been the equivalent of the Sabbath. It is a sort of ‘Christian sabbath.’

Contrary to the popular belief that Constantine instituted Sunday worship in the fourth-century AD, by the middle of the second-century, Justin Martyr was able to report “to the Roman Senate that Christians assembled in one place around ‘the memoirs of the Apostles’ and the Eucharist ‘on the day of the sun’” (Senn 98). Ultimately, the evidence from the first three centuries of church history “points to the conclusion that the only days on which Christians celebrated the eucharist were Sundays” (Bradshaw 76).

Sunday or the Lord’s Day?

By the time Revelation was written, Sunday had come to be known as “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). This was a phrase that was closely related to the Hebrew idiom, “the Day of the Lord”, a phrase that carried a great deal of end-times weight. “This latter phrase implies the judgment and reign of God’s righteousness at the end of time” (Stookey 40).

By renaming Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the early Church was announcing the coming of God’s Kingdom. God was making all things new and was calling all of creation into that Kingdom.

The Eighth Day?

Another way that the early Church referenced Sunday was by calling it “the eighth day”. This phrase too had end-times overtones to it. “In six days God created the physical world, and on the seventh day rested; but in the humiliation-exaltation of Jesus, God inaugurated the new creation in Christ, thus constituting the eighth day of creation” (Stookey 41).

The renaming of Sunday implies that, from a very early time, it was seen as highly important within the life of God’s people. Sunday was set aside as the day to worship. As I’ve already said, there is evidence from early on that the Lord’s Supper was only shared on Sunday. This too implies its importance. Sunday was the day when God’s people gathered to celebrate the God who had entered history as Jesus Christ.

Sunday – A Weekly Celebration

Sunday was and is the most important feast of the Christian year. “The primary Christian feast must occur weekly, not annually, in order to testify to the way in which the humiliation-exaltation of God in Christ has transformed the totality of human life” (Stookey 49). Weekly Christian worship on the Lord’s Day, like the keeping of the Sabbath within Judaism, creates a rhythm to the believer’s weekly pattern.“Sabbath-keeping – living in ways that say yes to God and his rhythms and no to the life-draining rhythms of the culture and people around us – is essential to our call to worship…” (Labberton 97).

This practice reminds the Christian that he is not his work and draws him back to God again and again. This is the foundation to the rest of the Christian calendar.

So What?

As I’ve studied the development of the Christian calendar, I’ve come to an important conclusion: We allow the rhythms of our culture to dictate our lives much more than the rhythms of the Spirit or of scripture.

What would happen if we built spiritual habits into our days and weeks?

How would your life look differently if there was a regular routine of daily – perhaps even thrice-daily – prayer?

How would regular fasting change your approach to problems?

Would your approach to ‘church’ change if you began viewing every Sunday as a true celebration of our creator and redeemer?

The way you spend your days and weeks will determine how you spend your years. Spend them wisely and intentionally.

If you’d like to explore the idea of a ‘Christian sabbath’ further with me, I’d encourage you to read ‘Meeting Christ in Grace: Sabbath‘.


Resources:

Bradshaw, Paul, Early Christian Worship: A basic introduction to ideas and practice. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996. Print.
Cherry, Constance M., The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Kindle Edition.
Hellriegel, Martin B, and Alphonse E. Westhoff. “The Liturgical Year.” Orate Fratres 2.7 (1928): 205-210. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Hislop, Alexander. The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1959. Print
Labberton, Mark. The Dangerous Act of Worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Print.
Nocent, Adrien. “Liturgical Catechesis Of The Christian Year.” Worship 51.6 (1977): 496-505. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Price, Charles P., and Louis Weil. Liturgy for Living. New York: The Seabury Press, 1979. Print.
Senn, Frank C., Introduction to Christian Liturgy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. Logos Edition.
Siker, Judy Yates. “What To Do Between The Times?.” Interpretation: A Journal Of Bible & Theology 67.3 (2013): 245-255. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Stookey, Laurence Hull, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. Print.
Taft, Robert. “The Liturgical Year : Studies, Prospects, Reflections.” Worship 55.1 (1981): 2-23. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Webber, Robert E., Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004. Kindle Edition.
Weiss, Joseph E. “The Paschal Mystery And The Liturgical Year.” Liturgical Ministry 9.(2000): 99-103. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

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