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Navigating the Christian Sabbath Day

As a pastor of a church that confesses a Reformed and Presbyterian view of the fourth commandment, I often encounter questions as to how to observe it. The fourth commandment—to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy—is particularly challenging for people coming from evangelical backgrounds. Our contemporary culture is anti-Sabbath-keeping. Its socio-economic structures and “conveniences” make it increasingly difficult to observe the day. And while people generally maintain that the other nine commandments are morally binding upon Christians under the New Covenant, the fourth commandment is practically cast off.

With this view so pervasive within the church, those worshiping in confessionally Reformed churches frequently struggle with how to observe the day. What do we do when my evangelical friend down the street invites me to a party to watch the game Sunday afternoon? What if my children’s sports team schedules a practice or a game on the Lord’s Day? Am I permitted to catch up on emails and reports before I head into the office on Monday? Is Sunday evening my opportunity to get my affairs in order for the coming week? In his wonderful new book, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, Sinclair Ferguson provides an exceedingly helpful approach to such questions—in a footnote in the fourth appendix, no less!

When Christians ask: ‘Is it ok for me to do X on Sundays?’ the first response should normally be not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but ‘Why would you be doing it?’ The most common answer to that question is probably ‘Because I don’t have time for it in the rest of the week.’ This highlights the importance of understanding the whole of the fourth commandment. The problem here is not how we spend Sunday; it is how we are using Monday to Saturday. We are living the week the wrong way round, as if there had been no resurrection! Use Sunday as a day of rest, worship, fellowship first and we will almost inevitably begin to discipline our use of time in the other six days of the week. Grasp this and the Sabbath principle becomes one of the simplest and most helpful of all God’s gifts. The burden-free day at the beginning of the week both regulates the days that follow and refreshes us for them. (Ferguson, 266n1)


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