A cultural argument for the Sunday Sabbath 11

It seems there are quite a few Christian leaders (Warren, Driscoll) and Pajama Pages commentators who are arguing that because we can’t be sure that the Sabbath is really supposed to be on Sunday, or even that it’s supposed to be celebrated weekly, that we can observe it on any old day of the week. While I think there’s a Biblical argument to be made for a Sunday Sabbath, let’s just look at the issue from a cultural perspective and ask whether it’s such a grand idea to be ditching Sundays.

An important goal of the modern church, especially the Turnstile Church, is to be culturally relevant. I assume the ultimate outcome of cultural relevance is to make culture more like the church, rather than make the church more like culture. Perhaps that assumption is mistaken, but where might you say the church has been most sucessful in shaping secular culture? I would say it is in defining and protecting the Sabbath.

Most people the world over understand that Sunday is a day for worship, rest and recreation. Even though not all use the day for worship, you could talk to most unsaved folk and they would tell you that Sunday is a special day for Christian worship. You can see elements of this understanding in efforts by parents to send their children to church on Sundays, even though they may not attend themselves.

The heavy emphasis on televised sports (especially NFL, MLB, and NASCAR) on Sunday afternoons reflects the day’s special status as a day of rest. Even though the day is not what it used to be and is now highly commercialized, there is still a strong cultural gravitation towards rest on Sundays. Reduced trading hours and blue laws are also artifacts of the culture’s special regard for Sunday.

I would argue that the church has established a very strong cultural beachhead when it comes to honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest. Even though many people stay home, most Americans know that Sunday is God’s day.

I think there’s tremendous ground to be lost when some neoCalvinists and Turnstilers throw up their hands and say that they don’t know if the Sabbath is  supposed to be exactly on Sunday, so let’s just do church whenever. For now, our culture continues to preserve and respect Sunday as a special day of worship. If Christians abandon it, we lose any claim on the day at all. We strip the day of whatever sacred cultural value it still has, as well as the church’s special cultural time, and clumsily plop the church down in the middle of all the other mundane cacophonous cultural forces competing for our attention and allegiance.

If you were trying to build a strong cultural movement, to abandon what you’ve already won seems rather illogical. The sacred Sabbath is one area of common ground where our culture understands and respects the church. We should embrace that and build on it.

Although it’s not a scriptural argument, it is an argument.

11 thoughts on “A cultural argument for the Sunday Sabbath

  1. Ben Jun 25, 2009 8:56 am

    Surprisingly, I agree with your basic argument.

    “Turnstile Church”….I like that too. You only need turnstiles when there is a crowd! Every church in america should need turnstiles.

  2. Tommy F Jun 25, 2009 11:25 am

    JDuncan,

    Oddly, I disagree with your whole argument, but like what you said …. the first time I read it. On second look, I both disagree completely and don’t like what you said.

    Here is one overstated comment: “I think there’s tremendous ground to be lost when some neoCalvinists and Turnstilers throw up their hands and say that they don’t know if the Sabbath is supposed to be exactly on Sunday, so let’s just do church whenever.”

    I’m neither a neoCalvinist nor a Turnstiler, and yet I think they are correct (accidentally perhaps?) to the degree that they are in line with the Bible, which is unclear on the appropriate day for the Sabbath.

    As long as your argument is based in culture and history it is bound to be weak. Here’s why: you point out in your post that culture is prone to change and shift as the years pass (the passing of blue laws, as an example). Your post seems to claim that we ought to keep Sunday as the Sabbath based on cultural expectations and tradition. If this is your argument then it is oddly driven by culture, rather than scripture. And your blog seems to be decidedly against this form of argumentation. It seems you’ve simply followed the logic of the Turnstilers and are arguing from culture rather than scripture. On that basis alone, you’re argument’s foundation is weak.

    To that end, I prefer to follow the Bible which is (as it relates to 2009) indifferent on the Sabbath (unless you’d like to base it only on the OT and claim it must be Saturday). I would think that the bulk of your blog postings point in precisely the opposite direction: scripture should guide decisions regarding worship, rather than culture.

    • James Duncan Jun 25, 2009 4:39 pm

      Tommy,

      You say, “It seems you’ve simply followed the logic of the Turnstilers and are arguing from culture rather than scripture.”

      That’s why I made it, and it also explains the closing line. It is not my primary defense of a Sunday Sabbath, but I’m interested in how culturally sensitive churches would respond to it.

  3. Tommy F. Jun 25, 2009 5:36 pm

    Got it. I understood the argument but didn’t realize why …

    It will be interesting to see how they respond.

  4. Chris Jun 25, 2009 8:31 pm

    Can you link to where Driscoll challenged Sunday as the Sabbath? I read/listen to a lot of his content and haven’t heard him callenge that other that to say as a pastor preaching mupliple servies Sunday isn’t a sabbath for him personally so he takes another day to rest.

  5. MW Jun 25, 2009 11:59 pm

    What is your main argument for it then? I don’t mind coming from a cultural perspective when the scriptures negate or are obscure on an issue, so in a strange way I don’t mind your argument. If there is no scriptural basis then we must use wisdom. I don’t mind coming from a cultural perspective when it can help our wisdom on an issue, but to be hard bitten for the Sabbath on Sunday is pharisaical if there is no evidence in scripture for it.

    So, I’d enjoy hearing your argument Biblicaly for the Sabbath on Sunday now that Christ has risen and fulfilled the Sabbath. I need NT answers for this one though because of the fact that Christ fulfilled it. If this weren’t that kind of issue then OT answers would be fine. Help me out. I am very open minded about this and have not formed a solid opinion. I will be open to your answer and consider it. I may ask a bunch of questions but my walls won’t be fortified.

  6. James Duncan Jun 26, 2009 5:21 am

    Chris, MW posted a link to it in one of his comments in the previous post on whether the church is a building.

    MW, I’ll do something on that next week.

  7. Sophie Jun 26, 2009 8:08 pm

    I think this is what Duncan is saying we would lose if we abandoned Sunday as the Sabbath…
    Christian or non, everyone in America knows that church services are happening on Sunday. If a person has never been to church a day of their life, but is for whatever reason, in desperate need of hope, they know that the church (building and people) will be there. That’s a powerful gift that the church has been given by culture. If every church decided to have church worship on whatever day it pleased them, then new comers would never know when to come! Sure they could call the church, find out and decided if Thursday nights worked for them, but if they were looking for a new church family, driving around on a Sunday, they might never find a church.

  8. Seth Jun 26, 2009 10:38 pm

    Alot of these churches do do “seeker” services on sundays for that very reason. because that is when new or unsaved people are most likely to come and then they have another service later on in the week.

  9. Sophie Jun 28, 2009 6:29 pm

    That’s a slippery slope assuming that Christian’s don’t need worship on Sunday. But there are OTHER Christian’s seeking new churches would benefit from the Sunday=Church mentality. Church is for them too, actually I would say even more so for them, but that was another post… one I’m sure we disagreed on.

  10. MW Jun 29, 2009 2:06 am

    I think it is wise to keep Sunday as the day of worship due to the cultural reasons, but I think my ultimate question is when or where do we rest. Is our rest still on a given day or is it (as Piper put is once) every day in Christ now. I think Piper still assumes a given day, but also spoke of how Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath gives us the ability to rest in him everyday and eternally.

    It seems as if the Sabbath were a foreshadowing of Christ, the same way the promised land was (Hebrews 4) but we don’t live in the promised land anymore and it is no longer a foreshadowing of Christ because Christ came. Is this the same for the Sabbath.

    I still have no solid opinion due to the rich history of the Sabbath in the Church but I don’t want to just accept something due to history, I’d really like to have some biblical reference to ya’ll’s opinions. Is there Biblical reasons for the Sabbath on Sunday or any day? Is the idea of a Sabbath day still relevant in the NT church or are we just called to meet regularly? Is there biblical backing for a “day of rest?” or do we now rest in Christ alone now that He has revealed himself and fulfilled the Sabbath? This is a really hard question to wrestle with because so much seems to be at stake. I’d love some dialog though.

    To me it seems like Hebrews 4 calls for a day of rest still but I can’t tell if it’s talking about a day or a person (i.e. Jesus Christ). Let’s dialog about this.

    Duncan,

    I would love to hear your opinion when you get the time. I am in over my head with work this week and next but I’ll try to keep up. Thanks!

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