A Call to Keep the Sabbath

I’m a Calvinist. A “new” Calvinist, I guess you could say. I wasn’t raised a Calvinist – I didn’t know what the doctrines of grace were and I couldn’t tell the difference between a sola and a Solo cup. But during my four years attending Bible college (one which leaned Calvinistic but rejected the doctrine of definite atonement) I was, like many of you reading this I’m sure, swept into the so-called “young, restless, reformed” movement and introduced to the 5 points.

After some initial hesitation, the Word of God assisted by authors like John Piper and Michael Horton led me to embrace the doctrines of grace wholeheartedly (although it took me a while to come around to the L). And just like that, I was…Reformed.

I went through a cage stage, as a lot of us tend to do. I was zealous for the doctrines of grace and strained more than my fair share of friendships over God’s sovereignty. And I proudly told anybody that would care to listen that I was, you guessed it, Reformed.

I went on like this for the better part of two years, accepting the five points of Calvinism but still ignorant of the rest of the Reformed faith. Little did I know, I had only touched the tip of the iceberg when it came to Reformed theology, somewhere I fear many other so-called “young, restless, reformed” folks have ended up.

But then something happened. I started to hear about something called covenant theology —something spoken of negatively at my dispensational Bible college— and I started reading up on it. Books like Christ of the Covenants by O Palmer Robertson and Introduction to Covenant Theology by Michael Horton introduced me to the topic. I began to wrestle with how Scripture was put together and started wondering what the place of God’s Law was in the life of the believer. I was excited, somewhat confused, and trying to find answers. Was there more to Reformed theology than Calvinism? It appeared that there was!

And then, suddenly, it clicked. I won’t go into the details, but last year everything fell into place and I discovered the richness of the Reformed faith. I discovered authors like Nehemiah Coxe and the contemporary Richard Barcellos and before I knew it, I considered myself a 1689 Baptist (so close, right Presbyterians?).

Except there was this one thing.

The Sabbath.

I found out Reformed people —confessionally Reformed people— keep the Sabbath.

Wait.

What?

I could dig total depravity and I could groove on unconditional election. But keeping the Sabbath? Setting aside an entire day of rest to the Lord? Come on! We aren’t Old Covenant Israel! Right?

I quietly sat the issue aside and focused on studying up on the covenant of works. I picked up Richard Barcellos’ Getting the Garden Right —which I thought was mostly a defense of the covenant of works— and discovered that the bulk of the book was dedicated to defending the perpetuity of the fourth commandment. And guess what?

It blew me away.

I’m not writing to flesh out a defense of the perpetuity of the fourth commandment. I won’t go into the specifics of how I became convinced that the Lord’s Day should be observed each week. But I do want to go into detail on the importance of this doctrine to the Reformed faith. I am writing to those of you who think Calvinism is all there is to Reformed theology, to those of you just beginning your journey into the depth of the Reformed faith. I’m tempted to go into a greater emphasis on the importance of confessional Reformed Christianity (which, I think, is the truest form of Reformed Christianity), but I will settle for calling your attention to the importance of the Sabbath to the Christian life.

Listen to the words of Walter Chantry on the Sabbath. Pay attention to the absolute seriousness he places on this matter:

Whether or not people keep the Sabbath holy is not an incidental or insignificant matter. When God issued this fourth commandment he understood humanity much better than we do. Failure to practise [sic] this moral law is a root cause of moral decline, social disorder and widespread human suffering. No successful recovery of mankind can be devised without the inclusion of the fourth commandment in the remedy. 1

He declares that humanity cannot be recovered unless people keep the Sabbath. Not just Christians, mind you, but people. If this is true, why is the American church as a whole neglecting this commandment? Why has there been an absolute rejection of the fourth commandment in so much of evangelical Christianity? Should Christians not be at the forefront of the keeping of this law? If the issue is as serious as Chantry says it is (which, I believe, it is), then the answer is a resounding yes.

Think about it. Chantry says elsewhere in his work that we should just imagine what the church would look like if Christians dedicated 52 Sundays a year to knowing the Lord better. 52 days a year devoted entirely to knowing the Lord better! Instead of the usual practice of 52 Sundays a year in which we eagerly watch the clock as the sermon winds down ever closer to NFL kickoff. Imagine the growth that individuals, families, and churches would experience if they observed the one day God has set aside for Himself!

Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., in his immensely helpful book The Lord’s Day, quotes Dabney, who says:

the practical need for a Sabbath is the same in all ages. When it is made to appear that this day is the bulwark of practical religion in the world, that its proper observance everywhere goes hand in hand with piety and the true worship of God; that where there is no Sabbath there is no Christianity. 2

Most evangelical Christians would chafe at Dabney’s last assertion. But history is on the side of the Sabbatarian. As Pipa notes earlier in the book, “Sabbath observance has been the practice and conviction of most Christians from the Reformation until fifty to seventy-five years ago” 3

But I don’t hear anyone addressing this glaring historical and theological inconsistency. Why has the modern church so hastily thrown away this command? How come Sabbath observance is all but completely absent from your average evangelical church today? I can’t answer that question. But I can (and I will) call on my Reformed brothers and sisters to champion the cause of the fourth commandment.

It is up to us, whose historic confessions of faith contain the doctrine itself with instruction on how to observe it, to call the church back to Scripture. Let us be as evangelistic and zealous for the fourth commandment as we are about God’s sovereignty over salvation. Let us not settle with the tip of the iceberg of Reformed theology and let us not lose our newfound Calvinist brethren to a less-than-full-bodied Reformed faith. Let us faithfully rest each Sunday and show our brothers and sisters in Christ the fruit of a day set aside to the Lord each week. For the sake of the vibrancy of the church, let us fight for the fourth commandment.

Listen carefully to the observation of Pipa as the call to reform rattles in your ears:

Is it not possible that one reason for the spiritual weakness of the church is her failure to honour God on the Lord’s day? Is it not possible that one reason our churches are not more effective in reaching the lost is because we are not practising the Sabbath-keeping that brings us victory? Could this be true of us as individuals as well? Is it not possible that you continue to fall under the dominion of some particular sin because you have refused to sanctify God’s day in your heart? We lack victory because we have failed to recognize and utilize one of the God-given means of victory, while those who keep the Sabbath have victory” 4

Keep the Sabbath. For your personal growth in holiness, for the health of your local church, and for the health of the church as a whole. Be true to historic Reformed Christianity and do not settle for just the five points. And call others to do the same. A call to keep the Sabbath is a call to glorify God the way the Bible commands.

If you are interested in learning more about the perpetuity of the fourth commandment and the practicality of keeping the Sabbath, I recommend the following list of resources to get you started.

  • A Case for Sabbath Observance by Tom Hicks
  • Getting the Garden Right by Richard Barcellos
  • The Lord’s Day by Joseph A. Pipa, Jr.
  • Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walter Chantry

Notes:

  1. Call the Sabbath a Delight 12, emphasis mine
  2. The Lord’s Day, 36
  3. Ibid 23
  4. Ibid, 13