Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    The War on our Week

    A quiet unassuming yet significant battle looms not just on the horizon but is making headway into American culture and life. To this point, it's only been a topic of incidental but passing conversation, even among Christian circles. It's a battle that's been fought before in other places (only to return to the Christian position), and a battle that will eventually come to the forefront in American life. Interesting enough, this battle deals with an issue that has already become a field of study (chronobiolgy / circaseptan rhythms: see here and here), but also one where the persuasion of the evidence points strongly to the side of Christian truth. The issue involves our cycle of work and rest. More and more, though quietly like the onslaught of a cancerous disease, there's an attack on the sanctity and observance of the Lord's Day.

    This issue is one that deserves attention not only because it is relevant to the world in which we live, and because it will have tremendous effect on all of us, but because circaseptan rhythms (the weekly biological rhythms internal to man) provide interesting study and conversation as well as limited but real persuasaive evidence in the creation debate, and because the Sabbath provides such valuable benefits and testimony in keeping with the Christian witness.

    The fact that the attack is real and increasing is undeniable. Traces of Corporate America have made it known they have begun scheduling conference and meetings on Sunday due to less schedule conflicts among their personnel, ease of travel into and out of airports, and availability of hotel accomodations. The proliferation of restaurants and stores being open and requiring employees to work on Sundays can be seen in any town, even within the Biblebelt. Recently, I've just learned of a doctor's office in my town now scheduling routine appointments on Sundays. This past week, I not only learned of car dealerships opening on Sunday, but of a teenager who "could not attend church" because her new job required her to open the doors on Sunday morning for parents to bring their children to the store for "build-a-bear" parties.

    While at the present time, the effect is limited to local unrest experienced by those who once previously benefitted from a community which "shut down" completely on Sundays - something only those who've experienced the differece can attest to - and to the individuals, families and ministries affected by those who have volunatarily, or unvoluntarily (to whatever degree - by influence, limited options, or necessity) have chosen to either accept positions of employment requiring work on Sundays, or to go along with requirements of employment on Sundays.
    .....Let Christians not be naive though, the continuance of this trend will not only mean more and more jobs will require it, but it will begin to affect more and more people, if not all of us, directly or indirectly, including our children who will one day enter the workplace, along with our society which slowly but surely will experience the significant and devastating impact that accompanies (and results from) a shift from sabbath observance.

    When one considers not only the rhythm and order of nature, but the rhythm associated with (and largely defined as internal to) man, it's noteworthy that studies have suggested that in regard to man's circaseptan rhythm "biology, not culture, is probably at the source of the seven day week." It's interesting, though not surprising, and even noteworthy that this ordering is in overall agreement with the Scriptual revelation that God not only rested the seventh day himself, but set apart one day in seven as a Sabbath for man. It's also interesting that historical efforts to replace this pattern have failed... as well as the fact that if I remember correctly, some countries have conducted studies to figure out the best cycle of work and rest for man's productivity and arrived at the conclusion of a seven day cycle (six days of work and one day of rest). What's interesting in consideration of the creation debate is that if biology and not culture, not even cycles of the solar system are responsible for the seven day rhythm, then creationists (particularly those of the Christian persuasion) have not only another evidence of order pointint to design, but a very interesting (and potentially persuasive) piece of evidence aligning with the revelation of God's Word. (Note: this doesn't mean that if pressed, evolutionists won't attempt to find physical explanations, which may be found - though the ultimate cause remaining unknown to them; but in doing so, they will only be several thousand years behind both the revelation and ultimate explanation of this mystery!)

    Why is this an important issue for Christians today?
    1. God, in his infinite wisdom, both identified the need and provided for a pattern for creation (not just man) to receive rest. To differ from this pattern is to disturb and disrupt the normal order which will come with negative consequences (and ones that ultimately outweigh any that are positive).

    2. God, though the sabbath, has provided a means even for believers to show humanitarian care and concern for others. Note, believers were to even provide rest for the "aliens within their gates" (or ensure and provide in order that even unbelievers had the opportunity to discover God and worship him - whether they chose to take advantage of the opportunity and do so or not). Efforts to take away the day of rest are unhumanitarian in their foundation.

    3. God has set apart the Sabbath as a "sign" both for his people and the world. In Exodus 31:13 it is written "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy." Not only the wisdom associated with the rest, but the pattern that is in agreement with the natural order serves as a witness to the truth. Not only this, but the sabbath serving as a type for the ultimate rest found in Christ (that just as in the physical Sabbath man must put aside his own works to enjoy the Lord's rest, so spiritually man must put aside all his works to experience and appropriate the Lord's salvation and rest), serves as a means by which believers not only testify to their belief in the Lord and their trust for his provisions, but also when blessed through the keeping of the Sabbath, display the blessing associated with the keeping of the pattern, and thereby give testimony to the goodness of God.

    4. God has set apart a corporate time for sacred assembly. In Leviticus 23:3, we read "There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly." While I will not take the time to argue the transition from the O.T. Sabbath to the Lord's Day, one does not have to think too hard to imagine the significant decline in thought, morality, and deeds that will occur with the passing from sabbath observance to other activities.

    5. God takes special note and sets special importance upon Sabbath observance, even as seen in the fact that when he describes the Jews as having fallen ito extreme ungodliness, he points specifically to their abuse of the Sabbath (see Ezekiel 20:10ff).

    Believers, sit up and take notice! There's a lot more at stake than just whether your son or daughter makes a few extra cents on the dollar by working on Sundays. That's why God says "REMEMBER" the sabbath day by keeping it holy. He wants his people not only to have a day to contemplate his mighty works throughout history (both creation and redemption) but also to enjoy the blessings that come by keeping the day in the way he has ordered it, for just as you and I have the right to choose how we can use our time or even the fruits of our labor the way we choose - but cannot do so without consequence... either positive or negative - so it is with the observance of keeping the day God had ordered and set apart as holy... one day in seven.

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