Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, June 08, 2007

Our Puritan Sabbatarian Roots

Recently when discussing our purposed youth group social activity the subject of what type of activities could be allowed if the gathering were to occur on the Sabbath day. The concept being to encourage the youth to get to know each other in small groups using games as tools to generate conversation between people and thus getting to know people that they normally would not get to know in a non threatening casual environment. See the article here.

What struck me about the conversation were the four areas that the Pastor mentioned as the Biblical purposes of the Sabbath. They can be summed up as: a day set apart for rest, a day for ministry, a day to worship God, and a day for fellowship. The website lists these four areas with their Biblical verses (see below). They also add one more called a day to be prepared for. Preparation day was important because of the strict rules such as no kindling of a fire along with no work. What is interesting is just how much tradition we as Adventists have placed into the Sabbath. When you think about it the only certain meaning that the Bible gives for the Sabbath is that it is a day to rest from work. Most everything else is the insertion of Puritan or Sabbatarian concepts that we have incorporated in to our Adventist traditions though certainly predicated upon the incredibly strict Jewish rules.

The Following is from the article From Sunday to Sabbath The Puritan Origins of Modern Seventh-day Sabbatarianism:

Although Christians practiced Sabbatarianism throughout pre-Civil War America, New England Christianity exemplified this tradition more than any other region.

The New England Sabbath always began at sunset on Saturday night and ended at the next sunset.... [Activities] prohibited on Saturday evening... were allowed on Sunday evening. (Ibid., 181-2)

All the New England clergymen were rigid in the prolonged observance of Sunday. From sunset on Saturday until Sunday night they would not shave, have rooms swept, nor beds made, have food prepared, nor cooking utensils and table-ware washed. As soon as their Sabbath began they gathered their families and servants around them...and read the Bible and exhorted and prayed and recited the catechism until nine o'clock, usually by the light of one small "dip candle" only.... Sweet to the Pilgrims and to their descendants was the hush of their calm Saturday night, and their still, tranquil Sabbath, — sign and token to them, not only of the weekly rest ordained in the creation, but of the eternal rest to come. (Alice Morse Earle, The Sabbath in Puritan New England [New York: Scribner, 1909], 254, 257)

This is reflective of the Jewish rest, characterized by not working but the Puritan tradition went further. They determined what types of recreation were to be allowed on the Sabbath. The above article writes:

When James I ascended the English throne, everyone concerned about the proper observance of Sunday thought they had a king who would restore some respect for church practice. In fact, James gave every indication that he was also concerned about the need to reform the English people's Sunday habits. Thus, in 1603 and 1604, he decreed reforms to restrict some forms of Sunday entertainments.

The Puritans were heartened. Yet the Puritans would eventually learn that his views were more in line with the established church's position than with theirs, for he appealed to church and state tradition rather than Scripture.

In August 1617, as James traveled through Lancashire, a group of workers petitioned him. They complained that the local authorities had denied them their lawful participation in Sunday recreations. In their defense, James issued his "Declaration of Lawful Sports." Dancing, archery, athletic events and Whitsun-ales were not to be prohibited after the time of church services. Note that the king did not encourage these activities at just any time on Sunday. He permitted them only after church services. He believed that everyone should be in church on Sunday. But to require more than this he felt would be unnecessary and harmful.

The following year, in 1618, he issued the same decree for the entire nation in his Book of Sports. In essence, James repudiated strict Sunday observance for a more recreation-oriented day. His view was the law of the land.

The Puritans were dismayed. They complained that the Book of Sports abrogated the progress made with James' previous decrees, and they felt he had usurped authority reserved for local magistrates. To the Puritans, the nation had taken a dangerous step backward into immorality and a harmful expansion of royal authority.

The Puritan tradition continued in America:

Not until 1667 did Connecticut prohibit Indians within English territory from working orplaying on the Sabbath at risk of a fine or time in the stocks, a law that reappeared inthe colony's codification of 1672."Puritan Statutory Law and the Indians: A Comparative Analysis" by Alden Vaughan, Columbia University

 In 1786 Boston passed an ordinance that prohibited swimming on the Sabbath.
Contested Waters

The Bible makes no mention of restrictions of recreation on the Sabbath however. In the Biblical world it is not too likely that since most everyone had to walk to get to work or market or do most anything the concept of recreational physical walking is not dealt with, the Jews had their understanding of a Sabbath days journey (about eleven hundred meters, [1.1 km]; see Mishnah Sotah 5:3), walking over that amount would be considered work as well as a multitude of other commentary on restrictions on Sabbath activity which from swimming to games is likely have inspired the Puritans.

Here is the listing of scriptures used to define what many Adventists today see as keys to how to keep the Sabbath. (From the website mentioned above)

How to keep the Sabbath

The Sabbath is our anniversary of becoming a child of God. It is the day our Lord spends with us. God love us so much He has given us permission to put aside the cares of this word and spend one day a week with Him.

A day to rest from the work we do on the other six days.

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." Exo 20:8-11

"And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning." Exo 16:23

'Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
Wherefore the children of
Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
It is a sign between me and the children of
Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God." Exo 31:14-18

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

"And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." Luke 23:55+56

A day to Worship God

"A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High." Psa 92:1

Isa 56:4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;

Acts 13:14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.

A day to Fellowship

"Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Isa 56:3-5

Acts 13:14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.

Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

A Day to do Good

"Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil." Isa 56:2

"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isa 58:13,14

And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

"And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other." Mat 12:10-13

"And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" Luke 13:14-16

"And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace." Mark 3:4

A Day to prepare for

"And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath," Mark 15:42

Clearly the idea of not working is abundantly clear for those who hold to the continuing observance of the Sabbath day, but what about the other three issues. The Bible does not indicate that the people only came to together to worship God on the Sabbath; in fact the ceremonial system of sacrifices was carried out every day of the week. Later when the Synagogue system was established people would meet on the Sabbath but they would meet on other days as well.

More numerous than the Sadducees and more influential among the people was the religious group known as Pharisees. They were dominant in the synagogue, which in many ways was more important than the Temple, especially in daily and weekly instruction and worship. The Temple was too remote for most Jews to visit except for the major feast days, but synagogues were close by wherever Jews lived, whether in Palestine or beyond. Ten male adult Jews constituted a quorum. The synagogue was essentially a gathering of the Jewish community for study and interpretation of the Law, though worship was becoming a prominent part of synagogue life, with prayers, chanting of psalms, the recitation of the shema‘ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and some type of edifying discourse. While our sources are somewhat limited for reconstructing pre-70 C.E. Pharisaism, we are probably correct in the view that the Pharisees were the dominant force in the synagogue. The History of Palestine in New Testament Times

Worship of God was not restricted to the Sabbath, nor should we ever restrict our worship of God to one day of the week either. There are many references to the synagogue in the New Testament only a few mention people present on a particular day such as the Sabbath. The synagogue was not only the area for prayer, instruction and reading the Torah but also the center of judicial Jewish activity. See the article The Nature and Origins of the 1st-Century Synagogue

The Old Testament also included special Sabbaths which were holy convocations or assemblies. These worship assemblies included Sabbath, New Moons and Festivals.

(2 Chr 2:4 NIV) Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on Sabbaths and New Moons and at the appointed feasts of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.

(Ezek 46:3 NIV) On the Sabbaths and New Moons the people of the land are to worship in the presence of the LORD at the entrance to that gateway.

The Sabbath as the name implies is related to cessation of work and these Sabbaths included worship upon other special days with corporate worship. (From Strong’s Lexicon 7673 shabath (shaw-bath'); a primitive root; to repose, i.e. desist from exertion; used in many implied relations (causative, figurative or specific): KJV-- (cause to, let, make to) cease, celebrate, cause (make) to fail, keep (sabbath), suffer to be lacking, leave, put away (down), (make to) rest, rid, still, take away.)

Gathering on the Sabbath for our corporate worship does have a long history, it is not only restricted to Sabbath however and we have to acknowledge the actual history, see Acts 19:9, Acts 2:47, Acts 12:12, Hebrews 3:13. Corporate worship is not the only method of worship mentioned in the Bible. Nor is the seventh day Sabbath the only time people assembled to worship in either the Old or New Testament. In fact of all those listed ways to keep the Sabbath, all would be appropriate on any other day of the week also and we can find Biblical examples of each being carried out on other days of the week. So with the exception of one day of the week set a side for a rest as in the Sabbath, or the festival or New Moon the other’s in the Lord’s Day list (and my Pastor’s list) are all appropriate on any day. In other words ministry, worship and fellowship are expected to occur on any given day, they are not restricted to a Sabbath day.

The Bible gives examples but there is no reason to assume that their activities are the only acceptable or even the best techniques. We have to apply reason to the situations as well as our own cultural concerns. So it is more appropriate to take a well defined Biblical story and draw a principle from the story rather then limit yourself to the actions contained in that story. For instance David when his men were hungry took the showbread from the temple to feed themselves and Jesus likens their actions to his own actions of shelling some grain to eat on the Sabbath. Leaving us with a principle also expressed in Matthew 12:7-8 If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (NIV)

There is nothing in that verse that restricts the Son of Man to Jesus Christ. Neither context nor the actual words connote any other meaning then humanity. For as the other gospel says Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (NIV). The Sabbath was meant to benefit man not to subject man to Sabbath rules and rituals. If the Sabbath restricts our good fellowship, our attempts to become friends with our neighbors whether inside or outside of the church we have lost the meaning of the Sabbath. The Puritans may have thought they had good reasons for their many Sabbath restrictions or they may have simply overstretched themselves to work their way to heaven. Whatever their reasons in the post modern world we have to find our own reasons as simply appealing to their traditions will not satisfy our own minds. Because very frankly, tradition is often wrong and often has long ago become obsolete. But a tradition which has good reason behind it can be maintained and defended

Related reading:


List of Rules and Regulations Set forth by Ellen White

SDA Guidelines for Sabbath Observance


Anonymous said...

There's that passage in Nehemiah 13 about not shopping (roughly speaking).


Ron Corson said...

Neh. 13 is a reference to working on the Sabbath which as I said is the only clearly Biblical command about the Sabbath.

(Neh 13:15 NIV) In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day.

(Neh 13:16 NIV) Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.

The Lady Dragon said...

What about Isaiah 58? Doesn't that require fasting and refraining from doing your own pleasure on the Sabbath?