Sports and the Lord's Day

(Heidi Ann Hammons) #1

I am making an assumption that most posting here subscribe to the Westminster Standards. I’m curious how you reconcile your approbation of Sunday sports, particularly the NFL, and the prohibition against recreations on the LORD’s Day found in the larger catechism, questions 115 through 120. Our LORD says,
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Sports for 500, anyone?
(Tim Bayly) #2

My guess is most of us don’t approve of Sunday sports and wouldn’t let our kids play them, but sometimes watch because NFL players are our Sabbath goyim. Same with buying gas, coffee, tacos, eating out, reading online, etc. This is no excuse, but a guess at others’ similarity to myself. It is true that most everyone takes an exception to the Westminster Standards on the Sabbath nowadays. No “recreation,” for instance. It’s also true that Calvin did not hold a strict sabbatarian view, seeing part of the Sabbath law as ceremonial, and therefore abrogated. My own practice is that rest and worship and fellowship and deeds of mercy are never to be shunted aside on Lord’s Day, but when the day is done (late afternoon for me) the sabbath is over.

Is my conscience clear on this? No. My Lord’s Day practice has declined as the years have gone by, sadly. Love,

(Heidi Ann Hammons) #3

I appreciate your candor, Pastor. Thanks for your response.

(Jason Andersen) #4

Just to clarify, in what way is your conscience not clear? Is it that you affirm the Westminster Confession’s view of the Sabbath, but find yourself breaking it; or is it that you find yourself only half-heartedly affirming the Westminster Confession’s view to begin with?

Hope that question makes sense.

This is an important topic to me right now, and I’d love to ask some follow up questions.

(Tim Bayly) #5

Dear Jason,

My practice has decayed through the decades of my life. Used to be I never patronized anything but gas stations on the Lord’s Day, and I felt patronizing gas stations was wrong. I still try not to, but I’m inconsistent in the matter. As for which is sin and which is limbo, confessionally, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.


(Jason Andersen) #6

Thanks Tim. I appreciate you sharing on the matter.

I’m so fascinated by your responses, as they seem to encapsulate some of my own wrestlings with the Westminster Confession’s explicitly sabbatarian position.

First off, a little backstory. I do not come from a Reformed background. In short, I’d describe myself as having grown up under parents who were first-generation believers, in a pretty “vanilla” Evangelical Free church, with pretty much no tutelage whatsoever in the area of doctrine. Then about 12 years ago, as a young adult, I was introduced to John Piper, and through him became thoroughly convinced of the Doctrines of Grace, which – to state it very briefly – pretty much set me on an inevitable path deeper and deeper into the Reformed world.

So understand that my path into the Reformed world has been from the outside in, and I don’t come to the table with the same long-standing assumptions about the validity of the Westminster Confession as those who grew up in a confessional tradition. So please bear with me patiently.

So here’s my problem.

I affirm that the New Testament plainly demonstrates that there arose within the early church the normative practice of gathering together for worship on the first day of the week; and that this day became known as the Lord’s Day. Furthermore, I would affirm that church history seems to clearly demonstrate that God, in his mercy, has given the Lord’s Day a place of prominence in the life of the church. It has been sovereignly preserved through the centuries as the normative day of Christian worship and fellowship. The Lord’s Day truly is a great boon to the people of God.

But what I can’t find in Scripture is any text that would bring me to equate the Lord’s Day with the Sabbath; and that the Lord’s Day (being the new Sabbath) is to be kept by the Christian in the same manner that the Sabbath was to be kept under the Old Covenant. Rather, I believe the Scriptures teach that the Sabbath law found its fulfillment and completion in Christ. I believe that the Christian “keeps the Sabbath” by resting in faith upon Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath law stood as a sign (H226) to Israel that it is the Lord who sanctifies; not their works (Exodus 31:13). And Christ is the substance to which this sign bore witness (Colossians 2:16-17). The Lord’s Day, by contrast, is an entirely new day fit only for a New Covenant. It is wholly distinct from the Sabbath.

Following a recent friendly debate on this topic with a Reformed baptist pastor friend of mine, I put together this short position paper on the topic (3 pages) – mostly for my own benefit as I try to collect my thoughts as I study the Scriptures. I’m sure I’m not saying anything new here, but it does give further elaboration on what I’m trying to convey.

All that being said, I find myself at odds with the Westminster Confession (and probably the 1689 London Baptist Confession as well). Simply put, I believe it is an error to superimpose the 4th commandment over the Lord’s Day. It’s an error that results in the undue binding of mens’ consciences.

It also produces what seems to me to be an inevitable hypocrisy in the church. I’ve personally never seen anyone live out a sabbatarian view with consistency. If the Lord’s Day is the Sabbath, and we therefore have no choice but to indict the unbelieving world for their sin of working on Sunday, then it isn’t good enough that we ourselves are not working our jobs on Sunday. No; we must go so far as to ensure we are not engaging in commerce with those who are breaking the Sabbath, lest we be guilty with them. All commerce has to cease. There must be one law for both the believer and for all who would render services unto him (Exodus 20:10). This means you better not go to that gas station, lest you be an accomplice in the Sabbath-breaking of the cashier. You better not watch that football game, lest you participate in the Sabbath-breaking of the cameramen, the players, etc.

Really, it just becomes mind boggling. The only way to keep a Sabbath law is to keep it at the societal level. Everyone must be required to abide by it, or it doesn’t work. That’s why it fit in the context of Old Covenant Israel. But it doesn’t fit the New Covenant. I think about the Puritans, as they tried to enforce the Sabbath using the authority of the state, and thereby in essence taking sabbatarianism to its only logical conclusion. But in the end, the wrath of man did not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20). We can’t legislate the unbeliever into the kingdom.

Anyway, that’s why your case seems so curious to me, Pastor Tim. It would seem to me (and I may be wrong) that if you affirm the Westminster Confession’s sabbatarian view, that you leave yourself no room to be slack in your zeal for keeping the Lord’s Day; and that you’re actually sinning against your conscience when you stop at the gas station or watch the ball game. And in matters of the conscience, there is no “limbo,” for whatever does not come from faith is sin.

On the other hand, could it be that over the years you’ve actually come to functionally disagree with sabbatarianism, and just haven’t amended your confession yet?

To ask it another way, how is a younger guy like me supposed to become more Reformed when I see pastors like you struggling to be good sabbatarians? :slight_smile:

Thanks so much for your time.

(Chris Gatihi) #7

Very well said, @jander. I agree.

This comes from section 22.8 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13)

I simply don’t know how to square this with the NT (the one NT prooftext doesn’t seem to prove much), especially where the NT doesn’t see worship so much an event as an all-encompassing orientation of our lives toward God (John 4:23-24, Romans 12:1).

As part of digging into this issue, I recently read Getting the Garden Right by Richard Barcellos, in which the author defends the LBCF view of the Lord’s day becoming the Sabbath for the believer under the new covenant. At one point he quotes Tom Schreiner (who doesn’t believe in a binding Sabbath for believers) in an attempt to refute Schreiner. Here’s the Schreiner quote:

Believers are not obligated to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant and the Sabbath as the covenant sign are no longer applicable now that the new covenant of Jesus Christ has come. Believers are called upon to honor and respect those who think the Sabbath is still mandatory for believers. But if one argues that the Sabbath is required for salvation, such a teaching is contrary to the gospel and should be resisted forcefully. In any case, Paul makes it clear in both Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16-17 that the Sabbath has passed away now that Christ has come. It is wise naturally for believers to rest, and hence one principle that could be derived from the Sabbath is that believers should regularly rest. But the New Testament does not specify when that rest should take place, nor does it set forth a period of time when that rest should occur. We must remember that the early Christians were required to work on Sundays. They worshiped the Lord on the Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but the early Christians did not believe the Lord’s Day fulfilled or replaced the Sabbath. The Sabbath pointed toward eschatological rest in Christ, which believers enjoy in part now and will enjoy fully on the Last Day.

The bit that I find particularly striking is where he says “We must remember that the early Christians were required to work on Sundays.” In refuting Schreiner, Barcellos didn’t touch this point. But seems that most commentators agree that this idea of the working class coming late to the Lord’s supper (on the Lord’s day) due to work is central to the problem Paul is dealing with in 1 Corinthians 11, no? If this is the case, doesn’t that preclude the Lord’s day being the Christian Sabbath? Or am I totally missing something?

(Tim Bayly) #8

Excellent Chris and Jason. Very helpful.

To open up my thinking and practice a little more…

Growing up, we were soft confessional and Reformed/Presbyterian holding membership in a dispensationalist redemptive-historical-preaching church. No matter where in the Bible, every sermon text was John 3:16.

In that church (College Church in Wheaton), I would say there were very few homes that had much of a conviction on the continuity of the Sabbath or the Lord’s Dayl although families like the Baylys and Ken Taylors (Tyndale House) and Ken Hansens (ServiceMASTER) were fairly Sabbatarian. Baylys, for instance, never went out to eat on Lord’s Day. And I mean never. Never shopped on Lord’s Day. Taylors weren’t allowed to play outside with neighbor children on Lord’s Day—and barely to play at all. If you went to Sunday dinner at Hansens, following the meal Ken would escort you to one of the many bedrooms in his large house, tell you to take a nap assuring you he’d wake you in time for evening dinner right before evening worship. True.

One of my distinct memories is being invited to a Peter, Paul & Mary concert by the daughter of Moody Bible Institute’s Vice President, also in our church. Dad told me to turn down the invitation because the concert was Sunday evening.

That shows the interface on this issue between somewhat-lapsed confessional Presbyterians (both Dad Bayly and Dad Taylor had grown up Presbyterian) and no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no secret society, no movies, Pre-Trib, Pre-Mil, redemptive-historical dispensationalists.

But as the years churned by, every other Lord’s Day or so, Dad would stop on the way home and buy a gallon of milk. One gallon. Milk only.

We’d still not get gas or eat out, but he’d stop and buy milk. Which, like the Reformed Presbyterian folk’s practice of pitch pipes in US and drums in Africa in light of Calvin’s church singing Ten Commandments in Geneva, is the exception, not that proves, but breaks the rule. I should also add that in the last five or ten years of Dad’s life, he mentioned in his monthly column in “Eternity” magazine that he thought the total absence of any observance of the Lord’s Day was one of the worst things about the church at that time.

With this background, a couple other comments.

I agree with Calvin and Luther that, although parts of the law of the Sabbath are abrogated as ceremonial in nature, there yet abides a Sabbath rest. Sound familiar? I’ve read primary and secondary sources on Calvin’s view of the Sabbath and think it’s the very opposite of some/most Reformed Baptists today. He did not have any consistent Sabbatarian view, as would be impossible when one is convinced the Sabbath law is partly abrogated. After all, abrogation means something in daily life.

That said, what Calvin and Luther gave with one hand they took back with another. Having acknowledged the partial abrogation, they taught and commanded a set day of the week for worship, deeds of mercy, and even rest.

Myself, I’ve sort of become convinced that we must never turn aside from this day of the week observance of the Lord’s Day. We must never allow our kids’ sports or their (or our) non-critical jobs to pose any slightest threat to Lord’s Day worship and fellowship and deeds of mercy and (maybe) rest. So, for instance, our youngest son, Taylor, was not allowed to play soccer with his travel team, half of whose games were on Sundays (and the half-Christian parents love that, BTW). This meant Taylor, despite being quite excellent as a player, missing half the games, never made it to the top travel team.

Given my lack of full Sabbatarianism, why the guilt over the NFL?

Because I’m guessing for decades the game has kept those men from the body of Christ and the means of grace, and that’s awful. Thus my own guilt over participating in it by viewing.

So I have Roku; why not just record it and wait to watch until Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday nights?

It’s complicated and I don’t have time to explain. But a couple more things before concluding.

First, Reformed Baptists need to stop crowing about their Sabbath observance as if it is the sine qua non of Godliness. Or, more to the point, the sine qua non of being Truly Reformed. Their snobbery on this issue is unseemly. It almost feels as if, refusing to baptise their wee ones and suffering the perpetual and utter disdain of paedobaptists on that one, they see us one and raise us ten by trotting out their strict Sabbatarianism.

Look, if you’re a credo-baptist, don’t let them browbeat you; and for Heaven’s sake, stop parading your insecurity (is what I’d like to say to them, but haven’t until now).

Finally, whatever our position is on the Sabbath, we all break God’s law all the time. Ding-dong. Something about sanctification? We live by grace in sanctification as well as justification, waiting for glorification and confessing our sins as we wait. This is true even for the strictest Sabbatarian as it’s true for the strictest observer of the Seventh and Sixth and Fifth and… Commandments. We all fall in many ways.

This is not the Olly Olly oxen free of cheap grace, although to some I’m sure it sounds that way. Rather, it is a call to those who pride themselves on their Sabbath observance to take a moment and admit they break their Sabbath convictions all the time.

Every one of God’s laws has its greatest obedience hidden in the heart. Also its greatest disobedience. Love

(Heidi Ann Hammons) #9

Thank you for your thoughtful discussion. It is very much appreciated. I would like to respond with a couple of questions.

You stated:

If the Sabbath observance is fulfilled for the Christian “by resting in faith upon Jesus Christ,” what does Christ mean when He tells his disciples (NT Christians) to “pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20)”?

Matthew 24
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come._

15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

You also stated:

Have you ever met anyone who has lived out perfect obedience to any of God’s commandments? Thou shall not commit adultery. Yes, the unbelieving world is indicted along with all those who belong to Christ, for none of us are able to keep that command, or any other. Does that give us the freedom to jettison the command? Or do we repent when we transgress, and we will, and turn to the One who kept the Law perfectly?

Good discussion, again. Thank you.

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #10

This is a timely topic. In the past month, we’ve had a couple of families make a habit of skipping church for swim meets. Their kids have been enrolled in the local swim club and they’ve missed church 3 consecutive weeks in order to swim. I’ve scheduled meetings with the families (separately) to urge them to reconsider.

How do you guys handle the issue of habitual church skipping for sports (or other related activities like music)? Any help? Is this only a matter of urging them to rethink? Would this become an issue of discipline?

The main issue I am concerned with is what skipping churches is saying about their fellowship with Christ, what it is communicating to their kids, and what it says to the church. Thoughts?

(Chris Gatihi) #11

Great question, @jeremy.vandergalien. I think your concern is valid and the family does need to be helped in thinking about priorities. But my sense is that it’s a categorical error to approach this from the perspective of failing to keep the Sabbath. It’s confusing apples and oranges. The issue seems to be the forsaking of the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:24-25), which isn’t necessarily the same thing as forsaking the Sabbath. Or potentially an idol of sports or other activities (1 John 5:21). But I have a hard time seeing the Sabbath being the issue.

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #12

I see that from what you’ve written above (helpfully). So, to expand on what you’ve written, is there anything about the Sabbath that continues in the New Covenant?

(Chris Gatihi) #13

In a word, Jesus.

The Sabbath was an old covenant type that finds its fulfillment in Jesus as the One in whom we find rest from sin and the hard work we do for sin as our old slave master (Matthew 11:28-29, Hebrews 4:1-11). But a type is obsolescent in nature, which means that once the antitype (Jesus) shows up, the type becomes obsolete. This idea (of obsolescense) seems to be a theme of Hebrews in general with the point being: “Don’t go back to the types now that the antitype has come!” Seems that the Hebrews being addressed in this book are representative of something in us all that wants to return to and cling to types (some form of perceived safety/security?) rather than the fullness we have in the antitype.

(Jason Andersen) #14

Hello Heidi,

Some brief answers to your questions:

Taking a partial preterist view, I believe that Jesus speaks in this text of the then-imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which took place in 70 AD. I believe this text speaks not of a judgment that is to come at the end of the church age, but rather of the first century judgment of the house of Israel for their rejection of the Messiah. Jesus spoke this way because he knew that when the judgment of Jerusalem came, there would be both (a) first-generation Jewish believers who were still keeping the 7th day Sabbath because their consciences had yet to be “recalibrated” into the freedom of the New Covenant (Romans 14:1-6), and (b) many unbelieving Jews keeping “Sabbath” – thinking they were rendering service to God, when in fact they had rejected the Lord of the Sabbath.

Taken in that light, I believe Jesus’ words “pray that your flight may not be on the Sabbath” may actually be part of his prophetic indictment to the unbelieving Jews. It’s as if to he’s saying, “Those of you who think you’re honoring me by keeping Sabbath; you had better hope my judgment doesn’t come upon you on your Sabbath!” In my mind, this fits perfectly with the attitude of Jesus’ other indictments of the unbelieving Jews who thought they were on the path to godliness (e.g. Matthew 15:7-9).

That’s my short answer. I don’t have time to go into an exhaustive explanation of this view, and I’m sure others on this board could explain this view more fully than I could. I wouldn’t call myself a committed post-millennialist, but certain parts of the partial preterist view seem undeniably clear to me.

Of course, the answer here is no. Allow me to try to better explain what I meant when I said “I’ve personally never seen anyone live out a sabbatarian view with consistency.”

By consistency, I don’t mean perfection. What I mean is that I haven’t seen anyone with a sabbatarian view actually live that view out in a way that their every day practice (orthopraxy) visibly matches their intellectual position (orthodoxy). Doctrinally, their position would demand that they be careful not to do so much as pick up a stick on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). No gathering. No commerce. Sure, they can perform true deeds of mercy, such as pulling livestock out of a pit (Luke 14:5), but beyond that they would hold that the world is actually in open rebellion against God by working on the Sabbath.

But in practice, these same men seem to have no problem going to the gas station, buying milk, grabbing some ice cream after church, going to urgent care clinic, etc. And then when you call them out on it, rather than saying, “You are right; I confess that I am in a state of willful sin and need to repent,” they seem to kind of retreat into a position of “Well, yeah, nobody’s perfect. What are we going to do?” Instead of exhibiting a guilt that leads to repentance for this specific sin, they shrink back to the principle of man’s general sinfulness.

This is what I mean by lacking consistency. Their orthopraxy lacks the conviction that their orthodoxy demands. I don’t see sabbath-breaking sabbatarians actually repenting of the sin they are committing against their own consciences.

The thing is, when I see such men, I am grieved not because they are breaking the Sabbath. I am grieved because they are sinning against their own consciences. Of course, I believe their consciences are unduly enslaved to begin with, but boy, to live with a guilty conscience is about the worst thing in the world, and Christ came so that we could be free of that.

(Jason Andersen) #15

Hehe, I like how you put this.

I’ve been thinking recently about the positions of paedobaptism and sabbatarianism, and how it is that Reformed Baptists can affirm the one but not the other. At first glance, they seem separable, but the more I think about it, I’m not so sure.

It’s been my experience that credobaptists will tell you that the reason they reject paedobaptism is that they can find no explicit Scriptural precedent for it. Reformed Baptists are the staunchest of the staunch on that point. Yet when I apply the same exact argument to the subject of sabbatarianism, they seem to offer no clear answer.

It seems to me that If you reject paedobaptism on the basis that there is no explicit textual support for it, you are also obligated to reject sabbatarianism.

I feel like a man without a camp. :slight_smile:

(Jason Andersen) #16

I didn’t catch this milk pun on my first read through. Well played, sir. :slight_smile:

(Tim Bayly) #17

You overestimate me, dear sir. Didn’t mean it. Nice catch.

(Jason Fest) #18

This whole conversation has been very edifying. Thanks everyone!

(Aaron Prelock) #19

I think the NT implicitly changes the sabbath somewhat, or at least adapts it. I do subscribe to the Westminster Standards, particularly as expressed by the 1689, so I’m not trying to blunt the force of sabbatarianism from a creedal perspective. But I do think that there’s something, maybe in Paul’s late-night preaching in Acts 20, that hints at the fact that the church now lives in a society that has no room for their religious views (when else can the church meet but after ‘working’ hours?). I know it’s not explicit. But there is the question: how can NT slaves keep the sabbath? Are they guilty of sabbath breaking for obeying their masters? And Jesus’ words in Mark 2 show that the purpose of the sabbath is in some ways for man’s benefit.

When I first became a sabbatarian, my wife and I had conflicts over whether or not she could knit on the sabbath. I was being a bit ‘no eating grain on the sabbath!’ about the whole thing, and she called me out on my enjoying tobacco at the end of the Lord’s Day but forbidding her her knitting! It was a great reminder!

(Joseph Bayly) #20

What joy to have a wife that will keep you honest!