I had wanted to mention this yesterday but forgot. It was a pleasure to note not only that WorldNetDaily, the popular internet news site, had an article last Sunday (3/16/2008) on the question of which day, if any, Christians are commanded to observe for worship — Sunday or Saturday — but that it also quotes evangelists Richard F. Ames and Roderick C. Meredith’s comments from our Tomorrow’s World telecasts. In fact, it would appear that the title of the article, “‘Deception’: Christians war over worship day,” is based on the quote from Roderick Meredith, since his is the only one in the article that mentions “deception.”
The article is fairly balanced and presents a kind look at both sides of the issue, as well as some peeks at different individuals on each of those sides. I think I have read Sunday/Sabbath themed articles by this reporter, Joe Kovacs, before which were also handled well, and I appreciate his approach.
I was going to take some time to address here on the blog some of the shallow anti-Sabbath comments made in the article, but that was before I saw this article on WorldNetDaily, appearing the next day: “Greg Laurie’s statement on Sabbath” — authored by, as you may have deduced from the subtle evidence available, Greg Laurie.
For those who don’t recognize the name, Mr. Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, the eighth largest “megachurch” in the U.S.
I would like to comment on his “statement on Sabbath”, but first I want to pre-emptively apologize. Some of you out there might currently subscribe to the same views he puts forth in his “statement” and you may do so out of innocence and ignorance. On one hand, I don’t want to offend you. Yet, on the other hand, the fact that someone who claims to be a preacher of God’s Word — who claims his ministry “emphasizes the exposition of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation, line upon line, precept upon precept” — really brings out those old “Give it to ’em, Elijah!” feelings in me, and moves me to want to place his “arguments” where they belong: at the center of intense ridicule.
So, I will do my best to walk the line between those feelings in what I write below…
Mr. Laurie claims in his “statement on Sabbath” that “it is wrong to set Saturday apart as a special day for worship.”
Really? Wrong? Well, Mr. Laurie claims to “emphasize the exposition of God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation, line upon line, precept upon precept,” so surely he has good biblical backing for such a statement. Right?
I’m afraid not. Let’s look at his points, taken straight from the article. Actually, let’s start with the first sentence.
“The New Testament Christians did not observe the Sabbath day in the same way the Old Testament Jewish people did.”
Verdict: True. Sort of. BE CAREFUL. This is often set up as a bait-and-switch. Jesus did, indeed, clash with many Jewish leaders of the first century about their legalistic form of Sabbathkeeping. In fact, the instances recorded in which He corrected their practice and taught them their error are numerous in the Gospels. Mr. Laurie, himself, states that “[t]he religious leaders had so perverted and twisted the meaning of the Sabbath that it was turned into a miserable, religious mess.” So, no, New Testament Christians did not observe the Sabbath day in that “perverted and twisted” manner. But does this mean that they did not observe it in the manner God intended? The manner Christ taught? No. Thus the bait-and-switch: Get the reader to reject the perverted view of the Sabbath, as did Christ, and then pretend that means rejecting God’s Sabbath.
If Jesus did not have a problem with keeping the Sabbath properly (e.g., Luke 4:16) while not getting mired in the “miserable, religious mess” that the first century legalists had made of the Sabbath, how does it follow that His followers could not do the same? How does it follow that His followers would not see in His life a pattern to follow (cf. 1 Peter 2:21), and keep the Sabbath properly, free of its man-made legalistic burdens?
The first sentence was like a billboard to me when I began reading the article, advertising that the thinking here would not be the deepest nor the most Biblical. Those thoughts were confirmed as I continued. It would be fun to knock around the second sentence as well, but if I do them all I will never finish this post…
Still, I can’t pass up that third sentence:
“There is no special injunction given in Scripture to worship on Saturday, specifically.”
Verdict: Really? Really? What happened to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work…” (verses 8-10). Looks like a “special injunction given in Scripture” concerning Saturday to me! What qualifies in Mr. Laurie’s mind as a “special injunction”? How much more “special injunctionish” can one get than being one of the Ten Commandments?
Or, for that matter, what qualifies as “Scripture”? Maybe he doesn’t consider the Old Testament to be Scripture. Unlike some unimportant people, such as — oh, I don’t know — the Apostle Paul! In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul refers to the Old Testament (since the New Testament did not exist at the time, let alone during Timothy’s childhood) when he says, “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
I want to give Mr. Laurie the benefit of a doubt and assume that in his effort to speak simply he is accidentally oversimplifying, and I don’t wish to call him dishonest (or the publicly tamer version, “academically dishonest”). From what I have read, he seems a decent guy. But even if it’s not insincerity (and I do not think it is), the other explanations become just as unflattering in their own right. At this point, I would just chalk it up to poor communication. Perhaps he wrote too quickly (as I am doing!), or perhaps he would give stronger, more sensible arguments (however wrong they still may be) if he were writing for a different audience. The points that follow, however, show something more.
For instance, his move to using the NLT, or New Living Translation Bible, for key verses is illustrative. This “paraphrase” version of the Bible is a horrific choice on which to base or clarify doctrine, for it is “overinterpreted” on the reader’s behalf. That is, doctrinal assumptions about what the verses say are used to reinterpret the verses in looser language — and, thus, if the doctrinal assumption is wrong, then the verse gets twisted. This is most definitely the case with Mr. Laurie’s quotes of Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 4:9. Reading those verses from a more literal translation (e.g., the New King James, which even uses italics to indicate English words that were not present in the Greek) would be a more honest — or at least a more defensible — approach to making a doctrinal point.
[BTW: Anyone interested in a review of the New Living Translation (pub. 1996) or of the “Revised” New Living Translation (pub. 2004) are welcome to check out these excellent critiques: here and here. I think the value of the work is summarized well by the man who was its principle translator for the Gospel of Matthew, when he said that, “I never recommend it to anyone except to supplement the reading of a more literal translation to generate freshness and new insights, unless they are kids or very poor adult readers” (emphasis mine).]
Wow — If I don’t keep moving, I am never going to finish this post. It’s just that there is so much bad here that it is hard to pass things up! Let me focus the rest of this post on the points he actually enumerates…
“1. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments that isn’t repeated in the New Testament.”
Response: I am so tired of this poor argument that just reading it makes my head feel like it is going to explode.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Laurie is correct that Sabbathkeeping is not repeated in the New Testament. Where in the Bible does it say that a commandment only applies if it is repeated in the New Testament? I suppose that’s here in the book of… Hmmmm… Oh wait! I bet it’s in the Gospel of… Well, no, not there either…
There is no such comment in the Bible. Anywhere. In the numerous places where Jesus and the Apostles and writers of the New Testament honor the commandments, it is silly to assume they really only meant to honor nine of them. The writers of the New Testament did not repeat anything in the Old Testament just to make sure it was included in the New. Quite the contrary! When they mentioned something from the Old Testament it was often to add authority to what they were saying — that is, to back themselves up with Scripture. They were deriving authority from the Old Testament scriptures, not giving their authority to the Old Testament scriptures. Read the New Testament for yourself! Read the letters of Paul! He defends his stances by appealing to the Old Testament’s authority — exactly the opposite of the claim that he is somehow validating the authority of some scriptures by lending them his authority. He wasn’t putting his stamp of approval on the verse he quotes from the Old Testament. RATHER, he was quotes the Old Testament to put its stamp of approval on what he is saying!
Jesus taught against failing to teach even a commandment supposed to be the “least” (Matthew 5:19). He taught us to live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4), not “90% of the words that proceed from the mouth of God.” In the case of the Ten Commandments, they literally DID proceed from the very mouth of God (Exodus 20:1, Deut. 5:4, 22). Far be it from me to ask Jesus, “You didn’t really mean that, right?”
The idea that a commandment only applies if it is repeated in the New Testament is an unbiblical standard that forms the basis of many unbiblical theologies. I’m not saying that one can’t build a religion on such a standard–I’m just saying don’t call it “biblical.”
Additionally, Mr. Laurie’s implication that the Sabbath is for Jews only (“That is because it was given to the Jews, not the non-Jews”) is unscriptural. God says that the Gentiles, too, would one day keep the Sabbath and be blessed for it. For example, see Isaiah 56:2-6. Paul even preached to the Gentiles on… Sunday? NO. The Sabbath. (See Acts 14:13:42-48, for example.) The idea that the Sabbath (made for man, not just Jews–Mark 2:27) is a command that only applies to Jews is silly and finds no backing in the Bible.
This doesn’t even address the fact that Sabbathkeeping is repeated in the New Testament, but save that for later.
“2. Jesus never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath.”
Response: Of course He did. Jesus taught obedience to all of God’s laws. That’s like saying that Christ never taught against idols just because you can’t find an instance of His mentioning the second commandment. And it’s silly.
I appreciate that Mr. Laurie qualifies his next sentence when he writes (emphasis mine): “Jesus actually broke the Sabbath law, as it was observed in the Jewish culture (see Matthew 12:1-14).” The qualifying clause there is important, because Jesus did not break the Sabbath commandment. Even the most deluded of mainstream Christian writers must (and generally do) acknowledge that Jesus kept all of His Father’s commands perfectly, else He would not be able to be our sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 4:15, cf. 1 Peter 1:19).
As I tried to explain above, it is horribly misleading to say that Jesus does not support (or command) keeping God’s Sabbath commandment because He, Himself, disobeyed the legalistic, extra-biblical Jewish regulations that were added to God’s commandment. Actually, one ought to meditate on this consideration: If the Sabbath command was so supposedly inconsequential to Christ, why are there so many instances in the Gospels where He tries to set people straight on proper Sabbath observance?
As Mr. Laurie points out, himself, in Mark 2:27 Jesus says that God made the Sabbath for us. Why would we want to reject something God made for our benefit? What does it tell God when we do?
I appreciate Mr. Laurie’s comment made at the end of that point: “It’s sad how religion takes the place of a relationship with God.” But it is sad, as well, how people can imagine they have a relationship with God when they rationalize disobedience to His commandments. Jesus says through John’s inspired pen that such people are liars in 1 John 2:3-4, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Ignorant of their lie, they may be. But it is a lie, nonetheless.
“3. The apostles never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath.”
Response: Again, that’s just silly. They taught as Christ taught. They taught obedience to God’s commandments.
We just saw above how the Apostle John taught saying you know Christ is a lie if you are unwilling to keep His commandments. The church in John’s recording of Revelation calls the church those who “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:7, 14:12). The Apostle Paul taught that “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Cor. 7:19). Of course, perhaps instead of “keeping the commandments of God” Paul meant “keeping the commandments that have been repeated explicitly in a collection of books to be called the New Testament which none of you are in possession of because it has not yet been created so you can’t really understand what I’m talking about” — but, somehow, I don’t think so.
[BTW: Hebrews 4:9 refers explicitly to Sabbathkeeping by using the word sabbatismos — interesting word choice if Sabbathkeeping were no longer a part of the church culture. This word is so tied with Sabbathkeeping that it is even used in the Greek Septuagint (the Bible translation used by many in the first century) to translate “rest on the seventh day” in Exodus 16:30. The NLT’s relegation of Sabbathkeeping to a mere parenthetical thought in Hebrews 4:9, replacing it with a more sanitized and unbiblically generic “special rest” is not in the original, doesn’t even match extra-biblical ancient writings, and gives the wrong message. Any interested reader is hereby referred to the related reference in the Anchor Bible Dictionary for helpful commentary on this verse.]
I could go on but, really, I’ve got much better things to do today and I must start exercising at least a semblance of self-discipline. Besides, if I begin to discuss some of the more banal statements or non sequiturs present in the article, I really am afraid that my head might burst into flame. And with my wife returning home tonight, I can’t afford to have a big mess to clean up.
I know some of this has sounded harsh. And, again, I assume that Mr. Laurie is a decent guy who has helped a lot of people. I probably wouldn’t mind meeting him and would probably enjoy any conversation that ensued.
Of course, Gandhi helped people, too. And I wouldn’t even be surprised if Richard Dawkins has helped a little old lady across the street now and then or, perhaps, kissed a puppy. Decent fellows, all.
But when God says, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” and a man proclaiming to be a teacher of God’s word says something horrifically untrue, like “it is wrong to set Saturday apart as a special day for worship,” it’s hard not to say something to set the record straight.
The last of Greg Laurie’s megachurch’s “statement of faith” bullet points listed on Wikipedia states, “We believe it is important to uphold the scriptural practices of the early church.”
I really do hope that is true. It would be easier to believe, though, if I saw their pastor putting that belief into practice by teaching the observance of the seventh day Sabbath that Jesus loved — certainly one of the “scriptural practices of the early church.”
As Proverbs 20:10 tells us, “Even a child is known by his deeds…”
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By the way, if you are really interested in the “scriptural practices of the early church” then consider requesting our free booklet, Restoring Apostolic Christianity, or reading it online. — WS