A Spatial Theology of the Sabbath (Part II). The Disenchantment of Place.

We considered, in last month’s article, that today’s Western globalized world has radically privileged the category of Time at the expense of Space. And Christian theology, which should have re-oriented and corrected this cultural trend as it emerged, has simply validated it with a biblical justification found in the pivotal category of “History”. This unbalanced attention toward “Linear Time” has led the Western world and religion to build up a “historicentric” and “spaceless” worldview, which certainly is the main guarantor of today’s well-being and progress, but also the main defendant of meaninglessness and rootlessness.

The predominance of Time over Space has led our contemporary world to build a new kind of dualism. A temporal dualism, in which Time appears as the only dimension where meaning can be reached. This is contrasted with a devaluated Space which must necessarily be overcome because it is in itself unable to offer any possible chance for meaning. And the Modern Sabbath, amputated of its inborn spatial component, simply seems to have been swallowed by this perspective and to have lost its power of renewal. The unilateral temporal Sabbath of our days, secularly understood as the week-end, or religiously as the worship-day, has become not part of the solution, but rather part of today’s temporal alienation.

More specifically, the Sabbath in Adventist tradition is a strong dynamic and propulsive category. Based on an eschatological understanding of reality we have compromised the future horizon opened by a true Sabbath-keeping, with religious obedience. It is only secondarily and indirectly that we link it to the past. Our Sabbath is heavily oriented toward the future. So much so that in future “final events” the Sabbath will become the sign of true obedience and religious dynamism. Consequently the Sabbath is not about going back and re-establishing the paradisiacal perfection of the origins, but rather going forward in full obedience to welcoming God’s future for humanity – as expressed in his Law. This “functional” understanding of the Sabbath privileges dynamism, movement and change rather than relations, balance or belonging.

And in this anomaly Adventism has just followed – and even perfected and improved – Western attitudes and vocation for “Disenchantment”. The functional and efficient Sabbath of Adventism, which unfortunately is also a “Disenchanted Sabbath”, is just part of this more general Western process of Disenchantment. Sunday, more than being some heretical or heterodox day of worship, is as much disenchanted as the formally orthodox, biblical, Adventist Sabbath. And the disenchantment of the Sabbath, and of today’s reality in general, is very much conditioned by the deprecation of Space. But, where does this come from? Western culture is founded, per the German sociologist Max Weber, through a diffuse and radical process of “Rationalization”. The already strong process of Rationalization in Weber’s time has not stopped since then, but has radicalized and refined itself even more. The Western world has been rationalized both theoretically and practically. And one of the best examples of this process is precisely the Adventist church. Adventist Ethics, Mission and Sabbath are highly rationalized realities. They are not speculative or theoretical because Adventism has chosen practical and pragmatic rationalization. The main ongoing processes in Adventism, administratively or theologically, clearly go in this direction. They look for increased clarity, homogeneity and efficiency –always toward a higher rationality. And American pragmatism, inscribed in the soul of Adventism, has made things even worse.

Certainly Rationalization is not bad in itself. In a certain way it has “saved” humanity and today’s world. But we can’t have a monolithic and one-sided view of Rationalization. We also need to “problematize” it. Even the greatest virtues require critical assessment. And Weber himself saw the ambivalence of Rationalization, intrinsic since its very beginning. Every Rationalization process automatically triggers, at every stage of implementation, a parallel and symbiotic process of Disenchantment. According to Weber, the beneficial process of Rationalization has also led to an inexorable process of “Disenchantment of the World” (Entzauberung der Welt) because the Disenchantment process is directly proportional to its twin sister – the Rationalization process.

For this reason Disenchantment is not a completely negative process, as much as, say, ethical relativism. Rationalization is necessary to fight the absoluteness of superstition, authoritarianism and tradition. But can Rationalization and Disenchantment be allowed to wear down the very essence of life, which we are trying to preserve and foster, in the name of something we ambiguously call Progress? Rationalization and Disenchantment convey a big dose of self-damaging pushes. Progress means Growth – two main categories of our contemporary world. And Adventism particularly has made religious Progress and Growth pillars of its own structure. But do Progress and Growth necessarily mean qualitative development? Do they automatically imply maturity? Disenchantment is neither totally bad nor totally good. It’s an ambivalent category. It needs to be monitored and assessed. How has it shaped our world? Let’s briefly consider it from four different perspectives.

1. The Disenchantment of Cosmic Space

The Copernican Revolution was a paradigm shift from the Ptolemaic model of the heavens, which described the cosmos as having a stationary Earth at the center of the universe, to the heliocentric model with the Sun at the center of the Solar System. Without doubt this modern vision is scientifically true while the Ptolemaic view was false. Nevertheless, on an existential and anthropomorphic level, the scientifically false Ptolemaic view probably helped better to cope with meaning in life, for the pre-moderns, than the scientifically true heliocentric model actually does with contemporary humans. Because a scientific truth is not the whole truth but only part of it. Sure, a more general and comprehensive anthropological truth can’t be based on scientific falsities, but at the same time it can’t be reduced to scientific truths.

A Ptolemaic model had the benefit of describing a limited universe, and by this a nearer and more familiar universe for humans. And this fact gave pre-moderns a strong sense of cosmic rooting and belonging. With Copernicus and modern scientists, as Alexander Koyré argues in his famous work “From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe”, the Universe became infinite – as it really is. But the existential effect of this scientific truth facilitated an increasing sense of rootlessness. Human rootlessness today is not only psychological or geographic, but starts by being cosmological. In other words, the Cosmic Space (Universe) was formerly better known but then became “Disenchanted”. The paradox is that we have “more cosmos” (more scientific knowledge) but “less cosmos” (less cosmological meaning).

2. The Disenchantment of Ecological Space

The scientific Rationalization process went on and, with Descartes, the Earth itself started to be considered predominantly through just one of its characteristics: measurement. Cartesian reductionism is the idea that all operational things, such as animals, trees and the earth itself, can be reduced to the mechanisms of its parts in operation. This would be similar to the way a clock marks the hours by means of the gears internal to its composition. In other words, the Space of nature itself was more precisely known but at the same time became “Disenchanted”. The paradox is that we have “more nature” (more scientific knowledge) but “less nature” (less ecological meaning).

3. The Disenchantment of Cultural Space

The Rationalization process also included the human-space. Non-place or nonplace (Non-Lieu) is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé in his work “Non-Places, introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity”. The term refers to anthropological spaces of transience, where the human beings remain anonymous and do not hold enough significance to be regarded as "places". Examples of non-places would be highways, hotel rooms, airports, shopping malls and modern cities, but it can also be modern churches and homes. The human Space itself is more precisely organized and efficient but at the same time has also become “Disenchanted”. The paradox is that we have “more human-spaces” (more organized spaces) but “less human-spaces” (less anthropological meaning).

4. The Disenchantment of Adventist Sabbath

The Rationalization process has surreptitiously also touched Adventism and the Sabbath. Our Sabbath has thoroughly become functional, including mechanistic church attendance, aseptic sermons, impersonal singing, compulsive offerings and standard biblical quotations. This is a human aseptic Sabbath that, in its crudest form, has been reduced to merely chronologically keeping Saturday rather than Friday or Sunday. A qualitative assessment would show that our Sabbath is very often empty of human richness.

And, if some of the qualitative marks of the Sabbath are trust, relationships and joy, we must admit that we Adventists are not particularly known by such qualities. Instead we are more generally known for being hard working, disciplined and organized people, but not by the essence of what the Sabbath really means: Trust. Trust in others, trust in life, trust in the future. We carefully keep the chronological form (seventh day) but have mostly overlooked the essence. And with this our Sabbath has become a religio-functional one, but is also a less enriching and inclusive Sabbath. And the paradox is that the many things we do and keep inventing to enhance the Sabbath paradoxically ends up disenchanting it even more. The remedy doesn’t cure the anomaly but radicalizes it. And the parody and grotesque caricature of this is the obsessive and even paranoid expectation of final events in which we are supposed to be persecuted for insisting on attending church on Sabbath. The critical question would be: will it be worth of going to jail for a such disenchanted Sabbath? We should have serious doubts about that.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/hanz-gutierrez

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9868
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A more simply observation would be that Adventism places its emphasis on the when, not The Who of worship. The Great Controversy has always been Who alone is worthy of worship? The when may be a corollary. The trajectory is Guilt, Grace, Gratitude or worship and Generosity. Freely we have received freely Give—Be It time, money, or skill Where true need is evident. Hunger, encouragement, covering, etc. not necessarily more lofty enterprises.


Many thanks for this second article!
I, too, observe a disenchantment of other spiritual practices, like communion (which is just a shadow for what it could be in my SDA experience). Some poster here once said, if we would look at the Sabbath as our voluntary dedicated hours with God without all the theological baggage (like we have to “keep it”) then we have the possibility of having an encounter with God, against all disenchantment. Then mystery can come like into many other areas where we let God be God again, and marvel at what happens. Then it’s about meeting God, not having a or the right day. And meeting God has always an unknown component, one that we can’t control or manage, unknown yet real, not nebulous. I am not afraid of this mystery anymore.


After struggling through the first 3/4 of the article we finally come to the punchline - the Adventist Sabbath is just another part of our secular treadmill. Perhaps that is because we have extracted the Sabbath out of the Hebrew experience and tried to keep it as a badge of the remnant. The “remnant” is a word embraced by Adventism which has enhanced a very mundane concept (something left over) with personal significance, lifting its members above the main body (of self-identified Christians). It’s a bit of an ego trip, actually - but I digress.

To understand the Hebrew Sabbath as a Christian spiritual experience we have to connect it (the experience of REST) to what the NT claims is the source of our REST - Christ. The irony of it all is that the Adventist Sabbath, as it’s been attached to the tail end of the Adventist secular weekly calendar, is to be managed with the same enterprise as the rest of the week. It starts with the clock striking its beginning, and likewise, its end - when the work of rest is finished. “Therefore, there still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…”

Rest, after the cross, comes from a release of control, rather than a managed control of specified hours of a week.

Rest, after a hard day’s work, can be felt, not only viscerally, but also spiritually - like cool water on a very thirsty, parched day. The only thing that can be managed then, is sweet release, succumbing to the blessed rest. The Hebrews, at least, saw the rest approaching emotionally, as the daylight began to give way to the gold and red of the burning sun, expanding into purple and blue of the coming rest. At the other end there was, again, time to prepare muscle and the sinew for renewed power to pick up the difficulties of everyday struggles. The secularization of the Sabbath came with the efficient use of time; and the Sabbath hours must also be efficiently put to work.

The rest of the irony comes from the fact that the sanctification the cross is supposed to gift to us, we are still trying to accomplish for ourselves by meticulously managing the Sabbath hours.


Sirje, can you give a little clarification, please? Thank you!
Do I understand you correctly, that SDAs like to manage the Sabbath with three factors:

  • time factor (these specific 24 hours)
  • action factor (TO DO vs. NOT TO DO)
  • eschatological factor (end-time seal)?

What would a letting go of this Sabbath managing look like:
Sabbath, whenever you make time for it (no managed time factor)?
Sabbath with no specified actions other than being in God’s presence, and what results from this (no managed action factor)?
Sabbath not as seal, but as a taste of the future Sabbath without end when God will finally “physically” move to the earth and will “physically” be present 24/7 (no eschatological managing)?
Do I understand you correctly? I’m studying this, and appreciate all your thoughts.

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I’ve struggled through it twice. I have no idea what the author is saying, or trying to say. I do know that Adventists “work hard” to keep the Sabbath, defend Sabbath keeping as something Christians are, or should be doing, explaining it, defending it, trying to make it relevant, etc. Whew! I’m pooped! :thinking: The whole Sabbath construct in Adventism is exhausting.

It is so clear in Scripture that Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant God made with Israel (because that’s what the bible says). It was not given to, or required of New Covenant Christians.


Hanz’s last section, The Disenchantment of Adventist Sabbath
probably best describes most of it in the United States.
Other persons from other Continents will need to comment on how
it fits into their Sabbath worship experience.

But it is HOW we have been trained from Generation to Generation
to conduct Sabbath Services. And as we have EXPERIENCED, if ANY
changes in the Order of Worship, or Style of Worship is changed from
9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Sabbaths it is considered by most as bringing
Heresy into the service. And bringing “the Devil” into the Divine Worship.
If some other SDA community decides to worship differently than “our”
community, most of the time they are talked about and promoted as the
church NOT to attend.
Making the Sabbath Worship period more “spiritual”, more interactive by
the community is probably prohibited because of 150 yrs of Tradition.
YES! in that section Hanz is correct about the 50 states in North America.


“Keeping” the Sabbath is an active verb. It’s about activity - something TO DO. It can also include not DOING something as long as it’s part of KEEPING. The question is, WHO is doing the DOING that brings rest?

The book of Hebrews is an explanation of the Gospel for the Hebrews. It goes through all that was meaningful and holy for the Hebrew people. One by one, it shows how Christ fulfills each of the FUNCTIONS of these factors of the Jewish religious construct. Christ is the ultimate prophet (no more needed); He is the real High Priest, and not as part of the Aaronic priesthood dependant of human birth rights; and then we come to the Sabbath.

Despite the many laws governing Sabbath BEHAVIOR, there still is a need for the Sabbath REST. All that is mandated Sabbath activity and inactivity does not equal REST. As Christ holds the future, there is no more need for other prophets; and He is the ultimate High Priest removing man of sin, so is He the REST the weekly Sabbath was pointing to. There is not enough we can do or not do to QUALIFY for salvation. As we REST in Christ from the struggles to qualify, we are “keeping” the REST to which the Sabbath pointed. By this we are already living in the “kingdom” Jesus said was coming, and has already come.


In the progression of the Gospels, it is quoting Jesus as saying:
The Kingdom is Coming.
The Kingdom is Near.
The Kingdom is Within You.

We probably do not know what this means any more than
they did 2000 years ago.


It really doesn’t seem like such an enigma. God’s “kingdom” is based on certain spiritual characteristics. If we embody the characteristics because we are being changed by “the renewing of our mind” and thereby the focus of our life, we have, in essence, entered the kingdom in the here and now; but its full manifestation is yet to come.


I think that’s what Paul was driving at.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
(Rom 14:5,6)

Are we supporting Paul’s attitude towards the law when we tell people that if they keep the sabbath beginning at the wrong time, they will receive the Mark of the Beast? I wonder why we associate the MOTB with keeping sabbath on Sunday but not with ignoring the sabbath altogether.???


i think this statement is a bit sweeping and over-generalized…there are many adventist churches where sabbath is far from mechanistic…even in larger centres, where you’d expect a certain amount of ritual, there are many individuals who take sabbath seriously, who make it a point to keep it vibrant and meaningful…

i don’t think there are going to be disenchanted sabbath keepers when the mark of the beast becomes reality…first of all, sabbath keeping will have become part of a much larger pattern of obedience to god and separation from the world than we’re seeing now…the latter rain will have swept through the church and world, christ’s mediation in heaven will have ended, the seven last plagues will have scourged the earth, and satan will have impersonated christ’s second coming…that extreme time will be unlike anything the world will have witnessed, or imagined…

but even in today’s terms, without the urgency of sunday laws, or the super-intensity of the last days, most adventists who attend church regularly do so for reasons important to them, which may range from life-long commitment to reasons of conscience to the joy of seeing and being with people who are very much loved…i don’t see how any of this can be described as disenchanted…what a disrespectful thing to say…

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"And, if some of the qualitative marks of the Sabbath are trust, relationships and joy, we must admit that we Adventists are not particularly known by such qualities. Instead we are more generally known for being hard working, disciplined and organized people, but not by the essence of what the Sabbath really means: Trust. Trust in others, trust in life, trust in the future."

Growing up in Adventism there was some joy and a sense of camaraderie. However, this was either balanced or overshadowed by being taught to fear the world (in general ) and an uneasiness knowing that life could end any day (so why plan?).

By their fruits…Adventism has never been known in my lifetime for “relationships”. I suspect that it never will be, though I truly wish it were different.


Thank you @Sirje for the clarification! I know by experience how resting in Christ feels like.

Like with the primordial seventh day, God rested. The little image bearers could have entered his rest. Now, we can enter the rest Christ brings, and stop the work of wanting to earn our salvation.

@Harry_Elliott: Paul seems to support two views in Romans 14:5: the Jewish Christians with their one day (or another day, because it isn’t specified which one), and Sirje’s view with all time is sacred time. It doesn’t say one day or no day, it says one day or esteeming all days (“every day alike”). Personally, like I said in various posts, I don’t believe Fri-Sat Sabbath is the end-time seal, or MOTB, or a duty that has to be “kept” in the new covenant. We should follow our conscience, and let other people do the same. My rest is the rest that salvation in Christ brings. It is there, I enter into the encounter with God 24/7 (the real Sabbath). And I chose freely to dedicate the “old” Fri-Sat Sabbath hours as relationship time with God, family, friends, church community (one application of the real Sabbath). Just being in their presence, and doing what flows from there, no strings attached. Mystery can come. Or with people that need me. This is my POV at the moment, I’m excited about future developments.


People in Europe, from what I have experienced struggle the same: There are still discussions going on about the form without meaning.What is the right thing to do or not to do to keep the day, and when have you crossed borders to not keeping it anymore? But I also have many friends in my local church that don’t ask any of these questions. They have relationship days, and don’t try to “keep” this day, and when this means to eat together in a restaurant, simple talking for hours, going to a concert, the zoo, movies, art exhibitions, whatever is that’s on now at this point in the relationship, they do it. Same with God, whatever is that’s on now at this point, studying, or laying in his arms metaphorically speaking, or singing, or anything, plus church as the fellowship of the believers. The relationship gives meaning to the day, the form adjusts, the unknown can happen, connection on a deep level.


Anecdotally, there are some loving churches here and there. It’s not about any one SDA church, or SDA person. It’s about the entire package, called Adventism. To characterize the church as a whole,
the description you quote - Our Sabbath has thoroughly become functional, including mechanistic church attendance, aseptic sermons, impersonal singing, compulsive offerings and standard biblical quotations. fits perfectly in the experiences of too many people.


Here’s a quotation from the conservative Jewish Book of Common Prayer –
“Grant me the liberating joy of Shabbat, the privilege of truly tasting the delight
of Shabbat. May I be undisturbed by sadness, by sorrow, or by sighing during
the holy hours of Shabbat. Fill Your servant’s heart with joy, for to You,O Lord,
I offer my entire being. Let me hear joy and jubilation. Help me to expand the
dimensions of all Shabbat delights. Help me to extend the liberating joy of Shabbat to
the other days of the week, until I attain the goal of deep joy always. Show me
the path of life, the full joy of Your Presence, the bliss of being close to You
forever. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be
acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Siddur Sim Shalom,
pg 303, [1985].
Perhaps this is the meaning of Paul’s statement in Romans 14.

[There is a newer issue of the Siddur. Has the same service material, a little
reorganized. But slightly larger pages with meditative quotations and poems
on the outer margins that I enjoy and am blessed by on Friday evenings.]
I haven’t had the opportunity to see Orthodox or Reformed worship books.
Been blessed by my Conservative worship services and Holiday celebrations
through the year.


The Sabbath rest is person oriented, not time oriented. If it were about holy “time” nobody is living in that one holy time except perhaps where that regulation originated. It’s pretty obvious the Sabbath holy hours were meant for the Hebrews, living in one place. No one imagined there would be a need to calculate Sabbath hours at the arctic circle, where it would be meaningless “mechanistically”.

If Sabbath is about a 24 hour period wherever an individual finds himself, then Sunday worship should not be a problem either since there isn’t a specific “holy” time hanging out there somewhere. As we have gone around several times about how the Sabbath was originally calculated (new moon), it makes even less sense to be hung up on a specific time for the Sabbath as it was stabilized on the Roman calendar, leaving behind the originanl Sabbath hours even for the Jews.


“Keep it Holy”.
Has anyone ever come up with a description of THAT?

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That’s only because the sabbatarian adventist movement arose in a Christian-only environment where Christian belief and Sunday keeping were widespread. EGW and the pioneers never envisaged a secular society where the wheels of commerce, leisure and entertainment went 7 days a week. They never envisaged a society where pretty much nobody, including Sunday worshippers, is interested in Sunday keeping. They never envisaged a society where the question was not “how to we understand the 4th commandment” and where the question is “why should we give any credence to the written tales and legends of the ancient Hebrews”. They never envisaged a society that rejected religious belief and the supernatural all together. They never envisaged a society where the pope holds no power and little influence, and the great cathedrals are little more than sightseeing places for secular tourists.