The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom.
Doctrine of the Sabbath, Fundamental Beliefs
“On the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” “The seventh day is a place in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote these words in his timeless book The Sabbath. His book is of special importance and inspiration to those who cherish the divine gift of the Sabbath. As Adventist Christians living in the twenty-first century we have come to appreciate the Sabbath as “a sanctuary in time” from the secular occupations of the six days of the week. Within this sanctuary we come together in community “to rest, worship, and minister in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus [Christ].” For the past some hundred and fifty years, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have debated over what constitutes appropriate activities for the Sabbath hours. At times and in some places more restrictive observances have been advocated while in others more flexible observances have guided communities of believers. That is a discussion that will undoubtedly continue well within this current century, for, as each Adventist is well aware of, the fact that Sabbath observances remain corporately similar while various individual and community interpretations abound. The focus of this article is whether the Sabbath is simply a day of worship that God calls us to attend church and only bear his light onto ourselves or whether it is a day that He has biblically instructed us to minister unto the world in divine service?
The question of whether the Sabbath should only be a day of worship and introspection for the individual believer is an honest place to begin. On Sabbath mornings Adventists gather together for Sabbath school and worship services and (depending on the church schedule) gather for fellowship and potluck after the close of services. This has become one of the cherished rituals of Adventism. And to be frank, there is nothing wrong with this model so long as believers do not go home and neglect our call to serve one another. This sacred place in time is one that we can utilize to build a more equitable community and improve our local church’s relationship with our neighbors.
If our teaching of the biblical Sabbath could expand to include a vision of Adventists as a people who observe but also who are actively involved in Sabbath, the opportunities for ministry are substantial. Our witness as a church that worships on Saturday and which emphasizes local and global community service would serve to better present our faith community to those who are less familiar with our denomination. Transforming the Sabbath from a simple day of worship to a day of acting out worship through ministering unto all the children of God may be precisely where the Spirit is leading our church. Such acting out of worship would meet people of this generation where they are at.
Facing cultures affected by postmodern philosophies and the common “how-does- this-affect-me” attitude would be a more successful task for our churches if each community, town, or city that has a Seventh-day Adventist Church were affected by community service outreach, every Sabbath. As Adventists we should not be content in simply attending church on Sabbath—for that limits the reach of our Sabbath blessing. If we could extend those sacred hours to serving others and bringing them into the blessings that celebrating Sabbath and experiencing community entails, the pews of our churches would buckle. Part of the blessing of worshiping on the Sabbath is acting out service for our neighbors. It is precisely in the act of serving others that the Holy Spirit inspires us, providing both spiritual challenges and blessings in our walk with God.
In cherishing our walk with the Lord, Adventists must not make the same mistake of religious communities of the past; it is not only about us—our community of faith. It is about how God uses us to bless others and ourselves. Too often some of us can only look inwardly and in so doing we risk putting the light God has given us under a bushel. What we should be eager to accomplish within our churches is fostering an environment that looks forward with anticipation to a Sabbath that makes a difference for us and for our communities. Such a Sabbath is a genuine sanctuary in time in which Adventists declare in words and actions that this is the Lord’s Day—a day devoted to worship and service. Evangelism and spreading the love of God’s kingdom on this earth and in this present age would become more efficient if we were to simply begin transforming our communities through actively involved Sabbath ministries.
These ministries will embrace members of our community and express to them (and also to some of us) that God has given all of humanity a Sabbath to offer rest from the difficulties of this earth and present the foundation of our fellowship as a community of faith. Churches could sponsor local community “outreach potlucks”—feeding those in need of food, providing fellowship to those broken by failed human relationships, and expressing the love of God to someone sick or homeless. Or maybe for your church it is children’s day camp near a burdened community where members of your church can express the love of God to children and parents in struggling economic situations. It could be a nursing home that your church adopts to commit some hours of the Sabbath spending time with a lonely child of God, aged and forgotten by society but eternally precious in God’s eyes. Our understanding of Sabbath should encompass this and so much more for a church seeking relevance and community in the twenty-first century. When we come together and partner with God, boldly claiming the promises of our Lord, our possibilities are endless!
Continuing with this theme of claiming the promises of God through engaging our doctrines, the next installment of this series will re-envision our concept of the Spirit of Prophecy. It will be a discussion of how the church can adopt Ellen White’s mission as our own and individually become messengers of the Lord.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/766