How Are We to Keep the Sabbath in Today’s Society?
Within the Christian church there are three leading options for answering your question.
Some Christians believe that the Sabbath was an Old Testament ordinance and has no application to the New Testament church. No less a giant than Saint Augustine took the position that the Sabbath was not carried over into the New Testament community and therefore has been fulfilled and was done away with through the work of Christ. There are Christians who feel that there is no particular significance to Sabbath keeping today, although they make up a very small minority.
For the most part, Christian people, while they may disagree as to what day is the Sabbath—the sixth or the seventh day and all that—and how we observe it, still maintain that the Sabbath is to be observed somehow in the Christian community. God ordained the Sabbath, not at Mt. Sinai with Moses and the people of Israel, but at Creation. The later books of the Law certainly filled out the concept of the Sabbath in terms of its specifics and how it was to be observed in Israel, but the Sabbath existed long before the Ten Commandments and other laws were given. This would indicate that as long as Creation is in effect, Sabbath is in effect. In the covenant God made with Israel he says, “This is my Sabbath unto all generations.” The fact that it’s a Creation ordinance is strong evidence that there is still a Sabbath observation requirement for Christians—in fact, not only for Christians, because the Sabbath was part of God’s design for humanity from the beginning. That’s one of the reasons states have had blue laws. Sabbath keeping was not even seen as a violation of the separation of church and state; everybody was required to have a Sabbath whether they were Christian, Jew, Muslim, or whatever.
In the New Testament the church comes together on the Lord’s Day, which is the first day of the week, for corporate worship. We have a clear mandate in the New Testament not to forsake the assembling of the saints (Heb. 10:25). In other words, the New Testament’s simple language says that Christians are supposed to be in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. That means we’re supposed to go to church. That is usually seen as one of the ways in which the Sabbath is to be observed. All Christians I know of who believe that the Sabbath is still in effect agree that on the Sabbath we should be worshiping, and also that on one day in seven there should be rest from unnecessary commerce and labor. There are still provisions for commerce that must go on—hospital work, pharmacies, and such. But commerce just for the sake of merchandising ought to cease on the Sabbath.
This group of Christians who believe the Sabbath should be observed actually splits into two groups. One holds what we call the Continental view: Recreation is permitted on the Sabbath. The other holds the Puritan view: Recreation is forbidden on the Sabbath. I take the position that recreation is a legitimate form of rest on the Sabbath.
“How are we to keep the Sabbath in today’s society?” and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section.