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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why I Attend Church on Sunday

A friend recently asked me if I had ever considered switching to Sabbath services in light of the Old Testament command to keep Yahweh's Sabbath. I said no. Here's why.

If you are going to keep the Law, keep it all. Look at what the Law says about food. In Leviticus 11:41-45. God is literally shouting about foods that defile the human who eats them. That unclean human is therefore unfit to approach God’s holiness in ritual worship. Figuring that God never changes, it would appear that we should all be keeping kosher. But look at Mark 7:14-23. Jesus is not just declaring all foods clean. If you think about what he is saying, it is spiritual dullness that makes us think that food could ever have defiled anyone. It is sin that defiles. Why would food spiritually defile anyone when, as Jesus says, it goes in the stomach, comes out the other end processed and smelly, and winds up in the sewer.

Fasting is a powerful spiritual activity. Since Jesus fasted, we should, too. But in Isaiah 58, God and the prophet make it clear that social justice, mercy, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, visiting the sick, releasing the prisoner, forgiving debt, etc., is what God really prefers. Jesus Christ described a Judgment Day in which He sets people on his left hand for banishment because they didn’t perform any of these merciful acts. He exalts the people that did them.

The heart of OT worship was animal sacrifice, and yet Isaiah 1:10-17 and 66:1-3, Amos 5:21-24, Psalms 50:1-15 and other such passages indicate that God would trade ritual sacrifice for relationship in a heartbeat. Even in the OT, God is trying to tell the people that He wants us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and he wants us to love Him above all. The Prophet Micah (6:8) declares that God wants humility, mercy, and justice. Psalm 15 is about behavior, purity of motive, integrity. Even to Cain, God said, Just do what is right. Then you will be respected. You will receive your inheritance and be the respected new patriarch. But Cain couldn’t get it. It was just too simple. It wasn’t religious enough.

As for NT Scripture regarding Sunday worship possibly being corrupted, the OT is full of religious rites that were required by the people before they could take any new religion seriously. Monotheism was breathlessly new, counterintuitive, and scary back in the days of Abraham and Moses, so a set of new ideas were blended into an ancient matrix which was very similar in many ways to Canaanite ways and rituals. It helped the people to cope with the anxiety of a major change in worldview. Giving up their idols was trauma enough.

Paul in Colossians 2:13-23 deals with the futility of trying to keep the law. He does the same in Galatians where he admonishes the believer to stand fast in freedom from the Law. I really have no problem with people worshiping on the Saturday Sabbath. However, there are some legalisms that I would advise against, like refusing to eat pork. Such law keeping made Paul crazy, because he knew that such things “indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Religious sophistry is a little like the fruit of tastes good, seems to be nourishing, looks good, looks like all the other fruit that we all eat, it seems to make one why not?

One last important passage: in Matt. 5:17-20 it sounds like Jesus is saying that we must keep every jot and tittle of the Law, but the law he is referring to is not the Mosaic Law but the one that he is about to declare, beginning in v. 21 ff. He goes beyond the Ten Commandments, raises the bar, and requires that we drop the blinders and get with the real program. There are no temples, no holy beards, no funny clothes, no sacred weapons, no food restriction, no rituals, no sacred places, no holy days, no ritual prayers, no medals, no religious posturing whatsoever. What God wants is love, purity, humility, mercy, social justice, honesty, and relationship. So I can worship on the Sabbath. No problem. But I can also worship on Sunday.