Defining the (Sabbath) Debate by R.C. Sproul – June “Tabletalk”

Defining the Debate by R.C. Sproul | Reformed Theology Articles at

With a new month comes a new issue and theme for Ligonier’s devotional magazine Tabletalk. And this month’s theme is on the subject of the Christian sabbath, titled “Four Views of the Sabbath” (FYI, the daily Bible studies continue on the book of Ephesians.). The four views presented (after R.C. Sproul’s opening article above) are as follows:

1. The Seventh-day Sabbath, by Skip MacCarty

2. The Puritan Sabbath, by Joseph Pipa

3. The Lutheran Sabbath, by Charles Arand

4. The Fulfilled Sabbath, by Craig Blomberg

Let me say from the get-go that I am not always fond of these types of presentations. Zondervan has popularized this idea by publishing a number of books in this format (“Four Views on Predestination”, “Four Views on Revelation”, etc.). They can leave the impression that because there are differences of positions on issues like these in the church, the Word of God is not clear and one can “take it or leave it” as far as which position is the correct one. I’m fairly certain that Ligonier does not intend to teach this or leave this impression.

On the other hand, there are advantages to treating matters of Christian doctrine and practice in this way. For one thing, this format does recognize that theologians and Christians throughout the ages have interpreted the Scriptures differently. This is not because the Bible is unclear, but because our understanding of God’s word is unclear, and we struggle to interpret it properly. Hence, we can learn to appreciate differences in the church (also on the issue of the meaning and practice of the sabbath), even while maintaining our own private and ecclesiastical position on a matter.

For another thing, I find personally, that reading these type of “four view” books helps to confirm me in my own position based on Scripture and the Reformed creeds. Reading the positions and arguments of other Christians does not weaken me (and hopefully you!), but assists us in learning to answer these arguments and thus strengthen us in our own standing before the Word of God. That doesn’t mean I have to be close-minded as I listen to the arguments of my fellow saints. But it does mean that when I am already convinced by God’s Word of a certain doctrine or practice, I am able to see through opposite arguments and see the truthfulness of my own (and my church’s) position.

These are just a few of my thoughts as I opened up my June Tabletalk. In any case, R.C. Sproul had another instructive and lively article on “Defining the Debate” with regard to the meaning of the Christian sabbath. At the page you will also find some valuable resources on this subject as well. May we remember that this subject too has to do with the commandments of our God, with love for Him and our neighbor, and with living by faith and finding rest in our Savior, Jesus Christ. I leave you with a few quotes from Sproul and urge you to read the entire article at the link above:

Within the Reformed tradition, the most significant controversy that has appeared through the ages is the question of how the Sabbath is to be observed. There are two major positions within the Reformed tradition on this question. To make matters simple, we will refer to them as the Continental view of the Sabbath and the Puritan view of the Sabbath. Both views acknowledge that the Sabbath is still in effect. Both views agree that the Sabbath is a time for corporate worship. Both agree that the Sabbath is a day of rest when believers are to abstain from unnecessary commerce. But two areas are in dispute between the two schools and the most important of these is the question of recreation. Is recreation a legitimate form of rest-taking, or is recreation something that mars a sacred observation of the Sabbath day?

One other point of debate remains between the two sides on this issue. It has to do with works of mercy performed on the Sabbath. The example of Jesus is cited, that on the Sabbath He engaged not only in worship and rest but also in works of mercy. Such works brought Him into conflict with the Pharisees over the question of Sabbath-keeping. Some have drawn the conclusion that since Jesus performed works of mercy on the Sabbath, the Christian is obligated to do the same. However, the fact that Jesus did works of mercy on the Sabbath, though it clearly reveals that it is lawful to do so on the Sabbath, does not obligate us to do such works on the Sabbath. That is to say, Jesus’ example teaches us that we may do works of mercy on the Sabbath but not that we must do such works on the Sabbath.

All of these issues continue to be examined and debated as the church seeks to understand how God is best honored on this day.