How the Scots Changed the World (including the Sabbath) – Aaron Denlinger

How the Scots Changed the World by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The third main feature article in this month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine) is penned by Dr.Aaron C. Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You will recall that this month’s issue is devoted to “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation’, since this year is the 500th anniversary of Knox’s supposed birth. Denlinger’s subject is the above-linked article, “How the Scots Changed the World”, and it is another interesting and instructive piece.

Of particular interest to me was his last section where Denlinger treats the Scottish Reformers’ influence on the sabbath. I quote from that part of his article, encouraging you to read all of it. We Dutch Reformed folk can trace a similar influence on the sabbath to the Reformation in the Netherlands; but we are thankful for the Scottish Presbyterian impact on the Lord’s Day too.

The Sabbath

The early modern Kirk was notable for its emphasis upon keeping the Sabbath holy, coupled with a strong distaste for observing any other “holy days.” Insistence upon observing the Sabbath in fulfillment of the fourth commandment was, again, a characteristic of Reformed thought more broadly, though it may have had deeper roots in Scotland than elsewhere. For example, legislation passed under the eleventh-century Scottish Queen Margaret, intended to reform the church and nation, stressed the people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Unique to the Kirk at the time of the Reformation, however, was the insistence that no other days be credited with religious significance. In fact, when asked in 1566 to review the Second Helvetic Confession, a respected document penned by the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, the Scots felt compelled to offer qualified appreciation of the text, calling attention to their disapproval of the confession’s tolerance for the celebration of Christmas, Pentecost, and Easter, “feast days” with no warrant in Scripture.

The Kirk, to be sure, never entirely succeeded in discouraging Christmas festivities in Scotland, and rarely have churches or Christians elsewhere in the world embraced the Kirk’s argument for the complete eradication of a Christian calendar, and thus the refusal to attribute religious significance to any day beyond Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Kirk’s general privileging of a weekly rhythm for work and Sabbath rest over a liturgical calendar year orienting believers toward various seasons and days defined by Christ’s earthly ministry has affected attitudes toward both worship and work throughout the world. Fewer holy days translates, not only linguistically but also socially and historically, into fewer holidays. What sociologists have called “the Protestant work ethic”—an orientation in historically Protestant countries toward good, honest, hard work—is arguably the fruit of not only a general emphasis in Reformation thought on the godliness of every vocation but also a peculiar insistence in Scotland that believers should pause every Sunday for worship and respite, and more or less work the rest of the time.

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