Not long ago, an old friend from seminary visited. Unlike most friends in ministry who jettisoned us after we began this Messianic journey, they have remained close, though we rarely have a Scriptural discussion of real substance. This visit was different as we enjoyed a spirited discussion that they closed with the simple statement, “Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about.”
During that discussion, we talked briefly about the Sabbath and upon reflection, I noticed something fascinating that will prove beneficial in future conversations.
When we attended seminary at Columbia International University (class of ’02), one of the annual requirements was signing and submitting to the policies of the Standards Handbook. Because the Christian college and seminary are Biblically very conservative, one of the standards we were required to agree to was a strict ‘Sunday/Lord’s Day’ observance. This required regular participation in a particular church body/family (i.e., not a lot of church hopping), no work, rest, no purchasing, etc. Most who graduate from that school continue in a pretty strict observance, as has my friend.
So, as we were having this spirited exchange and the Sabbath came up, they said (as best I can recall), “I believe the Sabbath is a heart matter, not an outward work (their justification for ‘any day’) …. we worship on Sunday, do not go to restaurants, mop, sweep, etc. It is a day of rest and worship.”
My reply was to respond with verses pointing to the ‘seventh day’ and God’s inviolable covenant with His people and the Shabbat. While these are solid responses to the sanctity of the seventh day Shabbat, I have continued to roll this conversation in my head and think there is a better response. My friend committed a radical and glaring error that Christendom makes all of the time.
Knowing my friend’s background and hearing the expression of their heart, I missed a terrific opportunity that should have gone something like this:
Them: “I believe the Sabbath is a heart matter, not an outward work (implying that Saturday Shabbat is an outward work, while they justify ‘any day’) …. we worship on Sunday, do not go to restaurants, mop, sweep, etc. It is a day of rest and worship.”
“I agree. The Sabbath is a heart matter. Where do you get the idea not to go to restaurants, mop sweep etc. on Sunday? Can you show me in Scripture?”
Because I know their background and fairly strict observance, and that fact is critical to using this response, I would fully expect them to take me to the Ten Words. Here is the Fourth Command,
Exodus 20:8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [a]stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
From this commandment they would make a case for no work, not making anyone else work (i.e., not going to a restaurant), rest and worship. They might take me to another passages, but all lead to the same error.
Me: “I agree. This (these) verse(s) tell us how to observe the Sabbath. You said the Sabbath is a ‘heart matter,’ yet you do outward works to reveal the matter of the heart. ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,’ or we do. May I ask you a question about the fourth commandment (or, the verses they select to justify)?”
Me (the checkmate): “How is it that you can take half of that passage and apply it literally (i.e., rest, worship, no work) and take the other half of the passage and only apply it spiritually? In other words, what in the passage is the indicator that part is literal and part is spiritual? Isn’t that an inconsistent hermeneutic (interpretation)?”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to set up a glaring quandary that will trouble them not just with dozens of Shabbat passages, but also with hundreds of other passages.
To remind you, hermeneutics have to do with the rules of how to interpret Scripture. Every seminary trained pastor will have had a class or two on hermeneutics and will adhere to a set of interpretational principles. Those principles almost always include a rule on literal or spiritual consistency within a passage unless there is a very clear reason within the passage to alter the understanding. Simply, you can’t read half of that command and take it literally and then ignore the literal nature of the other half. It is a gross violation of any reasonable rule of logic or hermeneutics.
[As an aside: Hermeneutics: How to Break the Law demonstrates this same conundrum from another angle.]
My goal in conversations has ceased to be changing someone’s mind about the Messianic perspective. Truly, there is way too much that has to happen for someone to really ‘get it.’ Rather, I want to expose inconsistent thought processes and create just enough doubt that they have to roll it over in their head. For some it takes less, for others it takes more. The point is that I try not to unload too much (diarrhea of the mouth), but rather throw a little cocklebur into their mental clothing that begins to irritate wrong thought processes.
Exposing the logical and hermeneutical fallacy of inconsistent handling of Scripture is a wonderfully irritating cockelbur that should yield eventual fruit.
I encourage you, my dear readers! Abba is doing something amazing in our day and we really need to be sensitive to openings where we can share truth. Just let the Ruach (Spirit) lead. Speak in LOVE and don’t overdo it. Just plant/water seeds and let Him bring the increase!