Observing the Lord’s Day

Observing the Lord’s Day

We kicked off 2020 with a seven-part series of catechism sermons on “Observing the Lord’s Day,” structured around the “Rules for Observing the Lord’s Day” issued by the Synod of Dort.

The Protestant Reformation was a reformation of worship as much as it was a reformation of doctrine, or rather, it was a reformation of worship because it was a reformation of doctrine. The key marks of a Reformed church were the pure preaching of the word, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the proper exercise of discipline. All three of these marks were most notably in evidence when the church assembled for public worship on the Lord’s Day.

While all Reformed Christians emphasized the importance of public worship on the Lord’s Day, there soon developed a diversity of opinions about the relationship of the Lord’s Day to the Old Testament Sabbath. Continental Reformed churches often emphasized the importance of the eternal Sabbath, taught in Hebrews 4. This is reflected in Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Question 103, “What is God’s will for you in the Fourth Commandment?”

First, that the gospel ministry and schools for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to the Lord publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

Heidelberg Catechism, Question & answer 103

Fifty-six years later, the Synod of Dort took up the issue of the Lord’s Day after the dismissal of the international delegates, when it addressed a number of national matters. Recognizing that there were a diversity of views regarding the relation of the Lord’s day to the Sabbath, they quickly issued a brief series of six “Rules for Observing the Sabbath or Lord’s Day” — the “or” suggesting the two terms were interchangeable. Below is the new translation of the rules which appears in the book, Saving the Reformation, by W. Robert Godfrey, with a minor revision to the third rule in brackets.

1. In the fourth Commandment of the divine law, part is ceremonial and part is moral. (audio)

2. The ceremonial was the rest of the seventh day after creation, and the rigid observance of that day prescribed particularly for the Jewish people. (audio)

3. The moral truly is that a certain and appointed day [should be]* fixed for the worship of God and so much rest as is necessary for the worship of God and for holy meditation on him. (audio)

4. Since the abrogation of the Sabbath of the Jews, the day of the Lord must be solemnly sanctified by Christians. (audio)

5. This day has always been observed since the time of the Apostles by the ancient catholic church. (audio)

6. This day must be so consecrated to divine worship that on it one ceases from all servile works, except those of love and present necessity; and also from all such refreshing activities as impede the worship of God. (audio)

“Regulae de observatione Sabbathi, seu dei dominici,” Post-Acta of the Synod of Dort, 1619

Together, the Heidelberg Catechism and the instruction from the Synod of Dort provide healthy guidance for Christians today wrestling with how we should observe the Lord’s Day in our own context. Each week, we will also take the time to address practical issues in Lord’s Day observance that challenge us today. We hope you will join us at Christ Reformed for this important series of lessons.

* “Should be fixed” replaces Godfrey’s “is fixed.” The Latin reads “destinatus sit,” which is in the subjunctive. Rules four and five proceed to explain how the Lord’s Day has been fixed — by human tradition, not by divine command — as the day of worship, subsequent to the abrogation of the Sabbath of the Jews.