How the History of the ARP Can Benefit Us to See God’s Gift
Having completed our conversation about the blessings of psalm singing we are going to close out this series on talking about older ARP distinctives by moving on now to Sabbath keeping. I don’t know of another doctrine that is less remembered or taught in contemporary times than this one. My goal in presenting the 4th Commandment for your consideration and its historical place in our denomination is not to bind conscience. However, a hope I have is that as we think of the mercies of God present in the Lord’s Day rest we might take a moment to meditate on what might be good for us as we make plans for the week and for the opening time of its movement.
Going back to the “red” ARP history books here are a couple quotations worth reading that illustrate how far things have moved in the last hundred years. This first one comes to us from Rev. D.G. Phillips speaking about his mentors in 1882:
“They taught us how to keep the Sabbath. It is granted on all hands that they were more careful than any other churches about Sabbath observance…The world calls that narrow, but our fathers were nearer right than wrong. You can’t well be too strict in Sabbath keeping. When one is hurt by too rigid a Sabbath, a thousand are ruined by a loose one. A man’s attitude toward the Sabbath is a fair test of his spiritual character…Letting down on the Sabbath is like the letting out of water. Once you begin there is no stopping place till the sacredness of the day is utterly gone.” — Rev. D.G. Phillips, “The Centennial Address” pg. 723
From the Second Century volume which documents the history of the denomination from 1882 to 1982 we have this reporting of the state of Sabbath observance in the ARP not long after Rev. Phillips made those comments:
“There was general agreement within the church that the strict stance of the ARP’s on the Sabbath was one of the main reasons they lacked popular appeal on the frontier such as Texas. Yet there was just as widespread lament by the end of the 19th Century that this standard was being relaxed. Almost every year one of more of the presbyteries noted this trend, and it continued into the twentieth century reports.”
I’m not sure there are more verifiably accurate quotes than these to demonstrate the shift which took place in those intervening years between the Centennial and the 20th Century. It is telling that a comment from 1903 was more true in 2003 than it would have been in 1803. The Sabbath question is one that didn’t used to be a distinctive of “strict”, “micro-presbyterians”. It was so universal among everyone from Roman Catholics to Methodists that it became one of those teachings that was just kind of understood, which is part of the reason why the why’s of the sanctity of the Lord’s Day were largely forgotten by succeeding generations. To illustrate how ubiquitous this idea was all we need to do is go to a guy like Oral Roberts, certainly not someone I would normally favorably quote and writing in the 1950s, to see this truth. He notes:
“Not only do I believe that God has a right to one dime out of every dollar we receive but also I believe one day in every seven belongs to Him. There is something special about the Sabbath and the tenth part of your income. They are holy. I’m a strong believer in keeping the Sabbath day different from all the other days. Sunday is a day that is set aside to actively work for God-not to go to bed and rest. On Sunday the wheels of commerce cease and we have opportunity to visit the sick and prisoners in jail, as well as friends and neighbors, and to witness to them about Jesus. Sunday is God’s day.”
A couple of the issues that come up whenever we start to talk about this portion of the moral law include: 1) “I thought the Sabbath was an old covenant idea” and 2) “I don’t need more don’t do this rules in my Christianity”. We’ll have separate posts on both of those and then a closing summary in the fourth and last entry on the matter. The reason why we take up the Lord’s Day and it’s place in the life of the Christian is that out of all the subjects we’ve touched on there is something concrete and central to the way the Sabbath functions that causes all the others to flourish well. There is a sense in which the Lord’s Day sets the stage for how we not only order our lives, but in how we seek to make God the priority in our lives. Like other creation ordinances the Sabbath was part of Jehovah’s initial mercy to Adam and all humanity. To seek to overturn or ignore the totality of His purpose is to start quirking with things that don’t need to be quirked. To turn our feet towards our own ways is to doubt the goodness of God to us and for us. Another aspect of this that is worth considering is whenever we come to think on the love our Lord has for us is that He would never give us a command without having us in mind.
To close us and to whet the appetite for next week I want to leave you with this word from Sinclair Ferguson:
“Thus the Sabbath Day was meant to be ‘Father’s Day’ every week. It was ‘made’ for Adam. It also had a hint of the future in it. The Father had finished His work, but Adam had not…This view of the Sabbath helps us deal with the question ‘Is it ok to do … on Sunday? — because I don’t have any time to do it in the rest of the week?’ If this is our question, the problem is not how we use Sunday, it is how we are misusing the rest of the week.”
Another from our fellow Catawbaite.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church