Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Mark of the Beast?

Driving home from vacation a couple of years ago, we passed a billboard that really made me stop and stare (well, maybe not stop, but definitely stare). It said this:

SATURDAY = The True Lord’s Day
SUNDAY LAWS = The Mark of the Beast

Whatever you believe, I don’t think this would be the most effective way of getting your point across. Nonetheless, it did provoke a lot of thought in my mind that made me reexamine my beliefs about the Sabbath. Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday, when Genesis 2:2-3 says

And he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

And then there’s the fourth commandment, which says

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

I once heard somebody say “I obey all nine of the Ten Commandments,” and it does seem as though this commandment is often ignored in our culture. I know that I look at the Ten Commandments and I can see how most of them apply to my life today, but the Sabbath one seems outdated. How am I supposed to obey this commandment? Is it right to celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the first day of the week?

Once again, I listened to Al Mohler's sermon on this topic, and once again I would encourage you to listen to it too. It has helped give me perspective on what exactly this commandment means. So a lot of what I’m going to say comes from him, not from me.

Unlike the other nine commandments, the fourth seems to be specifically directed towards the Israelites as opposed to the world in general, at least in its totally literal reading. But if you look at it in the context of the other nine and of the Bible in general, it seems that it is pointing to something. According to Dr. Mohler, it first points backwards to Creation, where God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. It thus emphasizes the importance of rest amidst our busy lives. Secondly, it points forward to a greater rest that is coming. This meaning obviously would not have been clear to most Israelites at the time of the old covenant. It merely seemed to set the seventh day aside so that no work could be done. Yet God had a bigger purpose for it.

I find it interesting that three of the four gospels record the same story in almost exactly the same words. I’m going to quote the story from Matthew 12:1-8 because it is the most extensive, but it can also be found in Mark 2 and Luke 6.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Why did all these gospel writers consider this passage to be so important that they would all include it? I think it’s because this passage shows the meaning behind the Sabbath. This is obviously important to God, or else he would not have included it in the Ten Commandments. So what can we glean from this passage?

First, it condemns the strict legalism of the Pharisees about the Sabbath. It uses as an example David eating sacred bread from the temple. This bread was meant for God, but when needed for a good cause (as in, not selfish desires), David was able to eat it. Also, the priests break the commandment every Sabbath because they are offering sacrifices and keeping the temple in good shape, yet they bear no guilt. So God obviously isn’t concerned with the strict, legalistic rules that the Pharisees insisted on placing on the Sabbath. He is more concerned with the motives of the heart.

Second, it identifies the purpose of the Sabbath. In Mark 2:27, he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was instituted as a reminder from God to man that he needed to rest. But God is not ultimately concerned with us resting in our physical bodies, although that was clearly important to him. Ultimately, God is concerned with where our souls rest, and that was where the Sabbath pointed us to.

Third, it identifies Christ as the new temple and new Sabbath. He is greater than both the temple and the Sabbath establishment as given in the Old Testament, and he later identifies his own body as the new temple. And this makes sense, because what is the temple? It’s the dwelling place of God on earth, and what is Christ other than God himself? But, more relevant to our discussion today, he is also greater than the Sabbath. In fact, he is Lord of the Sabbath. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the purpose of the Sabbath. As Dr. Mohler states, we are to find our ultimate rest in Christ, which means that we must cease our own labors for salvation and trust in his work alone.

This brings us to how we should observe the Sabbath in the present day. Dr. Mohler gives three options: Seventh Day Sabbitarianism, Lord’s Day Sabbitarianism, and Lord’s Day Observance. Since he is the expert, not me, I’ll let him speak for this section (at least, I’ll let him speak through my paraphrase):

1. Seventh Day Sabbitarianism—the fourth commandment continues unaltered until this day. The main problem with this view is that, after the life of Christ, there is no mention of any seventh day observance of anything. The church, on the other hand, gathered on the first day of the week, known as the Lord’s Day, in order to honor Christ’s resurrection. The most obvious reference to this is Acts 20:7:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

The New Testament clearly chronicles that the early church always met on the Lord’s Day, not on the seventh day. So it would seem that this view is not the most biblical.

2. Lord’s Day Sabbitarianism—the fourth commandment is merely transferred to the first day. The main problem here is that there is no New Testament transfer, whether explicit or implicit. As a matter of fact, it almost seems to be explicitly condemned in Colossians 2:16-23

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels…and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body…grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Since we now have our rest in Christ, and we have the new covenant of grace instead of works, Sabbath rules and regulations no longer apply to us. This brings us to the third option:

3. Lord’s Day Observance—the church should gather together as commanded in the New Testament. This is not to be a time of rules— as in, the “do this” and “do that”s of Colossians 2—but instead, just a time of worship and gathering. It is to be a priority because it is an institution, set in place by the apostles themselves and held as extremely important in the New Testament.

And this brings us to the application: what can we do or not do on the Lord’s Day? After that whole discussion, you didn’t think I’d just give you a list of do’s and don’ts, did you? Of course not. Dr. Mohler’s statement on this was as follows: Anything that would detract or rob from the Lord’s Day in your life should not be done. This becomes a matter of conscience. In my family, we don’t do anything to earn an income on Sunday. We do yardwork, clean the house, watch football, and spend time together as a family instead. I know others who don’t do school on Sunday, and others who do both of these things. All of these are perfectly fine and acceptable, so long as they don’t interfere with your Lord’s Day observance. Church is to be the priority. If something gets in the way of church, that something has to go. That’s the bottom line here.

Have any of these commandments had a simple application yet? I don’t think so…

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chime in at Na

New post still coming...but until it does, I would encourage you to check out this post over at the New Attitude blog. There's a very involved discussion going on over there in the comments about the Bible's authority and inerrancy that I am planning on chiming in on soon. Bryce and Brittany are doing a great job bringing an inerrantist, presuppositionalist view to the table, but they need some help. (Make sure you start by scrolling to the bottom of the page, that's where the comments start.) Have at it, folks!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dead Poets Society

So a post on the Fourth Commandment is forthcoming...but it's not quite done yet. However, here are some thoughts that I wrote on my Xanga that I thought would fit well on this blog. So until we return to our regularly scheduled series, this will have to do.

The basic premise of the movie Dead Poets Society is that a teacher named John Keating (Robin Williams) comes into a preporatory school to teach English Poetry. His motto is "Carpe Diem", Latin for "Seize the Day." He uses unorthodox methods to teach his students not to conform, to rely on themselves, to really take something out of life with them. He inspires the students to resurrect something called the Dead Poets Society, where they sneak out to a cave at night and read poetry to each other, among other things. He inspires the students to do things they never would have done before, to step out and take chances. But everything backfires when one boy, who goes against his father's wishes to join a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, commits suicide when his father pulls him out of the school. In the resulting investigation, Keating is kicked out of the school.

The final scene of the movie shows Mr. Nolan, the president of the school, trying to teach the class while Keating collects his personal belongings. One of the students jumps up on his desk in defiance, using a symbol used by Keating earlier in the movie, declaring "O Captain, my Captain" as a sign of respect for Keating. One by one all the members of the Dead Poets Society join him on top of their desks, defying Mr. Nolan's repeated injectures to sit down. It is a powerful scene that leaves you with goosebumps.

As I sat through the movie, I was constantly tempted to be swept away by the amazingly profound, motivating things that Keating was saying. "Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out!" That sounds so great! I want to break out of confines, find a voice of my own, do my own thing my own way! Who needs anyone else telling me what to do? That only stifles me. It's a really motivational thought, isn't it? Or then he says this: "Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, 'That's baaaaad.'" My beliefs are my own. I shouldn't blend into something that someone else thought up. I need to make up my own way to think. It's so exhilirating to think that way, so freeing. I don't need anyone else, it's all about me now.

Robin Williams does a fine job delivering his lines in probably the best acting role I've ever seen him in. That's the main problem. He's so good that you don't grasp the fact that he's spoonfeeding you lies. They are the lies that we all want to believe, that most of the time we really do believe. Who needs God? He's just stifling my inner greatness. Why should the church tell me what to do? I have a right to do whatever I want. I'm a free person. These are the very lies that the snake told Eve in the Garden of Eden: Just think, if you move outside of what God has told you to do, you can be like God. You'll be your own person, live your own life, do your own thing.

Then there's the end of the movie: Neil wants to be an actor, but his father wants him to focus on his studies and avoid the extra-curriculars. Neil defies his father and joins a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Puck. When his father finds out the day before the show opens, he orders Neil to drop it immediately. Neil defies his father, lying not only to him but also to Keating, who had urged him to talk with his father (about the only biblical thing he said the entire movie), and performs as Puck the following night. His father then finds out, takes him home, and tells him that he will be withdrawn from the school the following day and put into a military school. Neil wants to argue with him, but chickens out at the last second, and they go to bed. In an emotionally powerful sequence Neil stands by the open window with his Puck crown, then walks downstairs, finds a pistol in his father's drawer, and shoots himself with it.

When you watch Neil do this, your first reaction is, "Yes, he's taking his life into his own hands. He's not letting his father boss him around anymore, but he's saving his last vestige of dignity by dying." But then you think about it: shooting himself was actually an act of cowardice. He couldn't bring himself to stand up to his father, chickening out several times when he had the perfect opportunity. So he shot himself instead. The movie tries to portray him as a hero, and does a marvelously good job at it, but if you can sit back and evaluate the circumstances, Neil took the easy road. He didn't want to risk confrontation or his father getting really mad at him, so he killed himself. The hard thing would have been to sit down and talk with his dad about exactly what was going on, having a heart-to-heart. But that's not what the movie tries to make you think.

The miracle of movies is that they can tell you something like this, in the blatant terms I've quoted, and if we're not paying close attention we as Christians can be taken right in. When Keating's teachings lead Neil to shoot himself because he can't get his own way, the students' (and the movie-watchers') first reaction is that it wasn't his fault. Keating was teaching us to take our lives into our own hands, to not let anyone else define us, so when Neil's dad tried to define Neil, Neil had every right to shoot himself. So when the abrasive Mr. Nolan comes into the classroom, embracing the very structure that Keating had tried to throw out, and Todd stands on his desk in a salute to Keating, you're cheering for them, happy that someone is finally sticking it to that stuck-up Nolan. But then you stop to think about it: what am I cheering for? I am cheering for all the lies that Keating told that led to Neil's death. The lies that came straight from the pit of hell. It's really a scary thought.

The cinema is really a scary thing, how it can twist your mind into thinking something completely opposite to everything you know to be true with a few soaring violins and dramatic lines. That's why you really never can turn your brain off, but, as John says, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God." Just because a movie is well-made doesn't mean it has good morals, and sometimes they can give something completely opposite to what Scripture says is true. Will you be taken in, deceived by the serpent once again, or will you stand for God's truth?

By the way, if anyone is planning on watching this movie, there are some other warnings to be given. There is some language and innuendo, and at one point a boy pulls out a Playboy centerfold. That's about the extent of what went into its rating (PG, but this was before they came out with the PG-13 rating, which it certainly would have deserved).