The fourth commandment may well be one of the most neglected and least convicting of all the commandments in the Decalogue. This is not because of lack of seriousness in what God demands, but because the modern Christian has become so complacent about reserving time for God. I also believe the modern pulpit holds much culpability for this unhappy phenomenon. The interpretation that the fourth commandment is not a part of the moral law written on the heart is the major contributor to the problem. Many preachers who are otherwise stellar in their interpretation of scripture tell us this command is not binding on Christians today. They teach there is no such thing as a Christian sabbath which seems from my research of historical positions not to be the consistent teaching of Baptists or others.
To be fair, these preachers do not teach you are not obligated to give time to God, but rather they say there is no special day to for it. Sunday is more of a convenience based on Christian agreement that it is a good easy time for us to get together. It is by mutual consent rather than a commanded time. I fear that when the observance is taught this way it is much easier for the individual to say Sunday is not convenient for them, and since there is no command there is no need to concern themselves. We see the convenience card played too much as churches offer Friday night services for those whose weekend plans are too much encumbered to accommodate what they don’t much like doing anyway. It is not exaggeration that many Christians treat church as if they need only a light dose to assuage their conscience. After all, they do claim to be Christians, don’t they? They go to church for the minimum time to put in their appearance and while they are there it is not worship they think of. Boating, fishing, football, shopping or a hundred other plans run through their minds. In all fairness, most of the time the Friday night churches are not giving anything worth thinking about anyway.
If we have a hard time keeping Christians on track when we have a command, what happens when there is none? Evidently church attendance has been a problem from the beginning. Hebrews warned early Christians not to forsake the assembly. No doubt some of this was advice for Christians who were fearful of persecution and thus would not come, but surely there must be at least a modicum of instruction for Christians who were lax and lazy about attending. Some of them did what many of us do—seek other venues to spend our Sunday time.
We are determined to get the exposition right, and so we will follow the historical interpretation that God has not changed the principle of the sabbath. The New Testament did nothing other than change the day. If we argue there must have been some change because we don’t follow the rigid requirements of the Jews and that Jesus chastised the Pharisees for their abuses, we only need concede their practices were wrong. This does not mean there isn’t a sabbath and a right way to keep it.
The important point to realize is its status as a command. Arguably because it comes at the end of the first table of the law, it stands in a special place of importance. There should be more conviction over its violation. We will not tolerate repeat offending adulterers nor repeat thieves and certainly not mass murderers. Where is the censure of Christians over repeat violations of this command? I hope there is conviction after this little miniseries on the fourth commandment. Baptists surely need more contrition because of it.
Pastor V. Mark Smith