Legalistic Sabbath Police

Discussion in 'The Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath' started by BGF, Mar 5, 2016.

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  1. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    I was looking for the author to explain and give examples of today's "legalistic Sabbath police". Without that the article is interesting, but ungrounded.

    Legalistic Sabbath Police
  2. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    Since posting this thread, Joseph Franks has responded to a similar post I made in the comments. I am grateful for his willingness to explain further, but I now have even more questions. He offers his thesis as a more detailed view into his thoughts, but I can't seem to access it, which is unfortunate because I believe it may go a long way to answering those questions.
  3. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

  4. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I have a friend who doesn't think i should go on my Sunday walk because it is "labor" and would prefer my children don't swing on the swing-set on Sunday or engage in any impromptu "team" sports like tag or soccer.
  5. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, It would be nice to be able to read it, but I'll just consult other sources. Given his exception to the WCF, his starting point and conclusion are not likely to be unique, but I suppose it's possible that his thesis offers a fresh perspective not to be found elsewhere.
  6. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    Does he believe that these are salvation issues or obedience issues? Or does he differentiate? It's my understanding that legalism says that works are in part in whole the grounds of justification.
  7. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Obedience issues, I believe. He sees it as a matter of carefulness in pleasing God. I think he is able to see that true Christians differ on these issues. If legalism is defined in that manner, there are only a few truly Protestant legalists, right? I do admit we might over-use the word.
  8. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    WCF Ch. 21
    Regardless of what one wants to think about such things, the confessional view includes recreation. The key words are "all the day" and "The whole time".
  9. Parakaleo

    Parakaleo Puritan Board Sophomore

    Agreed. It seems like a "fill in the blank" article, where you supply whatever practice you don't agree with and say, "Legalism!"
  10. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Plenty of people grew up hating the sabbath because they were told to go sit in a corner and study the catechism. Children need the opportunity to "get the steam out" if they are to meaningfully attend to worship, fellowship, and rest. I do much to show that this is a holy-day with special foods, "good" clothes, and so forth. They know we're going to spend every moment possible with the church and at rest, prayer, and study.
  11. Parakaleo

    Parakaleo Puritan Board Sophomore

    Or maybe the Westminster divines were the 1643 version of...

  12. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    "Legalism" certainly can mean a theological position that expresses trust in works for salvation. But let's face it, that's not usually how the word is used. And the way language works is that in casual conversation, usage and context dictate meaning.

    In the context of that article, it seems pretty clear that "legalist" is used to mean something like "having a self-righteous attitude that tries to insist people obey rules God doesn't actually require we follow." By that definition, most of us know a few legalists when it comes to some matters of Christian living. In fact, most of us are in some ways tempted toward legalistic attitudes even if our stated beliefs don't make us "legalists" according to the works-righteousness theological definition.

    Because the word covers a fairly broad semantic range, and because it tends to be accusatory, I think we ought to use it sparingly and explain what we mean when we do use it. Still, even when others throw it around carelessly we can usually see from context what they mean.
  13. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I’m sorry, but that’s just plain silly. Unless for some strange reason, a person found themselves so engrossed in nature that they could not pray. I have spent many days, including a few Sabbath days on the Appalachian Trail praying and singing to the Lord. Mary and I wouldn’t do strenuous trail hiking on the Sabbath, but a gentle walk through God’s creation? I sure some will disagree.
    My wife and I and usually our dog have logged well over enough miles to cover the whole AT. Mostly in the same places, though. :)

    Mark 2:23
    And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.

    Luke 6:9
    Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?

    Yes, wonder of wonders, I even think that we can do good on the Sabbath as the need arises. E.g., visiting a sick friend leading a Bible study. Indeed, teaching or preaching is commanded for elders on the Sabbath.

    Matthew 12:5
    Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?

    I can’t think of a harder job than preaching the Gospel in the manner in which it should be preached. And this too is “work” on the Sabbath.
  14. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    See the appropriate pages of John Willison's work linked in this thread.
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    My friend counted my Sunday walks as "recreation" and "my own pleasure" on Sunday whereas I counted it as a bodily necessity to be able to sit through a Sunday evening service. Same with play for my kids. The body must have motion or else it will fall asleep while sitting in a pew...the spirit is willing but the posterior is weak...
  16. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm at the point with this now, mostly out of frustration, that as long as you are not making someone else work for your pleasure and causing them to miss worship (shopping, professional sports, entertainment) on the Lord's Day I am not going to browbeat you about it. I may not agree that they are good things to do on the Sabbath and gently ask leading questions about their necessity, but I'm not going to go all ruler on the knuckles about it.
  17. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    My daughter had a Sunday school teacher (PCA)who said it was a sin for my husband to light a fire in the woodstove on Sunday.
  18. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    Jack, I can generally agree with most of what you said. Legalism has a broad semantic range and its use should be understood in its context. However, the author's own words point to more than what you indicate.

    This is more than just a self-righteous attitude that many of us are tempted toward. This is a comparison to those who wanted to destroy Jesus. That kind of accusation requires a target. It's unclear who the target is, therefore the post is little more than shadow boxing. Or, as Blake said:

  19. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't understand that article. It doesn't seem to have a premise.
  20. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I suppose we could ask "leading questions" to most people about the "necessity" of 90% of what they do on the Sabbath. Especially if we believe our convictions are more strict and biblical than our neighbors' looser convictions... Fasting for 24 hours, after all, is an option. And one can survive on 3-4 hours sleep. And who really needs a hot meal over cold sandwiches, anyway? But, I don't think too many of these leading questions are real helpful for most people.

    I actually believe this is one reason many families end up going to less strict churches. It is less trouble than being interrogated over the rationale of why they let their children play tag on Sunday afternoons. People vote with their feet. And, in many cases, it is not merely due to people "not caring about Scripture" or being loose with doctrine (though that is ONE of the reasons), but many folks don't feel like jumping through the hoops of others' convictions all the time.

    If an elder is overly frustrated over particular Sabbath practices, or has the desire to brow beat or rap a member over the knuckles over slightly differing Sabbath convictions, this is a recipe for shrinking one's church for all the wrong reasons.

    The very strict Sabbatarian friend I have in my church has many good points and I agree with him in 99% of what he says. But he is so bound up with his convictions and mentions them so often that he drives all others away and I have also found myself avoiding him at times when he gets "on his tangent."

    All too often we make this beautiful doctrine ugly.
  21. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    The only way one can make it "ugly" is ignorance or purposeful law-breaking. I have already stated the confessional view (I.E. the biblical view). It does not matter what people's convictions are on the Sabbath. We do not practice biblical doctrine based upon one's "convictions". It is the elders' responsibility to teach the truth of scripture. If they do not, they will be held accountable for leading people astray in the commandments of God (Heb 13:17).

    I think what gets to me is the lack of care for the flock in regard to obedience to God. I have encountered many churches in which the elders do not really shepherd the flock. The standards are quite clear on this issue. Any elder that does or teaches otherwise is in violation of their vows and should be charged accordingly.


  22. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Our Chris Coldwell here on the PB addresses the question of moderate bodily movement on the Sabbath elsewhere in another thread, saying:

    Also Daniel Hyde summarizes the Continental view of the Sabbath as follows (underline mine):

    Thus, it appears that "activity" is not the same as "recreation."

    In most churches there are bigger fishes to fry than trying to divine whether a kid's game of tag or walking is a "recreation" or an occasion of "modest bodily activity" to keep them alert later in the evening service. If elders excessively interrogated or tried to discipline such modest bodily exercises, this will not be appreciated by the congregation, especially if all affirm the Sabbath and yet but differ little on these very minor points.

    The catechism tells us to refrain from "needless" works, recreations, thoughts....etc on the Sabbath but never defines "needless."

    What exactly is needful and what is needless? Since fasting is an option, activities centered around eating could be eliminated altogether. But obviously "need" here is defined more loosely. Activities designed to maintain health and mental clarity seem reasonable.

    The last time I spent a whole Sunday sitting or not walking I fell dead asleep during the evening service and the kids were also groggy from inactivity. I had spent the day reading and studying the Bible, that is true...but what I needed was bodily rest in the form of the relaxation only found in a soothing walk to recharge my batteries between services or the activity found in playing with my children rather than bent over a book - even THE Book.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2016
  23. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    It seems to me that you are trying to fight something that you are creating. Going for a walk to keep yourself awake for the Lord's Day observance is different then playing games just for the sake of playing games. One has a purpose for the Lord, the other is needless recreation. Again, I will give you the confessional view:


  24. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I mention the walks because I know folks who say this breaks the Sabbath and, if they were in church leadership, would "encourage" people not to do it.
  25. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    When I was a child, a self-important elder from one my dad's supporting churches visited us for several days on our mission post. We provided hospitality and showed him how the Kingdom was advancing in our corner of the world: introduced him to new families of believers, took him on teaching trips into the schools, brought him on evangelism excursions, etc. After he left, we found out he reported only one thing back to his home Consistory. He told them my dad (the missionary pastor) was a Sabbath-breaker because he took a brief nap between the morning and evening services.

    So yes, there are "legalistic Sabbath police" in the world. They're probably rare these days, but they exist and some do harm. Some get so busy straining gnats out of other people's soup that they lose any appreciation for greater things. And some steal all joy from our day of worship by turning it into a day when you have to be extra, extra careful you don't get sidetracked from the approved, godly endeavors. This sounds dutiful, but ends up feeling oppressive compared to the daily work we're resting from.

    Decades later, I still get defensive when anyone tries to discuss with me what is or is not good Sabbath behavior, which is a shame because that ought to be a profitable topic for discussion. But I've seen it abused and it's left a bad taste.

    I can't tell from the article in the OP what specific issues the author has in mind. But for what it's worth, my first thought was that he probably got a taste of the same sort of attitude my family felt from that visiting elder. It makes me sad.
  26. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore


    That quote from Chris Coldwell is very helpful. He seems to be arguing that when evaluating whether a particular activity is lawful we should also be looking at it from the perspective of the minimum amount of said activity needed. So, in the case of bodily activity to keep energised or refreshed: there are people who have particular physical conditions whereby, for example, their joints/muscles seize up if kept still or in the same position for too long. Such persons could legitimately go for a short walk during the afternoon to loosen their muscles and refresh themselves. Does the average adult have the same requirement? No. Do we need to go for a walk during our workday? I think most workers can get through an 8 hour work day without needing to go for a walk. Or take a nap. Why do they need to go for a walk on a day where they are mostly sitting down not doing anything physically demanding?
    People could walk to church, if practical (and I'll add that in Scotland people used to walk for an hour or more at times to get to church). They don't need to go for a recreational walk during the day.

    I'm also not convinced by the argument that one can enjoy God's Creation by going for a walk, or find an idyllic spot to pray in. This sounds like special pleading. It sounds a lot like introducing our own inventions into worship. As Andrew has pointed out, it's not about what we feel is honouring to God but what is commanded. There doesn't seem that much difference between arguing that by going for a walk on Sabbath one is aided in praying and can enjoy the Creation and that by writing our own hymns and using musical instruments or introducing times of silent meditation, or whatever else we fancy, into the worship service that we can better worship God, express our love to Him, draw closer to Christ et. al. Basically, the whole modern worship movement's foundational principle.

    Works of necessity and mercy are allowed. If someone's health or physical condition requires them to partake of a little bodily exercise to relieve stiffness and pain then that is lawful; if it's just a matter of getting out the house into the fresh air I would say that's not really a necessity. As for children, yes they can get a bit hyper so parents should find ways to channel their children's energy into productive, profitable activity on the Sabbath and not just send them outside with a football.
  27. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It is not merely the joints and muscles that seize up and need activity, but the mind itself that fatigues from sedentary study without vigorous motion.

    If one sits inertly to hear a sermon, then sits down to study Scripture, then sits for the evening service...this is mentally and physically taxing for many adults and most kids.

    I am fairly healthy and I fall asleep during evening sermons if I do not have an outlet during the day between services. What am I to say if an elder approaches me with a dour concerned scowl and fears for my soul for my Sabbath-breaking activity of my Sunday walk? And from the example given by Jack above, if I were to nap, am I any safer from such scrutiny? What does proper Sabbath behavior entail if not rest and worship?

    If an elder accused me of "special pleading" for excusing my afternoon walk and I am offended, whose fault is it? I do, indeed, believe this might be an example of Sabbath policing. And in a day of many dire concerns and gross heresy and sin, it seems trifling to give such interrogations when 1,001 greater ills menace the church. I would be tempted to leave that congregation for another.

    How do we determine the "bare minimum" amount of activity necessary to sustain our attentiveness? What calculation do we perform and who has the right to determine such a calculation?

    Part of what it boils down to is other people being lords over your own conscience (determining what is needed for you). I am fairly healthy, yet my mind is recharged by a vigorous (and not merely minimal) walk on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps in days past when people walked to church this extra walking was not needed, but we live in a sedentary land.

    Again, you judge these actions as neither fitting as a work of mercy or necessity. Yet, again, I say that we could fast from all food as well on Sundays and not eat at all. Fasting is a good thing, no?

    Who determines necessity?

    When others determine necessity for us, it is a recipe for lording it over our consciences. And maybe a recipe for needling and interrogating our congregation. And of pushing them into our own private convictions and forcing those convictions upon others (which will lead to many parishioners shrinking back from further attendance at your church, or else fleeing to a less strict congregation).

    When many people finally leave your church, you may blame the parishioner for being lax, but I could not fault anyone for fleeing such an environment. The reason some of our hyper-strict congregations are small is not because they are faithful and people just don't want to hear the truth. Some churches remain small because the standards are unreasonable and people tire of being policed and interrogated and want out of that level of scrutiny on issues that appear trifling compared to the bigger ills of our day.

    You seem to grant part of my point below by saying:
    Yes, profitable activity on the Sabbath between services may be to run and play and work off steam so that kids can sit attentively through the evening service. Or to rest in God's gifts that are unable to be enjoyed throughout the work-week, such as shared meals and time with family.

    If my hyper-strict Sabbath friend were in church leadership, he has admitted that he would desire to ban such activities, if it were in his power. That is why, as much as I love my friend, I would never desire to see him in a churchly position of authority. And I would be very suspicious to ever join a church with some of you in power for the same reason.
  28. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    For napping I'll say that my mentioning of it in my previous post might have implied I thought it wrong. I don't. I think a short nap can be very beneficial in the afternoon and I think that it is lawful. So just to put that out there. As to fasting, we could fast all day, but where is this commanded as a requirement of Sabbath keeping? Fisher (I think it's him) includes sleeping and eating as works of necessity.

    I think your post raises a few questions. First of all, in congregations there are those people who are put over us to direct us in our conduct and obedience to the Word: the elders and the ministers. Part of their duty is to teach the congregation what obedience to God's commandments looks like and to discipline those who disobey.

    Another question is: were churches less strict in the past, when there were revivals and huge attendance at the means of grace? No. By and large, they were far stricter than what most people experience today. So whilst I do accept that in some circumstances a stifling, legal atmosphere will drive people away from church I also think that compared to the standards expected in the past we are far looser- even the strictest churches today are probably laxer than most churches were in the past. You might argue that is one reason why the church has deteriorated but as churches have become more liberal do you see people returning? No.
  29. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    It's a very poor sort of "day of rest" when actual resting isn't allowed. I happen to be glad for one day of the week when I am not required to be up at 4 in the morning.
  30. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Yes, and eventually they replaced Gospel with law. My grandfather grew up in strict southern Presbyterianism where Sabbath-keeping was obligatory and the minister's position on temperance was more important than his position on the inerrancy of Scripture. Meanwhile, Gresham Machen was a persona non grata. Let's focus on not swallowing a camel before we strain at gnats.
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