The Case for the Christian Sabbath— Part Six

The Case for the Christian Sabbath— Part Six January 31, 2011

It is clear enough that Tonstad is a global thinker, and one of the things he has thought a lot about is creation care in light of sabbath observance.  The problem is that despite the ecological potency of Sabbath observance, the earth is not merely crying out ‘give it a rest’  it is crying out,  ‘we need an extreme makeover, a rejuvenation, a new creation, and Sabbath is not about that.  It is not about resurrection, it’s about ceasing from creative activity.    Romans 8.22is important in this discussion.  The creation awaits the revealing of the sons of God, which is to say it awaits our resurrection and its own.  It does not await a Sabbath rest, it awaits a resurrection, which is not the same thing.    Tonstad says not a word about resurrection in Rom. 8 pp. 396-98.

“Neglect of creation and a relentless anti-sabbatarian bias are constants in the Christian enterprise”  (p. 395). In fact Christians are often the worst offenders against creation, the worst exploiters.  It is not a Biblical idea to say that nature serves no purpose but to serve the needs and whims of humans.

On p. 406  he takes Is. 66. 22-23 to mean that in the new creation we will be observing new moons and Sabbaths.  But what the text means is in the new creation we will worship right around the liturgical calendar. Notice how the quote of this text in Rev. 15.3 leaves out the reference to Sabbath and new moons quite deliberately.  That’s because the author knows of another day of worship— see Rev. 1— ‘the Lord’s day’   He argues that the whole deal is in play in Revelation because the context of Isaiah 66 is alluded to as well.   (Nope).

To judge from pp. 412ff.  he seems to think resurrection involves creation ex nihilo, even though Paul says it involved transformation of the living, and one would also assume raising of the dead bits of those who still have remains. He places much stress on the ‘instanteous’ nature of the change,  at odds with the long process thinking of science about change.  It is well to mention that one can overdo the analogy between old creation and new creation in various ways.  Tonstad appears to be a materialist as well by which I mean he seems to think death means extinction despite texts like 2 Cor. 5—absent from the body and present with the Lord.

The council of Laodicea legislated against Sabbath observance and other Judaizing practices in 360. Council of Trent in 1566 says that the church of God in its wisdom decided that the celebration of the Sabbath should be transferred to Sunday. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea sometime before 339 when he died, when commenting on Psalm 92 (91 in the LXX) said “all that was prescribed for the Sabbath we have transferred to the Lord’s Day, inasmuch as it is the most important, the one which dominates, the first and the one which has more value than the Sabbath of the Jews”  (PG 23, 1172).   Trent simply said that all the rest of the Decalogue is reinforced as it is part of natural law, but the Sabbath is not.   The Sabbath is seen as not fixed but rather alterable and subject to change.  The Sabbath then should be seen as an example of ceremonial law.   Aquinas believed a day of rest  does belong to what can be called natural law, but not the designation of a specific day  (p. 426).  Calvin calls the Sabbath “a time-bound application of a timeless principle”  (p. 428).   The major objection seems to be  the arbitrariness of designating a particular day, and this by Calvin and Luther who revel in the notion of God’s sovereignty and right to be arbitrary.   But Tonstad counters that it is not arbitrariness but rather God’s love for and faithfulness to his creation and creatures which explains the Sabbath. (pp,. 438-40.  I happen to agree with him about this, and he is right to criticize not only Platonized Christianity with no viable theology of the goodness of creation and embodied existence, but also the anti-Semitism of the early church. But none of these valid criticisms provide a warrant for the positive theology he asks Christians to embrace in regard to the Sabbath.

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