We have seen that the Confession points us back to Scripture and shows us that we not free to worship God any way we please. We know this somewhat instinctively, but even the most devout of us need to be reminded that God sets the standard for worship, not us. If that is true for preaching, prayers, singing, communion, and baptism, what about time and place? Are we free to assemble to worship whenever and however we want?
The Confession continues, As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God's appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord's Day; and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.
It only makes sense that because God determines what takes place in worship that he also determines when worship takes place. We should obviously make the point that private and family worship should happen regularly, if not daily. But here we are speaking specifically of Lord’s Day, gathered, corporate worship.
You do not have to read very far into the book of Kings and Chronicles to read that bad kings built high places and altars throughout Judah and Israel and that good kings tore those things down. God was to be worshiped as an assembly only in the temple in Jerusalem, the location that God chose to place his holy name.
When speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus clearly said that there was coming a time when there would no longer be a sacred place, such as the temple. When Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2, John interprets what Jesus had done by reading it through the lens of Zechariah 14 where it says, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (v.21).
Zechariah is speaking of a day when holiness and righteousness will no longer be confined to the temple in Jerusalem but will be found throughout the entire earth. That day will be marked by all of the traders and merchants who are buying and selling in the temple being removed. When John applies this truth to Jesus cleansing the temple, John is saying that the time when God’s people can worship anywhere has finally arrived.
The brick-and-mortar temple is no longer the only place for God’s assembly. But if the law of God remains, then the Sabbath is a perpetual commandment. The difference is that God established explicit means of keeping the Sabbath under the old covenant, and there are new means of keeping the Sabbath under the new covenant.
The light (or law) of nature makes it clear that God ordered creation around a day of worship. God was not so tuckered out that he needed a quick nap and so ordered the seventh day as a day of rest at creation. God does not rest nor sleep, so the Sabbath was an ordinance of God for mankind, not for him.
God instituted a Sabbath at creation, he expanded upon it in the ten commandments, and it was reordered to be kept on Sunday after the resurrection of Christ. The means of keeping the Sabbath, looking back at creation and forward to redemption, was markedly different before and after the resurrection of Christ. The fourth commandment looked back at creation and its goodness and would continue to be a commemoration of salvation from slavery in Egypt. Under the new covenant, the Sabbath would be a callback to the fact of a new creation and an even greater redemption in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath.
Isaiah 58 repeatedly calls the Sabbath the Lord’s holy day, a phrase picked up by the early church when it called Sunday the Lord’s Day (E.G., Revelation 1:10). Perhaps most telling is that the Sabbath was a day of assembling for worship, and that pattern continued into the new covenant, though now on Sunday. For these reasons, and many more, the Christian rightly understands the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as the Christian Sabbath. As Hebrews tells us, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (4:9-10). Jesus is our Sabbath rest, because he has accomplished all that was necessary to enter into the rest to which the Sabbath of the old covenant pointed toward.
The Confession continues, The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe a holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
The Lord’s Day is special to God, meaning his people order their affairs so they can assemble with his people and worship him in spirit and in truth. There is no Church of St. Mattress or “watching” worship from home. Practices such as live-streaming are helpful for pandemics, the sick, their caregivers, or those whose “duties of necessity and mercy” prevent them from assembling. But people show they misunderstand the purpose of the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, when they think participating looks like stretching out on their couch.
We all understand obligations. Your job has certain obligations. Your family has certain obligations. And if the Lord’s obligations take a back seat to all of those, consider whether or not you understand what the assembly of God’s people is really for. We must all order our affairs before Sunday so that Lord’s Day worship is a given, not a convenience if nothing else is happening.
Obviously there are those who work in healthcare or are first responders who qualify for “duties of necessity and mercy.” There are those whose family situations are complex at best. There are even be situations where employment is necessary. I believe there is grace in those situations. Every-day responsibilities do not disappear. Food needs prepared. Diapers need changed. That does not negate the fact that it is good to set aside all that is possible to make worship such a priority that there is no close second.
But while I do not want to bind anyone’s conscience in secondary or tertiary matters, the Lord’s Day is worth taking a look at how we keep it. We should not think that God has been silent on the matter.