The Sabbath: Touchstone of Christianity?

20140215-053609.jpgBy Leif L.

What is the spiritual touchstone of Christianity? In the last post I proposed that each religion has a touchstone, a particular characteristic that claims to offer access to the divine, or a ritual that is an interface between God and mankind. The Sabbath represents this point of connection in Judaism; indeed, it defines who God is to the Jew.

“Touchstone” Series:

1. The Sabbath: Touchstone of Spiritual Reality?
2. The Sabbath and the Touchstone of Christianity
3. The Spiritual Touchstone of Adventism
4. The Spiritual Touchstone of Sabbatarianism
5. The Sabbath: Touchstone Fulfilled

In this post, we will examine what the touchstone of spiritual reality is in the Christian faith. This is the sixth part of a series of articles about the Sabbath.

Spiritual Touchstone of Christianity

Like Judaism, Christianity has a unique central feature that claims to provide a way for humanity to draw near to God. It is not something that we do to earn God’s favour, but something that God did, so that we could be acceptable to him. Through one single act, the relationship between God and man that was broken by sin, was healed.

This touchstone is the historical event of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The spiritual reality is his broken body, and the blood that he shed on our behalf.

As a symbol, it is represented by the cross of Christ. Those two beams, the intersecting horizontal and vertical timbers of the cross, can be understood to represent the human and the divine, meeting at the centre point. The paradoxes illustrated by the cross indicate its importance as the touchstone of the Christian faith:

God became a man so that mankind may be
restored to God’s image

The sinless was condemned so that the
sinner could be freed

The innocent was punished so that the
guilty could be acquitted

The immortal died so that those subject to death
may live forever

Through death came life; by ignominy was brought honour; in pain, the pleasure of God. By bearing the thorns of the curse, blessing has come to mankind. This is the meaning of the cross to the Christian faith.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NKJV)

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 NKJV)

As a ritual practice, it is represented by the remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice paid for our redemption, through a communal meal. The Lord’s Supper is the celebration of the New Testament people of God, commanded by our Lord Himself to the Christian church:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “ Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “ This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NKJV)

The object of early Christian worship was not the remembrance or setting aside of a special day of the week, as was the Jewish custom, but the celebration of a particular event.  When they met together “as a church”, it was for the purpose of sharing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18-20).

Israel had a remembrance ritual, in the Sabbath.

And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15 NKJV)

This is where we see a parallel between the old covenant sign of remembrance, and the new covenant sign of remembrance. They lie at the heart of  each respective system, inextricably connected with each covenant:

The old covenant:

Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. (Exodus 31:16 NKJV)

The new covenant:

For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28 NKJV)

These events are analogous.

Old covenant > Remember > the Sabbath
New covenant > Remember > the Lord’s Supper

The old covenant sign of the sabbath was fixed around recurring event in time: the Sabbath. The new covenant remembrance is a meal that does not have a fixed schedule – after Pentecost, believers met daily to break bread (Acts 2:42, 46). Later on, they are recorded celebrating on the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). In this case, “when the disciples came together to break bread” communicates purpose; the act of breaking bread is clearly the central objective for their gathering.

Closing remark: This post is not written with the intent to be condescending to either the Sabbath or the Jewish people. It’s intention is for Christians who may have confused the distinctions of Judaism and Christianity (the old and new covenants), who believe that the covenant sign of Israel is a basic and essential Christian practice, and as such is an important theological reference point for the Christian faith.

The following article in this series will demonstrate the primary emphasis placed on the Sabbath (rather than the cross) by Seventh-day Adventists.

Page updated December 31, 2014

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