The Fourth Commandment – A Christian Science Perspective, Part One

INTRODUCTION

Jesus had a mission to fulfill. He was heading to a final confrontation with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. He told his disciples what was to come, including that Jesus was to be put to death. Peter, true to form, rebelled against this. He was rebuked by Jesus. It was God’s will that Jesus must follow, not the will of man. Even so, Jesus paused in his journey to Jerusalem. It appears he may have wanted to confirm for himself, one more time, that he was doing the right thing, before continuing his journey.

We can read an account of Jesus’ experience on the “Mount of Transfiguration” in the book of Mark:

“And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.”

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found himself in the presence of Moses and Elias. According to Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Moses represents the Law of God and the moral courage to follow it. Elias symbolized Prophesy, the spiritual evidence of God as opposed to the testimony of the material senses (See “Glossary” of Science and Health, page 585). Together, the Law and the Prophets brought reassurance and comfort to Jesus, and the vision of success to carry him through the upcoming ordeal of the crucifixion. This experience transformed Jesus’ appearance. He was radiant. It might have been tempting to stay there, to linger in this inspiration, but Jesus descended the mountain and back into the chaos of human need, and the tragic events that awaited him below.

This experience brings to mind a statement by Mary Baker Eddy in her Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She writes: “Beholding the infinite tasks of truth, we pause, — wait on God. Then we push onward, until boundless thought walks enraptured, and conception unconfined is winged to reach the divine glory.” (S&H 323)  Jesus had important work do, but by taking time to go up into the Mount,

he “remembered” to pause and “wait on God” before resuming his mission. This is, perhaps, an indication of what a true Sabbath should be.

Now, let us take a look at how the disciples of Jesus handled this awe-inspiring event on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had earned the opportunity to join Jesus on the mountain. They, too, bore witness to the appearance of Moses and Elias, and heard the voice of God. But, at that time, they were so moved and shaken, they were not quite sure what to do in response. Peter demonstrated for us the natural human instinct to such a divine experience: he wanted to organize a building committee!  He suggested they build three tabernacles, or booths, to commemorate and prolong the moment. His motion appeared to die for lack of a second. Jesus directed his disciples not to discuss this incident until he had risen from the dead, perhaps indicating that until Peter and the other followers had found the risen Christ in their hearts (in addition to waiting until the resurrection of Jesus), it would be best not to offer their precious insights and experience as fodder for what may be a dull and ungrateful community.

WHICH KIND OF SABBATH SHOULD WE REMEMBER:

Building and maintaining “tabernacles” is not necessary for our Sabbath worship and communion with God. But, as Jesus demonstrated, pausing to turn to God to seek His will and guidance through His Law and Prophecy, can be a divine and holy experience no matter where we are, or what day of the week it is.

Question: How often in our busy lives do we stop to “wait on God”? Once a week, perhaps, when we go to church? Once a year, such as on Easter? Only when we are in really, really big trouble? Or, only when we are really, really happy at something going the way we had wanted it to, and we praise God for giving it to us?

Setting aside time on a regular basis to approach God, and to be alone with Him, and listen to His particular message for us in a spirit of humility and yearning, is what the “Sabbath” is all about. It is a willingness to give up doing things our way for God’s way. It is accepting God as the Supreme Being who rules the universe. It is recognizing that God governs, and that we must be obedient to Him if we want to fulfill our part in God’s gracious plan for His creation. It is taking a physical and mental rest from all the worldly activities that wear us down, or that seem to drain our human resources, and giving this same opportunity for rest to those in our service or care. In the teachings of Christian Science, the Fourth Commandment provides an important metaphysical lesson, as well, which I will discuss later.

From what is recorded in Exodus 20, the Sabbath does not appear to be a divine requirement to go to a particular denominational church, approved by God, on a certain day of our calendar. It is not a divine requirement to enact laws requiring all citizens to abstain from work designated by the lawmakers or church officials. It is not a call to place burdens on others in order to fulfill public or religious traditions, or to self-righteously segregate church-goers from non-church-goers. It is not an excuse for checking off church attendance on our mental To Do list, and then forgetting about God and His commandments the rest of the week. It is a most sacred commandment that needs to be released from the burdens of traditional thinking and seen from a more spiritual perspective.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The term “sabbath” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to desist” or “to break off.” The word “holy” means to set apart to the service of God, evoking or meriting veneration, or awe, and sacred.

There is evidence that the Hebrews were already taking a “sabbath” rest before the Commandments were given to Moses in Mount Sinai. In Exodus 16:23-30, we read about the manna that God was going to provide the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness. They were instructed: “Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.”

There seems to be a debate among scholars as to whether or not the Hebrews picked up the tradition of a seventh’s day rest from the Babylonians. The Babylonians had laws in which their kings and priests were to stop certain activities at the time of the new moon. It is also possible that the Hebrews may have been influenced by rituals of the Canaanites. We do know that the rhythm of life at that time revolved around the seasons, the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. We see in the story of Noah several mentions of “other seven days,” as if the concept of a week had already taken the form of seven days.

You may be thinking, “what about the seven days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis; wasn’t that first?” Actually, no! According to the dozen or so Bible commentaries I researched, it is a known fact that the first chapter of Genesis, and the first four verses of the second chapter, are from the “Priestly Code” — additions to the Old Testament stories that were written hundreds of years later at the time the Hebrews were exiled in Babylon (about 550-500 B.C.). These writings were interwoven with the earlier documents, and it is not always certain which verses belonged to which manuscripts. In the beginning of Genesis, the Priestly documents can be easily recognized by scholars from the “J” or “Yahwist” writings. There is also the “E,” or “Elohist” document, which starts at Genesis 15.

I bring this up because the Fourth Commandment as given in Exodus 20, is also a product of this intermixing of documents written at different times. The original commandment given to Moses is the familiar statement found in verse 8: “Remember the sabbath day to keep in holy.” The rest of the verses, which expounds upon verse 8, were part of the Priestly Code added hundreds of years later. Let us look at the whole statement of the Fourth Commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

The original commandment given to Moses did not describe what the Sabbath day was, or how it was to be commemorated. It did not identify it with God’s day of rest.  But, later, after the Jews had been in exile in Babylon, and the Sabbath day had taken on more significance to them, the writers of the Priestly Code created an addition to the Fourth Commandment which identified it with the seventh day of the Days of Creation. As the first chapter of Genesis was an inspired and instructive overture to the Bible, so this explanation added to the Fourth Commandment has given a fuller and clearer idea of the meaning behind the sabbath day, which is useful to us today on both literal and spiritual levels.

The Fourth Commandment instructs us to “Remember” the sabbath day. Since the Hebrews may have already been practicing a day of rest, they are possibly being told to remember this tradition of the past, in addition to being exhorted not to forget it in the future. What may have been new to the Hebrews, as the practice of the commandment evolved over time, was the instruction from the Priestly Code to give others in the household a day of rest, so that they would have the time to refresh their bodies and souls. I have to point out, though, that there is no mention given to the idea of letting wives and mothers have a day of rest! This does not come as a surprise.  After all, someone had to feed the guys taking the day off from work!

THE SABBATH FALLS VICTIM TO ABUSE

Even though the original intent of God’s commandment was both humanitarian and a simple call to remember Him — a wonderful way to unite with God — the Fourth Commandment evolved, instead, into a yoke that enslaved the Hebrews to the terrible burdens of countless rules and regulations that were petty and illogical, and created avenues of hypocrisy. It is a bit of irony that the one commandment meant to ease the stress and strain of human life should be the source of so much stress itself.

This burden did not come from the Commandment as God gave it, but from the human opinions and interpretations of the Priests. The enslavement of others to what they believed was the correct way to obey this law led to the height of unreasonableness during the Maccabean revolt in 165 BC , when the Jews refused to do the work necessary to defend themselves because it was a Sabbath — and their enemies took advantage of them.

JESUS AND THE SABBATH DAY

We read in Luke 4:16: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” We know from that passage, and elsewhere in the Gospels, that it was the custom of Jesus to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day. But, we also know that he challenged the Pharisees on their concept of what obedience to the Fourth Commandment was. On several occasions he healed the sick on the Sabbath, and was severely criticized by the Pharisees. On another day, his disciples were chastised for picking corn to eat on the Sabbath. But Jesus defended their actions. He declared “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” (Matthew 2:28)

One Bible verse that is of interest, and might make a good topic of discussion in a Sunday School class is from John 9:16: “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.”

What this verse shows us is that even Jesus was criticized for not keeping the Sabbath in just the way the Pharisees had deemed correct. But we know now that they were judging the very Son of God. Perhaps we might learn from this that it is not up to us to decide whether or not people are sinning if they do not go to church, or conduct any part of their lives in the way that our personal church beliefs would dictate. We have no idea what is in a person’s heart, or whether or not that heart is open to God. Only God can judge. The apostle Paul would later write the
Colossians: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

THE SABBATH AND THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH

As we see from that quotation of Paul above, the new followers of Christ, the early Christians, were being told that it was not necessary to follow the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath. Paul was glimpsing that the old rituals were but “a shadow of things to come,” hinting that there was a better way of worshipping and communing with God. Bible commentators point out that in Acts 15:20, 29, where Gentiles are being told what would be required of them, the Sabbath was not included. We also know that the early Christians at first worshipped on both the Jewish Sabbath and what is known as the “Lord’s Day.” The Lord’s Day is the term given to the first day of the
week — Sunday — which was when Jesus was resurrected. Over time, the Christians saw that there were too many theological differences with the Jewish teachings, and they eventually switched to the “Lord’s Day” as the Christian day of worship. About 100 A.D., the first service book of the Christian church, “The Didache,” the teaching of the Twelve Apostles, included this: “On the Lord’s Day come together, break bread, and hold Eucharist.”

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr provided us with a description of what the Christians did at their service: “On the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we said before, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen. There is a distribution to each and a participation in that over which thanks has been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well-to-do and willing to do so give what each thinks fit. What is collected is deposited with the president, who gives help to the orphans and widows, and to those who through illness or any other cause are in want, and to those who are in bonds, and to the strangers among us, and to all who are in need.” (First Apology 67)

We can see that the early Christians were obeying the Fourth Commandment, if it is
interpreted as remembering to worship God. But, what about the Jewish explanation that the Sabbath was to be a literal day of rest, as well? William Barclay, in his book on “The Ten Commandments,” explains (pg 22): “There is no doubt at all that from the early second century onwards — and perhaps even earlier — the Lord’s Day has completely displaced the Sabbath, and that the two are never confused, and are even contrasted with each other . . . There is no indication that the Lord’s Day was a day when all work was suspended. Simply on the grounds it could not have been. In the very earliest days it was to the humbler members of society that the Christian faith
most appealed. It was obviously impossible for a servant, and still more for a slave, to take a whole day off work in a pagan society.”

There were other opinions about church worship at that time, as well. Barclay writes:
“Origen (AD 240) apologizes for the special observance of any day at all. The Sunday is observed as a concession to the weaker brothers because they are either unable or unwilling to keep every day in this way, and so require some visible reminders to prevent spiritual things from passing altogether out of their minds.” (“Against Celsus” 8.22.23)

Origen’s sentiment would find common ground with those today who feel that church
organization and attendance is something that should eventually be out-grown in order to worship and adore God on a more spiritual level, and to find rest in the reign of God, our divine Principle, Love. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote a number of statements suggesting that some day her followers might want to leave “organized” church behind them. For instance, she writes: “The Church, more than any other institution, at present is the cement of society, and it should be the bulwark of civil and religious liberty. But the time cometh when the religious element, or Church of Christ, shall exist alone in the affections, and need no organization to express it.” (Mis. 145) This was written over a century ago, so, perhaps, the time has come.

THE PENDULUM SWINGS BACK AND FORTH

If the early church “powers that be” had only left the Fourth Commandment to individual interpretation and practice, there is no telling where Christianity would be now.

Christian Scientists are aware that Mrs. Eddy’s original church was formed to “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” She also states elsewhere that this healing ability was lost about three centuries after the crucifixion. You will see from the historical tidbits described below, why the early Christians may have lost their healing power. As William Barclay puts it (pg. 23): “Above all, there was the increasing stress laid on the obligatory nature of the services of the
Church. The more the Church was organized, the more the Lord’s Day became specifically a ‘religious’ day.”

First, we see that the church is becoming more organized, rather than based upon the early voluntary associations of eager participants, who did or gave what they could. Then, in 321 A.D., Constantine, the emperor of the Roman Empire who became a Christian, passed an act requiring everyone to stop work on the Lord’s Day (farmers excepted). Now, we see Christianity being “legalized” by the state. Again, removing it farther from the voluntary nature that Christianity should be.

Over the centuries, scholars such as Alcuin (A.D. 735-804) and Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225-74) concluded that the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day were one and the same, and that work should cease on Sundays. According to Barclay, “this was a complete reversal of the position of the early Church,” and “it was not long before the Church was drawing up as detailed Lord’s Day prohibitions as ever the Pharisees did.”

Then the Reformers came along, and decided that the Lord’s Day was not the same as the Sabbath, and that the Jewish law was not to be obeyed by the Christians. Martin Luther said that servants should have a day of rest, so they can hear God’s word, but that it is not important what day it was. Calvin stated: “The observance of days among us is a free service and void of all superstition.” The Reformers, too, saw the need for a day of rest, but that it should be done freely and on any given day, and should not be legally mandated.

The issue of the Sabbath, and whether or not Christians should observe it as a day of rest from work, continued to be debated. But, then, the Puritans came to power, and according to Barclay, “between 1644 and 1656 a series of ever more severe Sunday Observance laws was passed.” Again, the Jewish Sabbath and the Lord’s Day had become one.

The above historical summary was intended to show that whatever denomination you are, and whatever its Sabbath traditions, very few can prove that those traditions can be called “divinely authorized.” Fallible humans are generally responsible for the rules and rituals imposed upon the modern day Sabbath.

End of Part One

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