How Is the Sabbath Misunderstood?

The observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, has a long and complex history in America. The Puritans who settled in New England in the 1600s were known for their strict observance of the Sabbath, and laws were enacted to enforce Sabbath-keeping. During the colonial period, the dominant form of Christianity was Congregationalism and the Sabbath was strictly observed. With the Great Awakening in the 1700s, a more relaxed attitude towards the Sabbath emerged, and the revivalist movement led by figures such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield encouraged a more joyful and less legalistic approach to Sabbath-keeping.

In the 19th century, Sabbath observance became a matter of controversy as the country became more industrialized and Sunday labor became more common. The growth of immigrant populations, particularly Irish and Catholic immigrants, added to the diversity of Sabbath-keeping practices in America.

In the 20th century, the rise of leisure time and the decline of religious observance led to a further relaxation of the strict observance of the Sabbath, but for many Americans it remains an important concept, especially in more conservative and religious communities.The specific practices and customs associated with observing the Sabbath can also vary depending on whether one follows the Jewish, Christian, or another religious tradition.

The Bible teaches the importance of rest, both physically and spiritually. In the book of Genesis, God “rested” on the seventh day after giving structure and order to the cosmos (Genesis 1:1-2:3). In Exodus 20:8-11 (and Deuteronomy 5:12-15), the fourth of the Ten Commandments states that every seventh-day should be a day of rest, in remembrance of day when God rested. Many people think this is all the Old Testament has to say on the topic. But there is much more to the concept of sabbath rest.

In the New Testament, in Hebrews 3-4, the author writes about a “rest” that remains for the people of God and encourages believers to strive to enter that rest. This is often misunderstood by Christians to be a reference to spiritual rest in God, which comes from faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. But the author of Hebrews is writing to believers who have already come to faith, and suggests “rest” isn’t automatically triggered by an initial faith experience.

Overall, the Bible emphasizes the importance of taking time for rest and worship, both for physical and spiritual renewal. But what if we’ve misunderstood some of the basic constructs of this concept. The Bible presents a fully developed and robust theology of biblical rest. Modern day believers often truncate the whole theology into just one or two of its parts. What if true sabbath rest isn’t at all what we think it is?

If that’s true… then it might be time to rethink rest.

Why Should We Look Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow?

I spent most of 2016… and some of 2017… completing the “Major Project” for my Doctor of Ministry degree. Attached is a copy of my doctoral work, Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow: A Biblical Understanding and Application of Godly Rest. If you were hoping for more detail than the Rethinking Rest material affords, you might find that in this project.

You can download a free PDF copy here: Beyond the Sabbath’s Shadow – Gregory D. Hall

How Culture Confuses the Puzzle of the Sabbath

I’m wondering how you ended up at this website reading a post about “rest”. Of all the things people are reading about these days, what caused you to stop here just now? I suppose there are lots of reasons one might have but what are those reasons for you?

Whatever your motivation, I’m guessing you wouldn’t refuse if someone offered you a satisfying recipe for rest and a compelling argument to rethink what it means. The Bible studies and ideas I’ve presented on RethinkingRest.com are representative of why I have completely changed the way I approach rest. Not only have my definitions of “rest” changed, but the practical application isn’t the same either. 

And it’s not what you are thinking. This site isn’t one that will try to settle arguments about what day the Sabbath is or what activities are approved and which should be avoided on such a day. You’ll find this to be a completely different perspective on the topic. It will be a refreshing break from the tired Sabbath discussions that seem to have occupied a generation of evangelicals. 

I grew up in the middle of those discussions. 

I also grew up playing baseball. There was a strong Little League tradition in our small community. One of the years I was in middle school (in the early 1980’s), our local high-school baseball team made it to the playoffs. Most of the post-season games that year were played on week days after school, but the championship game happened to be scheduled for a Saturday afternoon. Normally this is a great idea. It allows teams and families time to travel. 

That particular year, one of the best pitchers on the team (and his family) consistently observed a 7th-Day Sabbath. Their family took Saturdays off from many of their normal weekday activities for religious purposes. As the team kept winning their playoff games, I remember there being great conversation in the community about whether the star pitcher would choose to play if they made it to the championship game.

They did keep winning… and they qualified to play that Saturday afternoon. After much discussion (and I’m assuming prayerful consideration as well)… the pitcher decided to play in the title game. Even though they lost a close one-run contest, the conversation surrounding the decision to play, or not, made an early impact on me.

That baseball season was just a couple years after the movie Chariots of Fire won four Academy Awards (including Best Picture).  For those who haven’t seen it, Chariots of Fire is a film based on the true story of two British Olympic athletes in the 1924 games. In the movie one of the athletes, Eric Liddell, is favored to win the 100-meter race. Liddell is a devout religious man and He refuses to run in a qualifying heat because it is held on Sunday. 

Though I was young at the time, I remember being somewhat confused about how many different ideas and practices there were regarding this sacred concept. One athlete refuses to run on Sunday, another doesn’t know if he should play baseball on Saturday. These ambiguities, and many others like them, have lead to a general state of confusion for many. It is common for followers of Jesus to second guess what the sabbath is and how they should respond to it. 

I think we can all agree, biblical rest is a confusing topic. I grew up attending church, and one might think church attendance would have brought more clarity to the topic, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. On the contrary, it was in the church that I found great diversity in how people thought about biblical rest. Most assumed rest was simply one variation or another of observing the Sabbath (the fourth commandment). For years that’s what I assumed too.

For me, early confusion about the topic lead to apathy and eventually, even though I remained a believer in Christ, I lost interest in the Sabbath. It was later in life, while in my Master’s program, that I began to re-engage with the topic. It was in a Bible class, studying the book of Hebrews, that I began to ask new questions about biblical rest. It is those questions, and the answers that followed, that lead to a surprising discovery, a greater understanding, and the desire to write about this topic.

I invite you to dive in with me and discover why it is we should be rethinking what we think we know about rest.