Dispensationalism has the modern evangelical church by the throat. The idea that the Old Testament is only valid when it is repeated in the New seems to be the predominant view of the day. In fact, I would argue (as I’m sure others have) that dispensationalism is the primary motivator behind a plethora of problems, some more serious than others – contemporary worship, the casting off of psalm-singing, the “alternative” views of Genesis, acceptance of homosexuality, ordination of women as elders, rejection of the Sabbath, and others.
Here I would like to specifically deal with one of those issues. Are modern Christians required to keep the Sabbath? What does the New Testament say? Is the fourth commandment binding for us? Let’s look at a couple of important passages in the New Testament used by dispensationalists.
Romans 14:5-6 says, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
In the context of this passage (vv. 1-4), Paul is discussing the eating of meat offered to idols and discussing special religious day when one would fast or not fast. So, when Paul speaks of holding one day above another, he is talking about the special Jewish fasts and dietary laws. Believers are not required to keep special feast days or empty religious rituals. Paul also points out that a person could either eat meat or not eat meat and they could agree to disagree. They could either fast on those days or not fast and they could agree to disagree. In other words, these “days” that Paul is speaking of had more to do with manmade religious rituals and holidays than with the Sabbath which was instituted by God.
The keeping of the Sabbath, as commanded by God, is not negated here.
Galatians 4:10 says, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”
Here Paul was being critical of the Jewish heretics that had crept into the church. They were telling the Galatian Christians that they had to be circumcised, follow the ceremonial law, and keep the Sabbaths and the Jewish holidays in order to be saved. Paul’s point in this passage is that none of those things can be relied upon for salvation. If they relied on the Sabbath for salvation, they would not find it. This didn’t mean, however, that Paul was against the Sabbath. He was against using it as a means of salvation.
Colossians 2:16-17 say, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of any holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
The situation at Colosse was quite a bit different. With the Romans, he was dealing with fasting and eating meat. With the Galatians, he was dealing with legalism that said Jewish Sabbath-keeping was required for salvation. With the Colossians, however, Paul is addressing a strange combination of false teachings. In verse 18, for example, some were being encouraged to worship angels.
Again, the context is the determining factor. In verse 15, Paul talks about the great spiritual triumph that Christ gives. Because of that, Paul says, no one should judge us in regard to “meat…drink…holy days…new moons, or of Sabbath days.” Why? Because we don’t need any manmade interpretations and we don’t need any manmade rituals or ideas. As verse 17 says, “Those things are shadows, but Christ is the body.”
In Colosse, the Sabbath was kept in connection with false teachings, with pagan worship, and with manmade regulations and rules. Christ came to set people free from those kinds of false teachings, so the Sabbath was no longer to be kept in that way.
I want you to notice that all of these passages have something in common. They all condemn false Sabbath-keeping. They all condemn manmade regulations and rules for the Sabbath. Paul does not condemn the fourth commandment and he doesn’t nullify it, he simply tells us not to misuse it or corrupt it. Essentially, Paul is condemning the same thing that Jesus did. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for misusing and adding to the Sabbath, for making it a burden rather than a rest.
So, what are we to think? The New Testament doesn’t expressly tell us to keep the Sabbath. However, it doesn’t have to because God’s Word is binding until He tells us it is not.