Tebow, Evangelicals, and the Sabbath

The evangelicals in Denver and Colorado Springs are said to be quite excited about Tim Tebow’s immanent arrival to the Mile High city. He’s been drafted by the Denver Broncos, and former Colorado Buffaloes football coach Bill McCartney says that Tim brings with him not only an ability to move the pocket, scramble, and score in the red zone but according to a story by Electra Draper in the Denver Post, he’s also bringing something else:

There is an anointing on Tim and his family,” McCartney said. “He’s one of those guys who comes along who has God’s handprints all over him.

Being an NFL quarterback brings with it a lot of pressure and he is apparently carrying extra pressure. The Post article uses fairly messianic terms for him. One 15-year old calls him the “Mile High Messiah.” According to Post Coach McCartney (Director of Promise Keepers) he is “going to make a difference for Denver’s poor and oppressed.”

I understand that Tebow is not responsible for the things said about him. I understand that he’s a devoted evangelical and that he has lived his faith in ways that would shame most of us. Nevertheless, the specter of Tebow standing on the sidelines, holding a clipboard for the next few years until he gets up to speed makes me a little uncomfortable. You see, the Broncos, Tebow’s new employer, play their games on Sunday. For Reformed Christians, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Assembly, that’s the Christian Sabbath. The One who actually did set captives free and bring healing in his wings was raised from the dead on that day. On the first day of the week the women and the disciples went to the tomb and it was empty because Jesus had inaugurated the new creation. Everyone who is united to Christ by his Spirit, by grace alone, through faith alone, participates (2 Cor. 5) in that new creation. Everyone who is so united to Christ, who has entered into his rest, has begun the everlasting Sabbath (Heb. 4) and we observe that day by ceasing from our labor, by ceasing to enslave others, and by attending to worship and the means of grace. As much as I love football, especially Nebraska Cornhusker football, I’m quite certain that football is not the “rest” envisioned by Scripture and it is not the means of grace.

I understand that most evangelicals are committed theologically to only 9 commandments, but Reformed folk confess all 10 commandments. Jesus signaled the change in the Sabbath day and the end of the Mosaic ceremonial system as clearly as he could (by his death and resurrection) but he didn’t abolish the creational institution of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27) any more than he abolished the creational institution of marriage (Matt. 19:8). Neither Tebow nor the Broncos were raised from the dead. Neither Tebow nor the Broncos can raise anyone from the dead. Therefore, until they can, I suppose it is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8) and not not they who get to set the day.

The NFL is big business. They have no time for a Sabbath. Presumably, given the pressing schedule of game day in the NFL, Tim will not be resting. If he does, it could be hazardous to his health. There will be linebackers who will make sure that he does not get much rest on the field. I suppose he won’t be attending to the “due use of ordinary means” but that he will make do with the local evangelical team chaplain but that’s not exactly Sabbatical in nature. Why should evangelicals (and especially Reformed folk) be excited about a professional Sabbath breaking? Are they also enthused about those Broncos who commit adultery or steal?

Tim is said to be working on his throwing mechanics. He’s going to face defensive backs who’ve been reading quarterback’s eyes since Timmy was in grammar school. It’s good that he has Ephesians 2:8-10 in his eye black. Now that he’s playing on Sundays one wonders if he’ll put Exodus 20:8 in his eye black now? (HT: Aquila Report)

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. “I’m quite certain it is not the “rest” envisioned by Scripture and it is not the means of grace&emdash;not even the fullback trap or the long -forgotten wingback reverse that Tom Osborne coached to perfection.”

    What did you mean past the “… not the means of grace … ” line?

  2. American evangelicals have their Tim Tebow and Super Bowl. Filipino evangelicals have their Manny Pacquiao, even though Pacquiao is not an evangelical. Many Filipino evangelicals skip the Christian Sabbath to watch Pacquiao beat up (and get beat up by) his friends.

  3. I’m holding out hope that one of these days a college superstar will announce that he’s not going to pursue pro ball because the NFL plays on the Sabbath. How awesome that would be. The 4th commandment really has been lost in American evangelicalism, that’s for sure.

  4. Thanks for the post, Dr. Clark.

    As a born and bred Gator fan, I have thoroughly enjoyed the success of the Gators with Meyer at the helm and Tebow in the pocket. However, I knew the day would come when he would be drafted and when the Sabbath issue would be forced. I’m sure the evangelical spin cycle will churn out the usual rationalizations: Tebow will use his Sundays to be a witness to the lost fans of the NFL (Bucs fans, mostly), all of life is worship, “whether you pass or rush, do everything to glory of God”, and the like.

    From my experience watching and following sports with pagans, I can attest to the fact that the innovative method of eye-black evangelism (EBE) is very ineffective among the lost who see Tebow’s out-in-the-open faith as grating and annoying. Even those fans who root for him and provide a defense for his outspokenness do so because they see it as integral to his dominance as a player and the key to his team’s success (to paraphrase Mike Horton, “Follow Jesus and He will coach you to the Super Bowl”). In a similar vein, the whole Super Bowl pro-life commercial controversy: I grant only the best of intentions to the Tebows, but the underlying selling point of the ad was “if you keep you baby, he may grow up to be one of the most celebrated college athletes of all time.'”
    (I’ll move on since the guys at the Outhouse covered this in depth here: http://confessionalouthouse.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/focus-on-football%E2%80%A6and-family/)

    I wonder if Tebow’s unbelieving defenders would be so cordial and accommodating to his religious expression if he had delivered losing seasons. I am confident that his faith would be blamed for his failure, and it would be cited as a distraction (“He needs to get nose out of the Bible and into a playbook” would be a refrain across sports blogs).

    My apologies for the lengthy comment; now future commenters will have to read my ramblings before they have a chance to voice an opinion or ask a question.

    My main question is this: can I justify my love and support of college football (whose games are almost exclusively played on Saturday) with the fact that it is used primarily as a launching pad for NFL careers (where sabbath breaking is pretty much a prereq)? Am I an “accessory before the fact” for Sabbath breakers? Can I watch Monday Night Football with a clear conscience? Does the argument carry over to my frequenting of 24/7 stores like Wal-Mart?

    Some Gator trivia: all three of UF’s Heisman Trophies were won by QBs whose father’s were/are ministers. The first two (Spurrier and Wuerffel) were Presbyterian (the latter PCA), while Tebow is Evangelical Baptist. I am concerned with UF’s latitudinarian recruiting policies as of late…(/sarcasm)

    • They’ll take whoever they can get now that Saban & co. have set up shop in Tuscaloosa. Prepare for your visit on 10/02/2010.

      Roll Tide!

      32 – 12!

  5. Here in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the regional religion. Pittsburgh was once known for the prominence of its Presbyterians; they were the first Europeans to settle in the region, back in the mid and late 18th century, when Pittsburgh was not much more than a fort in an otherwise unbroken wilderness. But today even conservative Presbyterians settle down on Sunday afternoons and Sunday evenings to enjoy their day of rest while watching Big Ben and his teammates make mincemeat out of the opposition.

    It’s dismaying to see such disregard for the Lord’s Day.

    I find the Sabbath command one of the hardest commands to keep. All around us the cultural pressure is so opposed to it, and that immense pressure affects me, too. It’s tempting to despair of any improvement on this point in the Reformed churches here. The decline of Lord’s Day observance over the last few decades in this region is immense.

    • Matt,

      The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, to which many Reformed and Presbyterian Churches subscribe and require for ordination, teaches that the Lord’s Day is to be entirely set aside from other days of the week—for public and private worship, and for holy rest. Aside from the public and private exercises of worship, works of necessity are not forbidden; works of mercy are much commended.

      I’m PCA. Many PCA ordinands take what’s called an “exception” to the standards, stating that they believe that noncommercial recreation is also permissible on the Lord’s Day. A walk in the park with the wife and kids? Others defend the walk in the park as a form of rest, and therefore not an exception at all. But approving what’s called commercial recreation— involving somebody making a living from the activity—that’s clearly out of the picture for most PCA presbyteries.

      If we want to follow the Westminster Standards, watching football on Sunday doesn’t pass muster.

  6. See the following film review of the movie ‘Invictus’ (about Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa) that shows how sport were used to help bring in the non-Christian marxist-revolutionary messianic ‘new’ South Africa (that are currently crumbling under heavy political, economical, moral failures, especially crime devasting SA, that effects all peoples of SA):


    ps. not that I were not glad about SA winning the World Cup in 1995 and 2007, but the political influence and (mis)use of our sport makes it very difficult to enjoy sport just for sport’s sake.

  7. It is true that the Westminster Confession of Faith says that the first day of the week is the “Christian sabbath.”

    VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by 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:[34] 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,[35] which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day,[36] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[37] See XXI:7

    However, this is not the position taken by other Reformed confessions. Actually, the Decalogue says Saturday is the sabbath. There is nothing in Scripture which normalizes Sunday as a new “sabbath.” The prooftexts given in the WCF for this are a bit weak.

    At least one other Reformed confession simply says that we should set aside one day out of seven for gathering together for worship. It does not specify that Sunday is that day, although Christian history and tradition bears out Sunday as the regular day for that observance.

    Also, there are those Christians who by the nature of their jobs are compelled to work on Sundays. Are we to say that they cannot attend the Wednesday evening service as keeping sabbath?

    Keeping sabbath assumes all sorts of legalistic aspects that turn out to actually defy the principle of grace and entering into God’s rest. Of course, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. But maybe Tim Tebow can do that on Sunday evening rather than Sunday morning?

    Besides, Tebow is probably a Baptist on the Arminian side of things, which is another set of problems. Really, if someone is not working on Sunday by necessity, I agree agree that the Christian should be in church. But that is different from making it some sort of legalistic absolute necessary for salvation or justification.


  8. The Second Helvetic Confession Chapter XXIV says:

    THE TIME NECESSARY FOR WORSHIP. Although religion is not bound to time, yet it cannot be cultivated and exercised without a proper distribution and arrangement of time. Every Church, therefore, chooses for itself a certain time for public prayers, and for the preaching of the Gospel, and for the celebration of the sacraments; and no one is permitted to overthrow this appointment of the Church at his own pleasure. For unless some due time and leisure is given for the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be drawn away from it by their own affairs.

    THE LORD’S DAY. Hence we see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was set aside for them and for a holy rest, a practice now rightly preserved by our Churches for the sake of worship and love.

    SUPERSTITION. In this connection we do not yield to the Jewish observance and to superstitions. For we do not believe that one day is any holier than another, or think that rest in itself is acceptable to God. Moreover, we celebrate the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath as a free observance.

    Notice the emphasis in the 2nd Helvetic Confession is not the Law as a Sabbath law but rather upon the moral duty of a Christian to freely observe one day out of seven, a day appointed by the church as most convenient for all.

    Traditionally, that has been Sunday, the day of the resurrection, the Lord’s day. However, it is entirely possible that the day of worship set by a church could be on Monday or Tuesday if that is the day most convenient for those who worship there.

  9. Scott:

    I recognize the traidition in Reformed circles, however I am not sure where you see this requirement in the Heidelberger. The closest I am aware of is Q&A 103 which calls for church attendance, supporting “gospel ministry and education for it” (aka seminaries:) and that “that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways…” This is the CRC translation, perhaps this is watered down from what the URC now uses?

    • Kirk,

      Check out the discussion of the sabbath in RRC. There’s an entire chapter on it. There’s a great deal of continuity in the Reformed churches, from Calvin to the WCF, on the sabbath.

      • In RRC you suggest that “Sabbath” in Q&A 103 is synonymous to “Feiertag,” or the feast day. This seems improbable to me. The first part of the Q&A deals with the “feast day” and calls Christians to assembly on Sundays. The second part specifically says “all the days of my life I must rest from my evil works and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.” Both the phrase “all the days of my life” and the adjective “eternal” suggest the HC is not speaking here about the Christian sabbath in the sense of the WCF. This is one of the disagreements I have with RRC.

        The more major problem for your view, of course, is Paul’s teaching as found in Col 2:17 and Rom 14:5. Reformed exegetes that argue for a “Christian Sabbath” usually engage in special pleading on these verses. (Something along the lines of, “Paul doesn’t really mean the Sabbath!”)

  10. Tebow won’t be putting any Bible addresses on his eye black. The NFL has outlawed it.

    I’m looking forward to watching him play, however. I really enjoy a good pro football game.

  11. Back when Tebow won the Heismann, my brother-in-law was most impressed by him (Tebow) stating that he was a “Christian.” (My b-i-l isn’t close to being Reformed.) I had no desire to start an argument with him about that, but I agree with Dr. Clark. Playing any sport is keeping His Day holy? Also, Article 29 of the Belgic gives the marks of a Christian.

    I work in a school, and one of the teachers there went for Duke because “they have a number of Christians on the team.” Then why do they play games on Sunday?

  12. ” …One 15-year old calls him the “Mile High Messiah…”

    Hmmm… kinda reminiscent of the days when the kids back on the Philly playgrounds where Earl Monroe started developing his basketball skills used to refer to him as the “Black Jesus.” As they say in certain parts of the country, “…there’s somethin’ bad-wrong about this…”

  13. All,

    While I agree that Tim Tebow publicly and unashamedly breaking a commandment is wrong and unwise/poor-choice… I am troubled by the implications that many may be making (or seem to be) regarding Sabbath observance. Is it a commandment? Yes. Does he break it? Yes. Do I break it? Yes. Do I break other commandments – all of the commandments? Yes. Do I do so willingly, by choice? Absolutely yes- sin is by free will. At different times in my life I have broken all of these laws (that is, in their proper understanding, murder=hate, adultery=lust, etc). Yea, so even though I’m Reformed, I break the commandments, too.

    In fact, I am right now choosing to break the Sabbath, and I chose to do so when I chose MY career path – not the NFL, but the Army. The enemy here doesn’t take Sundays off, and so neither do we. Admittedly, this is a physical enemy I’m speaking of, not a spiritual one, etc, I understand all that, but I don’t think anyone in the chain of command is going to take that and give Sundays as a day of rest to an Army at war. By choosing this career, knowing it would mean deployments, knowing that deployments mean working 365 straight days (give or take a few)… am I as “bad” as Tim Tebow, living in unrepentant sin? I have been thinking about this ever since I deployed, and I feel the toll and wear and tear of the deployment, and wish for that day of rest and worship to focus on God. I understand and believe in the Sabbath. If by choosing to join an Army that deploys and fights 24/7/365, I chose to sin…. well, maybe I did. Maybe I’m just like Tim Tebow. But as it stands right now, I’m not convicted… just troubled by the discussion. For me, the implications are far-reaching, as are the implications for Christians in the Army (if one were to take this argument to its extreme end).

    Thoughts, anyone? Dr. Booth, if you’re around and reading this… what is your take? (and Go Army!)

      • Dr. Clark,
        Don’t forget Water Utilities operators and workers too. We have treat, test, and pump water 365 days a year. People always forget us, it’s a 24/7 job, no holidays off either [unless it’s your normal day off or you use vacation].

        Lucky I have enough seniority to have a shift with the Lord’s Day off, many don’t though.

        God Bless

    • Read what Stonewall Jackson and J. Gresham Machen both said — and both quite correctly said — about military service being a work of necessity on the Lord’s Day, and about the importance of officers being very careful what orders they give to their soldiers, knowing the soldiers are bound to obey but the officers are responsible for giving the orders.

      In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to deal with “hard cases” such as National Guard drills on the Lord’s Day in a peacetime environment, but that’s not been the case since 9/11 even for the National Guard. And if we lived in an ideal world we woudn’t need armies at all.

      At most, that’s an argument for Christians not becoming general officers in the National Guard; all enlisted men and most subordinate officers can legitimately say they are obeying orders of their superiors that they do not have the power to change, and on the active duty side, we’ve been engaged in war or preparations for war literally since 1940. I’m not sure that would apply to a state’s Adjutant General who could theoretically end Sunday training of the National Guard, but that’s for generals to consider, and not the lower ranks.

      And as for public utility workers — kindling a fire on the Lord’s Day to start it is not the same as putting in branches to keep the fire going. Using modern parallels, a construction worker should not work on the Lord’s Day to build the plant because that’s not a work of necessity. Keeping the plant operating once it’s built and people are relying on its power is a legitimate work of necessity — just as keeping the fire going or keeping the cows milked or feeding the goats.

    • So, Elijah, what are you saying? Your first paragraph seems to suggest we lay off Tebow because nobody’s perfect. Your second almost seems to suggest that choosing to sin is all right because you freely admit Sabbath breaking is sinful, as if forthrightness covers it.

      I’m all for liberally applied grace, and I’ve nothing against believers serving in the military, and I really appreciate forthrightness, but I don’t quite understand how any of that justifies sinning. And, nice a sentiment as it is, how does “wishing for that day of rest and worship to focus on God” do anything? I mean, can I tell my wife that I really wish I could keep the seventh because “I understand and believe” in marital fidelity? Again, I’ve no problem with believers serving. I just find your reasoning for it pretty odd. Sure seems like the necessity argument RSC suggests would serve you better.

      • Zrim,
        Seems to me that the necessity argument would serve me better, too! It just isn’t something that I am 100% confident in, hence my inconsistent reasoning. My response to the infidelity argument would be that no one can or will ever order you to cheat on your wife, but I am ordered to work Sundays, and I wish that it was not the case. You are correct that nice sentiment doesn’t justify sin, and that is indeed part of my dilemna… I have freely chosen a career that I knew would involve me subjecting myself to work on Sunday, is that OK because it is a “work of necessity” or should I pursue a career that doesn’t involve the armed forces or clean water supply or fire department work so that I can be free to observe the Sabbath?

        Also, I do think we should lay off Tebow a bit, but I think it’s the nature of high-profile people and blogs that we all might offer our opinions on him here.

        • Elijah, if we were living in the mid-1920s with Germany vanquished, the Ottoman Empire destroyed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire broken into pieces, Japan causing no problems to the West, European powers such as France and England focusing on their colonies and not on North America, Mexico stabilized with Pancho Villa no longer making incursions into our southern border, the pacifist movement rising, our economy booming, and no foreseeable enemy at our gates, then maybe — just maybe — we could argue that believers should be steered away from a military career because there are better things they could be doing with their time.

          We haven’t been in a position like that at any time since the re-militarization of Germany began in the 1930s. Since then, America has faced constant threats that required an active and well-armed military.

          That’s even more true now at any time since the end of World War II. We aren’t just facing a Cold War threat of military action — we were attacked eight and a half years ago by an enemy that will stop at nothing to destroy us. Stop and think for a moment — Dutch Christians under Nazi Germany suffered, but were treated tolerably well as long as they pledged allegience to the Nazi government. In fact, the Nazi collaborators included some of the most conservative elements of the German Lutherans and Dutch Reformed who believed it was better to live under the Nazis than under Soviet Communism. But if we capitulate to the enemy we face today, our enemies will stop at nothing until we are all dead or bowing the knee to their false prophet.

          I don’t think anyone in a post-9/11 environment can make a serious case that serving in the Army is not only a work of necessity, but one of the most important works of necessity out there.

          Quite frankly, Elijah, it’s what you are doing every day of the week including the Lord’s Day that gives us the freedom and the luxury to sit around in our armchairs and discuss theology on this message board. You’ve seen the bumper stickers, I’m sure, that say this: “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier.”

          I’m not sure which branch of the military you’re in. However, I live outside Fort Leonard Wood, which in addition to being a major Army installation also has the largest Marine Corps and Air Force detachments off a Marine or Air Force base and also has a Navy Seabee detachment. If you ever get stationed here or are assigned here for some sort of training, give me a call and I’ll take you out to lunch, thank you in person for your service, and give you a couple of different church referrals.

          • I can’t go back and edit my last post but I re-read your earlier posts and realized you said “Army,” not “military.” So thank you for your service specifically in the Army.

            And since it is therefore much more likely that you will be at Fort Leonard Wood at some time in the future, take me up on my suggestion to call me if you get PCSed here or sent here on TDY so I can thank you for your service in person. I mean it… not all of us in the media hate the military.

        • Elijah,

          As a Sabbatarian, sometimes I think we can go overboard in making the point against the evangelicals (or whoever else seems less than cognizant of the fourth). Yes, the fourth matters and every effort should be made. But without the necessity argument we end up saying believers mayn’t serve in a whole host of perfectly legitimate, lawful and worthy vocations that serve our neighbors. That just seems way off to me. So, I appreciate your dilemma, but I wonder if you might lay off yourself.

          As for laying off Tebow, it’s not a necessity, and the question I have for him is, What do you think the fourth is all about and if yours isn’t an example of breaking it then what would be? My hunch is that, like most of us who want to justify breaking a law, one might come up with an absurd example that never really happens–the urban legend approach where one compares himself down to easy devils and handily declares himself fit.

          • Very interesting discussion. I obviously don’t know what Tim would say, but at some point he will probably say something. His dad, Bob Tebow, is (gasp!!!!) dispensational, so it’s probably safe to say Tim is, too. So, I think we can infer from this that he sees the fourth commandment as a type anticipating the sabbath rest bought by Christ’s atonement and fulfilled, at least in a preliminary sense, by His resurrection. IOW, the sabbath as a distinct day of observance is an old covenant requirement, and the church as a new covenant people observe every day as a sabbath and (theoretically) everything we do every day is worship to be done to God’s glory. Said another way, the old covenant law (which is considered a unity) has been superseded by the law of Christ. Please do not hold me to theological precision. I am not a theologian! But we’ll see why he has decided to work on Sunday if and when he addresses the issue.

            I sincerely hope this does not derail and divert the thread to a dispie/covie debate because the question raised is important. My question is this: Why would anyone expect someone who does not hold to Sabbatarianism to observe it? I need to read RRC to better understand the issue, obviously, but I appreciate the comments here in the meantime.

            • Eileen wrote: “My question is this: Why would anyone expect someone who does not hold to Sabbatarianism to observe it?”

              This is an important issue. I’m all for majoring on the majors while not leaving the minors undone, and I realize we can’t make every single theological issue a key point. The problem is that if we really believe the Sabbath **IS** a commandment, it is **NOT** a minor issue.

              We need to consider Sabbath-breaking in the same context we consider violations of any other commandment, including murder, adultery, or anything else.

              Put bluntly, we can’t make this issue a minor issue. if we don’t treat Sabbbath-breaking as the major issue that it is, we open ourselves up to criticism from dispensationalists and outright unbelievers who say, “You don’t believe working on Sunday is violating the commandment, either, or you’d treat it differently.”

              There may be honest disagreements about the broader implications of some of the commandments — i.e., just when has a man crossed the line from being annoyed with his neighbor into hatred of his neighbor, which Jesus said was the same root sin as murder? Or when does a woman wearing inappropriate clothing cross the line from questionable attire to incitement to lust, which Jesus said was the same root sin as murder? Intentions **DO** make a difference, and there will be honest disagreements about things like that, though I think we need to be very careful that we’re not trying to “push the edges” on behavior which, even if it’s not sinful, can easily lead to sin.

              If one person believes it’s okay for their children to play a friendly game of catch on the Lord’s Day in the church playground on the grounds that it is “rest” and another person believes that it sinful sporting on the Lord’s Day, it’s probably best to leave that to the consciences of the parents involved. To cite a specific and public case that has happened in a URCNA congregation and on which the church sought the advice of other people, the advice I gave was that if one church member believes it’s appropriate to work in a law enforcement support role on the Lord’s Day and another member believes that’s inappropriate because it is not direct police work and because the person involved could easily have gotten a different job, we need to leave that the consciences of the people involved.

              However, what Tebow is doing is gross, outright and blatant Sabbath breaking. He’s not just “resting” by throwing a ball around on the Lord’s Day with his family– he’s earning his living doing it, and he’s causing thousands of other people to violate the Lord’s Day as well by paying money to watch him do it.

              Furthermore, Tebow is also under no compulsion at all to do that work — if he wanted to, he could very easily say, “I could make millions in the NFL, but I am going to be a witness for my Christian convictions by turning down a NFL contract and instead taking a job coaching college football at a Christian school that doesn’t play football on Sunday. That would be a far stronger witness for his convictions and get more attention than anything he does in the NFL, and it would not be just for a few years but for his entire coaching career.

              I think we could name dozens of Christian schools that would ***LOVE*** to offer Tebow their head football coaching position, and there are lots of head coaches at Christian schools who would love to take “second fiddle” to work under Tebow, and considering that most Christian colleges are small and therefore in the NAIA or in the NCAA Division III, any team coached by Tebow would rapidly become a huge powerhouse football program regularly blowing away its competitors. People would be able to say, “_____ College was a good but not great school; who can deny that the football program took off like a rocket when Coach Tebow decided God was more important than mammon and took the head coaching job because they didn’t play on Sunday?”

              So let’s grant for a moment that Tebow is probably a sincere dispensationalist. How is his violation of the Sabbath any different from a person who sincerely believes it’s okay to get an abortion or sincerely believes it’s okay to live together before marriage?

              No, those examples are **NOT** extreme. This is one of God’s commandments we’re talking about. There’s room for graciousness and patience, but when we’re dealing with gross blatant violations of the Decalogue, we can’t act like they’re not serious.

              On the other hand, we **DO** need to act with grace. Just as any pastor worthy of the name deals gently with a woman who has become convicted that her abortion years ago in college was a heinous act of child-murder, pastors ought to deal gently with somebody like Tebow if he someday becomes convicted that his Sabbath-breaking was gross, blatant wickedness that led not only himself but thousands of others into sin.

              That example of abortion ought to carry some pretty significant weight with Tebow.

            • Correction: The statement above should read “Or when does a woman wearing inappropriate clothing cross the line from questionable attire to incitement to lust, which Jesus said was the same root sin as adultery?” NOT “same root sin as murder?”

        • ZRim is right. Without the concept of works of necessity we create all sorts of problems.

          The concept of works of necessity and charity are not things made up to assuage the consciences of troubled believers who don’t like the consequences of observing the Lord’s Day. I think that in Reformed circles we sometimes assume the people with whom we are discussing are already familiar with the underlying biblical texts and therefore we focus on the fine points of the theological superstructure without always being careful to show how the theological roof is directly connected by supporting beams to the foundation of biblical texts.

          Matt 12:11-13 says this: “11He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.”

          That, from the words of Christ, is the concept of works of charity. That’s why it is perfectly legitimate for a doctor or nurse or paramedic or EMT to work on the Lord’s Day.

          A little earlier in the same chapter, in a story which is also repeated in Mark 2 and Luke 6, the following is written:

          “1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that one[a] greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'[b] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.””

          In that passage, verse 5 shows us the legitimacy of religious work on the Lord’s Day. A more detailed exegesis of the underlying Old Testament passages will show that it is legitimate not only for pastors but also other support personnel in the church to work on the Lord’s Day — Levites and all sorts of other people were doing work to assist the priests on the Old Testament sabbath.

          Works of necessity include such things as feeding people and animals, as is shown by verses 1 and 2. While a lot of people in modern America could probably benefit from a fast on the Lord’s Day (and yes, I’m blaming myself here too) and us men probably ought to think about whether we are placing undue burdens on our wives and other women to fix huge Sunday meals, few if any of us would argue that cows and sheep should go unfed on the Lord’s Day — and any farmer who tried that would quickly have sick or seriously ill animals, and dairymen would experience major problems with milk production that would badly damage the cows as well as their personal profits.

          But take a closer look at the underlying context of verses 3 and 4. When was it that David took the holy bread? According to I Samuel 21, it was when he was on a military retreat from his enemies!

          Even the Old Testament Pharisees understood that when attacked by enemies on the Sabbath, they had every right to respond with military action, based on rabbinical exegesis of this passage and others, as well as the obvious fact that failure to respond to an attack by evil enemies of God on the Sabbath would cause the enemies of God to wait until the Sabbath, attack in force, and slaughter those who failed to defend themselves.

          Being stricter than the Pharisees with regard to military obligations on the Sabbath is not a very good idea, especially considering that the Pharisees, when they could not refute Christ’s biblical arguments on the Sabbath, “went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” (vs. 14).

          Elijah, if you were a general officer in the United States Army with Reformed convictions and if you had the power to establish rest days for the troops, I might be sitting down with you and discussing ways to honor the biblical commands about Sabbath rest in the current military operational environment, given the political context in which pretty much everyone with the rank of colonel or higher has to work. And if this were the 1860s when America still had a Christian consensus about Sabbath-keeping, I might point out that even the staunchest of conservative Presbyterians among the Civil War general officers were willing not only to defend against but initiate military action on the Lord’s Day when military necessity required it.

          But for an enlisted soldier or junior officer, those simply are not concerns you need to deal with. Back when we had peasants and serfs in Western Europe, it was the lords, not the servants, who were punished for working on the Sabbath. A master who orders his servant to perform unbiblical work on the Lord’s Day is committing sin. You, as a young soldier, are not sinning by obeying a command to work on the Lord’s Day — and quite frankly, it’s well within the realm of possibility that if you understood why the general who gave an order that led to you doing something on the Lord’s Day issued that order, you might agree. But even if you wouldn’t, it really isn’t your need to know. In the Army you obey orders whether you like them or not, trusting that the senior leaders have the best interests of America at heart.

          A final note — are you familiar with a devotional book by the retired chaplain at West Point, Col. (Ret) Scott McChrystal? It’s called Daily Strength for the Battle and details can be found here:


          I’m not ordinarily an advocate of devotional works by Pentecostals, but this book by Col. McChrystal, who was an infantry combat veteran of Vietnam before he entered the chaplaincy and whose brother is the current commander of American forces in Afghanistan, is actually quite good, stays on the basics of the problems faced by soldiers in their Christian lives without getting into Pentecostal distinctives, and addresses from the text of the Bible many issues that soldiers have to deal with in a military context.

          Unfortunately, virtually everything written by Reformed men on military issues dates back a hundred years or more, and as for secondary source material, I’m not really comfortable giving biographies of Oliver Cromwell or Stonewall Jackson to the typical 19-year-old PFC or 22-year-old 2LT. I’m sure somebody has produced something comparable to Col. McChrystal’s book from a Reformed perspective, but I don’t know about it. Maybe somebody here can refer me to a better book I can give to soldiers.

          • Darrell & Zrim,
            Thanks for your encouragement and support. I perhaps let a little more of my weakness show than I meant to, but you’re right in that it seems I am over-burdening myself with this one. I get worn down on deployment and miss the more regular rhythms of life and church and Sundays that just doesn’t happen over here.
            Darrell, thanks for your quick explanation here, suggested resources, and offers for the future. Scattered responses to some of your queries – I’m a WP ’07 guy but never heard of McCrystal (the lesser-known brother, that is). I’ve read bios of Lee and Sherman but not Jackson, I’ll have to run a good one down. Maybe one day I’ll do a survey of “Reformed military” writings/works, that certainly is something I’ve perhaps been missing without realizing it… that’s how I know Matt 12 but not 1 Sam 21 (typical NT emphasis, sadly, I’m learning!) I do fall in the junior officer category, Engineer to be specific, which means I hope to make it up to FLW for Sapper School next year and to PCS for the 10-month ECCC+grad school deal sometime fall ’11 or spring ’12. Sometime between now and then we’ll have to figure out how to get WordPress to make an email address exchange. In the meantime, thank you Dr Clark for letting myself, Darrell, and Zrim go around the horn once or twice, it has been good/encouraging for me.

            • OK… my e-mail is darrellmaurina — INSERT AN “AT” SYMBOL — runbox.com. (Hopefully that will defeat the spam spiders.)

              Drop me a note — we can probably chat a bit more about military-related Sabbath issues privately without cluttering Dr. Clark’s blog too much, and now that you’ve confirmed that you’re a West Point graduate you obviously have the academic preparation to benefit from some of the older Reformed literature on what it means to be a Christian soldier. I initially thought I was dealing with someone who was junior enlisted, but earlier this morning I did a Google search and had figured out you or somebody with the same name was an engineer grad of West Point with some pretty high honors. (Remember, you **ARE** talking to a reporter — finding things out is what we do for a living 😉

              However, before you e-mail me, your unit’s PAO may require you to report that you’re talking with a member of the media — and if they don’t, they should. If there are concerns, have them call Mike Warren, the chief of public affairs at Fort Leonard Wood, who will tell you that I am “military friendly,” that I understand the rules for media, and that when I promise to stay on-message with theology or personal issues and stay away from OPSEC issues, I will keep my word and not discuss whatever you’re doing while deployed.

              Also, call me in advance before getting to Fort Leonard Wood; I’ll put you in touch with three Reformed churches within driveable distance — one Southern Baptist with a Reformed Baptist pastor, one PCA, and one independent church that used to be in the URCNA. You’ll probably end up in the PCA or the Baptist church unless you want to make a fairly long drive.

  14. I’m guessing this will be the impetus for all kinds of “outreach” ideas based around supporting Tebow and the Broncos. You know, stick around after the service and watch the Broncos on the giant screens in our auditorium.

    wjhinson: we’re looking forward to taking Saban & Co. down on October 2. Go Gators!

  15. Let’s not compare the armed services (as well as the police, fire, and medical personnel) with the NFL.

  16. Elijah,

    I think it’s safe to say yours is more of a “work of necessity” than Tebow’s.

    • Perhaps. But mine is also a profession, and if I didn’t sign up then someone else would and would take my place. And I could (well, not this instant, but theoretically) earn a living doing something else, another profession that wouldn’t require me to work on the Sabbath. I’m not trying to pick a fight, just asking for a small elaboration if possible… perhaps I am not convinced (and should, or should not be, depending on your interpretation) that mine is a “work of necessity,” as the term “necessity” can have quite wide interpretations. Because I could live, eat, carry on with life, etc, without this job… it may be a service, but so are lots of other jobs that don’t work Sundays… maybe I am “overly” convicted?

  17. To Elijah H., in regard to whether 365/365 military service in the US Army breaks the Christian Sabbath—

    When they contested his ministry of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus asked the Pharisees a question that exposed the depth of their hypocrisy. Here it is from two gospels—

    Mark 3:4— “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
    Luke 6:9 —“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

    When we reflect on our Lord’s question, it becomes clear that doing good, such as saving lives, is good and lawful on the Lord’s Day. Christ’s principle is laid out as “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Recall that David and his men ate the Tabernacle’s consecrated showbread when faced with extreme hunger in flight, and did so without fault. In that case human life took precedence over the principle of ritual purity. So also human life takes precedence over the Sabbath principle.

    If the US Army were to go off duty every Lord’s Day, the consequences would surely be disastrous for millions. You and your fellow soldiers are saving lives. Please keep on doing so. There is no violation of the Lord’s Day in providing a just defense.

  18. One of the problems with the Sabbatarian position is that clergy end up deciding whose work/career is “necessary” and whose is not.

  19. One man considers a day different than the rest, another man considers all days alike. Let each one be convinced in his own mind.

    -Apostle Paul (Romans 14:5-6)

  20. Scott,

    Yes, with the Confessional position. Even if the position is correct it is still a problem, and no, I do not think clergy have the right to tell laypeople whether their profession is necessary or not.

  21. Two (maybe) interesting tidbits from this story on Philadelphia Talk Radio. (1) It is noted that the NFL has ruled against “religious” icons, markings in players eyeblack. So no Scripture or Scripture references in the eyeblack. A player however still has liberty over what tatoos he may have and display.
    (2) The religious convictions (and drafting) of Tebow lead the host of show to ask, if players cross themselves or point to heaven for a touchdown or homerun, shouldn’t they point down to ground and blame Satan for the interception or strikeout?

    I called in and could only leave a recorded response, that Christianity is not a dualism of equal opponents, God and Satan. So to be consistent, the Christian athlete should point heavenward and give thanks for the pick and the strikeout, right?

  22. thanks for the post Dr. Clark.

    as a Gator I was so upset to see “Roll Tide” come from someone with the same initials and last name as mine.

    • Andrew (Silva), I agree with your letter, but it also made me think a little: can one ask Tebow to forego an NFL career (because of the fourth commandment), but, meanwhile (back at the ranch) we may still enjoy and follow the NFL (6 days a week), and therefore breaking the 10th commandment in covetting a pleasure that is off limits, because it breaks the 4th commandment ?

      Should we not be consistent and reject all and any professional sport taking place on the NT sabbath, like the NFL ? (Maybe if all Christians in the USA boycott sunday sport, they will change it to another day?)

      My question to all on this block is: where do we draw the line ? Is it wrong for Tebow to join the Sunday-NFL, but it is OK if we still follow and support the NFL (on the other days of the week) ?

      I would appreciate any biblical thoughts on this questions. Thank you.

      • As to consistency of Christian Sabbath position, let me toss out this anecdote:

        John Murray, of Westminster 1.0, was a baseball fan, and followed MLB. Apparently, if you asked him on Sunday about baseball (How about that game, last night?), he would completely ignore the remark or question, as if he had not heard it. This would suggest that Murray felt it allowable to follow a sport that played on Sundays, but that all aspects of following it on the Lord’s Day were out of bounds.

        I am probably indebted to Dr. Clair Davis for this anecdote (WTS-PA late 70s) Maybe we can get corroboration from Dr. Strimple?

  23. Maybe Dr. Clark can provide some insight on this but it appears to be the case the former Buffalo Bills QB, Frank Reich got an MDiv at RTS in Charlotte and later served four years as RTS president. It also appears that he left a pastorate to become the QB coach for the Indianapolis Colts when the reigning QB coach took over as head coach when Tony Dungy retired.

    Anyhoo, there’s at least one guy who has some familiarity with the 10 commandments and a background in the NFL who finds Dr. Clark’s observations about Tim Tebow unconvincing.

    • Bruce,

      A great number of people in our churches and tradition do not pay much attention to what we confess. We’re it not so I wouldn’t have spent a chapter on it in RRC.

      You make it seem as if holding the confessional position is exotic or weird. Shouldn’t it be the other way round, that the confessional position is the baseline?

      Have you taken a look at the chapter? I guess Frank hasn’t.

      I can say that it took me about 20+ years to get to the confessional view. The key for me was to learn that the sabbath principle is grounded in creation and not in Moses. Once I learned that I understood the Reformed tradition rather differently than I had before.

      I also realized that it’s not helpful to be obnoxious about the Sabbath but it is a pressure point with the culture and we have to face up to the fact that our culture doesn’t want us to set aside a day of rest and worship. If we stop we might think and if we think we might realize that we’re mortal and if we do that we might realize why we’re mortal and we can’t do that so we speed ever faster on the merry-go-round of late modern busy-ness.

      • Scott –

        You say, “The key for me was to learn that the sabbath principle is grounded in creation and not in Moses.”

        I have read your chapter in RRC, but the Scriptural arguments are unconvincing. You have presented the confessional data fairly it seemed to me, but what does it matter, when Scripture does not support the confession in this instance.

        What part of Nehemiah 9:13-14 do you and the Reformed tradition not understand? YHWH revealed his holy Sabbath to Israel on Mt. Sinai. It has not been revealed from creation, although the command was given at Mt. Sinai on the analogy of the creation week. See also Ezekiel 20:9-11.

        • This is confirmed by Exod 31:12-17. Note particularly v.17 where the Sabbath is said to be the “sign of the covenant” between God and Israel. Redemptive-historically, the Sabbath functions in some ways as analogous to circumcision in the covenant with Abraham and the sacraments of baptism and the LS in the new covenant. That is why it was treated so seriously – Sabbath-breakers needed to be killed.

          Sabbatarians overemphasize covenantal continuity on this point. For my part, I grew up sabbatarian (and once felt overwhelmingly guilty for watching the Superbowl). A close examination of the exegetical evidence however suggested otherwise. Particularly Paul’s arguments are rather difficult to evade.

          • David,

            You make a common mistake. You completely identify the Sabbath with national Israel and the Mosaic covenant. The difficulty is that, as I suggested above, and argued in the book, the Sabbath existed BEFORE Moses and after.

            The Sabbath is a creational and re-creational pattern — just as marriage is a creational and re-creational institution.

            • Dr. Clark,

              You said,

              “You completely identify the Sabbath with national Israel and the Mosaic covenant.”

              So does Paul.

              • David,

                Not exactly. As I argued in RRC, the context indicates that “new moons and sabbaths” refers not to the creational, weekly sabbath but to the minor sabbaths and theocratic calendar.

                The creational/re-creational sabbath was not wiped out in the new covenant.

            • Re-creational becomes the most important, it seems to me. I don’t entirely buy the creational aspect because the Sabbath was created for Adam in that theocratic covenant arrangement. Inasmuch as that covenant has been broken, any aspects that we want to carry on need to be resumed – we see that in Moses but more important to us (as no longer under Moses) is what is resumed in Noah (the common grace state)… At least in what I see, while all other aspects of the creational covenant are resumed in a refracted sense – the Sabbath isn’t.

              I read your chapter last year and I’ll give it another look after the semester is over. I don’t mean to post this irresponsibly, but since this specific question came up and it is this specific issue that I think mitigates strongly against a Puritan view of the Sabbath, I thought I’d mention it.

  24. I’m not sure about the my “making it seem” part. All I’m saying is that having little expectation that Mr. Tebow would be affected by these arguments, I would expect Mr. Reich to be a much better launch pad for this type of discussion. I expect he’ll be holding a clip board on the sidelines for the Colts next fall. I would love to hear his take on all this especially in view of the (apparent) fact that he left a pastorate to hold the clip board on Sunday.

  25. I wonder if Tebow is even aware that some Christians observe Sunday as many Reformed people do? You can grow up in some American churches your entire childhood and be unaware of how Sunday is observed by the Reformed.

  26. I am amazed at how many Christians on this blog have found so many ways and excuses to reject, neglect, or otherwise approve of violating or disregarding the Lord’s Day. This is indeed sad and since the majority Christian Church has rejected God’s commandments, is it a wonder that the Christian Church today is wracked by idolatrous tendencies and so much disarray? So what if the RTS president is some sort of Sabbath breaker, what will I now do so? Shall I follow man to sin? He has sinned against God, his status as a President of a Reformed Seminary does not protect him at all! The Bible is clear from Gen. 1 that God sanctified the Sabbath and it is clear from the NT that the Sabbath is now the 1st day. How many times did God judge Israel for her Sabbath breaking and other idolatries? Did not Nehemiah remind Israel of this very fact? And, so some “Reformed” will become Dispensationalists for a moment and say, “Ah! That was the OT under the Nation of Israel”. Really? That could explain the gross neglect and violation of the 1st Table of the Law so rampant in the Church today and even in many Reformed churches, especially among many Reformed individuals.
    The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are clear as is the teaching of the Presbyterian Church on this matter, historically speaking, that is before the rampant Liberal takeover in the 19th cent. that has is effects even today among some Reformed congregations and individuals.
    But many take this as some academic debate…God certainly doesn’t…re-read the OT to remind yourself of that fact and then repent for defending and approving of Sabbath breaking. Tebow also needs to mature in his Christian faith and choose: God or man in regards to which law he will submit to.
    Strong words? Not really.
    Read Nehemiah again.
    Stop playing arm-chair theology and live it folks!

    • AMEN to Edgar!

      Deuteronomy 12 :28 – Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you FOREVER, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

      Deuteronomy 4:2 – You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.

      Deuteronomy 12:32 – “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

      Psalm 111:7 – The works of his hands are faithful and just;
      all his precepts are trustworthy; 8 they are established FOREEVER and ever,
      to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

      READ ALL OF Psalm 119

      Matthew – 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

      2 Timothy 4:3 – For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

  27. Where your heart is, there will be your treasure. I am afraid that the hearts of many “christians” treasure sports in general higher than the Lord’s will, expressed in the decalogue and fulfilled (not abolished!!) by our dear Lord Jesus Christ. As dr. Clark stated, all the confessions of Reformed churches (including the London Baptist Confession 1689) are clear in their Biblical understanding of the Lord’s day. Jesus Himself stated that He was the Lord, even of the sabbath, but while he rebuked the pharisees, falling off the horse on the right side, many preachers (nowadays also Prebyterians, despite their official confessions) abuse this text in Matthew to fall of the horse on the left side and proclaim a freedom to extend the plucking of grain to enjoy watching the SuperBowl as fellowship within their church buildings. How deep have we fallen? Is this not clear idolatry, which goes beyond the 4th commandment. I would say that the majority of church people in America “suffer” from a paralizing entertainment syndrom that keeps them from the true knowledge of God. “My people perish for a lack of knowledge” Isn’t it exposing who we are when we know more about the celebrities of this world than the God of the Scriptures and His will? How much knowledge is given in the morning services to meditate on when we come home and turn on the TV set and drink in all the of the world and forget about Him who is the Lord, even of the sabbath? Is that the way we express our gratitude to Him who gave Himself up to be crucified? To me it is very clear that this entertainment syndrom is the very reason that most churches today do not have a second service anymore. We are to busy ” doing our own pleasures on His holy day” to “call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord, and honor Him” So many times when I bring this up, many will call me a legalist and they understand nothing of the love of Christ. If one is truly born of God he will learn to ask for the Law and “meditate on them day and night”, because in there he finds “great joy”

  28. Sjoerd,

    You said, “all the confessions of Reformed churches (including the London Baptist Confession 1689) are clear in their Biblical understanding of the Lord’s day.”

    Did you read Charlie Ray’s quotations from the 2nd Helvetic?

  29. Byron Curtis: “But today even conservative Presbyterians settle down on Sunday afternoons… watching Big Ben…”

    And some Reformed folk attempt so skirt the Sabbath issue altogether by recording the game and watching it on Monday. As if watching a video of people violating the fourth commandment is too much different than watching a video of people violating the seventh commandment.

    • My concern is twofold, to re-awaken Christian people to the basic Christian doctrine of the Sabbath and two re-awaken the practice of the Sabbath, resting and attending to the means of grace.

      One of the things about Sabbatarianism that puts people off is the perceived legalism. I think we should avoid that. My approach, FWIW, is not to try to legislate how people exercise their freedom in the Lord. You may be convinced in your own mind that people ought not watch the NFL ever and you’re entitled to your view but it’s a deduction that may or may not be correct.

      Frankly, if I can get people to attend to the means of grace (twice) and recognize the day for what it is, I think people will begin gradually to see the benefits and blessings of stepping away from the craziness of our culture.

      If advocates of the Christian sabbath are perceived as angrily pointing the finger (as has been done to me by advocates of the Christian sabbath; that put me right off for years) then we will not win people to the benefits and blessings of the sabbath.

      • These are good points. Sometimes it seems like we Sabbatarians, in the push to make the point against the blatant a- or anti-sabbatarianism all around, don’t seem to realize that sabbatarianism is as subject to legalism as anything else. But, if we believe that we are legalists by nature (not antinomians as some suggest), it seems like we should be better aware of this vulnerability.

        If we can ask Tebowwhat a sabbath-breaker looks like if not him trampling the sabbath, maybe we should ask a sabbatarian-legalist what legalism looks like if not him pointing fingers.

        • Okay, ZRim, fair question.

          If adultery includes not only the physical act but also lust, and if stealing includes not just taking but also coveting, then maybe breaking the Sabbath commandment means not only working on the Lord’s Day but also wishing the day were over so we could get on with our business? After all, the Jews were rebuked for doing that.

          Legalism with regard to adultery means trying to see “how much we can get away with” without actually committing the physical act. Perhaps that means legalism with regard to the Sabbath is coming up with rules to justify things we want to do on the Lord’s Day rather than trying as hard as we can to set the day aside for worship?

          What other commandment do conservative Christians hunt for ways to get around? With any other commandment, we’d call it legalistic rationalizing if we did to that commandment what we do with the Sabbath.

          To me, it really seems quite simple. One of the best proofs of total depravity is that when God gave us a day off, we sinful and wicked men yell back at God, “NO!!!! We demand to work even when you told us we don’t have to!”

          Blunt? Yes. What God says is far blunter about Sabbath-breakers. There’s a place for honest igorance (Tebow, perhaps?) and we need to be patient with well-meant error, just like we need to be patient with Bible-believing but sincere Arminians, Charismatics, Baptists (oops, shouldn’t have said that, not nice), or any other error that stems not from denying the Bible but honest misunderstanding of the Bible.

          But the fact still remains that while God is longsuffering with our sins, He has a holy standard and he does not appreciate our efforts to get around it.

          • Darrell,

            When I think legalism I think of coming up with ways to bind the consciences of others (and self) on things indifferent, not ways to get around God’s laws (and let’s leave the legalisms that grow around men’s laws alone, since that seems obvious). So when we are forbidden against drunkenness legalism comes up with the hedge of temperance. In the same way, when we are forbidden to break the Sabbath legalism creates the hedge of anti-Superbowlism. While detecting ways we circumvent God’s laws is a worthy project, I don’t think it helps answer the question of what Sabbath-legalism looks like.

            My point is that it seems that one sign of legalism is when specific rules are made about what may or mayn’t be done in order to keep God’s law. I think we may forget this when faced with a-sabbatarianism. I find that Presbyterian and Reformed are pretty good at confronting the legalisms of substance use/worldly amusement, but seem lacking when it comes to legalisms that grow up around things like the Sabbath and education. We tend to talk about the Sabbath and education the way fundamentalists talk about beer, tobacco, dice, dancing and movies. But, for better or worse, when I encounter a-sabbatrianism I find it a better approach not to suggest one is coming up with ways to circumvent God’s law but to ask just what one thinks that law means. And I have found that in so doing the conscience seems to at least begin thinking in ways not previously done. Maybe you think that is weak, but I think weakness is better than bluntness.

  30. David,

    I read Charlie Ray’s comments and quotations, although I don’t see any relaliton to the point that dr. Clark made and my comment, other than in some way to give a justifying answer for the behaviour of those who Clark is talking about.

    As far as the second Helvetic is concerned: I wonder how Bullinger would have reacted on Charlie’s conclusion. Dr. Clark as a historian can probably tell you better than I.

    What I do know is (what a have heard or read somewhere in a lecture) that in the time of the reformation a controversy was going on about choosing which day had to be considered the Lord’s day and that some people did not want it to happen on the Sunday because that day was given its name after the sun-god. I do think that that was the whole isssue and the article about superstition expands that to the Jewish view on the sabbath to worship sabbath as a goal in itself in stead of a one-in-seven (whole) day separated unto the Lord for worship.

    This is made very clear in the article before that of the Lord’s Day :
    “The Time Necessary for Worship.”
    Although religion is not bound to time, yet it cannot be cultivated and exercised without a proper distribution and arrangement of time. Every Church, therefore, chooses for itself a certain time for public prayers, and for the preaching of the Gospel, and for the celebration of the sacraments; and no one is permitted to overthrow this appointment of the Church at his own pleasure. For unless some due time and leisure is given for the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be drawn away from it by their own affairs.

    After THIS article follows that of the Lord’s day.

    I hope I answered your question

  31. I’m sure Tebow, along with a whole lot of other evangelicals have never given much thought to remembering the Sabbath. Unless he becomes Reformed, and he probably will one day, I doubt he’ll think twice about playing on Sunday.

    What struck me about Tim Tebow and the draft was how he seemed to win everybody over. He went from a late 2nd round – mid 3rd pick to the 25th pick in the draft. The reason he did so was because people believed in him. Scouts and coaches were sold on the idea that he would work as hard as he said he would work and Tebow demonstrated his willingness to do whatever was asked of him. In other words, they think he will be a great addition to the team (a great employee) and that through hard work, he will become an accomplished NFL quarterback.

    I can’t wait to contrast Tebow’s work ethic and commitment to bettering his game with some other NFL notables. In particular, how does he compare to guys like Roy Williams of the Dallas Cowboys? Williams was great in college, had a few good years at Detroit, but, like other professional athletes seems to just show up to collect a paycheck. I think Tebow is honest and has deep convictions. I’ll bet if he was Reformed, he would do a lot of thinking on remembering the Sabbath.

  32. Hi Paul,

    What I found interesting that on Mike Gallagher’s show tonight, he was making mention of what a Boston Sport’s Talk show host had said. I believe he is known as “The Toucher,” and had called Tebow and his family Nazis! How utterly ridiculous!

  33. Professor Clark,

    I seem to recall reading that Mike Horton (in his book on the Ten Words – name escapes me…) argued that the Sabbath command to rest was primarily (exclusively?) a Mosaic institution, not a creational one, and, as a result, does not bind the consciences of believers. The bodily rest enjoined of the Jews was typological of the rest we have in Christ from our sins… so worship, not physical rest, is the defining activity (or non-activity) of the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day… all according to Mike Horton.

    Is this accurate?

    • Hi Matt,

      Mike published that book in 1993. I know my mind has changed about a number of things since then! The same is true for Mike. He doesn’t hold that view any longer. He subscribes the Belgic, the Heidelberg, the Canons (the Synod of Dort promulgated 6 points on the Sabbath with which Mike agrees) and the Westminster Standards.


      > > New comment on your post“Tebow, Evangelicals, and the Sabbath” > Author : Matt Beatty (IP: , EV1-DSL-208-102-230-15.fuse.net) > E-mail : mhbeatty@gmail.com > URL : > Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=

      • Dr. Clark,

        It’s encouraging to me to find out that someone who already has learned so much is still learning. I’ve been reading a lot on law/grace, continuity/discontinuity and hermeneutics. May I ask what changed your mind and what resources you recommend (or perhaps you explain this in RRC which I have not yet read.) Thanks.

        • Hi Eileen,

          I was never a good pre-trip, pre-mil dispensationalist. I could never keep all the details straight. The biblical story always struck me as rather less complicated than the dispensationalists seemed to make it. I began getting to grips with historic Christianity by reading Calvin’s Institutes (highly recommended). Then I read a good deal of Augustine (to be read with discretion) and B B Warfield (highly recommended), then I read a good bit of Schaff’s History of the Christian Church (I’m not sure I would recommend it now; that was a long time ago), I was helped in seminary by reading Meredith Kline’s work and Geerhardus Vos (everything). Neither the latter nor the former are easy to read. Vos was revolutionary for me to see the unity of Scripture while not losing the sense of the progress of redemption and revelation. From them I learned, as in Calvin, how the new covenant is new and why it’s new and that it’s new relative to Moses not Abraham. MGK is harder to read. His work is mixed. The later stuff is hardest to read because it was not really edited at least not in the standard way. A professional editor at a publisher would have sent most of it back with the note: please don’t write in dense code. His earlier work was clearer. The Structure of Biblical Authority was helpful as was Treaty of the Great King .

          Here’s a suggested reading list: http://www.wscal.edu/clark/reformedreadinglist.php

          In recent years my reading has focused on classic Protestant and Reformed sources. Of these Martin Luther has had a major influence on how I understand the nature of Protestant theology. Reading Calvin without Luther is really quite impossible, but that’s what I tried to do and that’s what lots of Reformed folk seem bound to do. They read him as if he were Barth or some other modern Reformed writer. He wasn’t a modern writer, of course. To understand Calvin one needs to know Augustine and Luther. Those were two significant influences on him. So, as I began teaching Reformation history and reading Luther and reading classic Reformed writers such as Olevianus and Perkins and others (see the Classic Reformed Theology series) my own thinking about redemptive history developed. I began to get a clearer picture of covenant theology. Most modern presentations of covenant theology are muddled. The older writers tend to be much clearer because they were mostly expressing the Reformation insights in covenantal categories. That isn’t usually true in modern writers. Many modern writers, Mike Horton excepted, tend to use covenant theology to muddle the Reformation or even, in the case of the Federal Vision, to over turn it! That’s ironic and tragic and the same time.

          I highly recommend <a href=" http://www.wscal.edu/bookstore/store/details.php?id=2602&utm_source=rsclark&utm_medium=rsclark&utm_campaign=wscbooks “>Olevianus’ commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. I guess I should add him to my reading list linked above. There you will see the sorts of distinctions you mentioned.

          I can’t recommend that you watch the video of my lecture on Olevianus (unless you like horror films or wonder what Uncle Fester would look like in academic regalia) but you might listen to the audio of the recent lecture on Olevianus’ use of the law/gospel distinction.


          As you’ll see in the reading list, I’m also a big fan of Wollebius. The students who take the course in Reformed scholasticism often say that Wollebius is one of their favorite assigned readings in seminary.

          Hope this helps.


          • Dr. Clark,

            Thanks so much for that comprehensive reply! I understand why you are a teacher. I try to read at a challenging level across a broad spectrum of thought and try very hard to understand where someone is coming from theologically and then compare that to other points of view on the same topic. So your list is very helpful, and I will add it to the broad spectrum of “homework” that my son gives me from seminary (he leaves a stack for me to read when he comes home.) Which is not to mention the discussions we have!

            Loved your comment on Augustine. I like my Augustine light, taken with quite a bit of salt and finely sieved. The flavor of Alexandria is a little heavy at times for my palate.

            I don’t want to leave the impression that I discount the value of the sabbath. My full-time job is to care for my very elderly and frail parents, walking with them as they prepare to Really Live, as I like to think of it. I would love to have a sabbath! My son would love to have people come to church on Sunday night, but everyone is so involved in trivialities, so I think that it is very important to think about how we convince people in our current state of culture to observe a sabbath rhythm.

            I find the argument from creation order very compelling. However, the application of that for me is a little trickier than it is for most here. My nephew is engaged as a missionary in a country where the “sabbath” is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (let the reader understand.) He cannot preach the word, at least openly, let alone on Sunday. He works on Sunday and observes the local “sabbath” in order to be available to the locals. I think that there are many bi-vocational pastors in the third world who might be in the same “bind” and just do the best they can to honor the sabbath in principle if not in exactly the same way we might.

            Perhaps Tebow considers himself to be “bi-vocational” in some sense, and that will probably be seen by many here as mere rationalization. Maybe it’s because I’m so old, but I’ve found it best to try to engage people where they are and considering from where they have come (which is what I was trying to do with the comment above about Tebow’s theological context.) It would be truly hard, I imagine (though it has surely been tried) to convince a Reformed person that they should not baptize their covenant children without considering the importance of Covenant Theology and just asserting that they should not!

            Finally, thanks so much again for your work against the perversion of the gospel by Deformed Theology a.k.a. Federal Vision.

            • Hi Eileen,

              The Reformed churches have always distinguished between works of mercy and necessity. Raising the dead on the sabbath or healing the sick or caring for them, those are works of mercy and necessity. We do, however, want to challenge the sloppy piety that has God’s people meeting at 9AM on Sun and then at the mall, the park, the ballgame (so no time for a second service) or at work in place of the means of grace when that work is not essential to the safety or well-being of others. Selling clothes in the mall on the Sabbath is not a work of necessity.

              I’m sure Tim probably doesn’t have the framework in which to think about Sun as the Christian Sabbath. I understand. I used to play “country gospel” records on Sun AM because my Baptist pastors told me it was a “ministry.” It took me a long time to get to grips with the sabbath principle in creation. I was so focused on the length of the creation days I missed the primary message of the text!

              Thanks for the encouragement.

      • I was wondering Dr. Clark, what year did the Synod of Dort produce the document on the Sabbath? All the page says is Session 164, May 17 PM.

  34. Professor Clark,

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Dr. Horton couldn’t (or shouldn’t) change. Perhaps you could comment on what obligation, if any, a teacher in the Church has to issue statements or even withdraw books if they’re teaching something that the author now would renounce/not support.

    I preached through the Ten Commandments two summers ago and read Mike’s book – I was surprised that a guy teaching at a seminary with “Westminster” in the title would have such a view. Ultimately, I preached the 4th commandment as having both – as you note Dort says – a ceremonial and a moral dimension. The latter we hold onto.

    But the book is clearly misleading don’t you think? Doesn’t the churchman-author (who ostensibly is still getting paid by publisher, albeit not very much) have an obligation to teach ONLY truth insofar as he understands it at the time and, should he come to change his mind, to inform those in authority and make amends?

    Thanks for any insights in advance…


    • We discussed it in faculty and he discussed it with the board when he was appointed to the faculty. You’re welcome to write to him via the sem and ask him about it.

  35. Dr. Clark,

    Did the premise of the football movie Any Given Sunday raise similar concern as Evangelicalssupport for Tebow?

  36. “I was so focused on the length of the creation days I missed the primary message of the text!”

    Well, any talk on keeping one day in seven holy, seems meaningless if the ‘length of creation days’, were not an important issue (contra Scripture: Ex.20:11). Then mr. Tebow are more than welcome to choose his own sabbath day, and we must have peace with it.

    It is not an either/or issue, it is a and/and issue (or better: because/therefore …). Both theology (creation/redemption) and history (For in six days …) are important issues, and we must focus on both, not only the one or the other; as we do with the NT: the Christ of recreation and the Christ of history (Jesus of Nasareth) stand or fall together (1 Cor.15:1-8). Because Christ were resurrected historically physically, therefore we can believe and have eternal life (1 Cor.15:14 etc.)

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