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In the summer of 1999, I was studying the Lutheran Reformation in eastern Germany with a group of fellow American graduate students. After attending a Sunday morning worship service at the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther often preached, we made our way south to Halle, the birthplace of G. F. Handel and seventeenth-century German pietism. Just ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, eastern Germany was at the height of its revitalization efforts, the Deutsche Mark was still the currency, and on Sundays most of the small-town shops and restaurants were closed in observance of the Lord’s Day. After I stepped off the train in Halle, I saw signs of protest everywhere I looked. The people of Halle were protesting the opening of a city-sanctioned, public marketplace on the Lord’s Day. What for centuries had been a quiet town square on Sundays was now a busy marketplace, and many of the citizens, whose heritage was being threatened, were protesting.
I don’t offer this account of my experience in order to reveal my sympathies with Halle’s citizens but simply to provide a point of reference concerning a real issue with which many people continue to struggle as they attempt to understand and apply what the Word of God teaches about the Christian Sabbath.
Some Christians might be tempted to think that the entire Sabbath issue is an irrelevant discussion among old-fashioned traditionalists that has little bearing on our enlightened, twenty-first century lives. However, with our continued quest for that which most quickly and instantly gratifies, along with the emergence of the personal home computer, the portable laptop, the smart phone, and our increasingly entertainment-fueled societies, there has perhaps never been a better time for us to stop and revisit the most basic biblical questions about our most practical, biblical theology of work, worship, mercy, fellowship, and rest.
From God’s rest and blessing of the seventh day in Genesis to John’s account of being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day in the book of Revelation, the Bible is full of references to the Sabbath. Nevertheless, careful students of Scripture throughout the ages, from Augustine to Luther to John Calvin to John Knox to John Owen to Jonathan Edwards, have not always agreed in their interpretation and, thus, their application of what the Bible teaches about this most fundamental theological issue. Therefore, in this issue of Tabletalk, we offer Christians a theological forum on the Lord’s Day in order to help us to more rightly handle and live according to the Word of Truth for our good and God’s glory.