A Fundamental Problem -part 2
by Preston Foster
My purpose, here, is to refocus the discussion begun in Part 1 of this article, to the possible adverse effects on our (Adventists') ability to influence other Christian believers about the spiritual importance of the 7th-day Sabbath and, also, to discuss the inability (of some) Adventists to embrace the full meaning of the New Covenant, in the context of SDA Fundamental Belief 19.
FB 19 (The Law of God) has been, in my opinion, very purposefully positioned in front of FB 20 (The Sabbath) to give the biblical Sabbath the weight and protection of the law. By claiming that the law is "binding upon all people in every age," it makes the Sabbath (a subset of the law) equally binding on all people, making the observance of the 7th day primarily a matter of law.
The problem with making the law the bodyguard of the Sabbath is that those who understand and accept the subordinate role of the law in the New Covenant could persuasively argue that if we are not, as the New Testament states repeatedly, under the law, but led by the Spirit, observance of the 7th-day Sabbath is no longer binding. In short, making the law the bodyguard of the Sabbath leaves the Sabbath vulnerable to the viability of its bodyguard.
The problem, in my view, is the same problem that attends all law-keeping: when the law is used to justify people (or their position) it fails.
For Seventh-day Adventists the Sabbath has particular significance. The Sabbath is, for those who believe the Genesis account of creation, as old as creation itself. God himself claimed to have created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th (Exodus 20:1,11). Jesus Christ, honoring the Father while on earth, observed the 7th-day Sabbath. Paul, the evangelist of grace and the New Covenant, says, explicitly, that the 7th-day Sabbath rest "REMAINS" (implying that the Old Covenant is obsolete) for the people of God. The instruction regarding the Sabbath in the New Testament (Hebrews 4:1-7) is as long and as explicit as the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:8-11.
Seventh-day Adventists are properly concerned with protecting the viability of the 7th-day Sabbath. The prophetic mission of the church is defined by the 3 angels messages of Revelation 14. The first angel’s message specifically relates to the worship of the Creator: “Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters,” Revelation 14:7.
The Seventh-day Adventist eschatological narrative, in short, predicts the imposed worship of a counterfeit God, enforced by the “image of the beast.” The Adventist interpretation of this entity identifies the image of the beast as apostate Protestants who will, in the name of God, employ the power of the state and the financial system to impose worship of a counterfeit God (Revelation 13:17). Adventists believe that the differentiator between the counterfeit and the authentic God is His identity as the Creator. This is, in this context, the primary importance of the 7th-day Sabbath: it is the imprimatur of The Creator.
Ironically, what has been used to protect the Adventist position regarding the specific importance of the 7th-day Sabbath is what prevents many Christians from embracing the observance of the 7th-day Sabbath: the law.
New Covenant Christians are confident that they have been freed from the yoke of the law (Galatians 3:23-25; Galatians 4:31; Galatians 5:1). This makes the traditional Adventist position of establishing the Sabbath by the law, fortified by FB 19, untenable for many Christians who might otherwise embrace the rest of the 7th-day Sabbath (Hebrews 4:3-9). In terms of evangelism to other Christians, framing the Sabbath by the law invokes another law: the Law of Unintended Consequences; it inadvertently inhibits what it intends to promote.
Perhaps the greater risk of framing the Sabbath with the law is the spiritual risk—for some Adventists (Galatians 2:21). By holding onto the law to justify the biblical authority of the Sabbath, some Adventists miss the meaning of the counsel to be “free in Christ,” (Galatians 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The notion of not being under the law is both frightening and heretical to them. It triggers a reactionary response. Not being under the law is interpreted as “lawlessness,” “cheap grace,” or condoning sin (Galatians 1:6-7). Being led by the Spirit is discounted as if the Holy Spirit is inferior to the law. They fight to remain spiritual slaves (under the law) rather than to grow into sonship (Galatians 4:24-28).
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” — Harriet Tubman
The spiritual risk of defining the Sabbath by the law is real. The Old Covenant is held tightly while the New Covenant remains undiscovered. The veil remains over our eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
Of one thing I am certain. Christ’s intent is for us to be ministers of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Hebrews 8:13; Galatians 2:21).