Fundamental Belief Number 20 (Sabbath)

The beneficent gracious Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 23:32; Deut. 5:12-15; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Ezek. 20:12, 20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 1:32; Luke 4:16; Heb. 4:1-11.) (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)

Aside from the Scriptural references, the only change in this fundamental is using the adjective “gracious” instead of “beneficent.” Gracious is considered a clearer and more up-to-date word.

It is interesting that this statement makes no reference at all to Judaism and its role in preserving the Sabbath through the centuries. One would expect such a reference here. According to this fundamental belief, Adventists start the Sabbath at creation, touch base with the giving of the commandments in Exodus 20 and then jump straight from Exodus 20 to the Adventists as “His people.” The entire history and role of Judaism is bypassed. This statement unintentionally supersedes the Jews as if they are and were of no importance to God. But we should give thought to the fact that more people in the world know about the Sabbath because of the Jews than because of Adventists. In fact, the influence of Abraham Joshua Heschel (a Jewish scholar) helped to bring about a change among Adventists back in the 1960s, he helped move Adventism as a whole from legalism to celebration with regard to the Sabbath (he had an equally strong impact on Judaism).

On the positive side, a major Adventist contribution to the Sabbath is to underline its universality. Many people don’t know that Jews are often puzzled by Adventist fascination with the Sabbath and the law of God. For Jews, Gentiles are not obligated to keep the Sabbath or the Ten Commandments. These were given specifically for the Jews in a specific context. But Adventists rightly note the universality of the Sabbath and the law of God for all people, including Gentiles.

We often think of the Jews as rather burdened about Sabbath keeping, but actually it is quite different from that. For Jews keeping the Sabbath holy is not a somber thing, Sabbath is more of a celebration, even a party! Sabbath for Jews is a day of joy. It is more about carrying a sack of diamonds (delight) than a bag of rocks (drudgery). Adventists have not always captured that side of Sabbath keeping. We are the ones who are most likely to be legalistic and burdened about the Sabbath. That probably comes from Puritan influence and is somewhat of an American phenomenon (along with anywhere influenced by American missionaries). But there is at least a hint of joy and celebration in the above where it says, “a day of delightful communion” and “joyful observance of this holy time.” Rightly handled, the Sabbath can be one of the best things about Adventism that people can experience. To be fair, many Jews have experienced Orthodox Sabbath-keeping as lifeless and burdensome and left it, so this is not a black and white case. On the other hand, the very diversity in Sabbath practices is one thing that holds Jews together. They all have the Sabbath in common even though they celebrate it differently. Perhaps Sabbath-keeping should unify Adventists more than it divides them.

Synagogue worship on Sabbath only started during or after the Exile to Babylon (Daniel’s time). Before that, worship at the temple occurred three times a year for most Israelites and less often for those outside the country. Sabbath as a day of worship, therefore, was not typical in ancient Israel. The Sabbath was more of a day off from work and from the drudgery that often comes with the struggle for survival.

Like good Americans, Adventists think of the Sabbath in individualistic terms, rather than social terms, as expressed in Exodus 20. In the Hebrew context the Sabbath explicitly affected their relationships, not only with family (son or daughter), those who worked for them (manservant, maidservant), but even visitors, refugees and foreigners who might have resided in their households. The Sabbath was even applied to the animals in the house! So it was designed from the beginning as a very social experience. Adventists today are increasingly embracing the social side of the Sabbath, even though it is not highlighted in this fundamental (except for the brief remark about “communion. . . with one another.”

A missing element that could be emphasized a bit more is the idea of God’s presence in the Sabbath. The Sabbath is more than a memorial of creation or salvation, it is an agent of God’s presence. Perhaps the Sabbath is as much about God’s commitment to be with us as God’s commandment to us. In John 5, the Sabbath is not about rest, it is about working in line with God’s mission of healing and blessing on the Sabbath.

Another missing element in this fundamental is the concept of Sabbath as resistance against the demands of the consumer culture. Such a view of the Sabbath is very appealing to millennials. Those who keep the Sabbath are not accommodating to the system, they are resisting the demand to produce more and more, and to fill our lives with texts, emails, phone calls, pressures and other distractions. Sabbath as resistance is a very Jewish thing and it is also a very liberating thing.

At Loma Linda the Sabbath has had a widespread impact even among those who have come from other religious backgrounds. The Sabbath tells us that it is OK not to produce. Highly driven people tend to “produce” around the clock, creating value for their employers or for their own bottom line. But the Sabbath teaches us that production is not the primary goal of life and that it is alright to take time off from “production” to nurture the deeper values of human existence. The Sabbath also teaches us that it is OK to take care of yourself, to avoid burnout by taking time for reflection, social interaction and rest, both psychological and physical. More than this the Sabbath teaches us to put God first in our lives every day of the week. But by a special focus once a week our relationship with God is renewed every day. The Sabbath also encourages us to care for the environment. In the biblical context, even the land was to experience Sabbath and be allowed to restore itself. So although many employees of Loma Linda University Health are not practicing Seventh-day Adventists, the Sabbath has had a powerful impact on their lives as well.