Theonomists Unawares

Published by Matt Kenitzer on

The Fourth Commandment is God’s command to remember to keep the Sabbath holy.
How are we to think about that today as this speaks to the New Covenant church? The very
concept of church, the physical gathering of believers as the body of Christ, as we know it in the
New Covenant is Theonomy in action. That may sound like a weird statement, but think about
this in light of the following comments.

First, how could Theonomy be explained? It is a Christian’s recognition that the Law of
God is still valid in all of life and it is then the Christian’s duty to faithfully and consistently
apply how it is valid in all of life as general principles from God’s law are taken and applied
specifically to the current day. While this framework operates it does so with an understanding of how the Law was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus and how it is not abolished
completely. This Theonomic process or framework is modeled in Scripture and this is one of
them that is more overarching that may often be missed.

So how is the very concept of church, as we know it in the New Covenant, Theonomy in
action? Think about the process of going from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The
Sabbath was part of the Mosaic Law that had ceremonial purposes to obey, but the whole
Sabbath concept was rooted in Creation itself. Because of its first root this shows the ongoing
validity of the Sabbath and yet, for a time, it was established in the Law for a specific purpose
that pointed forward to Jesus. So the specific purpose in its Mosaic context was fulfilled in
Christ’s substitutionary work, but the abiding nature of the Sabbath continued, because it was a
Creation mandate first. Given that, it then has a different structure after Jesus. It was not to be
taken exactly as it was in the Old, which was what the Pharisees and others tried to do with
failure (Luke 13:15-16 and John 7:23-24), but it was applied in principle in the New, because of
Jesus. This, in a nutshell, is Theonomy. So every Christian who goes to church faithfully lives
like a Theonomist without possibly realizing it. That command in keeping the Sabbath holy is
still binding in the New Covenant, yet it must be understood and applied properly.

To understand the distinctions to be made Colossians 2:16-17 speaks about, “16
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a
festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the
substance belongs to Christ.” The ceremonial purposes of the Sabbath (Sabbaths, plural in that
passage) were fulfilled in Christ.

Further, in the Old Covenant there was a purpose to not work on the Sabbath whether it
was housework, which included preparing food or field work or whether it was more vocational/
occupational. God had set apart a day of rest from this work to paint the picture of our need for a spiritual rest. Hebrews 3 and 4 specifically point out that the day of rest that God set apart in the Old Covenant was to be a message for the people of Israel to rest in the Messiah to come, but unbelief caused them to not enter into God’s rest. The seventh day, the Sabbath, was to signify that. And the writer of Hebrews makes a direct reference of the Creation six days of work and the seventh day of rest to show that this need has always been. When we hear that call for rest we ought to be reminded of how Jesus calls to sinners in Matthew 11 to come to Him and find rest for their souls. For those who labor they can find rest from their work in Christ alone, because His work is what brings us rest, not our work. The Old Covenant Sabbath was to draw that out. It was to proclaim that message. So all of that Old Covenant Sabbath in its purpose and meaning was fulfilled in Christ. It was done away with in Him, which has all the ceremonial links in it to the Law. Does that mean we don’t have to keep the Sabbath holy? No. When we notice the ceremonial connection then we ought to be mindful of this from our vantage point in history, post-cross and be able to see the abiding validity of this command in the New Covenant context.

Getting into that time in the New Covenant we see a shift. The Sabbath in the Old
Covenant was the last day of the week, but in the New Covenant we can see this shift when we
connect various passages together. In Acts 20:7 it says, “On the first day of the week, when we
were gathered together to break bread.” In 1 Corinthians 11 it is clear when talking about the
Lord’s Supper that the breaking of bread was when the church gathered together. Further, in that chapter when Paul is talking about partaking in the Lord’s Supper he reflects on what Jesus said, to “do this in remembrance” of Jesus. This remembrance, when in this whole context, shows Jesus as the Sabbath rest, because He worked for the salvation of God’s people and in the Lord’s Supper we are to remember that and connect it to Creation mandate that came before the Mosaic Law with its specific purpose. Connecting this more is all that’s said in the Pastoral Epistles about how the church of God is to be conducted in the preaching of the Word and in the structure of the government of the church. When we put all these texts together we can see the nature of the church. We can also see the need to keep the Sabbath holy that’s always been there, but we can do so with a proper balance given the Old and the New, the Mosaic and Christ.

This is a good foundational example of how the Theonomic framework seeks to handle
the Law of God with consistency and balance. This doesn’t mean that all tasks in this endeavor
are easy to figure out, but this can be very beneficial for us in our day that demands this
framework. The balance is the recognition of what was fulfilled in Christ. That He is our Sabbath
rest, therefore there is no need to practice the ceremonial law as, again, Colossians 2:16-17
shows. There is a great danger that can run into legalism without seeing that we can never keep it perfectly. Jesus’ warning in Luke and John, cited earlier, are necessary warnings. Yet the balance needs to continue in seeing how the Sabbath looks in the New Covenant that comes out of the work of Jesus. Physically gathering on the first day of the week, doing so with faithfulness, and resting in Christ alone is a result of how the Law of God is still valid in our current day, post-cross. So when you gather with other believers on the Lord’s Day and you do so with a thankfulness for the graciousness of God in Christ toward you, then you are living like a Theonomist.

-Pastor Matt Kenitzer, October 2022