Honoring the Sabbath with Social Media
The flood of hot takes, flame wars between partisans of political candidates, and lengthy threads on elite theory and the evils of seed oils never cease on social media—even on Sundays.
Though social media provides numerous benefits for Christians, including the ability to sidestep cultural, political, and evangelical elite gatekeepers, we should remember its potential pitfalls, especially when it comes to honoring the Lord’s Day each week. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” as the Fourth Commandment reads in Exodus 20. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.”
God’s prelapsarian creation of the Sabbath in Genesis 2 points to its eternal nature. While Christ’s resurrection abrogated the divine law requirements of the Fourth Commandment for Jews on the Sabbath, the moral law nonetheless “remains unaltered and unchangeable,” as Antonius Thysius argues in Disputation 21 of the Synopsis of a Purer Theology. Thysius, the celebrated Dutch Reformed professor of theology, notes that the Christian Sabbath was “ordained wisely by the apostles, for the sake of discipline, order, and polity,” a day intended to “be of service to piety and holiness.”
With this in mind, I offer a simple way that Christians can keep the Sabbath on social media. Following Nate Fischer’s proposal to abstain from making purchases during the month of June, I propose that in August Christians use social media on the Lord’s Day to promote nothing else but the glories of the Triune God. Tweet out verses from Scripture and quotes from the saints throughout Church history. Reflect upon what was taught from the pulpit that day. Share stories about the saints who have influenced you and how you were brought to saving faith in Christ.
As the famous English preacher and writer John Bunyan urged, Christians should “[m]ake the Lord’s day the market for thy soul; let the whole day be spent in prayer, repetitions, or meditations; lay aside the affairs of the other part of the week; let thy sermon thou hast heard be converted into prayer. Shall God allow thee six days, and wilt thou not afford him one?”
Traditional Protestant Teaching on the Sabbath
Bunyan’s approach to the Sabbath is in keeping with the spirit of the Reformed tradition. Though there’s some disagreement in the Reformed camp on certain elements of the Sabbath—whether recreation is permitted and if acts of mercy are required—there’s a general agreement on the basic principles of what Sabbath-keeping entails.
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith in Article 21, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day” (which is mirrored almost word-for-word in Chapter 22 of the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith),
This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
“An Homily of the Place and Time of Prayer” from the Second Book of Homilies, part of the Anglican formularies, exhorts Christians on the Sabbath to “cease from bodily and worldly business, to give themselves to holy rest and godly contemplation, pertaining to the service of Almighty God.”
Returning to the Leiden Synopsis, Thysius describes the duties of the Christian on the Sabbath as follows:
We deem, however, that the Lord’s Day should be spent in the holy duties of piety not only in public but also privately. Such duties are the reading and contemplation of sacred Scripture at home, conversations about sacred matters, etc., and acts of charity, just as Clement says, ‘On the Lord’s Days, which are days of joy, we permit nothing to be said or done that is not holy.’ Even so, not all bodily recreation is entirely prohibited, as this also belongs to the goals of the Sabbath. Thus activities may be done that pose no hindrance to the worship of God; activities following the completion of the sacred rites, honourable, decent, moderate things that cause no offense or scandal.
And though there are important differences in how Protestant traditions outside of Reformed circles honor the Sabbath, Sabbath-keeping nevertheless remains crucial. For instance, Martin Luther’s Larger Catechism calls Christians “always to keep such a holy day, and be occupied with nothing but holy things.” “We should fear and love God,” Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
J.C. Ryle on the Sabbath
The extended treatment of how Christians should honor the Lord’s Day by J.C. Ryle, the nineteenth-century Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, in Sabbath, A Day to Keep is instructive. Exegeting Exodus 20, Ryle describes the Sabbath as “a rest in which, as far as possible, the affairs of the soul may be attended to, business of another world minded, and communion with God and Christ kept up.” Interestingly, he points out that the Fourth Commandment is in fact “the longest, fullest, and most detailed of all,” signaling both its significance and its potential to be misunderstood.
Among the many benefits of Sabbath observance, Ryle notes that it is good for men’s minds, which need “rest quite as much as the body; it cannot bear an uninterrupted strain on its powers; it must have its intervals to unbend and recover its force.” It is also an “unmixed good for man’s soul” which
is in the midst of a hurrying, bustling world, in which its interests are constantly in danger of being jostled out of sight. To have those interests properly attended to, there must be a special day set apart; there must be a regularly recurring time for examining the state of our souls; there must be a day to test and prove us, whether we are prepared for an eternal heaven. Take away a man’s Sabbath, and his religion soon comes to nothing.
The distractions of our world have increased tenfold since Ryle’s day, which makes this lesson all the more relevant for Christians in the twenty-first century.
Ryle doesn’t argue that one must be an ultra-strict Sabbatarian to observe the Lord’s Day properly (though a huge majority of evangelicals today would view Ryle’s convictions as exceedingly legalistic). “I do not tell anyone that he ought to pray all day, or read his Bible all day, or go to church all day, or meditate all day, without let or cessation, on a Sunday,” he writes.
But Ryle does recommend that “the Sunday rest should be a holy rest. God ought to be kept in view.” He counsels Christians to study God’s Word attentively and attend worship in God’s House. And when Christians are not worshipping or communing with other Christians, he states that they should make sure to “have leisure for quiet, sober meditation on eternal things.” Ryle explicitly urges Christians to “avoid the company that would lead you to talk only of this world” and contends that anything that “prevents the day being kept holy in this way, ought as far as possible to be avoided.”
Christians should carefully consider Ryle’s overall approach to keeping the Sabbath. At the very least, however, we should follow a clear implication of his teaching and use our social media accounts to honor the Lord on the one day He set aside each week.
Look to the Things Above
By using social media to God’s glory, Christians can show that they have their sights set on the eternal Sabbath rest that is discussed in Hebrews 4.
Christians can demonstrate that our hope ultimately does not lie in the world in a way that eschews the more prominent but less convincing methods of modern evangelicalism. There’s no need to adopt a pietist approach that focuses on the heavenly life to the exclusion of our earthly life, put a Christian-sounding gloss on the latest cultural trends, or embrace some form of anabaptism.
Christians have wide latitude to participate in the political and cultural arenas during the week. In fact, we should render service to the Lord by extending our dominion over the world through all the various means at our disposal. Christians should work together to remove LGBTQ and woke propaganda from local libraries and public school curricula; start businesses that focus on creating quality Christian music, art, and films; get involved in local, state, and federal politics; and shine crisscrossing searchlights on the increasing political and cultural dangers that seem to crop up almost daily.
But on Sundays on social media, leave those very real concerns aside for 24 hours.
Christians should make clear on the Lord’s Day that the things of this world are penultimate to the highest good: enjoying God and glorifying Him forever. As Christ teaches in Matthew’s Gospel, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
“What fitter day to ascend to heaven,” writes Richard Baxter, “than that on which He arose from earth, and fully triumphed over death and hell. Use your Sabbaths as steps to glory, till you have passed them all, and are there arrived.”
Arguing about Ron versus Don for the 500th time can wait for the crack of dawn on Monday morning. America’s triumph or fall doesn’t hinge on a 9:10 am tweet on Sunday, launching yet another withering critique of the Global American Empire or the Biden family.
If you’re online on Sundays, use it to the ends that the saints above have described it. And then sign off.
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