Friday, June 05, 2015

The American Sunday School Union and the Law

Sometimes the charge "antinomian" is leveled at me for my believe that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, and the only righteousness that counts before God comes to us via our faith in Him (Philippians 3:8-9). In my preaching and teaching I emphasize Christ and His fulfillment of the Law for His people. Thus, personal blessings come to us via the obedience of faith, not our obedience to the Law. However, I also believe that national prosperity comes from corporate obedience to a set of laws based on the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments.

This belief of mine is why-- in spite of my conviction that every day is a Sabbath rest in Christ for the believer (see Romans 14:5)--I have a deep admiration for early America and the time when the laws of the land reflected Sunday as a "Sabbath day of rest and worship." Laws were passed to enforce limited commercial transactions on Sunday. Efforts were made to copy the new organization in England called "Sunday School" (est. by Robert Raikes in 1781). Most people don't realize that children did not begin attending schools during the week in England until the year 1870. They were too valuable in the factories. The Sunday Schools became the only means of educating children, both in England and pioneer America. The influence on society was great. In 1736, prior to the establishment of Sunday Schools in London, London's population was 630,000 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses was an astonishing 15,839. By 1835, thirty years after establishing Sunday Schools to instruct London children during the only day they had off from the factories, the population in London had tripled to 1,776,500 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses had decreased three-fold to 5,000. There's merit to Sabbath instruction of the general population.

My maternal great-great grandfather, Charles T. Cherry, was the Agent for the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1830's.  He owned a bookshop where the Cincinnati Reds stadium now stands (186 E. Main), and his job was to build and ship wooden cases filled with 121 books down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for "Sunday Schools" on the western frontier. The book case would be hung in either a pioneer church, home, or in one of the few 'public' frontier schools, and the books inside would be used to teach the children during "Sunday School." The books, designed for children in the 1830's, would make difficult reading for modern college students. They covered all subjects, including ancient and American history, theology and poetry, biographies of great men and women of Europe and America, geography, ancient literature, and more.

Some of the men who served with Charles Cherry on the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati during the 1830's would later become famous. For example, Salmon P. Chase, would go on to become U.S. Treasury Secretary and a member of Abraham Lincoln's famous presidential cabinet. He then served as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Chase, whose picture framed the American dollar bill when it was first issued and whose name to this day graces Chase Bank, was a devout Christian, strong supporter of the American Sunday School Union, and a firm believer that nothing should be done on the Sabbath (Sunday) but worship and rest. Mr. Cherry, Mr. Chase and the other 21 members of the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati published a song that the children memorized and sang on Sundays in their schools:
This day belongs to God alone
He chooses Sunday for his own;
And we must neither work nor play
Upon God's holy Sabbath day.

Tis well to have one day in seven
That we may learn the way to heaven;
Or else we never should have thought
About religion as we ought.

And every Sabbath should be past
As if we knew it were our last;
For what would dying people give
To have one Sabbath more to live.
Other than the first four lines of that song, I could sing this song with gusto! There is something to be said about a nation that sets Sabbath Laws to keep people focused on worship, rest and instruction about "the way to heaven."  Every country must live by law, and there's no greater example of the best laws under which any country should live than the Judeo-Christian 10 Commandments.

However, the problem becomes when modern evangelicals equate personal righteousness with keeping the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath, as our forefathers in America did, was a functional, practical way to govern the land. The Sabbath "Blue Laws" have since been overturned. Our Christian faith is not in jeopardy, but there's a whole bunch of little children out there who may never know the way to heaven.


Bob Cleveland said...

Hebrews 8 says that God made a new covenant, and .... verse 13 ... "By calling this covenant "new", He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete is aging and will soon disappear".

The old covenant .. the one of laws ... either disappeared or it didn't. One thing you couldn't do under the old one was pick & choose which parts you wanted to observe.

Goodness gracious ... Baptists above all believe that once we're saved, we're swimming in an ocean of grace that we can't get out of.

As to the Sabbath, God took a day of rest after 6 days, and I figure He doesn't really get tired, but I do, and if a day of rest is good for Him, it's even better for me!

Victorious said...

Interesting...the question is should the Blue Laws have been imposed on those who didn't/don't believe in the Sabbath? And is Sunday School the scriptural means for children to learn how to get to heaven or was that responsibility designated to the parents?

I might get stoned for saying this, but I think Christians have become bullies. We expect everyone to believe and behave the way we believe and about behaving. God didn't expect the pagan nations around Israel to believe the same as the Israelites. He cautioned His people to live by different standards than the surrounding nations and in doing so, they might introduce their God to them as opposed to their gods. But they weren't to bully or intimidate them or picket their practices to bring them into line.

Yes, the purpose of the Sabbath was rest and Jesus is our rest. It's good to put aside time for worship and fellowship with others, but it's not mandatory I don't think.

Times change; people change; and culture changes. Hopefully our understanding keeps up with those changes rather than imposing rigid traditions from the past.

Tom said...


Eph 4:20-24: But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. NKJV

Gives us a clue as to the meaning of NT:2537 which has the meaning of being made fresh like new again where NT:365 tells us to be renewed, made like new again, such that our memory of our old self quickly fades from our mind and the renewed us comes to the for front of our recollection of who we now are in Christ.

Your reference to Heb 8:13 is actually telling us that the "Old"/original Covenant has been refreshed and made like new again to use, such that the refreshed form of the previous covenant is remembered and displaces our memory of the former pattern of the covenant from our mind.

The only time that "new" with respect to time is in any way closely associated with the word "covenant" is found in Heb 12:24 where I believe to right interpreted translation would read as follows: -

Heb 12:22-24: - But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the new Mediator of the covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. NKJV

In the parable of the "New" {with respect to time} Wine and the "refreshed" {made like new again with oil etc. rubbed into the skin so that it is pliable and soft and can stretch} wine skins, even the "new"/unused wine skins need to be refreshed before the "new" wine is stored in them because leather wine skins age and become hard and brittle even if unused. In this parable NT:3501 is used with respect to the "wine" but NT:2537 is used with respect to the wine skins.

It is my understanding that Jewish scholars consider that Jer 31:31 indicates that God will made his covenant with the nation of Israel which was made some three and a half thousand years like new again with them and that instead of the covenant being imprinted on their "stone hearts" that it will be imprinted on their "flesh hearts" and be as real as the day it was first given.

Oh we "Christians" want it to be so different that we miss it completely with our hard hearts towards humanity and God's purposes.


Bob Cleveland said...

According to the Interlinear Bible and Strong's, 8:13 means exactly what it says. I will stand on that.

Tom said...

Bob, I am happy for you to hold to an understanding that the Greek text, IMHO, does not support.

In Heb 8:13 the word translated as new in this verse is OT:2537 KaineĆ©n (in the simplified transliterated text) which has the following Strong meaning: - NT:2537 kaino/$ kainos (kahee-nos'); of uncertain affinity; new (especially in freshness); while NT:3501 is properly so with respect to age: KJV new: - (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

I do appreciate your stance but if God's covenant is the same in the distant past as it is today and as it will be in our future, then the same covenant undertakings that were in play in the distant past are the same undertakings that are in play today and also will be in our future. The point that Paul was making in this verse is that the covenant will be/has been made like new again for us as we accept its terms of implementation in today's environment.

When Jesus came, He said that He had not come to change any part of the Law, which also embraces the covenant, but he certainly expressed the law in a fresh new way for us to contemplate and follow to the best of our ability.

Now when does the defence for a particular meaning of a word go outside the intended meaning that Christ initially gave.

May God's grace help us both to grow in our maturity in Christ.

Christiane said...

"The Sabbath "Blue Laws" have since been overturned."

I do believe that, in Norfolk, Virginia, there is still a law on the books which forbids anyone to lead a bear on a chain down the center of Main Street on Sunday.

Goodness, I think that putting chains on bears should be outlawed everywhere, but then, I cannot 'bear' the thought of any animal suffering on a chain.

I suppose the best 'blue' laws WERE those that should be in effect 24/7 anyway. Especially, if those laws reflected a kindness shown to any living being. :)

Christiane said...

I forgot to add that I expect 'KINDNESS' to be something that is not CAN be legislated, if people are not inclined to be humane, but sometimes the threat of a fine or of incarceration does curb people of ill will towards other living beings from doing their worst to them. (not always, sadly, but we know this all too well)

Christiane said...

sorry, should be 'something that can NOT be legislated' . . . (need more coffee) :)

Gordon said...

The law of Moses was in place only until it was fully fulfilled on our behalf by Jesus Christ, and then it was superseded by the better and higher law of his love. (Romans 15:8-10).

With the coming of Jesus Christ, Moses honorably faded away (2 Cor 3:11) and reached his 'sell-by' date (Hebrews 8:13). This verse tells us the old covenant of Moses was aging fast, soon to disappear and is now totally obsolete having been replaced with something better.

Now that Moses is dead, the living Jesus Christ has become the mediator of a new and superior covenant, far better and more glorious than the old. " ...Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance-now that he died to set them free...from the first covenant" . (Hebrews 9:15)

No more Sabbath rules; no more circumcision; no more prohibition of bacon or smoked ham....all gone and relegated to optional cultural practises. Love is now the litmus test of our obedience.

We should gladly be free now to live in submission to the grace of God every day, walking in the love of Jesus and drawing power and wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Do not return to the bondage of Egypt !