Thursday, July 25, 2019

Jordan Hall, Sabbatarians, and Arminianism

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to debate Jordan Hall regarding the Sabbath. Before the debate we enjoyed lunch together and I told Jordan that during the debate I would take the gloves off and throw few bare fist theological punches. However when the time came, I relented and went a little softer than I had planned- even though at some point in the evening I did refer to him as a "Sabbatarian Bruce Jenner, who can only self identify as Sabbatarian yet doesn't actually have what it takes to actually be one." So today, I'd like to be a little more direct and say some of the things that I had planned to say on that warm October day in Phoenix. 

Jordan Hal, along with a majority of Sabbatarians, is a Calvinists who thinks that Arminians are inconsistent and wrong in their Soteriology. But would it surprise you to lean that Sabbatarians, like Jordan Hall for example, actually have a lot in common with Arminians? You may ask, "what could Jordan Hall (and all other "Christian Sabbatarians") possibly have in common with Arminians?" After all, the two seem so very different. I think Charles Spurgeon can answer that question.

I've always been a fan of Charles Spurgeon. I love his clever wit and style of examining and communicating theological issues. One particular work of his on Arminian theology has always been one of my favorites. He writes:

You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer! For the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees  prays desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it... 

Now, when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out.

Here, Spurgeon is keying in on an aspect of Christian regeneration, namely; that Christians may have different understandings of certain theological issues, but the Spirit of God at times will not allow certain behavior from his children. They can think that they believe some note of doctrine when they're preaching slowly, but when it comes time to act, the truth comes out. Spurgeon notes this as the "brogue of his country where he was born," but it's more appropriate to think of it as the brogue of the county into which he's been born again. This principle of the Spirit of God not allowing for such error in practice has been noted in different ways throughout history. Spurgeon's observations in this matter are accurate. But this principle does not only apply in the Arminian practice of prayer, but it also applies in the Sabbatarians' practice as well.  Let's look at Spurgeons words again, but this time I will replace the references to Arminianism with Sabbatarianism.  

You have heard a great many Sabbatarian sermons, I dare say; but you never seen a Sabbatarian practice such doctrine! For the saints in practice appear as one in word, and deed and mind. A Sabbatarian in practice would look desperately like a non-Sabbatarian. He cannot practice a Sabbath in the New Covenant, there is no room for it... 

Now, when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out.

Both the Arminian and the Sabbatarian are equally contradictory in word and practice. Sure, they may have grand sermons on the need to believe in and practice a Sabbath, but when they come to actually live what they preach, the true thing slips out. They can't help but live as non-Sabbatarians and allow every man to live according to his own conviction (either to observe a Sabbath or not observe). But as soon as they allow men to refuse to observe a Sabbath, they become deniers of the Sabbath doctrine which they profess.

Consider that at the outset of the debate, Jordan Hall made it a point to affirm that I'm his brother in Christ. He also affirms the same for other non-Sabbatarians like John MacArthur, as well as all other Christ honoring New Covenant, and Dispensational Theologians. But he can only do so in direct contradiction to his professed Sabbatarianism. True Biblical Sabbatarianism cannot affirm non-Sabbatarians like myself or John MacArthur or the millions of other non-Sabbatarian believers around the globe. They must label all non-Sabbatarians as false converts and heretics. Here's why.

In Romans 14, Paul says, 

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but do not quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgemnt on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 

See? This passage proves that there is no such thing as a Sabbath. Some believers choose to esteem one day above the rest, but some believers esteem all days alike. Thus, there is no obligation to treat one day above the rest. "This proves that there is no Sabbath." says the Sabbath denier. 

"Not so fast," says the Sabbatarian, "It is evident that these texts are not referring to moral commands, but refer only to the Jewish ceremonial days. The Apostle does not have the Sabbath day in view here. Paul is referring to disputable matters within Christianity such as whether or not a person can in good conscience observe Passover or any other Jewish ceremonial days. The Sabbath command is moral and not one of the disputable matters."

That is how the Sabbatarian vs. non-Sabbatarian arguments go.

So if the non-Sabbatarian is correct in his interpretation of this passage, then the idea of a Christian Sabbath is a disputable matter and each believer is free to practice or not practice as he sees fit. Thus, it's not a moral issue at all, but just one of preference and no one is under any obligation to observe a special day. But if the Sabbatarian is correct here, then this is NOT a disputable matter. The Sabbatarian cannot then allow each man to do as he chooses. He must demand that all Christians observe a weekly Christian Sabbath; for it is a moral matter. But that's not what the Sabbatarian does. Instead, after having argued that Paul does NOT believe the Sabbath to be a disputable matter, he walks away from the text, forgets his argument against the non-Sabbatarians, and then pretends as if the non-Sabbatarian is correct in that it's a disputable matter. He allows each Christian to practice or not practice a Sabbath; thus adopting the non-Sabbatarian interpretation of this passage and admitting by his practice that the Sabbath is indeed not a moral issue. 

Imagine for a moment if we were not speaking about the fourth commandment (the commandment concerning the Sabbath) and isntead, imagine if we were speaking about the first, second, third, or fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth, or ninth or tenth. Imagine for a moment Paul arguing, "one man esteems the Lord above all the rest, and another esteems all gods alike, let each one be convinced in his own mind."  Or perhaps, "one man esteems one sex for a bride, while the other man esteems both sexes alike." Or how about, "one man esteems one idol above the rest, and another esteems all idols alike?" These of course are moral issues and Paul would never say such a thing regarding moral issues. 

Tony Jones, Emerging Church minister who argues for open-marriages,
as well as polyamory.
Moral issues are not disputable matters, they are not open for personal interpretation, and a person cannot veer from these issues and still be called a Christian. A Christian cannot say, "you have your moral code and I have mine and we can disagree" or "you have your many gods and I have my one, but we can disagree" or "you have your polyamorous poligamous bisexual marriage and I have my monogamous heterosexual one, but we can disagree." Nope! That's not possible! The only correct response would be, "this is not a disputable matter! This is a moral matter based on the moral command of God and you must repent of your sin or else you are demonstrating that you are cut off from Christ!" And the Scripture affirms this as true, "for no one who abides in God keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." (1 John 3:6)

So why doesn't the Sabbatarian respond that way? Why doesn't he say, "this is not a disputable matter, you must repent!"  After all, when he's preaching or talking slowly, he's very clear, "this is not a disputable matter, the Sabbath is a moral obligation given by God, and it is a perpetual, and moral obligation, binding on all men!" But we know that's not what happens when it comes to actual practice. Instead, they wish to clearly and unequivocally assert that it is a disputable matter (which is of course the non-Sabbatarian position).

Thus, although Spurgeon was a Sabbatarian himself, he would have to assert of the Sabbatarians, "
when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out."

In order to hold to the Sabbath doctrine, the Sabbatarian must tell the non-Sabbatarian that just like all other moral issues, Sabbath doctrine is not a disputable matter. Do Christians allow for disagreement on commands such as adultery, and idolatry? Of course not! But for the Sabbatarian and Arminian alike, he has to allow his practice to remain completely divorced from and unaffected by his belief.  For if he wished to be consistent, the Sabbatarian must tell all non-Sabbatarians that if there is no repentance from his immoral Sabbath breaking ways, there is no communion with Christ. Isn't that what he believes about idolatry? And adultery? And murder? And every other commandment? Why then does he make an exception regarding the 4th commandment? Could it be that "when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to practice the Sabbath, the true thing slips out?" 

Clayton Jennings 
Let's look at a living example. Jordan Hall and his ministry have written extensively about Clayton Jennings, a popular minister and speaker who also happens to be an unrepentant sexual predator, and noted his lack of repentance for sexual sin and has labeled him as a false professor of Christianity. They write, "we also would covet your prayers for Jennings, that he might find saving faith that leads to repentance."1 Why does the Pulpit and Pen deem Jennings to be in need of saving faith? After all, Jennings repeatedly and consistently professes himself to be a Christian. He even preaches and teaches at churches. Why then does Jordan Hall and the Pulpit and Pen ministry label him as a false brother?  They do so because he persists in breaking the 7th commandment without repentance. Now, it's true that Jennings also consistently breaks the 4th commandment regarding Sabbath keeping far more frequently and repeatedly than he breaks the 7th commandment regarding adultery, but for some reason, Hall doesn't seem to care about his breaking of the 4th commandment so much. I have yet to see a single article from Hall or his ministry, condemning Clayton Jennings or any other ministers who refuse to keep a Sabbath. But of course the lack of repentance towards breaking of the 7th commandment necessitates a handing over to Satan and calling him a false brother.  

In order to highlight the extreme failure of Sabbatarians in this matter, imagine for a moment that Jennings was not only guilty of sexual immorality himself, but also was also teaching thousands of people that they could do the same. How would Hall respond in this matter? Would he sit quietly while this man was teaching thousands that they are free to break one of the Ten Commandments? I doubt that any Sabbatarian, with or without a watch-blog ministry, would sit quietly while a popular pastor taught that they could cast off the 7th commandment, or any other commandment. So what about pastors who not only rejects Sabbath observance for himself, but he openly and actively teaches others that they too can cast off that commandment?  How do Sabbatarians relate to those who not only persists in breaking the 4th commandment themselves, but teach others that they may do the same; let's say someone like John MacArthur? For example, in a Sermon about Sabbath doctrine, MacArthur told his congregation, "
Don’t let anybody hold you to the sabbath.  It was part of the system that included the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices.  It’s gone.  It was only the shadow, not the substance."2 Imagine the outcry if MacArthur would have said, "don't let anybody hold you to the 2nd commandment about not making idols." Or "don't let anybody hold you the 7th commandment about not committing adultery."  Had he said something about any of the other nine commandments, no doubt Hall would have written an article about MacArthur's apostasy. But in this case, the Spirit of God testifies to Hall and other Sabbatarians about the reality of the abrogation of the Sabbath, and they continue to embrace one another as brothers should. 

Thus, Jordan is careful to make sure to communicate to the wider Christian body that non-Sabbatarian men like John MacArthur are his brothers in Christ.  His reasoning?  Because MacArthur thinks Sunday is a special day and refers to it as "the Lord's Day."3 But for MacArthur, "the Lord's Day" is not a Sabbath and he considers himself free to work and to play on the Sabbath 4, both of which are popularly accepted Sabbath violations, one of which Hall considers to be a Sabbath violation (working).  But, why the double standard? Why write extensively about one minister's breaking of the 7th commandment and remain silent in regard to the persistent breaking of the 4th? Especially when it includes not just the breaking of the command but the teaching of others to do the same? This is sin upon sin. This is egregious! He should be condemned far more harshly than someone like Clayton Jennings. But of course, in practice, this isn't what happens. In the case of MacArthur specifically, Hall accepts his Sabbath breaking because he appreciates that MacArthur calls Sunday "the Lord's Day," but such acrobatics just won't do. Again, imagine the man in Israel about to be put to death for having collected sticks on the Sabbath protesting, "but I'm not guilty of breaking the Sabbath, I call today 'the Lord's Day!'" Such an excuse will not do. Nor could I see Moses protesting, "but Lord, sure he was picking up sticks and breaking your Sabbath, but the day is special to him and he calls it 'your day.'" No. Such a thing could have never happened.  Sabbatarians may dutifully proclaim the moral obligation of Sabbath keeping, "when he is preaching and talking very slowly the Sabbath is binding on all; but when he comes to practice that doctrine, the true thing slips out; he cannot help it."

The observation that Sabbatarians resemble Arminians in this way is not new. In his book, In Defense of Jesus, the New Lawgiver, John Reisinger notes, 

"The next time someone insists that the Sabbath is a moral commandment just as binding on a Christian today as it was when first given to Israel, ask this question: Exactly what must a person do before your church will discipline him or her for Sabbath breaking? After a moment of silence, ask if the church has ever disciplined someone for breaking the Sabbath commandment. When he or she says no, then say, “You must have a church filled with extremely conscientious Sabbath-keepers or else you have a very hypocritical leadership that treats a moral commandment of God as if it had a nose of wax that could be twisted to mean anything any individual wanted it to mean.”

In other words, every member's Sabbath doctrine must match the pastor's view of the Sabbath in all points, or else be excommunicated from the church as someone who does not know God. Is this claim too extreme to be believable? It shouldn't be. It is standard Biblical doctrine. Jordan Hall confirms this in a Facebook exchange between him and I. 

To the left is a screenshot of the interaction. Jordan begins by quoting the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith regarding what God requires from men every Sunday. I saw this post and asked, "what should be done with those who unrepentantly break the Sabbath?" Hall answers, "They should be handed over to Satan, that they may be taught." The phrase "handed over to Satan" comes from 1 Corinthians 5 and is the Scriptural instruction to be carried out on a man who has been urepentantly having sex with his father's wife. In the passage, Paul argues that anyone who calls himself a Christian "brother" and yet engages in unrepentant sin is to be put out of the church and not to be numbered among the believing Christians. 

So we know that Hall rightly sees Sabbath breaking as no different than sexual immorality, such as the type of sexual immorality for which he calls Clayton Jennings to repent and considers him a false brother. Here we see that Hall is being very consistent in his theology of penology. Although this is very surprising since the 1689 London Baptist Confession from which he quotes here condemns Hall himself as a Sabbath breaker for playing basketball with friends on Sunday. As he speaks slowly in sermons and on Facebook, he says the right thing concerning consistent Sabbath doctrine and rightful penalties, but when it comes to practice, the old brogue of his heavenly country cannot help but slip out. So he calls Sabbath breakers (ironically, himself included) brothers. Surprised that he verbalized such a consistent penal theology for Sabbath breaking, I asked, "Are you referencing 1 Corinthians 5?" and he replied, "Sure. It's the same for any unrepentant sin." Now consider the two facts together. One, Sabbath breakers are to be handed over to Satan, and two, even if Sabbath breakers give Sunday a beautiful title like "the Lord's Day," Sabbath breaking is still Sabbath breaking. There's no excuse for it. There's no reason for Sabbatarians to allow for such unrepentant sin in the church simply because they say "today is the Lord's Day" while they go about breaking it, especially when someone like John MacArthur hold such extensive influence over thousands of other Christians, telling them that they can ignore any Sabbath command because the Sabbath is "gone." Again, what would Hall say if MacArthur said, "feel free to commit adultery because that commandment is gone?" It is highly unlikely that Hall would support such a man simply because he gives marriage a beautiful title such as "the Lord's union." To call it "the Lord's Union" while at the same time ignoring what the union requires is nothing but bold faced hypocrisy, and the same applies to the Sabbath. 

Depiction of Jan Hus (right) at the council of
Constance where he was excommunicated and
declared a heretic. 

Now a seemingly easy solution to this problem is for Hall and other Sabbatarians to simply respond by declaring me and all other non-Sabbatarian Christians, false believers, heretics, those who are "to be handed over to Satan." But the problem is far more troublesome for the Sabbatarian. Because if he hands non-Sabbatarians over to Satan for Sabbath breaking, then he also has to hand over all of his fellow Sabbatarians to Satan as well. This is because there exist no two Sabbatarians who agree on what the Christian Sabbath requires. And because they don't agree, they must consider one another to be guilty of unrepentant and immoral Sabbath breaking. 

Image result for soccer girlConsider the Sabbatarian who thinks it's perfectly  to play in an organized sporting event after church. According to Hall, she is a Sabbath breaker who should cease her unrepentant Sabbath breaking ways or else be handed over to Satan. All this despite the fact that she considers herself a genuine Sabbatarian who simply disagrees with Jordan's personal opinion on what is permissible on the Sabbath. But there's no room for disagreement on this issue. If Hall is correct and playing in organized sports is a breaking of the Sabbath, then she is guilty of unrepentant Sabbath breaking and should be "handed over to Satan." Morality has no room for each man to hold his own opinion. It doesn't matter if she's a Sabbatarian or not. It only matters what the Sabbath does and does not require. If it requires abstinence from organized sports then anyone who partakes in them is guilty of Sabbath breaking. Again, she must be handed over to Satan. 
The commandment breaker is not allowed to have her own personal interpretation of the commandment. 

But the issue becomes even more problematic for the Sabbatarian because conversely, while he believes that it is acceptable to play sports on Sunday, she thinks it sinful to travel on the Sabbath because, flight attendants, pilots, tarmac directors, tower control officials, baggage handlers, clerks, repairmen, and many more have to work on the Sabbath in order for Hall to enjoy the luxury of immediate travel. Therefore, she must hand Hall over to Satan because she believes he too is in violation of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command not only prohibits an individual from working but, according to many Sabbatarians, it also prohibits an individual from asking others to do the work for him. So just as he is to hand her over to Satan for playing in organized sports, she will be handing him over to Satan for traveling on the Sabbath. But of course there's disagreement on what types of travel are permissible as well, and some Sabbatarians will condemn her for putting gas in her car while on her way to her sporting event. Without question, there is disagreement on all issues. 

The Office Finger Guns GIF
Possible footage of Sabbatarians accusing one another

This is why every Sabbatarian is guilty of Sabbath breaking in the eyes of every other Sabbatarian. This is why everyone of them is logically forced to point the finger at one another and hand all the others over to Satan. No one adopts the exact standards as another. In fact, we saw above that Hall does not even agree with himself. In one moment he quotes the 1689 LBC which forbids recreation, and the next moment he says that recreation is permissible. They all adopt their own, and so no one agrees. Therefore, they are all Sabbath breakers in one another's eyes and they all have to point the finger of judgment and call for repentance, everyone to another. (And yes, Christians are called to judge one another and is Paul's thesis in 1 Corinthians 5). 

In all seriousness, the only person that a Sabbatarian would be able to consider a true Sabbath observer is oneself. I am not deliberately attempting to make a reductio ad absurdum argument, it's just that the logic requires a universal condemnation of all others.  According to all other Sabbatarians, the only true Sabbatarian can be one's self. The reason for the infinite number of opinions on what the Sabbath requires is because it is not just a question of can I play sports or not. But it explodes exponentially into questions of  whether or not one can go out to eat on a Sunday, or if one can drive on a tollway (I know a pastor who refuses to do so), or when the Sabbath begins and ends? Does it begin at Sundown according to the Biblical precedent, or the modern practice of midnight?

And what happens when one travels into a different time zone? Is their home timezone indicative of the Sabbath or the new timezone where they now reside? What about men who live up north where daylight can last for months? How can they observe Sabbath from sundown to sundown? How long does the Sabbath last? Is it 24 hours? Is it only daylight hours? Is it only until the church service is over (a famous pastor whom Hall looks up to once told me that it ends once the church service is over)? These questions of time and duration have never been agreed upon. There are also disagreements about or whether one is permitted to read the newspaper, listen to secular radio, watch secular TV, read non-religious books, go out to eat, use Facebook, use a phone, use running water, use public transportation, take a nap, visit friends, buy or sell, or even shave their face. What if I don't take advantage of a day of preparation before hand? Does failing to observe the day of preparation constitute a breaking of the Sabbath itself? (The 1689 London Baptist confession teaches that failing to prepare for the Sabbath is a breaking of the Sabbath). Can I celebrate birthdays? Hall has preached that birthdays cannot be celebrated on the Sabbath.  What about weddings? My previous church would not allow for weddings. The disagreements between Sabbatarians abound. 

Questions like these abound, and no one agrees perfectly with any other. Every Sabbatarian is a Sabbath breaker at some point in the eyes of every other Sabbatarian.  Because of this reality, Scripture requires them to hand one another over to Satan. Jordan Hall is right, "it's the same for any unrepentant sin." And this is exactly the point that I am trying to make. It is the same. You won't find me saying this very often in a discussion about the Sabbath, but I agree completely with Hall!  Sabbath breakers should be treated the same way every other rebellious unrepentant sinner is treated. So why does Hall (and all other Sabbatarians) always abandon his theology at this point and go out of his way to embrace Sabbath breakers as Christian brothers? They can only do so in contradiction to their professed theology. When they are preaching or talking slowly, they profess the most ardent and sincere Sabbath doctrine, but when it comes to practice, the true brogue of their heavenly home cannot help but slip out, and they accept all Sabbath breakers who profess Christ.

Thus, like the Arminian, the Sabbatarian has a real problem with consistency. And Jordan Hall's response to me during the debate; "I may be bad at practicing a Sabbath, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one" doesn't really answer the problem at hand. It's not just that he's bad at practicing a Sabbath, it's that he cannot practice a Sabbath. Well, he could, but if he did he would have to label all non-Sabbatarians as heretics who should be "handed over to Satan." As we have seen, this includes Christian brothers like myself as well as a dearly loved brothers of his such as John MacArthur, and even all other professed Sabbatarians who disagree with Hall's personal list of Sabbath obligations and prohibitions. And according to Hall's own profession of the 1689 LBC, he would have to even hand himself over to Satan for playing a friendly game of basketball on the Sabbath.5

Even if Sabbatarians could find a reason to maintain the bond of fellowship with one another, they cannot consistently embrace those who verbally and actively cast off the Sabbath command. They have to hand us over to Satan. Imagine for a moment if all Sabbatarians actually did so. They would be claiming that the only ones who belong to Christ are those who call themselves Sabbath keepers (a very tiny number). To employ their doctrine would reveal that our salvation is literally tied to the keeping of holy days; in this case the keeping of the Christian Sabbath. This is the Galatian heresy. Fortunately for the Church, Sabbatarians, just like Arminians, don't actually put their profession into practice. " For when he is preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when he comes to practice that doctrine, the true thing slips out; he cannot help it."

The Sabbatarian and the Arminian alike may preach and profess a belief in certain doctrine, but the Spirit of God cannot help but shine through when it comes time to practice. When it comes time for prayer, the Arminian abandons his theology and prays like a Calvinist. And when it comes time to practice the Sabbath, the Sabbatarian abandons his theology and embraces his brothers. You have heard a great many Sabbatarian sermons, I dare say; but you never seen a Sabbatarian practice their doctrine! 

5   . . . after the public exercises of God’s worship are over, the work of the Sabbath is not over; but we must retire to our families (not seek our pleasure in the fields, or in vain company) and there repeat over what we have heard, catechise and instruct children and servants, sing Psalms, pray with our families, and whilst we moderately make use of any creature refreshment, we must discourse of the things of God. We ought also to take time in the evening to retire into secret, and there examine ourselves as to the carriage of our hearts before God in the day; labour in meditation to get the Word wrought more thoroughly upon our hearts; we must also endeavour to pour out our hearts before God in secret prayer, humbly confessing sin, earnestly and believingly requesting pardon and further supplies of grace, and thankfully praising God for all His mercies, especially for His Son Jesus Christ, and the gospel privileges which we have in and by Him. In such variety of holy exercises we may spend the whole Sabbath, which we should make as long as we can. And when the day is at an end, we should long for the Sabbath in heaven, which will never have an end.