My experience at church today, a friendly criticism of Pastor Troy Dobbs’ sermon on Jesus and the Sabbath

TroyDobbs-300x300“There are some well-meaning people...who claim we should still worship on Saturday, and obey the dietary laws of the Old Testament. But what do we know as people of the New Covenant? We know that the Sabbath regulations were actually part of the group of regulations that Jesus removed by nailing them to the cross....don't let men's opinions dictate your behavior as you walk with Jesus Christ."

-Pastor Troy Dobbs,
Sermon at Grace Church, February 24, 2013

Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MNI just returned from a Sunday service at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN.

I attend there with my family because, even though I'm Messianic – part of a group of Jews & gentiles following Jesus and keeping God's commandments – it’s my wife’s home church and I believe it's important for families to worship God together. So I attend Grace Church in addition to helping run a Messianic sabbath congregation.

Pastor Troy Dobbs spoke on Matthew 12, where Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath. The pastor used it as an opportunity to say the Law (God’s commandments in the first 5 books of the Bible) no longer applies to disciples of Jesus.

Pastor Troy Dobbs - The danger of elevating tradition over Scripture

His 3 bullet points, his take-aways for the sermon?

  • We are under grace, not law
  • We are under Scripture, not men's traditions
  • We are under Christ, because we don't want to become hypocrites.

I'd like to look at the text, consider Pastor Dobb's arguments, and suggest he's missing something -- something big! -- in his teaching. I'd also like to show that he at times uses logic that does not follow, logic that brings him to the erroneous conclusion that Jesus abolished the literal Sabbath and that his disciples don't have to keep it.

Here's the Matthew 12 text which Pastor Dobbs argued from:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."

Scriptures but not Law?

Dobbs thesis is "live under the Scriptures, not the traditions of man", but he then argues we should not live under the Law. This is an odd mental leap that I think he may not even realize he’s making.

He seems to conflate the traditions of man and the Law. This is easy to do for many Christians, because we see Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for their traditions around Law-keeping. It’s easy for people to confuse that rebuke as a rebuke of God’s Law itself. This may explain the leap from  Dobb’s stated thesis of “don’t elevate traditions of men over Scripture” to his implementation of “don’t follow the Law, it’s finished in Jesus.”

Is there not a Scriptural distinction between God's law and men's traditions? If there is, it was unclear from Dobbs' sermon, who conflated obeying God's rules with traditions of men.

He argues we are not under the Law, because we live in the age of grace ushered in by Jesus. This is a false dichotomy. It implies the Law was absent of grace, and that grace exists only in the New Testament. Grace appears more times in the Old Testament than the New Testament; the psalms are filled with songs of God’s grace, and neither Jesus nor the New Testament text calls its new era the “age of grace.”

Dobbs’ sermon could be summarized as 3 Unders and Free-Froms:

Under

Free From

grace

law

Scripture

traditions

Christ

hypocrites

Do you see a problem here? There is a false dichotomy created: he presents 2 opposing forces – grace and law – when they, in truth, are not opposing.

Or notice how we’re under Scripture, but not under the Law – a logically silly statement, because the Law comprises the first 5 books of the Scriptures and lays a foundation for the rest of the Bible.

And what a sad commentary on the state of our faith that we lump the Law – God’s Law – with hypocrites and overly-stringent human traditions.

The Sabbath is nailed to the cross

Dobbs asserts that Jesus nailed a "group of commandments, including the sabbath, to the cross", referencing Colossians 2, “let no man judge you…with regard to a sabbath day…which is a shadow of things to come, the reality found in Christ.” What Dobbs believes this passage is saying is, “The sabbath was a shadow of the reality in Christ, so you don’t have to keep the Sabbath as long as you follow Christ.”

This passage was aimed at the false doctrines of angel-worshippers (v. 18), and speaks to not letting humans judge you with regards to a Sabbath. It does not say the Sabbath is done away with. Dobbs wishes v. 14, “having cancelled the charge of our debts…nailing it to the cross”, to mean the sabbath is abolished, but again, the text does not say that.

Nor could it ever. How could Jesus nail one of God’s commandments – one of the famous 10 commandments, of all things! – to the cross, abolishing it? Why would the Messiah the Son of God abolish the commandments of His Father, whom Jesus was subservient to?

How could a just God, whom Dobbs acknowledges had punished Israel for breaking the Sabbath, retract and say,

“Ah, you know, never mind about all that Sabbath keeping stuff! Sorry for sending you into captivity for breaking that rule! Even though I had previously said it was an eternal sign between Me and My people, I hereby change My mind.”

As the Scripture itself points out, if anyone abolishes the Law, that person is disqualified as prophet and messiah; the Scripture says such a person is a false prophet and will be considered least in the kingdom of heaven.

You are under the Scripture, not under the law

Pastor Dobb’s top 2 take-away points are conflicting and present an unsustainable position. His points are (1) that we're not under law, and (2) that we're under Scripture. This is a non-sequitur, because the Law is Scripture.

Perhaps he means to say that we're under the parts of Scripture not fulfilled by Messiah’s arrival, but this is an unsustainable position. His own church, for example, just months ago led a political charge for a state constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Where does this Biblical mandate against homosexuality come from? The Law. Therefore, it's unsustainable and inconsistent to say, "The law about the sabbath was nailed to the cross (nullified), but the law about homosexuality remains in effect."

(In fact, this unsustainable position has been called out by the New Atheist movement in recent years, and this hypocrisy is a mocked by the unbelieving world. They’ll say, “You hate gay marriage, but you eat shrimp? You’re all hypocrites!”)

Avoiding what Jesus said about the Sabbath and the Law

Dobbs does not address Jesus' statement, "It is lawful to do good on the sabbath."

If I’m not mistaken, he read this passage with the whole Scripture, then never addresses it.

Why Pastor Dobbs didn't address this only he can answer, but I suspect it’s because the verse points to the reality Jesus didn't abolish the sabbath, only saying it's lawful to do good on the Sabbath, something the Law itself permits.

Logically, isn’t it painfully obvious that if Jesus abolished the Sabbath, he wouldn’t use the Law to justify healing on the Sabbath? Instead, he only says it’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

And notice how Jesus uses the term lawful. It means “in accordance with the Law.” Jesus says it’s in accordance with the Law to do good on the Sabbath. If Jesus was actually abolishing the Law, why is he talking about what’s lawful and what’s not?

The ugly Rule-Keepers

Dobbs cited Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” But he avoids the following 3 verses,

“I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

By claiming Jesus abolished the law about resting on the sabbath day, he makes Jesus out to contradict himself.

Dobbs portrayed rule-keepers as loveless wretches who don't care for people. While this may have been true of certain Pharisees, it paints a negative stereotype of those -- especially Jews -- who have faithfully kept God's commandments. This has often led to anti-Semitism in Church history.

He talks about obedience as if it's a dirty word. But obeying God's rules is what God blesses us for (Deut 30). Pastor Dobbs acknowledges that Israel was punished for disobeying God's rules, but he seems to think obeying God's rules doesn't apply in the New Testament-era.

He mischaracterizes rule-keepers by saying, "Legalism is this: I'm gonna do this, and do this and do this to keep God loving me." As someone who follows Jesus and keeps the Torah, this is a gross mischaracterization. I keep the Law because I believe God is honored when we obey him. We obey him by following his rules, including his rules about sabbath, homosexuality, and yes, even diet.

More importantly still, notice what Jesus had to say about rule-keepers: “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

When did obedience become such a negative idea in the Church? I believe it’s a response to the outward-only religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but it has fully warped in the opposite direction, producing an opposite abuse as great as the one Jesus was rebuking.

Sola scriptura

Pastor Dobbs says,

"You really need to make sure, today, that what you believe, and what you embrace, and what you live out, is actually from the Bible. 'Cause a lot of us are living out certain principles in our life; you'd...you'd better make sure they're actually from God's word, and not something you just grew up with in your little church of 40 people that got forced on you."

There is much irony in this statement.

Dobbs criticizes the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites. Why? Because he says, "They pretended to care about the Law, when really they only cared about their rendition, their addendums to the Law. They focused on the externals, but not the heart."

Is there not irony in Christian leaders calling other religious leaders hypocrites for not following the Law, when Christianity itself says the Law is abolished? How can Pastor Dobbs criticize the Pharisees for failure to keep the heart of the Law, when he is preaching that we don't have to keep the externals of the Law? It's reverse Phariseeism: the Pharisees kept only the externals while neglecting the internals, while Christians keep the internals but neglect the externals.

Dobbs rightfully points out the Pharisees were chiding Jesus for being a "rule-breaker, a Sabbath-breaker." What Dobbs left unanswered is, was this a legitimate criticism? Was Jesus really breaking the Law?

If the answer is yes, then we are saying the Messiah of Israel sinned against God’s Law, something God warned Israel that false prophets would do (Deut 13).

If the answer is no, Jesus did not break the Law, then the criticism should not be of the Law, but the faulty interpretation of the Law. And if the fault was the interpretation of the Law, and not the Law itself, then how can we say the Law, and the Sabbath, is abolished?

Dobbs encourages people to live under the Scriptures, not the traditions of men. He says,

"People who live under the Scriptures keep going back to the Scriptures, again, and again, and again. That's the safest way to make sure you're under the Scriptures. What do you do? I keep going back to it. [I'll ask] Where does it say that? I want to know where it says that. I want to know what chapter and verse. I want to know what the word says. I want to come back to the Bible."

Does Dobbs do this with the Sabbath? I propose he doesn't, because there is no chapter or verse that says, "The sabbath was nailed to the cross." The closest he can come is a verse about nailing to the cross the charges against us, and a following verse about not letting men judge us about the sabbath.

As for Jesus, he only says he is Lord of the Sabbath, and that it's lawful (e.g. in accordance with the law) to do good on the Sabbath. Why would Jesus say that if the law about the Sabbath was abolished?

Dobbs argues that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, then goes on to say Christians don't have to keep the law about the sabbath (that is, resting on the 7th day, Saturday.)

This is a non-sequitur: how is it that Christ is Lord of something he abolished?

If the US President proclaimed he was King of Traditional Marriage, but then he abolished Traditional Marriage, wouldn't we rightly conclude he's lost his mind?

So it is with Jesus: if he’s Lord of the Sabbath, then he strengthens it. Upholds it.

Thankfully, Dobbs argues the Sabbath isn't totally abolished, saying we should instead accept the principle of "work, rest, and worship". While this is indeed a good principle, it still cancels the thrust of the commandment: to sanctify (set apart, make holy) the 7th day.

Dobbs justifies this by saying, "Jesus is King every day [and] Jesus is King _of_ every day."

This is misleading, is a straw man argument, and cancels the 4th commandment.

It’s a straw man argument because no follower of Jesus says he is king only on the Sabbath. It's misleading because it implies that the Sabbath is not holy or set-apart. It implies Jesus might as well have said, "I'm the Lord of Tuesdays", which effectively cancels out the set-apart nature of God’s Sabbath and indeed the 4th commandment for humanity to sanctify the 7th day.

Conclusion

This is reason I argued last week that sending Messianic gentiles back to the church is a disastrous idea.

These classic Christian arguments can be persuasive, as it is hurtful to hear yourself described as an ugly rule-keeper who cares more about the rules than caring for people. Those who are young in the Messianic faith can be swayed by emotional arguments like this.

And when the congregation is shouting out “amen!” and lifting their hands in halleluyahs when the Pastor says you have freedom from the Law, the peer pressure to capitulate is overwhelming.

I really love Pastor Dobbs. His teachings are easy to understand and often inspirational. Goes back to the Scriptures for everything. I think Grace Church is blessed to have him.

I say in this instance, he should go back to the Scriptures to see if Jesus ever says the Sabbath is done away with.

I ask him to consider that since he acknowledges that the work-rest-worship weekly cycle is indeed important for us today, perhaps we ought to consider that God’s vision of that cycle – 6 days of work, with a 7th day of rest – is the proper one for us as Jesus’ disciples.

*Update* My wife reminds me I omitted an important piece of information in this post. Pastor Dobbs does acknowledge two useful things with regards to the Sabbath: that Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath, and that Sunday was brought in via Constantine’s Dei Solis decree in 321 AD. That’s great! I’m glad Pastor Dobbs acknowledges this.

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Husband, dad, disciple of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, technologist. Author of Chavah Messianic Radio, MessianicChords, and EtzMitzvot. @judahgabriel


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