“Regulae De Observatione Sabbathi:” The Synod Of Dort’s (1618-19) Deliverance On The Sabbath -- By: Daniel R. Hyde

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 04:1 (Jan 2012)
Article: “Regulae De Observatione Sabbathi:” The Synod Of Dort’s (1618-19) Deliverance On The Sabbath
Author: Daniel R. Hyde


“Regulae De Observatione Sabbathi:”
The Synod Of Dort’s (1618-19) Deliverance On The Sabbath

Daniel R. Hyde

“What is your view of the Sabbath?” This is a pressing question for Reformed Christians seeking to live out the historic Reformed faith in a twenty-first century context. The question itself assumes there are more views than one, offering options for the Reformed believer. One of the popular ways of expressing this is to say that there are two views of the Sabbath in Reformed churches: the Continental view and the Puritan view. What is the difference? R. C. Sproul wrote that the former allows for recreation, while the latter forbids recreation on the Lord’s Day.1 More recently he has written of this “division of the house among Reformed theologians,” saying,

To see how these views [Continental v. Puritan] collided, imagine the consternation of John Knox, who was expelled from England during the reign of Bloody Mary, and first sought refuge in Germany and finally went to Geneva, Switzerland, under the auspices of John Calvin. Knox was shocked when he arrived in Geneva and found Calvin, with his family, lawn bowling on the Sabbath day. Calvin took the Continental view, while Knox took the Puritan view. This difference among Reformed thinkers has gone on for a long time.2

Further evidence of this supposed division is shown in comparing the representative catechisms of each tradition. When one looks at Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 103, the emphasis is on attendance at public worship as well as the eschatological aspect of the Sabbath day, while the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 115-121, emphasizes the day of the Sabbath (116) and the duty of resting on that day (117-121). Jay Adams engages in this type of argument, setting John Calvin and the Heidelberg Catechism’s heavenly focus against the “legalistic” emphasis of the Puritans and Westminster Standards.3

In order to evaluate whether such a division exists, it is necessary to delve into the history and practice of the Dutch Reformed churches as representative of the Continental Reformed tradition. Reformed Christians over the past four centuries have known “the great Synod of Dort in 1618-1619” (De grote Synode van Dordrecht in 1618-1619) from its work in the third confessional document of the Dutch Reformed churches, the Canons of Dort. While not being as familiar to Reformed Christians as the warm and experiential Heidelberg Catechism (1563) or the majestic Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Canons offer a thoroughly biblica...

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