Equally detrimental to Sabbath observance has been the widespread popularity of revivalism. Not only have churches used revivals as a means to convert the lost and gain new members, but revivals have become the chief means for determining genuine spirituality. These intense and earnest times of spiritual awakening have been used to distinguish the saved from the lost. They are times when believers reaffirm their faith and sense once again the saving power of God. In other words, revivals indicate when the Spirit of God is at work. This way of thinking about revivals has contributed to the notion that genuine piety and spiritual growth come through the quantifiable means of church programs and the intensity of religious experience. Mountaintop experiences are assumed to be necessary for spiritual growth, and consequently churches respond by offering activities that produce experiences.
Compared to these high-octane experiences, the Sabbath seems boring. The Bible and Reformed confessions, however, describe very differently the spiritual disciplines essential for the Christian life. In Exodus, just as Moses was descending from Mount Sinai, God reiterated the Sabbath command in his parting instructions: “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths” (31:13). The Sabbath is a “perpetual covenant” for all generations (31:16). God’s intention was to bless his people through the constant and conscientious observation of the day,, week after week and year after year. Believers are sanctified through a lifetime of Sabbath observance. In other words, the Sabbath is designed to work slowly, quietly, seemingly imperceptivity in reorienting believers’ appetites heavenward. It is not a quick fix, nor is it necessarily a spiritual high. It is an “outward and ordinary” ordinance (WSC 88), part of the stead and healthy diet of the means of grace.
North American Protestants, we have noted, are generally not in sync with this rhythm. Attracted to the inward and extraordinary, they commonly suffer from spiritual bulimia, binging at big events, then purging, by absenting themselves from God’s prescribed diet. The problem with the spirituality of mountaintop experiences is that no one can live on the mountain. We all have to return to our day jobs. When people leave the retreat or Bible camp, or even the midweek small group, they discover their life is still the same: jobs are unpleasant, marriages are shaky, sickness and disease afflict. In contrast, the Sabbath is supposed to be a discipline that provides an oasis in the desert for pilgrims, whose life is marked by suffering. Unlike the church activities that clutter the rest of the week, the Sabbath is when believers spiritually assemble on Mount Zion to meet with their God, to hear him speak, and to partake spiritually of their Savior’s body and blood.
With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, pgs. 65-66.