We continue with our exposition of Hemmingsen’s exposition of Col. 2.16-17. In the previous post, we saw the ways in which Hemmingsen distinguishes between the old Mosaic order and the order that obtains after the coming of Christ. Christians do not observe “days” and “times” as was done before Christ’s Advent. And yet Christians still meet together for worship, which is to say, they still keep festivals. Hemmingsen thus goes on to give seven “rule” (regulae) that ought to govern how Christians think of such things. In this post, we’ll look at the first three of these.
But the following rules must be observed concerning the festivals of Christians. FIRST, the festivals of all Christians ought to be free, established for the sake of teaching, order, and the exercise of piety. For the yoke that formerly had been imposed on the Jews for the sake of discipline or pedagogy ought not to be borne by Christians. This rule is confirmed by Rom. 14, Gal. 4, and the present passage. SECOND, the festivals of Christians ought to be of such a kind that in them some part of [Christian] teaching is set forth, and that in the following order, [viz.,] that first of all the history of the festival be passed on purely.1 Next, the benefit of God that the festival remembers should be clearly brought to light. Third, [they ought to be of such a kind] that their use and fruit be shown. The hymns sung on festival days show that the ancients observed this [practice]. THIRD, although it is necessary for Christians that there be some time at which they can assemble to hear the Word of God, to pray, [and] to receive the sacraments, nevertheless the Christian is not attached to the circumstances of time. However, I say that the one who cannot be torn away from an established day by any necessity or love of neighbor is attached to the circumstances of time. For if the sabbath was made on account of man and not man on account of the sabbath, it ought really to be a sabbath, and in the same measure every festival ought to yield to the necessity of man. For this reason the pious in the primitive church transferred the sabbath to the Lord’s Day: in order that they might not seem to be attached together with the Jews to the circumstances of time.2
- The matter of the establishment of Christian festivals is one of liberty and ought to have practical, pragmatic benefits in view. That is, they are to be used better to teach the Christian faith and the history of redemption and to train believers in piety, i.e., in the worship of God. They cannot be imposed as a yoke of law, for worship according to the law of times and places was a shadow that has passed away since Christ has come. Thus public rites cannot be imposed upon Christians as a matter of law upon pain of damnation.
- Again, for purposes of good order it is necessary that Christians have established times at and days on which to meet, as part of the temporal order of the church. But the Christian is not attached to days and times as such. For Hemmingsen there is no distinction of days such that some day or other is inherently sacred. To be so attached to circumstances of time as such is for him a Judaizing tendency. This leads him to make a surprisingly anti-sabbatarian case for the Lord’s Day: the transference of worship from Saturday to Sunday is for him not an instance of the perpetuation of the sabbath but an evidence of the opposite, that circumstances of time are flexible and can be changed. This makes sense upon reflection, of course, because if days as such were and remained holy, then how could Saturday suddenly cease to be so and worship be permitted to be moved to a different day? The very fact that the primitive Christians made this move, no longer worshiping on the seventh day but instead worshiping on the first–without any recorded divine injunction–strikes him as proof that “circumstances of time” are adiaphoron and free after the coming of Christ.