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A dying day?

Keeping the Sabbath doesn't have to be drudgery

Issue: "Donna Rice Hughes," April 19, 1997

A local church recently announced it will offer an early Saturday evening service. The service is expected to appeal to individuals who work Sundays, families involved in sports leagues, and persons who have trouble getting started in the morning. A growing number of Protestants now have the same opportunity Catholics have enjoyed for years--to free up an entire Sunday by attending a Saturday service.

Quite a few evangelical churches have abandoned Sunday worship altogether. Sunday is "primetime" to reach unbelievers so "seeker services" are conducted on weekends with "believers' worship" relegated to a weeknight or dropped completely.

These are but two symptoms indicating the possible dying of a day. That day is the Christian Sabbath, which J.I. Packer describes as "the conception and observance of the first day of the week as one on which both business and organized recreations should be held in abeyance, and the whole time left free for worship, fellowship, and 'good works.'"

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The most disturbing symptoms, however, are those we find among ordinary Christians. Some seem genuinely surprised to discover that there are other Christians who believe in a Sabbath as a day of rest and worship. If you ask, "Do you believe in the Ten Commandments?", the sincere Christian will instinctively answer, "Yes," but he may find it strange to discover that the fourth is included and may question if this really is God's will for him.

Others will respond the way teenagers used to respond to the dreaded "restriction." This inhumane punishment often meant confinement to one's room and the removal of all that made life livable. No dates. No movies. No television. No stereo. No phone calls. Execution would be more merciful!

There are important questions about what we shouldn't do on the Lord's Day, but that is not the place to begin. Begin with the blessings. The origin of the Sabbath has nothing to do with sin or punishment. It is built into the pattern of creation and is part of our nature as creatures made in the image of God. Sabbath observance was reinforced by the law, but it is one of two commandments stated in the positive form (of course, all 10 are positive in intent if not in form). It's good to be faithful to your spouse, to honor you parents, to tell the truth, and it's good to keep the Sabbath. Jesus put the question beyond all doubt when he declared, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

What are the blessings of this day?

Communication: Like a day spent with a person you love, the Sabbath is a day for deepening your relationship with God. Emancipation: The Sabbath frees you from work and other distractions and says, "There's more to life than these things." Celebration: The Sabbath gives us a whole day to rejoice in God's work of creation, in Christ's work of redemption, and in our inclusion among the people of God. Orientation: We prepare for the week of work and recreation by remembering who God is and who we are. Anticipation: The Sabbath is a taste of joys to come when we will rest from sin and struggle and enjoy all that God created us for and all that Christ died to give us.

But isn't it hard to keep the Sabbath in today's world? Everything claims the day now--the malls and movies, soccer and softball. Yes, it will be a challenge to respond to God's unique claim on the day. But isn't it a wonderful opportunity for testimony? We need not be legalistic (adding man-made burdens) or self-righteous (thinking ourselves superior) to keep the Sabbath. But the world ought to notice that this is one of many ways in which Christians are different--they reserve a day for God and they enjoy it!

The promise to Israel belongs to the church now: "If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord" (Isaiah 58:13-14).

The day may die in our culture, but it must live in the church. It is a mark of and a necessary means to the spiritual health of the individual Christian and the covenant community.

William H. Smith
William H. Smith

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