Those who do not go to church on Sunday keep the day for a fun outing with the children

Chapter 4  WORKING without relaxation

As given in the Bible the fourth of the ten commandments is "Remember the sabbath (rest) day to keep it holy (set aside for God). Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns" (Exodus 20:8-10). Later the weekly day of rest was enforced by law. "You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people (Exodus 31:14).

As given in the fourth of the ten commandments of Moses, we are not told which day to begin the six days of work, and which day to rest. Seventh Day Adventists assume that God arranged for the first day of work to begin on a Sunday so the day of rest must forever be on a Saturday. Muslims are required to take their day of rest on Friday, and Orthodox Jews have strict rules for their sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

The first Christians kept the Jewish sabbath, but Jesus seems to have made his resurrection appearances on successive Sundays (John 20:19, 26, and perhaps 21:1, as suggested in Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost). As a result Christians would meet to celebrate a communion meal with him on Sundays (Acts 20:7). In time the early Christians made their "Day of the Lord" the first day of the week, and used this for their weekly day of rest when they were free to do this (In Arabia the million Christians who work there have to take their day of rest on Friday but they still like to worship on Sunday when they are permitted to do so). And when Europe was christianized governments made this the day when government offices, banks, places of business, etc. were closed. But there is no trace in the New Testament of what later became known as Sabbatarianism in Scotland, England and North America.

In 1595 Nicholas Bound published True Doctrine of the Sabbath, which required the strict enforcement of Sunday observance based on Old Testament Jewish laws. In Scotland the enjoyment of any books or music, which were not strictly religious, were forbidden. Under Cromwell and the Puritans any kind of recreation was made illegal, even going for a walk. The law was relaxed after the Restoration, but under the influence of the Evangelical Revival The Lord's Day Observance Act
(Drafted by Bishop Beilby Porteus, 1781) forced the Sunday closing of all places of entertainment. Older readers will remember that swimming, card-playing, and any kind of sports, were forbidden at camps for young people. These puritanical rules were never enforced in Europe, even in Calvin's Geneva. And over the past century governments and ordinary Christians have realized that laws for a gloomy Sunday were not part of the meaning of the fourth commandment.

In the western world with a five day work week many work on Saturday doing laundry, shopping, painting, fixing the car, repairing the house, growing vegetables, baking bread. Those who do not go to church on Sunday keep the day for a fun outing with the children. But the command, as given in the law of Moses, makes no provision for a day of rest for nursing mothers. We have come to see that it is important for a mother to be relieved by her husband for an evening to go to a movie, her parents might free her for a morning to have coffee with friends, or she could alternate with another mother for a time in the library. Evidently there is no way she could have a complete day off, but she certainly needs a sabbath of eight or ten hours of rest and relaxation in shorter periods during the week. Hopefully this has become part of the meaning of sabbat (Hebrew for day of rest).

When I had a three point parish in the country I often relaxed by gardening on Sunday afternoon. One day a farmer came and watched me digging in potatoes. "You are a minister, you shouldn't be working on the sabbath." I told him he should take a day of rest from hard physical work in the fields, but my work was study, preparing sermons and visiting. To rest from that I needed physical work. He stood and watched me disapprovingly for another ten minutes and said "you are putting those potatoes in too deep, they won't grow." Actually it turned out the potatoes came up beautifully.

But regardless of faith in God or being atheists, most people all over the world agree that everyone has the right to a day of rest. We listed this moral principle as : (4) People and their animals need one day's rest in seven. It is interesting that during the Battle of Britain in 1941, when there was a desperate shortage of munitions and planes, the government ordered people to meet the need by working seven days a week. The first week output increased slightly, but by the second week less was being produced than previously in six days. So they had to go back to the principle of resting one day in seven.

Athletes also know that muscles need to be relaxed one day in seven. It would be hard to prove this, but it seems likely that thousands of horses, mules, donkeys and oxen have become sick and useless by being forced to work seven days a week without relaxation. Students who try to cram without taking a day off quickly become stale and unproductive. Artists and writers can only do creative work by taking a break for re-creation. Ministers who have a busy day of work on Sunday, and office hours and visiting on other days, obviously need to arrange for a day off some other day.

In recent years many Christians and Jews have come to think in terms of a day of relaxation, re-creation, and celebration. We worship God for his creation of a world of plants, animals, humans, beauty, music, and the joys of family. It is a way of ordering and making the most of our time. The most effective, impressive people find time for important things such as relaxation and time for their friends and family. It is people who never seem to achieve much who are always too busy. This suggests that God is interested in making our weekly cycle of time creative and happy. Sabbath rest is not designed to be a tiresome set of rules to be obeyed, but the freedom to be renewed and recreated.

Beyond the basic principle of resting one day in seven, religious authorities have often added to it and made rules to enforce to it. "You shall keep the sabbath because it is holy to you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death"(Exodus 31:14). Based on this Christian ministers and Muslim mullahs have tried to require public worship on that day.

All four Gospels mention in passing that Jesus regularly attended the synagogue services on the Saturday sabbath (Matthew 4:23, Mark 1:21-29, Luke 4:16, John 18:20). And religious people know that their day of rest is a good opportunity to worship (worthship) and renew their spiritual health. Paul makes much of a church congregation working organically as a body where every member has a part (Romans 12:4­10, 1 Corinthians 12:4-28, Ephesians 4:1-6). And obviously it is impossible to function in this way without contact with other members of the body. This is why it is important for children to be included in our services, and invalids, sick, or shut-ins need our visits. Those who never worship with other Christians may be very fine, good, caring people, but they cannot share in what the Messiah is doing through his body in every city. Membership in the body of Christ is not an onerous duty but the happiest of all privileges.

It is good to remember that God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6:17). And the weekly day of rest is needed for our health and enjoyment of life. Jesus was opposed by the very religious Pharisees who had made a list of 39 things which were prohibited on the sabbath day. Only a very brief walk was allowed. They even objected to Jesus healing on the day of rest (Mark 3:2). His disciples should not pick and chew grains of wheat on a sabbath afternoon walk (Matthew 12:1). But Jesus undercut this legalism from the roots with his radically revolutionary words: "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27 KJV, RSV - I have avoided the awkward "humankind" used in the NRSV). In this way he restated the universally agreed moral principle that one day of rest and renewal in seven is not a tiresome requirement of religious people but it is good for everyone's physical and emotional health.

Chapter 5   DISHONORING your roots