Sunday Observance Part One
“Papa, is it a sin to work on Sunday?”
A number of years ago my wife and I had four of our grandchildren ages 12-15 out to our cottage overnight. On Sunday I was taking a walk with them and we passed two guys building a wall; therefore, the question.
“The short answer to your question of whether or not it’s a sin to work on Sunday is this; it depends! Let’s get some ice cream, because this will take a few minutes to explain.”
The worst kept secret in our family is that I give long answers to almost every question put to me, especially about the Bible. The reason I do is because I value giving my teaching context. I want them to know the “backstory” of why I and other followers of Jesus believe or behave the way we do besides giving them the, “because the Bible says so” line. While that answer may be accurate, I've found it’s not very helpful for helping our children or grandchildren grow in their admiration for the wisdom of God.
What follows is a very simplified version of the theology behind a teaching that still confuses and even angers some adults about “the rules” they grew up with governing what they could and couldn’t do on Sunday. I hope it’s helpful to you as you teach your children or grandchildren.
In protestant theology there are two major schools of thought regarding how Christians are to interpret the Bible, that shape what each group believes the Bible teaches, including Sunday observance.
Covenant Christians view the history of God’s dealings with humans in all of history from Creation to The Fall through the lens of three major covenants – the Covenants of Redemption, of Works and of Grace. A covenant is simply an agreement between two or more people. In the Old Testament, most of the covenants were between God and individuals like Adam, Noah, Abraham and later, the people of Israel. God agreed to do something, if Israel or these patriarchs did something in return. They made a bargain and a promise.
One aspect of covenant theology is that it requires Christians to obey all God’s moral laws, not the sacrificial or civil laws, including the commandments God gave to Israel in the Old Testament, which obviously includes the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” Exodus 20:8-10
"You may be wondering why, if God made a deal or gave a commandment to Israel, why do we still have to obey it today? Because covenantal Christians believe that when the Jews (Israel) rejected Jesus, God chose the Church (true New Testament Christians) to replace them and continue his covenants. God didn’t reject Israel. They rejected Jesus, the promised Messiah. God simply couldn’t depend on Israel any longer to carry out their part of the bargain to believe and obey in the Savior he sent.
It’s kind of like a man or woman who owns a business, but his natural children have rejected his authority and refuse to obey him. So, the father adopts other children who will run the business the way the father wants it run. The father still loves his natural born children and if any one of them ever came to their senses he’d be delighted to invite them back into the family business. That’s God’s attitude toward Israel. He still has a special place in his heart for them because he is faithful to his promises, even if they aren’t.
So, as God’s faithful, adopted sons and daughters we are expected to continue honoring these covenants. That’s why covenantal Christians still believe we ought to obey the moral laws of God, including Sunday rest. That’s why covenantal churches and denominations believe it’s a sin to work on Sunday.
Let the questions begin!
Q. Papa, what’s a denomination?
A. A denomination is like a Christian franchise. It’s a group of churches that all believe and teach the same things. So, just like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC are all restaurants, but serve different kinds of food, Presbyterians, Reformed, Methodists and Congregational churches all are Christians, but believe slightly different things about God and the Bible. Almost all denominations who accept the basic teachings of John Calvin or Martin Luther and other Swiss reformers are covenantal, like Presbyterians, Reformed, Lutheran churches. If they baptize babies, they’re very likely covenantal (but, not always). It’s complicated.
Q. Papa, why do we go to church on Sunday, if the only thing God commanded us to do was to rest on Sunday?
A. In all fairness, nowhere in the Bible, in the Old or New Testament, are we commanded to go to church every week. However, because Jesus regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and we’re supposed to live like Jesus did, that’s what we do. Also, it was the practice of Christians from the beginning of the church to worship at least weekly. The Bible encourages us to, “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 The early church also changed and their Sabbath, from Saturday to Sunday, being the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Q. Papa, do you believe it’s wrong to work on Sundays?
A. No, I don’t. However, I believe working on Sundays is very unwise and I’ll explain why in a few minutes.
In next week's blog, I share with you "the rest of the story" about how I and dispensational churches view the Sabbath.