Friday, November 17, 2006

is Sunday your Sabbath? What do you do?

The news story about the Lutheran woman who won a case because she didn’t want to be forced to work on Sundays interested me. Here are some thoughts that have been swirling in my mind regarding when we worship and if there are alternatives provided for worshipers. Don’t expect any logical conclusions or logical progressions of ideas here. Hey, I’m Lutheran; I live in the “tension” and in “the question.”

When I was a child, the pastor preached from the pulpit that women shouldn’t work, and people shouldn’t work on Sundays. Well, his wife was a nurse. When they needed her income because their boys would soon be going to college, she went to work. And being a nurse, she often had to work on Sundays. Of course, that was explained away as being one of those necessary jobs.

And, of course, when I was a child, most stores weren’t open on Sundays. Or evenings. People actually had to plan better. And the economy wasn’t as vigorous. I really don’t know how families got their business done. Dad would have taken the car to work, and by the time he was home, mom could shop, but many of the stores were closed.

Sunday worship was a given. Most churches I was aware of had at least two services on Sunday morning, so there was some choice and flexibility. Large churches had many Sunday services.

In the area where I currently live, most of the churches have only one Sunday morning service. My church has toyed with the idea of an alternative worship time for years, but there were always arguments against this, such as the pastor’s preaching not being as fresh, the organist had too far to drive to do it twice; we would lose the “sense of family” which one service provided. [Wednesday evening Lenten services are attended by a committed group of about 50 people.]

Meanwhile, the local Catholic Church with a priest who is already stretched by serving churches in two towns has provided a Saturday alternative mass for years.

And the culture has changed. The Big Box stores opened on Sundays.
The local stores have to be open at least a few hours on Sundays to keep from losing too much business. More restaurants are open on Sundays. Lots of people have developed a tradition of going out to eat after Sunday services. And we pick up groceries of the way home from church, as well. At the grocery store close to church, they have a predictable “Lutheran Hour” as well as a “Baptist Hour.”

We used to have a Sunday School class at church for teens. Now the conventional wisdom is that “they have to work on weekends.”

And people travel more on weekends.

Last year my pastor said to me, “People don’t go to church as much as they used to.” We all know that. But the next weekend, as I was eating in a restaurant on a Sunday morning because I was on my way to my daughter’s concert at a Lutheran College, I suddenly had this light bulb moment. Christians are contributing to this cultural change of people not attending church “because they have to work on weekends.”

That begs several questions for me: Are we commanded to worship on Sundays? Is an alternative worship time acceptable (to God) Biblically? Do our churches serve our populations by providing an alternative worship time?

Two other notes: While surfing some other Lutheran blogs, I ran across opinions about worshiping on other days being wrong. This made me wonder about doctrine of various churches on this point.

I recently received a book in the mail from an acquaintance called, “Ten Commandments Twice Removed” by Shelton and Quinn. This apparently has Seventh Day Adventist overtones, but doesn’t overtly say so. It does promote worship during the OT Sabbath day. On the back cover it says, “Is our defense of the Ten Commandments triggered simply by a sentimental interest of Christian culture? Is it possible the Church stands before God as guilty as our government for discarding the Decalogue?”


  1. I know of congregations that have a worship service on Saturday evening, and of course we have one at our church on Monday evening.

    The Monday evening worship for me is very different than our Sunday services. It is in our chapel, which is much more intimate, and the congregation is very small.

    Some who attend on Monday do so even though they could attend Sunday services.

  2. I find this a difficult one too - esp the shopping and eating at restaurants on a Sunday. I was brought up that you don't but yes, the culture has changed.
    Is it unbiblical or not? I don't know so I just don't make it a habit of doing those things on Sunday.

  3. As to the "sabbath worship" question, that is pretty clear in the Christian tradition. The earliest Christians observed the Jewish Sabbath on the 7th day, and then gathered for their own worship on the following day (the 8th day, or the first day of the new creation; called the Lord's Day because of the resurrection.) With time, The church became seperate from the synagogue, and the observence of the Jewish Sabbath fell away.

    But never was worship on the Jewish sabbath the primary Christian gathering ... that was always reserved for the Lord's Day (Sunday).

    I agree about Christian contributing to the rising tide of commercialism on Sunday. Quite frankly, I don't care much for legislated blue laws ("sabbath laws"). I don't think it is the state's business to legislate that issue. But the bottom line is, if it was not profitable, stores would not open on Sunday. If parents did not let their children go, their would not be any youth sporting events on Sunday.

    I don't think Sunday morning is the only time a church can worship. But I do think that, when Christians set aside that time to "gather on the Lord's Day," it serves as a lightning rod for the building up of the community. And there is something powerful about knowing that not only are you gathered at the same time as other Christians all around the world, but that you are gathering at the same time as Christians have gathered for 2000 years.

  4. Worshiping together on the Lord's day, the Resurrection Day, Sunday, is important for the Christian community. And no, I don't think we Christians sin every time we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday - that's Christian freedom from the letter of the OT law - we can worship God any day. There are good biblical reasons, as well as 2000 years of Christian practice, to worship on Sunday.
    There are some jobs that need to be done on Sundays in our society - think law enforcement and hospital care - but I agree, we have lost the sense of a community taking a rest from work and taking time to worship and enjoy God. If we Christians committed to not shop, go to restaurants, or travel on Sundays, it is likely that more workers in our service economy would be able to rest on Sundays. Wouldn't that be a radical effect of Christian practice!

  5. I agree completely with your last paragraph, P. Lemonholm. That is the point of what I was trying to say; you say it better. How many pastors would dare preach this notion from the pulpit?

    I do usually refrain from many things on Sundays, mostly out of habit and also because I want to be home with family, if possible. But like many (most?) people, I want it both ways: I want to be able to do whatever I want to when I want to. I guess I should say "most Americans." I can't speak for other cultures.

    And when Christians want it both ways, they are both IN the world and OF the world.

    So then, do we urge Christians to be more intentional about their practices, realizing how this impacts other people? Do we acknowledge this change in society and provide alternative worship times? Should Christian pastor urge people to go back to a day of rest, reflection and worship?

    I think that this needs to be pondered. We need to do more than just whine about how few folks attend church these days.

    And, yes, we should always think about how our actions impact other in our community.

  6. Interesting post. And what Eric said--right on!


And what do you think?