Published January 31, 2008
When I was a pastor I worked hard to adjust the time of our Sunday evening worship service to suit everyone’s plans to watch the Super Bowl. We met earlier to accommodate those who wanted to go home in time for the game. We occasionally set up a viewing area in the fellowship hall for those who wanted to stay after the service to watch the game. On at least one occasion we had a viewing of the game in our gym and crammed our service into the half-time segment of the game.
None of the above methods worked well, because many people were more interested in the Super Bowl than having church. We finally decided to have our regularly scheduled worship service and force people to decide between God and the gridiron. In days of yore no such choice was necessary, because there was no Super Bowl.
When I was growing up as a boy in western North Carolina my parents saw to it that we meticulously observed the Lord’s Day. My grandfather was my first pastor and going to church twice on Sunday was more natural than breathing.
I started getting ready for Sunday School and church at least by Saturday. We lived on a dirt road and by Saturday my shoes needed a good shine for the Lord’s Day services and so a part of the preparation was shining my shoes and selecting the clothes I would wear, which always had to pass my mother’s approval.
We had church offering envelopes that included a report card for the “Eight Point Record System.” There were little boxes where each member was to indicate such things as: (1) being present, (2) being on time, (3) bringing a Bible, (4) reading the lesson, (5) staying for worship, (6) giving an offering, (7) making a contact, etc. To be honest I cannot remember the eighth point of the record system to save my life, and there are only a few people around old enough to remember; and those who are old enough can’t remember much of anything.
Going to church was the most significant event in the week for our family; and it seemed to be important to the whole town where I grew up. Very few people had television sets and there were a limited number of programs for viewers to watch. The only movie house in town was closed on Sundays and there were no ball games to attend or watch – at least not within 400 miles.
We also had “blue laws,” which originally applied to laws supposedly enacted by the Puritans in seventeenth-century Connecticut. These regulated moral behavior and restrict certain activities on Sunday to accommodate the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day.
Consequently, retail shops were closed on Sunday and as a general rule no businesses were open on the first day of the week with the possible exception of some few drug stores that would only sell medicine and perhaps a service station that dispensed gasoline to traveling motorists.
David Wilkerson, pastor of Times Square Church in New York City, has stated, “Even the rankest sinner didn’t think of buying anything on Sunday.”
In those days public schools were careful not to plan any programs or sporting events that would conflict with church schedules – even Wednesday night church activities.
The Lord’s Day was revered by most Christians and regarded as holy. Using the day for pleasure or self-gratification was abhorrent to people of piety. Almost everyone ceased from their labors and made it a day of worship and rest.
However, a lot has changed in the last half century. Wilkerson declared, “[Sunday] has become the biggest retail shopping day of the week. More money is spent on Sunday than on any other day. If you drive by any suburban mall on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll see the parking lot absolutely packed. Blue laws are now a thing of the past.
“Sunday has also become a time for pleasure and recreation. People fill the day with football, sports, shopping, and picnics. And if it doesn’t interrupt their leisure activities, they may squeeze in an hour for church, just to ease their consciences.”
Yes, I know it sounds legalistic and unreasonable, maybe even Pharisaical to measure one’s spirituality by evaluating them on the basis of what they do and don’t do on the Lord’s Day, but there was a time when the observance of the fourth commandment was far more important that it is today.
And I realize that the book of Hebrews tells us that Christians have entered into that reality of which the Sabbath command, now superseded, was only a precursor – that God is interested in our entering His own rest, the eternal Sabbath, and his own rest is not a day of the week. This eternal, spiritual rest is the rest God offers believers, and it is a rest that is eternal, not by setting aside one day a week, but by faith, by believing in the One whom God has sent.
Many believers have embraced the concept of the Christian Sabbath, but use the freedom it provides as a license to do just about anything they want to do. In addition, the secular world has dismissed the idea of any kind of Sabbath rest. Consequently, there is nothing distinctive about Sunday for most people. It is a day for recreation, shopping, traveling, and working.
But it is refreshing that Truett Cathy, king of the Chick-fil-A empire, doesn’t open his restaurants on Sunday. Statistics show that 20 percent of all fast-food revenue comes on Sunday, and while Cathy believes everyone should “Eat Mor Chikin,” he does not serve the public on the Lord’s Day.
Cathy, a member of First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, taught a boy’s Bible study on Sunday mornings for 51 years and now serves as an assistant teacher. He is convicted that Sunday is a day for worship, meditation, and rest. With nearly 1,340 restaurants in 37 states and sales topping $2.275 billion in 2006, Cathy is known not so much for what he has done as a businessman, but for what he hasn’t done: Open up shop on Sunday.
There is something about Cathy’s conviction to honor the Lord’s Day that is attractive to me. It speaks of commitment, reverence for God, integrity, good values, and character. The Lord’s Day should at least give us time to focus upon the God who has created us, who sustains us and who has redeemed us through the blood of His dear Son. How we observe it should serve as a witness to others. What are you doing to “hallow” the Christian Sabbath?
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