Thursday, May 6, 2010

The 4th Commandment of the Ten is Optional

I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest this morning that "Jesus said, 'Go and make disciples,' not 'make converts to your opinions.'" So, with that being said, I will try not to simply propagate my opinions in this blog (because I have many of them!).

Do you ever get the feeling that the 4th commandment is optional? Maybe not you personally, but do you think that the Church functions under this assumption? Do we as Christians remember and keep the Sabbath?

The Sabbath is not just an Old Testament, outdated biblical principle. It's in the New Testament in several places (the Gospels and Hebrews for sure!). Also, recent medical science has also proven that the human body needs one day out of every seven to recuperate and reset itself. Agriculturally, there is evidence that the ground needs a year to refresh after six years of planting and harvesting.

However, both cultural norms and some theological assumptions seem to be set in direct opposition to taking a Sabbath.

Culture: According to a 2001 study by the National Sleep Foundation, the average employed American works 46 hours a week. More than 1/3 (38%) of those who responded in this study worked more than 50 hours a week. If a person averages 7hours a sleep each night, this leaves 73 hours left each week of non-working time. If a person's family is involved in community, school, or church events it's easy to see this amount become even less -- sporting events, meetings, fund raisers, Bible studies. When is there ever time to find a 24 hour period to take a Sabbath?

What makes this even more difficult is that individuals are praised for the amount of time they spend working or volunteering with community or Christian organizations. People are honored in our society based on how they spend their time.

Theological Assumptions: I think that there are two traditional beliefs in Christianity which actually hinder people from taking a real Sabbath. On these two subjects I tread lightly, for I know that I am probably in the minority as one who disagrees with these theological assumptions.

1) Sundays are the Sabbath. Although this can be true for many Christians, I do not think that it is true for all Christians. It has long been understood that for pastors, Sundays aren't a Sabbath because they "work" on Sundays. However, I think that many Christians are without a Sabbath-day's rest on Sundays.

In Biblical Times (especially OT times), the Sabbath was a day spent in communal worship of God. No physical labor was done on the Sabbath. Now, I am not well-informed on the ecclesial practices of Ancient Israel, but I image that usually this day consisted of readings from Scripture, perhaps some community singing of praise, and reading from the Law (Pentateuch). The Pharisees in the inter-testament times created specific laws for the Sabbath which made it very legalistic (which Jesus confronted on many occasions).

Today, our Sundays usually consist of Sunday School (or some other small-group time) and a pre-planned worship service consisting of a well-rehearsed (hopefully) worship through music portion. A substantial percentage of a congregation is involved in volunteer ministry on Sundays -- teaching Sunday School, working in the nursery(and missing the worship time), playing an instrument or singing, leading worship, participating in choir, seating guests, taking offering, counting the offering (which sometimes is quite a task), and sometimes special skits or programs. This doesn't even include any special meal or event that needs to be planned or prepared on these days. Some of these tasks are comparable to the amount of work expected during the work week. Quite simply -- they're not restful.

So, for many Christians Sundays are not a Sabbath. For a few, they are even more exhausting than the rest of the week. Although some extroverts may find these days rejuvenating, the only others who might find rest in this day are those not involved in any ministries on Sundays.

2) Christians are to tithe their time. Tithe has been accepted standard of giving in Christianity for Centuries. The concept is that Christians are to give 10% back of the income that God provides for them. This principle has been expanded to include not only income, but also skills and time. Although this might be an appropriate way to measure stewardship, it does not seem to have the biblical foundations that tithing income does.

When someone is to tithe their time, this usually means that they are to give 10% of their week volunteering or working for for the church. Since there are 168 hours in every week, this means that a person is to give 16.8 hours to the church each week. Even if you only count hours awake, this is still 12.2 hours each week. If you add 16.8 to the average of 46 hours in the work week, you're sitting at 62.8. This is in addition to any activities your children might be involved in. If you thought finding a 24 hour period to rest was difficult when you had 73 hours of non-reserved time in your week, try finding 24 out of 56 hours. If you're a student or teacher with homework to complete or grade, this becomes even more difficult.

The basic principle of this idea of tithing our time isn't wrong, but perhaps it would be better stated like this: 1) Christians should live out their faith in all aspects of life at all times and 2) every Christian should be ministering through the church in some way.

As I mentioned above, these thoughts are probably contrary to those of most Christians on this subject. In fact, I know Christians who are more mature and have more education than I do and believe these theological assumptions to be true. So perhaps I am entirely off base to question these principles.

What do you think? Does the Church need to reevaluate these principles? Does the church need to be counter-cultural in how we measure the value of one's schedule? Is the 4th Commandment less important than the other 9? (which, by the way, I don't perceive the Church lowering theirs standards on any of them) Or am I completely off base all together?


  1. I majored in Hospitality in college. I took a restaurant job afterwords and proceeded to work every Sunday for the next 4 years. I failed to keep the Sabbath, not to argue whether the Sabbath is Saturday or Sunday. My Church meets on Sunday, so Sabbath is Sunday for me. During those years, I degenerated from an on-fire Christian, to a cold Christian. Working Sundays has been the most destructive mistake I've ever made. I had days off of course, so I was able to have a day of rest. But it wasn't a Sabbath day. My decision to accept Sunday work also influenced my wife to not attend Church. She didn't want to attend Church alone, and I don't blame her. So I accept the responsibility for destroying her relationship with God during those years as well. It was difficult to "rejoin" and find a Church. It was difficult to restart a prayer life. Save yourself from a lot of hurt, just do what God asks... Keep the Sabbath.

  2. You raise an interesting question: does Sabbath have to be a specific day of the week?

  3. The Sabbath does not have to be a certain day of the week. You must find your own personal Sabbath to worship the Lord. For most people, like Keith mentioned, it may not be Sunday that you can truly rest and worship. Notice that I included worship, some people spend a day of rest without worshiping or growing closer to God and in my opinion that is not a true Sabbath either.

    I also agree with David. From my own personal experience that doing a secular job on Sunday and not attending church services, is in a sense putting work and other things in front of God and can completely destroy a relationship with the Father little by little. I believe it can be compensated for by going to church on other days in being involved in Bible studies and other worship services if it is not possible to get off of work on Sunday, but for most people once one stops going to church on Sunday they slowly stop going to church activities at all.

    As a pastor or someone who works for the church on Sunday, I think they need to find their own personal rest in the Lord on a different day. But at the same time, in a sense, they are celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday because they are teaching, and generally to teach you must grow yourself. Most of the day is spent in preparation for the services and the message, and in that are you not spending time with God?

    Also, when Keith talked about tithing, I think it is a beautiful thing to tithe your time in everything you do. I think you can be doing your secular work and still be using your time for God. Everything you do from your attitude as a person working at a restaurant to someone working for a law firm should be trying to please God and live your life in a way that pleases Him. Isn't that what worship is? Not just singing and praising the Lord, but living your life in a meaningful way to bring Him honor and glory? I do think it is a wonderful thing to volunteer and give your time back to the church, but can you not do that by simply by being there? By greeting people that are lonely and spending time with them? By praying with someone at the alter? It depends on your attitude and where your heart is truly at.

    But what do I know? I do not even have as much education as you do. Just dropped my humble thoughts in on your blog.

  4. I've got a lot of Adventist relatives. They of course keep the Sabbath on Saturday. Anyhow, you should see my facebook feed. On a friday night I see 10 or more "Happy Sabbath" posts. They do a very good job of "preparing" for the Sabbath, not only do they keep it, but Adventist celebrate it like no other denomination. I have to admit, their enthusiasm is contagious. I either "Happy Sabbath" them back or like their status. I think their reminders and encouragement to one another encourages me as well. Anyhow, add some Adventist to your friends list for a little more thoughts on the subject...


What do you think?