Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy

One has become accustomed to businesses being open on Sunday. There was a time when this was not so. Only about 40 years ago most businesses were closed on the Sabbath. Even those who were not members of a church or professing Christians seemed to agree that it was best so. Almost inevitably this was true in small-town rural communities.

All that has changed. Today it is a rare instance when a business is closed on Sunday. Many “Christians” have accommodated themselves to this. It is not unusual to find them working or shopping on Sunday. For those who would still “remember the Sabbath Day,” life has become increasingly difficult. It is not just that they abstain from shopping on Sunday, but it has become a matter of retaining a job as well. Workers are often required to work on Sunday in order to keep their jobs—and jobs have not been easy to come by in recent years. Though businesses are required by the laws of our land to honor the religious convictions of their employees (they may not fire a person for refusal to work on Sunday on the basis of religious convictions), other reasons are found to release such workers. Nor, usually, is one hired when he refuses to work on Sunday.

Normally one is no longer surprised to hear of another business deciding to open on Sunday. Still, it came somewhat as a shock to read in the Grand Rapids Press that the “Family Christian Stores” are now open on Sunday. “Christian” stores open on Sunday? What’s going on today?

In The Outlook, November 2003, Rev. Wybren Oord (pastor of Covenant United Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, MI) writes of this:

They told her she was fired. She had faithfully worked for them for some time, putting in overtime, always going the extra mile to help customers, but today she was fired. Why? There were all kinds of reasons, they said. All kinds of reasons, except one. They made very clear that the reason she was fired was not because she had refused to work on Sunday. Yes, they knew that she had never worked on Sunday before; they knew that she did not want to work on Sundays but they scheduled her anyway. And so, for reasons other than that, they claimed, the same week she refused to work on the Lord’s Day, she was fired. 

Sound familiar? We’ve heard it all before, you say? Maybe. The difference here is that the place that she worked was never open on Sundays before. Part of the reason why she applied for the job in the first place was because they were closed on Sunday. Another reason was the Christian atmosphere. After all, Family Christian Stores seemed like a safe haven from the worldly-minded places she had worked before.

This past September, Family Christian Stores opened for business on Sunday. Although they promised not to fire those who had serious reservations about working on the Lord’s Day, those who refused were terminated “for other reasons.” In our local Family Christian Stores, it was reported that sixty percent of the employees were suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed.

One really has to wonder why a Christian Bookstore has to be open on the Lord’s Day. An e-mail to the headquarters yielded the following response:

Family Christian Stores has decided to open on Sundays after prayerful consideration and seeking counsel from other Christian leaders. We believe that opening on the primary ministry day of the week is what the Lord would have us do. While we are aware that our decision to open on Sundays invites some criticism, we must follow the ministry mission of Family Christian Stores and provide people with Christian resources that meet their needs—whenever the needs arise, especially on the day they are thinking about spiritual needs.

We understand some may question this move. However, I have been personally convicted by several verses that clearly call us to make disciples and reach people regardless of the day of the week.

Matthew 12:1-14,

but in particular

Matthew 12:12

(NIV) “…for it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

John 5:15-17,

which speaks about Jesus healing on the Sabbath and His persecution by the Jews.

Colossians 2:16-17

(NIV) “Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Studying this subject also reinforced that we need to support regular times of worship, which is why we will not be open Sunday mornings. We also must support and encourage regular times of rest for our staff, and our approach to scheduling will support this.

We look forward to the opportunity to minister to more guests on this day and would ask for your prayers and encouragement as we make this change.

In Christ,

Dave Browne

President and CEO

The Rev. Wybren Oord then tellingly points out the gross inconsistencies of this argumentation.

It does make one sick to his stomach. If it were an “enemy” who made these claims, one could understand. But this is one who comes in the name of “Christ” and asks for prayers and encouragements in this change!! Then, too, the store will not be open on Sunday mornings so that God’s people can worship in church! (We’ve heard that argument too before—by grocery chains who subsequently opened Sunday mornings as well.) With Scripture one must remark, “How is the gold become dim!”

And then—There’s the Seventh Commandment

As far as society in general is concerned, the seventh commandment is essentially no longer applicable. Divorce and remarriage have become acceptable even within the churches. Living together without the benefit of marriage is commonplace. The sin of homosexuality is rather labeled an “alternate life style.”

The seriousness of the situation was called to my attention when I received an article from the Loveland Reporter-Herald of November 7, 2003. The article, taken from the Associated Press, was titled: “Homophobia banned from child’s education.”

DENVER—A woman who has joint custody of her adopted 8-year-old daughter has been ordered by a judge to shield the child from any religious teachings that could be interpreted as homophobic.

Cheryl Clark, a Denver physician, has appealed the order from state District Judge John Couglin. The order governs a joint custody agreement between Clark and Elsey McLeod, who was once her lesbian partner, court documents show.

Clark ended the relationship after converting to Christianity, the documents said.

Coughlin’s April 28 order gave Clark responsibility for the child’s religious education but said she must ensure “there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic.”

Clark filed an appeal last week.

She believes Christianity condemns homosexuality and fears the order will limit her ability to teach her child the faith, said Matthew Staver, president of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which takes up conservative Christian legal causes.

“We think this is the first case of its kind in the country that has gone that far,” Staver said.

“We believe it sets a dangerous trend to undermine the rights of parents and religious freedom,” he said.

The ruling does give one pause for thought and concern. Granted, the situation mentioned in the article is strange. Two lesbians have an 8-year-old daughter. After one repents of her sin, she is now forbidden to teach her daughter that homosexuality is sin—and even forbidden to place her in a situation where anyone else may teach her that. Presumably, it might be dangerous to take her to church where the court’s order might be violated.

Will such an order eventually encompass all homes and churches someday soon? To condemn homosexuality whether at home, in school, or in the church could easily be interpreted as “homophobic.” Will parents be forbidden to warn their children against such sins? Or, perhaps, will one be forbidden to speak of anything as “sin”? One, then, can decide for himself what is right or wrong. Each can be “as God” to know for himself the good and the evil.

What About the Sixth Commandment?

Most have read of or heard about the case in Florida of Terri Schiavo, who suffered from a stroke some 13 years ago. There has been a legal struggle between her husband (who insists that his wife would never want to remain in this “vegetative” state) and her parents who insist that she remains aware and conscious of things about her. Should a feeding tube continue to sustain her—or should it be withdrawn and she be allowed to starve to death?

Editorials have been written, people have weighed in on both sides, and courts have decided in favor of the husband’s position. The legislature and the governor of Florida, however, have taken action to sustain this lady’s life. Questions are raised about one’s “right to die.”

Andree Seu, World magazine, November 15, 2003, has contributed her interesting comments on the case:

The Apostle Peter gave two reasons why a moral issue may be a bugbear: first, the issue is intrinsically “hard to understand”; second, men are “ignorant and unstable,” and wont to “twist” things to their own designs (2 Peter 3:16). We have both in the Terri Schindler Schiavo case.

What makes the story of the 13-year bedridden woman intractable? The answer is that it is not one story at all but a Gordian knot whose strands include motives (the husband’s, the ACLU’s, etc.), medical definitions (“irreversibility”), slippery semantics (“vegetative state”), modern technology (artificial versus nonartificial life-extending measures), rights of guardianship, living wills, law on the books, law of God, “separation of powers,” and how to think and judge as a Christian in a non-Christian country.

There have evolved in our institutions of higher learning a breed of experts who call themselves “end-of-life specialists.” These are people who do nothing all day but consider a constellation of concerns revolving around the “terminal” patient: palliative care, pain management, quality of life, end-of-life options, alleviation of financial concerns, use of narcotics, organ donation, “extraordinary medical intervention,” “artificial nutrition,” “regulated assisted dying,” and “rights of the dying.” And at the center of the constellation—a void.

For all depends on what you see when you’re looking at Terri Schiavo on her bed. And what you see keeps shifting on us, as old verities are less certain in these last days, and the room fogs around us, and human rights blur with animal rights, and…well, they shoot horses, don’t they?

The writer continues to analyze the situation and considers the various alternatives proposed by man. Her final paragraph sums up:

There is variety among men—black, white, and yellow, man and woman—because there is variety within God. (Indeed, there is variety within man—body, soul, and spirit—for the same reason.) There is interdependency among men because the Father loves the Son and the Spirit. And reality is so configured that we may not experience the fullness of being human, nor may we understand anything at all, including ourselves, apart from relationship with others. What irony to want to snuff the life that was meant to draw one deeper into the mystery. What miscalculation to treat as disposable a creature who, if she were weighed in the scales against the seven wonders of the world, we would have to prefer to all their glory.

It is a sad, yea, a tragic story. This does indicate further the direction in which our society is going. It is supposed to be a “woman’s right” to destroy the fruit of her womb before there occurs a birth. Increasingly, the position is taken that it is one’s “right” to determine the time and method of his death. In the particular case above, no extraordinary means are being used to keep the individual alive—except to feed her with a tube into her stomach. Who is to decide if, when, why, and how that tube is be removed?

The unchangeable truths of the Ten Commandments are being eroded—one after another. Someone has said, only two of the ten commands are currently incorporated into the laws of our land: thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not steal. And even those two are now defined by man to suit his own liking while ignoring the teaching of Scripture.