Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

Troubling times are in store for the faithful child of God. We all know that. One of the problems that many already face is: will I lose my job if I refuse to work on Sunday? Or the question might well be: will I be able to get a good job if I refuse to work on Sunday? One observes that in the religious community there is seen little objection anymore to the breaking of the fourth commandment. Many, apparently with clear conscience, can eat out in restaurants on Sunday; many can travel to or from vacations on Sunday; many find “good” excuses for working on Sunday.

It is high time that the church, for principal reasons, insist on proper Sunday observance. And one would expect from Reformed circles that such strong emphasis upon the Sabbath as a day of spiritual rest would be particularly heard. It must, then, be cause of great grief and sad disappointment in the Christian Reformed. Church when the editor of its Bannerappears to deplore the growing secularization of Sunday—but on practical grounds, not on the basis of religious principles. The editor attempts to destroy the whole foundation upon which our observance of Sunday rests. The sad part is that many, especially among the young, will consider the argumentations quite appealing—for after all, does not this editor, who has studied theology, know what Scripture teaches?

The editor writes of changing practices with respect to Sunday observance:

One of the reasons for the sudden demise of our church’s system of Sunday observance (all our do’s and don’t’s) was the weak theology that supported it. The previous generation of Reformed and Presbyterian Christians suffered through a legalistic form of Sunday observance that was only quantitatively different from the infamous Sabbath rules of the New England Puritans. At any church gathering or family reunion one may still collect horror stories about “what we could and what we could not do” in those days.

The editor continues by showing that there are some good social reasons for maintaining Sunday as a day of rest:

But we are Christians in the nation, and we ought to promote a national form of Sunday observance. We ought to do it for the honor of God, the health of the nation, and the protection of Christians. 

Shoppers want to have the stores open on Sunday; the store clerks aren’t asking for it. We should try to make all people realize that having seven business days is bad for all and benefits none. 

Whatever the religious significance of the Old Testament Sabbath was, it had a basic social and humanitarian purpose, according to Jesus’ own interpretation: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

God instituted it for his creatures’ interest and well-being. People who do get weary of the ratrace now and then might still favorably acknowledge this wisdom of the Creator in forbidding work on one out of seven days. 

In a full-page ad in the Toronto Star, Gerrit De Boer, owner of a large furniture business, told the government of Ontario that wide-open Sunday shopping is bad for the family life of store employees and will not increase sales or produce jobs. Thousands agree with him.

But then the editor proceeds to demolish the principles upon which rests our Sabbath observance. In this, he does dreadful disservice to the cause of God and His church. He writes:

Although there are some attractive (and speculative) theories that demonstrate how the Christian Sunday has replaced the Jewish Sabbath, there’s no New Testament evidence to that effect. One has to be either a strict Sabbatarian and Seventh-Day Christian or stand in the freedom of the New Covenant, which has no holy days, holy foods, or holy places (and no holy land) but only a holy people who are elect in Christ, dedicated to God, and zealous to do his will. 

. . . I remember how in the 1950s practically all the discipline cases in our Canadian churches had to do with “Sunday labour.” But those who milked cows or worked in hospitals were all right. 

I myself once worked in a gas and oil field, overseeing production from the wellhead to containers. Sometimes I worked on Sundays. As a result I faced principled opposition from a number of delegates at the Albertan classis to which I applied for financial support to study for the ministry. Yet these same delegates used their gas furnaces on Sundays without any qualms.

Sunday is not the Sabbath. And we are not under law but under grace! 

I love those people who stand firm, knowing that one cannot work on Sunday once or twice and then close the shop again. Rightly, they draw the line. They say no because they have said yes to God. 

Unfortunately, people who stand firm are not always inclined to let others be free. I know how desirable solidarity is with respect to supporting the Christian school and with respect to observing Sunday. Common commitment should weigh heavily on us. We don’t make our decisions in isolation from one another. But our good decisions do not give us the right to lay down the law for others.

. . . The church gives no detailed rules for Sunday observance. But church members are people who want to love God above all and who have lost their hearts to Jesus. 

In a time when the secular Sunday is being ever more widely accepted, Christians will find creative ways to fulfill the Sabbath command. 

. . . And when we approach the children of this secular age, we shouldn’t come with a packet of commandments about Sunday observance. But we do present the gospel that delivers people from greed and worry and places them, body and soul, for this life and the next, in the hands of the heavenly Father.

There may be many who rejoice in such a defense of Sunday—which encourages the use of the day as one of non-labor, but denies any principle reasons for doing so. One can relax with the family at the beach, engage in all kinds of recreational activities, enjoy togetherness—or he can work on that day if he wishes. Each must be at liberty to do as he desires in this New Testament age of “freedom”. Of course, this means that the worship services in church are also a matter of personal choice. If one desires to worship another day, he need not go to church. Or he may determine to worship in his own home and ignore public worship altogether. Why not?

And if one can so treat the fourth commandment, what about the other nine? Are none of these binding anymore? But if they are, why not the fourth?

It is indeed a sad day in the history of the Reformed churches when all that which had been faithfully maintained in the past is rapidly being overthrown. Theistic evolution is openly accepted, approved by official church bodies. Sunday becomes just another day—which might conceivably still be used as a day of non-work (not necessarily for “rest”—which is a spiritual concept).

There appear to be so many who seem to strain at “gnats”, yet are ready to swallow these “camels”. How long can all this undermining of the old landmarks continue?

But we too must be on guard. How easy it is to find the argumentations concerning such breaking of the Sabbath to be appealing. Were not our forefathers just too strict? In how many ways might we not already be breaking the fourth commandment? For us, observance of the fourth commandment must not just be a condemnation of those who might go out to eat in restaurants on Sunday. Rather, there must be that labor of love, that true spiritual rest, in which (especially on Sunday) we contemplate the wonders of the work of our God.

And could not we also find ways to promote the observance of this day of rest for our greater profit?