Summer is the time of vacations. The people travel. They are gone from home for weeks. Some go abroad. Throughout the summer, families leave home on the weekends to camp in the parks and at the beaches. Especially is this true over holiday weekends. Others spend the weekends in their trailer or cottage at some distant lake.
More and more, this is summer also for the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The Lord gives to many such riches and luxuries that they can be away from their work for weeks, travel widely, and live more or less comfortably elsewhere than in their home.
Against this nothing is or can be alleged, but this is the summer.
The Sabbath is the day which the Lord has set apart from the other days, to be devoted to Him by His people. The Lord requires that on this day they “diligently frequent the church of God, to hear His Word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38). For the sake of this worship of God, they are to lay aside their everyday work and their ordinary earthly pleasures. The public worship of God issues in personal and family prayer, singing, study of Scripture, and edifying reading, during the rest of the day. In keeping with devotion to God in public, family, and private worship is the doing of works of love: fellowship with God’s people in their homes; hospitality to the lonely; visits to the sick, burdened, grieving, and aged.
The day of merely 16 or 18 waking hours is far too short. At the end of it, the godly pray, “Lord, give us the eternal Sabbath; ‘O, send the day of joy and light.'”
The people’s summer conflicts with the Lord’s Sabbath. Travel plans make it impossible to attend church. The nature of the vacation requires that they travel on the Sabbath. The boat leaves early Monday morning. Or the vacation ends on Saturday, and they must be at work on Monday morning. Or there is so much more to see in such a short time that they must use Sunday to see the sites and the scenery.
In some Reformed circles, many regularly and openly devote the greater part of the Sabbath to their recreations. They swim, sail, and sun. Their sons and daughters play in the Gus Macker basketball and Little League baseball tournaments.
Where there is still some fear of God, or, probably, hesitation to give up the tradition of Sabbath observance totally, the people go to church in the morning. The second service is neglected. Attendance is pitiful. It is surprising that these lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God have not yet learned the ways of the Roman Catholics, who have a mass on Saturday night in order to free up the entire Sabbath for themselves.
The Lord’s Sabbath, on its part, interferes with the people’s summer. As the people look ahead to the summer, there stands the Sunday squarely athwart their vacation plans. It spoils this trip. It rules out that cruise. It curtails the weekends. It deprives the people of the gloriously sunny afternoons. It cuts into the full week’s vacation by demanding that the vacationers leave for home on Friday in order to attend church. It keeps the young people out of the popular summer games.
Summer and the Sabbath?
Rather, summer against the Sabbath, and the Sabbath against summer.
Among many Reformed people, as among many other professing Christians, summer wins out. The summer-pleasures of the people breach the Sabbath day as the swelling seas pierce a great dike.
The churches and their officebearers share the guilt of the desecration of the Sabbath by the people. They cave in to the pressure of the people’s lust for pleasure and disgust for the praise of God. The minister fears to instruct and warn. The elders dare not visit, admonish, and discipline. The churches cancel their eveningservice. At last, they do away with the second service altogether.
A remarkable instance of this sorry sacrifice of the Lord’s Sabbath on the altar of the people’s pleasure was a decision by the 1995 synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Synod changed the article of the church order that required the congregations to “assemble for worship at least twice on the Lord’s Day.” It replaced the words, “at least,” with the word, “ordinarily.” The article now reads: “The congregation shall assemble for worship ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day….”
“Ordinarily!” Because the people no longer care to come to church twice on Sunday, especially in the summer.
“Ordinarily!” Whenever the church feels like it, and whenever the people find it convenient to come.
“Ordinarily” sounds the death knell for the second service in those Christian Reformed churches that may yet hold it. With its “ordinarily,” synod killed the evening service.
How radically different was this synod’s reaction to the people’s dislike to attend church twice on Sunday from that of the Synod of Dordt. Confronting widespread opposition on the part of the people to a second service (at which the Heidelberg Catechism would be preached), Dordt told the consistories to hold the second service even if the minister preached only to his own family. Dordt’s decision breathed the zeal and courage of the church with her first love.
For the faithful church there can be no dislodging of the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day is established, blessed, and hallowed by the Lord God. It is established, blessed, and hallowed in the fourth commandment of God’s law: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
That the fourth commandment at its very heart is still God’s requirement that the covenant people observe one day in the week—Sunday—with special uses is the clear, emphatic teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. Lord’s Day 38 explains that God in the fourth commandment requires “that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God….”
The fourth commandment is still binding under the new covenant.
The fourth commandment still sets aside one day of the seven as special: the day of rest.
In the fourth commandment, God still requires the man, woman, young person, and child whom He has redeemed from sin, death, and hell and taken into His covenant to devote the day to Him. Under the new covenant, the friend and servant of God does this by diligently frequenting God’s church.
Implied in the Catechism’s explanation is that the Sabbath day is now the first day of the week. God has perfected His work and fulfilled His rest in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Sabbath is now also the “Lord’s day,” that is, the day of the risen Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:10).
The Synod of Dordt reaffirmed this understanding of the fourth commandment. It declared that “a definite and appointed day has been set aside to the service of God, and that for this purpose as much rest is required as is necessary for the service of God and for hallowed contemplation.” From this it follows that “this day must be so consecrated unto the service of God that upon it men rest from all servile labors, except those required by charity and present necessities and likewise from all such recreations as prevent the service of God.” And this, said Dordt, is the meaning and requirement of the fourth commandment of the law of God.
The importance of the observance of the Sabbath day, therefore, is that it expresses the love of the church for God. The fourth commandment belongs to the first table of the law. Obedience to the fourth commandment fulfills the first and great commandment: Love the Lord your God!
Those who fail to come to church diligently, using the Sabbath for their own pleasures, signal their lack of love for God.
What ingratitude! With the very riches and luxuries God gives us, that enable us to take vacations, travel, and live away from home (against which nothing is or can be alleged), we forget His day, His worship, His gospel, and Him Himself. Against this, everything must be alleged.
The church that connives at the people’s profaning of the Sabbath demonstrates that she loses, or has lost, her first love.
Love the Lord your God who, in Jesus Christ, gives you both eternal life and the good things of this life with His blessing. Love Him by remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Fifty-two weeks a year, every year as long as you live.
The Sabbath day controls and shapes the summer of the saints, that is, the law of God directs our lives in the summer as always. It makes certain trips impossible. It prohibits some activities. It cuts into vacation-time. It crosses our will, disappoints our desires, and changes our plans
The law of God has a way of doing this. It is the authoritative, unyielding will of the sovereign God.
It is also for our good.
We need the spiritual rest that is enjoyed at church through the gospel and sacraments of Jesus Christ. We also need relief from our wearisome earthly labors and our often frantic pleasures. We need rest and relief weekly. Our Father and Creator knows us.
We do not need this particular vacation, or that specific trip.
Have a restful summer!