What about those who work Sundays?

Lately I've been thinking a little about how the Sabbath should be observed. Hopefully all will agree that the following activity should not take place on Sunday: breaking into my car while I'm at church (as happened today). For the rest, I figured that I would just offer a few thoughts and questions - perhaps offending both sabbatarians as well as non-sabbatarians at various points in the process.

As you might have surmised from prior conversations or posts on the site, these days I group myself as a non-sabbatarian (in thought/word: whatever the environment; in limited circumstances, in action) . Yet at the same time I wonder if, by and large, enough is being done to support those unable to meet Sundays for one reason or another. If memory serves correct (I haven't looked this one up), John Calvin held a comparatively lax view of Sunday observance but at the same time he also preached on most (all?) of the days of the week regularly. Should we meet as a church more regularly throughout the week (there are a number of churches around with Wednesday or Saturday services in addition to Sunday services)? Should communion be practiced in Bible study groups as opposed to being restricted to Sunday gatherings? (Those advocating a non-Sabbatarian view of Sunday still have Hebrews 10:25 which commands Christians not to cease from meeting together).

I was hired by another company before I had any opportunity to interview for this one, but one of the coop positions that I applied for was with the police department and would have involved a 4 days on, 4 days off schedule. This is the sort of job that even a lot of people who would argue for sabbatarian view of Sunday would regard as necessary and valid. Yet, at the same time, if I was attending a church that met only on Sundays, I'd only be able to attend every other month. How should a situation like this be dealt with? Sickness is another reason why someone might miss church, and in such cases they might go two weeks without meeting up with their fellow congregants.

Some related questions (which I don't necessarily have answers to):

  1. If you observe Sunday in a sabbatarian fashion, what would you consider to be the start/end of the day? (The Jewish sabbath was sundown to sundown)
  2. Would it violate your conscience to read a Sunday newspaper? Would it violate your conscience to read a Monday newspaper? (guess when Monday's paper is prepared...)
  3. What do you think of Q&A 117 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, and its prohibition of recreation?: How is the sabbath or the Lord's day to be sanctified?

    Answer: The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

  4. Do you need to observe two consecutive days of rest in order to allow others to observe a full day of rest? (welcome to the wonderful world of outsourcing and the global economy)
  5. What if others choose to observe a different day of rest? I know some have argued that it doesn't so much matter what day you rest as long as you rest a 24-hour span a week. Yet, should we then all rest all days of the week as a subset of the population might regard any individual one of those days as a day of rest?
  6. Does a Sabbatarian view of the Sunday leave unbelievers with a bad view of the gospel? (This might sound like a silly example, but it's been one that I've encountered in practice in the past, and was also mentioned in a book that I'm reading). A lot of non-Christians, particularly if they're away from family for some reason, find Sunday to be a boring and lonely day.
  7. Do you browse the internet on Sundays? (there are people who work Sundays keeping things going so that you can do that) Do you use electricity/water/gas on Sundays from sources not stored up in your house the previous day? (people work Sundays to keep such things in operation as well). It seems to me as though for the most part, sabbatarians keep using things on Sunday as long as there are no workers immediately visible, even if some are involved at a distance.
  8. What if you feel too tired to do chores on Saturday, so you rest that day, and then work after church Sunday. Would you consider this acceptable?
  9. Sabbatarians generally seem to consider farmers milking dairy cattle on Sunday acceptable. How do you view industries wherein factories may require a period of days to swing back into operation following a shutdown? What do you think about NASA and time spent in space as another case?


Time for Dave's church to start a parking lot patrol (or, as my Dad calls it, the Vigilante Squad).

1. The day starts at midnight and ends at 11:59 PM (or, for Darren, 0000 to 2359).
2. Hmm... interesting. A Sunday paper, though delivered on Sunday, is prepared on Saturday. I'm not sure how to answer the question, but a good follow-up question would be whether the Sunday paper and Monday paper equally violate your conscience, or if one is worse than the other?
3. We don't subscribe to the Westminster catechisms and confessions; I don't know for sure the exact reason, but indeed they are more strict than we tend to be. Recreation is not necessarily work, and therefore it can be acceptable on the sabbath. For example, going to a professional sports game is not acceptable, but going to a beach or park is acceptable.
4. I'm a little confused by your question. Yes, many are fortunate enough to have two days off work. They are not always consecutive days off, but I certainly would prefer them to be consecutive.
5. I have no problem with some other religion observing a different day of rest (eg. 7th Day Adventists), but that doesn't mean that we must also rest on their day of rest. Likewise, it doesn't mean that we can divide ourselves into seven groups and take turns observing different days of rest.
6. When I was at BCIT, it boggled a lot of people's minds that I didn't work on Sunday, but I'm not sure that you could pinpoint this as what gives them a bad view of the gospel. I suspect that a lot of people get a bad view of the gospel from other things. I've heard it said before that people find Sunday to be boring, but from my own experience from long weekends, having two consecutive days off made me feel more satisfied when Monday rolled around that I had accomplished something on the weekend.
7. Yes, I browse the Internet on Sunday; I watch TV too. The Internet is more of an essential service than TV is. Electricity/water/gas are essential services too. Whether or not there are workers visible is not the criteria here. Essential services need to be kept running on Sunday, which includes emergency services, utilities, and communications (it's possible there are more I'm forgetting). Things like shopping on-line don't need to be done on Sunday and can wait until Monday.
8. Whatever I don't accomplish on Saturday waits until Monday. I don't consider it acceptable to do chores on Sunday just because you didn't feel like doing them on Saturday. What I find helps is to write down all the things I need/want to do on Saturday, and then put an asterisk next to the ones that should/need to get done on Saturday.
9. I remember the first time I heard about milking cows on Sunday, my initial reaction was wait until Monday, but it's now my understanding that they can't. This is part of the reason why we have two services instead of one big long one: so that farmers can go to church too. Regarding factories, if it takes several days to get back up and running, they might want to examine their processes and find ways to improve that. Last but not least, NASA: astronauts need to remain in space for long periods of time, and the folks on the ground need to be there to support them.

One quick question before I respond to any others: what are your thoughts on how non-Christians should relate to Sunday rest? Is it a requirement for all, or for Christians only? (you seem to be OK with others resting on other days, but should they rest Sundays as well?)

It is a requirement for all. I am OK with people resting on other days as opposed to not resting at all, but I would prefer them to rest on Sunday.

The Internet is more of an essential service than TV is. Electricity/water/gas are essential services too. Whether or not there are workers visible is not the criteria here. Essential services need to be kept running on Sunday, which includes emergency services, utilities, and communications

People have survived millenia without any performing any of the following actions on Sunday:

  • Accessing the internet
  • Watching TV
  • Making phone calls
  • Accessing municipal services like water, electricity, or natural gas

What constitutes an essential service?

People survived without them before they were invented, but since then we've come to depend on them. Accessing the Internet might seem like a strange one, but for VOIP customers that's their phone service. Also don't forget, the Internet was originally built for military communications and is still used for that today. Television and radio are somewhat essential services in the sense that they are used to broadcast emergency information; it's an easy way to reach a large number of people. Telephone is an essential service because it's needed for contacting emergency services like police, fire, and ambulance. And last but not least, municipal services are the most essential. We need water for drinking, cooking, and washing. We need electricity and natural gas for cooking and heating. Another essential municipal service is sewer, which carries away waste material so that people don't get sick from it.

An essential service is any service that is essential to the long-term survival of mankind. Without the Internet, the military would have difficulty communicating, leaving things vunerable to attack. Without TV and radio, it would be difficult to communicate important emergency information. Without telephone, people would die because they couldn't get help fast enough. Without clean water, people would get sick and die. Without electricity and natural gas, we would be limited to cooking over a fire, and then good luck finding food after a while because all the stores will be closed. Most people have not hunted their own food before.

Personally, I find the approach of the Synod of Dort to be helpful. Beyond this I would be careful about adding all kinds of other things.

Synod of Dort on Sabbath Observance
Session 164, May 17 PM
Trans. R. Scott Clark

Rules on the observation of the Sabbath, or the Lord's Day, with the agreement of the brothers from Zeeland the following concepts were explained and approved by Doctor Professors of Divinity.

In the fourth Commandment of the divine law, part is ceremonial, part is moral.


The rest of the seventh day after creation was ceremonial and its rigid observation peculiarly prescribed to the Jewish people.


Moral in fact, because the fixed and enduring day of the worship of God is appointed, for as much rest as is necessary for the worship of God and holy meditation of him.


With the Sabbath of the Jews having been abrogated, the Lord's Day is solemnly sanctified by Christians.


From the time of the Apostles this day was always observed in the ancient Catholic Church.


This same day is thus consecrated for divine worship, so that in it one might rest from all servile works (with these excepted, which are works of charity and pressing necessity) and from those recreations which impede the worship of God.

Source: H.H. Kuyper, De Post-Acta of Nahandelingen van de nationale Synode van Dordrecht in 1618 en 1619 gehouden een Historische Studie (Amsterdam, 1899), 184-6.