In the United States today Sunday observance is virtually dead. There are some places where it may still be kept, but these are few, and shortly we may expect Sunday to be completely secularized. The death of Sabbath-day observance has come about for a number of reasons. The first is world secularization, and nowhere is this more true than in the Communist world. For multiplied millions of people who have been dragged into the Communist net, any possibility for keeping the Lord’s Day has evaporated. This is quite understandable, considering the Communist world and life view, and should not come as a shock to anyone.
A second reason for the decline of Sabbath keeping lies deep within the Christian Church itself. It has been secularized to a degree not fully appreciated by many of its own people. This process of secularization derives from the changing attitude of so many in the Church about the written Word of God. In earlier days Sabbath keeping was based squarely upon the belief that it is an unbreakable command of God. It is an obligation resting on the bald notion of divine authority. It is God’s ordinance, not man’s. Man indeed needs it, but God has commanded it.
The advent of theological liberalism has changed all that. The present-day commitment of so many of the Church’s theologians has nullified the earlier view that Scripture is authoritative and normative. At a time when even the cardinal salvatory doctrines of the Christian faith have been vitiated, and when syncretism and universalism plus a commitment to revolution and a move toward a Marxist form of socialism have gripped the Church, the idea of a binding Sabbath commandment seems anachronistic.
But the slide away from keeping the Lord’s day has not come solely among those in the liberal tradition. Evangelicals who claim to take the Scriptures with utmost seriousness are also among those who no longer support Sabbath keeping with any real enthusiasm. Evangelicals have been deeply affected by the times in which they live. The dominant philosophy is hedonistic and has led to the denial of any absolutes. Taken within the context of evangelical theology, which stresses the doctrine of grace and denies that man can be saved by works of any kind, freedom and liberty, which indeed are biblical, have been misconstrued. The whole idea of taboos, of “thou shalt nots,” of legalism of any kind, is almost passe. The swing of the pendulum away from nineteenth-century pietism, or eighteenth-century Puritanism, which has such a bad image in the popular mind, has made license of liberty. Situation ethics, denied in principle by evangelicals, has become operative in their life style so that what they do does not match up with what they say.
This trend among evangelicals with regard to Sabbath keeping is related to the broader spectrum of evangelical life. Once the taboos on movies, alcohol, card playing, dancing, and other activities were lifted, it was not unexpected that the taboo with respect to the Sabbath should be discarded too. This is not to say that Sabbath observance fits into the same category with these other pastimes. But evangelically minded people have fallen into the trap of assuming there is a dynamic relationship, so that when these other taboos were lifted the Sabbath taboo went along with them.
The Sabbath is God’s Day. But Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. This suggests the two prongs of the attack I wish to recommend: the first has to do with man in a right relationship to God and the second with man in a right relationship to nature. Christians must learn of this twofold meaning of the Sabbath and come to a place where they practice Sabbath observance and also use their energies as members of Caesar’s kingdom to get secular nations to do the same, albeit for different reasons. Primarily Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day because it belongs to God and in it they can worship him suitably and with reverential trust and fear. But the Sabbath has in it more than the religious, or man’s relationship to God in worship and commitment. It was and is part of God’s natural revelation for man in nature itself. Men, converted or unconverted, are part of nature and need the Sabbath as earthy people who in their bodies are inextricably dependent on water, air, and soil.
It is important even for Christians to know that they are tied to the Sabbath because it was made for man’s physical well-being. And it is this aspect of the Sabbath that can be used to bring unredeemed men to the place where they will keep it also—but for different reasons that may be devoid of the primary function of the Sabbath, which is the worship of God. The reason Christians should advance to convince unregenerate men to keep the Sabbath is that they need it, that it will work for their good, and that their failure to keep it is devastating for men and assures them of disaster. In this sense one could argue that outward Sabbath observance for unbelievers may be a form of pre-evangelism and could open the door to the propagation of the Gospel.
Evangelicals believe in both natural and special revelation. Both bear testimony to God, although in different ways. Nature has something to teach man, and special revelation has given the Christian a tool by which to understand natural revelation. Unregenerate man in his unfolding understanding of nature has learned some things about the divine operations that have benefited him. He knows that man is inextricably related to nature itself and is part of it.
The cultural mandate of Genesis tells man that he is to harness nature and use it for man’s good. Whether saved or lost, man is in bondage to nature, and his physical well-being depends upon nature to a large extent. This can be illustrated in a number of ways.
First, man is related to nature for food. Without food man cannot survive. But without man’s help there is insufficient food in nature itself to feed the world. Therefore man must use land to produce wheat, corn, potatoes, and the like. The land is the gift of God. But land is not unlimited. We already know of land that has been exhausted by improper use, sometimes through lack of knowledge and at other times because man has exploited it. The same thing is true about trees, some of which give fruit that man can eat, some of which supply timber that man can use for erecting houses, some of which can be used for firewood in wintertime.
Second, God has put minerals in the ground for man’s use. But whereas land can be used indefinitely, minerals cannot. There is only so much gold, so much iron, so much oil, so much potash, so much coal. Once they have been consumed no more is available. Right now the most liberal estimates indicate that man is rapidly approaching the point where many of the minerals he needs desperately will be exhausted. We cannot suppose that man with his inventive genius will not be able to find substitutes for some or even all of these minerals. Nor can we suppose that he will not find other sources of energy of which we have no present knowledge or at least no way of tapping. A few decades ago atomic energy was simply a dream. Now it has become a reality, albeit a dangerous one. Solar energy is being used in a small way, but its vast potential cannot be overlooked.
Third, man himself is a natural resource. Man differs from minerals in that nature has been profligate with respect to his reproduction. The staggering fact is that the population of the world did not reach one billion until around 1850. Today, a century and a quarter later, the population has almost quadrupled. It is conservatively estimated that it will double again in another thirty-five to fifty years at the most. It is man who has affected nature more than any other animal, plant, or mineral. None of these has the power to direct and control the use of the natural resources that man has. He is the master, they are the servants. At the same time man as master can do as he pleases only within certain limitations.
Nature, apart from man, has a way of balancing itself so that it can continue indefinitely. When one species of life overruns the land, counter-balances begin to operate to offset the imbalance. If certain forms of animal life overpopulate the land so that the food supply is exhausted, the animals die of starvation. The strong stay alive to continue the species. Some animals prey on other animals for food. This helps to keep the forces of nature in balance. It is man who has produced nature’s great dislocations. It is man who is consuming the earth’s natural resources and in the process threatens not only all of nature’s gifts but himself as well. This has come about both through the use of land for good purposes and the use of land for bad purposes.
Everybody knows now that tobacco and alcohol are two of man’s greatest enemies. Yet in order to produce them vast quantities of land, labor, and minerals are used for hurtful ends. And man stubbornly resists every effort to change matters even though he knows he should. Not only does the person who consumes these commodities hurt himself; he also hurts others. Tobacco smoke is a pollutant that takes a toll on those who do not smoke but who are subjected to its noxious fumes by inconsiderate smokers. Grains that could help feed starving millions are made into alcoholic beverages whose consumption causes industrial and highway accidents and exacts a physical toll in cirrhosis of the liver and a multitude of physical ills that beset those who use it to excess.
This brings us now to a consideration of the Sabbath principle in relation to the greatest of all crises that man has faced: the energy shortage. It is only one part of man’s interrelatedness to nature, and even the solution of the energy problem would be no guarantee that man can at last avert a final depletion of natural resources or that he can prevent what I have called elsewhere the ultimate suicide of man. In the short run, however, man can and ought to do something about the energy problem. And it is tied into the Sabbath mandate, whether looked at from the vantage point of devotion to God and obedience to is special revelation or devotion to the Creator through natural revelation and man’s interrelatedness to nature.
Neither men nor machines can continue indefinitely without rest. Studies show that man’s productive capacities vary depending on the length of time he labors. He requires rest and relaxation from production so that he can recover his natural potential. During World War II it became clear that a seven-day week did not increase production. People actually produced less in seven days over the long haul than they did when working six days and resting one day. Part of it was physiological; part of it was psychological; all of it was part of the divine plan for nature, which is abrogated at man’s expense. If man from his study of nature and himself, wholly apart from Scripture, refuses to follow the laws of nature, he is in trouble. And whether man likes it or not, God has put the universe together so that when man breaks the physical laws of God, he always ends up by breaking himself. Man should obey the laws of nature for his own good.
This is true today in a particular way because of the energy crisis. One can easily paint a true picture of the benefits the people of any nation would gain if they obeyed God’s natural law of one day of rest in seven. This would involve closing down all businesses including gasoline stations and restaurants every Lord’s Day. Since the five-day work week is common, there is nothing that a person must do that cannot be done in six days. No one needs to buy food, dine at restaurants, or purchase goods on the seventh. Obviously there will always be works of mercy and necessity that require Sabbath-day attention.
If the people of North America stayed off the highways on Sunday alone, except for church attendance or genuine necessities, the energy crisis would be solved or almost solved. There is nothing to show that people buy fewer goods when they can not buy on Sunday. If all stores and factories were closed one day, nobody would lose anything since none of their competitors would be open either. There would be an immediate 15 per cent saving of fuel, electricity, and the like. People would be able to spend time with their families, rest and relax in a less troubled environment, and allow the air of the great cities to recover from the pollution largely caused by automobile exhaust and factory smoke. At the height of the last energy crunch Japan laid down a rule that prohibited the use of gasoline on Sunday and it helped the nation greatly.
It might even be that this kind of a Sunday would give man time to reflect on his relation to nature and in turn on his relation to the author of nature and bring him to a knowledge of God. The busyness of life with a secular Sunday, a frantic search for pleasure, and an uncontrolled hedonism can do man no good.
The proper use of the Lord’s Day, wholly apart from any religious implications, can come about by free choice or it can be legislated. It is highly unlikely that it will be accomplished by voluntary action by the citizenry generally. Therefore the only way to accomplish the objective is by force of legislative fiat through the duly elected officials of the people.
One could wish that Sabbath closing could be brought about on the best of all bases—the recognition that it is the will of God for all men and that they follow this pattern because they wish to worship him. But short of that, it is still better that it be accomplished even though the reason for doing it is secular and has in mind only the general welfare of man and the benefits that will accrue to him. This might be called enlightened humanism and effective humanization.
Our faith commits us to the proposition that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. There could be no better way for us to fulfill the second table of the law than to press for social legislation that would benefit our neighbors, and by our efforts show that we love them as we love ourselves. This would be one of the highest forms of social action to spring from our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. It would mark our concern for our fellow man and identify us with common and lost humanity in an area of great need.
The bad news is that if something is not done and done shortly, the plight of mankind must get worse. The good news is that God has given us wisdom and ability by which the worst of conditions can be bettered and approaching disaster can be ameliorated. Surely we have been sent into the kingdom for such a time as this. Let us do something to show that we see the need, sense the opportunity, and are willing to spend ourselves on behalf of mankind in an hour of desperation.
THE NEXT MORNING: TWENTY SONGS FOR TWENTY VOICES
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;
old things are passed away; behold,
all things are become new.
—2 Corinthians 5:17
The scales say I’m still
Precisely 142 pounds.
I’d have guessed 102, this morning.
As though I had put my brain and all my nerves
Through the laundromat.
The dean, dean washday fragrance.
Like having a bulldozer
push away ten tons of accumulated
And now they’re planting grass seed.
His words were the jackhammers
Breaking up cracked old concrete
In a ruined pavement.
Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.
The new street surface is open today,
Loving you, Mom.
I couldn’t, before.
You always seemed to have a beak and claws.
Last night I saw my own three-inch daws;
I watched them change
To clean pink fingernails,
Now I can see that you have hands to grip
And lips to kiss.
I finally found a city map
Right here in the glove compartment
After all those wrong turns
On wrong streets.
Like having livid scar tissue
All over my face
(No ears, seamed cheeks, bent nose.)
And now it’s gone.
Same job, same house, same family.
Same cracked ceiling,
Same wrinkled draperies,
Same lumpy mattress.
But feeling as though
I’d been a guest last night
At a suite in the Hilton,
And knowing I’ll always live there.
I’d been like a bashed-in car
With a cracked windshield
And rust-creased fenders.
The Factory repossessed
In living color, now.
And the picture in focus!
Geraniums are being transplanted
Into a back yard
Where dented garbage cans have always stood
Patrolled by rats.
Eczema and acne,
Scalp to toe.
Look: pink and firm
Well, like a surprise visit
(By special invitation)
To Buckingham Palace.
Only more so.
Handcuffed by hymns.
Now, though, to find
The prison is no prison
But a gracious, spacious villa
That I have just inherited.
On my motives
From a bunk among attic trunks and cobwebs
To picture windows
Facing the surf.
Growing in a weed-littered lot;
With crackling brown leaves
On every twig.
To moist dark humus.
The boys will twirl and twirl and twirl
But they will find
That all the combinations
Have been changed on this safe.
A scummy lake
Full of old tires and dead fish.
Sparkles and ripples
Over white pebbles.
Bushels of rusty tin cans
Into sculptured fawns
ELVA Mc ALLASTER
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