Once, it seemed, every Seventh-day Adventist knew about appropriate Sabbath-keeping─what could and what should not be done.
Not that we didn't at times push the borders, but those borders were well-defined. At times we argued over things: if it was OK to walk on the beach in water up to our ankles, why was it breaking the Sabbath once the water went above our knees?
But mostly we understood about Sabbath-keeping. The diings we did were right or wrong, black or white. And that was comforting.
The Age of Why? has changed that. We've been taught to question, and seek reasons. And we've taught our children and our children's children to do the same.
So the depth of water now becomes irrelevant as we tend to talk about principles rather dian rules. We take into account cultural backgrounds and influences on Sabbadi-keeping. And we even say we shouldn't judge others in the way they keep the Sabbath.
The Sabbadi-keeping of my youth seems to be dying. Praise God!
Praise God? Isn't it time to raise the standard again? Sure, let us raise the Sabbath-keeping standard high but not on die basis of rules.
Jesus worked hard to move the religious leaders of His day away from this approach to Sabbath keeping (John 5).
Can you see them? Red-faced priests rushing as fast as their dignity will allow, to quell the disturbance? Who would dare to break the sanctity of the Sabbath?
Someone has been found walking through Jerusalem carrying his bed mat on the Sabbath. Did I say walking? There was a bounce in the step of this man. A bounce? No, it's more than that. After 38 years of being an invalid, he's testing renewed legs.
Can you see him? Look at his face. Unbelief. Ecstasy. Tears of incredulity.
Watch him. He gives a hop, a run, a jump. He skipsa springbok in the Sabbath herd it's no wonder he is noticed. Especially with that bed mat. (They have rules about that kind of thing.)
No wonder the people begin to grumble. No wonder they say, "It's die Sabbath; die law forbids you to carry your mat."
"The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.'" he replies.
Had the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) instructed him to break the Sabbath rules? Obviously not, but He does help us get Sabbath-keeping into perspective.
He put it something like this, "The Sabbath was made for humans as a rest, a delight and a refreshing; humans weren't made for the Sabbath" (see Mark 2:27).
In telling the man to carry the mat, Jesus gave the Sabbadi a flexibility that had not been seen by others of His day. The healdi and well-being of die cripple was His foremost priority.
This incident illustrates well the principle-based approach to Sabbath-keeping. Here it is to help others. Carrying the mat just happens to be a practical result of the man now being able to walk.
The principles are important. These principles include: The Sabbath is time given from God, for God. The Sabbath is time for family and friends. The Sabbath is time away from the workaday week and business (with rare exceptions in people-helping work). The Sabbath is time for worship. The Sabbath is time to witness to and help others. The Sabbath is time to shut oneself away from the negative influences about us. The Sabbath is not time for selfish entertainment.
Do we lose something as we become principlebased rather than rules based? Does it open Sabbath up to abuse?
One could ask, Does a husband remain faithful to his wife simply because of a marriage agreement? He may, but diere's a better way. A husband who loves his wife is faimful because of that love.
If Sabbath-keeping comes out of a love relationship with the Creator-Redeemer, faithfulness will not be a problem. In a love relationship the question is never How little do I have to do to keep this relationship going?, it's What more can I do for this person?
The day becomes precious. So precious, in fact, dial it will be guarded with extra care.
And valid questions will be: What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? What did He do? What can I learn about Sabbath-keeping from Him? What more can I do for Him?
That roots the Sabbath in a Person, not in rules. The Pharisees proved that a legalistic approach to Sabbath can be achieved, but it made Sabbath a burden. When Sabbath-keeping is based on a relationship with the Creator-Redeemer it becomes a joy.
Bruce Manners writes from Australia where he serves as editor of Record, the official paper of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific Division.