INTRODUCTION by George W. Reid
This document was prepared by a special Commission appointed in 1981 by the officers of the General Conference with the assignment of studying the biblical passages involved, reviewing how Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath in various parts of the world, and dealing with the challenges confronting those seeking to worship God in true Sabbath reverence.
The Commission’s report was presented to the General Conference session of 1985 and formally received by vote of the delegates. It is not intended to serve as a set of ecclesiastical legislations, but instead to make available the results of exploring the elements involved in faithful Sabbath observance. As such it represents recommendations from a diverse international Commission of Seventh-day Adventists. This study was presented to the church following extensive research in the Scriptures and thoughtful reflections on how best to respect God’s hallowed day of rest, given to Adam and Eve as a part of the Creation.
Although its work was based on careful study of the Scriptures, accompanied by the counsels of the Spirit of Prophecy, the Commission was specifically asked to address and make recommendations on how best to deal with contemporary issues that impact Sabbath observance today. Therefore the reader will find a number of quite specific recommendations that address specific matters, although many more could easily come to mind. The study was presented in the interest of encouraging worldwide unity of understanding and practice among Seventh-day Adventists, who now represent the largest Sabbath-observing faith community in the world, being present in more than 200 of the world’s nations.
SABBATH OBSERVANCE - GUIDELINES
PURPOSE AND PERSPECTIVE
The main objective of this document on Sabbath observance is to provide counsel or guidelines to church members desiring a richer, more meaningful experience in Sabbathkeeping. It is hoped that this will provide an impetus toward a real reform in Sabbathkeeping on a worldwide basis.
Conscious of the fact that the worldwide worshiping community encounters numerous problems in Sabbath observance arising from within a given cultural and ideological context, an attempt has been made to take these difficulties into consideration. It is not the intent of this document to address every question pertaining to Sabbathkeeping, but rather to present biblical principles and Spirit of Prophecy guidelines that will assist the church members as they endeavor to follow the leading of the Lord. It is hoped that the counsel given in the document will be helpful. Ultimately, however, decisions made under critical circumstances must be motivated by one’s personal faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
SABBATH - A SAFEGUARD OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
The Sabbath encompasses our entire relationship with God. It is an indication of God’s action on our behalf in the past, present, and future. The Sabbath protects man’s friendship with God and provides the time essential for the development of that relationship. The Sabbath clarifies the relation between God and the human family, for it points to God as Creator at a time when human beings would like to usurp God’s position in the universe.
In this age of materialism, the Sabbath points men and women to the spiritual and to the personal. The consequences for forgetting the Sabbath day to keep it holy are serious. It will lead to the distortion and eventual destruction of a person’s relationship with God.
When the Sabbath is kept, it is a witness to the rest that comes from trusting God alone as our sustainer, as the basis of our salvation, and as the ground of our hope in the future. As such, the Sabbath is a delight because we have entered God’s rest and have accepted the invitation to fellowship with Him.
When God asks us to remember the Sabbath day, He does so because He wants us to remember Him.
PRINCIPLE AND THEOLOGY OF SABBATH OBSERVANCE
Nature and Purpose of the Sabbath. The origin of the Sabbath lies in Creation when God rested from His work on the seventh day (Gen. 1-3). The Sabbath has significance as a perpetual sign of the everlasting covenant between God and His people in order that they might know who it is that created them (Ex. 31:17) and sanctifies them (Ex. 31:13; Eze. 20:12), and that they might recognize Him as the Lord their God (Eze. 20:20).
Uniqueness of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a special occasion for worshiping God as Creator and Redeemer and as the Lord of life with whom the human family will be reunited at the Second Advent. The Sabbath commandment forms the center of the moral law as the seal of God’s authority. Since it is a symbol of God’s love relationship with His earthly children, human beings are obliged to respect this gift in the sense that they will do everything in their power to promote and engage in activities that will help establish and enhance a lasting relationship with God. Thus His people will engage only in those activities that are directed toward God and their fellowmen, and not in those that lean toward self-gratification or self-interest.
Universality of the Sabbath. The universality of the Sabbath is rooted in Creation. Thus its privileges and obligations are binding in all nations, sectors, or classes. (See Ex. 20:11; 23:12; Deut. 5:15; Isa. 56:1-8.) Sabbath observance pertains to all members of the household, including children, and extends even “to the stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:10).
Time Frame of the Sabbath. Biblical Data: The Sabbath starts at the end of the sixth day of the week and lasts one day, from evening to evening (Genesis 1; Mark 1:32). This time coincides with the time of sunset. Wherever a clear delineation of the time of sunset is difficult to ascertain, the Sabbathkeeper will begin the Sabbath at the end of the day as marked by the diminishing light.
Principles Guiding Sabbath Observance. Although the Bible does not deal directly with many of the specific questions we may have regarding Sabbath observance in our day, it does provide us with general principles that are applicable today. (See Ex. 16:29; 20:8-11; 34:21; Isa. 58:13; Neh. 13:15-22.)
“The law forbids secular labor on the rest day of the Lord; the toil that gains a livelihood must cease; no labor for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon that day; but as God ceased His labor of creating, and rested upon the Sabbath and blessed it, so man is to leave the occupations of his daily life, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds” (The Desire of Ages, p. 207).
This concept, however, is not supportive of total inactivity. Both the Old and New Testaments invite us to care for the needs and alleviate the sufferings of others, for the Sabbath is a good day for all, particularly the lowly and the oppressed (Ex. 23:12; Matt. 12:10-13; Mark 2:27; Luke 13:11-17; John 9:1-21).
Yet even good works on the Sabbath must not obscure the chief biblical characteristic of Sabbath observance, namely, rest (Gen. 2:1-3). This includes both physical (Ex. 23:12) and spiritual rest in God (Matt. 11:28). The latter leads the Sabbath observer to seek the presence of and communion with God in worship (Isa. 48:14), both in quiet meditation (Matt. 12:1-8) and in public worship (2 Kings 4:23; 11:4-12; 1 Chron. 23:30ff.; Isa. 56:1-8). Its object is to recognize God as Creator and Redeemer (Gen. 2:1-3; Deut. 5:12-15), and it is to be shared by the individual family and the larger community (Isa. 56:1-8).
Sabbath and the Authority of God’s Word. Ellen White points out that the Sabbath commandment is unique, for it contains the seal of God’s law. It alone “brings to view both the name and the title of the Lawgiver. It declares Him to be the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and thus shows His claim to reverence and worship above all others. Aside from this precept, there is nothing in the Decalogue to show by whose authority the law is given” (The Great Controversy, p. 452).
The Sabbath as a sign of the Creator points to His ownership and authority. Meaningful Sabbath observance, therefore, indicates the acceptance of God as Creator and Owner, and acknowledges His authority over all creation, including oneself. Sabbath observance is based on the authority of God’s Word. There is no other logical reason for it.
Human beings have the freedom to enter into a relationship with the Creator of the universe as with a personal friend.
Sabbathkeepers may have to face resistance at times because of their commitment to God to keep the Sabbath holy. To those who do not recognize God as their Creator, it seems arbitrary or inexplicable for someone to cease from all work on the Sabbath day for merely religious reasons. Meaningful Sabbath observance testifies to the fact that we have chosen to obey God’s commandment. We thus recognize that our life is now lived in obedience to God’s Word. The Sabbath will be a special test in the endtime. The believer will have to make a choice either to give allegiance to God’s Word or to human authority (Rev. 14:7, 12).
HOME AND FAMILY LIFE AS RELATED TO THE SABBATH
Introduction. Home life is the cornerstone of proper Sabbath observance. Only when individuals keep the Sabbath conscientiously in the home and assume their assigned responsibilities as members of the family will the church as a whole reveal to the world the joys and privileges of God’s holy day.
Different Kinds of Homes. In the twentieth century there are various kinds of homes: for example, the home in which there is a husband, wife, and children; the home in which there is husband and wife and no children; the home in which there is a single parent and children (where because of death or divorce one parent must function in both maternal and paternal roles); the home in which a person has never married or where death or divorce has left one single, and no children are involved; or the home in which one parent only is a member of the church. In addressing the needs and problems of these categories, it should be understood that some of the principles and suggestions enunciated will apply to all groups and some will be more specialized.
Two Sacred Institutions—The Home and the Sabbath. “In the beginning” God placed a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden as their home. Also, “in the beginning” God gave to human beings the Sabbath. These two institutions, the home and the Sabbath, belong together. Both are gifts from God. Therefore both are sacred, the latter strengthening and enriching in its unique manner the bond of the former.
Close fellowship is an important element of the home. Close fellowship with other human beings also is an important element of the Sabbath. It binds families closer to God and binds the individual members closer to one another. Viewed from this perspective, the importance of the Sabbath to the home cannot be overestimated.
Responsibilities of Adults as Teachers. In choosing Abraham as the father of the chosen people, God said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him” (Gen. 18:19). It seems clear, then, that an enormous responsibility has been given to adults in the home for the spiritual welfare of their children. By both precept and example, they must provide the kind of structure and atmosphere that will make the Sabbath a delight and such a vital part of Christian living that, long after leaving the home, the children will continue the customs they were taught in childhood.
In harmony with the injunction “Thou shalt teach them [God’s commandments] diligently unto thy children” (cf. Deut. 6:4-9), the adult members of the family should teach their children to love God and keep His commandments. They should teach them to be loyal to God and to follow His directives.
From earliest infancy children should be taught to participate in family worship so that worship in the house of God will become an extension of a family custom. Also, from infancy children should be taught the importance of church attendance, that true Sabbath observance involves going to God’s house for worship and Bible study. Adults in the family should set the example by attending services on Sabbath, providing a pattern that will be seen as important when their children make decisions on what is of value in life. Through discussions, as the children grow older and more mature, and through Bible study, the children should be taught the meaning of the Sabbath, its relationship to Christian living, and the enduring quality of the Sabbath.
Preparation for the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is to be observed properly, the entire week should be programmed in such a way that every member will be ready to welcome God’s holy day when it arrives. This means that the adult family members will plan so that all household tasks—the buying and preparing of food, the readying of clothes, and all the other necessities of everyday life—will be completed before sundown Friday. The day of rest should become the pivot around which the wheel of the entire week turns. When Friday night approaches and sundown is near, adults and children will be able to greet the Sabbath with tranquility of mind, with all preparation finished, and with the home in readiness to spend the next 24 hours with God and with one another. Children can help achieve this by carrying Sabbath preparation responsibilities commensurate with their maturity. The way the family approaches the beginning of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday night and the way Friday night is spent will set the stage for receiving the blessings that the Lord has in store for the entire day that follows.
Proper Sabbath Dress. Where there are children in the home, on Sabbath morning as the family dresses for church, adults may by precept and example teach children that one way to honor God is to appear in His house in clean, representative clothing appropriate to the culture in which they live.
Importance of Bible Study Hour. Where children do not have the advantage of attending Adventist schools, the Sabbath school becomes the most important means of religious instruction outside the home. The value of this Bible study hour cannot be overestimated. Therefore, parents should attend Sabbath morning services and do everything possible to take their children with them.
Family Activities on the Sabbath. In most cultures the Sabbath noon meal, when the family gathers around the dinner table in the home, is a high point of the week. The spirit of sacred joy and fellowship, begun upon arising and continued through the worship services at church, is intensified. Free from the distractions of a secular atmosphere, the family can converse on themes of mutual interest and maintain the spiritual mood of the day.
When the sacred nature of the Sabbath is understood, and a loving relationship exists between parents and children, all will seek to prevent intrusions into the holy hours by secular music, radio, video, and television programs, and by newspapers, books, and magazines.
Sabbath afternoons, as far as possible, will be spent in family activities—exploring nature; making missionary visits to shut-ins, the sick, or others in need of encouragement; and attending meetings in the church. As the children grow older, activities will enlarge to encompass other members of their age groups in the church, with the question always in mind, “Does this activity cause me to understand better the true nature and sacredness of the Sabbath?” Thus proper Sabbath observance in the home will have a lasting influence for time and eternity.
SABBATH OBSERVANCE AND RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES
Introduction. Sabbath observance includes both worship and fellowship. The invitation to enjoy both is open and generous. Sabbath worship directed toward God usually takes place in a community of believers. The same community provides fellowship. Both worship and fellowship offer unlimited potential to praise God and to enrich the lives of Christians. When either Sabbath worship or fellowship is distorted or abused, both praise to God and personal enrichment are threatened. As God’s gift of Himself to us, the Sabbath brings real joy in the Lord. It is an opportunity for believers to recognize and reach their God-given potential. Thus, to the believer the Sabbath is a delight.
Alien Factors to Sabbath Observance. The Sabbath can be intruded upon easily by elements alien to its spirit. In the experience of worship and fellowship the believer must ever be alert to alien factors that are detrimental to one’s realization of Sabbath sacredness. The sense of Sabbath holiness is threatened particularly by the wrong kinds of fellowship and activities. In contrast, the sacredness of the Sabbath is upheld when the Creator remains the center of that holy day.
Culturally Conditioned Phenomena in Sabbath Observance. It is important to understand that Christians render obedience to God and thus observe the Sabbath at the place in history and culture where they live. It is possible that both history and culture may falsely condition us and distort our values. By appealing to culture we may be guilty of giving ourselves license or excuse to indulge in sports and recreational activities that are incompatible with Sabbath holiness. For example, intensive physical exertion and various forms of tourism are out of harmony with true Sabbath observance.
Any attempt to regulate Sabbath observance beyond biblical principles by developing lists of Sabbath prohibitions will be counterproductive to a sound spiritual experience. The Christian will test his Sabbath experience by principle. He knows that it is the main purpose of the Sabbath to strengthen the bond of union between himself and God. Thus one’s activities guided by biblical principles and contributing toward such a strengthening are acceptable.
In as much as no one can evaluate rightly the personal motives of others, a Christian must be very careful not to criticize his brethren living in cultural contexts other than his own and engaging in Sabbath recreational activities they approve.
While traveling, Adventist tourists should make every effort to observe the Sabbath with their fellow believers in any given area. Respecting the sacredness of the seventh day, it is recommended that Adventists avoid using the day for a holiday set aside for sightseeing and secular activity.
* Look for Part 2 in the next issue.
General Conference of SDA