|(1) THE THEOLOGICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SABBATH AND SUNDAY|
Contrary to Protestant Covenant and Dispensational authors who emphasize the discontinuity between the Sabbath and Sunday, the Pope finds the theological foundation of Sunday observance in the creational origin and meaning of the Sabbath. He writes: "In order to grasp fully the meaning of Sunday, therefore, we must re-read the great story of creation and deepen our understanding of the theology of the 'Sabbath'" (#8).|
Creative and Redemptive Meaning of the Sabbath
The Pope's reflections on the theological meaning of the Sabbath are most perceptive, and should thrill especially Sabbatarians. For example, speaking of God's rest on the seventh day of creation, the Pope says: "The divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God, but emphasizes the fullness of what has been accomplished. It speaks, as it were, of God's lingering before the 'very good' work (Gen 1:31) which his hands has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight" (# 11).
This profound theological insights into the meaning of the divine Shabbat, as a rest of cessation in order to express the satisfaction over a completed, perfect creation, and to fellowship with His creation, is developed at some length in my book Divine Rest for Human Restlessness pp. 66-68. For example, on page 67, I wrote: "God's cessation on the seventh day from doing expresses His desire for being with His creation, for giving to His creatures not only things but Himself." I must confess that I am inclined to think that the Pope and/or his assistants may well have read my two books Divine Rest and From Sabbath to Sunday which were published by the Pontifical Gregorian University Press, in Rome, Italy, and personally delivered to him by Dr. B. B. Beach, Director of Inter-Churches Affairs of the General conference of SDA. Beach received a letter of acknowledgment and appreciation.
Pope John Paul II rightly emphasizes the theological development of the Sabbath from the rest of creation (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11) to the rest of redemption (Deut 5:12-15). He notes that in the Old Testament the Sabbath commandment is linked "not only with God's mysterious 'rest' after the days of creation (cf. Ex 20:8-11), but also with the salvation which he offers to Israel in the liberation from the slavery of Egypt (cf. Deut 5:12-15). The God who rests on the seventh day, rejoicing in His creation, is the same God who reveals his glory in liberating his children from Pharaoh's oppression" (# 8). Being a memorial of creation and redemption, "the 'Sabbath' has therefore been interpreted evocatively as a determining element in the kind of 'sacred architecture' of time which marks biblical revelation. It recalls that the universe and history belong to God; and without constant awareness of that truth, man cannot serve in the world as a co-worker of the Creator" (#15).
Sunday as the Fulfilment of the Sabbath
In the light of these profound theological insights into the Sabbath as being a kind of "sacred architecture" of time that marks the Biblical revelation of God's creative and redemptive activity, one wonders how does the Pope succeed in developing a theological justification for Sunday observance? He does it by arguing that Sunday as the Lord's Day fulfills the creative and redemptive functions of the Sabbath. These two functions, the Pope claims, "reveal the meaning of the 'Lord's Day' within a single theological vision which fuses creation and salvation" (#17).
"On the Lord's Day," the Pope explains, "which the Old Testament [Sabbath] links to the work of creation (cf. Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11) and the Exodus (cf. Deut 5:12-15), the Christian is called to proclaim the new creation and the new covenant brought about in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Far from being abolished, the celebration of creation becomes more profound within a Christocentric perspective . . . The remembrance of the liberation of the Exodus also assumes its full meaning by Christ in his Death and Resurrection. More than a 'replacement' of the Sabbath, therefore, Sunday is its fulfilment, and in a certain sense its extension and full expression in the ordered unfolding of the history of salvation, which reaches its culmination in Christ" (# 59).
The Pope maintains that New Testament Christians "made the first day after the Sabbath a festive day" because they discovered that the reative and redemptive accomplishments celebrated by the Sabbath, found their "fullest expression in Christ's Death and Resurrection, though its definitive fulfillment will not come until the Parousia, when Christ
returns in glory" (#18).
Evaluation of Pope's Arguments
The Pope's attempt to make Sunday the legitimate fulfilment of the creative and redemptive meanings of the Sabbath, is very ingenious, but unfortunately it lacks Biblical and historical support. From a Biblical perspective, there are no indications that NT Christians ever interpreted the day of Christ's Resurrection as representing the fulfilment and "full expression" of the creation/redemption meanings of the Sabbath. The New Testament attributes no liturgical significance to the day of Christ's Resurrection, simply because the Resurrection was seen as an existential reality experienced by living victoriously by the power of the Risen Savior, and not a liturgical practice, associated with Sunday worship.
Had Jesus wanted to memorialize the day of His resurrection, He would have capitalized on the day of His resurrection to make such a day the fitting memorial of that event. But, none of the utterances of the risen Savior reveal an intent to memorialize the day of His Resurrection by making it the new Christian day of rest and worship. Biblical institutions such as the Sabbath, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, all trace their origin to a divine act that established them. But there is no such divine act for a weekly Sunday or annual Easter Sunday memorial of the Resurrection.
The silence of the New Testament on this matter is very important
since most of its books were written many years after Christ's death and
resurrection. If by the latter half of the first century Sunday had come to
be viewed as the memorial of the Resurrection which fulfilled the
creation/redemption functions of the OT Sabbath, we would expect to find in
the NT some allusions meanings and observance. The absence of any allusion
in the NT regarding the celebration of the Resurrection on a weekly Sunday
or annual Easter Sunday, indicates that such developments occurred in the
post-apostolic period as a result of an interplay of political, social, and
religious factors which I have examined at length in my dissertation From
Sabbath to Sunday, published by the Pontifical Gregorian University Press
with the official Catholic imprimatur. Anyone interested to receive a copy
of this research is welcomed to contact me at: email@example.com
From a historical perspective, Sunday is never called "the day of
the resurrection" until the fourth century ( See, for example, Eusebius of
Caesarea, Commentary on Psalm 91, Patrologia Graeca 23, 1168; Apostolic
Constitutions 2, 59, 3). The obvious reason is that in earliest centuries
Sunday was not viewed as the fulfilment of the creative and redemptive
function of the Sabbath celebrated through the Day of Christ's Resurrection.
Beginning from the second century we find attempts to link Sunday
with the creation-week, but, not to make the day the fulfilment of the
creative accomplishments memorialized by the seventh day. Rather,
Sunday, being the Day of the Sun, was connected to the first day of the
creation-week, because on that day the light was created. The creation of
the light on the first day provided what appeared to many at that time a
suitable justification for observing the Day of the Sun, the generator of
In his Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius (about A. D. 150)
Justin writes that Christians assemble on the day of the Sun to commemorate
the first day of creation "on which God, transforming the darkness and
prime matter, created the world." (67, 7). Christians, as Cardinal J.
Daničlou points out, noticed early the coincidence between the creation of
light on the first day and the veneration of the Sun which took place on
the selfsame day (Bible and Liturgy, pp. 253, 255).
The Pope says that "Christian thought spontaneously linked the
Resurrection, which took place on 'the first day of the week,' with the
first day of that cosmic week (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4) which shapes the creation
story of the Book of Genesis: the day of the creation of light (cf. 1:3-5)"
(#24). The linkage between the first day of the week and the creation
of the light, may not have been as spontaneous as suggested by the Pope.
In fact, in my dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday I submit documents and
arguments indicating that such linkage most likely occurred in the
post-apostolic period, when the necessity arose to justify the abandonment
of the Sabbath and the adoption of the Day of the Sun.
This development began during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (A.
D. 117-138), as a result of the repressive anti-Judaic legislation. In A.
D. 135, Hadrian promulgated a legislation that prohibited categorically
the practice of Judaism in general and of Sabbathkeeping in particular.
This aim of this legislation was to liquidate Judaism as a religion at a
time when the Jews where experiencing resurgent Messianic expectations that
exploded in violent uprising in various parts of the empire, especially
Palestine. (See From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 178-182).
To avoid the repressive anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath legislation,
most Christians adopted the Day of the Sun, because it enabled them to show
to the Roman authorities their differentiations from the Jews and their
identification and integration with the customs and cycles of the Roman
empire. To develop a theological justification for Sunday worship,
Christians appealed to God's creation of light on the first day and to the
resurrection of the Sun of Justice, both of which coincided with the Day of
the Sun. Jerome, to cite only one example, explains: "If it is called the
Day of the Sun by the pagans, we most willingly acknowledge it as such,
since it is on this day that the light of the world appeared and on this
day the Sun of Justice has risen" ( In die dominica Paschae homilia, Corpus
Christianorum Series Latina 78, 550, 1, 52).
These considerations suggest that Christians did not spontaneously
come to view the day of Christ's Resurrection as the fulfilment of the
creative and redemptive accomplishments celebrated by the seventh day
Sabbath. The linkage to the creation week was primarily by virtue of the
fact that the creation of the light on the first day provided what many
Christians thought to be a suitable justification for observing the Day of
At this juncture I would like to respectfully pose to Pope John
Paul II some important questions: If the Sabbath had been divinely
established to commemorate God's creative and redemptive accomplishments on
behalf of His people, what right had the church to declare Sunday as its
legitimate "fulfillment," "full expression," and "extension"? Was the
typology of the Sabbath no longer adequate after the Cross to commemorate
creation and redemption? Was not the Paschal Mystery fulfilled through the
death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which occurred respectively on
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?
Why should Sunday be chosen to celebrate the atoning sacrifice of
Christ when His redemptive mission was completed on a Friday afternoon when
the Savior exclaimed: "it is finished" (John 19:30) and then He rested in
the tomb according to the Sabbath commandment? Doesn't this suggest that
both God's creation rest and Christ's redemption rest in the tomb occurred
on the Sabbath? How can Sunday be invested with the eschatological meaning
of the final restoration rest that awaits the people of God, when the NT
attaches such a meaning to the Sabbath? "A Sabbath rest [literally, a
'Sabbathkeeping'] has been left behind [apoleipetai] for the people of God"
(Heb 4:9). Augustine himself recognizes the eschatological meaning of the
Sabbath, when speaking of the final Sabbath, he eloquently says that then
"we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise" (City of God 22, 30).
Frankly, I find the attempt to invest Sunday with the theological
meaning and eschatological function of the Sabbath, well-meaning but
misguided. It ignores the three dimensional Biblical perspectives of the
Sabbath: celebration of perfect creation, complete redemption, and final
|(2) BIBLICAL SUPPORT FOR SUNDAY OBSERVANCE|
The second chapter of the Pastoral Letter "Dies Christi-The Day of
Christ" focuses on three major alleged Biblical reasons for Sunday
observance: (1) "The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead [which]
took place on 'the first day after the Sabbath' (Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1;
John 20:1)" (# 20); (2) The religious gatherings on first day of the week
(cf. 1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7-12; Rev 1:10) (# 21); (3) The outpouring of the
Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection which occurred on a Sunday
(Acts 2:2-3) (# 28).|
The Alleged Influence of the Resurrection
My response to these arguments will be brief because I have
examined them at length in chapters 3 and 4 of my dissertation. Regarding
the Resurrection we have already seen that the NT attributes no liturgical
significance to the day of Christ's Resurrection, simply because the
Resurrection was seen as an existential reality experienced by living
victoriously by the power of the Risen Savior, and not a liturgical
practice, associated with Sunday worship. Christ made no attempt to
memorialize the Day of His resurrection when He appeared to the women first
and to the disciples later.
The claim that the celebration of Christ's Resurrection on a weekly
Sunday and annual Easter-Sunday "evolved from the early years after the
Lord's Resurrection" (#19) cannot be substantiated Biblically or
historically. There is a nearly unanimous scholarly consensus that for at
least a century after Jesus' death Passover was observed not on
Easter-Sunday, as a celebration of the Resurrection, but on the date of
Nisan 14 (irrespective of the day of the week) as a celebration of the
sufferings, atoning sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ.
The repudiation of the Jewish reckoning of Passover and the
adoption of Easter-Sunday instead, is a post-apostolic development which is
attributed, as Joachim Jeremias puts it, "to the inclination to break away
from Judaism" ("Pasha", Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol.
5, p. 903, note 64) and to avoid, as J. B. Lightfoot explains, "even the
semblance of Judaism" (The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 2, p. 88).
The introduction and promotion of Easter-Sunday by the Church of
Rome in the second century caused the well-known Passover (Quartodeciman)
controversy which eventually led Bishop Victor to excommunicate the Asian
Christians (c. A. D. 191) for refusing to adopt Easter-Sunday. Indications
such as these suffice to show that Christ's Resurrection was not celebrated
on a weekly Sunday and annual Easter-Sunday from the inception of
Christianity. The social, political, and religious factors that
contributed to the change from Sabbath to Sunday and Passover to
Easter-Sunday, are discussed at great length in my dissertation.
The Religious Gatherings on First Day of the Week
In his Pastoral Letter Pope John Paul II claims that "from
Apostolic times, 'the first day after the Sabbath,' the first day of the
week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ's disciples (cf. 1 Cor
16:2)" (#21). This claim cannot be legitimately supported by the texts
cited of 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 and Acts 20:7-11.
The first-day deposit plan mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians
16:1-3 hardly suggests that "since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering
has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the
poor" (# 70). The Apostle clearly states the purpose of his advice,
namely, "so that contributions need not be made when I come" (1 Cor.
16:2). The plan then is proposed not to enhance Sunday worship by the
offering of gifts for the poor but to ensure a substantial and efficient
collection upon his arrival. Four characteristics can be identified in the
Paul's plan. The offering was to be laid aside periodically ("on the first
day of every week"-v. 2), personally ("each of you"-v. 2), privately ("by
himself in store"-v. 2) and proportionately ("as he may prosper"-v. 2).
Why would Paul advice to lay aside the money privately at home if the
church met regularly for worship on Sunday?
Paul's mention of the first day could be motivated more by
practical than theological reasons. To wait until the end of the week or of
the month to set aside one's contributions or savings is contrary to sound
budgetary practices, since by then one finds himself to be with empty
pockets and empty hands. On the other hand, if on the first day of the
week, before planning any expenditures, one sets aside what he plans to
give, the remaining funds will be so distributed as to meet all the basic
necessities. The text therefore proposes a valuable weekly plan to ensure a
substantial and orderly contribution on behalf of the poor brethren of
Jerusalem, but to extract more meaning from the text would distort it.
The time and manner of the Troas meeting reported in Acts 20:7-11
indicates a special farewell gathering occasioned by the departure of Paul,
and not a regular Sunday worship custom. In fact the meeting began on the
evening of the first day, which according to Jewish reckoning, was our
Saturday night, and continued until early Sunday morning when Paul
departed. Being a night meeting occasioned by the departure of the Apostle
at dawn, it is hardly reflective of regular Sundaykeeping. The simplest way
to explain the passage is that Luke mentions the day of the meeting not
because it was Sunday, but most likely because (1) Paul was "ready to
depart" (20:7), (2) an extraordinary miracle of Eutychus occurred that
night, and (3) it provides an additional significant chonological
reference to describe the unfolding of Paul's journey.
The claim that "the book of Revelation gives evidence of calling
the first day of the week 'the Lord's Day' (Rev 1:10)" (#21), cannot be
supported by the usage of the phrase in the NT or contemporary literature.
The first clear designation of Sunday as "Lord's day" occurs toward the end
of the second century in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. This usage cannot
be legitimately read back into Revelation 1:10. A major reason is that if
Sunday had already received the new appellation "Lord's day" by the end of
the first century, when both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation
were written, we would expect this new name for Sunday to be used
consistently in both works, especially since they were apparently produced
by the same author at approximately the same time and in the same
If the new designation "Lord's day" already existed by the end of
the first century, and expressed the meaning and nature of Christian Sunday
worship, John would hardly have had reasons to use the Jewish phrase "first
day of the week" in his Gospel. Therefore, the fact that the expression
"Lord's day" occurs in John's apocalyptic book but not in his Gospel-where
the first day is explicitly mentioned in conjunction with the resurrection
(John 20:1) and the appearances of Jesus (John 20:19, 26)-suggests that the
"Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10 can hardly refer to Sunday. (For a
discussion of this text, see my dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday, pp.
Summing up, the attempt of the Pastoral Letter to find Biblical
support for Sunday worship in the NT references to the Resurrection (Mark
16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), the first day farewell night meeting at
Troas (Acts 20:7-11), the first-day private deposit plan mentioned by Paul
in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, and the reference to the "Lord's Day" in
Revelation 1:10, is not new. The same arguments have been repeatedly used
in the past and found wanting. An important fact, often ignored is that if
Paul or any other apostle had attempted to promote the abandonment of the
Sabbath, a millenarian institution deeply rooted in the religious
consciousness of the people, and the adoption instead of Sunday observance,
there would have been considerable opposition on the part of
Jewish-Christians, as was the case with reference to the circumcision. The
absence of any echo of Sabbath/Sunday controversy in the NT is a most
telling evidence that the introduction of Sunday observance is a
|(3) THE LEGISLATION NEEDED TO FACILITATE SUNDAY OBSERVANCE|
In his Pastoral Letter Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II devotes one
of the five chapters (chapter 4) to emphasize the obligation of Sunday
observance and the legislation needed to facilitate the compliance with
The Basis of the Moral Obligation of Sunday Observance
The Pope finds the moral obligation of Sunday observance rooted in
the Sabbath commandment itself, because in his view, Sunday is the
fulfillment and full expression of the creative and redemptive meaning of
the Sabbath. He writes: "It is the duty of Christians, therefore, to
remember that, although the practices of the Jewish Sabbath are gone,
surpassed as they are by the 'fulfilment' which Sunday brings, the
underlying reasons for keeping 'the Lord's Day' holy-inscribed solemnly in
the Ten Commandments-remain valid, though they need to be reinterpreted in
the light of the theology and spirituality of Sunday" (# 62). The pope
continues quoting the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath commandment (Deut
The attempt to ground the moral obligation of Sunday observance in
the Sabbath commandment, has never succeeded. The reason is that throughout
the centuries most Christians have recognized the fundamental difference
between the two days. The difference is to be found not only in their
different names or numbers, but also in their origin, meaning, and
In terms of origin, the Sabbath is a creational institution while
Sunday is a post-apostolic, ecclesiastical creation. In terms of
theological meaning, the Sabbath in the Scripture encompasses perfect
creation, complete redemption, and final restoration. By contrast,
Sunday, according to the Fathers, includes the following three major
meanings: (1) the commemoration of the anniversary of creation, especially
the creation of light on the first day which was suggested by its analogy
to the Day of the Sun; (2) the commemoration of Christ's Resurrection which
eventually emerged as the fundamental reason for Sundaykeeping; (2) a wide
range of speculations regarding the cosmic and eschatological significance
of the eighth day. Such speculations, which abound in the Patristic
literature, were designed to prove the superiority of Sunday, as the eighth
day, in contrast to the Sabbath, as the seventh day. Eventually these
speculations were repudiated in the fourth century when the necessity to
prove the superiority of Sunday no longer existed (For texts and
discussion, see From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 278-301).
The theological arguments developed by the Fathers to justify
Sunday observance hardly support the claim of the Pastoral Letter that
Sunday is the fulfilment of the creative and redemptive meaning of the
Sabbath and, consequently, its observance can be legitimately grounded on
the Fourth (the Third for the Catholics) Commandment.
In terms of experience, the essence of Sabbathkeeping is the
consecration of time. This is accomplished by giving priority to God in
one's thinking and living during the 24 hours of the Sabbath. By contrast,
Sunday, originated as an early hour of worship (Justin, Apology 67) which
was followed by regular secular activities. In spite of the efforts later
made by Constantine (A. D. 321 Sunday Law), church councils, and Puritans,
to make Sunday into a Holy Day, the historical reality is that Sunday has
largely remained the LORD'S HOUR OF WORSHIP and not the LORD'S DAY OF REST
AND WORSHIP unto the Lord. The recognition of this historical reality has
facilitated the anticipation of the Sunday worship obligation to Saturday
evening, a practice that is becoming increasingly popular not only among
Catholics but even among Protestants.
These considerations suggests that the attempt to ground the moral
obligation of Sunday observance on the Sabbath commandment, is doomed to
failed, simply because theologically, historically, and existentially
Sunday is not the Sabbath.
The Legislation Needed to Facilitate Sunday Observance
The Pastoral Letter rightly notes that prior to the Sunday Law
promulgated by Constantine in A. D. 321, Sunday observance was not
protected by civil legislation (#64). In many cases Christians would attend
an early morning service, and then spend the rest of Sunday working at
their various occupations. Thus, the Constantinian Sunday Law, as the Pope
points out, was not "a mere historical circumstance with no special
significance for the church" (# 64), but a providential protection that
made it possible for Christians to observe Sunday "without hinderance"(#
The importance of civil legislation that guarantees Sunday rest,
is indicated by the fact that "even after the fall of the Empire, the
Councils did not cease to insist upon arrangements [civil legislation]
regarding Sunday rest" (#64). In the light of this historical fact the
Pope concludes that even "in our historical context there remains the
obligation [of the state] to ensure that everyone can enjoy the freedom,
rest and relaxation which human dignity requires, together with the
associated religious, family, cultural and interpersonal needs which are
difficult to meet if there is no guarantee of at least one day a week on
which people can both rest and celebrate" (# 66).
The need for civil legislation that guarantees Sunday rest, the
Pope points out, was reaffirmed by Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum
Novarum (1891) where he speaks of "Sunday rest as a worker's right which
the State must guarantee" (# 66). The Pope believes that Sunday
legislation is especially needed today, in view of the physical, social and
ecological problems created by technological and industrial advancements.
"Therefore," the Pope concludes, "in the particular circumstances of our
time, Christians will naturally strive to ensure that civil legislation
respects their duty to keep Sunday holy" (#67).
According to the Pastoral Letter, a Sunday Rest legislation is
needed not only to facilitate the religious observance of Sunday, but also
to foster social, cultural, and family values. The Pope says: "Through
Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspectives:
the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a
moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the face of the
people with whom we live. Even the beauties of nature-too often marred by
the desire to exploit, which turns against man himself-can be rediscovered
and enjoyed to the full" (# 67).
Evaluation of the Pope's Call for Sunday Rest Legislation
In evaluating Pope John Paul II's call for a Sunday Rest
legislation, it is important to distinguish between his legitimate concern
for the social, cultural, ecological, and religious wellbeing of our
society, and the hardship such legislation causes to minorities who for
religious or personal reasons choose to rest and worship on Saturday or on
other days of the week.
To call upon Christians to "strive to ensure that civil legislation
respects their duty to keep Sunday holy" (# 67), means to ignore that we
live today in a pluralistic society where there are, for example,
Christians and Jews who wish to keep their seventh day Sabbath Holy, and
Moslems who may wish to observe their Friday.
If Sundaykeepers expect the State to endorse Sunday as their
legislated day of rest and worship, Sabbathkeepers, then, have an equal
right to expect the State to endorse Saturday as their legislated day of
rest and worship. To be fair to the various religious and non-religious
groups, the State would then have to pass legislation guaranteeing special
days of rest and worship to different people. Such a legislation is
inconceivable because it would disrupt our socio-economic structure.
Sunday Laws, known as "Blue Laws," are still in the books of some
American States and represent an unpleasant legacy of an intolerant past.
Such laws have proven to be a failure especially because their hidden
intent was religious, namely, to foster Sunday observance. People resent
any attempt by the State to force religious practices upon them. This is a
fundamental principle of the first amendment to American Constitution, that
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
Sunday legislation is superfluous today because the short-working
week, with a long weekend of two or even three days, already makes it
possible for most people to observe their Sabbath or Sunday. Problems
still do exists, especially when an employer is unwilling to accommodate
the religious convictions of a worker. The solution to such problems is to
be sought not a Sunday or Saturday Law, but rather in such legislation as
the pending Religious Freedom in the Workplace Act, which is designed to
encourage employers to accommodate the religious convictions of their
workers, when these do not cause undue hardship to their company.
The Pope's call for Sunday Rest legislation seems to ignore that
Sunday Laws have not contributed to resolve the crisis of diminishing
church attendance. In most European countries Sunday Laws have been in
effect for many years now. On Sunday most of the business establishments
are shut down. Even most gasoline stations are closed on Sunday-a fact
that can be costly to uninformed American tourists. Have Sunday Laws
facilitated church attendance? Absolutely not! The truth of the matter is
that church attendance in Western Europe is considerably lower than in the
USA, running at less than 10% of the Christian population. In Italy, where
I come from, it is estimated that 95% of the Catholics go to church three
times in their lives, when they are hatched, matched, and dispatched.
The moral and religious decline in our society is due not to the
lack of legislation, but to the lack of moral convictions that compel
people to act accordingly. The church should seek to solve the crisis of
diminishing church attendance not by external legislation, but by the
internal moral and spiritual renovation of her members. What many
Christians need to discover today is that Christianity is not merely a
cultural heritage that entails going to church from time to time, but a
commitment to Christ. This commitment is expressed in a special way on the
Sabbath day when we stop our work in order to allow our Savior to work more
fully and freely in our lives.
In closing I wish to commend Pope John Paul II for making a
passionate plea for a revival of Sunday observance at a time when church
attendance is dwindling at an alarming rate. The Pope's concern is
legitimate because Christians who ignore the Lord on the day they call the
"Lord's Day," ultimately they will ignore God every day of their lives.
This trend, if not reversed, can spell doom to Christianity.
The solution to the crisis of declining church attendance must be
sought, however, not by calling upon the State to legislate on the day of
rest and worship, but by calling upon Christian to live according to the
moral principles of the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment
specifically calls upon Christians today to "Remember" what many have
forgotten, namely, that the seventh day is holy unto the Lord our God (Ex
20:8-11). The Pope rightly acknowledges that the Biblical seventh day
Sabbath is "a kind of 'sacred architecture' of time which marks biblical
revelation" (# 15). The challenge is to teach the world this vital
Our tension-filled and restless society today needs to rediscover
the Sabbath as that "sacred architecture of time" which can give structure
and stability to our lives and relationship with God. At a time when many
are seeking for inner peace and rest through magic pills or fabolous
places, the Sabbath invites us to find such inner peace and rest, not
through pills or places, but through the Person of our Saviour who says:
"Come unto me, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28).
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.
Professor of Theology and Church History
4990 Appian Way
Berrien Springs, MI 49103
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