Monday, March 1, 2010

A Bit Of Sabbath History


The Bible tells us that the Lord God told the people of Israel to do all their labor in six days and keep holy the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11, 31:12-17).

Christians came along some ages later, though most of them came from a Jewish heritage, they did not apply this command literally. The new faith took "the first day of the week," Sunday as their day of rest and worship.

The Puritans settled in New England and kept the Old Testament close, but worshipped on Sundays. Along with other colonists, they wrote many laws to restrict Sunday work and what was permitted on Sundays and what was not proper.

Well into the 19th century, many of these religious laws were carried over to the secular law courts and subject to various punishments. In 1831-32, the famous French traveler, Alexis de Tocqueville observed "Sunday travelers being stopped by officials and interrogated about the necessity o their trip." (Jeffery A. Smith quote from de Tocqueville's "Journey to America.")

In 1810 the Postal Service provoked those who saw the Sabbath as holy by announcing mail service would be delivered seven days a week. The government was pliable and tried to make delivers on Sunday to not interfere with church services. Some hard-liners against the 7-day mail delivery sound like today's televangelist Pat Robertson: the holy day was being profaned; morality would decay; predicted that a wrathful God would punish the nation.

The National Reform Association was formed by eleven denominations during the Civil War. This group regarded the Civil War as divine judgment. Even the end of Christianity was predicted.

1890, Postmaster General John Wannamaker, a Presbyterian elder and Bible teacher, was denounced at a Sabbath Association meeting saying he should be dismissed from his church unless he stopped Sunday mail service. He didn't stop the service.

The printing of Sunday newspapers were attacked. Many post offices were in stores, so they stayed open for mail pick-up and place to buy newspapers. This little crack in the mercantile door caused more stores to begin Sunday openings. Ballgames and fairs became popular. The congress was bombarded to enact a national Sabbath. This Christian lobbying force was not successful in getting an acknowledgement of God, Christ, and the Bible authority in a preamble to their law proposal.

Sir William Blackstone viewed profanation of the Sabbath as punishable because it corrupted morals. At the same time, 1894, "Fishing on Sunday," was a penal statue. The Blue Laws-------

More liberal (progressive is what the word means, not being stuck in the past as conservatives) clergymen and churches were saying Sunday should observe what Jesus said, "the Sabbath was made for man." They insisted to give the people leisure for thought, rest, and clear the mind for a new week of work, would benefit both religious and secular life.

DeWitt Talmage was a leading preacher in 19th century New York. He cautioned, "Don't fight newspapers. Attack provokes attack." Talmage's brother was a missionary to East China and I want to write someday about him. Excuse me, I digress.

Having lived in a time when stores closed down on Sunday and early on Wednesdays (mid-week services), I admit it was a far different time than today. Mother bought groceries during the weekdays and never considered going to a movie on a Sunday. It just was not even considered as a option.

In the 1930s and 1940s, there might be one or two gasoline stations open Sunday, but only on the highway or the afternoon. City buses did not run and public schools did not hold athletic or academic contests. During the summer there were no Wednesday night softball games scheduled. (I have my doubts how many of the players, coaches and fans darkened a church door on Wednesday nights – unless a good supper was being involved. The coach of my team was in church, he was the educational director.)

Wide-open Sundays are not progress, nor a blessing. May I suggest a new American law? Make work illegal on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This would fulfill the Law of Moses.

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