An email came to us declaring inauguration day to be “Not One Damn Dime Day” in the face of religious and political leaders failing to speak out against the war in Iraq. To condense the well-written email, it called for a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending (gasoline, mall and convenience stores, fast food shops – any groceries at all for that matter) in an effort to shut the retail economy down. The object was to remind the people in power

  • that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal;
  • that they are responsible for starting it and that it is their responsibility to stop it;
  • that they work for the people of the United States of America, not for the international corporations and K Street lobbyists who represent the corporations and funnel cash into American politics.

The beauty of it would be that there’s no rally to attend, no marching to do, and no left or right wing agenda to rant about. You open your mouth by keeping your wallet closed. For 24 hours, nothing gets spent, to remind our religious leaders and our politicians of their moral responsibility to end the war in Iraq and give America back to the people.

The Hebrew Sabbath, & Christian Theology

My, how the unbelievers outdo the church in civics! Imagine a sacred boycott. What if “Not one dime day” happened once a week? It used to. Hebrew culture commanded a WEEKLY “not one dime day” called the Sabbath. Not only providing rest for the workingman and the livestock, it was a day to refrain from “profaning the Sabbath” by abstaining from usage of money [1], instead marveling on the One who gives us everything we have. It was a day to invest in faith instead of the world.

Exodus 20: 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [2]

People born before around 1965 will probably remember that it used to be a law in most states throughout the U.S, that businesses were closed on Sunday. You couldn’t even buy gasoline or go to a restaurant out of respect for the Sabbath. But now our culture is predicated on a 24/7 business schedule, which allows no one a legal day of rest. This change resulted largely from recent Christian teaching, which holds that because of the new covenant in Christ, Christians are not obligated to keep the Sabbath or, to hear some tell it, any of the Ten Commandments. All the social constraints concerning business on the Sabbath fell away. Thus the U.S. is rightly accused of worshiping the dollar.

Where did we get off, as the Church? A Jewish believing friend alerted me to this issue about a year ago. Her opinion was that they are called the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions, with good reason. But popular Christian understanding says that, in Christ, every day is a day of “rest from the works of salvation” and the commandment no longer need be observed as written.

The purpose here is not to weary readers with Sabbath day arguments and theological heave-ho, which have all been banished to footnotes [3,4], with one exception – the centerpiece modern objection to keeping the Sabbath is
Colossians 2:16 [New RSV].

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

This translation of verse 16 in the New Revised Standard Version illustrates the problem well, as many translations do not clarify that Paul-s Greek wording mentions plural sabbaths (“sabbath days”, that is, Jewish holy days in general). That implies a distinction from the singular Sabbath Day. Thus some reputable scholars argue that in fact “the Sabbath” is distinct, and distinguished, from Hebrew “works” sabbaths in Paul-s usage here, which seems likely to me. If so, the “Sabbath days” in 2:16 are not “the Sabbath”. But in any case, being in the sabbath rest of grace does not in any way free us from living responsible and holy lives. It rather enables that sort of living.[3]

Why Do We Find the Idea of The Sabbath so Burdensome?

While this writer feels differently, let’s go with it – assume this so-called freedom from the weekly Sabbath is a given. Then, let’s consider our motives and God’s intentions. What does it say about Christians, that we should find the Sabbath burdensome? Wat’s so unacceptable about one sacred day a week for God, reading the Word and reflecting without distraction? Is Scripture that boring, or God that predictable, that we should wipe our brow in relief to not be “bound by the law” and entirely toss the Sabbath principle aside to follow other pursuits? Are we so intent upon sports, being entertained, going shopping, or constantly doing business that we feel the Sabbath is too burdensome for our “busy” lives?

Do not such attitudes smack of idolatry and greed? Or is one day’s loss of any of these activities the worst thing that happens to U.S. people anymore – our idea of tribulation, perhaps? Did anyone get the idea that a walk with Christ was simple and easy, or that our mission is to DEFEND the world system? “Scriptural” or not, tossing the Sabbath laws aside has helped birth the laxity of labor laws which allows ‘us’ to work the poor to death 24/7 to serve this exceedingly greedy and idolatrous culture – a culture that is swallowing our children alive. We have the influence of this supposedly enlightened Christian view of the Sabbath to thank for it.

The Sabbath Made for Man – for Rest and for Focus

So what can the Sabbath be about? In Mark 2:27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” We all need a day off, and even more do we need to reflect on God without distraction. Jesus also said: Luke 13:15: “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?”

The “labor” in question is evidently not a matter of minor physical exertion. The point rather is to abstain from labor in the sense of commerce. This is because it is the day we revere the One from whom all our goods and money come and meditate on our faith in Him to supply all our needs. How sorely our culture needs to be reminded from whence all comes, because in the U.S. most work does not directly feed or shelter anyone. We gain these indirectly via money, and we are easily tempted to think of that money as our provider instead of God.

In the U.S. our “information economy” gloats in short-lived triumph over a mostly agrarian world. Less than two percent of the U.S. population is employed in agriculture anymore, and most U.S. people do not do manual labor, or even produce anything tangible – instead toiling behind a desk in some species of finance, information or entertainment employment. Only a physically unchallenged people (any connection to our culture of obesity?) could be satisfied with a strictly conceptual day of rest. Working on the Sabbath, for a modern U.S. Christian, might involve only number crunching – literally no sweat.

The Sabbath and The Rest of The World

But working on the Sabbath for about three quarters of the people on this planet would amount to madness if they had any choice about it, because most of this world is still busy using shovels or otherwise toiling in manual labor. The majority of people on this planet would love this commandment and receive it as a tender mercy of the Lord. They would laugh at some abstract theological paradigm (freedom from “works of salvation”) substituting for a day’s rest. Many might wish in vain that it applied to their culture, as manual labor demands a certain amount of rest. Also, anyone involved in animal husbandry understands this “kind commandment,” as it is possible to work an animal to death, as well as a human.

Narcissistic Spirituality, and The Sabbath as Counterculture

In our narcissistic culture, spirituality becomes self-focused and abstract, tempting Christians to think only of our own “rest,” blinding us to the kind intention in this Commandment towards all creation. What does it say of anyone’s faith if they run around praising the Lord out loud and don’t see to it that their employees have sufficient time off? The Sabbath protects and blesses even unbelievers – does anyone think the livestock mentioned in the Commandment must concern themselves with working for salvation?

Imagine it – would not Christians be more effective lights on the hill, and salt of the earth, if we forsook consumer culture one day a week! Let us enjoy a Sabbath not by compunction as some new twist on dominion theology – not in worldly protest either unto or about our leaders – but as unto God, to purify ourselves of the world on a regular basis. May God receive it as our collective prayer for the U.S. church, whose souls are being numbed through dominion theology.

May we lay discipline against the greed of consumer culture – the entire “McWorld” system that is killing our land, our planet, and our people’s hearts. The “McGreed” of the “McWorld” is the very premise fueling the war in Iraq. We have the most powerful “protest” tool we need, and it just so happens to be one of the Ten Commandments – a protest of the heart – beyond civics.

Let us maintain a sign and a witness against the world system, from which we are called OUT. The world which the Church is supposed to reach is hungering for righteousness – just talk to some unbelievers. So many hate the orgy of consumerism, and the greed of some Christian spectacles makes the church repulsive to many. If nothing else, a day spent reflecting on God and communing with Him can do no harm to our spiritual life. It is a beneficial habit for every reason.

Are we worried since 9/11 about attacks on our soil? Consider the hopefulness and promise of Isaiah 58:13-14.

13 “‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Christians tend to quote Isaiah at great length for every other reason. Have we now become wiser than the prophet, supposing his message uniquely dated here?

____________

Notes:

[1] Nehemiah 13:

15 In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing-desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” 19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.

[2] Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.

[3] At the website bible.crosswalk.com (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown), we read

“the sabbath–Omit “THE,” which is not in the Greek (compare Note, SABBATHS” (not “the sabbaths”) of the day of atonement and feast of tabernacles have come to an end with the Jewish services to which they belonged (Leviticus 23:32,37-39). The weekly sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days. Leviticus 23:38 expressly distinguished “the sabbath of the Lord” from the other sabbaths. A positive precept is right because it is commanded, and ceases to be obligatory when abrogated; a moral precept is commanded eternally, because it is eternally right. If we could keep a perpetual sabbath, as we shall hereafter, the positive precept of the sabbath, one in each week, would not be needed. Hebrews 4:9, “rests,” Greek, “keeping of sabbath” (Isaiah 66:23). But we cannot, since even Adam, in innocence, needed one amidst his earthly employments; therefore the sabbath is still needed and is therefore still linked with the other nine commandments, as obligatory in the spirit, though the letter of the law has been superseded by that higher spirit of love which is the essence of law and Gospel alike (Romans 13:8-10).”

[4] Another contention is about which day of the week is the true Sabbath – Saturday or Sunday, a point on which my Jewish Christian friend and I differed. She said it was the commanded to be seventh day of the week. I kept insisting that the phrase “of the week” is not in the commandment. I felt rather that a ratio of six to one was initiated. Logically, if the first item of any pattern is not fixed (e.g., described as the first day of the week), then the seventh in the pattern is not at any given point either (Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God). Nevertheless we voluntarily choose to observe the Sabbath in solidarity with the Hebrew people.