Experience of Presbyterian Protestantism did not come my way till my mid-20s, after I left the neither Presbyterian nor Protestant faith I’d been brought up in. Their Sundays required meeting attendance in the morning then all afternoon proselytising. The evenings were free to watch TV. You do not ask for non-Presbyterian or non-Protestant Sunday practices but I mention that group to show that you don’t have to be either to make Sunday a day of religious work and works – everyone was required to attend very long meetings (babies and children too, with no creche or teaching suited to children); ditto for the proselytising, no matter the predominantly cold, wet weather either. They feared their salvation might be jeopardised if they didn’t work hard at such things.
Thus it was a relief to enter into a Presbyterian church where Sunday burdens were removed. I began to really enjoy the option of either or both morning and early evening worship, with freedom the rest of the day to just enjoy being with family and doing whatever we fancied. Many years later I moved to what might be called a much more ‘strict’ Presbyterian church and noticed differences. This was when I made a study of the subject and some of my discoveries are now gleaned from papers I wrote and books I read.
Most of the religious people I know (from a broad spectrum of Protestant denominations) accept that there is a vital spiritual need to desist all seven days of the week from one’s own works, to rest in the finished work of Christ – in accord with your quote from Hebrews 4:10. Christians must not strive to be justified by good works; they do good works any day of the week because they have been justified by God. This, however, is understood to be done in tandem with resting physically one particular day of the week, which is simultaneously devoted to considering the things of God, especially in public worship, more-so than any other day of the week. The basis for this is the fourth of the Ten Commandments as all of them apply for all time to God’s people (Exodus 20:8-11). The principle of Sabbath-keeping was established early in Genesis and although Christians believe in the spiritual sense of desisting from one’s own works, that does not negate desisting from physical works one day in six when attention is particularly given to God in a way that is generally not possible the rest of the week.
There is profound wisdom in humans doing no physical labour whatsoever one day out of seven, not least pacing themselves so that they can comfortably do six day’s work without burn-out. But when they do that so as to turn their attention to the things of God, then their blessedness is greatly increased. Yet it was not until I belatedly tried to observe Sunday as ‘the Lord’s Day’ and not a day for myself, that I discovered how almost impossibly hard it was to do that! The personal struggle was immense until, that is, I read chapters 6 & 7 in the book ‘The Ten Commandments For Today’ by (the Presbyterian) Brian H. Edwards (Day One publishers, 1996). He dealt with how Christ is our Lord of the Sabbath, the purpose of the Sabbath, and how to keep it holy without falling into the unholy trap of legalism.
The difficult bit is avoiding the legalistic attitudes that some ‘Reformed’ Christians exhibit. It appears that in their desire for ‘their’ denominations to be seen to be keeping the Sabbath day holy, they have felt the need to impose rules and regulations on ‘their’ congregations, to prevent them doing what they, the leaders, have deemed would make that day ‘unholy’ (like children playing, or anybody washing their hair – I kid you not; that was a rule a Presbyterian father made in his household, the grown-up daughter told me.)
The moment any Christian submits to a list of rules not in the Bible, or believes they must get another Christian’s permission to do something on the Lord’s Day, they have abused the Christian freedom for which Christ died. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states,
“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the
doctrines and commandments of men.” Chap. XX: Of Christian Liberty,
and Liberty of Conscience, 20:2.
This apparently does not apply in some Reformed circles where pressure can be put even on non-Christians to stick to their rules about Sabbath-observance. Take the case of a lady greeting her holiday tenants who arrive on Saturday night with, “We don’t hang our washing out on the Sabbath.” No matter that in the back seat of the car there was a fractious baby and a toddler who had been sick (and still in nappies). She would tolerate no washing hanging out on her property on the Sabbath! Fair enough. It’s her property, but why wait till Saturday night before telling her clients that? And what if her clients are atheists who don’t even believe God exists? How is that stipulation going to recommend Christ to them, never mind the fact that the lady cannot legitimately say, “We”, as if atheists were included?
Further, why is it always issues regarding what women and children have to do (or not do) that is raised by religious legalists? Have you ever heard a Reformed Christian say, “We don’t wash our cars on a Sunday?” No, I thought not. The following quotes, however, are written by Christian men who hate legalistic attitudes in the church and who know that nobody’s salvation depends on that:
“Liberty in Christ is not only freedom from customs which restrict
love, but also freedom to take a lower place, to humble oneself to
serve.” Ben Witherington III, p 108, ‘Women and the Genesis of
“A clean conscience and pure heart are never possible on the basis of
religious behaviours… they are already ours because of Jesus.” D
Johnson & J van Vondern, p87 ‘The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse’
“Our freedom is dearly bought, mercifully revealed, freely bestowed,
and fully conveyed to us by the Spirit of Christ.” S. Bolton, p219
‘The True Bounds of Christian Freedom’
Legalism always restricts love and it often goes hand in glove with not lifting a finger to help the poor folk so restricted. Let the last word on observing the Lord’s Day go to the Christian who wrote, “Stand fast, therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1