Technology Sabbath
Written by David Kranendonk
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Reformed Practice - Sabbath Observation

dsc_0733 - version 2Technology is meant to make life simpler and easier.  No new gadget is advertised as: “Guaranteed to take more of your time! Guaranteed to increase your stress level!”  Instead gadgets have faster speeds, more options, and greater capabilities to enable you to do more in less time.  Just think of the advance from letter writing to the telephone, from the telephone to the internet on the personal computer, and from the personal computer to the iPad, Blackberry, and other technology for communication. A problem is that technology has a way of taking over people’s lives. 

One study reports that social networking on sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, now account for 1 out of every 6 minutes spent online.  Some people spend hours keeping up with “friends” and chatting online.  Another study claims online gaming is the second most popular internet activity. Games are also addicting. The internet is no longer restricted to the personal computer.  Cell phones and many other hand held devices now have internet access.  A recent study claimed that the average American spends more time using applications on his mobile phone than surfing the full internet.  Besides those activities, there is texting and phone calls.  At weddings, family gatherings, meetings, or even the dinner table, people can be seen looking down to check their mobile phones whether for work or for friends.

Even those who label themselves as “not particularly religious” have recognized a problem.  In 2010 a group of professionals, “felt a collective need to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living.” They remembered their forbearers heeded the call, “on the seventh day thou shalt rest.” They also sensed: “The idea of unplugging every seventh day now feels tragically close to impossible. Who has time to take time off? We need eight days a week to get tasks accomplished, not six.”

This concern resulted in the Sabbath Manifesto. To use their own words, “In the Manifesto, we’ve adapted our ancestors’ rituals by carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and get with loved ones. The ten principles are to be observed one day per week, from sunset to sunset. We invite you to practice, challenge and/or help shape what we’re creating.”

This movement has been growing as people have increasingly felt the negative effects of becoming captive to especially communication technology.  How striking it is that in a day when the church is setting the Sabbath aside, some in the world are realizing the benefits of a Sabbath. They lead us to reflect on how we should deal with technology on the Lord’s Day.

There are three general principles. First, the use of technology on the Lord’s Day is not per definition wrong.  We use a great deal of technology such as electric appliances, cars, lights, church telephone, microphones.  Second, the use of technology is good if it furthers the pursuit of the God-given purposes for the Lord’s Day.  Technology may facilitate worship.  Shut-ins may be part of the congregation through the telephone or the internet. Technology may enable us to provide care on the Lord’s Day to those in need. Technology may even preserve life. Third, the use of technology is wrong when it distracts from the spiritual purpose of the day.  This may be by technology demanding people work on the Lord’s day unnecessarily or by technology being used as a means to draw attention to “our own pleasures” or work.

These general principles mean that the same technology (e.g. cell-phone or computer) may be rightly or wrongly used on the Lord’s Day. At the same time, we do well to make a general call for a rest from our electronic gadgets on the Sabbath.  Recently there was a report that an American church was encouraging their members to bring their ipads and iphones to church so that they could read their Bibles on these devices.  The problem is that once everyone has this technology in their hands the use of it will not stay with Bible reading but extend to the more common uses of this technology. When we use computers, internet, iPhones, Blackberry’s, and iPads on the Lord’s Day as if it were any other day, we are opening a cage of birds that will pick away more seed of the Word and we are laying snares of temptation on our path through that day.

Let us learn from even secular people and above all from God’s Word that the Day of the Lord is a day to be busy with the things of the Lord.  Many complain they have so little time.  Let us not let time-wasters crowd into the precious hours of the Lord’s Day, but seek grace to redeem the time with hearing about and seeking the Lord.  Many parents regret they are not able to spend more time together with their children. Let our Sabbaths then be days in which we set aside that technology which puts each person in his own little world, and sit together to discuss and sing together.  Let us seek to fill our Sabbaths with what is good and right and God-honoring, and we will have no time to waste on what distracts from the Lord. Let us seek the Lord and His Spirit to work in our hearts a hunger after Him and we will find it a burden to have to waste time in that which does not profit.

Rev. David H. Kranendonk is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Bornholm, Ontario.