Summer Sabbaths: Holidays or Holy-days?
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Reformed Practice - Sabbath Observation

“Closed for the month of August.” More than one Canadian church has made such an announcement.  “No summer evening services.” More than one even Reformed Canadian church has made such an announcement.  “Emptier than usual.” Many churches have observed this phenomenon in the summer months.  Why? Holidays have replaced Holy-days.

            Summer is a time for vacations and outdoor relaxations and enjoyments. The more the general standard of living rises in Canada, the more vacation-oriented society becomes.  Cottages are often rented from Saturday to Saturday. Those who work spend the “weekend” in the campground or at the cottage.  Those who can’t get away overnight, have their day-trips and sports events to fill the first day of the week. And if they don’t go away at all, the enjoyments of the backyard and its beckoning pool captivate them.  This is the typical summer Sunday for many.  Summer Sundays are holidays.

            This mindset affects the church as well in such a way that God’s holy-day and our holidays become adversaries.  As Professor David Engelsma writes, “The Lord’s Sabbath interferes with the people’s summer. As the people look ahead to the summer, there stands the Sunday squarely athwart their vacation plans. It spoils their trip. It rules out that cruise. It curtails the weekends. It deprives the people of the gloriously sunny afternoons. It cuts into the full week’s vacation by demanding that the vacationers leave for home on Friday in order to attend church. It keeps the young people out of the popular summer games. Summer and the Sabbath? Rather, summer against the Sabbath, and the Sabbath against summer.  Among many Reformed people, as among many other professing Christians, summer wins out.”

 

            Taking time off work to be together away from home or to spend a day away can be good for a family. Vacations from work are not wrong. But “vacations” from God’s law are wrong. Every first day of the week is a Lord’s day whether we are at home or any distance North, South, East, or West of our home. The fourth commandment applies to all 52 Lord’s days of the year. God does not have different standards for summer Sabbaths and winter Sabbaths.

            In practice this means, summer worship services are as important as winter ones.  The Lord does not just give people Bibles to read but calls the church to gather together on His day to seek Him, hear Him, sing to Him, and confess His name. Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts: “let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Church attendance is a great privilege. As Romans 10 makes clear, God has especially ordained the preaching as His means to save sinners. 1 Peter 1:23-2:3 also shows that the preaching is God’s special means to feed His people. Who would desire to be unnecessarily absent from such a privileged place?  Let us strive to heed faithfully our consistory’s call to worship, or, if that is not possible, to attend another faithful church.  On the rare occasion this is not possible, let us still listen to his word preached and sing the songs of Zion.

            The other important reminder is that the whole day is to be devoted to the Lord.  Also during the summer, Isaiah 58:13-14 remains true: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD.” In His great goodness, God ordained not merely a Lord’s Hour but a Lord’s Day in which we set aside our own labours and pleasures. Wasting the Lord’s Day on our own amusements that make us forget God is no better than filling it with our daily work.  Each Lord’s Day is to be devoted to the Lord.

            To spur yourself to remember the importance of the worship services and of devoting the entire day to the Lord, ask yourself what your example says to others.  As Prof. J. V. Fesko asks, “What message do we send the world when we fail to observe the Lord’s Day by failing to attend corporate worship? ... What message does our absence at church tell our covenant children?  It sends the clear message that our vacation is more important.” What we feel is important and valuable will affect how we spend our Lord’s days.

            Also ask yourself what your Lord’s days show about your heart.  Professor Engelsma writes, “What ingratitude! With the very riches and luxuries God gives us, that enable us to take vacations, travel, and live away from home (against which nothing is or can be alleged), we forget His day, His worship, His gospel, and Him Himself.” Such a heart values its own pleasures above the true pleasures God gives to His people by His Holy Spirit. If that is your condition, you have all the more need to be under the preaching of the Word with the prayer the Lord would bless it to your soul.

            If the Lord is uncovering you to your sin and guilt, you desire to have an eye opened to see the Saviour who is pleased to reveal Himself through the preaching.  If the Lord has blessed His Word to you in a way that stripped you of your false rest and led you as restless to rest in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, then you desire to experience true Sabbath rest on the Lord’s day. Then you desire God’s grace on His Holy-day more than your pleasures of holidays.

 

Sources:

David J. Engelsma, “Summer and the Sabbath,” The Standard Bearer (August 1997).

John V. Fesko, “Summer Travel and Church Attendance” (Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church).

 

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