A distinctively ‛Christian’ Britain disappeared down the pan a long time ago along with it all the Christian festivals and Sunday. At one time British town centres were quiet and peaceful places on a Sunday. They were pleasant places to walk through, the streets were generally quiet and the shops shut. On Sunday morning the streets were quiet, very little traffic, but you might hear the local Salvation Army band playing at the corner. Later on in the afternoon there may have been a brass band in the park. The last bus home went at eleven, to miss it would mean a long walk home or a taxi, if you had the fare. As the pubs also shut at eleven, apart from meeting the occasional habitual drunkard, usually old and too inebriated to cause any serious harm, a walk through even the biggest of our town centres was safe, very little ever happened there at that time on a Sunday night.
How different it is today. Sundays seem busier than the weekdays and the pubs and wine bars have a steady stream of customers all day long. The Christian Sunday is no longer a day of rest when we could all take a time off from work, more and more people are required to work. Declining work on a Sunday is no longer any reason to turn down a job according to the job centre. Sunday was always a contrast to the weekday and brought with it both spiritual and social benefits. There is little benefit to be had by making Sunday the same as every other day. Trades Unions have always recognised the social benefits of work-free Sundays, rest and time for the family. A poll in February 2015 found 76% of the public wanted the law to stay as it is, with 60% of those wanting even stricter regulations on working hours.
It makes no economic sense to open shops every day of the week. Families have a limited budget, say for food, and that amount does not increase because there is an extra day on which to spend money. It is just spread out further over seven instead of six days. The Sunday opening experiment at the time of the 2012 Olympic Games in London saw overall sales fall by 0.4%. Were even supermarkets closed on Sunday, certainly no one would starve to death. Sure we need the fire brigade on call, the police at the ready, and the A & E departments of hospitals to be open for ‛works of necessity and mercy’.
To keep one day in seven is the fourth commandment given to Moses on Sinai and is recorded in Exodus 20. There is no indication in the New Testament that this has ever been rescinded. Christians began to meet together for worship on the first day of the week, the day of our Lord’s resurrection.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (vv.8-11)
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)
This commandment has two aspects: one towards God, the other towards ourselves. It provides us with a weekly opportunity to set aside time to gather with other Christian believers to worship God. Of course, for the opponent of the Christian Gospel it is important that this weekly festival celebrating the resurrection of Christ be erased from the public consciousness and the opportunity to worship God made more difficult.
It is good for us to keep one day in seven apart from the others. God gives only good gifts and with all His commandments there is an element of personal benefit that accrues to us. Most people remember the first part of this commandment, few remember what follows: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work”. Were people to work a little harder six days a week, they would be glad to take a rest on Sundays. Certainly, ‛lifestyle changes’, easier working conditions, have contributed to changing Sunday. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Like marriage, the keeping of one day in seven can only really be defended if seen as a creation ordinance. The idea of a Creator God is anathema to our humanist friends. Many professing Christians too have given up on a biblical view of creation, but they will find that they have no longer any real defence either for Christian marriage or for keeping Sunday apart from the rest of the week. God rested on the seventh day, certainly not because working on the other six days had tired Him, but to set a precedent for us. He would have us worship Him and rest ourselves physically too, which is why the six days of work also arise in this commandment.
In 1994, John Major’s Conservative government made it legal for small shops to open all day on Sundays, larger shops could open any period of six hours between 10 am and 6 pm. In any case, by this time many shops were already flouting the law with impunity. In July 2015, Conservative chancellor, George Osborne unveiled new plans that would allow shops in England and Wales to open for even longer hours. The speculative reasons as to why this is such a good idea, there being no real evidence, are that two extra hours of Sunday trading in London alone would produce 3000 more jobs and generate over £200 million in additional sales. Labour politicians and the shop workers’ union ASDAW are understandably opposed to Osborne’s plan. Sunday is also anti-family legislation as it is the only day many shop workers can spend with their family. Once more as with same-sex marriage, our government has shown its duplicity and dishonesty. Writing to Michael Trend of Keep Sundays Special in April, David Cameron had assured him there were absolutely ‛no plans’ to relax current laws.
Our own politicians, along with most other godless leaders of modern regimes, look upon a day of rest once a week as a loss of precious working hours. Doctors, nurses, hospital consultants must be available at all times. Shopkeepers, supermarket staff must maximise the opportunity to increase the turnover by working every day. Time off with family and friends, even more so attending a place of worship, must be subordinate to the demands of the workplace. A day off on Sunday disrupts the routine of work.
The disruption of the daily routine and the world of work is deliberate. This is what Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, is all about. It compels us to look away from what we do every day and to our Creator and Redeemer. It reminds us that our own work is not enough, that God alone in His providence and mercy can sustain us and keep us moving forward day by day. This separation from our daily work signifies to us a moral separation from the world, world ultimately to be redeemed by God’s kingdom and purposes.
We are told in Scripture that the Sabbath is a covenant sign to the people of God.
“Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. ... And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.” (Ezekiel 20:12 & 20) Having received God's grace we give ourselves to Him in worship and give of our time. Again, by resting one day in seven we acknowledge that it is not by the self-effort of our own works that things are determined, but of God.
The Sabbath predates the law given to Moses. It began at creation itself, ordinance acknowledging that all things were made by God and that they continue to be dependent upon His providence for their existence. This we acknowledge this by keeping one day in seven.
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3)
For those who deny the biblical account of creation, believing that the world came into being by an accidental process, the Sabbath rest can have no meaning. Were God to have taken pre-existing matter to form the world, this means that matter is eternal like God. It must also mean that God can have no overall control over anything, but He is Himself caught up in the evolutionary process and nothing is ultimately dependent on Him. In fact, He cannot be God at all in any real sense. By ignoring the Sabbath we deny God is the Creator and Preserver of all things. We are trumpeting our own attempt to take over His prerogatives. We would control and guide the course of blind evolution, impose our will on the climate, the environment, animal and human life. The name for this is tyranny.
The Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, celebrates our Saviour’s complete providential sovereign government. In resting one day in seven, we acknowledge His rule. It is also an acknowledgement that salvation is of the Lord and not of our works.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Hebrews 4:9-11) What are permitted are works of necessity and mercy. “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Matthew 12:11-12)
Those who know not God find Sunday as a day of rest irksome. Those who disregard the day they thereby tell us that they rely on their own effort and exertion to get them where they want to be. In keeping the Lord’s day we confess precisely the opposite.
“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; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
For us who believe, it is a day that is a delight for by keeping it holy we confess that our sufficiency is of God. The Sabbath was made for man.“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) It emphasises our creatureliness, not only in our need for physical rest, but also our rest and reliance upon our Saviour.
Much that has been said about the disappearance of the Christian Sabbath can be applied similarly to other Christian festivals. Until comparatively recently Good Friday, Easter and Christmas retained much of their Christian character. Good Friday, Ascension Day, Whitsun, have now completely disappeared. At one time Good Friday was even observed on the radio by the playing of solemn music. Sacred days have gone from the calendar. Our establishment would rather that Christ dying on the cross for sinful men is quietly forgotten.
This seems to be a common trend across Europe. Quite recently a Kindergarten teacher in Vienna lost her job because “she has explained to the children the Christian meaning of Christmas”. The lady defended herself by saying she regarded herself as a Christian and was only responding to the questions posed by the children themselves. This caused acute embarrassment to the authorities who were forced to explain themselves when the story reached the news media. Nevertheless, she was evidently supposed to forget that she was a Christian when at school. This is the whole point. Tolerance now means that the Christian faith is not to be tolerated, especially in the context of education. Children are to be kept ignorant of the cultural context of their own nation.
Christian festivals are to be sidelined, replaced by those of other ‛faiths’, or so changed that their real meaning is obscured. Easter and Christmas have been commercialised out of existence, swamped by Santa Claus and Easter eggs and bunnies. Of course, public officials insist that these Christian holidays are likely to offend those following other religions. They deliberately lie, for they know themselves this is untrue. No one is offended. It is yet another excuse to minimize the influence of the Christian faith in British culture and society. These holidays are testimony to the fact that Great Britain once thought of itself as being Christian. The festivals of other religions here in the land are supported widely by the authorities. It is not that they are particularly keen to promote these other religions, but they are concerned to use them to diminish and denigrate the Christian faith. Christian values are to be replaced by something called ‛British values’, although no one quite seems to know what these are.