Sunday, January 11, 2009

Calvin and the Sabbath

January 11
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. (Exodus 20:8-10)
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa. 58:13,14)
The Sabbath

Calvin gave three purposes for the Sabbath: 1. “Spiritual rest, in which believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them.” 2. “He meant that there was to be a stated day for them to assemble to hear the law and perform worship...and to be trained in piety” 3. “He resolved to give a day of rest to servants and those who are under the authority of others, in order that they should have some respite from toil.” (Inst. II.VII.29). For Calvin, the seventh day was changed to the first day of the week by the New Testament church in honor of the resurrection of Christ. The day was changed, but the idea of Sabbath was kept practically and necessarily in the church.

Calvin believed in working hard- as evidently the Bible does too (“six days shall you labor”). But Calvin also believed in moderation, pacing, and a check on greed and making money (or work) our God. Calvin emphasized the biblical idea of Sabbath. He said, “The Lord enjoined obedience to almost no other commandment as severely as this (Num. 15:32-36; Ex. 31:13; 35:2- Inst. III.VII.29). He wrote more on the Sabbath than any other commandment by far. Sometimes the Reformed folk were called out for their over-emphasis on the Sabbath. Today we have lost even a hint of a Sabbath in America. I believe we are paying a price for this.
The Sabbath has a tremendous economic impact upon our world and our lives. To purposefully not work one day out of each week maybe easy for the lazy, but it is difficult for those who value productivity, money, and the idea that we must always be growing in money and productivity. There is no doubt that Geneva under Calvin’s leadership grew greatly financially and in productivity. Schools, churches, a university were built. The whole middle class was formed primarily from the serfs and poorer people. Education was valued for everyone. This was despite and I believe in part because of his emphasis on the balance between work and rest.
In the classic work “The Over-worked American” Juliet Schor notes how the average American has lost leisure time. Time at work was gradually declining 1948. The average manufacturing worker works 320 hours more than their counterparts in Germany and France. We have not used that productivity to decrease hours. Because of overwork the average American is spending less time on their family (think marriage breakup, less time with children), less time sleeping, eating, and stress and depression are at epidemic levels. The only small debates happening in certain corners about work are concerning the Sabbath- and this is not taken seriously by most. It is no accident that where once almost every state had laws concerning rest on Sunday in America, every state now has few laws concerning it. It was once seen not only as a way to honor God (sacrificially for those who love to work and shop), but it also was seen as a way to instill community and neighborliness in the places where we live.
How did Calvin say the Sabbath should be used? He scoffed at those who said it was just for idleness. He considered it an important day for worship, for family, for doing the Lord’s work, as well as for rest.
I believe we are paying the price for not keeping the Sabbath. The price is found in our stress, our family break up (both women and men work hard, but work unchecked), and our rampant consumerism which has led to our over-extension of debt. In 2008, the mortgage and financial melt-down was caused in large part by a complicity of the government, banks, and consumers desire for more than they could afford. The amazing thing is God calls us to rest, peace, healing, community and we refuse to listen. We’d rather work and shop when we please. The Sabbath, in the end is a reminder that time is not our own- our time is a gift to us from God. So we give back to Him one day in seven.

No comments:

Post a Comment