Dr. James Kalong
Much has been said and written about keeping the Sabbath and Sunday holy. The Sabbath/Sunday observances in the Judeo-Christian traditions are conceptually similar, yetthey are also distinctively different: Sabbath is the Jewish “holy” day observed through both worship and rest on Saturday, whereas Sunday is the Lord’s Day for Christians to express our faith in the person of Jesus who died for us and rose to live again. A definitive difference is that the command to keep the Sabbath “holy” is a given (Exodus 20:8-11), but there is no such decree revealed for Sunday. Christian tradition simply recognizes Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day that is “holy.”
For many Christians today, however, setting Sunday apart as a “holy” day has become a much contentious matter. While the debate will keep on raging either to maintain the sanctity of Sunday with spiritual implications and religious overtones, or to simply get around Sunday like any other day of the week, the consensus by and large is that Sunday is a “holy” day for Christians along the lines of the Jewish understanding of Sabbath. Having said that, a chilling but logical question for Christians today in setting Sunday aside as a “holy” day is also to ask ourselves whether the remaining other six days are to be considered as “unholy.”
Public worship on Sundays is a serious affair for many Christians, whether because of religious tradition or because of our contemplative faith. An hour or two of intent worship on Sundays is an admirable spiritual discipline for Christians. However, should worshipping an hour or two warrant Sundays to be set aside as a “holy” day? And even if the observance of Sunday as a “holy” day extends to the final hour of the day, should this make the other six days “unholy”?Would our faith also shift from being “holy” on Sundays to being “unholy” during the remaining six days of the week? These seemingly trivial questions need serious pondering as our engagements and indulgences on the other six days pretty much reflect why Sunday is a binding “holy” day for many Christians.
Between Monday and Saturday, the six days which are generally thought of and considered as working days(whether one engages in any form of work or not), it is not the “days” that are “unholy.” Rather, it is what we do on these days that can either make these six days “holy” or “unholy.”A person who commits sin during the week days may be accustomed to observe Sunday as a “holy” day (but he or she may not have been absolved of the sin even on Sunday!).Conversely, a person who is “holy” on Sunday may remain “holy” throughout the week. In other words, it is our attitude and our dispositions that make the difference whether Sunday or any other day of the week should be “holy”or “unholy.”
Jesus’ pronouncement in Mark 2:27 that “the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath”(NET), principally means that the Sabbath day was instituted by God for the benefit and enjoyment of the people and not given to them as a burden. It also implies that the Sabbath as a day should not govern people what they should or should not do. And if applied as a principle for the rest of the week days, no single day should govern or take control of our lives whether it is Sunday or any other day. In Jesus’ terms, it is us who should govern the day and not the day taking control over us. It should be our convictions and our actions as Christians that should govern each day of the week by keeping ourselves “holy” and not just on Sundays.
Going by this principle, if Christians consider ourselves to be “holy” on Sundays, then remaining “unholy” on the other six days of the week is hypocrisy. If the decree to be “holy” on Sundays is sacred, then indulging in illegal “taxtortions” on the other six days of the week is legally profane. If teachers have learned themselves to be spiritually “holy” on Sundays, then those keeping proxies on the other six days of the week are spiritual illiteracy. If going to a beautiful “church” on Sundays is a “holy” contract, then some developers doing a lousy job on the other six days of the week is a crumbling block. If frontline worshipping on Sundays for politicians is “holy” statesmanship, then some indulging in corruption on the other six days of the week is a statutory sin. If healing is a “holy” invocation on Sundays, then some absentee public health practitioners who love practicing privately on the other six days is doctrinally unethical. If offertory is a “holy” business on Sundays, then some entrepreneurs unreasonably milking from customers on weekdays is a moral loss. If sharing the same pew with strangers and ensembling the same hymn on Sundays is “holy” fellowship, then not loving our fellow neighbors on the other six days is infidelity faithwise. If God’s justice is preached from the pulpits on Sundays, then ignoring the marginalized in the society on the other six days will face eternal judgment!
If we observe only Sunday as a “holy” day but grant ourselves the license during the rest of the week days to engage in all sorts of disgraceful acts and conducts by not practicing our professions sincerely, not executing our responsibilities at work, not being in offices on time, indulge in corruption and nepotism, perform lousy jobs, administer injustices, keep proxy teachers, do shoddy businesses, tax and extort on weekdays, then just being “holy” on Sundays is unchristian. As much as being “holy” on Sundays for Christians is imperative, so also Christians are Christians even on the other six days as well. Let us keep the other six days equally “holy”!
- France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark – A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002.
- Lane, William L. The Gospel according to Mark. NICNT 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
- Soelle, Dorothee & Shirley A. Cloyes. To Work and to Love – A Theology of Creation. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
- Volf, Miroslav. Work in the Spirit – Toward a Theology of Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Dr. James Kalong teaches New Testament at Oriental Theological Seminary.
This is the tenth article of the Sabbath/ Sunday Series, an initiative of Oriental Theological Seminary.