Rev. Dr. Chekrovei Cho-o
Prologue: “Sunday Closure” in Dimapur has been a topic of debate as well as a matter of practical confusion among the Christians without any concrete conclusion thus far. This article is not a solution either but a humble attempt to throw in further light on the issue towards a better understanding of Sunday and the purpose of its observance. Much has been said in the earlier articles concerning the transition from Sabbath to Sunday, their interrelation and differences, therefore, the issue of Sabbath will not be elaborated in this write-up except some passing comments wherever necessary. The primary focus of this article will be the observance of Sunday and worship beyond a stipulated day.
Sunday: Consecrated Day of Worship: Just as joy is more than the absence of sorrow, the Sabbath was more than cessation of labor. Resting in bed all day does not amount to a keeping of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is to be a delight and joy (Isaiah 58:13 ). Noteworthy is the fact that the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8 ) places the positive command to keep the Sabbath holy before the negative prohibition to cease working. As worship, additional sacrifices were offered ( Numbers 28:9-10) at the temple, and the special bread as to be set out “sabbath after sabbath” to signify Israel’s commitment to the covenant ( Leviticus 24:8 ). The Bible often uses the word “hallowed,” “consecrated,” and “sanctified.” The basic meaning in each case is that of “setting apart” which also supplies to the meaning of the word “dedication.” Sometimes the emphasis is upon God’s work in setting apart (Exodus 201:11; Genesis. 2:3); sometimes, human responsibility to “set apart” oneself (Jeremiah 17:22: Exodus13:2), both for the purpose of honoring or worshipping God. Further, although the origin of the Lord’s Day—Sunday—is obscure, the purpose of the weekly celebration on Sundays is one of worship. Hence, Sunday is a day of and for worshipping the Creator of heaven and earth. It is a day of celebration for the redemptive activity of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Christian worship is essentially the celebration of the acts of God in history—his creation, his providences, his covenant of redemption, his redemptive revelation through Jesus Christ in the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection, and the manifestation of his power through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Primarily, it is the Resurrection Day of our Lord Jesus Christ that motivates us to glorify God through worship and enjoy him forever.
What Does it Mean to Worship on Sunday? Does it mean that worship is a passive group of people filling an empty room of a building on a particular day led by a handful of active so called “participants”? Hebrew word shachah means to “bow down” or to “prostrate” oneself (cf. Exodus 4:31). This word is associated with reverential attitude of mind or body or both, combined with the notions of “religious adoration, obedience, service.”Hebrew/Aramaic – abad or avad meaning “to work”, “labor” or “serve” are frequently translated as worship. When translated as worship in the Old Testament, these words typically mean service associated with the work done in the temple. Greek word proskuneo meaning, literally, to “kiss the hands towards one” or to “prostrate oneself” before another in token of reverence. Also Greek word leiturgia is translated as “ministry” or “service.” Etymologically, it means an “action of the people” and more particularly the service which the Christian renders to God in faith and obedience. According to Robert Webber, “Worship is a Verb,” not a passive meditation or contemplation. Webber declares that worship is not “something done to us or for us, but by us.” Worship is an active participation both in corporate worship as well as individual worship beyond the “holy hours”. Even though carrying personal belongings around on Sabbath was forbidden by the Old Testament Scriptures (see Exodus 20:9-11; Jeremiah 17:21, 22, 27), when Jesus healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he specifically commanded him: “pick up your mat, and walk” (John 5:8-9). Jesus later refers to his healing as “working” (John 16-17) on Sabbath apparently for no other reason than to shock the interrogating religious leaders into deeper thought. While the Ten Commandments state negatively what is not allowed on the seventh day; “you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:10), Christ never indicated what is not allowed. His focus always was on what may and must be done on the seventh day. He taught that: people may work on the Sabbath if that work will relief the distress and suffering of people or animals. People must work on the Sabbath to restore men and women spiritually and physically. This means that Christ did more than to interpret the Sabbath commandment; he gave a new meaning to it. He converted the seventh day from a day of compulsory idleness to a day that is filled with purpose, activity and work; a day to show kindness and mercy; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan, to elevate the entire human to God’s ideal; in particular, a day to heal. This meaning cannot be derived simply from reading the Ten Commandments of the Law of Moses. Christ derived His understanding of the seventh day from its original purpose, as it existed before sin. This is, for instance, indicated by His statement, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This refers to the creation account, according to which the seventh day was “blessed” and “sanctified” as part of creation (Genesis 2:3).
Work Defined: The general meaning of work is manual labor; for Paul, work means practice of law (Romans 7); for James, work is the exercise of faith (James 2). In this regard, apart from the first one, that is manual labor, people in pastoral ministry work the most during the weekends, especially on Sunday. Christians are to work on Sundays but a different kind of work from the popular notion of work as engaged for personal benefit or material profit. “Origen interpreted Christian ‘Sabbath observance’ as abstaining from all worldly works and being occupied by spiritual works such as attending corporate worship, listening to Scripture readings and to sermons.” Works that are not intended for personal profit but for the honor of God and for the benefit of people in need of deliverance may be encouraged even on Sundays as opposed to idleness and ritualistic or legalistic rigidity. Running business or engaging in intended and organized social work do not fall into this category of work permitted on Sunday. Going to field, constructing a house, or engrossed in secular duty are beyond the purview of “work” used in this article. Only faith must be put into action regardless of days set apart or not set apart.
Monday Morning Worship: Are Christians expected to worship God only on Sundays?The apostle Paul deals with conscience in Romans 14:5ff. Here is a man or woman who believes in the observance of the Sabbath according to orthodox Jewish usage; or perhaps it is the feats days or regular feast days or some other “days”; it doesn’t matter—the principle is the same and that is all Paul is concerned about here. In Galatians 4:10, Paul refers to the observance of “days and months, and seasons, and years”; and made by a strong party in the Galatian churches to make them normative for all believers. In the same way he writes in Colossians 2:16: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or a Sabbath.” Paul’s position in the present passage seems to be that the “strong” are not, on one hand, to allow themselves to be coerced in such matters, but on the other, they are not to try to coerce the “weak.” This sort of thing, Paul is saying again, is a private matter—in the sense of being simply and only between the individual and the Lord. It is only when one tries to enforce one’s views on others that one violates the Spirit of the community. The important thing is that everyone be fully convinced in his/her own mind that his/her behavior in such disputable matters as Sabbath-keeping or meat eating is fully in keeping with his/her relationship to the Lord and is sanctified by that relationship.
Sunday can be likened with tithing. Everything comes from God but God does not expect us to return 100% back to him, but one tenth belongs to him and that, whoever does not set apart that portion for God are reckoned as robbers (Malachi 3). Now, giving tithe does not exempt one from other offerings such as free-will offering, thanksgiving offering, etc. So also everyday is the Lord’s Day, Christians are to live a life of worship everyday; however, everyday is not same as we say “Everyday is not Sunday.” Sunday is set apart (hallowed or sanctified). Therefore, it is kept holy so that God can be worshipped. Nevertheless, worship is not something we do only once a week on Sunday morning and evening. Worship on Sunday does not exempt us from worshipping God the rest of the weekdays. Worship is a lifestyle of being in love with God and in awe of him all week long (Romans 12:1-2). It is about offering our love, our adoration, and our praise to him through all of our lives.
We are to adore the Lord all week, not just at “worship gatherings.” Our minds, our bodies, our marriages, our families, our jobs—everything should be offered to him in worship. This include what we think about, what we do, what we say, what we eat or drink, and what we spend time doing—they are all acts of worship (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is so important to know that worship is a lifestyle and those in our churches also know! How extremely sad that we have trained people to think worship primarily happens when they come to church and sing.
When Jesus said, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John. 4:21-24), Jesus was showing that worship would no longer be bound to a certain time or place (neither in Jerusalem where the Jews worshipped, nor Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshipped); Rather, it was going to be a function of the spirit of man and woman reaching out to the Spirit of God as response to God’s revelation. Jesus knew the time was shortly to come when Mosaic sacrifices at Jerusalem would be outdated, and worship would occur within the New Testament temple – man himself/woman herself (1 Corinthians. 3:16). Worship can now happen any time, wherever a Spirit-inhabited person may be (see Romans 12:1-2). Jesus also indicated that as a function of the spirit, true worship is more than just an outward ritual. Worship is our spirit corresponding with God’s Spirit. Under the old covenant, worship was a series of outward ceremonies that did not necessarily involve the heart response of the participants. Through Isaiah, God lamented, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13)
We enter the church on Sunday and begin the proceedings by saying, “The Lord is in this temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20), but we often forget that, the Lord is equally present in the market place on Monday through Saturday. The ground is holy where there is God (Exodus 3:5). There is no ground where there’s no God. Therefore, every ground regardless of location is holy. Awareness of God throughout the week enables believers to worship the Lord beyond Sunday. Every day and every moment gives us an opportunity as believer priests to offer up a sacrifice of worship to God (Romans 12:1-2). Worship is the response of the adoring heart to the magnificence of God. In the highest sense of the word, it is the occupation of the created with the Creator himself. It is the pure joy of magnifying the One whose name is above every name.
Work is Not Worship but We Can Worship Through our Work:Work is not worship but we can worship God through our works as men and women of faith. Work does not necessarily produce faith but genuine faith always produces good work. Working at the expense of worship is faulty but worshipping God through one’s daily chores—taking one’s vocation as one’s calling, thereby working wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord as though working for God and not for humankind is a spiritual act of worship (cf. Romans 12:1; Colossians 3:23).
God created us to work. It was the first command He gave humankind: “Let them have dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:26). Having dominion over the earth is the umbrella concept for all that we do, including our work. But work was never designed to be a joyless burden. Work is not the result of the Fall, therefore, it is not a curse. When God created Adam and Eve, they were placed in the garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). We worship God when we work in such a way that showcases His character and glory. This means our work should be filled with integrity and faithfulness. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).The hardworking, submissive, joyful, and creative worker, who works with a knee bowed to his Creator, attributes much worth to Good. However, to say that, “work is worship” needs careful explanation according to the context. The idea of “work is worship” or “service to man is service to God” is a pagan philosophy. The philosophy is grounded on the concept of life after death or “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound called samsara. Samsara is the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation envisioned in Hinduism and other Indian religions. Therefore, in order to achieve a desired life after death, adherents of Hinduism have to follow the spiritual path called “marga” by doing righteous deeds called “karma” which will determine one’s status in the next life, whereas for Christians, we’re not saved by good deeds but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, work in itself cannot be worship in the biblical sense, yet we can worship God through our works. Our good deeds as the result of our genuine faith in Jesus Christ can bring glory to the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Epilogue: While it is proper to keep the Lord’s Day holy for worship and service as spiritual act of worship, it is improper to impose anything on others. Legalism and coercion will not take the church and society forward. It is the responsibility of each believer to take his or her belief seriously to avoid external dictate by anyone or anything. On the other hand, the basis of the demand for the lifting of Sunday closure by various organizations is short of biblical validity too. There are some practical realities but convenience, material benefit, and family entertainment alone cannot justify the opening of shops on Sundays because Sunday legislation is much more than socio-economic issue; it is primarily a spiritual issue. The observance of Sunday also should not be reduced to activities in the church building; it must go beyond the four walls of a structure called “church.” While Sunday is intended for corporate fellowship and worship by the believers, worshippers ought to disperse from the Sunday worship service to continue worshipping God in the marketplace. Worship of God by the believers should be dynamic and active beyond the holy hours and sacred places. While Sunday is hallowed for worship of God, the weekdays are created no lesser for worship, because worship is a lifestyle, not merely ritualistic activities in the sanctuary. Jesus’ call into a rule-free, principle-based spirituality is very difficult for religious people to fathom. Certainly, rule-less spirituality is only a constructive way to live if love is the guiding dynamic, the foundational principle of our lives. This is essential to Jesus’ message. Jesus never made rule breaking a worthy goal in and of itself. His point was that, rule-keeping should be a natural expression of something deeper, rather than a goal unto itself (cf. Matthew 23:23). Simply remove rules and you are left with anarchy (chaos or lawlessness: see 1 John 3:4). Transcend rules with love, and you will be beginning to live like Christ.
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Rev. Dr. Chekrovei Cho-o teaches Applied Theology at Oriental Theological Seminary.
This is the fifth article of the Sabbath/ Sunday Series, an initiative of Oriental Theological Seminary.