Reflections: Working on the Sabbath

 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

 10But 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:

 11For 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. (Exodus 20:8-11, King James Version)

Obviously, the Sabbath has been on a few people’s minds of late.  However, what I’m going to address isn’t about CG7 or UCG and allegations of wanting to change the Sabbath doctrines of those groups.

No, what I am going to talk about is something that has occurred for years.  It happens now in various COG organizations around the world.  It happened back when WCG was still alive and well.

It is nothing less than the sanctioning of work on the Sabbath.

Shocked?  In dismay?  Actually, there’s probably a few of you who have already caught on, but please allow me to elucidate, in my own rambling way, anyhow.

One of the charges that COG critics often bring up is, “You don’t keep the Sabbath correctly anyhow.  Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t.”

Well, I would disagree that you cannot.  Jesus became a human being, and He never sinned.  He was tempted in all points as we.  If that’s the case, He could have sinned, but He chose not to.  If Jesus was truly human, then 40 days and 40 nights of fasting meant He was hungry – very hungry.  Frankly, I get cranky when I miss breakfast and then am forced to have a late lunch.  Satan tempted Him with turning stones to bread, and He refused.  Instead, He fed upon God’s word.  If Jesus was truly human, then idea of being crucified must’ve been anguish for Him.  Indeed, He even asked if the cup could be passed from Him!  Yet, He prayed not for His will but “thy will be done”.

Since Jesus was sinless, He had to have kept the Sabbath commandment perfectly.  You can keep the Sabbath!  Whether you’re willing to or are diligent enough to, now that’s a different question.

Most don’t accuse us of breaking the Sabbath with such ceremonial items like phylacteries, tassels, and the like.  No, a lot of it comes from “working” on the Sabbath.  Sometimes, that is a little bizarre, too.  I remember one comment that lugging around a briefcase is “work”(?).  One comment, I don’t remember where, was even criticizing the “work” involved in a potluck.  From the sound of it, I suppose everyone should just fast on the Sabbath rather than do the work involved in making a meal.  After all, you wouldn’t want to do any work like lifting that heavy loaf of bread.

There’s the unscholarly charge that you aren’t supposed to leave your home on the Sabbath.  If that’s the case, then Paul and Jesus both broke the Sabbath by going into the synagogue in a customary fashion.  And, of course, if Jesus broke the Sabbath, then He sinned and cannot be your Messiah!

Putting all that sort of silliness aside, though, does any work occur on the Sabbath?  Well, frankly, yes.  People setup/take down folding chairs, lug around heavy sound equipment, and of course a couple of people speak, give announcements and lead songs.  All of that requires some effort.  Obviously, the effort varies, but the point is still that it does take place.

So, is that breaking the Sabbath?  Well, yes and no.  “Yes” because it is working on the Sabbath, but “No” because it is sanctioned work.

One of the COG critics who at least tries to think things through more than most (or, perhaps even more than any other) not long ago posted an article that really got me thinking about this.  It was about sacrifices.  We all know that animals were sacrificed on the Sabbath and holy days.  It was part of the OT ritual when there was a Tabernacle and later when there was a Temple.  Well, his point was that the Sabbath and sacrifices went hand-in-hand.  When Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice, animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.  Since they go together, the argument went, removing the obligation to give sacrifices also removed the obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Now, I don’t buy this argument, but it was prefaced with the usual argument that the COG doesn’t keep the Sabbath correctly.  Instead, work is performed on the Sabbath.  However, he tied the Sabbath “rest” in with sacrifices.

Have you ever killed an animal?  I was raised on a farm, and believe me when I say we did not slaughter our own beef.  It takes a lot of room and work.  We sent the cattle to the butcher shop to do that.  We did, however, do smaller animals like goats, sheep and chickens.  It’s still a lot of work!

Yet, the priests and Levites carried out animal sacrifices every Sabbath and every holy day.

Did the priests and Levites rest on the Sabbath?

This is why Jesus asked the Pharisees:

 5Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (Matthew 12:5, King James Version)

Yes, the Sabbath is for rest – rest from the usual daily routine that distracts us from God.  It is a rest in that we shouldn’t be worried about our jobs, our money or the usual physical cares of this life.  It is a rest in that we can divert our minds and hearts towards God.  It is a rest in that we don’t have to plow fields, climb roofs, sell products or do the tasks of whatever type of occupation we normally engage in.  It is a rest because we can spend time with family, with the church congregation and with Jesus Christ in the presence of God the Father.

It is not a day to be lazy, however.  It is a day that we can exert effort to further those aims of what the Sabbath is really all about.

And, really, isn’t that what Jesus railed at the Pharisees for?  They made so many nit-pick rules of what you could or couldn’t do on the Sabbath that they lost sight of its intended purpose.


  1. There are a number of other ways that a Christian can be working on the Sabbath, or legitimately paying others to work on the Sabbath.

    When I was young my parents ran a farm, with a dairy herd. Circumstances changed, so I never came to inherit the farm.

    However I always considered the Biblical ethics of running a dairy farm.

    It is the Christians responsibility to care for his animals. As we see from the words of Christ, animals should be feed and watered – cared for on the Sabbath, but not worked.

    With a dairy herd, the animals would be in distress, and would get seriously ill if not milked on a twice daily basis. That is just a matter of fact.

    It has always been a policy in the COG that milking is permissible on the Sabbath. Certainly Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had vast flocks, and the Bible doesn’t mention any problem in milking these beasts on the Sabbath. They would also have been feed and watered.

    Milking a small herd of cattle, even with modern machinery, is not a small job. If it is legitimate for a Christian to do this work on the Sabbath, it follows that it is acceptable to pay his employees to do this humane work on the Sabbath in the Christians stead, provided they are only doing this, milking, feeding and watering the animals, and not doing any other unessential work.

    In fact that may be the more desirable thing to do – paying someone who is not keeping the Sabbath themselves to do something that is legitimate work that the Christian could do. It then frees up the Christian to go to services, and keep the Sabbath in other ways.

    So this is another example where it has always been accepted in the Churches of God that work can be carried out on the Sabbath, either by the Sabbath keeping Christian, or by employing someone to do the job on the Christian’s behalf.

    For a dairy farmer to attend the Feast of Tabernacles it would be essential to pay others to do this work both on the Sabbath and the Holy Days.

  2. I'm no dairy man so maybe this is a stupid question but wouldn't milking animals then be a completely different situation than now? They weren't fed hormones or had the kind of breeding done now to produce huge amounts of milk. Is it possible that animals did not need the kind of milking that they do now?

  3. @Questeruk: I have an appreciation for the amount of time you've evidently put into thinking about this. It is in thinking about principles and applying them rather than trying to define rules for every exception.

    At the heart of the matter, you wouldn't allow the animals to suffer, and thus comes the expression "ox in a ditch". In a large operation that employs non-Christians, you would have to do something in order to take care of the animals.

    One thing to consider, though, is if it is that large of an operation, the farm would probably be its own legal entity anyhow. In that case, there would probably be non-members on its board as well. In that case, is it truly "owned" by the member(s)?

    In the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, things were probably a little different as far as employer-employee relations go. Many of the servants were probably not servants by choice, and even those that were probably received meals and lodging as well as any wages. The patriarch would have had more of a legal right to exert his authority.

    These days, if you don't pay someone, they probably wouldn't do it even if it was legal to do so. In that case, you probably either have to give up some authority or make other changes. Either way, it is risky, but you have to step out in faith.

    The same with nursing homes. Do you not feed them because it is the Sabbath? Of course not. That would be cruel. If the heat goes out, do you fix it? Same principle.

    At the same time, you don't want to be remodeling the nursing home on the Sabbath, do you? I would hope not, as that is something not critical to living. If the heat goes out in the summertime, maybe it can wait until a regular day, huh (unless you're living in Antarctica, that is)?

    @Anonymous: It has probably always been that way. Remember, hormones are normally given to steers to make them grow to be butchered at larger weights. That's where the money comes in. You're more likely to get antibiotics and pesticides from drinking milk than hormones.

  4. Couldn't we say NO Church of God group completely keeps the Sabbath commandment – since none of them put violators to death, as God requires in Exodus 31?

  5. Anonymous wrote: "Couldn't we say NO Church of God group completely keeps the Sabbath commandment – since none of them put violators to death, as God requires in Exodus 31?"

    No, that would not be true. Keeping the Sabbath and dishing out civil penalties are quite separate things. I suggest you read some of my previous articles on keeping the Law.

  6. RE: Dairy farms. One option I forgot to mention as well is that you could pay your workers salaries instead of by the hour.

    My favorite options would probably be against government regulations, though. For example, they probably would stop you from milking the cows and giving the milk to the nearest homeless shelter. It was government regulation that led my grandfather from getting out of the business.

  7. I imagine that it’s always been that milk animals need to be milked a couple of times a day, otherwise their milk supply is severely disrupted.

    After all, in effect the milk was produced for the animals young, who in the wild would be suckling regularly throughout the day. By removing the young, and regularly milking the animals, people can both utilise the milk, and also keep the animal producing milk for a long period of time.

    I remember on our farm at milking time the cows all formed up waiting to be milked, and started complaining loudly if the milking was delayed even by a few minutes!

    However there would be some things a Sabbath keeper could do. For example, the afternoon milking could take place on Friday shortly before sunset, and the Saturday afternoon milking just after sunset. This would reduce Sabbath milking to just the one time.

    I remember a farming project conducted at Ambassador College back in the 60’s. The calves were left with the cows overnight, and for the early morning every day. This eliminated the morning milking. They were then separated for the afternoon, so milk was available for the afternoon milking. On the Sabbath the cows were just left with the calves all day.

    While on the face of it, this sounded like it could work, in practice I imagine this might lead to some very disorientated cattle. I don’t know how well the project worked. The subject seemed to be quietly dropped, so I guess it didn’t work out too well. Good results would have been fan fared, but bad results just not mentioned!

    I have read that some very orthodox Jews would milk their animals on the Sabbath, but then throw away the milk, so that there could be no gain from it. John’s suggestion of donating it to a homeless shelter seems much more in keeping with Christian principles!

    As I mentioned, I never had to make any decisions on this personally, as my family went out of farming well before I was old enough to be involved to any great degree. I only have a theoretical knowledge, but I often wonder what I would have done, had circumstances worked out slightly different.

  8. This is why Seventh-Day Adventists operate hospitals, and Church of God groups do not.

    When my Pastor was in a rollover car crash on his Sabbath circuit during the summer, he accepted EMT help — as well as emergency room treatment on a Saturday afternoon. He didn't wait for a prolonged debate to occur over whether it's right or wrong to make those workers work.

    Does that make him a "liberal" Sabbath-keeper? Or did he realize the value of some people being out, and doing good?

  9. So, do you think that it would be acceptable for a Sabbath keeper to have a job such as a paramedic or firefighter, that certainly does good, where a job requirement as a normal course of work would be working on the Sabbath (let's assume there is no way out of Sabbath work)? How about a nurse doing a scheduled rotation on the Sabbath (I'm not talking about providing emergency care in an unexpected situation)? She would be doing good.

  10. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    I'm posting this here because James Malm of the shining light blog refuses to post my comments:

    I wrote this today to him under his post, Only the Doers of the Law will be justified, but he refused to post it. He only posts comments that he can refute.

    He actually told me before that he didn't post my comments for my own protection, because he claimed that others on his site could prove me wrong and make me look foolish.

    He's posted others comments that he disagrees with, why not mine? Not because I'll look foolish but because he can't refute my logic.

    Here it is:

    I don't know if James will post this or not, but I've asked him before if he drives to services on the Sabbath. If so he is breaking the letter of the law.

    In fact he is causing others to have to work. Whether he agrees or not, if one is out on the public roads, one is forcing police to work.

    If one is out on public roads, they are taking the chance of possibly being in an accident, meaning that paramedics will have to work. Firemen will have to work. Doctors and nurses will have to work.

    How about staying home on the Sabbath and having services Saturday night? This would be along the lines of "How about throwing it in the pot Thurs night". [That was James comment to a lady asking about cooking on the Sabbath]

    It looks like James has decided himself that it's ok to make police work on the Sabbath but not waitresses.


  11. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    What too many people forget in all this is that whether I feel a need to do something on the Sabbath, whether milking my cow, driving to services, or going to restaurants, the decision is between me and God. It's no one else's business.

    We each make the decision for ourselves, not for our brother. Once we start judging our brother on this, or saying it's ok to do one thing but not another, we start down the road of, should we allow sinners in church? Wouldn't the chairs all be empty if we started to do this?

    I'm not saying there isn't a time to kick someone out of church, but is it a good enough reason to kick someone out just because you don't agree with what he or she does on the Sabbath?

  12. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    Oh, by the way James, I'm sure you look at this site. Do you find it appropriate Sabbath behavior to manage your blog?

    I find nothing wrong with it which is why I'm posting on the Sabbath, but you on the other hand, you judge us who go to restaurants on the Sabbath yet you think its ok to drive to services and even work on your blog on the Sabbath.

    My point brother James, you decide what you feel is right for yourself, but quit calling those that disagree with you hypocrites and Sabbath breakers.

  13. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    John, disregard that last comment on idolatry, I see where it was posted, sorry.

    Though it would be nice if you'd post what I wrote here about James Malm. If you want to delete his name from it and just write the owner of theshininglight I'd understand that.

  14. John D Carmack

    @Kevin: I removed the comment, which is what I assume you meant by "disregard".

    Blog owners have the right to approve/disapprove of posts on their blogs. You need to understand that:

    1. Moderation takes human intervention. Today is God's Sabbath, so it's not like I'm sitting in front of the computer approving posts all day long. Plus, as you should be aware, this is a pretty special Sabbath in that there is a new location, new organization, etc.

    2. If you have a problem with how someone runs their blog, you really need to take it up with them. I don't see how commenting here about what James approves or not is very constructive.

    I have a question for you that is at least relevant to the topic, though: Did Jesus break the Sabbath?

    You know, Jesus went to synagogue every week. Did He ride a mule? Was He taking a chance in getting run over by a chariot? If so, wasn't He taking a chance that a Roman soldier might have to direct traffic or tend to His needs if He was run over or into a ditch?

    You can take anything and stretch it to the breaking point. Obviously, Jesus thought there were acceptable activities for the Sabbath, and His confrontations with the Pharisees were often over that exact topic.

  15. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    Johyn wrote:

    "You know, Jesus went to synagogue every week. Did He ride a mule? Was He taking a chance in getting run over by a chariot? If so, wasn't He taking a chance that a Roman soldier might have to direct traffic or tend to His needs if He was run over or into a ditch?"

    Are you serious here John? That is ridiculous and you know it. Comparing a mule and a chariot with driving an hour to services. LOL

    As far as why I posted it here rather than James blog. I have taken it up with James. I've written several posts to him but he refuses to post them on his site, and he hasn't e-mailed me. I sure haven't kept my identity, or anything secret.

    You know as well as I that James believes that eating out at restaurants on the Sabbath is wrong because we supposedly are making people work. By telling him that driving to services we too are making the police work and potentially paramedics, firemen, or Doctors, is a far cry from stretching the point.

    As for your point one, I'd buy that if posts that I had written after my reply to James hadn't shown up on here but it took my writing to you privately to get you to post the replies to James.

    I appreciate your posting them, but a little honesty on your part would be nice because your two points are ludicrous.

  16. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    Also John, don't take my arguments with James as thinking that I don't believe we should drive to church on the Sabbath. I don't believe this one bit, I see no problem with it.

    My point was, if James is going to be so dogmatic as saying we shouldn't be making waitresses work on the Sabbath, it makes no sense that he doesn't see that driving to services does the exact same thing…

    If it's wrong to eat out, then it's wrong to drive on public roads. I don't see anything wrong with either.

    Also, your last paragraph shows a lack of understanding of what Jesus said. It's not so much that certain things were acceptable/not sin. What he was pointing out that mercy should prevail.

    Notice when the disciples were plucking grain from the fields. He never once said it wasn't a sin. (Notice he didn't pluck any)

    What he did compare it to was David taking the shew bread which was unlawful, and the priests "profaning" the Sabbath. He never once said either of these cases were lawful. What he did say was was that he showed mercy to them.

    If you want to understand this passage of scripture correctly when Jesus said "if you knew what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless."

    He didn't mean they were guiltless from breaking the law. How do I know this. He himself said that David broke the law. That is sin. Was Jesus justifying sin? No. He was showing the more important point of mercy.

    Perhaps if more people from UCG were more willing to show mercy to the Chilean brethren rather than to judge them, they too could understand what Jesus was really saying.

  17. John D Carmack

    Kevin wrote: "As for your point one, I'd buy that if posts that I had written after my reply to James hadn't shown up on here but it took my writing to you privately to get you to post the replies to James."

    Um, no. You posted another message, which I also approved. If you think I should be approving messages on my iPhone during Sabbath services, then you have more problems than I care to address.

    So, why is my comparison ridiculous? Just stating it is as though it were a fact does not make it so. Do you think that people didn't get thrown off their animals while riding? Do you think wagons didn't get stuck? Do you think people didn't get run over?

  18. John D Carmack

    Kevin wrote: "Perhaps if more people from UCG were more willing to show mercy to the Chilean brethren rather than to judge them, they too could understand what Jesus was really saying."

    Whether they are judging them or not, I do not know. What I do know is that is not what is causing concern amongst the members. It is the COE's lack of upholding the already approved writings and policies of UCG.

  19. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    "If you think I should be approving messages on my iPhone during Sabbath services, then you have more problems than I care to address."

    John, if that isn't a strawman I don't know what is.

    What is ridiculous about your comparing riding a mule to synagogue verses driving a vehicle 40 to 70 mph on public roads?

    Do I really have to answer that? Come on John.

    The subject with James is, he thinks it's wrong to do something on the Sabbath which would require someone else to work.

    My purpose is not to say what is work and what is not. I don't care. My point is to show that if James thinks it's wrong to make waitresses work but not to make police, or firemen, or Doctors, or janitors (when they work at the rental hall for services) then he isn't being consistent.

    I have no problem with Jesus taking a mule to synagogue. I have no problem with driving to services. I have no problem with going to restaurants on the Sabbath.

    Me thinks you're missing the point.

  20. Kevin McMillen from West Virginia

    "Whether they are judging them or not, I do not know. What I do know is that is not what is causing concern amongst the members. It is the COE's lack of upholding the already approved writings and policies of UCG."

    That's bull and you know it. What is causing concern is the fact that the "progressives" have gained control and the "WCG wannabees" don't like it.

    You see if I believed in corporations, I'd be more inclined to be on the side of the COE's.

    They want to allow others to speak in their services, such as Havir, O'brien, Dart, etc. They no longer want to be a divisive group.

    I guarantee that the new COG aWa will not have open churches where people can go and respectfully disagree with the man in charge.

    John, feel free to delete the next comment if you want, it's private to you.

    I find you to be an intelligent man, but your apparent clinging, for whatever reasons, to corporate organizations concerns me. You should be free to worship with whatever group you choose.

    If you thought you were free to do so in UCG, or if you think you'll be free to do so in COGaWa, you are sorely mistaken.

    I know of so many men over the last 15 years who have been taken off speaking schedules, or songleading detail in UCG because they visited or spoke at non UCG services.

    What about Aaron Dean? Just what was so wrong with him speaking at non UCG church groups?

    John, corporations divide the church of God.

    You said today was a special Sabbath? Why? Because another division has happened to God's church. Brethren will now think they are better than others because they are with the new group or still with UCG. It all stinks John.

    maybe you should spend a little honest time researching the independent church of God.

    We're not independent of one another, we're not independent of God. We don't want to do things our own way (this is how the corporations describe us, but it's a lie).

    All we want is to be free in Christ to worship with others within the church of God.

    How many people within the UCG in the last 15 years have ever even considered stepping foot in a CGI service, or a LCG service, or an independent service?

    I've been independent now for over 15 years. I've stepped foot in LCG, CGI, UCG, ICG, etc. etc. I have worshiped God on the Sabbath with brethren in all these groups and a few others that I'm not sure what their name was.

    I don't believe in the divisions in the church of God which divisions only the "ministry" have caused.

    The bible says to mark those who cause division in the church, yet the "ministry" has never been marked. It's time we mark the ministry because it's their ego's that continues to divide the church of God.

    Wake up my brother, God's not going to make the wake up call forever!

  21. John D Carmack

    Kevin wrote: "That's bull and you know it."

    Thank you for reading my heart and telling it to me.

    I guess now we know why Malm doesn't approve your posts.

    "John, if that isn't a strawman I don't know what is."

    Then, I suggest Wikipedia. The only thing I'm knocking down is your theory that bloggers don't have lives outside of the electronic spectrum. You complained I did not approve your posts. You're right. I did not because I was doing something else (in this case, doing what I'm supposed to be doing on the Sabbath). When I had time I did.

    Patience is a fruit of the Spirit.

  22. John D Carmack

    Kevin wrote: "My theory that bloggers don't have lives. Come on John, the more you continue this the less sense you make."

    You're right. It's discontinued. Goodbye, troll.