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What should I do on Sunday afternoon?

What should I do on Sunday afternoon?

I acknowledge that even asking this question identifies me as one of those weird Christians who still believes that Sunday is a special day. I admit it is true. I still believe that the 4th commandment applies, that Sunday is the Lord's Day, and thus it is to be different from the other days of our week. This is the position of our denomination, articulated in chapter 21:7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith as follows:

"As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath."

But even among those Christians would agree with the Confession, and acknowledge that the 4th commandment is still applicable for Christians today; the question of how exactly it applies it to our lives has occasioned much disagreement. What does it mean, in practice, to "Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy?" What can I do on Sunday afternoon besides pray, read the Bible, and pray some more? Is there any room for leisure, NFL football, eating out, laser tag, ping pong, or a good old fashioned nap?

In attempting to answer this question, there are two extremes that need to be avoided. On the one hand, there has always been a temptation to create specific lists of "do's and don’ts" for Sunday. The is an understandable desire, as it makes it much easier for us to assess whether or not we are keeping the 4th commandment. Have we done anything on the naughty list? If not, then I can have confidence that I have kept the Lord's Day. The problem with this, as exemplified with the interactions that Jesus had with the Pharisees, is that it almost always ends up in legalism. We end up, even with the best of intentions, creating a list of behaviors/activities (normally heavily influenced by our own background and location) that we impose upon ourselves and others. We thus, to use Jesus' words, substitute the traditions of men for the command of God. The other problem with this approach is that it tends to make the Sabbath a burden to keep rather than a blessing, which is directly opposite God's stated intention for it.

On the other hand, however, in our fear of being perceived as legalistic, we can error by not seriously thinking about how we ought to spend the day. There may not be a list of "do's and don’ts" in the New Testament for Sunday afternoon, but the 4th commandment, if it applies, does mean something, which implies that there are activities/behaviors that are more appropriate than others for us to engage in on the Lord's day.

The challenge for us is to think about this issue without veering into an unbiblical legalism, but also offering some very practical guidance on how we can best utilize the day that God has given us. I believe a good way to do that is by considering the purpose for which the Lord instituted the day in the first place. If we understand the goal of the day, it will help us navigate through what activities are more and less appropriate to that day. This will be the subject of the next post.





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