ne of the items to come before the General Conference session in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1990 was a proposal entitled “Sabbathkeeping Guidelines.” To the surprise of the leaders who presented it, the document ignited a firestorm of debate and controversy. In the end, the session voted only “to receive” the proposal, a technical way of avoiding any decision on its substance. (To see these guidelines, go to: www.adventist.org/search.html.en?words=Sabbath+keeping+guidelines.)
Sabbathkeeping talk is controversial stuff. In her recent doctoral dissertation, a valuable study of Sabbathkeeping practices among Adventists around the world, May-Ellen Colón observed that “while Adventists have close to unanimity of opinion about the time frame of the Sabbath, there is considerable divergence over the practices and motivations for Sabbathkeeping.” Just in passing, she noted that “some Adventists play football on Sabbath.” (For information about this work, contact the author through the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference.)
What guides me personally in all these things are certain fundamental principles of Sabbathkeeping. That I don’t clear my mailbox on Sabbath has nothing to do with legalism, but all to do with keeping that special Sabbath atmosphere inviolate. I can’t continue enjoying the peace of Sabbath if I discover that a letter from the Internal Revenue Service has arrived. And I don’t think I’d have risked being thrown out of school by an angry father just for the privilege of playing football on Saturday afternoon.
But I consider my own Sabbathkeeping practice far from perfect, much of my dissatisfaction arising from my work as a minister and speaker. Like many others in my situation, I often find myself preparing for some upcoming appointment, instead of experiencing the complete rest and relaxation of the Sabbath.
I dream of Sabbaths with no schedules or preparations; Sabbaths of complete rest (and, incidentally, it’s not wrong to rest on Sabbath!); Sabbaths out in nature, listening to the call of birds, the chirping of crickets, the gurgling of streams; Sabbaths reading the Bible for personal growth and not for talks or sermons; Sabbaths visiting some member who is sick or can’t get out; Sabbaths in fellowship with others—eating, sharing, singing hymns and choruses around the piano.
Sabbath is the most beautiful contribution we can make to our harried, contemporary world.