Dining Out on The Lord’s Day

My father grew up in the borough of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood just north of “Bed-Stuy” called Williamsburg. Those familiar with the district know that in the early 1900s with the completion of the bridge that bears the neighborhood’s name, Hasidic Jews from the “Lower east Side” began populating the community along with other immigrants like my Italian grandparents and great grandmother. Eventually, Williamsburg became the most populated neighborhood in the United States.

As a boy, my father could earn a penny on Saturdays from any number of Hasidic Jews for turning on a light in an apartment or hallway. (To put things in perspective, when my father was eight years old the Williamsburg Houses initially tenanted for just under two dollars per week for a single room. A busy Saturday of flipping switches could earn a day’s rent!)

Without getting into possible Jewish rationale for such a seemingly pedantic Shabbat restriction – whether it be tied to kindling a flame, creating something new, or just mere tradition – it’s not hard to discern a legalistic and hypocritical Jewish mindset. 

First, let’s dispel a common sentiment. Legalism is not tied to obedience, lest Jesus was legalistic. No, legalism pertains to trying to earn that which can only be received by grace. Legalism also pertains to finding loopholes in order to “obey” or not “disobey” by way of technicality. It is the second kind of legalism that I have in mind.

The Williamsburg Jews got the electricity turned on without themselves flipping the switch. And how did they do that? Well, they paid someone else to break their law for them. So, technically speaking, they didn’t break the letter of the law; they got someone else to break their law for them, hence the legalism.

Their hypocrisy is due to believing they were more obedient than my father because they would never do what he had done for money. Their money!

The point is not that certain Hasidic Jews believed wrongly they may not turn on electricity on the last day of the week. In other words, whether their law was according to God’s word misses the point. The point is these Jews were all too willing to violate their own personal moral convictions by paying someone else to do what they believed was forbidden by God. I trust that’s obvious,

Now let’s play with some analogies:

I may not pray to false gods, but I may pay someone else to pray to false gods for me. As long as I don’t commit idolatry, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not murder, but I may pay someone else to murder for me. As long as I don’t pull the trigger, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not steal, but I may pay someone else to steal for me. As long as my accountant falsifies the tax forms, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not lie or deceive, but I may pay someone else to lie and deceive for me. As long as I don’t intentionally speak false words, I have not broken the moral law.

The legalistic hypocrisy is glaring. Obviously, we see the absurdity.

Now for a blind spot to something no less obvious:

Most elders in the Reformed tradition take exception to the Reformed view of Christian Sabbath recreation as taught in the Westminster standards. As unfortunate as that is, many among that number go even further by supporting going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays, which pertains not merely to the question of rest vs. recreation but to unlawful work on the Lord’s Day. Ironically, most elders would say they affirm the Confession’s Christian Sabbath position with respect to work; yet their views on transacting business with restaurants on the Lord’s Day end up contradicting their own theology and professed scruples.

One more absurd analogy to drive the point home:

It’s neither necessary nor merciful for you to wait on me this Lord’s Day, but as long as you’re willing to do so, I’m happy to be the direct occasion for your sin, just as long as I am well fed. Although you should not wait on me (and be assured I’d never serve tables on a Sunday), let me contribute to your temptation by tipping you. That’s on you, Server. I’m not sinning, though you really should have been at church this morning rather than getting ready for work in order to serve me lunch.

Now please tell the chef to hurry up with my Veal Cacciatore. I’ve got to get a nap in before heading back for evening service. And, hey, where’s my Chianti!

Do we see that absurdity as clearly as all the others? Or is it a tenable biblical position that on Sundays, other than performing works of necessity and mercy, I may not work but may instead pay someone else to serve me? In other words, as long as I am not the line chef, the server, the bartender or the delivery person who works Sundays, I have not broken the moral law. Now, how’s that not legalistic-hypocrisy?

Bobbin’ N Weavin’:

This is usually where people begin to raise objections like, what’s the difference between cooking for yourself or family, and a restaurant doing it for you? There are simple answers that relate to binary considerations pertaining to commerce and what entails “work” but such principles will fail to persuade Pharisaical types that strain to find loopholes to justify old habits, acts of convenience and mere preference. A staunch pre-commitment to seeking one’s own pleasures on Sundays is not easily overcome, though with God all things are possible.

Some things just need to be said sometimes:

  • Is it not incongruous, while praying over a meal at a restaurant, to give thanks to God for those who break His commandment so that we might be fed? That would give fresh meaning to, please bless the loving hands who prepared this meal.
  • To cloak or defend sin by claiming liberty of conscience is not Christian but antinomian.
  • There’s a vast difference between exercising liberty of conscience and operating according to an uninformed or seared conscience.
  • To be faithful in upholding the Confession that reflects biblical precepts is not legalism; nor is it to try to steal another Christian’s joy.
  • It is not to have scruples against working on Sundays (other than out of necessity and mercy), if we are willing to allow others to work for us on the Lord’s Day.
  • Going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays is not analogous to hiring someone who might end up choosing to use honest pay for improper use. Rather, it’s a matter of directly paying someone to do something forbidden in God’s word so that we might receive some perceived benefit or immediate gratification.
  • Regarding the claim that on Sundays unbelievers may work for Christians because they are not obligated to keep the Christian sabbath, which is a creation ordinance, then do consider:
    • WLC #99: That which is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.
    • Exodus XX.10: but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
  • Regarding the claim that the principle of Isaiah 58:13-14 pertains only to resisting commerce, should we thereby presume that the blessing to our offspring might be received if we would only turn in faith from the pleasures of commerce toward the pleasures of recreation instead? In other words, does God’s moral law protect us from work on the Sabbath in order that we might indulge ourselves in recreation and entertainment after Sunday worship? Is that what it means to call the Sabbath a delight? (Isaiah 58:13-14)

Surely it’s a good and necessary inference from Scripture that believers are not to be the proximate cause or direct occasion for someone to violate a creation ordinance in this way. Accordingly, exploiting restaurant workers is not a matter of subjective sabbath application that’s up for grabs but a matter of objective obedience that must be grasped.

But aside from biblical and confessional arguments, another plea is in order. A plea for integrity:

Dear NAPARC Elders,

Don’t keep the Sabbath if you think you needn’t; just don’t flaunt it, let alone teach contrary to the standards that your fellow elders have sworn before God to uphold. For isn’t it divisive to undermine even a portion of the system of doctrine contained in the standards, let alone defend it with an appeal to liberty of conscience? Stated differences and exceptions, even of a majority, may not bind the consciences, nor silence the voices, of those who subscribe to the doctrine of their church and denomination. Accordingly, is it not to sow discord and disrupt the peace and unity of the church to lead others contrary to the church’s confession and in opposition to what others have vowed to uphold?

Therefore, as a fellow elder, I plead with you to repent, not from stated differences or exceptions, but from teaching, flaunting or leading contrary to the standards of your church and denomination; for in promoting strange doctrine you hinder those charged before God to teach peaceably what you deny in faith and practice. If you feel bound by conscience to teach contrary to your own confession of faith, then please seek to get the standards changed through the courts of the church, or else leave your NAPARC church rather than cause division in her ranks.

Links to rejoinders and a word about seeds of apostasy:

For those who have been misled by shepherds who have falsely promulgated that unbelievers may work on Sundays while correctly maintaining that believers may not, I offer this critique of Lee Irons’ denial of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s position on the Christian Sabbath.

For those who have been misled by fallacious appeals to historical church figures and engage in revisionism on this issue, I offer this critique of RC. Sproul’s denial of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s position on the Christian Sabbath.

Regarding seeds of apostasy and congregant responsibility, I offer this exhortation.

Here is a Sunday school class on Regulative Principal of Worship and Sabbath Day.

Again, a staunch pre-commitment to seeking one’s own pleasures on Sundays is not easily overcome, though with God all things are possible.