Observing the Sabbath: A Matter for the Heart, Not the Administration

In the spring of 2016, the Covenant College women’s tennis team dominated the U.S.A. South Conference Festival, advancing all the way to the championship round. However, the team did not compete and finish the tournament.

“Why?” one might ask. It was because Covenant College allows for no teams to compete on Sundays in order to honor the Sabbath. But where is this principle coming from? Is it truly the best way to be glorifying to God? This is not about what the women’s tennis team could or could not have won or if they could have brought more glory to the school by winning another championship. If we are playing tennis or performing any activity just for winning then we have completely lost track of why we are here. That is not what I am arguing. What I am arguing is that the school’s current rule regarding Sunday activities are not helpful or particularly Godly.

First, a mandatory day of rest is not required in the Bible. There is little evidence to suggest that the idea even existed before it was set down in the Mosaic Covenant. Adam and Eve had no reason to set aside a day for communion with God before the fall, because they had constant communion with God. So, if the Sabbath is not an institution that precedes the fall, then we must decide if Christians are required to keep this particular aspect of the Ten Commandments.

In Acts 15, Peter reminds us that Christians are not bound by the covenant of the law in all the same ways that the Israelites were. We can see this same idea in the food laws or in the idea of becoming circumcised. It is not about the rule itself that we must uphold, but, instead, it is about where one’s heart is at and their choice in it. I chose to wear a purity ring all throughout high school because to me that was the way that I honored God and displayed my faith, but does that mean that any Christian that did not wear a purity ring did not believe in purity? No, that was simply the way that I personally chose to demonstrate what was important to me.

God made us creatures who need rest and time with him. I fully see my own need for that; however, God does not demand a single day of rest. I have daily devotionals and a daily 30-minute-to-an-hour of resting time with him. This is my way of living my faith, while for others it might be not doing homework on a Sunday. I will respect anyone who chooses to honor God in this way, but when we force students to comply with this rule, we run into a whole different problem.

I am on the debate team and I believe that I can honor and glorify God by going to tournaments. They provide a perfect opportunity to speak truth and show Christ’s love to my opponents, but when other teams find out that we do not go to the national tournament because our school forbids it, they assume that Christianity is legalistic and all about the rules. Because it is not about my own choice, we have lost the heart of the idea. It has gone from religious beliefs and glorifying God to a legalist approach of just another rule that must be followed.

Third and finally, this policy does not help students glorify God or worship him better. The majority of students I have talked to on this subject simply ignore the policy as it is intended to extend to doing homework on Sunday. Those who observe the policy in its entirety do so because they have made a personal decision to honor God in that way, not out of legalistic observance of a rule. We say that Christ is preeminent in all things, but college policy seems to suggest that unless we spend our Sundays napping and chilling with friends instead of studying or playing sports, Christ is not preeminent. Is it truly more God-honoring to take a nap? To hang out with friends? To read a book? To do laundry? While all of these activities are good and important to our daily living, it seems that playing in a soccer game or going to a speech and debate tournament would be just as edifying as taking a nap or watching a couple of episodes on Netflix, if not more.

Arbitrary mandatory rest on Sundays does not glorify God. It is the posture of our hearts and the ways that we, out of love for God, choose to act and speak. That might include playing tennis or working out or going to a debate tournament on a Sunday, and it might not. But it does not include forcing students to follow an extra-biblical policy with few benefits.