During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
[The Lord] has taught us that we must observe the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. One day of the seven he has set apart as his day, and in consideration of all his blessings bestowed upon us on the other days it would appear to me that we ought to find joy in doing the things that he asks us to do on his holy day, and I believe that unless we do we will find no happiness. … He wants us to be happy and has told us how we may earn that happiness.
The human body can only take so much activity. This is why God gave us His example in the creation, setting aside the seventh day as a day of rest. The day wasn’t established for the sake of God but rather for the sake of man. It was the only way for the human body and mind to be rejuvenated, something God fully understood.
While Christians have traditionally believed in a day of rest, it was never meant to be a legalistic day. This is the topic I will address in this review.
We should think of the purpose of the [Lord’s] day and partake of the influence of worship. What would it accomplish for the world if all the children of our Heavenly Father—and we are all his children—would respect his desire that the Sabbath should be a day of worship. There is no way of estimating what a beneficial change might be wrought, not only in our own nation, but in all nations of the world if we honored the Sabbath Day and kept it holy.
George Albert Smith dreamt for the day when “all the children of our Heavenly Father…would respect his desire that the Sabbath should be a day of worship.” What good would it be, though, if all the “children” were worshiping false gods? Jesus was very clear in John 4:23-24 when, talking to the Samaritan woman, he said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Even if everyone “honored the Sabbath Day,” there would be no “beneficial change” in the world in respects to people’s relationship with God. No good karma would come if “only” everyone honored this day. This is because only true worship alone is considered beneficial by God. He does not accept the worship of those not doing so “in spirit and truth.”
The Sabbath has become the play-day … —the day set apart by thousands to violate the commandment that God gave long, long ago, and I am persuaded that much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting and will continue to afflict mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored his admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy. One of the first sermons that were preached in this [the Salt Lake] valley was by President Brigham Young, and he warned the people to honor the Sabbath day and to keep it holy, and no matter how difficult their circumstances they were not to go out and do manual labor on the Sabbath day. … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has encouraged its people to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy because it is pleasing to our Heavenly Father that we do so.
It must be understood that whenever “Sabbath” is referred to in the Bible, the day is always referring to “Saturday.” Although Christians began meeting on Sundays soon after the Resurrection of Jesus, labeling it as the “Lord’s Day,” it was never known as the “Sabbath.” Thus, if Mormons want to honor the Sabbath as talked about in the Bible, they will need to refrain from Saturday’s activities, not Sunday’s.
Another point that needs to be made is that the New Testament nowhere exhorts the believer to keep the “Sabbath.” Of course, a day of rest is still important today, but it needs to be pointed out that the words referring to “Sabbath” in the New Testament are generally negative. For many Mormons, Sundays is a legalistic day where man-made regulations are emphasized. Why is it that similar rules were severely critiqued by Christ in his dealings with the Pharisees? For example, consider Mark 2:27 when Jesus claimed to be the “Lord of the Sabbath.” He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is also the Lord of the Sabbath.”
In the next passage, Mark 3:1-6 (see also Luke 6:6-11), it reads:
“Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
Consider also Luke 6:1-6. Was Jesus purposely going out of his way to offend the Jewish leaders by critiquing the Sabbath? I don’t think so. Rather, his point is that the law was fulfilled by Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Sometimes offense might be required if the message is going to come through.
Paul took Jesus’ view and further developed it in Colossians chapter 2. He wrote in verse 8 and verses 13-15:
“8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ….13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Notice how it says that “human tradition” can get in the way of the cross. To the contrast, when Christians were “made alive with Christ,” their sins should be viewed as forgiven. I met a young man in the parking lot of a local concert this week who directed our car into a parking spot. He saw our license plate (“Forgiven”), so when we got out of the car, he asked, “Forgiven from what?” I replied, “All my sins. Can you say your sins are forgiven?” This sophomore in high school looked at me sheepishly and said, “No, not all of them.” Mormonism teaches that it’s presumptuous to say that your sins are forgiven, yet the Christian believes that the victory on the cross triumphs over all.
Continuing with verses 16-18:
“16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.”
A wide variety of events is discussed here, from pagan festivities to the “Sabbath day.” Paul promised that those who have a “false humility” by trusting in these man-made regulations will end up becoming disqualified for the prize.
“20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
With those scriptures as a background, let’s consider what Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said about Sabbath-keeping in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, pages 96 and 97:
“The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill, and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome materials, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. To fail to do these things is a transgression on the omission side.”
He also said:
“The Sabbath is a day on which to take inventory—to analyze our weaknesses, to confess our sins to our associates and our Lord. It is a day on which to fast. … It is a day on which to read good books, a day to contemplate and ponder, a day to study lessons for priesthood and auxiliary organizations, a day to study the scriptures and to prepare sermons, a day to nap and rest and relax, a day to visit the sick, a day to preach the gospel, a day to proselyte, a day to visit quietly with the family … , a day for proper courting, a day to do good, a day to drink at the fountain of knowledge and of instruction, a day to seek forgiveness of our sins, a day for the enrichment of our spirit and our soul, a day to restore us to our spiritual stature, a day to partake of the emblems of [Jesus’] sacrifice and atonement, a day to contemplate the glories of the gospel and of the eternal realms, a day to climb high on the upward path toward our Heavenly Father” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 216).
Trying to provide some examples of positive Sabbath Day activities, the church’s web site states, “In harmony with this revelation, Church members attend sacrament meeting each week. Other Sabbath-day activities may include praying, meditating, studying the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, writing letters to family members and friends, reading wholesome material, visiting the sick and distressed, and attending other Church meetings.” In the Gospel Truth manual, it describes other activities that get an “OK” from the church:
“Eat light meals, Cook on Saturday, Clean on Saturday, Take a nap, Write letters to loved ones and missionaries, Visit family members, Visit a sick friend, Ponder the sacrament prayer more reverently, Ponder the mighty power and works of God, Read the scriptures, Try in every way to feel closer to Heavenly Father.”
Quoting Ezra Taft Benson, the church web site provides a list of prohibited activities on the Sabbath:
“Overworking and staying up late Saturday so that you are exhausted the next day. Filling the Sabbath so full of extra meetings that there is no time for prayer, meditation, family fellowship, and counseling. Doing gardening and odd jobs around the house. Taking trips to canyons or resorts, visiting friends socially, joy riding, wasting time, and engaging in other amusements. …Playing vigorously and going to movies. Engaging in sports and hunting ‘wild animals’ which God made for the use of man only ‘in times of famine and excess of hunger.’ (See D&C 89:15.) [Does this mean Mormons should not hunt???] … Reading material that does not contribute to your spiritual uplift. “Shopping or supporting with your patronage businesses that operate on Sunday, such as grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and service stations” (“Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, May 1971, 6–7).
From what I can gather, it appears that these lists are emphasizing positive purposes to whatever activities are done, whether it’s resting or studying the scriptures. However, bizarre scenarios will arise. For example, in The Miracle of Forgiveness, Kimball said that it was wrong to “lounge” but OK to sleep. What about a person who begins his afternoon by “lounging” (a prohibited transgression) but ends up napping and falling asleep (a positive activity)? Does falling asleep override the lounging?
And what if someone likes to listen to an opera or a rock music concert that was performed on a Sunday? Are such activities lawful? (He doesn’t say.) What if someone relaxes by watching a live football game on Sunday afternoon, which I assume is prohibited? Or if a student has a final on Monday at school, is studying the notes for this exam somehow a sin? Just who determines what are beneficial versus harmful Sabbath Day activities? What right does a prophet of the Mormon Church have to impose his nonbiblical opinions upon his people? After all, the Standards Works hardly cover any Sabbath Day dos or don’ts.
There are some, like fire fighters or quarterbacks/safeties in the NFL, who are required to work on Sundays. To this scenario, the church has a ready-made answer: “Employees of such ‘essential businesses’ can keep the Sabbath day holy even when their services are required on Sunday. For example, they can read the scriptures during breaks at work and attend Church meetings before or after work.”
While we have already agreed that the body cannot endure the grueling pace we too often put it through, it seems that these regulations created by the church are “straining the gnat.” Just how are the rules provided by the LDS Church leaders any different than the Sabbath commandments enforced upon the people by the Jewish leaders in Christ’s day (i.e. distance you could walk, ability to light a fire, or saving an animal that’s fallen into a well)? Truly the LDS Church has created the new Pharisaical system for the modern age.
Let us teach these boys and girls [of the Church] as they grow up to do the things that the Lord would like to have them do on the Sabbath day, and it will be surprising the influence they can have in the communities that they live in. Unless the world repents of its carelessness and indifference, unless we the Latter-Day Saints, in many cases, repent of our attitude of indifference toward the holy day of our Heavenly Father, there will not come to us all the joy and happiness we desire to enjoy here, and it will not be with us in eternity.
Some people appear to think that if they have attended religious meetings or performed some portion of the service required of them on Sunday, they are then at liberty to pursue pleasures and engage in activities incompatible with the spirit of the Sabbath and still continue to enjoy the favor of our Father. I say to you that if the members of the Church, knowing better, persist in desecrating the Sabbath day in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, they will lose their faith; and the Spirit of our Heavenly Father will withdraw from them.
It is not an insignificant thing to violate the Sabbath day. I want to say that you lose every time you violate the Sabbath day, you lose more than you can gain, no matter what you may think you are going to gain.
These paragraphs are the result of not understanding Jesus’ teaching on the topic. After all, he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The Mormon Church is saying that unless you follow the law, then you will not have “all the joy and happiness,” either here or in eternity.” According to the leadership, by not keeping the Sabbath, you will lose your faith and God’s spirit will withdraw from you. Was George A. Smith serious? He really was. If so, how can he and these Mormon leaders be any different than the ancient Pharisees? Paul said that we were not to subject ourselves to human regulations? In direct fulfillment of the apostle’s words, “self-imposed religion” and “false humility” are being promoted by Mormonism’s teachers. True Christians, however, are not forgiven by keeping the Sabbath and following man-made ordinances. Instead, they receive salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. Until a Mormon understands the concept talked about in Colossians 2, he or she will never grasp the true meaning of forgiveness of sins and miss the opportunity in having a relationship with the God of the Bible.
To forget that it [the Sabbath day] is the Lord’s day, as some of us appear to do, is ungrateful. He has set apart one day in seven, not to make it a burden, but to bring joy into our lives and cause that our homes may be the gathering place of the family, that parents and children may assemble around the family hearth increasing our love for one another. …
Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy, Latter-day Saints, and it will bring to you great joy and our Heavenly Father will bestow upon you the blessings that result from obedience to his advice and counsel.
It might be a cliché, but Mormonism is a religion of “do” while Christianity is a religion of “done.” There are so many “check this box” statements emanating from Salt Lake City that nobody can ever know if they’re doing enough to “merit God’s mercy.” These regulations serve to keep Latter-day Saints in bondage.
Attending church is an important part of keeping the Sabbath day holy.
If we do what our Heavenly Father would have us do we will go to his holy house upon the Sabbath day and there partake of the sacrament in remembrance of the sacrifice that was made for us by the Redeemer of mankind.
This [the Sabbath day] is the Lord’s holy day; this is the day that he has set apart in which we are to worship him, and in this latter day he has given an additional commandment that we shall go to the house of prayer and fasting upon his holy day, and there acknowledge our faults and bear our testimonies in the presence of one another [see D&C 59:9–12]. …
In this marvelous age when people can sit comfortably at home and hear the music of the world and listen to public addresses, and sermons, they will remain at their own fireside and perhaps feel that they are receiving all that they could receive were they to go to the place appointed for religious services.
The Latter-day Saints need not be deceived in this matter. It is not only the word that we hear that is profitable, but it is the influence that pervades our houses of worship that comes from our Heavenly Father that is essential. We may have a radio receiving set in our home, but we will not benefit by it spiritually, as much as if we go to the house of the Lord upon his holy day, where we are permitted to partake of the Sacrament and where we pray and invoke the blessings of our Heavenly Father and receive [a] witness of the truth calculated to save mankind.
Regularly going to church is important for Christians. After all, we are commanded to have fellowship with other believers. However, physically attending church does not make a person more righteous. Rather, going to church is beneficial to us as believers. Once more, remember Jesus’ words: The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” If we go to church to somehow earn God’s favor through obedience, we miss the heart of the Gospel message.
I think perhaps most of us realize what a gift has come to us on those occasions when we are permitted to assemble in peace and in quiet, to meet together and partake of the emblems of the broken body and the shed blood of the Master. It should be, and I presume [it] is, in the minds of every one of us a most sacred and solemn occasion to realize that we are renewing our covenants with him who gave his life that we might be resurrected and exalted. When we partake of these emblems, I am sure we all realize that the sacrament, established by him before he passed away, is to be to us an uplift and inspiration and a blessing throughout eternity.
It’s interesting how Mormons are into “renewing” their covenants. After all, they make covenants to obey their stated promises at baptism, confirmation, the temple, and each week at the sacrament. If they had only kept their covenants, there would be no need to renew them. Even when Mormons give their promises, they have to know that there is no way they can keep all of them. In their mind, they somehow believe that they can repent before making the same promise once more. This flies in the face of what Paul said in Colossians 2:14-15 because God forgives Christian by “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Give me a choice of allowing Jesus to forgive my sins versus trying to do it on my own and I think you know what I pick.
We partake of physical food—that is, we partake of bread and water etc., to nourish the physical body. It is just as necessary that we partake of the emblems of the body and blood of our risen Lord to increase our spiritual strength. It is observed that men and women who go from year to year without partaking of the Lord’s Supper, gradually lose the Spirit of our Heavenly Father; they forfeit its companionship where they have had opportunity to participate in that blessing, but have failed to take advantage of it. …
The sacrament is just another command that the Mormon must keep in the impossible quest for exaltation. Christians, meanwhile, participate in the ordinance of communion as a way of remembering the sacrifice made at the cross and not some type of rule that, if broken, could result in “gradually losing” God’s spirit. This fear factor must have some success to get the people to do what the leaders require or why do so many bend over backwards to keep the letter of the law?
If you’re a Latter-day Saint, it’s your choice. Will you keep the Sabbath and the Sacrament as man-made regulations? Or are you ready to allow Jesus’ gift to pay the debt in whole and go on to holy living in view of what has already been accomplished at Calvary?