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Surprise! Most American Protestants Observe Sunday as a Day of Rest

Posted on December 27, 2018
Surprise! Most American Protestants Observe Sunday as a Day of Rest

You might be tempted to file this under “Duh,” but take note: 70 percent of American churchgoers say they observe Sabbath rest on Sunday. That’s the overwhelming majority of the 77 percent of church-attending Americans—people who worship in a congregation at least once a month—who say they keep a weekly day of rest and worship, according to survey results released by LifeWay Research.

However, the survey reveals some disturbing numbers behind the top-line result. Only 56 percent of Protestant churchgoers “say taking a day of Sabbath rest each week is a biblical command that still applies today.” An astonishing 44 percent either disagree or aren’t sure that the fourth commandment is still required.

As Scott McConnell, executive director of the research group said, “Almost half of church attendees aren’t sure if one of the Ten Commandments still applies today. Perhaps the most important biblical teaching on the Sabbath came when Jesus said, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ Clearly, God didn’t need the rest when He modeled it, but humans need to recharge regularly.”

The need for a weekly recharge is but one of several important reasons for humans to observe the Sabbath. Yet, the survey revealed that 26 percent of women and 18 percent of men who responded said they don’t take a day of rest. In terms of denominations, both Pentecostals and Lutherans are nearly twice as likely to forego any Sabbath observance than are Baptists.

“Americans are a privileged society for people to often enjoy two days off a week. For many, this may make observing a Sabbath day something many churchgoers don’t give much thought to,” McConnell said. “Today, however, we see blue laws being repealed and most businesses open seven days a week. U.S. Postal Service trucks are now out delivering packages on Sunday,” he added. “Taking a Sabbath may be something people have to become even more intentional about.”

Other numbers from the survey are equally revealing about the way people observe a “Sabbath” day each week. Though the Bible’s command is clear, that no one in the household is supposed to do any work on the sacred day, today’s believers aren’t quite as emphatic.

Most churchgoers, 79 percent to be precise, say they attend a religious service as part of their weekly observance. But only 33 percent say they avoid paid work, and only 25 percent say they “keep the Sabbath holy” by avoiding labor or chores of any kind.

Is shopping forbidden on the Sabbath day? Only 11 percent of those surveyed said they refrain from going to stores on the Sabbath. Even fewer, just 6 percent, say they shun paid events or entertainment on the Sabbath, and a mere 3 percent switch off the TV, radio, or social media.

“There is more variety in how people observe the Sabbath than when they observe it,” said LifeWay's McConnell. “But there are far fewer people avoiding things on the Sabbath, like paid work and chores, than those who say they keep the Sabbath by doing things, [such as] attending church and spending time with friends.”

Consider: The Sabbath was created, specifically, for humanity’s benefit. God made humans, and He knew that His creation needed a time to rest, recharge, and, yes, worship their Creator. Throughout the Bible, observing the Sabbath is understood as a foundational principle for a happy life and even an orderly society. The examples of the Israelites observing the Sabbath during those forty years in the wilderness—and the penalties imposed on those who did not comply—should give us a clear understanding of its significance.

For much of America’s history, Sunday was respected as a day when things were different. Stores were closed, churches were open, and in many places, taverns couldn’t sell alcohol before noon or even until later in the day. No one was forced to attend worship services, of course, but even those who’d never darken the door of a church knew that in this nation, there was one day each week that was set aside for rest.

The “blue laws” banning commercial activity and other practices on Sundays were, however, a burden on those who observed the Bible Sabbath, which Exodus 20:8–11 defines as the seventh day of the week. And we know, both from history and language that this seventh day is the day known as Saturday in English, and Sábado, or Sabbath” in Spanish—and its equivalent in a hundred other tongues.

So where does this leave people today? First, the LifeWay Research survey confirms that many American churchgoers know that a weekly day of rest is important—even if their observances don’t line up exactly with those prescribed in the Ten Commandments.

Second, it also shows that attitudes are changing, and not always for the better. Baptist and non-denominational churchgoers, 60 percent according to the survey, “are more likely to say Sabbath is still applicable,” as compared to 45 percent of members of Pentecostal churches.

If you have questions on how best to observe the Sabbath day, check out Rest in God, our free article on ways to keep the Sabbath holy.

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