Lord’s Day Deeds of Mercy
Every year on the first Lord’s Day of October, our church joins others in the area for the annual Life Chain. For an hour or so in the afternoon along busy streets in the area, we participate in this peaceful demonstration by holding signs reminding passing motorists and pedestrians of the truth regarding abortion.
On occasion the question has arisen, “Is this a proper use of the Lord’s Day?” Usually the thought behind this question is that participating in the Life Chain is not a restful or worshipful activity. After all, as some have raised, the catechism answer to the question, “How is the sabbath to be sanctified?” might seem to prohibit activities of this nature:
The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as to be taken up the deeds of necessity and mercy.”
Some have presented the “exception” clause regarding deeds of necessity and mercy with a minimalistic view. In other words, these deeds are to be entered into almost reluctantly, avoiding them as much as possible for they are viewed as interfering with the worship of God. An activity like the Life Chain would be seen in this manner. However, I am not convinced this minimalistic rendering is a necessary one.
In his commentary on the catechism, Puritan John Flavel raises additional questions and answers, among which is:
Q. 4. What works may lawfully be done on that day?
A. Christ’s example warrants works of necessity, and works of mercy, but no other; Mathew 12:3-4. But he said unto them, have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him, How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with him, but only for the priests. And verse 7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, &c.
Indeed, as Flavel says, Christ’s Sabbath Day example warrants works of mercy. May not the exception clause above be read a bit more broadly, the “so much” emphasized rather than downplayed? Does it not appear Christ was most busy in works of mercy on the Sabbath Day (Luke 6:1-11; 10:13-17)? Did not the Pharisees criticize and seek to entrap Him because of these works (John 5:1-18)? And did not Jesus even appear to do these works directly in their sight to show the Sabbath was made for man to be set free, not man to be burdened by the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; John 9:13-17)?
My old home congregation in Lafayette has for years used the Lord’s Day afternoon to visit those in jail to bring them the good news and disciple new believers. Many have been set free from their spiritual bondage as a result of this Sabbath “work” (see John 5:16-17). This ministry has always struck me not only as a terrific example of mercy ministry, but also as an exceedingly wonderful testament to what the Sabbath Day is to be. For is it not to be a day of justice, mercy, and freedom? Will not the final Lord’s Day, or Day of the Lord, be a time when we are judged as to whether we visited those in prison or not (Matthew 25:31-46)? Why not use the weekly stepping stone Lord’s Days to practice mercy and ready one’s self for the great Lord’s Day?
Now back to the Life Chain. I would certainly maintain that principles of Christian liberty and freedom of conscience would mean that believers may not want to participate in an activity such as the Life Chain. Others may not believe this to be a productive use of time or a true work of mercy and thus not participate. A temptation does exist to be seen praying on the street corners (Matthew 6:5) which should be resisted. Those participating should not make others feel guilty if they do not.
Yet I maintain that calling our nation’s attention to the plight of the innocent being dragged to the slaughter is a worthy Sabbath endeavor that ranks higher than retrieving an ox from a well (Luke 14:5), be it from the pulpit in a sanctuary or on a sidewalk in the middle of town. True religion does not stop at the sanctuary exit, but is carried out through the door as we go to visit, and hopefully even deliver, widows and orphans in their distress.