Q: “If someone has a job that requires them to work on Sundays so that they miss church, what should they do?”
A: Years ago this question would not have come up, due to the fact that communities and states often practiced the Sunday blue laws. Unfortunately, much of the thinking that was behind the “closing up shop” on Sunday and the reason many still object to organized work and the buying and selling on Sunday (especially in the morning) is because a number of people believe that Sunday is simply the prescribed replacement of the Sabbath by God himself. This is not so. Colossians 2:16 & 17 explicitly says there is to be no judging about the Sabbath day—or any day, for that matter.
Even in the early Norwegian Synod there was quite a controversy about how to regard Sunday. Is Sunday to be regarded as the New Testament counterpart in all respects to the Sabbath (Saturday) in the Old Testament, and thus the commandment for us should read, “Remember Sunday to keep it holy?” This was the question for many, years ago, and I would surmise it is still the question for many today. Those who answer that question by saying “Yes” may carry some very legalistic views about Sunday. Sunday, as you may recall for your days of Confirmation, was not commanded by God as the day of worship for us New Testament Christians, but was the day of the week freely chosen by us for public worship. It was chosen by the early New Testament Christians, primarily because it is the day which our Lord rose from the dead. For example, we see evidence of this practice in John 20:19, Acts 20:7, I Cor. 16:2, and Rev. 1:10. The Sabbath laws, including the virtually absolute refraining from physical labor, were intended only for the Jewish people of Old Testament times.
On this subject, Martin Luther has said: “The third commandment…does not pertain to Gentiles and Christians. For Paul (Col. 2:16) and the New Testament (Matt. 12:1-12; John 5:16; 7:22-23; 9:14-16) abolish the Sabbath, to show that the Sabbath was given to the Jews alone…” (LW, vol 35, p. 165).
Nevertheless, we do know that God still wants us to regularly and publicly worship him, even though the day has been left to our discretion. Thankfully, we in New Testament times do not need to follow what is stated in Exodus 35:2, “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does work on it must be put to death.”
Some churches today are holding weekly public services not only on Sunday but on other days of the week as well, such as Mondays or Saturdays, in order to accommodate those who are secularly employed during the Sunday morning worship hour. This is commendable when churches are in the position to be able to do so.
But what about the churches who do not have midweek services? Are they to be blamed for the lack of attendance on the part of the employed? Should the Sunday employee find a different job which would free him or her for the Sunday worship hour, and thus be able to fulfill Hebrews 10:25 (“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…”)? Or, should the Sunday employee, who may be in danger of having no job unless Sundays are worked, continue to work and skip the Sunday worship hour, in order to fulfill I Timothy 5:8 (“If anyone does not provide for…his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”)? These are the intriguing questions.
The fact of the matter is that many Sunday jobs were often entered into on the part of the employee when the person had let his or her prior worship habits go to pieces by neglect. Had Sunday morning always been a priority for the individual Christian, then it seems often some arrangement could have been made with the employer at the time the job was taken. Many employers, even non-Christian ones, will permit the worker to leave for an hour or two on Sunday, once the individual lets it be known how much that hour of worship means to him or her. Even secular employers frequently recognize the business benefits of having Christian employees and trying to keep them happy. When it is not possible always to leave one’s work, the Christian should try to attend services as often as he/she can, so that public worship of our Lord and Savior can be placed forefront. And remember: There are promised blessings for seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). God will take care of our physical needs, as we regularly grow stronger in our faith in Christ’s free forgiveness through Word and Sacrament.