In a previous post I mentioned in passing that I have sometimes encountered students that try to excuse inferior musical or academic work by citing Christian activities to which they devote much of their time. Perhaps these students think that, because I am frank and outspoken regarding my Christian convictions, they will find a sympathetic ear when they seek to have lackluster efforts excused because of church-related commitments. To their dismay, I almost always dismiss such excuses as not only unprofessional, but unchristian. Of course, as a professor in a secular institution, I am not allowed to discuss in any detail the theological rationale for the latter judgment while in the classroom or studio, but I will use this space today for that purpose.
“Six Days Shalt Thou Labour….”
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
VIII. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Paragraphs VII and VIII)
I have described myself in the past as a “leaky sabbatarian” (with apologies to John MacArthur). What I mean by this is that I hold the Westminster Standards’ doctrine of Sunday (or the Lord’s Day) as the Christian Sabbath to be a faithful expression of what the Scripture teaches on the matter, as well as good for the church and for mankind as a whole. I take exception to that position (hence the “leakiness”) only in that I acknowledge that Christians living in predominantly non-Christian societies (and I would count ours as such a society) might find the total avoidance of Sunday labor to be impossible, since secular employers (and even some Christian ones) rarely observe such a day of worship and rest. Perhaps in a future post I will write more about this position.
For my purposes today, though, I would like to draw the reader’s attention not to the Scripture’s discussion of the Sabbath, but to what it says about the other days. It says “six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.” God desires that we devote one day in seven to worship and rest, but He also commands that we work the rest of the week. I would even go so far as to say that pursuing our worldly callings with excellence should take priority over church-related activities during the week (excluding Sundays) should a time-conflict arise.
Musicians in particular should be prepared for this to occur frequently. Ours is a profession that requires lots of night, weekend, and holiday labor. We will often find ourselves unable to participate in church activities and opportunities for fellowship that are scheduled for the convenience of those with “9 to 5” jobs. Be prepared to “miss out” on some things because of the odd hours, or find another profession!
Please do not misunderstand me. Christians need to meet for fellowship, accountability, and mutual encouragement. We are commanded to do so (Hebrews 10:25). If this can happen more often than on the Lord’s Day only, great! Indeed, I eagerly look forward to meeting for prayer, Bible study, and the sharing of a meal with various groups at church and in our Gideon camp on Wednesday afternoons and Friday and Saturday mornings. However, if I am needed at the university or elsewhere during those times to fulfill my secular calling, I will—with sadness but without hesitation—forego one or more of those gatherings in order to fulfill my responsibilities. To do otherwise would negate God’s command to labor for six days, and perhaps establish or reinforce a perception that Christians are shoddy workers, using church activities as a “trump card” to get out of doing work. Indeed, hard work and the pursuit of excellence in our callings bears witness to our faith in the God of the Bible who commends such.
Obeying God by Pursuing Excellence
In both the Old and New Testaments we are exhorted to work “heartily” in our callings (Ecclesiastes 9:10, Colossians 3:23-24). Christians in any and every lawful profession should be the most industrious and diligent workers available. A big part of this is simply being present when needed, even when doing so involves absenting oneself from church-related activities during the work week.
Besides hard work, good work is also important. Scripture commends the pursuit of “the good, the true, and the beautiful” (Philippians 4:8). When we read the descriptions of the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament, we see that God is pleased with the finest artistry and craftsmanship. Christians, in whatever profession they choose, should strive to submit only their best work at all times. This is, again, honoring to God and commendable to men, both within and outside of the faith.
All Lawful Callings Have Value
Protestants owe a great deal of gratitude to Martin Luther (1483-1546). Not only did the Reformation he sparked lead to a restored understanding of the Bible’s teachings regarding salvation, worship, church government, and other ecclesiastical matters, but it also brought about a rediscovery of the Christian doctrine of vocation. In the medieval church from which Luther emerged, a spiritual hierarchy of sorts had developed, in which priests, monks, nuns, and particularly those in higher ecclesiastical offices such as cardinals and popes were viewed as living on a higher spiritual plane than those parishioners that, while believing, engaged in secular callings. Citing passages such as those which I mentioned above which commend the pursuit of industry and quality in every calling, Luther and his successors told the masses something that they had not heard from the church for generations: their day-to-day work had value in the eyes of God. Luther wrote:
Therefore I advise no one to enter any religious order or the priesthood, indeed, I advise everyone against it—unless he is forearmed with this knowledge and understands that the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone. (Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520)
While modern evangelicalism has not explicitly embraced the “spiritual hierarchy” of the medieval church, the constant flurry of activities every day of the week in some churches—and the corresponding pleas for help with those activities—can sometimes inadvertently give the impression that “really spiritual Christians” will make every effort to attend every activity available, even to the detriment of other responsibilities. I do not wish to discount the value of many of these activities. My own church has Bible studies of one kind or another several days a week, and our benevolence and outreach ministries are particularly active. This is all great. I only hope that our churches, without ceasing to commend these activities to members, will also remind us of the importance and value of pursuing excellence in our secular callings as a matter of obedience and a means of witness, and that being at the church “every time the doors are open” does not make us somehow “more Christian” than those whose schedules will not allow such frequent ecclesiastical engagement.
To My Students…
You all know that I am unapologetic in calling for diligent practice, as well as attendance at a number of evening and weekend recitals and events. A few of you even do what I ask in those areas! Our profession as musicians demands these things, and you will continue to find me unmoved by pleas of “I have something at church” when a conflict between that activity and our work arises. At the same time, I take Lord’s Day worship and rest very seriously, both for myself and for you. I will whenever possible avoid requiring any work or activities of you on Sundays.