The observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, has a long and complex history in America. The Puritans who settled in New England in the 1600s were known for their strict observance of the Sabbath, and laws were enacted to enforce Sabbath-keeping. During the colonial period, the dominant form of Christianity was Congregationalism and the Sabbath was strictly observed. With the Great Awakening in the 1700s, a more relaxed attitude towards the Sabbath emerged, and the revivalist movement led by figures such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield encouraged a more joyful and less legalistic approach to Sabbath-keeping.
In the 19th century, Sabbath observance became a matter of controversy as the country became more industrialized and Sunday labor became more common. The growth of immigrant populations, particularly Irish and Catholic immigrants, added to the diversity of Sabbath-keeping practices in America.
In the 20th century, the rise of leisure time and the decline of religious observance led to a further relaxation of the strict observance of the Sabbath, but for many Americans it remains an important concept, especially in more conservative and religious communities.The specific practices and customs associated with observing the Sabbath can also vary depending on whether one follows the Jewish, Christian, or another religious tradition.
The Bible teaches the importance of rest, both physically and spiritually. In the book of Genesis, God “rested” on the seventh day after giving structure and order to the cosmos (Genesis 1:1-2:3). In Exodus 20:8-11 (and Deuteronomy 5:12-15), the fourth of the Ten Commandments states that every seventh-day should be a day of rest, in remembrance of day when God rested. Many people think this is all the Old Testament has to say on the topic. But there is much more to the concept of sabbath rest.
In the New Testament, in Hebrews 3-4, the author writes about a “rest” that remains for the people of God and encourages believers to strive to enter that rest. This is often misunderstood by Christians to be a reference to spiritual rest in God, which comes from faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. But the author of Hebrews is writing to believers who have already come to faith, and suggests “rest” isn’t automatically triggered by an initial faith experience.
Overall, the Bible emphasizes the importance of taking time for rest and worship, both for physical and spiritual renewal. But what if we’ve misunderstood some of the basic constructs of this concept. The Bible presents a fully developed and robust theology of biblical rest. Modern day believers often truncate the whole theology into just one or two of its parts. What if true sabbath rest isn’t at all what we think it is?
If that’s true… then it might be time to rethink rest.