While many presbyteries will grant an exception to the Westminster Standards to a man who believes worldly recreations are permissible on the Sabbath, are presbyteries granting exceptions also for worldly entertainment and commerce on the Sabbath? And are candidates and officers in the PCA stating the full extent of their differences? A difference with the “recreations clause” that asserts it is lawful to go on a walk or participate in a pickup ball game is quite a different category from a difference with the “recreations clause” that asserts it is lawful to pay money to watch professional athletes exhaust themselves on a ball field. In that case, one’s “recreation” seems to be simply watching others engage in recreation; this is “vicarious recreation,” I suppose. But in that case, it is not only the professional athletes who are being employed.
We are told this Lord’s Day has a big game happening. Brad Isbell informs us it is called a “Super Bowl.” We gather from Facebook that some Presbyterians will be watching this game at a Brewery.
The Presbyterian Church in America confesses that the Scripture teaches the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath and a day for both resting ourselves and giving rest to others.
Yet perhaps the most common difference stated by ministerial candidates in the PCA is with the “recreation clause” in the Westminster Standards. Most PCA Presbyteries will grant a man some sort of an exception to that aspect of our Confession.
The Sabbath or Lord’s Day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship (WLC 117).
Many officers in the PCA, in good faith, believe the Scriptures do not require people to abstain from worldly employments and recreations on the New Covenant Sabbath, the Lord’s Day.
The “Recreations” Exception
Understandably many PCA Courts have judged such a difference with our Standards does not strike at the vitals of religion. Who could object to a father and son throwing a ball between morning and evening worship or letting the little kids run in the yard after lunch while mom and dad get a nap?
While there is lively debate about whether such practices are what was intended by the Puritans at Westminster when they referred to “worldly…recreations,” that is usually what is cited by officers holding this view.
Nonetheless, some are more broad in their views of what is permissible “recreation” on the Lord’s Day. I recall a candidate coming before the Presbytery of the Missippi Valley (MVP) who asserted he would have no problem with people attending an early service on the Lord’s Day so they could make it to the beach for the afternoon. The members of MVP asked him a lot of questions about his view, but they let him in and he ministered fruitfully for years in that presbytery.
All this to say, there is wide latitude afforded by the PCA Courts to those whose views and even practices differ from what the PCA confesses the Bible to teach about the Christian Sabbath and recreations on the day.
Social Justice & the Sabbath
The Sabbath is not simply about a cessation of activity. In Mark 2 Jesus begins to correct the legalistic and burdensome Sabbath doctrines of the Pharisees. His disciples were criticized for eating grain from the field. Jesus famously rebuked the Pharisees explaining: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
When God instituted the Sabbath at Creation, He did so – according to the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) – because mankind needed rest. The rest was especially to be given particularly to those in lower and vulnerable stations of life. Moses is explicit in his final sermon that the Sabbath was not only for householders and the wealthy but also children, enslaved persons, foreign workers, and dumb beasts. God’s people are to provide rest to all who are within their societies:
…your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you (Deut. 5:14).