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Letters on Keeping the Sabbath as Ranchers, Caregivers or Business Owners

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Letters on Keeping the Sabbath as Ranchers, Caregivers or Business Owners

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Below are three letters the Council of Elders approved Dec. 13 to be used by the Personal Correspondence staff in dealing with questions from members on Sabbath observance. Specifically they cover questions about farming and ranching, the medical field and owning businesses that operate on the Sabbath.

These short letters do not give a full picture of the biblical teaching on Sabbath observance, and we encourage members to read our booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest for a more complete overview of this important subject.

Ranchers and Dairymen and the Sabbath

Dear Member,

You asked about ranchers and dairymen and the observance of the Sabbath. As in all cases dealing with Sabbath observance, we must look to the Scriptures for the applicable principles. The Bible does address the issue of the Sabbath and work.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11).

In this reference, even the cattle one owns are not to work. Of course in the society of that day, animals were the primary means of doing work since there were no pieces of modern machinery. According to the commandment all work was to cease when the Sabbath began as the sun set on the sixth day.

The Sabbath was never considered a day of fasting and is actually listed among the festivals in Leviticus 23 (of course, the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting, is listed here as well). If we are not required to fast on the Sabbath, neither should our animals be required to fast on the Sabbath. Whatever work would be required to feed and water your animals would be appropriate on the Sabbath, but one should not be using his animals for work on the Sabbath—plowing a field, etc. Christ made reference to this principle in the New Testament.

"The Lord then answered him and said, 'Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?'" (Luke 13:15).

In the case of dairy cattle, it would not be wrong, applying this principle, to relieve the animals by milking them on the Sabbath. Different dairymen may choose to do differently. Some milk late on Friday and then don't milk again until after the Sabbath on Saturday evening. Others milk on Sabbath morning. The actual practice can be worked out as to what is best in each individual case.

Thank you for your question. We hope this helps.

Caregivers and the Sabbath

Dear Member,

You asked about people working in the medical field who keep the Sabbath.

Sometimes people wonder if these occupations illustrate that the Sabbath cannot be kept in the modern world. Actually, there are many people working in various facets of the medical profession who are Sabbath keepers. They simply schedule their time off to coincide with the Sabbath, just as people in other lines of work do.

Another line of reasoning presented in this regard is that people working in the medical profession are "doing good on the Sabbath" and are therefore exempt from the law. It is certainly right and proper to do good for others on the Sabbath.

However, if someone's occupation, his (or her) way of earning a living, is in a medical profession, then he is paid for the work that he does. That is, it is a job, not a charitable contribution.

One type of job about which you asked was "caregivers." If you mean by this people who hire themselves out as practical nurses, then this occupation is covered by the above. If, however, you are referring to people who own a care home, other principles apply. There are certain routine chores that would need to be done on the Sabbath in these homes, just as in a private home. Some examples of routine chores would be meal preparation and clean-up, as well as making beds; however, we recommend that these activities be kept to a minimum.

By comparison, the farmer in ancient Israel would need to feed his livestock on the Sabbaths. He would not, however, plow or plant a field—that is, undertake work that could and should be done on other days of the week.

The two principles that guide us about the Sabbath are that it is a day on which we congregate with others in God's Church to worship Him, and that it is a day on which we rest from our regular work.

Have you had an opportunity to read our booklet titled Sunset to Sunset—God's Sabbath Rest? It examines and explains what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath, as well as how today's Christian can observe it. You can order a copy of this booklet from this office or through our Web site at www.ucg.org.

Business Owners and the Sabbath

Dear Member,

You asked whether it was proper for a Church member who owns a business to hire employees for his business to work on the Sabbath and/or the Holy Days.

God commands us to keep the Sabbath day holy. We are to labor and do all of our work in six days, "but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God" (Exodus 20:10). God instructs us not to work, breaking down His instruction into details: "In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you" (Deuteronomy 5:14). Running a business on the Sabbath, even if you as the owner do not work on that day, creates several problems for a Christian.

In light of God's law, as a business owner we should not employ people to work on the Sabbath and/or the Holy Days. In addition to the reference above in Deuteronomy, Exodus 20:10 gives instruction to the people of God that neither "you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates" should work on the Sabbath.

If one is to be diligent regarding his servants and even strangers, then the same principle could be applied to employees. The issue is one of control. In the case of servants or family members living in the home and under the control of the owner or head of the family, it was expected that they would keep the Sabbath. In the case of a business owned by a Christian, where the Christian has the controlling interest in the business, the same principles would apply. It would be inconsistent to believe in the Sabbath and observe the Sabbath, but keep a business that you own open on the Sabbath. This is certainly not being a light to the world (Matthew 5:14). If you believe that the Sabbath is truly a holy day, then you should not open a business you own on the Sabbath.

Due to your ownership and your position as an employer, you would be the responsible party in a business that operates seven days a week and therefore on the Sabbath and Holy Days. Since it is the view of the Church that this would be a violation of God's law, a Christian should not be involved in such business ventures unless he is willing to close on the Sabbath and Holy Days. We realize that ownership may not give absolute control in all situations. If you have any questions, we would advise you to seek further clarification before making a decision to buy or sell a business of this nature. UN

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  • Paul Carmichael

    I'm a member of the health profession and I have always been able to arrange my schedule around the Sabbath. Most areas have flexibility in scheduling or PRN arrangements that even allow you to set your own hours. However, the demand for our services is non-stop, seven days a week. So, you may encounter managers, trying to fill shifts, who aren't always sympathetic to our faith. I've had some rather contentious moments with a new manager who was demanding I fill a slot or coverage on the Sabbath. But I stood firm and God worked it out for me. One of the stickiest questions in my mind is what to do when called in after another member of the staff fails to show up or calls in sick. I wouldn't fill an entire shift, of course, but would performing an emergency exam (off the clock) be violating the Sabbath in letter or spirit? The pressure to do so is amplified when you work at a smaller facility where the depth of staffing is limited or non-existent. The other side of the coin is: after performing such an act of mercy, you've set a precedent for yourself and others that may be impossible to reverse. I have found it is best to be very clear about your availability when you are hired and let the burden of staffing fall upon the care facility.

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