LifeWay, the Lord’s Day, and the Local Church
When my wife and I first moved to Louisville, I was hired part-time to work a rock-climbing wall at a local mall. It wasn’t the best job, but at the time, it served to help meet the financial needs facing us. One of the most frustrating aspects of the job was that it required me to work on Sundays. I had never had a job where I had to face working on Sundays, and having to miss Sunday morning services to make it to work on time was a reality that I could not live with. In short order, I began looking for another job.
I share this biographical anecdote because this kind of situation is something we should expect from the world who do not worship the Lord, honor the Sabbath, or celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They operate on secular and pragmatic principles, determining what would be best for their business and bring them financial gain in the end. However, as I have come to learn, our own LifeWay is now requiring their employees to work on Sunday for the purpose of completing inventory.
Several weeks ago, I read about LifeWay’s decision to do this, but it didn’t hit home until I got an email from a good friend who told me of his concern. Below is a portion of his email, describing their situation in the local church.
Like many small church pastors, money is tight and we were dead broke after seminary, so my wife took a job at LifeWay in ___________ to help us “make ends meet”. This weekend is inventory for LifeWay and they have chosen to work on Sunday. It seems that the managers (hers is NOT HAPPY) received a letter saying that LifeWay just couldn’t disappoint the “thousands of customers” who are turned away in the past due to inventory. Until this year, previous inventory work was accomplished by closing a few hours early on Saturday so that the employees could attend church on Sunday. Being a pastor’s wife is an extremely difficult calling. My wife is the youth minister (we don’t have any young men…or older for that matter….to handle this), leads a Women’s Bible Study on Tues. evenings, and teaches the Youth Sunday School class. She also makes prospective and member visits with me when possible and cares for our 12 year old son and 13 year old daughter! This is her work schedule for this coming weekend…..Friday working until 9-4; Saturday 3-12 midnight; Sunday (1PM until however late it takes to complete the inventory job). She will miss Sunday evening services, youth meetings and possibly Sunday AM worship. AND…she’s a part time employee!
With his permission, I provide this personal testimony because I believe it speaks for many of the 7,000 employees of the 140 LifeWay stores. As I understand it, the managers of the stores will not be able to attend Sunday morning services, some I presume having responsibilities as Sunday School teachers (of LifeWay curriculum probably), greeters, etc. I began thinking about what has been the Southern Baptist position on the Lord’s Day, so I looked up the confessions spanning from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) to the most recent Baptist Faith and Message (2000). So here are all the excerpts regarding the Lord’s Day.
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.
The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy
Of the Christian Sabbath We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day, or Christian Sabbath; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes, by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.
The Lord’s Day is a Christian institution for regular observance, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, resting from worldly employments and amusements, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
The first day of the week is the Lord’s day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only excepted.
The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted.
Baptist Faith and Message (2000) – * NOTICE THE CHANGES *
The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
From 1646 to 2000 (some 350+ years), the conviction of Christians was the same. However, in the BF&M 2000, the article changed. Here’s the difference:
” . . . by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted”
“Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Now why did I provide all this historical information? I did this because Southern Baptists come from a strong historical and confessional background which honors the Lord’s Day. Only until our most recent confession has the language been changed regarding it (I really don’t know what “commensurate with the Christian conscience” exactly means). So there is historical basis. But that is not the only issue regarding this matter.
There is also the biblical, theological, and philosophical aspect of Christians working on Sunday. Suffice it to say, one cannot take lightly what God has spoken so clearly. In recent years, we have seen a renewed emphasis on integrity in church membership, church discipline, and regenerate church membership due to their absence in recent years of Southern Baptist life. I wonder if, in the future, we will see a renewed emphasis on honoring the Lord’s Day as we have come to see it treated in many ways with contempt.
Incidentally enough, Dr. Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay, recently spoke at Southern Seminary a message entitled “LifeWay and the Local Church: A Vision for the Future” (download) and said some things particularly relevant to the discussion. At the beginning of his presentation, he candidly admits to the the peril of LifeWay being seen as a business. He says,
“One of the dangers we have at LifeWay is that we are so focused on being a business that pays our own way that we forget our primary purpose is not revenue production, as necessary as it is, but to do ministry for the benefit of local churches, primarily in the Southern Baptist Convention.” (3:10)
At the heart of his presentation, Rainer addresses the philosophical nature of LifeWay, and I have transcribed a portion of it here.
“Are we a business that does ministry or are we a ministry that is supported by a business? . . . To me, that is critically important because that means our decision making at LifeWay is ultimately going to be determined by the dollar or by ministry. Now we don’t always succeed in that. Because we are self-sustaining and self-supporting, sometimes we act too much like a business. Sometimes we make decisions that a secular corporation should make when we should be making decisions as a Christian organization should make. . . . Are we a business first or a ministry? The answer is self-evident. . . .We are first a ministry, and when we forget that, we have forgotten who we are, forgotten who we serve, and forgotten who owns us. We are first a business that is operated a ministry. Ministry first, business second.” (12:00)
As you can see, Rainer is aware that LifeWay is to be committed to the local church, to ministry and not the dollar. But is this the message people are getting when LifeWay employees are being required to work on Sunday for the purpose of not upsetting their customers (e.g. the dollar) and not allowing their employees to fulfill their responsibilities on Sunday (e.g. the local church)?
Rainer continues by pointing out his greatest challenge.
“Here is the challenge for which I am most passionate–that is the one to be biblical. . . . So what does it mean to be biblical? It means that we acknowledge that there are certain truths upon which there is absolutely no compromise. We begin with the Baptist Faith & Message. . . . I am determined that that it is going to be one of the issues at the forefront of LifeWay.” (18:45)
This is good to hear, but is it not fair to wonder about the credibility of these words when the biblical call to honor the Lord’s Day is being ignored? Has the Lord not said,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
So I conclude by going to my days working in a secular job fighting the frustrations of having to violate the biblical command. I do not think that Christians working in a Christian business should have to deal with such frustration or violate the fourth commandment. After having talked to my pastor friend again, he made me aware that he has recently begun the process of moving the church to become Southern Baptist. Many of the members of the church know little about the SBC, and he is facing opposition in that process. When some of these members don’t find their Sunday School teacher or minister’s wife in church but rather working on Sunday at a Southern Baptist bookstore, what will this say to them about Southern Baptists?
After having heard Dr. Rainer in recent weeks, I have reason to think that this practice of doing inventory on Sundays can change. Let’s pray for him and for the direction of LifeWay in the future, that they would be commited to Lord’s Day as well as the local church.