Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Plowing on Sunday

The Free Library has placed online "A Rock and a Hard Place" by Nick Kersten of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society. It recounts the particular difficulties seventh day Sabbath observance has sometimes created for those of us with that conviction.
Seventh Day Baptists observe the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11) literally. In addition, they take seriously the prohibition from work, though in keeping with Baptist principles, they leave it to individuals to be convicted on the specifics of observance after careful study and prayer. Seventh Day Baptists worship collectively on the Sabbath (Saturday) and observe the day as a period of rest, consecrated to God. The purpose of this article is not to explore the specifics of Seventh Day Baptist theology, but to understand this basic foundational conviction is necessary in order to understand what follows. Seventh Day Baptists must be kept distinct from other Sabbath observing groups, which perhaps are better known because of their larger size. While Seventh Day Baptists may share some common Sabbath convictions with other denominations, they are the only denomination that also explicitly adheres to Baptist beliefs

For nearly as long as Baptists have searched the scriptures for direction, Sabbath-keepers have been represented in their number. In England, like other Baptists, the Sabbath-observing Baptists suffered various persecutions at the hands of the government and of the religious authorities because of their convictions. In those days, they were also singled out for their Sabbath observance. The experience of Francis Bampfield, an early Seventh Day Baptist leader, was typical of those early English Seventh Day Baptists. He was imprisoned on a nearly yearly basis between 1660 and 1684 for both his Sabbath and Baptist convictions, and he died in Newgate prison. Another Seventh Day Baptist leader, John James, was hung for treason in 1661 because of his political and religious convictions. ....
In the American colonies and the United States, laws intended to enforce Sabbath observance on Sunday punished those who, having rested on the Sabbath [Saturday - the seventh day], worked on Sunday. For example, in Pennsylvania:
.... The Nottingham church suffered greatly as a result of the Sunday laws of 1794, which enforced Sunday as a day of rest. Because of their convictions, these Sabbath-keepers were forced into hardship because of their unwillingness to work on Sabbath and their legal obligations not to work on Sunday. One member of that church, Richard Bond, was selected for jury duty, and when he refused to serve on Friday night and Saturday because of his conscience, the presiding judge labeled him and his congregation as "a set of hypocrites." Many of the Pennsylvania congregations eventually migrated to West Virginia in order avoid the restrictive nature of the Sunday laws. This experience of the Seventh Day Baptists in Pennsylvania was not unique, and none of the Philadelphia area churches survived, although most of the members of those churches did move to places where Sabbath observance was tolerated, including New Jersey and Rhode Island, or to the frontier where laws that challenged Sabbath-keeping were not enforced.

The greatest obstacle faced by Sabbath-keepers in colonial America were the blue laws, which were set forth as early as the 1610s. These laws affirmed both the state and local governments as institutions ordained by God and set out what specifically was demanded of citizens. .... [T]he blue laws enacted in Sabbath-keepers, including article 36 (1686), which read: "That according to the good Example of the Primitive Christians, and for the ease of the Creation, every First Day of the Week called the Lords Day, People shall abstain from their common daily Labour, that they might the better dispose themselves to Worship God according to their Understandings."

Clearly, the freedom to worship in Pennsylvania was first contingent on the acceptance of the First Day as the day of rest, a concession no Seventh Day Baptists could make in good conscience. Because of the existence of blue laws, Pennsylvania remained a difficult place for Sabbath-keepers into the twentieth century, and legal action continued to be brought against those who attempted to work on Sunday.

In 1846, German Seventh Day Baptists at Snow Hill, Pennsylvania, were in their fields on a Sunday working to get their crops in before a storm arrived. The church's neighbors reported a group of "lewd fellows of the baser sort" to the authorities for harassing the Snow Hill church's meetings, and the "lewd" group was punished. In retribution, those same "lewd fellows" reported several church members for their violation of the state's 1794 Sunday law, and the members were arrested. The same neighbors of the church who reported the harassment earlier then counseled the arrested church members to appeal their sentence. The neighbors wrote letters to the judiciary asking for the Seventh Day Baptists to be excused from keeping that portion of the law. The legal battle continued for the next two years until the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania finally decided against the Seventh Day Baptists in Specht v. the Commonwealth, upholding the fine and sentence imposed. In 1848, the Sabbath Recorder reported that three members were again imprisoned under a similar set of circumstances, noting that "Had they been nominal observers of Sunday, they might have been acquitted on the plea of necessity, as provided by the act of 1794. But they were connected with a Society which observes the Sabbath; hence the law is enforced with all its rigor and these three men have paid the penalty of its violation by suffering imprisonment six days." .... [more]
A rock and a hard place: Seventh Day Baptists, religious liberty, Sabbath-keeping, and civil authority. - Free Online Library

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