by David Sisler

“Remember the Sabbath Day,” God commanded Moses. We remember that God commanded, but here in the 21st Century, we are not sure what that means.

For the believer in Jesus Christ, the old ritual of the Sabbath, the last day of the week – actually from 6 p.m. on Friday through 6 p.m. on Saturday – is no longer a day demanded by the Law. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. The moral principles remain, the ritual principles were fulfilled. So to legislate “Blue Laws” and Sunday closings is to miss the point of what the Sabbath means for believers today.

The prophet Amos gave a clear statement of what the Sabbath means in our modern world of merchandise, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

“Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?" – skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat” (Amos 8:4-6).

This passage expresses the impatience of the marketplace: When will the Sabbath be over, when will the things of God be out of the way so that we can get on about the business of making money?

It is an especially sad day, when a major Christian retailer, a seller of Bibles, Christian books and Christian music, announces that it will abandon its historic practice of being closed on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, to more vigorously pursue profit.

On August 24, 2003, Family Christian Stores began opening its outlets on Sunday. The first I heard of it was when I opened our billing statement and found a coupon offering deals which were good during Sunday hours only.

Dave Browne, the President and CEO of Family Christian Stores, wrote an open letter to his customers:

“Family Christian Stores has decided to open on Sunday afternoons after prayerful consideration and seeking the counsel of other respected Christian leaders. We believe that opening on, what has become for many, the primary ministry day of the week is what the Lord would have us do. While we are aware that our decision to open on Sundays invites some debate, we are compelled to follow the ministry mission of Family Christian Stores by providing our guests with Christian resources that meet their needs – especially on the day when they are most often thinking about their spiritual needs.

“We understand that some may question this move. However, we have been personally convicted by several verses that clearly call us to make disciples and reach people regardless of the day of the week.

“Matthew 12:1-14, but in particular, Matthew 12:12 (NIV): ... ‘for it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’

“Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV): ‘Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.’

“Studying this subject also reinforced that we need to support regular times of worship, which is why we will not be open Sunday mornings. We are also committed to and encourage regular times of rest for our staff, and our approach to scheduling will reflect this.

“We look forward to the opportunity to minister to more guests on this day and would ask your prayers and encouragement as we make this change.”

How sad that a store selling materials to honor the Lord and build up his Church (and granted, to make a profit, too) is now staying open on Sunday. The statement that they will be open “between services” is incredibly short-sighted. I predict that the day will come when FCS will be open during all merchandising hours on Sunday. Dave Browne would undoubtedly say, “Not so!” But I wonder how long ago it was that FCS said they would never be open on Sunday?

Forgive my natural cynicism, but Mr. Browne’s statement that he wants to provide his “guests with Christian resources that meet their needs – especially on the day when they are most often thinking about their spiritual needs” rings false. I don’t ever remember, on any Sunday, thinking, “Oh! I wish a Christian bookstore was open so I could buy a Bible!” The real resources that are being met are the FCS’s bottom line.

Browne says they are “called to make disciples ... regardless of the day of the week.” By keeping his company open for business on Sunday, he is not targeting making disciples, he is targeting making sales goals.

Matthew 12:12 does in deed say “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” This new Sunday opening policy is looking forward to doing good for their profit margins.

Bruce Munns, director of retail store operations for LifeWay Christian Stores, said, “LifeWay Christian Stores has never had a practice of opening on Sunday and there is no intention of opening on Sunday across the chain. Even orders which are placed by customers on Sundays through our website are not processed until Monday. We see Sunday as an important day for our employees to spend in church and with their families.”

About 20 years ago, I managed a jewelry store in a local mall, and we were open mall hours, seven days a week. We had monthly meetings of all the managers and we received sales figures for every store. Chick-fil-A, a restaurant that is always closed on Sunday, did in six days what any two of the other food court stores did in seven days combined. They were consistently in the top two or three in sales per square foot in the mall, and frequently they were number one. Those figures remain true today.

Dave Browne, in a company news release, said, “After prayer, study and seeking the counsel of others, it became clear to us that the ministry opportunity of opening on Sundays vastly outweigh the operational preference of the status quo.”

Dan Cathy, son of Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s founder, said, “Being able to be closed on Sunday is a great way in which we can be a good steward. We’re out here in the street corner, maybe a busy mall, and I think our light shines the brightest when the mall is packed out, you can’t find a parking place, go into that food court, and the only place in there that’s closed is Chick-fil-A. To me that’s being a beacon. Even when our lights are physically turned out, I sometimes think that’s when our light shines the brightest. That’s when people see that your values are more important than making money, that people are more important than just making a profit.”

Being open an extra five hours a week may add sales for Family Christian Stores, but it will subtract from their reputation. What seems to be important for Family Christian Stores is sales and making more money. Dan Cathy said, “People are more important than just making a profit.”

Christians are supposed to be different. Dave Browne made the wrong choice. The purpose of a day of rest is to trust the Lord God Almighty to take care of us as we leave the seventh day to his care.


Copyright 2003 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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