I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance and not as official statements of Church policy

Should a Latter-day Saint have a job that requires him to work on Sundays?

Steve Gilliland, Director of the LDS Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“We do shift work here, and everyone takes his turn on Sunday shift,” the foreman said. His Latter-day Saint employee, anxious to keep the Sabbath day holy, is also concerned with earning a dependable income. Jobs are scarce. Can he afford to give up his good job in order to honor the Sabbath? Should he even concern himself about it?

For some the question of working on the Sabbath might be simply answered, “If your job requires you to work on the Sabbath, get another job.” But the problem may require deeper analysis.

For instance, there are certain essential services that must be continued on the Sabbath. Those who provide emergency services, such as hospital personnel, ambulance drivers, policemen, and firefighters, must remain on duty all day every day. If the bus and taxi system shut down on Sunday, how would those with no other form of transportation get to Church? And what about those who work in motels, where some travelers must stay to minimize Sunday travel?

Some work must be done on Sunday. And it seems clear that we should not take the position that all such work should be left strictly to nonmembers. We need good Latter-day Saints in all honorable occupations, to influence and to bless those they work with and those they serve.

The question of Sabbath work, then invariably becomes an individual one. Knowing that some Sunday work is not only justified, but also needed, we must ask ourselves, “Is my situation such that Sunday work is unavoidable?”

Even though our decision may affect the lives of many people, the full weight of such a decision is upon the individual. But we needn’t decide alone. The Lord has promised inspiration and guidance in such major decisions.

If you are already in a job that requires Sunday work, you need to ask yourself the following:

Is there an alternative to Sunday work? Can I change my schedule?

If I did not work on Sunday, would it put an unfair burden on other employees? Could we trade Sunday shifts?

If I quit this job, what would happen to my family? Are there other employment possibilities that could keep us secure and yet allow me to participate fully in the Church and obey the Lord’s commandments?

Is there a ward where I can still attend some or all of my Sunday meetings even though I work?

Am I sure I’m not using my job as an excuse for laziness?

Discuss these questions with your spouse or family; and take your answers to the Lord for his counsel.

And if your prayerful decision, accepted by the Lord, is to continue or to enter a career that requires some Sunday work, then follow that course as long as the Spirit directs, forgiving any fellow Saints who, not understanding, might criticize you.

What can be done to continue your spiritual growth even though some Sunday work is required of you? The following suggestions have come from Latter-day Saints who have found them helpful:

1. Begin your Sabbath with a special devotional service. If you are married, include your family. Because of travel or unusual hours, some have begun their Sabbath on Saturday evening.

2. When traveling, read the scriptures or Church-related publications. Individual study of the Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide has been beneficial to many brethren who must miss priesthood meeting.

3. If your work requires much driving or the kind of labor that takes less than maximum concentration, and yet doesn’t let you read, listening to cassette tapes can be very rewarding. Tapes of the general conferences and scriptures are available for loan at most meetinghouse libraries.

4. Dress for the Sabbath, even though you may have to change at work, especially if you are able to attend a nearby sabbath meeting.

5. Seek every opportunity to give extra service, to be extra kind. Avoid the grumpy “I wish I didn’t have to be here today” attitude. Do not be apologetic for being there. Be prayerful and let the Lord guide you to bless those around you.

6. Be a missionary. You aren’t the only person who remembers it is Sunday. Sometimes people are more open to religious discussions on Sunday than other days. Bear testimony.

7. If at all possible, attend as many Church meetings or parts thereof as you can. Sometimes you may have to slip in to meetings in your work clothes just to be there—it would be a shame to miss a meeting because you don’t have time to change.

8. A medical intern has his wife and children come into the hospital for a meal each time he has a Sunday shift and they then spend a few minutes in a corner reading and discussing the gospel. The children review their Sunday School lessons. Seeing their example, other workers, not members of the Church, have begun inviting their families into the hospital to eat together on Sunday. One quiet example is making a difference in many lives.

9. One brother never misses having family prayers on Sunday even when the family has to crowd around with their ears to the phone during the prayer.

10. Spend more time in prayer and meditation on other days of the week.

11. Take time during breaks and idle moments to read the scriptures and mediate. Invite others to read and study the scriptures with you during breaks.

Those who have had to work on Sundays each stated that they really missed the meetings. Some who had once had a habit of complaining about attending meetings said that now they hungered to worship with other Saints. “Just to sit and sing the hymns with the Saints is a special privilege,” said one. “It means a great deal to me to go to all Church meetings now. Even after working twelve hours, I try to find a Latter-day Saint meeting to attend wherever I am.” And some hold special worship services with their families on other days of the week.

These faithful Saints who have tried to have Sabbath experiences each week in spite of Sunday work have caused me to realize that even though I do not work on Sunday I sometimes do not make that day as special and spiritual as I should. They have motivated me to strive harder to do so.

And I wonder if it isn’t the responsibility of those of us who don’t work on Sunday to also help the Sunday workers to have a good Sabbath. Why couldn’t home teachers or friends take notes in priesthood and sacrament meetings to share with them later?

Sunday employment should be avoided, where possible. And when a member of the Church must work on Sunday, he still should do his best to keep the Sabbath. The Lord judges us by the intent of our heart, guides us when we seek his counsel faithfully, and will help us over all the hurdles of life, if we live righteously. The Sabbath, like all the gifts of God, was made for man; and whatever our situation, if we seek his help, the Lord will guide us into ways of partaking of the blessings of the Sabbath.

Why do we observe the Sabbath on Sunday when the biblical Sabbath seems to have been on the seventh day?

Robert J. Matthews, Chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University

The Sabbath has several purposes. It is a holy day specified in the scriptures as a day not only of rest but also of worship. The word sabbath is derived from the Hebrew shabbath, meaning “to break off” or “to desist,” and in this can be seen the idea of rest.

But in the best sense, rest does not mean idleness; it signifies rather a change of emphasis. In plain terms, “keeping the Sabbath day holy” means to cease or to rest from the secular labors of the week and to use the specified day in worshiping God and doing good to our fellow beings. It is a day for spiritual works and refreshment as compared to the secular accomplishments of other days.

When the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking ears of corn on the Sabbath, Jesus explained to the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

“Wherefore the Sabbath was given unto man for a day of rest; and also that man should glorify God, and not that man should not eat;

“For the Son of Man made the Sabbath day, therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” (JST, Mark 2:25–27.)

Not only does this reflect a practical view of the Sabbath, it also illustrates its multiple nature: (1) the Sabbath is for man’s benefit; (2) it is a day of rest; (3) it is a day of worship; and (4) Jesus is the maker of the Sabbath and is the Lord thereof in any age of the world.

Which day is the Sabbath? The Sabbath has eternal significance. The Old Testament declares the Sabbath is to be observed as a “perpetual covenant” (see Ex. 31:13–17) which does not necessarily mean that it should be forever on the same day, but rather that the Sabbath is a covenant for eternity—that is, of eternal significance—and is needed by mortals in every generation for their frequent spiritual rejuvenation. The context of the passage seems to make that point clear. It is evident from the Bible that the sacred day was the seventh day of the week during Old Testament times, whereas in New Testament times the Sabbath day was called the “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) and was observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. In the present dispensation the Lord called the day of worship “my holy day” in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on Sunday, 7 August 1831. (D&C 59:9–10.)

Traditionally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recognized Sunday as the day of worship, according to the pattern given in Doctrine and Covenants section 59. However, in the Middle East today, some branches of the Church observe the Sabbath on days other than Sunday, consistent with the custom of the countries in which they are located. This is necessary so that meetings can be held at a time when the members of the Church can be present.

Since the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath (see Mark 2:23–28) with its purpose not only to be a day of rest for the individual, but also to be a day of spiritual instruction and public worship, it is important that the Sabbath day be observed at a time when the people can attend. The significant fact seems not to be which day is observed so much as how and why the day is observed and that the local group of believers observe the same day each week.

In the Church the matter of Sabbath day observance can be settled quite effectively from the fact that the twelve successive Presidents of the Church from the Prophet Joseph Smith to President Spencer W. Kimball have all seen fit to observe Sunday as the proper day, and have thus set the pattern. The important factor is that the programs of the Church are under the direction of the holy priesthood and have the approval of the President of the Church—the prophet, seer, and revelator, and the Lord’s representative on earth. When rare exceptions to the established day have seemed necessary, as noted above, the proper priesthood authority is able to make the decision.

What benefits do children receive by partaking of the Sacrament before the age of accountability?

Elliot D. Landau, chairman of the Child Committee, Sunday School General Board

Although children under the age of eight “cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (D&C 29:47), it has been the practice of the Church to offer children the sacrament.

Partaking of the sacrament serves to remind worthy individuals (1) to remember the broken body and spilled blood of him who was crucified for the sins of the world, (2) to take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him, and (3) to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44.) Allowing children to participate does not indicate that they have the same needs for repentance as an adult; however, partaking of the sacrament can help teach them to love the Lord and to obey his commandments.

Observation has taught us that growth processes having to do with such things as attitudes, habits, and dispositions begin at a very early age. We are often impressed with the idea that children, in our homes and in Church services, are making a limited but effectual spiritual response to attempts made to motivate them on the level of spirituality. We may also observe that their response to spiritual things often precedes or exceeds their intellectual understanding.

In other words, we may see spiritual responsiveness and growth before a child “begins to become accountable” for his moral choices. His moral innocence does not necessarily imply complete spiritual incapacity. A child may get a feeling about God as he repeats a prayer or hears one. He may think momentarily about Jesus as he is instructed to bow his head and close his eyes—especially if he has been invited to do so just preceding the prayer.

It is especially important that the less tangible religious lessons be given most careful attention and repetition. The sacrament is one of the most important vehicles available to us to do this. Although the attention span is short for young children, the feeling may develop that partaking of the Sacrament is a special occasion, that Jesus is a special person, and that the bread and water somehow relate to him. But becoming accountable is gradual, not sudden, and the more mature idea of making a promise to Jesus and receiving blessings through him may well have—and should have—its beginnings before the age of eight.

In both the Junior Sunday School worship service and the Sacrament meeting, children see their families and their older peers partaking of the sacrament, and this weekly repetition from toddler days to the age of eight helps them to model themselves after these important persons.

Under the above circumstances, partaking of the sacrament may not only start a pattern that will go on in later life, but it may also become a dynamic, vitalizing, and developmental foundation for spiritual growth. Therefore, children partaking of the sacrament when they are emotionally immature and relatively ignorant of the doctrines of salvation is not necessarily an idle gesture. Spirit may speak to spirit, attitudes may generate attitudes. Although children may not get the same thing out of partaking of the sacrament that adults do, they may have some of their important needs met through that ordinance.