The Sabbath: A Witness for God
Lyndon Johnston Taylor
As a Seventh-day Adventist musician, my mission is to witness for God. At the time I wrote my position paper ten years ago, I had just made the most important decision anyone can make - to esteem spiritual values above temporal values. For the first time as an adult, I had honestly and gladly chosen Sabbath observance over career advancement. And I was excited about the powerful witness my decision had made evident to my friends. Today as I read that paper, I still resonate with those principles, even though I interpret them quite differently.
None of these friends became Adventists. As some proselytizing Adventists do, I asked myself many questions. What does it say about God if it is impossible for a gifted and trained professional to work in a chosen profession, especially when there are few careers which would never involve work on Sabbath? How did Seventh-day Adventists choose a traditional set of rules for physicians and ministers who must work on Sabbath? Are there similar dogmas for lawyers, congressmen, law enforcement officers, hotel and restaurant workers? If not, why not?
According to Adventist tradition, necessary work, particularly if it has anything to do with church work, is permissible on Sabbath. One of the many Biblical precedents in support of this concept was new to me a few years ago. In Numbers 15:32-36, a man was stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath day. Ellen White comments, "The prohibition was not to extend to the land of Canaan, where the severity of the climate would often render fires a necessity; but in the wilderness, fire was not needed for warmth" (PP409). Jesus broke many Sabbath laws. When accused, He responded, "The Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)
We musicians are often categorized as "ministers" because we are involved in religious worship. Does this mean that any musical activity for religious purposes is appropriate for Sabbath work? Or is it only the necessary work which should be done on Sabbath?
What is necessary work? Is the Sabbath a religious holy day to be shared only with like believers, or is it a spiritual holiday to be shared with the public? Is musical activity in a non-religious setting less appropriate for the Sabbath? Is it possible to minister to God's non-religious people worship or seek spiritual growth in a concert hall? Is the Sabbath a day limited to quiet contemplation or is it also a social recreational holy-day? These questions and many more are faced by Adventist musicians today.
Questions about who God is, who God's people are, and the meaning of the Sabbath impact ethical decision making for Sabbath observance. I perceive a continuum of possible interpretations for Sabbath observance principles. No matter what position I choose on that slippery slope, I can logically criticize that position from both a conservative and a liberal viewpoint. I haven't yet found a comfortable plateau on which I can present an airtight logic for appropriate behavior on Sabbath.
Instead, I find it necessary to choose a practical position which maintains as its goal Sabbath rest and spiritual communion with God. Because music is an important part of the Sabbath experience, I consider it an honorable duty to do whatever is necessary to provide that music on Sabbath. However, even ministers need a Sabbath.
Whenever practical, I choose the quantity and quality of musical activities which allows me to keep growing spiritually. I try to keep Sabbath work to a minimum. I prefer performance activities over rehearsal activities. I prefer spiritually ennobling music over recreational music. The Sabbath lifestyle I have prayerfully chosen with the Spirit's guidance has been dedicated to God. I periodically evaluate the results of my choices in terms of perceived spiritual health, and seek to constantly adapt these choices to my spiritual needs.
Quite frankly, I don't usually have a choice as to what I will or won't do on Sabbath if I want to keep my job. But then I can choose a different job, even if it means leaving the profession of music. Although my Sabbath activities might shock many of you, I find that my Sabbaths are meeting my goals better than in the past. I attribute this perception mainly to the fact that I work less on Sabbath now than I did when I followed a more traditional Adventist musicians' dogma. Now my Sabbath work is less stressful, more enjoyable, and less intrusive than it used to be.
Emphasis on practicality is controversial, particularly when that practicality is influenced by financial and psycho-social needs. Should music ministers who must work hard on Sabbath take a Sabbath at other times during the week? Is it sometimes necessary for Adventist musicians to earn income on Sabbath, just as it was necessary for the Israelites to pick up sticks in Canaan in order to keep warm? Maybe so, maybe not - the slippery slope seems steep.
My present interpretations of Sabbath observance are just that: mine, present, and interpretations. I don't claim to be a role model for other Adventist musicians. Nor do I claim to be an expert theologian or exegete on the Sabbath. But to the best of my ability, I am a witness for God through Sabbath observance. And I pray that my witness will represent God's truth to all.
May God bless each Adventist musician who struggles with Sabbath observance issues. May we keep true to our own convictions and follow the Spirit wherever it leads.
Summer 1994 Newsletters
Lyndon Johnston Taylor is principal Second Violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and professor in violin at La Sierra University. He completed a DMA in violin performance at the Juilliard School of Music.