The culture of some of the island communities of Scotland’s western fringes is very different from the mainland. Dominated as they are by the Free Presbyterian churches, Sundays for the majority of people living on these islands is truly a day which is set aside for worship and rest.
In recent years however, the values and culture of the mainland have begun to encroach on these communities in a seemingly unstoppable manner.
Despite the best efforts of organisations such as the Lord’s Day Observance Society, the northern isles have lost a series of crucial battles. The winners have been privately-owned businesses with ferries and flights working on Sundays. Some pubs and a petrol station in Stornoway are open and busy on a Sunday, in spite of the dire warnings of some clergy.
Sabbatarians take their authority from the Fourth of the Ten Commandments which states:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it"
As a born again Christian I find this commandment to be eminently sensible. The principle, laid out in the commandment is that we should rest for one day out of every seven. The Bible does not say that the sabbath must be the last or the first day of the week, as the whole idea of weeks is not even mentioned in the scripture. Human beings are simply asked to work for six days, then rest for one.
Despite their setbacks, Christians on the island of Lewis are continuing their campaign to keep the Sabbath. In a paper entitled ‘Fundamentalism and Secularization: The Case of the Isle of Lewis’, the academic, Sebastien Fath explains what motivates Lewis Christians and their leaders to act as they do:
“Their churches still attract people on the basis of a ministry ‘centred on the Bible’ and focused on ‘the clear explanation of the good news that Jesus came into the world to redeem people from sin’. One must say that Lewis churches, although conservative, do not fight democratic values. They do not fight individual choice. They do not fight religious freedom, and freedom of conscience.
What they fight is a worldview in which God is not the first provider of meaning. They fight a worldview exclusively centred on Man. They fight for a world in which religion remains the centre of ordinary life.
Lewis pastors are not shy people... They plead vocally for Christian values in the public place, in and out of isle of Lewis. The Stornoway Gazette is full of public stands taken by pastors on issues like education, creation, sexual purity, pastoral care, families, keeping the sabbath, fighting atheism, etc.
In doing so, they do not always put on silk gloves: commenting on the war on terror, a minister and regular contributor from Back Free Church reminds his readers in an article published in July 2007: “remember that the real war on terror is what God himself engaged in when he sent his innocent Son to die for a fallen world ... In the same article, he claims unashamedly: "I am a Christian radical fundamentalist. I believe the text of the Bible is without error in the original autographs, wholly given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. My whole life and ministry are centred around the true claims of the Person and Work of Jesus of Nazareth. And I am called to proclaim and preach that message into a confused world."
Well done to the ministers of Lewis who are real 21st century heroes.
Let’s pray that the Christian leaders on the mainland will have the same uncompromising courage to take a stand in the public square for a world in which the Living God is the ‘first provider of meaning’ in all things.