The purpose of the Church’s recent emphasis on Sabbath Observance is to help Latter-day Saints living in an age of doubt and fear increase faith in their Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, said several General Authorities during a recent Church News roundtable discussion.
“This emphasis is about increasing faith,” said Elder Anthony D. Perkins.
During the past eight months, Church leaders have urged Latter-day Saints around the world to improve their observance of the Sabbath day.
Training on improving Sabbath day worship and gospel learning in homes was given to General Authorities, Area Seventies and General Auxiliary Presidencies during the week of last April’s general conference. That training was then extended to local congregations throughout the year.
“We all need more faith,” said Elder Kim B. Clark. “The Brethren are looking ahead and they see what is coming.”
Elder Perkins, executive director of the Communication Services Committee, and Elder Clark, commissioner of Church Education, joined other General Authority Seventies and one member of the Presiding Bishopric on Dec. 15 to discuss Sabbath observance.
Also participating in the roundtable were Elder Robert C. Gay, chairman of the Perpetual Education Fund; Elder Von G. Keetch, executive director of Church Public Affairs; Elder Larry R. Lawrence, assistant executive director of the Priesthood and Family Department; Elder Marcus B. Nash, executive director of the Correlation Department; Elder Brent H. Nielson, executive director of the Missionary Department; Elder Allan F. Packer, executive director of the Family History Department; Elder Kent F. Richards, executive director of the Temple Department; and Elder Steven E. Snow, Church Historian; and Bishop Dean M Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
The Church leaders emphasized that now is the time to focus on Sabbath observance — both in the home and in Church services.
Members will need increased faith in years to come, said Elder Nash.
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” 20 years ago, he said, emphasizing its importance today. “I have a feeling that this emphasis on growing faith in the Father and the Son through Sabbath observance is the same. There is faith that must be developed now that we will absolutely need in the years to come.”
Sabbath observance is not just an initiative, added Elder Lawrence. “This is the heart of the gospel, a perpetual covenant.”
Elder Clark quoted Isaiah 58:13-15: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
Elder Clark said Sabbath observance is important because it leads Latter-day Saints to the temple and qualifies them to receive important blessings. “You will delight yourself in the Lord and you will go to His house and you will receive the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant,” he said.
Church members can invite others to better observe the Sabbath day as they teach truth, invite others to act and share the promised blessings, he said.
These blessings, said Bishop Davies, are meaningful to everyone.
Elder Perkins said during the last eight months the 11 Church leaders participating in the roundtable discussion have collectively presided at more than 200 stake conferences and taught the importance of Sabbath observance. People understand, he said, that this principle is increasing faith.
“We are not giving them a list of dos and don’ts,” he said. “We are saying, ‘You have your agency and you have the Holy Ghost.’ That in and of itself builds faith.”
Elder Keetch said he has enjoyed talking with the youth about the importance of the Sabbath day. When youth are asked how they can delight in the Sabbath at home, they come around quickly to what really matters — spending time with family and reaching out and serving others in a meaningful way.
Elder Gay said before the three-hour block, Latter-day Saints did not have time on Sundays for many distractions. Today, he said, members need to get back to the basics and prayerfully seek ways to spend the time they have on Sundays.
“What if we considered the Sabbath day as an offering, a sign to our God?” questioned Elder Nash. “What if we examined our baptismal covenant to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, as a guide for our choices on that day in particular?”
Elder Richards said it is kind of a paradox that in the Old Testament, God’s children were told what they could and could not do on the Sabbath and that members continue to study those scriptures. “Now we are trying to create a sea change — literally a change of how the membership understands self reliance and making choices and exercising their agency,” he said. “We are not giving them lists and we are not giving them specific things to do or not to do.”
Bishop Davies said there is only one element of Sabbath observance that members are commanded to do on Sunday — go to the house of the Lord and “offer up our oblations — our offerings.”
Partaking of the sacrament is an integral part of Sunday worship, he said.
“We would be lacking if we didn’t focus on the sacrament and how it focuses on the Savior and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Elder Packer said what members do on Sunday seems to ripple into the next week. Sabbath observance becomes a seed, which also prepares members to again observe the Sabbath.
Elder Nielson said great blessings have come to countries — like Samoa and Tonga — where not only Latter-day Saints, but everyone, honors the Sabbath day.
“This is a foundation for building righteous families,” Elder Perkins said.
Elder Snow said the topic of Sabbath observance has resonated with Church members.
To help move the initiative forward, several departments in the Church are doing things to help with the initiative. Following are some of these efforts:
Priesthood and Family Department: Elder Lawrence said the Church hopes to have a new curriculum ready for use in January 2017 that will support learning in the home on the Sabbath. In addition, the department is continuing to encourage the use of Church and family councils “to improve the observance of the Sabbath day, both at home and at Church.”
Temple Department: Even though temples are not currently open on Sunday for ordinance work, Latter-day Saints can use the day to prepare to enter the temple, said Elder Richards.
“The message is that temples are for families and they are for individuals,” he explained. “The Sabbath day is a wonderful opportunity for members to focus on families and look forward to temple ordinances for themselves and for their dead.”
Family History Department: Sunday is a wonderful day to do family history work, said Elder Packer. “We have actually been able to see measurable impact of the increase in Sabbath day involvement in family history,” he said, adding that in recent months the department has noted a 22 percent increase of Sunday use of the FamilySearch web site.
In addition, he said, by the end of this year more than 420,000 members will have submitted names they can take to the temple and that an increasing number of temples throughout the world are becoming self-sufficient in temple names (meaning that members of the temple district are providing family name cards for all the work completed in the temple).
Missionary Department: Elder Nielson said there are many missionary-related activities that members can do on the Sabbath.
In addition, he said, mission presidents and their missionaries throughout the world participated in the leadership training on Sabbath observance. Missionaries are now teaching their investigators the importance of the Sabbath day.
Church Educational System: Elder Clark said it is not a coincidence that seminary students around the world this year have studied the Old Testament. “The Old Testament is the prime source for scriptures associated with the Sabbath day,” he said. “Literally, about 400,000 young Latter-day Saints are studying covenants and ordinances in the Old Testament. This has a huge impact because the covenant of the Sabbath they study comes to life in the emphasis on Sabbath day observance.”
Elder Clark has also seen the impact of the Sabbath initiative on the campuses of Church-owned universities. “We have thousands and thousands of young people who have been taught about the Sabbath day in a very powerful way through the videos and the training,” he said. “It really has gotten to the end of the row.”
Church History: Elder Snow said Sunday is a great day to study Church history and learn from the example of early and current Church leaders.
“We have so much online now in stories and journals; a lot of great stories could be part of the family history experience.”
Perpetual Education Fund: Elder Gay said it is important to teach Sabbath observance to members trying to become self-reliant. Great blessings, he added, come through Sabbath observance.
“When we talk about the sacrament, what we want people to understand is that one of the blessings of the sacrament and the ordinance there is not only the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost, but also it is through the ordinances that we have the power of godliness in our lives. If there is any area where we need the power of godliness, it is helping members lift themselves into becoming self-reliant.”
Presiding Bishopric: Sunday is a good time for families to teach and talk about personal self-reliance and to give service to others, said Bishop Davies. “It can be planning, but it can also be execution,” he said explaining that members can visit those who are sick or lonely on Sunday.
In addition, he said, fasting one Sunday a month is “a very important part of building faith and testimony in Christ. We are very interested in people receiving the blessings that come from living the law of the fast on the Sabbath.”
Communication Services Committee: The committee operates LDS.org, Mormon Channel, and various Church social media accounts, said Elder Perkins. Every week these outlets highlight materials to help members better observe the Sabbath day. “These ideas are a supplement to get members talking about it and sharing one with another,” he said.
Public Affairs: Elder Keetch said while most of the Brethren are leading efforts to help Latter-day Saints better observe the Sabbath, Church Public Affairs has “the primary responsibility and great opportunity to watch how it impacts those outside the Church.”
“I have had a number of government officials and religious leaders from other denominations ask me about the emphasis,” he said. “They want to know what is behind it. Sometimes they are curious as to what the Church is hoping to achieve. Sometimes they are even trying to replicate parts of it because they realize how meaningful it can be.”
Quoting the Bible Dictionary, Elder Keetch said the existence of a weekly holy day is a most important safeguard for nations.
“This focus on building faith through observance of the Sabbath day is serving as a witness to the world that revealed religion plays a crucial part in our society and that blessings of peace and faith follow the principles our Father in Heaven has set forth.”
Correlation Department: Elder Nash said the Church’s Correlation Department does not produce materials. “We have more of an oversight role to assure that what is being done is in accordance with the priorities that have been established by the Brethren and by the Lord,” he said. “The objective of this emphasis and this priority is that we observe the Sabbath day to increase our faith in the Father and in the Son.”
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