Should we bring back Blue Laws to increase our Sunday worship attendance? No, but the thought of it does raise some interesting questions.
What were Blue Laws? Actually there are still some around so “was” is not in every place and every situation the correct word. Recently Baptist News Global published an article entitled Sunday hunting proposal divides churches, gun lobby in North Carolina. This was about a 145 year old Blue Law in North Carolina that prohibits hunting on Sundays.
It appears we can thank the Puritans for Blue Laws. All the way back in the 17th century when they were not just the dominant congregations in an area, but also controlled the government, they passed laws about what could and could not be done on the Christian Sabbath. The laws were about controlling morality and requiring church attendance. They were the product of a theocracy. Separation of church and state was not a priority.
The idea worked so well it ultimately spread throughout the colonies and the states once the USA was formed. State legislatures over the next 200-plus years added to the collection of Blue Laws, so by the 20th century there was very little one could do on Sunday except go to church.
Forced church attendance, or attendance under protest, or attendance because one had little else to do on Sundays did result in sharing the Good News with many people. Likely a certain percentage of these people embraced a Christ-centered faith journey. This might not have happened had they not been in church.
However, it was difficult to teach free grace and the unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ to people who felt forced to be present. Perhaps they embraced Christianity to escape Hell.
Blue Laws have broken down now and exist only in some places about certain issues. Sundays are wide open for whatever a person wants to do with their time. Church attendance is now in a competitive environment and is winning less and less.
Today people go to church because they truly want to worship and praise our Triune God, enjoy the community of the saints, develop themselves and those in their household as Christian disciples, and be mobilized for missional service. What great reasons to go to church!
Are we are now seeing a separation of the Medes from the Persians? Or, are we now seeing a dividing of the wheat from the chaff as in Luke 3:17? Or, do we understand that the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath as in Mark 2:27?
We are definitely seeing a change in the attendance patterns by even the faithful. When I was growing up full annual church attendance was a minimum of 48 Sundays per year. Even when you went on vacation you were asked to bring a bulletin back from the church your attended. Now numerous church leaders are present under 40 Sundays per year.
Sundays are full of other activities. Some are holy and some are not. Interestingly Sunday now offers a variety of opportunities for followers of Jesus to be the presence of Christ wherever there are found. But, I am not sure how many people see it this way and proactively engage in the ministry of holy presence.
Until recent decades it was not acceptable to say you were unaffiliated with a church. Most everyone had some relationship with a church. Perhaps it was back home. No, they do not know who the pastor of the church is right now. But, yes, they are church people.
As the recently released Pew Research Center report entitled America’s Changing Religious Landscape documents, a smaller percentage of American’s feel it necessary to say they are affiliated with a church, synagogue, or mosque. It is all right to say they are unaffiliated and thus fit into the growing category called “Nones”.
One can wonder if Blue Laws would have kept some of these people affiliated. Likely. But what good is it to have their body present if you do not have their heart, soul, mind, and strength?
The absence of Blue Laws produces many changes in the social patterns of Americans. Perhaps one change is that people now define their faithfulness to congregational expressions from a base of commitment, and the significance and meaning of that connection in their lives. They are free to act on how much church they want in their lives. This is different than acting on how much God they want in their lives.
The Puritans would never understand or accept this. Do you?