To Work or not to Work on the Seventh Day of the Week
by Ernie Klassek
"The Tommies would be different."
Those were my thoughts when I looked at the English calendar,
which had the week beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday. That was in
1952, on my first day at a British army depot in
Wanting to know more, I compared the calendars we use in
western civilisation. Some featured Sunday-and its
equivalent in other European languages-as the seventh day of the week. Others,
mainly in the remnants of the
In twenty-first century
After the war, late in 1945, I met for the first time a
Christian who observed the same Sabbath as the Jews. She was American and a
Seventh-Day Baptist. While waiting for some red tape to enable her to return to
During the war, when the American lady was in a German
internment camp, friends in
Has Time Been Lost?
Some say it has and that much has happened in the way we measure time since the New Testament was written almost 2000 years ago. Yet in its pages we read about the people whom God entrusted with His words, which include the Sabbath (
But there are other indicators as well. Many European languages have retained relevant clues.
The English days of the week are no help because they are
all named after pagan gods, goddesses and heavenly bodies. So are the German
days, except three. Wednesday is Mittwoch; it
means midweek, and as such it fits perfectly-and perhaps ironically-into the
English calendar rather than the German. One German word for Saturday is Samstag, derived from Sabenstag,
an old form of Sabbats-Tag meaning Sabbath-day. (I
remember Sonnabend as another word for
Saturday in northern
The Ukrainian word for Wednesday is Sereda, from Seredana, which means centre, or middle, where it belongs, in the middle of the week. Subota is Ukrainian for Saturday; it means Sabbath.
French for Saturday is samedi, a contraction of the old Latin sambati dies, also meaning Sabbath-day. As the Spanish sábado, the equivalents for Sabbath in other Romance languages also stand for Saturday.
The Greeks number their days. The Greek word for Monday means second, Tuesday means third, and so on until we get to Friday, which means preparation-preparation for the day that follows, Savvaton, the Sabbath.
Before the Jews did, who made sure that the Sabbath was perpetuated?
God had scattered people by confusing their common language, thus giving rise to many new languages. Has there always been a Sabbath, though it doesn't get a direct mention as a noun in Genesis 2:2-3? If there was a Sabbath, didn't there have to be Sabbath-keepers?
We may not find answers to those questions in this day and age, but our curiosity remains.
My Upbringing and Religion
For 30 years from my early childhood, I knew about God and things to do with God, nothing more. During that time, I learned that His rule book was the Bible and that Gutenberg had printed it as a first, in Latin. There was never a Bible in my parents' household, yet years later I realised that many memorable things my father had said were quotations from that book. He must have read at least portions of it earlier in his life, unless he remembered what others had quoted.
My parents would not allow me to be in lessons on religious instruction at school. For one hour every week, a Catholic priest would take some of the boys to another classroom, and a Lutheran pastor would instruct the rest. A little brown Gypsy, a pale Jewish boy and I had to take an assignment each and sit quietly in the corridor. As a kid hungry for knowledge, and from sheer curiosity, I would read the Catholic boys' catechisms and the Bible story books of the Lutherans. German-speaking people called them Evangelische.
I also learned much from our Jewish neighbours: their Sabbaths and other solemn days, their dietary habits and their matzos, as well as their Feast of Tabernacles, which they called Laubhüttenfest, a beautiful word that translates into "feast of huts made of leafy boughs, or foliage."
At age 22, I migrated to
In December 1959 I was given Australian citizenship, along with about 20 others, all Dutchmen. After the naturalisation ceremony, a senator and his assistant were handing out Bibles. They asked each one of us: "Protestant or Catholic?" Depending on the reply, they handed the new citizen a King James Bible or a Knox Version New Testament. When my turn came, I said nothing, so they gave me a King James Bible anyway.
Back in our weatherboard humpy in the bush, I began to read that Bible by a kerosene lamp in the evenings. Apart from the seventeenth century English with its gripping poetry and powerful prose, I didn't like what I was reading, but I persevered, and gradually much of what I had learned and heard in the past came together, as if someone had thrown a switch in my mind to help me understand.
Domna, who had been my Greek penfriend for two years and was then my wife of thirteen months, remembers how I would put the little black Bible on the shelf in disgust, only to retrieve it and read in it again the next evening. John, our firstborn, was a few weeks old at the time.
One day two men knocked on our back door. They wanted to
give me some booklets, but I told them to go away. They smelled of burnt sulphur. Little did they know, poor fellows, that years ago, in a deeply Catholic city in
"The Plain Truth" and Some Booklets
In my job as a clerk on the waterfront-an all male environment-I was among staunch Laborites, a few lukewarm Communists, but also some conservatives. There were atheists, agnostics, fellows who called themselves Callithumpians (of vague religious beliefs) and a handful of churchgoers, who would not work on day shift Sundays.
Of the 360 wharfies in the
Not even writers find it easy to become "all things to all men" (I Cor. ). The Plain Truth was all American, yet I found many articles attention-getting in an almost cosmopolitan way. When I say almost, I remember that one clerk told me one day: "If they didn't print so many words in bold letters, I would subscribe to that magazine." Quite a statement for a Scotsman. He knew the Plain Truth was free. So were the booklets advertised in its pages.
Eventually I got a subscription, and from then on I requested every booklet on offer.
Tithing and the Sabbaths
You never know what God does next. I give Him the credit, because no one else could have turned an irreligious, happy-go-lucky fellow like me first into a Coworker and then into a Sabbatarian.
It was either a booklet or an article that dealt with
tithing. Its message was straightforward: God made everything, keeps everything
going and also gives us everything, food, clothing, shelter and every breath we
take. Moreover, ten percent of everything we earn or produce belong to Him
(Gen. 14:20; 28:22; Lev. 27:30; Matt. ;
Luke ). It made sense. After
all, I had landed in
How I arrived at the sum of 36 pounds as tithe I don’t
remember, but I do recall that it was a lot of money in those days. By that
time I even had a car, and I drove into town to drop the money off at the home
of the vicar who looked after the community in our area. As soon as I stopped
the car, I thought: "He didn't tell me about tithing. Those people at
From then on I regularly put ten percent of my weekly wages to one side. We didn't miss it. Domna was a genius at housekeeping-a Proverbs 31 woman to be exact-and with the produce from her garden, our own milk, butter, eggs and often our own meat we had more food than we could eat1-unlike the European era we had left behind. Domna was also the most level-headed wife any husband could wish for. As soon as electricity came to our corner of the bush, some high-pressure salesmen tried to sell her a TV set. It got poor reception down there in our gully, and they got more than a cool reception from her. She told them to take that thing away, and with the money they wanted for it we could buy a chainsaw. We did. Until then, we only had bundles of dry sticks for cooking and heating.
Christine was our second child, and when she and John were old enough we sent them to Sunday school at a little bush church for a while.
Sunday bothered me; I could find no reference to it in the Bible. A fellow who had bought a Greek New Testament at a sale found he had no use for it, so he gave it to me. I could read enough Greek to see that "the first day of the week" was not a satisfactory rendering of the Greek text. Translators are human. They had translated the Greek for Passover into "Easter" in the old King James Version (Acts 12:4). Later I came across more variants.
Gradually, everything I remembered learning from the American lady in 1945 plus what I gleaned from Plain Truth literature began to add up. The churches in the New Testament were Sabbatarian, and that Radio Church of God seemed to be more like them than any other I knew of.
Just how similar the early church was to that modern one-or
vice versa-became even more evident when I began to understand the annual
Sabbaths I had learned about in our Jewish neighbourhood
From understanding the Sabbaths to keeping them was quite a step. On the waterfront everybody was meant to be available for work seven days a week. In the 1960s, American ships in particular had a habit of arriving in Burnie on Fridays, work the Friday and Friday evening shifts, the Saturday morning shift-Saturday afternoon was sports day for the wharfies and hence sacred to them-and finally the Sunday and Sunday evening shifts. Clerks would often work on all those shifts. How would I keep the weekly Sabbath to begin with?
I began keeping the Sabbath in a clandestine manner, on the wharves anyway. After my fellow clerks had chosen me as roster clerk, it was my job to allocate every one of us to shifts taken in turns. I used a points system, which ensured that by the end of the financial year each one had earned a similar amount of money. When it was my turn to work on a Friday evening or on a Saturday, I would allocate someone else to those shifts. Naturally, my yearly earnings were much lower than those of my fellow clerks, but I never told them, and they didn't bother to find out. When in due course they did, and why, they thought I was an eccentric if not altogether crazy. In the end they didn't mind at all; it meant more money in their pockets. Someone like me was not unpopular after all.
On our little bush property I simply didn't cut firewood or do any other heavy work on a Saturday. I would leave all that for a Sunday or a weekday when I was not required on the wharves.
There had been times when I had to work in another port for seven or eight days in a row. Every day, I would leave home at in the morning and return at . I would barely have a chance to talk to Domna, and I wouldn't see our children at all. Those times of virtual slavery came to an end when I stopped making big money-much of it for the taxation department-and began to spend time God's way.
The Sabbath turned out to be a blessing. I had a guaranteed twenty four hours every weekend when I could devote all my time to my wife and children. How could I love them without spending time with them; how could I love God and not spend time with Him. Our John still remembers how we would go for walks in the bush every Sabbath, and I would explain to him that God created everything.
The Shipping Companies and I
The clerks had got used to my way of doing things. Some of the wharfies were shaking their heads in disbelief, others showed degrees of respect for someone who lived by what he believed. The few churchgoers, who wouldn’t work on day shift Sundays, told me I had the wrong day, but apart from that they were on my side.
It was very different when one Saturday morning a shipping boss found out. He spotted a clerk from another port-for whom he had to pay travelling time-on one of his ships. Someone told him that Ernie didn't work on Saturdays because of his religion. The boss immediately told the clerks' delegate: "Ernie is finished." The delegate was not scared of bosses, and that one was just another boss. He looked him in the eyes and said: "You leave Ernie alone, he is entitled to his beliefs."
The boss made sure I lost all my entitlements, but he couldn't sack me. The unions stuck up for me and insisted that I work on the wharves until the matter could be settled at a meeting between the unions and the companies.
That was in the time leading up to the Feast of Tabernacles in 1968, but the meeting did not take place till just prior to the Passover in 1969.
A couple of years earlier and in my own way, I had begun to keep the annual Sabbaths and Feasts as well. I would keep our children at home on the Holy Days and spend some of the time reading and studying the Bible with them. The school authorities were very good about it all.
A Momentous Day in My Life
In 1967, I had sent a letter to the
To make it easier for our children to attend school, we had bought
a weatherboard house on a one acre block at the edge of town. We still had the
little old farm in the bush. Late in 1968, we received a letter from the
It was a Sunday. A dark green Valiant with mainland number plates pulled up in front of our house. First to get out was a tall young man, then a small woman and a little girl. They were Americans, and the man was a minister. We invited them into our lounge, and the minister and I talked for about three hours. Domna was sewing, and our-by then four-children stood or sat quietly by. The minister commented on how well mannered our children were. Every time I asked John to get another version of the Bible, he would promptly take it off the shelf.
When I brought up the doctrine about baptism, the minister surprised me by saying: "I'll baptise you." Though our house was about two hundred yards from the seashore, I felt it would be too public down there, so we drove to our farm in convoy, our family of six in the VW beetle in front chugging away on three cylinders.
It was one of those calm and sunny Tasmanian summer days, of a rare beauty I have not seen anywhere else. The minister and I waded into the dam at the bottom of our gully, and when I came up out of the water, he placed his hands on my head and prayed. I felt as if a heavy load had been taken from me, and when I ran up to a shed to put on some dry clothes-I am sure to this day-my feet were barely touching the ground. I didn't know much about salvation, but the joy of it was already there.
Back at the farm gate the minister asked whether he could baptise someone else in our dam-so there were others like
me in our area! Then he gave us his
Later we found out that he baptised an elderly lady in our dam on the following day. As they walked past the old cottage, the lady was frightened when she saw a six foot tiger snake warming itself in the sunshine on the step to the back door. The minister told her that the snake was there to discourage anyone from entering the house uninvited.
A Big Blue
A "blue" is an Australian colloquialism for a fight or a dispute. On the Burnie wharf in 1969, it was a big one, and it came after much to and fro between the shipping companies and the unions. The bosses maintained that I didn't exist-mind you, while I was still working on the wharves and on the payroll like everybody else-and the unions insisted that I be reinstated with full entitlements as before. In March, the unions demanded a final meeting with the companies. The companies refused.
I had been happy enough despite all that was going on. I was still earning a living. I had also learned to pray. At a crucial moment during the stalemate I said to God: "If you want me to stay on the waterfront, you'll have to do something about it." God did do something about it. Wharfies would normally not go on strike for a member of another union. That day they did. As they walked off the ships, they said to me: "Good on you Ernie, we don't mind taking the day off for you."
The bosses had eight ships in port lying idle. The shipping
Domna was worried. On top of all
the trouble, our two and a half year old Helen had become seriously ill. Before
taking her to a doctor, we decided to ask God to heal her. I had read what
James, apparently a brother of Jesus, had written about healing (James -15) and also a booklet on the subject. So
I rang the minister in
The prayer of faith shall save the sick.
Two key words: prayer and faith. That afternoon, the shipping companies backed down and reinstated me as a full-time clerk.
In times of trials, we may think it's hard for us. God knows, and as His disciples we are forever learning. Our thankfulness towards Him deepens, too.
God is always way ahead of us. While we are still feeling low, He has already worked out ways to lift us up again, and there is nothing more encouraging than seeing Him call our loved ones.
During that time of trouble on the waterfront, God had called my mother. She quickly became one of His most enthusiastic disciples, and she remained as one until her death eighteen years later.
Domna had been an onlooker. One
day a wharfie, a deacon in the
Domna and my mother were baptised during the Feast of Tabernacles in Blackheath in 1969.
Also that year, two wharfies began keeping the Sabbath and never got into trouble with the shipping companies, who probably didn't want another blue on the waterfront. In midwinter, when the sun sets at a quarter to five on the Apple Isle, three of us would walk off the wharf as the sun was setting on Friday, and all our mates who could see us from the ships' decks would shout in unison: "The sun is going down! Hurry up or you’ll never get to heaven!"
What about those 15 minutes till ? The wharfies didn’t mind doing the work for their two mates who walked off the wharf with me. Though I never asked anyone to help me out, one of the clerks would say to me at twenty to five: "You better get going, I’ll do the job for you." Nothing is too hard for God; He can use good old Australian mateship, too.
Another sequel to the wharf drama came twelve years later. One Thursday, when I collected my weekly pay in a small brown envelope as usual, the paymaster handed me a cheque for $9000 as well. When I asked him what it was for, he said I would have to contact the big boss at the head office. On the phone, the boss reminded me that twelve years earlier I had been deprived of all entitlements. Head office had kept a record of them, added the interest accrued over the years, and it all came to $9000.
I could hardly believe it. Shipping companies just don't do that sort of thing as a rule, but there it was, and I could only thank God. It seemed that God never forgets His people, and He made sure I got that money at a time when I needed it most, during a third tithe year (Deut. -29).
Since that Saturday in 1968, when the delegate had
confronted the boss on my behalf, that boss had tried every trick in the trade
year after year to get rid of me, and always without success. One night he was
taken to a
When the remaining bosses of that era had either retired or died, the wharfies sang a ditty: "All the bosses are now gone, and Ernie is still here." And the refrain? The same all over again.
When my generation of old-timers retired from the waterfront in 1992, the new recruits had to sign an agreement to be available for work seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. It is technically out of step with a section of the Australian constitution, but I have not heard of anybody taking it up with the shipping companies. Neither Sabbatarians nor Sunday-observers can work on the waterfront these days. That precious Saturday afternoon for sports is gone, too.
The Church in
It would have been May or June 1969 when we received a letter from the minister in
There were-as we found out on that memorable Sabbath-117 of us, from just about every corner of the island.
From that time on, Sabbath services were held at that hall
once a month, with a visiting minister from
The Feast of Trumpets in 1972 happened to coincide with a Royal visit to Launceston. In our lunch break after the morning service, we all walked down to the corner of Cameron street and Tamar street, and lo and behold, there was a gap in the crowd just wide enough and right on time for us to get a prime view of the Royals-the Queen, Prince Charles and others plus their entourage-in their open limousines as they slowly turned the corner.
Eventually, a minister came to live in
We had fortnightly services in Burnie
from St Patrick's Day,
Total weekly attendance for the three congregations was 260
in those days, and because
In many ways-and with few exceptions-we Tasmanians were a
cheerfully independent bunch. A new minister, after a couple of months settling
in, began his sermon one Sabbath: "You are a funny lot. Nobody ever rings
me here. In
Those who had been to Feast sites or had attended church services on the mainland knew what he meant: besides ringing their minister about every little problem, people would stand in long queues after Sabbath services for a chance to talk or ask about what to do, when, how and where.
That new minister and his wife were not conversant with Tasmanian fauna. They didn't know what to make of a family in the bush who told them that the big black dog under their house had to keep the devils away during the night because they made so much noise.
One visiting minister known for his sense of humour once called
Of course he knew that we were far removed from
Like many of our brethren around the world, we did voluntary work like hall set-up and clean-up on the Sabbath. The fellows on song leading, or giving sermonettes and sermons could hardly call a Sabbath a day of rest, especially when some of the preparation had to be done on a Friday night. Many of us used to drive hundreds of miles to and from venues and maybe top up our petrol tanks on the way home. Few orthodox Jews, and certainly no Hasidim, would have been happy with that kind of Sabbath observance.
We took Solomon's repeated advice literal: "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour," and we drove hundreds of miles to get together for "our Saturday nights." One "black-and-white-night," Domna dressed in Greek national costume and I in the garb of an orthodox Jew. On our chests we had a tag each: `Romans ,' and when everybody asked what the verse said, we told them: "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek." Many an outsider labelled us as "gluttonous and winebibbers," and not without reason. At the Devonport Spokesman's Club we would go through several flagons of sweet sherry and port every year. I knew, because I was sergeant-at-arms. As soon as the women and children had retired to their tents one night at a camp-out at the top end of the Mersey River, the fellows sat around a fire out under the stars and polished off a flagon of Green Ginger wine to keep warm inside and out, because the nights up there were cold even in summer. Yes, our minister was enjoying it, too. Best Bible study we ever had.
One day a wharfie said to me: "Can I ask you a question about your church?" I said yes, and he went on: "Are you allowed to have a drink?" When I said yes again, he said: "I saw one of your mates at the pub having a few beers with the boys last night."
Some of us were kept busy monitoring World Tomorrow broadcasts at such prime times as and , six evenings a week on four radio stations. We had news stands, large and small, at news agencies, shops and airports where people could pick up a Plain Truth. Later, the telecasts could be viewed all over the island. When people moved into a house, it was not uncommon that they should find stacks of our church literature left behind by the previous tenants.
Our John enjoyed his job as a mechanic at a service station near our home. One Friday, as he walked out of the workshop right on sunset, the manager's son arrived just in time to take over. On Monday morning, the manager told John he was finished; he should not have left the workshop when he did. A few weeks later, the manager came to our place and asked John to work for him again. He had been unable to find a young fellow who could do the job as well as John. God was showing our youngsters what He could do when they put Him and His Sabbath first.
1995-The Fateful Year
By 1991, almost all the Klassek clan had moved to
On a Sabbath in January 1995 we saw a video, largely about a view of the New Covenant. If I remember correctly, it went for about 90 minutes. After the service, some elderly ladies in the front row were very upset. When they asked me what I thought, I said that much of what we heard tied in with what Herbert Armstrong had preached for years. I went on to say that we never had been an Old Covenant church, and nothing like orthodox Jewry. The elderly ladies remained loyal to the church.
Over the months and years, many brethren went to various factions, which had been around for a while, or to others that seemed to have sprung up overnight. Several went shopping around among diverse fellowships.
Some of those who stayed in the church began to say things
like: "It’s all right to eat anything now, it's
all right to work on the Sabbath." The rest saw no need for change on
those matters. If God had wanted the best for His ancient people
A Sabbath for Everybody
With the Sabbath God had shown me His goodness. He had become real to me. In His own hands-on way-first through tithing and then through Sabbath-keeping and prayer-He had taught me to rely on Him, to live by faith. God was talking to me, and I was talking to Him. To put it in the Aussie vernacular: me and Him, we are mates now.
Though my mother's maiden name was Jewish, it didn't matter
to God whether I was a Jew or a Gentile. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for
man. He used ‘man’ as generic for mankind; all people on earth could benefit
from keeping the Sabbath. At the moment, only a few do. It was the same in the
days of ancient
People's welfare doesn't mean a thing to the world’s industrialists. They want everybody to work seven days a week. The rich have long had their way with Christendom, too: an hour or so at church on Sunday morning, then back to work. In this post-modern age, even an hour or so is fast disappearing, and if it’s not swallowed up by work, then by pastimes.
Not all Christians know about the Sabbath. Many are led to believe that Sunday is the Sabbath. Not many Christians are aware of the annual Sabbaths, also called Holy Days. Christianity at large celebrates times called Easter and Christmas in English speaking countries and known by other names in others. Both are heavily commercialised nowadays and have lost all likeness of Christian celebrations.
One annual Sabbath has always fascinated me: Pentecost. Much of Christendom observes it, and it has never been polluted by the world's commercialism.
Coming-A Global Economy?
If the developments of the present are any indication of the future, we could have a global economy sooner than we think. A time of so-called peace all over the world. A time when everything is standardised: a world currency, work practices, you name it, maybe even a standard week consisting of seven working days. People who want to take time off to worship together may have to sneak it in as best they can.
I have often wondered why the translators of the old King James Version have listed slaves among the merchandise of the weeping and mourning merchants (Revelation 18:11-13). The Greek has "bodies,"3 but then a slave means nothing more than a human body to multi-billionaires, or as we say nowadays: you are just a number.
What about Sabbath-keepers?
When the Son of Man Comes, Will He Find Faith on the Earth?
It would be easy to go with the flow, keep your head down, be like everybody else. Christians won't be; they stand out wherever they are, by just the way they are-to quote Jesus-as lights and as the salt of the earth. There are a variety of Christians, so they will be conspicuous in various ways, and some more than others. Life won't be easy. Yet all who are persecuted have one thing in common: they pray.
Jesus said: "And will God not bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8, NIV)
It takes faith to be Christians of any kind (Eph. 2:8; Acts ; Rev. 14:12). It takes faith to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and keep the Sabbath as He did. Those who do have long known that they find rest in Jesus (Matt. ).
Who knows? It may take the Messiah, the returning Jesus Christ, to liberate mankind from a seven days a week system of slavery and restore the Sabbath, the day of rest.
Three cheers for Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, who initiated it, blessed it, made it holy and kept it alive throughout the ages to this day.
Editor's Note: Articles by Ernie Klassek regularly appear in Life Today: A Perspective, a publication of the Worldwide Church of God in
gave me her first child endowment cheque of 10 pounds
so that I could buy a rifle, because there were so many snakes, rabbits and
native hens on our property. For many years she milked a goat and later a cow, and she reared a calf every year. She would walk to the
sales yard on a Tuesday, buy a beast for slaughter at
the nearby abattoirs, or a pen of half a dozen sheep, which I had to cart back
to our place on a trailer. They grazed in our paddock until we needed more
meat. She also made soap from the fat of the animals we slaughtered. She had a
go at tanning hides and sheep skins. She was one of the first to plant grape
(The above events are not in exact chronological order. I wrote them as they came to mind.)
2The Launceston Examiner,
3The Vulgate has manicipiorum, which is the genitive plural of manicipium, a formally purchased property such as a slave. Even in antiquity, slaves were paid wages, which they could save to eventually buy their freedom (Exodus 21:2; Philemon 8-21). In twenty-first century western civilisation, an employer does not purchase an employee, but by means of an agreement he can tie him to certain conditions as to where, how and when he wants him to work for him. In that sense, your employer "owns you."
File translated from