Never on Sunday?
Germany wrestles with its "store closing law"
by Paul Kieffer
August 1, 1999, was an historic day for Berlin's Alexander Square in what used to be showcase real estate in the center of the former communist city of East Berlin. A symbolic bastion of "West German" capitalism, the Kaufhof department store opened its doors at precisely "high noon" – 12 o'clock. Hundreds of shoppers waiting outside poured into the store and began making their purchases. By the time Kaufhof closed its doors some five hours later, an estimated 50,000 people had visited the store. This historic event had nothing to do with the debut of a new store – this Kaufhof store has been there for several years now. History was made because August 1 was a Sunday!
On the same day over 100,000 shoppers were making their rounds in Leipzig, south of Berlin, as stores in the inner city there also opened on Sunday. Although stores were open only during the afternoon hours, store managers and shop owners reported sales proceeds from Sunday's short shopping spree as much as 20 percent higher than on a normal workday with its longer hours.
For readers in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, this news item might seem a bit strange. After all, Sunday-shopping in many countries is the rule, not the exception. But not here in Germany, where the "Ladenschlußgesetz" ("store closing law"), first enacted in post-war Germany in 1956 and last revised in 1996, prescribes store closings from Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. and on Saturday at 4 p.m. Sunday exceptions generally are permitted only for emergency services (police, ambulance services) and for tourist-related businesses like restaurants, souvenir shops, gas stations and the public transport system.
Kaufhof claimed to abide by the letter of the Ladenschlussgesetz by having cashiers attach "Berlin souvenir" stickers to all items purchased, even though most shoppers were thought to be from Berlin and were shopping on Sunday because it was a novelty, and for some, also more convenient than on a regular workday.
The "Third" Commandment in Today's Business World
The current Ladenschlussgesetz draws its philosophical underpinning from the observance of the "Third" Commandment, as the Ten Commandments are counted in the Catholic and Lutheran churches, Germany's two largest churches. (The Sabbath commandment as the third dates primarily back to Augustine, who combined the First and Second Commandments into one and then split the tenth into two separate ones, both of which prohibit different aspects of covetousness.)
Historical references readily admit that Roman Emperor Constantine declared Sunday, the first day of the week, to be the official Christian day of rest. In a legal sense Sunday is now the "seventh" day of the week, having been introduced as a "German industry standard" ("DIN") January 1, 1976. Calendars printed in Germany show Sunday as the seventh day of the week. (See "First Day of the Week?" below.)
Since 1891 Sunday work in general has been prohibited in Germany by law, although the legislation enacted at the time was probably more a victory for social democratic thought and unionism over capitalism than a victory for perceived biblical righteousness.
In today's Germany a paragraph adapted from the prewar Weimar Constitution provides constitutional status for Sunday as a day of rest from work: "Sunday and state recognized holidays enjoy legal protection as days of rest from work" (paragraph 139). In decisions rendered in 1992 and 1995 Germany's Supreme Court in Karlsruhe confirmed that employers have the constitutional obligation "to protect the rest from work on Sunday and holidays."
However, time doesn't stand still. Today's world is not the world of Constantine or that of medieval European church-state society. Modern Germany is quite different from the patchwork quilt of kingdoms, duchies, etc., that made up "Germany" at the start of the 19th century when the industrial revolution began. The integration of national economic interests into a European community is proceeding according to plan, and the European Union finds itself increasingly challenged by the economic realities of globalization.
To survive in today's economic climate, companies have to be more flexible, service oriented and responsive to the competition. That competition often has its origins beyond a country's own national borders, especially for a country like Germany, which generates approximately a third of its GNP by its exports. The Ladenschlussgesetz can inhibit German competitiveness. A German company, unable to use work shifts on all seven days of the week, may have to compete with a foreign company not subject to the legal requirement to shut down on Sunday.
An earlier revision of the Ladenschlussgesetz in 1994 recognized this negative potential for German industry and authorized exceptions to the Sunday work prohibition. Local officials can approve Sunday work when "competitiveness is reduced unacceptably and the approval of Sunday and holiday work will ensure continued employment." In a global market economy this situation may exist practically anytime, and the Volkswagen Company and one of its major suppliers already have permission to work Sunday shifts.
The last revision of the "store closing law" in 1996 appears in retrospect to have put the first crack in the dike of the Sunday prohibition against work. Weekday store closings until 8 p.m. were authorized (previously 6:30 p.m.), Saturday closings until 4 p.m. (previously 1 p.m.) and on Sunday bakeries were allowed to open for three hours in the morning to provide Germans their beloved fresh rolls ("Brötchen") on the "seventh" day of the week. At the time church officials criticized the decision to allow bakeries to open on Sunday. The Catholic archdiocese of Hildesheim (near Hanover in northern Germany) issued a clear statement emphasizing the validity of the Ten Commandments as a code of conduct and of the "Third" Commandment in particular.
As might be expected, the Sunday store openings in Berlin, Leipzig and two other cities in eastern Germany drew mixed responses. Shoppers and businessmen were delighted; union officials and church representatives voiced concern.
Germany's new President Johannes Rau, son of a Baptist preacher and for many years governor of Germany's most populous state, voiced his opinion that Sunday was not "any old day" and should not be made into a day of "consumption and sales." The chairman of the Lutheran church council in Germany, Manfred Kock, referred to the recent Sunday sales as "dancing around the golden calf." Although not directly related to the current conflict, it is interesting to note last year's 111-page papal epistle "Dies Domini" in which Pope John Paul II admonished Catholic Christians to attend mass on Sunday and avoid all activities incompatible "with the sanctification of Sunday."
For the time being, at least, the work-on-Sunday conflict has been resolved by court injunctions declaring "Never on Sunday." The Kaufhof department store remains closed on Sunday, but it and hundreds of other businesses await the outcome of a bill presented to Germany's Bundesrat (the equivalent of the U.S. Senate, representing the 16 German states) by the city-state of Berlin.
The bill would change the "store closing law" into a "store opening law" and allow stores to be open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Although the bill does not deal directly with the issue of Sunday work, the proposed expansion of business hours is quite substantial and – if passed as law – would represent for many observers a further step toward eventual liberalization of the Sunday work prohibition.
In today's increasingly secular society with declining moral influence from this world's churches, it is difficult to imagine how the European Union – and in particular Germany, which accounts for 30 percent of the combined GNP of the 11 European Monetary Union (Euro) nations – can remain competitive in the global economy without full utilization of Saturday as a regular day of work and at least some liberalization of the Sunday work prohibition that exists in Germany and to a lesser degree in other EU countries.
Would the introduction of Sunday work in Germany change our overall prophetic viewpoint? Not necessarily. First, let's look at some background material that is clear and then proceed from there to possible implications, which may not be so clearly defined in scripture.
God's prophet Daniel recorded a remarkable prophecy in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2. Even modern biblical scholars recognize the prophetic implications of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which gives us a "disclosure of God's plan for the ages till the final triumph of Christ" and "presents the foreordained succession of world powers that are to dominate the Near East till the final victory of the Messiah in the last days" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 7, pages 39, 46).
Without prior knowledge of its content, Daniel explained the details of the dream to Nebuchadnezzar: "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay" (Daniel 2:31-33).
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that his Babylonian Empire was represented by the head of gold (verses 37-38). The silver, bronze, and iron and clay components of the image, or statue, represented three powerful empires that were to follow mighty Babylon (verses 39-40). As confirmed by modern biblical scholarship, Daniel's interpretation, inspired by God, provided an astounding preview of history by presenting, in symbolic form, the sequence of great empires that would dominate the civilized world's political scene for centuries.
"The silver empire was to be Medo-Persia, which began with Cyrus the Great, who conquered Babylon in 539…. This silver empire was supreme in the Near and Middle East for about two centuries" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 7, page 47).
"The bronze empire was the Greco-Macedonian Empire established by Alexander the Great…. The bronze kingdom lasted for about 260 or 300 years before it was supplanted by the fourth kingdom" (ibid.).
"Iron connotes toughness and ruthlessness and describes the Roman Empire that reached its widest extent under the reign of Trajan" A.D. 98-117 (ibid.).
The fourth empire was represented by the lower portion of the image Daniel saw, from the legs downward. Viewing the image "chronologically," so to speak, from top to bottom, the feet and 10 toes would be, in chronological order, the last existing part of the succession of empires that Daniel saw.
Additional aspects of this succession of world-ruling empires were revealed to Daniel in a later dream. This time the four empires were represented by four beasts: a lion, a bear, a leopard and a fourth beast described as "terrible" and unlike the other three (Daniel 7:1-7).
Notice what verse 7 says about this fourth creature: "After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns."
What is the meaning of the 10 horns? The ultimate fulfillment of this part of the prophecy is yet in our future. The 10 horns appear to refer to an end-time federation of 10 kings. This concurs fully with Daniel 2:44, which obviously indicates that the second coming of Christ will occur at a time during which vestiges of the fourth beast, or kingdom, still exist: "And in the days of these kings [the "toes" of the image] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever."
The book of Revelation predicts the same event-with the same participants-that God inspired Daniel to describe: "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:12-14).
Daniel's prophecies in their culmination and Revelation 17 describe the same event: an end-time federation of 10 kings. The 10 kings of Revelation 17, depicted as 10 "horns" (Revelation 17:3 and 12), are part of a beast being ridden by a fallen woman (verses 1 to 4) who is "drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (verse 6).
God's true Church is depicted as a virtuous woman in scripture. A harlot or fallen woman, by contrast, depicts a false religious system: "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (Revelation 17:5). Bear in mind that a rider upon a "beast" usually controls or directs the "beast" upon which the rider is seated.
In Revelation 13 we see two beasts depicted; one of them is able "to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (Revelation 13:7), and the other masquerades "like a lamb," but in reality speaks "like a dragon" (verse 11). This second beast performs miracles (verses 13 and 14), and he "exercises all the authority of the first beast" (verse 12). The second beast of Revelation 13 is a religious power, since it appears like a lamb and works miracles, although in reality it speaks like its actual source, Satan! The fallen woman of Revelation is drunk with the blood of the saints, and the second beast of Revelation 13 uses the power of the first beast of that chapter to force people to worship the first beast (Revelation 13:12).
In addition to forcing people to worship the first beast of Revelation 13, the second beast enforces a sign on the people who refuse to worship the first beast: "He [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:16-17).
The language used – "right hand" [actions or behavior] and "forehead" [mind, thoughts] – is identical to the description God gave His people Israel in the Old Testament to describe what His law should be to them (Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8).
Of all the points of God's spiritual law, the Ten Commandments, the one that is questioned or ignored most frequently is the commandment involving the Sabbath, which God intended to be a special sign for His people (Exodus 31:13). In fact, the Sabbath can be viewed as a test of a person's willingness to be totally subject to God's will for Christians.
(That is not to say the mark of the beast and the sign of Sabbath keeping are similar in all regards. The sign spoken of in Exodus 31:13 is obedience to a commandment – not a literal mark or number. Working on the Sabbath may cause one to receive the mark of the beast.)
In their interpretation of Revelation 13:16-17, some have thought that the religious beast of Revelation 13 would enforce Sunday worship as a counterfeit Sabbath. Although this possibility cannot be ignored or considered to be impossible, enforcement of Sunday worship is not the only possible cause for one to receive the mark of the beast. The "mark" could be enforced by preventing people from obeying God and keeping His Sabbath, rather than by forcing them to observe Sunday as a day of rest and worship. Forcing people to work on the Sabbath causes disobedience just as much as forced Sunday-worship would cause.
In a seven-day-a-week society with no set "weekend" or day of rest, people would work alternatingly in continuous shifts. For many industrialists the opportunity to use production equipment and assembly lines with only occasional shutdowns for maintenance would also increase productivity and reduce production costs, making their products more competitive in today's "globalized economy". For a relatively high-wage area like Europe, a seven-day production week with workers alternating their regular workweek of five days would reduce overall costs and even increase employment.
Although the reaction from church officials in Germany to recent store openings on Sunday was negative, churches here have changed their positions on various issues over the centuries. A compromise with the "Third" Commandment could be just as plausible as the German church's position generally permitting military service.
Either way, the mark of the beast is coming, and Germany's debate on its Ladenschlussgesetz is not yet over.
• Paul Kieffer, August 20, 1999
First Day of the Week?