A Sabbath Journey
Life is the path we tread and along the way there are surprises and discoveries. A pastor of Baptist background made a discovery that reordered his life and that of his family. What is this story behind a Sunday-keeping minister of thirty years taking the costly step to embrace Saturday as God’s Sabbath? It is a story you must hear.
By Kenneth Westby
Author’s note: I had the pleasure of meeting Pastor Doug Howard, his wife Elaine and several of their seven children this past December. My daughter Kari and her husband Lance Stafford are neighbors to the Howards who live a quarter mile away down a country road in a farming community about fifteen miles north of Spokane. They were surprised to discover that the Howards celebrated the Sabbath and invited me and JoAn to meet them for a Sabbath meal one Friday night. We arrived from Seattle in time for a delightful evening of food and fellowship capped off with a family musical presentation of some Sabbath evening songs they had written and put to music. I found the testimony of the Howard’s religious and spiritual journey both moving and inspiring and I want to share it with the readers of TSS.
Not all roads lead to Rome nor does Bible study lead every student to embrace the same doctrines. Everyone approaches Scripture with a bias, whether acknowledged or not. We get our biases from what we were taught, from our family’s understanding of what the Bible is about, from others, from tradition, from the media and from popular culture.
If one has been conditioned to believe Sunday is the Christian day of worship, one can rationalize that belief’s lack of biblical evidence by deferring to tradition, religious experts and to the smart Catholic and Protestant theologians who centuries ago accepted as fact that the Sabbath had been changed from Saturday to Sunday. It wouldn’t occur to the average person to challenge almost two thousand years of Christian tradition.
In spite of a majority bias toward a Sunday “Sabbath,” every year many Christian folk discover that the biblical Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Each of these new sabbatarians has a story to tell of their journey from Sunday to Saturday. I always enjoy hearing these stories believing as I do that the Sabbath is one of those important gateway doctrines leading to a deeper understanding of the Kingdom of God. This is certainly the case with the fascinating journey of Pastor Doug Howard and family. It brings to mind John Bunyan’s classic 17th century novel, Pilgrim’s Progress, the adventures of a young man named “Christian” navigating the difficulties of life on his journey to the Celestial City. It was an allegory to inspire Christians to continue moving Godward throughout life. The true story of Pastor Doug Howard’s spiritual journey will likewise inspire.
A Baptist Boy
Pastor Howard, age 55, was reared in the Baptist tradition. His parents were “Bible people.” In fact, his parents told Doug that the first word he spoke wasn’t “Mommy” or “Daddy,” but “Bible”! While yet in high school he began preaching to groups of young people and leading youth camps. Upon graduation he enrolled in Grand Rapids (Michigan) School of the Bible and Music for a three year program. He then entered Bethel College and Seminary, a Baptist school in Minnesota.
His full-time ministry began with Rural Bible Missions where he served as the camp director of a year-round camp. The camp had hundreds of kids participating each week and he was privileged to lead several hundred to Christ during his tenure.
By now he had found his wife for life, Elaine (they’ve been married 33 years), and returned to seminary for additional training. As Baptists the Bible was very important to their faith and Doug and Elaine memorized many Scriptures which they called forth in their music and preaching ministry. One of the important passages they memorized was Isaiah 58 which speaks boldly of the Sabbath. They pondered it in light of their strong Baptist tradition of Sunday observance, but could come to no satisfying resolution. For years they would revisit the issue and felt convicted by it, but it would remain in their minds an unresolved contradiction. Nevertheless, a seed had been planted, but some seeds, even those that may have been planted by God, can take years to germinate.
Doug remembers other Sabbath seed-planting events occurring when he was a boy. He had a great grandmother who frequently prayed over him and laid hands on him. She would pray that God would use little Doug in His service. Doug knew that grandma Hershberger was a Seventh Day Adventist and celebrated the Sabbath, but never attached any significance to the event until many years later.
His Baptist parents used to listen to the Oral Roberts and The World Tomorrow programs while they dressed for church on Sunday. They would frequently make light of them, however The World Tomorrow’s positive presentation of the Sabbath may have been another of those seeds dropped along life’s path.
Following his return to seminary, Doug received an invitation from his pastor brother-in-law in Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to join him as an associate pastor. Elaine and Doug then moved west to open a new chapter in their ministry.
His ministry then carried him to Seattle and then on to Arizona. All the while he was preaching, conducting Bible studies, counseling and searching the Scriptures for God’s will for himself and his family which along the way had increased to seven children. During this time he was becoming more involved in the charismatic movement and accepted an offer to pastor a group in Aberdeen, Washington and to start a Christian school.
A Mystery Lady
Later he accepted a call to pastor an Assembly of God church and the day they left for his new post something strange happened. The Howard family was traveling with two U Haul trucks and a trailer and stopped for gas at a busy 7 Eleven station and store in Marysville, Washington. Coming out of the store to meet them was a little lady who said, “I don’t know who you guys are or what I’m doing, but God told me to come over here and tell you that he is going to raise you up in the end days to help reestablish the Sabbath.”
Doug said, “These were strange words to a Baptist boy, a charismatic boy, and we all just looked at each other. Of course, Elaine and I had been struggling with this Sabbath question almost all our married life, but we just laughed it off thinking this was one strange lady.” They continued their trip and for the next few years he ministered in an Assembly of God congregation on Washington’s southern coast.
Doug’s association with the Assembly of God denomination ended after attending one of their world conference meetings. In front of forty-four thousand people the denomination’s newly elected leader stated that “if you don’t speak in tongues you are not saved.” Doug and Elaine had heard this thought expressed many times in charismatic circles, and they believed the statement unbiblical. They had also been questioning the biblical validity of their denomination’s tongues doctrine. But this point-blank declaration by the head of the denomination settled the matter for them. They loved the Assembly of God people, but felt moved to begin an independent Christian ministry.
The Sabbath Question Again
The Howard family then moved to Kalispell, Montana to begin another phase of their ministry which was progressively becoming a family affair. The Howards are a musical family, they all sing, some play instruments, and music had become a large part of their ministry. In Kalispell Doug began a three-hour radio program called The Howard Family Talk Show which proved to be very successful. The entire family was involved in the program and each was wired up with microphones so they could respond to questions and make comments.
On one radio program a caller asked if they believed in the Ten Commandments. They responded that they did, to which the caller then came back, “Well, what about the Fourth Commandment, what is your belief on the Sabbath?” Doug responded, “Now there is a good question to take up on another day.”
When Doug and his family got home from the radio studio they realized they must settle this Sabbath question once and for all. For the next three to four months they had family Bible studies on the Sabbath. They decided they would get no outside books or articles, just the Bible and a concordance and see if they could find God’s will on the matter. As a family they looked up and pondered every verse that had anything to do with the Sabbath. They were becoming convinced and convicted that the evidence pointed to the seventh day as God’s Sabbath.
A Rare Moment
Three months into their single subject family Bible study project, Doug recalls, “Out of the blue my son Nathan reminded us of what happened with that lady coming up to us at the gas station in Marysville, pointing to us and saying God was going to use us to help reestablish the Sabbath.” “Sometimes in life there occurs a rare and important moment,” Doug reflected, “and this was one of them.”
“We all looked at each other and I felt that the power of God had come down upon us and we all began to weep! Through our studies digging into Scripture—on one occasion for 16 straight hours—all of a sudden it hit us that the Sabbath was important to God and precious to Him. We repented in tears.”
That moment in the year 2000 was a major turn in the road for Doug and his family. Following their decision to embrace God’s Sabbath Doug had fellow pastors, past associates and friends turn against him. Doug remembers one pastor in particular who was a leader in the Missionary Fellowship International headquartered in Portland, Oregon. This pastor offered him a job on the following condition: “Doug, if you deny the Sabbath and not preach it I can get you in churches all over America”
“I said to him, ‘buy the truth and sell it not.’ After what our family had been through there was no way we were going to deny the Sabbath. But those days became a time of testing for us as people were calling us like crazy. In the Kalispell area word of our change to the Sabbath spread like wildfire. I had pastors from around the country calling asking questions and teachers from two seminaries called to confirm the rumors. I guess it was an unusual thing to have a pastor and his whole family take such a bold step as changing their day of worship. Actually, two of our seven children, are not practicing Sabbatarians, but they are active Christians.”
Enter the Bible Sabbath Association
Once convinced of the Sabbath, a challenge before the Howard family was where to fellowship. All past associations were openly disapproving of their new stand. Doug remembers that one of their first actions he took was to check out the internet for Sabbath information. It was there he discovered BibleSabbath.org, the website of The Bible Sabbath Association.
For the next several months the Howards daily logged onto BibleSabbath.org until they had read everything on the website. Doug printed out articles, ordered a few books and used those materials for regular family Bible studies for an entire year. Doug said the BSA website kept the Howard family from feeling alone.
A Family Affair
Having counseled with many pastors over the years Doug noticed that all too many had children who had rejected the faith—they lost their own kids. “I believe God showed me some of his wisdom. I call it the Moses Factor. I learned that I must take my kids with me on the journey. Don’t go so fast you leave them behind in the desert. Slow down, be patient, and take them with you every step of the way by involving them in the study process. It is the way we still function as a family.”
I asked Doug how people have responded to him these past six years since he embraced the Sabbath. He said he has used care in sharing his convictions not wanting to have a precious truth of God stepped upon. It apparently has paid dividends since many people have called asking how he and his family can actually do this. He responds, “If you understand the meaning of the Sabbath day you’ll realize that is one-seventh of your life committed to God in a special way! It touches your family in profoundly positive ways and your family will never be the same.”
Recently a contractor was working on his house and overheard some family conversation and asked, “Do you and your family really observe the Sabbath? How do you do it”? The guy, who was a father of four or five children, asked many more questions and was both impressed and confused. Doug looked him in the eyes and said, “I believe that God may be calling you to also understand the Sabbath. And if he is it will be one of the most interesting and exciting journeys of your entire life! God is planting a seed that may change your life.” Doug said countless times he has carefully chosen what seemed like the right moment to share similar words with interested friends and acquaintances.
The Howard’s regular Sabbath Bible studies are now attended by many interested people drawn in by word of mouth or personal invitation. The study just outgrew the house and has moved into their heated garage. I plan to visit it in a few weeks.
Like most families, the Howards have had their share of problems and challenges—health, jobs, financial—but God has seen them through. Doug is now recovering from lower back surgery and been out of regular work for many months. Because of job and Sabbath problems several family members have joined to establish their own successful cleaning business. The children of Elaine and Doug all deserve mention as they are so much a part of this remarkable journey. They are (from oldest to youngest): Paul, Rebecca, Nathan, Phillip, Bethany, Rachael, and John Mark. The Howards are also proud parents to 10 grandchildren with more on the way.
One plan they have is to make a CD of some of their recent musical creations including several original Sabbath songs. A selection or two of their Sabbath songs can be heard by accessing ACD’s website, www.Godward.org. Doug and his family plan to continue doing what they are doing and believe that God will continue to lead them as he has in the past. I’m convinced we will be hearing more form Doug Howard and his extraordinary family. Doug can be reached by email at: email@example.com.