Sunday and Sabbath Observance

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“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8)
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (I Timothy 1:8)

In our last two messages (here and here) we sought to answer several questions.

  • “What does the Bible teach about the Sabbath and the Christian?”
  • “Has God changed the day of worship from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, to Sunday, the first day of the week?”
  • “If so, did the early church recognize a transference of the Old Testament principles of Sabbath observance to Sunday?”

In other words, as we might ask, “Did Sunday become the Christian Sabbath, or has God removed the requirement to keep the Sabbath day holy for New Testament Christians?”

In Parts 1 and 2, we began a discussion of these questions and listed twenty-two biblical and historical facts every Christian should know about the Sabbath.

In this message, we conclude our study by listing additional facts that are central to our discussion.

23. The Lord’s Day (the Christian Sabbath) was recognized by the early church as the replacement of the Jewish Sabbath.

Dr. Philip Schaff, author of the authoritative eight-volume History of the Christian Church and recognized as the “dean of American Church historians,” writes

“The Lord’s Day took the place of the Jewish Sabbath as the weekly day of public worship. The substance remained, the form was changed…. The day was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week, not on the ground of a particular command, but by the free spirit of the gospel and by the power of certain great facts which lie at the foundation of the Christian church.

It was on that day that Christ rose from the dead; that he appeared to Mary, the disciples of Emmaus, and the assembled apostles; that he poured out his Spirit and founded the church; and that he revealed to his beloved disciple the mysteries of the future. Hence, the first day was already in the apostolic age honorably designated as “the Lord’s Day.”

On that day Paul met with the disciples at Troas and preached till midnight. On that day he ordered the Galatian and Corinthian Christians to make, no doubt in connection with divine service, their weekly contributions to charitable objects according to their ability.

It appears, therefore, from the New Testament itself, that Sunday was observed as a day of worship, and in special commemoration of the Resurrection, whereby the work of redemption was finished.” [1]

“The universal and uncontradicted Sunday observance in the second century can only be explained by the fact that it had its roots in apostolic practice.

Such observance is the more to be appreciated as it had no support in civil legislation before the age of Constantine, and must have been connected with many inconveniences, considering the lowly social condition of the majority of Christians and their dependence upon their heathen masters and employers.

Sunday thus became, by an easy and natural transformation, the Christian Sabbath or weekly day of rest, at once answering the typical import of the Jewish Sabbath, and itself forming in turn a type of the eternal rest of the people of God in the heavenly Canaan.

In the gospel dispensation the Sabbath is not a degradation, but an elevation, of the week days to a higher plane, looking to the consecration of all time and all work.

It is not a legal ceremonial bondage, but rather a precious gift of grace, a privilege, a holy rest in God in the midst of the unrest of the world, a day of spiritual refreshing in communion with God and in the fellowship of the saints, a foretaste and pledge of the never-ending Sabbath in heaven.” [2]

Dr. Schaff’s conclusion is: “Next to the Church and the Bible, the Lord’s Day is the chief pillar of Christian society.” [3]

24. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church denies that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath.

They teach that anyone who rejects Saturday as the true Sabbath and worships on Sunday will be part of the Antichrist church and ultimately be damned.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, officially organized May 21, 1863, is an example of those who believe that Saturday is the true, biblical Sabbath and continue to worship on the seventh day. They officially teach that the Christian Church kept Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as the day of worship until Emperor Constantine decreed that Sunday would be the day of worship in the fourth century AD.

Further, Ellen G. White, one of the early leaders of the SDA movement whose writings are considered authoritative, taught that the Sabbath will be God’s final test of loyalty for Christians living in the last days before the second coming of Christ.

She taught that those who worship on Sunday will, in the last days, receive the mark of the beast and incur the wrath of God. [4]

In response to the first charge concerning the practice of the early church, one should remember that Emperor Constantine did not make his decree until the fourth century (March 7, 321 AD.). The writings of the early church Fathers, dating from 50-165 AD, show that the Christian Church universally had been practicing Sunday worship since the second century.

Sunday worship was not the idea of Constantine. It was the practice of the early church long before Constantine was born! What Constantine did was introduce the first civil legislation decreeing that all work should cease on Sunday, except that farmers could work if necessary.

Constantine’s edict reads: “On the venerable Day of the Sun [venerablili dei Solis] let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits.” [5]

This decree provided time for people to worship God on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Constantine’s edict did not institute Sunday as the day of worship for the Christian church. The Christian church had been worshipping on Sunday for over 200 years before Constantine was born.

In response to the second charge that any who worships on Sunday will receive the mark of the beast and incur the wrath of God, there is nothing in Scripture to support such a serious charge.

25. In the New Covenant, the transference of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday commemorates an event greater than creation—the celebration of a finished atonement and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Each of the four gospel evangelists are guided by the Holy Spirit to record the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mat. 28:1; Mk. 16:1, 2, 9; Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1, 19). Why this exact record of the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the dead? The day of His birth is not so recorded, nor His baptism, nor His first appearance in the Temple, nor His transfiguration. [6]

It seems that the exact date of Jesus’ resurrection was recorded as a memorial of the greatest event that ever occurred on earth. He who was Creator (John 1:1-3), and who selected the seventh day as the memorial of its creation, observed the seventh day as the Sabbath during His sojourn on earth prior to His atonement and His inauguration of the New Covenant. However, Jesus Christ is also the Lord of the Sabbath and has the sovereign right to select Sunday as the day He rose from the dead, the day He inaugurated His Church, and the day He wishes His church to celebrate as the Christian Sabbath.

However, Jesus Christ is also the Lord of the Sabbath and has the sovereign right to select Sunday as the day He rose from the dead, the day He inaugurated His Church, and the day He wishes His church to celebrate as the Christian Sabbath.

26. The Christian Church has honored Sunday as the Christian Sabbath for the last nineteen centuries.

The Christian Church around the world has faithfully preached and practiced the belief that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. It was not until the twentieth century, with the rise of dispensationalism, that portions of the Christian church began teaching that the Sabbath was no longer binding upon New Testament Christians.

This view contradicts the teaching of the Christian Church for the last nineteen hundred years.

27. The Sabbath is a day of remembering deliverance from bondage.

Just as the Old Testament believer was to remember his deliverance from bondage of slavery in Egypt on the Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15), so the New Testament believer should remember his deliverance from bondage to sin and quickening to new life when he celebrates the resurrection of his Lord on the Lord’s Day.

28. God desires His people to regard the Christian Sabbath as a weekly celebration of His love for us and our love for Him.

One of the great privileges of the New Covenant is to have joyous intimate personal fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3, 4; Phil. 2:1). Most of us conceptualize this fellowship only on an individual, personal level.

We should remember that Jesus views all believers collectively as His “bride.” He has made special promises to the collective assembling of His people and urges us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). “God longs to celebrate with us a love relationship more intimate than anything human lovers have ever experienced.

He loves us so much that He can’t wait a whole year or even a month for special time with us. So every week He has set aside a whole day, a Sabbath, for intimate fellowship—an all-day date with us, His beloved.”7 Have you fallen in love with Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath? Has Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, become to you a day of joy?

Do you delight in meeting weekly with your beloved and betrothed Lover (2 Cor. 11:2)? Do you have a love song to sing to your Savior and Lord on the Sabbath? Since most of us are not very good at writing our own love songs, why not use a poetic love song God Himself inspired for such an occasion?

The Bible’s love song for the Sabbath is Psalm 92. Come, every Sunday, and join in with Christians all around the world and sing to God Psalm 92—the love Song for the Sabbath.

 

There is good evidence from the New Testament that Sunday quickly became known as the Lord’s Day and was regarded as a special day of meeting for the church.

This evidence, combined with that of second century Christian writers who indicate that the early church recognized and practiced a transfer of the principles of the Old Testament Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day, provides a compelling argument that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath.

The church is a new creation and is given a new day to observe as its birthday and as its Sabbath: the first day of the week, Sunday. We remember the Sabbath to keep it holy and honor God when we honor Sunday as the Christian Sabbath.

The principles for the proper observance of the Christian Sabbath are those that guided the Creation Sabbath and the Jewish Sabbath: reserved by God for man, a day of rest and worship, a day of remembrance of our deliverance from the bondage of sin and our quickening to new life, and a day of honoring God by ceasing from ordinary pursuits (Isa. 58:13, 14).

When the new heavens and earth come, the Sabbath will be honored weekly (Isa. 66:22, 23). Jesus, our resurrected and reigning Lord, is still the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is to be a delightful day—the Lord’s day.

According to Psalm 92, it is to be an occasion for instrumental music—a time of exuberant celebration. It is to be a time of reflecting on the goodness of God and rejoicing in His handiwork (Psa. 92:1-4). May we never view it as an intrusion upon our schedules or an interruption to our lives.

Rather, let us view the Christian Sabbath as Ignatius exhorted—the Queen and Chief day of the week—and may we learn how to take pleasure in it by learning to take pleasure in our risen Savior.


Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.

Footnotes

[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1910, I, 476-478.
[2] Ibid., I, 478.
[3] Ibid., I, 478, 479.
[4] See Ellen G. White, Last Day Events, p. 224; Maranatha, p. 211.
[5] Codex Justinianus, book 3, title 12, 3 trans. In Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner, 1902), vol. 3, p.
380, note 1.
[6] H. H. George, The Sabbath: The Day and How to Keep it. (Louisville: The Pentecostal Publishing Company, n.d.), 14, 15.
[7] Richard M. Davidson, A Love Song for the Sabbath. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988, p. 7.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.
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