Upholding the official beliefs and doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and spreading the three angels' message of Revelation 14:6-12
The Saturday-Sunday Shuffle
Not so very long ago, Sunday was a quiet day. It was a day for church and family, a day when you did your best not to intrude on neighbours. You'd hardly go next door to ask to borrow some sugar on Sunday in case you caused offence.
But nowadays in my town, Saturdays and Sundays are busy days just as they probably are in yours. Shops of all sizes and descriptions are open "all hours" vying for business. From local parades to superstores, from city centres to out-of-town retail parks, they're all busy and crowded.
The churches, however, sit empty and still. Almost all of them wait quietly on Saturday hoping for the pews to fill the following day. But not all. There are a few which hold services each Saturday. Sunday they will be empty and still. Why?
Let's assume that, since you are reading this, you are a Christian who is concerned about the way the weekend has become entirely secular. Leaving aside the fact that the vast majority seem not to care one iota about keeping any day at all for God, have you ever wondered why one group of sincere Christians-the majority-worships on Sunday while a smaller but equally sincere group of Christians worships on Saturday?
Is it simply a matter of personal preference? Isn't one day as good as another? Are not all days equal?
Are All Days Equal?
If it were only about a matter of two days-Saturday versus Sunday-it probably wouldn't be all that important which day we kept. As far as the days themselves go, Saturday is as good as Sunday, and Sunday as good as Saturday-that is unless God says differently; unless there is something more than meets the eye in this matter of which day to keep. You see, we may not think it makes any difference, but sometimes, in spite of what we think, small details do make a huge difference.
When the Sudbury General Hospital in Ontario put up an additional wing, plumbers working from two different sets of blueprints mistakenly reversed the pipes. Those carrying life-giving oxygen were crossed with those carrying nitrous oxide, a powerful anaesthetic. Amazingly, four months passed before anyone suspected that things were not as they should be. All that time the oxygen outlets were dispensing nitrous oxide, and the nitrous oxide outlets were dispensing oxygen-and patients were dying. Nine people died before the hospital discovered the terrible mistake.
In spiritual things, too, there can be a way that appears to be right, but it ends in disaster. (Proverbs 16:25). The nurses at Sudbury General thought they were using the correct outlets. Not until someone went back to the original drawings did they discover the truth. For Christians, the standard that determines spiritual truth must be the Bible. There we can find what God has to say about what He wants for our weekends. And it is what God wants that really matters.
The Truth as it is in Jesus
You see, if it's only a question of Saturday or Sunday-the seventh day of the week or the first-it isn't worth discussing. Christians are sincere who observe both days. But if it's a question of "the truth that is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21), that would make a difference. If we discover that Jesus is inextricably bound up with our weekends, that it's not just a matter of two identical days but of following Jesus, then that does make a difference. 1 John 2:6 says, "Whoever claims to live in him [Jesus] must walk as Jesus did."
In short, did Jesus differentiate between Saturday, the seventh day, or Sunday, the first day of the week? If not, then we don't need to be troubled. But if Jesus identified a difference, then we need to as well.
When He was on earth with us Jesus said that He was the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8). What did He mean? How is He the Lord of the Sabbath, and what day was He speaking of?
The Sabbath Is Rooted in Creation
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because the Sabbath commemorates three things that He is intimately involved with.
The first of these is creation. Genesis tells us that God spent six days creating our world and everything in it. On the sixth day He created a man and a woman to enjoy and care for the wonderful new world He had made, and He rested the seventh day.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. . . So on the seventh day he [God] rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:1-3).
Here is where the idea of a holy day for rest and worship began. Notice that the Bible says God rested on the seventh day, He blessed the day, and He made it holy. At the very beginning of the world the seventh day became a special day of spiritual rest, different from the other six days of the week, a day that God had blessed and set aside as holy time. Once a week this special day would remind mankind of Creation week and of the Creator.
But what does this have to do with Jesus? How does He become Lord of the Sabbath? The Sabbath commemorates Creation, and Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath because He is the one who created the Sabbath, and us, and our world.
Our Redeemer is also our Creator! He not only gave us eternal life by His death. He gave us physical life by His creative power. The seventh-day Sabbath is rooted in Creation to tell us that Jesus is our Creator.
God Himself pointed to Creation as the reason for weekly rest and worship on the seventh day when He placed the Sabbath squarely in the middle of His Ten Commandments:
Here, in the very heart of His Ten Commandment law, God tells us which day is His holy Sabbath- the seventh day. He tells us how we are to keep it and why. And we can look through Scripture from cover to cover without finding any other day that God has asked us to keep holy. The reason is that, according to the Bible, this is the only day God ever made holy. When you come to think of it, we can't really keep a day holy that God has not made holy, can we?
That's why He specifies clearly "the seventh day." It's like your birthday. Unless you were born on February 29, you don't celebrate your birthday the day after you were born. Or the day before. Only your birthday, the day you were born, can truly commemorate your birth. If it doesn't really matter to you when you celebrate your birthday, just try holding your child's birthday party on some other day! No other day can commemorate Creation because no other day did God bless and make holy at the close of Creation week.
Therefore Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because He is the Creator. The Sabbath points us to His creative power.
The Sabbath Is Rooted in Salvation
The second thing that closely involves both Jesus and the Sabbath is salvation. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because He is our Saviour and because the Sabbath commemorates His saving grace.
One of the most exciting stories of the Old Testament is the story of how God delivered the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery and brought them into their own land of Canaan. He worked miracles to humble Pharaoh's heart and cause him to let the people go. Then He parted the Red Sea for them and gave them bread from heaven and water from a rock. He made a covenant with them to be their God if they would be His people.
On Mount Sinai He gave them His Ten Commandments where, as we just saw, God pointed to Creation as the reason for the Sabbath. But later, when Moses repeated the commandments to the Hebrews, he emphasised a different reason for keeping the Sabbath holy:
Did God change His mind?
Did the Lord change His mind? Is the seventh-day Sabbath a memorial of Creation or of deliverance from Egyptian slavery?
No, God did not change His mind. Actually, the Sabbath commemorates both events- Creation and deliverance.
What God did for the Hebrews in delivering them from slavery and establishing them in their own land represents what He wants to do for you and me in delivering us from the slavery of sin and bringing us into the Promised Land of heaven. The word Sabbath literally means "rest." So it is an appropriate symbol or God's rest following the six days of Creation and also of the rest we find in Jesus when we accept His saving grace. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened," Jesus says,"and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
The Sabbath not only commemorates Creation and our Creator. It also points us to salvation and our Saviour. Here is what the New Testament has to say about salvation as a reason for keeping the Sabbath holy:
The Sabbath is symbolic, you see, of the rest that the Christian finds in Jesus Christ when he accepts Him as his Saviour. On the seventh day of Creation week God established the Sabbath by resting from all His works. We do the same spiritually- that is, we lay aside our own works as any basis for salvation and trust solely in Him- when we accept His grace and enter the spiritual rest He offers.
Some have felt that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is a legalistic attempt to earn salvation. Nothing could be more wrong! Instead, rightly understood, Sabbath keeping is a sign that we have entered God's rest, that we have confidence in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and have stopped trying to become righteous by our own works. We don't keep the Sabbath in order to be saved. We keep it because we have been saved.
Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath because He is our Saviour. The seventh-day Sabbath commemorates our salvation through faith in His saving grace alone.
The Sabbath Is Rooted in Holiness
The third thing that binds Jesus and the Sabbath together is holiness. God says:
You see, the Sabbath is not merely a memorial pointing back to Creation and Jesus as our Creator. It doesn't just commemorate salvation and Jesus as our Saviour. It also is a sign of Jesus, the One who makes us holy. The apostle Paul refers to this as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). He says too, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When Jesus comes in and saves us, our life changes. The old way of living disappears, and a new life takes its place. This doesn't mean that Christians are without sin, but it does mean that the power of Jesus transforms us to become more and more like Him. God says that the Sabbath is a sign of the holiness that Jesus brings about in the lives of those who love Him. When we keep holy the day that points to Him as our Creator, when we keep the day that points to Him as our Saviour, we will find that we are also keeping the day that points to Him as the One who makes us holy.
The seventh-day Sabbath is inextricably bound up with Jesus. We have discovered Him intimately involved in every aspect of this special day that He set aside at the very beginning of our world and that He has asked us to remember and keep holy.
Why, then, are most of the churches in my town empty on Saturday, the seventh day of the week? How did the idea come about of keeping Sunday, the first day? It's a question of differing views on law and grace.
What Grace Does to the Sabbath
Most people can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the death of Diana Princess of Wales. Most people who are old enough to remember can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news came to them that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had been shot with a high-powered rifle by a sniper from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.
Commentators choked back tears as they broadcast the news. Wall Street faltered that terrible Friday and then closed. People seemed shocked and bewildered. Would government be paralysed? Would it rally and weather the crisis?
The answer wasn't long in coming. The President had died at 1:00 p.m.; the official announcement of death came at 1:38 p.m. At 2:39 p.m., U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath of office to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who then became the thirty-sixth president of the United States. Power passed smoothly and surely, following clear constitutional provisions set up for just such an emergency. The assassin had outrageously broken the laws of the land. But those laws remained in force, and the Constitution, the nation's fundamental law, remained unchanged, unaffected. In fact, this terrible disregard for law only strengthened the American determination that such a thing must never happen again.
Another Friday. Another death. This time a universe stood still, shocked at the malignant hatred on display.
The world didn't mourn this death. No state funeral with pomp and ceremony marked the occasion when Jesus died. Apart from a handful of friends, few people even noticed.
But heaven took note- the angels and the beings on every world throughout the universe. Satan had challenged God, and His rule, and His law. He had claimed that his way was superior. Now, by assassinating the Son of God, Satan demonstrated just where his way would lead.
Would Satan's success in putting Jesus to death topple God's government? Would His challenged law stand? These are the questions that were raised when Satan killed Jesus on the cross.
When the President died, people took comfort in the fact that their country's laws remained effective even though an assassin had broken them terribly. Isn't it strange that so much of the Christian world believes that Jesus' death somehow changed or abolished God's law? With Satan appearing to be victorious, don't we need more than ever the assurance that God's government and the laws upon which it is based are permanent and valid?
Isn't Christ the end of the law?
Many Christians believe that God's law is no longer important this side of the cross. But remember- it isn't what we believe that matters, but what God says in His Word. So let's see what the Bible says in the New Testament about the commandments. First the words of Jesus Himself:
John adds, "We know that we have come to know him [Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3, 4).
That certainly doesn't sound as though God's commandments have been abolished since the cross! Why, then, do so many Christians believe otherwise?
One reason is that very soon after Jesus went back to heaven, the early Christian church had to fight against the idea of salvation by work- that a person is saved by his obedience to the law. The apostle Paul, especially, fought hard against this false teaching. So we find some things in Paul's letters, particularly in Romans and Galatians, that sound at first as if Paul is attacking and criticising the law. But if we read carefully, we will find that he is not attacking the law itself, but a misuse of the law- the idea that a person can be saved by keeping the law.
Paul is clear that salvation comes only by grace through faith. There is no other way, and nothing we do can earn salvation. But he also is clear, if we take time to understand what he is saying, that the law is still important and valid for Christians today. Listen to what he says:
You see, it's a biblical truth that we cannot save ourselves by keeping the law. But that certainly doesn't mean that a person who has been saved by faith in Jesus' blood is at liberty to disregard God's commandments. In fact, wouldn't you say that the person who has been saved is the person who, more than anyone else, ought to show his gratitude and love by obeying God's will?
Shall we go on sinning?
In the UK the speed limit on motorways is seventy miles per hour. I was late for a meeting, and soon realised that even seventy miles per hour was not going to get me there on time. The road was clear; and soon the speedometer registered eighty-five as I passed an ordinary-looking brown car with hardly a glance.
I should have been more observant. (I should have been driving the legal limit, for that matter!) That ordinary-looking car turned out to be an unmarked patrol car. Politely, humbly, I handed the officer my license and explained why I was in such a hurry. I wondered how much my fine would be. Now I would not only be late for my meeting, I would be poorer as well!
Imagine my surprise (and relief) when the officer handed back my license and said, "I'm not going to give you a ticket, but I suggest you keep your speed down"
I deserved whatever penalty the law allowed, but the officer chose to forgive me. I had been saved from the law by grace. But do you think that would have made it all right for me to begin driving eighty-five again? The law still applied to me- in fact, it applied all the more, now that I was under grace.
It's the same with God's law. He forgives, and He tells us that we can't earn salvation by obedience, no matter how hard we try or how good we are. But He does not say that obedience is unimportant.
In fact, all Christians agree that they ought to observe nine of the Ten Commandments- that it is just as wrong today to lie or steal or kill or commit adultery as it was before Jesus died. The only commandment of the ten that some Christians feel is no longer valid is the fourth- the commandment that says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." That commandment specifies the seventh day, as we have seen. But most Christians today believe that the first day, not the seventh, is God's day of worship this side of the cross.
Why? We have already seen how God set aside the seventh day at Creation by blessing it and making it holy. We've seen how He has commanded us to worship on that day and keep it holy. Is there anything in the New Testament that would cause us to believe that God has changed His holy day of rest and worship from the seventh day of the week to the first? Does He want us to keep Sunday now that Jesus has died?
Sunday in the New Testament
If God changed His Sabbath, we ought to be able to find a record of it. Surely He would tell us about something this important. Let's look at every text in the New Testament that mentions the first day of the week. There are only eight.
Matthew 28:1.Jesus rose from the grave on the first day of the week, and most Christians who worship on Sunday do so in honour of that event. Of the eight New Testament texts that mention the first day of the week, six deal with the events of Jesus' resurrection. The first is Matthew 28:1. "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."
Here we have Matthew's account of what happened early on resurrection Sunday. He wrote his Gospel a number of years after Jesus had gone back to heaven- some scholars think as much as thirty years later. Here would be an ideal place to tell his readers about God's new worship day- if indeed the apostles understood that God had made a change. Yet Matthew says nothing about this day being holy because on it Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, he clearly says that the first day of the week came only "after the Sabbath", the seventh day of the week, had passed.
Mark 16:1, 2. Here is Mark's version of what Matthew has already told us:
Mark agrees with Matthew in saying nothing about keeping Sunday or about its being a holy day in honour of the resurrection.
Mark 16:9."When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene."
Mark simply repeats here what he has said earlier.
Luke 24:1."On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared, and went to the tomb."
Luke's version of Jesus' resurrection adds nothing new to what Matthew and Mark have already told us. Luke says nothing about Sunday sacredness either.
John 20:1 This text is the same story of the resurrection that we have heard from the other three Gospel writers. John says, "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, went to the tomb."
John 20:19. This text also refers to resurrection Sunday, but it tells us of an event later in the day.
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them."
Some have thought that this verse describes a worship service that the disciples held in honour of the resurrection. But what does John say? He says that the disciples were together "with the doors locked for fear of the Jews" They weren't holding a worship service. They were huddled together, afraid that the Jews who had killed their Lord would come looking for them! In fact, Mark and Luke make it clear that the disciples didn't even believe Jesus was alive until He appeared to them in the room that evening. The women had already told them that they had seen Him, but the disciples thought they were confused (see Mark 16:9-11; Luke 24:9-12, 36-44).
These first six texts all refer to the day on which Jesus arose from the dead, and they all say nothing about a change of God's rest day from the seventh-day Sabbath to the first-day Sunday.
Acts 20:7.This appears to be the strongest text in the Bible in support of the idea that the sacredness of the seventh-day Sabbath was transferred to Sunday.
"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight....After talking until daylight, he left." (Acts 20:7-11).
This was clearly a religious service held by the apostle Paul. What will catch us out, however, is the way the NT writers counted days. We count days as starting from midnight, as the Romans did. So when we read that Paul spoke until midnight on the first day of the week, we think of late Sunday night.
But when Luke wrote the Acts, he counted days from sunset, as Paul and the other believers did. This introduces a subtle detail that we might otherwise miss. The first day of the week started at the time of sunset on the seventh, so the evening of the first day of the week is what we would call Saturday evening. This is recognised by Bible translators such as those who worked on the New English Bible, where it reads as follows:
"On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight."
What happened that evening at Troas was that Paul had honoured the Sabbath with the church, and knowing that he was to leave them on Sunday morning, they made the most of his visit by staying on after Sabbath ended at sunset, continuing their meeting to past midnight. The meeting was so long, one young chap fell asleep at the window and fell to the ground.
This passage does not suggest that Sunday was a day of worship for that congregation. If anything it indicates the opposite, since Paul was going to be travelling on Sunday.
1 Corinthians 16:1, 2.This is the eighth and last text in the New Testament that mentions the first day of the week. It is Paul's instruction to the Corinthian believers about an offering for needy Christians at Jerusalem:
"Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made."
Some have said that this text indicates a weekly meeting on Sunday in which offerings were collected. But Paul's counsel makes it clear that this is not a public collection, nor is any church service mentioned. The money is to be "set aside" and "saved up" privately by each person until Paul comes. It is the reckoning of how much to give- the bookkeeping, if you will- that is to be done at the beginning of each week on Sunday.
If anything, this text reinforces the Sabbath-keeping principle practised by the early church, learned from their Jewish believer brethren. The business week ran from the first to the sixth day of the week, and they rested for fellowship on the Sabbath. First thing on the first day of the week they did their accounts for last week's business, and at that time set aside money which would be given to the church as tithe and offerings. The first day was thus a day for financial business, not for keeping holy.
These are all the texts in the New Testament that speak directly about the first day of the week. And as we have seen, they do not give any hint of a change in God's holy day. There is one other New Testament text we should look at. Although it doesn't mention the first day of the week, it does speak of "the Lord's day"- a title that is assumed to apply to Sunday then as it does today. John says in Revelation 1:10, "On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit."
John received visions from God on a day he calls "the Lord's day." He doesn't say which day that was. But we have already seen that Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath day (see Matthew 12:8). If any day can be rightfully called "the Lord's day," it must be the day of which Jesus Himself claims to be Lord.
Some people try to get round this definition of the Lord's Day by referring to the writings of the Early Fathers, some 30 years later. Ignatius appears to use the expression to mean Sunday. But it is not good practice to interpret the meaning of a phrase by the way it was used later. It is only safe to interpret it by the way it was used before and up to the time we find it used. The most natural meaning of John's words is that he was thinking of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath in the New Testament
We have seen the record of Sunday, the first day of the week, in the New Testament. What about the Sabbath? What does the New Testament say of it?
It says, first of all, that Jesus, our Lord, had a custom of worshipping on the seventh-day Sabbath: "He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom." (Luke 4:16).
The New Testament says that the apostle Paul also made a practice of worshipping on the Sabbath. We've already seen how many times the book of Acts records Sabbath worship by Paul. In fact, Acts 18:4, 11 tells us that Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half and that he preached to Jews and Gentiles "every Sabbath" during that time.
The Gospels also show that although Jesus and the religious leaders of His day often disagreed about how the Sabbath should be kept, they never argued over which day was the Sabbath. The religious leaders had built up around the Sabbath many useless, senseless rules. Jesus deliberately disregarded these man-made restrictions to show those in His day (and us) that God had designed the Sabbath to be a day of delight, not a day of gloom. This often brought Him into conflict with the leaders about how to keep the Sabbath, but not once did they disagree about which day should be kept holy.
The New Testament has little else to say about the seventh day. Some have concluded from this that the Sabbath is not important to the New Testament writers. But it seems more likely that the Sabbath does not often appear in the New Testament because there simply was no disagreement in the early church about its importance or about which day Christians should keep holy.
For example, the early church disagreed greatly about whether a Christian should follow the Old Testament custom of circumcision. The New Testament gives much space to arguing this point. One faction demanded that converts to the church must keep the entire Old Testament ritual and its ceremonial laws. Another group, led by Paul, argued that this was not necessary. But no such extensive arguments are found in the New Testament regarding the Sabbath versus Sunday. Don't you think that if opinion in the early church had been divided on this topic, as it was on circumcision, we would find evidence of it in the New Testament?
Of course, some New Testament texts, such as Colossians 2:13-17, do speak about the ceremonial Sabbaths of the Jewish religious year. There were seven of these, such as Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, etc. (see Leviticus 23). These annual rest days were different from the weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath came each week on the same day- the seventh day. God placed it in the heart of His great moral code, the Ten Commandments. These annual ceremonial Sabbaths, on the other hand, came on a particular day of the month, and so they might fall on any day of the week, just as Christmas or St.Patrick's Day do now.
We must be clear that it was these annual, ceremonial Sabbaths to which Paul referred when he said:
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Cols. 2:13-17 NIV).
The crucial words in this discussion are "these are a shadow of things to come," for we have seen that the weekly Sabbath was not a shadow of things to come, but a memorial of something past. The sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament period were shadows of what was to be fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus did fulfil every requirement of the sacrificial shadow, and at a stroke He removed all those regulations. The temple veil was torn in two to mark this dramatic change in our relationship with God. Praise God for that blessing!
The apostles were clear that these ceremonial Sabbaths held no further significance for Christians now that Jesus, the One they foreshadowed, had come. But there simply was no argument over the weekly seventh-day Sabbath in the early church. The witness of the New Testament is clear.
How the Change Came About
If the Sabbath was not changed to Sunday by Christ or the apostles in the New Testament, then how did the change come about? That is a very fair question- one that most people ask when they first discover that Saturday is the Bible Sabbath.
First, we should note that if Sunday is not the Bible Sabbath, then it is an error, and Paul warned the Christian leaders in Ephesus that errors would creep into the church:
"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and destroy the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29, 30).
Church history records that, unfortunately, this came to pass. Very quickly, the early church found itself enmeshed in a number of doctrinal errors. Paul told the Thessalonian church that a spirit of hatred against God's laws would arise in the church, and that, in fact, it was already at work (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7).
The Sabbath was one of God's laws that suffered during early church history and through the following centuries. Although some always remained faithful to the day God had so clearly set apart in His Word, the majority of Christians gradually gave up the biblical seventh-day Sabbath for the first day of the week.
What led them to make such a change in spite of God's specific commandment? Two factors especially caused the church to substitute the first day for the seventh.
Anti-Judaism.We've already mentioned the intense debate in the early church about whether Gentile Christians should be required to observe the rituals and ceremonies of Judaism. This was the first factor that moved the church away from God's Sabbath.
The first Christian believers were Jews. Naturally, they continued many of the Old Testament practices they had been accustomed to following. One group in the church demanded that Gentile converts follow these same practices, while another group insisted that this was not necessary-and of course it wasn't.
Eventually, the church decided in favour of freedom for the Gentiles, but the strong arguments used against the Old Testament rituals were apparently misunderstood as time went on. Everything connected with the Jews became suspect. And since the Jews kept the seventh-day Sabbath, Christians came to look down upon this day as they did other practices considered to be especially Jewish. As the Christian church grew, it increasingly wanted to distance itself from the Jewish community from which it had sprung. This was one important factor that moved the church away from the biblical Sabbath.
Evangelism.The second factor was a desire to attract pagans to the church. As pagans were converted, they brought with them some of their former ideas. A great many of the pagan religions already honoured the sun on the first day of the week. In fact, that's how we got the name Sunday! Church leaders began to think that it would be easier to win pagan converts to the church if they could continue worshipping on the day they had been accustomed to honouring.
The desire to avoid identification with the Jews, coupled with the desire to make Christianity more appealing to pagans, made it easy for the early church to assign a special prominence to the first day of the week, and the resurrection of Jesus on that day provided a ready reason.
Today, most churches and most Christians follow the early church's lead without actually thinking much about the fact that Sunday keeping rests on tradition, not on the Bible. Yet Jesus plainly says that we nullify the Word of God when we follow teachings that are only rules taught by men (see Matthew 15:7-9).
Some Questions Answered
It's true that God gave the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel when He led them out of Egyptian slavery. But if the Ten Commandments were for the Jews alone, then not only is the Sabbath commandment inapplicable to Christians, but the other nine are as well. Doesn't it seem strange that only one of the Ten is considered abolished while the other nine are acknowledged to be valid and binding?
Some believe that the Sabbath was not known before Mount Sinai, proving it was given only to the Jews. But Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was set aside at Creation week to bless all humanity. In fact, there were no Jews at Creation when God established the Sabbath.
The Sabbath existed through the centuries from creation until Mount Sinai. At times men's memory of it grew dim, but at Mount Sinai God simply reminded His people of something that had been in place from the beginning. In fact, Exodus 16 tells us that before the Hebrews reached Mount Sinai and heard God give His Ten Commandments, He fed them with manna from heaven. They were to gather twice as much food on the sixth day because none fell on the Sabbath (see verses 21-30).
The Sabbath did not begin at Mount Sinai. It is for all mankind everywhere.
Yes, Jesus' resurrection is extremely important to Christians. Our resurrection depends on His. However, surely the crucifixion is equally important to us. Should we keep Friday in honour of that event?
You see, we may decide that Sunday is a fitting memorial of the resurrection, but God may not agree! Actually, God has told us what the memorial of Jesus' resurrection is- not Sunday, but baptism- being buried beneath the water as Jesus was buried in the earth, and being raised up out of the water as Jesus rose from the tomb. This, God says, is His memorial of Jesus' resurrection (see Romans 6:3, 4).
God is too wise to ask us to keep a certain day holy and then make it impossible for us to know which day He wants us to keep.
Six verses in Luke's Gospel assure us beyond any doubt that we can know which day today is the one the Bible calls the Sabbath- the seventh day. We have condensed them here:
"It [the day Jesus died]was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women . . . found the stone rolled away from the tomb" (Luke 23:54 to 24:2).
The Bible says that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath- the preparation day. On what does the religious world today celebrate the crucifixion? On Good Friday. And the Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. The world celebrates the resurrection on Easter Sunday. So the day between Friday and Sunday- the day that Luke calls the Sabbath- is Saturday.
Yes, many sincere Christians worship on Sunday, and God accepts every sincere motive. The Bible says, however, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4:17).
You see, God accepts even our mistakes if the heart is right. It's like that time your three-year-old decided to 'help' by mopping the floor with water from the toilet bowl. We accept the misguided sincerity of a three-year-old. But if she did the same thing as a teenager, we'd look at it altogether differently. God accepts the sincere motive even when the action is all wrong. But He cannot accept disobedience from one who knows better. (See Acts 17:30).
Truth Is Not Up for a Vote
"Everything that can be invented has been invented," declared Charles H. Duell in 1899, explaining why he was resigning as director of the United States Patent Office.
"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom." So said Robert Millikan, 1923 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics.
"Who wants to hear actors talk?" demanded Harry M. Warner of Warner Brothers Pictures around 1927 when someone suggested adding sound to movies.
Even the experts can be wrong!
That's why we can't decide what is truth by listening to the experts. Neither can we determine truth by a majority vote. Right is right even if no one is right. And wrong is wrong even if everyone is wrong. In spiritual things, truth is what God says in His Word. It isn't what we believe to be true, nor is it what most people agree to be true, but what Cod says.
In spite of what the Bible says, Saturday is still a busy day in my town, as it probably is in yours. Businesses large and small are busy. The churches, large and small, sit silent, waiting for the next day, Sunday.
But not all. Here and there a church is open and people are worshipping God on the seventh day.
Does it matter? Not if it's only Saturday versus Sunday. But if it's a matter of Jesus versus self- His way versus our way- then it matters, doesn't it? Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).
The issue, then, is not one day or another. The issue is love and loyalty. Jesus has told us His will concerning the Sabbath. Do we love Him enough to obey?
This material is based on the booklet "The Saturday-Sunday Shuffle" by Russell Holt, published by Pacific Press, USA. Originally adapted by the Adventist Discovery Centre, UK.
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