hy do Christians assemble for worship on a Sunday when the Old Testament clearly endorses observation of the seventh day (Saturday)?
Many modern Christians have almost touch with the theology of their predecessors and therefore can easily fall prey to various seventh day theologies and lines of attack. They are sometimes susceptible when they are accused of ignoring the clear command of several Old Testament statements including the Fourth commandment,
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy…" (Exodus 20:8)
This command originally referred, of course, to the day we now call Saturday, whereas a majority of Christians now assemble on a Sunday. Many seventh day groups darkly associate Sunday worship with receiving 'the Mark of the Beast' and believe that Christians who attend church on a Sunday have been duped by Satan into actually worshipping him! These groups are often characterised by an astonishingly selective approach to early Christian history in which they dilligently search for "historical evidence" which suits their approach, whilst being quite prepared to ignore other evidence which does not fit in with their schema. They then proceed to marry this flawed historical approach to various fanciful and mystical theories about ''The Mark of the Beast''- the approach is usually authoritative and dogmatic with an air of moral indignation which tends to mask the fact that there is a singular lack of evidence to back up their theories - No, one can go further: They impose their theories upon the evidence rather than allowing the evidence to speak for itself.
The fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine usually plays a major role within their idiosyncratic approach. He is seen as the Arch-villain who imposed Sunday worship upon the Empire and persecuted Sabbath-keepers and his fourth century Edict which upheld Sunday as a day of rest is gleefully pointed out as evidence of this; In fact, typical seventh day claims about Constantine amount to a gross distortion of history which are now widely believed by seventh day people simply because they have been repeated so many times (mostly by people who have never opened a single authoritative book on 4th century history). But this reveals their highly selective approach to history, for they never go back even further - to the second century - in order to consult the writings of Justin Martyr. He wrote,
"Sunday is the day upon which we all hold our communion and assembly" (Justin Martyr, First Christian Apology)
Justin's testimony is important, for their exists a direct link from him, through Polycarp, right back to the Apostle John. During his life, Polycarp was personally acquainted with, first of all, John - then later with Justin Martyr, with no evidence of doctrinal dispute existing between them. Other very early documents such as the non-canonical Epistle of Barnabbas and the Didache appear to show that Christians were very soon assembling on Sundays. The Epistle of Ignatius which can be dated to about A.D. 107 gives the reason why The Lord's Day was now seen as having more importance than the sabbath:
'Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace....If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and By His death.' Of several other early church documents which can be fruitfully consulted on this topic, 'Apostolic Constitutions: Church life in the 2nd Century' says this:
'On the day of the resurrection of the Lord--that is, the Lord's Day--assemble yourself together without fail, giving thanks to God and praising Him for those mercies God has bestowed upon you through Christ.'
In fact, the evidence of gathering for worship on a Sunday is present within the New Testament itself (Acts 20:7 1 Cor 16:1-2 and Revelation 1:10, for instance).
But why, then, the change from Saturday to Sunday as preferred days of worship?
First of all it should always be borne in mind that the original Sabbath was given in a national scenario to a people who had no access to God's Holy Spirit nor explicit promise of salvation at that time. In effect, God was saying to them, 'One day in every seven I want you all to sit down, do no work and contemplate on the beauty and wonder of Creation, and the things of God for the entire day.' In fact, circumcision and the Sabbath became the two identifiers of God's Old Covenant people. The Sabbath (Saturday) identifies those who, in turn, identify themselves with the Old Covenant and wish to claim it's promises. The New Covenant, however, which commenced with the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, marked a distinct change in approach (see Matthew 26:27-28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:7-13; Hebrews 10:16-18). Jesus is now our Lord and Master (Hebrews 1:1-2). Christians are no longer subject to legalistic law codes but, rather, the Spirit of Christ is to lead those who have been spiritually regenerated (born again). The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) clearly reveals this insufficiency of Old Covenant law as a guide for the disciples of Christ. Christians are not required to 'sit down and think of God' one day in seven in the old, legalistic sense because, as Spirit-led believers, we should enjoy regular communion with Him through the Spirit! (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Interestingly, the Sabbath command is never repeated in the New Testament, not even once. Furthermore, Jesus is often critical of the Jewish authorities who took a 'picky' and literalistic approach to Sabbath day observance. Jesus was quite prepared to heal the sick on this day, something which the Pharisees strongly objected to such was their legalistic approach to the sabbath. The New Testament teaches that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 11: 28-30). The book of Hebrews specifically shows how not only the weekly Sabbath, but the 'Promised Land' itself are vague foreshadowings of the Eternal Rest which Christians are to enjoy in the New Heavens and New Earth of the future. The faithful finally inherit this - but only in and through Christ. (Carefully study Hebrews 4).
But it is important to understand that Christians now understood themselves to be part of a New Creation, in comparison to the earth's original creation (2 Corinthians 5 : 16-19). This exciting New Testament teaching is often strangely lacking from modern preaching. God created the world on the First Day but an estrangement occurred, of course, when Adam and Eve fell into sin. In due course, however, God sent Jesus - the Second Adam - and, as Paul says, Christians are really part of God's New Creation. In Genesis 1, on the First Day of creation week, God separated the light from the darkness. In his Gospel, John uses that concept, going back to creation (in his first chapter) and saying, "The true light which illuminates all men was coming into the world" (John 1:9).
This, of course, clearly refers to Christ and lends itself to the conception that those who accept Christ become part of a new First Day - this is why a few started referring to Sunday as 'the eighth day' - the idea is that it is a New First Day of Creation. We should just note that "eighth" has a certain significance in the Old Testament; it is the day of being saved. There were eight on the ark, Noah is described as the "eighth" person on the ark in 2 Peter 2:5 (some translations differ, but the original Greek clearly describes Noah as "eighth"). Furthermore, circumcision was to be performed on the 8th day (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3; Philippians 3:5). Even more, Christ rose from the dead on the First Day of the week. We now refer to that day as Sunday. (Of course, some 'seventh day people' have performed major contortions here by saying, 'Yes, but that only proves that He was already risen then,' but, wait a moment, if the Bible wanted to tell us that He actually rose on the Sabbath why did it not clearly do so? What the text certainly appears to say is that he rose, or was 'arisen' on the First Day of the week!) Pentecost too occurred upon the first Day of the week (Pentecost, with new meaning, is the continuation of the old 'Feast of Weeks' and it is interesting that the Jews were commanded to observe very precise regulations in order to ensure that this day always fell on the First Day of the week - Sunday. Leviticus 23: 15-16).
As Paul Haffner points out,
"While the seventh day brought the first creation to a close, the eighth day marked the beginning of the new creation. Thus the act of creation finds its culmination in the greater act of the redemption." (Paul Haffner, 'The Mystery of Creation,' 1995 'Gracewing' paperback , p142).
Moreover, if we return to Christ's Resurrection day, we can find several other points worthy of note;
First of all it is surely interesting that Christ entered his own rest from His earthly labours on a Sunday - not a Sabbath.
Does Hebrews 4:9 Support Sabbath-Keeping?
Arch-legalist and cult-founder Herbert W. Armstrong claimed that Hebrews 4:9 supports the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath by Christians, but is this really so? The problem he faced was that not a single word in the theological New Testament epistles could be employed as a command for Christian Sabbath observance, so maybe there was some sense of desparation at his use of this verse,
'There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God'
In his consideration of this verse Armstrong claimed that it is interesting that the writer, in considering the subject of 'rest' (Hebrews 3:11-4:11), suddenly, in verse 9, switches from the use of the Greek word 'katapausen' (rest) to the use of 'sabbatismos.' Armstrong claimed that 'sabbatismos' was a reference to the weekly sabbath day and, therefore, Christians should still be keeping the sabbath day. However, neither Armstrong nor the writers he used were really conversant with New Testament Greek. Truthfully, this assertion is just plain wrong!
In fact, the Greek word which refers to the sabbath is 'sabbaton' (word 4521 in Strongs). 'Sabbatismos' however is not a grammatical variation. The closest meaning is a 'sabbatism,' 'a rest,' or - in ultimate meaning - 'the repose of Christianity.'
Why does the writer of Hebrews suddenly switch to this world? Simply because while earlier writing of the 'rest' which Christians must enter into through Christ, with earlier references already made to both the sabbath and the promised land as types of this true rest (verses 4,8,10) now the writer becomes more specific with a play on the word 'sabbath.' He uses the concept of a 'sabbatism.' He is stating that an eternal 'sabbatism' awaits Christians in Heaven and in the Eternal State.
Interestingly, the expression, 'the seventh day' (Gk: 'hemeron hebdomen') already occurs in this section (4:4), here is a reference to the literal seventh day and if the writer of Hebrews is suggesting that all must continue to assemble for worship on that specific day it seems highly likely that he would have made this clear by using this same expression again. But, on the contrary, the writer spiritualizes the meaning of the sabbath, introducing the concept of an eternal 'sabbatism.' We find our true rest in Christ alone (Matthew 11:28-30). So Hebrews 4:9, far from being a plea for Christians to assemble on the seventh day, goes beyond any such approach and refers to the final Eternal State of rest in Christ which all Christians should aspire to.
Robin A. Brace. 1994.
Secondly, we find in the account what can justly be referred to as the first Sunday evening worship service! (John 20: 19-22). And as if to underline the desirability of seeking after the Lord on this day, the disciples can again be found assembling on this day one week later (John 20:26). (The Old King James says here; "after eight days…" and this is true to the original Greek, but misleading since it appears that the inclusive method of counting is being used here; One Sunday to another being eight days. Almost every modern translation says here, "One week later") Again, Jesus appears as if to bless this assembly. Quite obviously, Jesus did not appear in order to rebuke His disciples for "keeping" the wrong day!!
While Paul can certainly be found going into synagogues on the Sabbath in order to maintain his practise of approaching Jews first upon entering any town for the first time, he - quite obviously - chose to preach on a Sunday - see Acts 20:7. Sunday rejecting groups either ignore such New Testament verses or produce some woefully inadequate explanations for them.
Some though will still say, 'Yes, but the Bible clearly upholds the seventh day throughout the Old Testament, can those verses simply be ignored?' The answer is, absolutely not - but we have to understand that the Old Testament should now only be considered in the greater light of the New Testament since therein lies the greater revelation! Revelation is progressive. But, sadly, this is precisely where many go astray! They attempt an Ebionite approach of trying to "keep" and live within the two major Bible Covenants - but it simply cannot be done, and this shows a lamentable understanding of the doctrine of Grace. The Old Testament is eternally valid for teaching, we don't attempt to get rid of it like the heretic Marcion (some Adventists have claimed that Luther tried to get rid of it, which he did not). But it represents a Covenant which - for those in Christ - is now obsolete, as it plainly says in Hebrews 8: 13:
"In that He says, ' a new covenant,' he has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
The 70AD destruction of Jerusalem did indeed cause it to finally 'vanish away'!
Christians are not to attempt to put 'new wine into old wineskins'! What we must hold on to from the Sabbath command amounts to 3 points:
a. That - as Christians - we do need to continue to meet regularly for worship (Hebrews 10:25)
b. That we should never lose sight of the glorious principle that we now find true rest, repose and joy in Christ alone (Matthew 11: 28-12:8), whom we can worship at any time, but should take into account New Testament precedent.
c. Knowing that as we continue to cleave to Christ, we will eventually enter the ultimate 'rest' from all of our labours, in the New Heavens and the New Earth - Eternal Life in unspeakable joy in the very company of God (Hebrews 3:18-4:11).
The truth is, Holy Spirit - led Christianity is not about keeping days! - we can be sure about this (if we otherwise doubted) from comments which the Apostle Paul makes. In fact, he seems to give the impression that believers who are too concerned about keeping days are immature,
"Let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a new moon or Sabbath, these things are only a shadow of what is to come. But the real substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2: 16-17)
In Galatians 4, Paul takes a legalistic element at Galatia to task about their immature desire to keep, "…days, and months, and times, and years" He tells them, "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (verse 11)
He goes on to give his famous allegory about Hagar and Sarah. Hagar, says Paul, typified the Old Covenant while Sarah typified the New. He concludes the chapter by saying,
"What says the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son : for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free" (verses 30-31)
This really should be crystal clear to all. We are no longer to be legalistic about these things! These two verses also clearly show us the error of trying to live within two covenants.
Will be accept the straightforward teaching that the Old Covenant (or, the 'bondwoman') has to be cast out in order for us to serve Christ?
So we find within the New Testament no specific command to assemble for worship on any particular day nor should we expect to find such an instruction since there is a certain freedom in Christ, His blood having released us from Old Covenant penalties/prohibitions. Nevertheless, we do find a strong precedent for assembling for worship on what soon became known as 'The Lord's Day' - Sunday : the day of the resurrection, the day of the disciples meeting and seeking after Christ - with the risen Christ's revealing of Himself to them, the day of Pentecost, the day on which Paul can be found preaching to other Christians (rather than to Jews), the day on which Paul requested the Corinthians to make a collection for Christians affected by the famine in Judea (1 Corinthians 16: 1-3), the day on which John wrote that he found himself, 'In the Spirit' (Rev 1:10) and the day of which Justin Martyr wrote, 'We all hold our communion and assembly'.
Seventh day adherents might just ponder that they resolutely hold to the day which was a main mark of the Old Covenant, identifying God's Old Covenant people who placed their trust in the sufficiency of that particular covenant to save them. The Christian, on the other hand, prefers to be associated with the Day of the Lord which identifies them as followers of Jesus Christ whom they look to as Saviour, Lord and Master - and who is fully sufficient for salvation.
Despite all of the above, if Christians prefer to assemble on the seventh day (Saturday) they do no wrong, but the danger is in the legalism and judgmentalism of other Christians (to say nothing of the distortions of church history) which so often seems to accompany seventh-day observance.
Robin A. Brace
1998. Updated: 2007.
Was the Mosaic Sabbath Eternal and Unchangeable?
True Sabbath Rest
Does 'The Mark of the Beast' Have Anything At All To Do With the Day On Which One Worships God?
How First Day Sabbatarianism Entered the Church
(The 'church fathers' were well aware that the Lord's Day was not the sabbath - which they considered to be fulfilled in Christ - but, much later, certain Lord's Day legalists attempted to make that day a 'Christian Sabbath.' These men were mostly sincere, but legalistic in approach and their movement was theologically flawed; both Luther and Calvin clearly separated themselves from this theological error, yet - in time - it gathered momentum).
Recovering From Armstrongism