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A Sabbath Controversy
Kenneth Emilio   

Sabbath and "The Lord's Day" - are they the same?

Most Christian denominations assemble, celebrate and worship the Lord on Sunday, also called the first day of the week, or the "eighth day." Whereas some Christian denominations, most notably, the Seventh Day Adventists and Messianics insist that worship be held on the Sabbath of the Jews.

Both sides argue with passion and conviction. But are we confusing two separate days by combining two separate practices of worship, and perhaps missing the significance and importance of each?

We will only scratch the surface of this issue by proposing that much of the debate is based upon misunderstanding and misapplication of the Sabbath, in its intent and its observance. Misunderstanding which has resulted in a kind of competition between Saturday and Sunday.

We will also contend that this competition is the very kind of abuse of the Sabbath that Jesus and Paul condemned.

The Seventh Day

"Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it, it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings." (Lev. 23:3)

The Sabbath, which means "rest or ceasing," was not confined to the "Ceremonial Law" of Moses. The Sabbath, at its heart, is the commemoration of the creative work of God, and His ceasing from that work.

This commemoration and observance by His people is commanded by God and supported in both the Old and New Testaments. It is part of the "Moral Law" behind the Ten Commandments and beyond. No right thinking Christian of any denomination would dare suggest that we should not honor God's work nor seek to "enter His rest." This is the heart of the Saturday Sabbath.

A Promise

The Sabbath is not only honoring God ceasing from His creative work, but a promise to us all. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for men and not men for the Sabbath. (Mk 2:27).

The promise of the Sabbath is that we too, will cease from our work someday and rest with Him for eternity. The fourth chapter of Hebrews makes this very clear.

So do we relinquish honoring the Sabbath which honors God and gives us such a glorious promise or do we give thanks and celebrate it? Those who ignore or deny the importance of the Sabbath need to give prayerful consideration to this.

A Type or Model of Something Better

Those who diligently study the Scripture are aware of the significance of something called "Types" or "Models." Types are people, places, or things, which God has identified in Scripture to help explain His Plan of reconciling creation to Himself.

The unblemished and innocent lamb of the Temple Sacrifice was a Type of the innocent sacrifice of Jesus. Boaz and his relationship to Ruth was a Type or typical of Jesus' relationship to His Church. Even the intimate relationship between a husband and wife is a Type and promise of the intimate relationship we will share with the God of the universe.

The Type is never to be confused with the real thing. The lamb, Boaz, and marriage, while important here on earth, are only shadows of better things to come. So also, the "rest" of the Sabbath on earth is a shadow or a Type of a better "rest" that is coming - when we also lay aside our creative works here on earth and join with the Father in His rest.

We are not to worship or focus on the shadows, nor impose them on others. But we are to recognize them when we see them and learn their significance. To impose the seventh day Sabbath on a gentile believer would be tantamount to imposing circumcision on all male believers or forcing them to observe clean and unclean foods.

Jesus repeatedly sought to instruct and correct the Pharisees about the Sabbath. That is, their improper elevation of the Sabbath to the focal point of worship and not as a means of worship. Paul tells us to let no one impose religious trappings upon us. Neither food, or Sabbaths - they are shadows or Types of something better to come. (Col 2:16-17)

Are the Ten Commandments Still Valid?

Some may say that the Sabbath is part of the Moral Laws of the Ten Commandments, and that these are greater than the Ceremonial laws of the Levites, and they would be correct. The Ten Commandments did not institute the Moral Laws of God, but codified or wrote down laws that were already in effect.

God told Moses in Exodus 20:8-11 to "remember" the Sabbath because God had blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. For Moses to "remember" meant that Sabbath was already in effect and known to Moses.

Other commandments of God were also in effect prior to the Ten Commandments. Cain offered an improper sacrifice of plants. Able offered the proper sacrifice of innocent blood. Cain was to love his brother and not kill him. Noah was commanded to take seven clean and two unclean animals on the Ark. How did he know what was clean and unclean?

It is clear that God had communicated His laws to mankind and demanded obedience prior to the Ten Commandments. The "Moral Laws" of God were in effect from the creation of man. They were not invented just for the Jews, but for all who would follow God.

When Jesus was asked to give the greatest of the commandments He summarized them into two. Love God and Love Man. He did not worship the Ten Commandments, He fulfilled them. He embodied and practiced the original intent of the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath was meant for joyfully honoring God's wonderful creation, not as just another religious rite that must be mindlessly practiced.

Many in the Church have lost this joy. Some have lost it by ignoring it. Others have lost it by legalism and insisting that only Saturday is the proper day to "rest" in the Lord.

Jesus fed his Disciples on Sabbath. Can we not feed the flock on Sunday? Are we not to give to God our worship every day of the week?

Taking one day in seven to worship and honor God's rest is important. What is not important is arguing about which day.

The Eighth Day

"When a bull or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be seven days with its mother and from the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering made by fire to the Lord." (Lev 22:27)

The day after Sabbath is called the first day of the week or Sunday. This "eighth" day has also been called the "Lord's Day." It is the commemoration by Christians of the acceptable offering for sin, the new beginning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Day of Pentecost&offering of first fruits, (Lev 23:15-16 Acts 2:1), the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' stead, and birth of the Church. (Acts 2:2-8).

Should not Sunday also be commemorated? Should not the Body of Christ assemble on this day? Do those who stress worshiping on Saturday feel that they are exempt from praising God for Christ's resurrection, or for His church? Are those who worship on Sunday somehow less holy than those who do not?

The Deity of Jesus Christ - Lord of the Sabbath

Scripture says that Jesus was the Creator. (Jn 1:1-3, Col 2:15-16, Heb 1:2). Reformed and Fundamentalist Christians hold that Jesus was God come to earth in the form of a man. Those who do not believe this, deny the Deity of Christ. Jesus is the "Lord of the Sabbath," because Jesus created the world, and He instituted the Sabbath. (Mk 2:28).

Christ finished His work on the Cross. When He rose, He ceased from that creative work. Israel celebrated and honored God's rest on the Seventh Day. The Christian celebrates and honors the God/Man ceasing His work of redemption on the Eight Day. The focus of the Eighth Day is Christ!

Which Sabbath Did You Have in Mind?

Those who stress only Saturday as "The Day" of worship are in conflict with Paul when he tells us not to let anyone impose ceremonial legalism such as food and drink and "Sabbaths" upon us. (Col 2:16-17). But note that Paul does not forbid the keeping of Sabbath either. Nevertheless, If we are to come under the legalism of the Saturday Sabbath, then we must also come under the legalism of the Sabbatical month, (Lev 23:24), and Sabbatical year for giving the ground a rest. (Lev 25:1-8).

Let those who do not to worship on Sabbath beware they do not mock or be arrogant regarding the Seventh Day. To mock the holy worship of those who choose to honor the Saturday Sabbath, is to do so at great peril. To claim that there are now only "Nine Commandments" is not supported in Scripture. We are not to look down on those who worship God in this manner, but to celebrate with them - in their fidelity and freedom in Christ to worship - if done with a right heart.

The Sabbath and Sunday are not the same. They serve two different purposes. Isn't it an interesting coincidence that our modern week gives us the opportunity to observe both days in the form of the weekend?

Did the Early Church Meet on Sundays?

In Acts 20:7 it appears the early Church did meet on Sunday. We also find Jesus appearing on four occasions on Sunday after His resurrection. (Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). So we can say that the risen Jesus and the apostles were actively meeting on Sunday. But does this mean that the early church forsook the observance of Sabbath, or that the Seventh day was abolished? Who authorized the change?

Does "Christian Sabbath" Replace "Jewish Sabbath"?

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) says this:

"As it is the law of nature, that in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath."

The WCF states that the Sabbath was indeed changed to the first day of the week. Defenders of the WCF, which was rooted in the Reformation, have used the following proof texts as evidence that the "Christian Sabbath" replaced the Saturday Sabbath.

"Now concerning the collection of the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come." (I Cor. 16:1,2)

"Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight." (Acts 20: 7)

Do these verses state that the Jewish Sabbath was replaced by Sunday? This surely is open to debate. What cannot be debated however is that these verses do show that the apostles and the saints met, collected offerings, "broke bread" (a possible reference to the Holy Communion), and heard Paul's teachings on Sunday.

Did the Reformers get it Wrong?

Much of our modern Christian doctrine and practices were instituted by the Reformation in the 16th century. With respect to the Sabbath, the great theologians of the Reformation unfortunately paid less attention to it than other weighty and immediate matters that confronted them.

Men like Jan Hus, Martin Luther and John Calvin were fighting a corrupt Roman Catholic Church that had a stranglehold on the lives of the people of their day. At the core of the Reformation was the insistence of the reformers that salvation was by grace through faith alone, and the Bible was the supreme authority in matters of faith and doctrine.

This struck at the heart of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the political foundations of the Holy Roman Empire. This empire had fused religion and government into one massive institution. This corrupt system held that Church teachings and traditions were on equal authority with Scripture. This allowed any Church official with enough power to add to or subtract from the teachings and authority of the Bible. To challenge this institution could mean being burned at the stake, as Jan Hus inevitably was.

One theological battle field for the Reformation was that of "observances" of religious rites and the imposition of those observances upon the people as a requirement for salvation. The Reformers correctly spoke out that the Bible did not support the Vatican's position regarding unbiblical observances.

When the issue of the Sabbath came up it was usually ignored by the Reformers or lumped together with other observances and rites of the Catholic and Levitical Law, and abandoned.

The Sabbath was summarily dismissed by the Reformers as just one more legalism that was replaced by the coming of Christ's true church.

Patrick Fairbairn says that we may understand the Reformer's poor treatment of the Sabbath if we try to understand the circumstances in which they found themselves.(1)

Why Even Have Sunday Worship?

The obvious question that must be asked and answered by those who say we are free from worshiping on Saturday, is why should we worship on Sunday?

Are we under any obligations at all? If we are in Christ, has He not freed us from all religion? This was certainly not the opinion of the Apostles or the Reformers. Yet the question remains.

Why any organized worship at all? Why do we even have groups of believers called Churches? Some may say that we are not to "forsake the Assembly." The response to this might be that this was not obligatory, just voluntary. Isn't each individual to decide for himself what, where and how he should worship? - Do you see where I am going with this?

Is the Bible or man the authority when defining Christianity? What about the submission of each believer to the authority of Scripture, and the leadership of the Church as commanded in Scripture.

The New Testament speaks of freedom in Christ but never speaks of autonomy of the individual to determine which doctrines he or she will choose or not choose to follow. The Church as the Church is defined in the Bible. To stray from the Bible's definition is to make man the final judge, not God.

If we are to be honest in our attempt to submit ourselves to the authority of the Bible, then we cannot simply ignore the reality of the Sabbath Rest as taught in Scripture and the need to honor it.

Yet according to Scripture, we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of becoming so legalistic that we forget the intent behind the Law - focusing only on the observance of the Law.

We must establish our identity either as Observant Jews - subject to the Law, or Gentiles - not under the Law. We must, as individuals, become convinced in our own minds how we will honestly deal with our Lord's Sabbath.

Though being different members of one body - without contempt for our bretheren - are we not all servants of the same Master?

There is an Answer…

"Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. (Rom 14: 1-6a)(NKJ)



(1) Views of the Reformers regarding the Sabbath,
(P. Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture, Vol II, Funk&Wagnalls, New York, 1900) Appendix

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