Key Verses: Psalms 118:24
Prayer: That God will show us from His Word how we should observe Sunday.
Key Verses: Ex. 20:8-11; Isa.58:13-14; Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:14-17;
Article III, Paragraph 15 of our Church Constitution says, “We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes, by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations, by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.”
The Sabbath is one of the knottiest problems in Christian theology. Over the past 2000 years, opinions of great theologians have moved back and forth between a no-Sabbath viewpoint and a strict Sabbath viewpoint, as regards day-keeping. The confusion here, as in the case of other doctrines, is because many follow human leadership and tradition instead of the word of God. The problem that we will examine in this lesson, is whether we are to follow a Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) or a so-called Christian Sabbath (Sunday).
Man was made a creature who needs a day of rest in a pattern of one in seven. That most of us do not work on Sunday is a witness to our country’s Christian roots. God revealed to the Jewish nation a rest pattern (Lev. 23:3). When Israel was in Egypt, they were in the cruel bondage of pagan chattel slavery. They never got to rest. The wording of the Sabbath laws reflects the deliverance from slavery and the giving of rest (Ex. 23:10-13). Even the land is a living organism, composed of countless living organisms. The land also needs rest in order to be refreshed, just as man and animals do. Even though we do not have the guarantee of a miracle today (Lev. 25:20-22), the principle of crop rotation, of letting the land lie fallow one year in seven, remains sound. The use of fertilizers to keep soil in continual production eventually destroys the earth. But, the Jewish Sabbath day of rest is no longer valid for the Christian; it has been fulfilled (Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:5).
The Bible does not say that Christians should observe the Jewish Sabbath today. The Bible does not call Sunday the “Christian Sabbath” nor any other kind of Sabbath. Seventh Day Adventists say that the Sabbath is the seventh day and that all Christian people ought to keep the seventh day as a day of rest and worship. Of course they are mistaken. Ex. 20:l0 plainly says, “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” The Sabbath of rest followed six days of labor and was counted the last day of the week. Saturday is the Old Testament Sabbath. In the Old Testament, Sunday was actually a day of labor. The Sabbath is a part of Mosaic Law and was never given to anybody but Jews under the law. There is no more command for Christians to keep the Sabbath than there is for Christians to avoid pork or catfish or to be circumcised. Every other one of the Ten Commandments is repeated in the New Testament, with the exception of the Sabbath. Of all the sins mentioned in the New Testament, Sabbath breaking is never once mentioned as a sin. Jesus was repeatedly called into question on the matter of the Sabbath but never asked the public to observe the Sabbath (Jn. 5:18; Matt. 12:1-8).
The Sabbath is Mosaic Law, given to Israel under the law (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 16:23; Ez. 20:10-12; Ex. 31:12-17; Neh. 9:13-14;). So we see that the Sabbath was given as a special sign to Israel. When we turn to the New Testament, we find that instead of being commanded to keep the Sabbath, the keeping of the Sabbath is discouraged (Col. 2:14-17; Gal. 4:10-11). The Sabbath day was a shadow, but now that Christ has come, the shadow is fulfilled. Again, the Sabbath, which is the seventh day or Saturday was only for the Jews, not for the Gentiles. Sunday is the first day of the week, a day of new beginnings. But it is not the Sabbath. You can easily see then that preachers are wrong who say that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, or who say that the Sabbath has now been changed to the first day of the week.
Seventh Day Adventists claim that Catholics changed the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. They were 300-400 years too late. The practice of the use of the first day of the week as a day of worship clearly began in New Testament times (Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). The first day of the week clearly had a special meaning to New Testament Christians and Sunday, as a religious day, was not an invention of Roman Catholics and the “mark of the beast,” as Adventists claim. The Lord’s Day must be our Sunday. The Sabbath, Saturday, in the Old Testament was for physical rest alone, not a day of worship (Ex. 20:l0). Worship went on in the tabernacle and in the temple seven days a week. The New Testament Christians have no command from God to abstain from labor on any certain day, nor even to meet for worship on a given day of the week. This seems to be for the Christian a matter of grace and voluntary.
Since Christians are not bound by the Old Testament command to observe the Sabbath, is it right for a Christian to observe Sunday? The answer is that we should not observe Sunday as a legalistic Sabbath, but that we do well to observe the Lord’s day voluntarily for our own good as a day of worship (Heb. 10:25). We certainly ought to make it possible for as many others as possible to worship on Sunday with us. Business places that do not need to, should not be open on Sunday (1Cor. 10:29-33). Yes, Christians should use Sunday for their own good and the glory of Christ as a day of worship and service to God, seeking to offend none but to save all and bless all.
What is the real spiritual meaning of Sunday? Six in the Bible is man’s number, and seven is the divine or complete number. Six days of labor followed by the Sabbath of rest pictures man living a perfect life under the law and earning the rest, perfection and salvation pictured by the seventh day. Of course man failed under the law, and no one was ever able to keep it (Acts 15:10; Rom. 3:20). But the New Testament Christian, worshipping God on the first day of the week, means that he already has salvation as a free gift before he does any work, and now being saved, the Christian works the rest of his life to glorify the Saviour he loves (Heb. 4:9-10). You can see then how the Jewish Sabbath, picturing a salvation by good works, is out of place in a dispensation of grace. We are saved by grace, freely, justified without the deeds of the law, so we worship on the first day of the week, representing peace and rest obtained without labor. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Interestingly, the word “grace” occurs only 38 times in the Old Testament, but 127 in the New Testament.
Not everything in the Mosaic law is abrogated in Christ. Worship and reverence, regard for life and purity and property, are binding still. Many years ago in Pennsylvania they would bring up from the mines every Sunday, the mules that had been working the whole week in darkness. Otherwise they would become blind. So men’s spiritual sight will fail them if they do not weekly come up into God’s light; setting aside a day for worship, prayer, reading of the scriptures, preaching and hearing the word of God (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1Tim. 4:13). Justin Martyr (died 148), in his First Apology said, “On the day called Sunday all who live in city or country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God made the world and Jesus our Savior on the same day arose from the dead and gave commandment concerning the first day of the week (Acts l:2) to his apostles.”