“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
In our look at the Ten Commandments, we now come to the Fourth which, without a doubt, has historically been the most misunderstood, controversial, and misapplied of the entire list. Schisms and divisions have cleft congregations and denominations apart over the interpretation of how the Fourth Commandment applies, or doesn’t apply, to the Body of Christ. Which day of the week ought a Christian attend worship services? Sunday? Saturday? Does it matter? Which day of the week is the actual Sabbath? Are we violating God’s Commandments if we get this wrong?
I would like to spend a little time in today’s post taking a closer look at these important questions. I recognize that, for many Christians, much of this debate is considered trivial and, really, a non-issue. I also realize that, for a lot of other Christians, nothing could be more crucial.
Since beginning this website, I have received a great deal of e-mails and comments from adherents of many different beliefs and denominations and, very early on, I was contacted by an individual for whom the keeping of a Saturday Sabbath was vital. He felt his calling, it seemed, was to persuade those who observe Sunday church services to switch to worshiping on Saturday. And, while I must admit that I have never physically attended a “Sabbath-keeping” church service, I have listened to a few of the sermons given on T.V. programs sponsored by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. One such message I heard a few years ago was about which day of the week the Sabbath actually falls on and whether or not that day has ever been changed (a subject which the gentleman in my e-mail conversations also focused on a great deal). With that in mind, determining what day of the week the Sabbath actually falls on might be a good starting place for our study:
Would The Real Sabbath Day Please Stand Up?
Many Christians might be surprised to learn that our “Sabbath-Keeping” friends are absolutely correct about which day of the week the Sabbath falls on. Saturday is, in fact, the real Sabbath day. Always has been. Saturday is the seventh day of the week, it is the day on which God rested, and it is the day on which Orthodox Judaism observes their day of rest. Well, sort of. The Jewish Sabbath is actually traditionally observed from sunset Friday night until sunset Saturday night and, honestly, with all of the calendar changes over the centuries, nobody can be absolutely certain that the Saturday we have now is the same Saturday we had in Moses’ day. But, regardless, for all intents and purposes, the Sabbath day that has been observed as far back as our records go falls on Saturday, not Sunday.
One fact that Saturday Sabbath-Keeping denominations are also quick to point to is that so many languages around the world specifically designate Saturday, the seventh day of the week, as “the Sabbath.” In Latin, the day is called Sabbatum and all of the languages born out of Latin use a similar word to denote it (such as the Spanish who call it Sabado, literally meaning the Sabbath). So, perhaps, the first point of controversy that those on both sides of the debate should understand is that the specific day of the week on which the Sabbath falls is really no controversy at all. Saturday is the Sabbath, traditionally and contemporarily.
What The Sabbath Is Not
The next important question to consider is what the Sabbath is not. In my discussion via e-mail with the Sabbath-Keeping man, the first point of contention was that the Sabbath falls on Saturday, not Sunday. I could not argue with that. His second point was that the Sabbath was never changed in the Bible, neither in the Old Testament nor the New. I also had no rebuttal against that. He was right. So, I began to ask him about what response he was wanting from me. I agreed with him about the Sabbath, so what light was he still trying to get me to see? Well, the response he was after is the same end that the Seventh-Day Adventist preacher on T.V. was after from his listeners. If Saturday is the true Sabbath Day, then we should be going to Church on Saturday, not Sunday. Right? So, my question to him was this: where in the Bible does it say that we are to attend Church on the Sabbath? What verse mentions going to Church services or even worshiping God on the Sabbath? In fact, where are we told to do anything on the Sabbath? There are instructions concerning things not to do, but where are we told to do anything? I haven’t yet received his answer.
If we read all the verses in the Bible about the Sabbath carefully, we will see that the Sabbath was a day of rest, not a day of attending services. If we are going to faithfully keep the Sabbath Day, then we need to faithfully follow the directions given. When we seek to obey this Commandment just as the Hebrews did, then we must follow it to the letter. As J. Vernon McGee points out in his booklet, “The Sabbath Day Or The Lord’s Day — Which?”, one of the prohibitions on the Sabbath Day for the Israelites was against the kindling of fire (Ex. 35:3). Since even the starting up of a car technically involves “kindling a fire” in the engine cylinders, driving to church violates Sabbath Law. And before we consider walking, we better make sure that our church is no more than a “Sabbath-Day’s Journey”, or about 750 yards, away from our home!
Who Is Really Keeping The Sabbath?
“And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.” (Numbers 15:33-34)
What was decided to be done to this man was that he was put to death in accordance with what the Lord had spoken earlier in Exodus 35:2. He was put to death because he violated the Sabbath Law so, obviously, breaking any of the Sabbath instructions is a serious offense in the eyes of God. If gathering some sticks was worthy of the death penalty, what about driving our car, or cooking a meal (also prohibited under Levitical Law), or even pressing the start button on our microwave?
In reality, nobody is perfectly following Sabbath Law today and it is nothing but arrogant, pious nonsense for anyone to pretend that they are simply because they go to church on a different day.
When Did They Go To Church Services In The New Testament?
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)
We are told here, in the Book of Acts, that the disciples came together to break bread on the First day of the week; Sunday. Paul wrote to the Corinthians instructing them to give their financial offerings to the collection for those in need on the First day of the week; Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). Why? Because that’s when they met together, that’s when they attended church. Would it make sense that they attended church on Saturday and then had a separate meeting the next day just for the collection? Of course not.
What The Sabbath Is
“And [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
It is worthwhile to note that every one of the Ten Commandments is repeated and applied to the Christian in the New Testament Epistles except one — the Fourth. The Sabbath is not given to the Body of Christ for the Church to observe. The Sabbath, though present since the Creation (Gen. 2:1-3), was not given to a people until God gave His Commandments thorugh Moses to Israel. At no other time and place was it given before or since. The Lord told Moses:
Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you…It is a sign BETWEEN ME AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:13, 17, emphasis added)
God endowed the Sabbath with a special significance for the Children of Israel. It was a sign between Him and the Hebrews. Nowhere else are we told that God established it as a sign with anyone else, including Christians. We who are in Christ are to find our rest in the Lord Jesus Christ; He is our Sabbath! Jesus never told His disciples to observe the Sabbath, but rather told them:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Jesus became for us the expression of that which the Sabbath foreshadowed (Colossians 2:16-17). We rest in His finished work on the Cross. We rest in Him.
What Day Should We Go To Church?
So, if the Sabbath’s purposes, as all other purposes in the Old Testament, find their fulfillment in the work and Person of Jesus Christ, what day of the week should we observe? Since the New Testament Church met on Sunday, must we do likewise? No. If we wish to meet on Saturday — or Monday, Wednesday, or 3:45 A.M on Tuesday — that is Scripturally correct. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome:
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
In other words, if your church chooses to meet on Saturday, fine. If on Sunday, fine. Sunday has been the traditional day of meeting because that is the day of the week which Christ arose from the grave. We meet on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, in honor of what He has done and with deference to the life we have in Him. After all, He was dead in the grave on Saturday. We celebrate His life each week, not His time in the grave. But and if we worship on Saturday, that is fine, too. The Lord Jesus and His disciples had “church” every day of the week (cf. Mark 14:49, Acts 2:46, 5:42)!
Do Not Judge Others
One of the most disturbing issues for me in my discussion with the Sabbath-Keeping man was that he was going against specific instructions given in the New Testament. Paul warned against judging other believers with regards to the keeping of holy days and Sabbaths, as well as dietary practices, both in Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:1-13. Sadly, these are the exact areas where legalistic denominations such as the Seventh-Day Adventists like to pass judgment! If you wish to go to church on Saturday, and if you wish to observe a vegetarian diet or follow the food restrictions of Leviticus 11, then, by all means, you are certainly free to do so. But never think that doing so will make you acceptable to God. Only the blood of Christ can do that, nothing else. And never judge other believers who do not follow the same practices for, in doing so, you are imposing your own convictions on others, not the commandments of God for all Christians.
Personally, I fall into the category of those who esteem all days alike (Rom. 14:5). I do my best to celebrate my Salvation in Jesus Christ each and every day. I rest daily in His finished work, and I seek to do the work He has called me to do each day, also. During one of the many instances when Jesus Himself was judged for not observing the Sabbath in ways which others saw fit, he responded:
“…My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17)
God rested from His work at the completion of Creation. Jesus rested from His work on the Cross. Why? Because those works were perfect and complete. But a new work is begun and the Lord is working today, spreading His Word, spreading the Gospel of Salvation to all who will hear it. This is a work into which he calls us all, to serve Him according to each of our callings in the places where he has put us. Our Father has worked hitherto, therefore we work. For those in Christ, every day is a Sabbath. For those in Christ, every day is a day of work. We rest in the Lord and we work in Him.
The important thing is not what day on the calendar we meet together with other believers, the important thing is whether or not we belong to the Lord. Are we obeying Him in those commandments and convictions He has given to us? If He has called you to attend a certain church on a certain day, are you obeying Him? Are you resting in Him today and depending on His finished work for your Salvation or are you counting on the day of the week you observe to save you? Let our rest be in Him. Let our work be for Him.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,