Sunday, Sabbath and Worship

April 28, 2014
Author Article Doctrine

I receive many questions similar to this below:

I would like to ask the following questions regarding the Sabbath (7th day).

Why if the Sabbath was changed by the Roman Catholic Church to Sunday do all churches continue to follow this wrong implementation (sic) if (as we know it should be on Saturday) on the 1st day which is Sunday and not the 7th day? J

It is an important question. So here is the sort of answer I give to such a question.

Dear J

Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr's Second Apology shows that Sunday worship was in place very early

Your initial question is presuppositional. Your question implies that Sunday observance was created by the Roman Catholic Church. It was not. We can see that Sunday observance was already the norm in New Testament times. Unless you believe that the Roman Catholic Church was the true original church of the apostles – and I take it that neither of us accepts that – then it is clear that the Roman Catholic Church did not invent the concept of worship on a Sunday.

The word “Sunday” is that used in English for the first day of the week. The word Sunday is clearly of pagan origin. In the Bible, this weekday is known as the First day. To avoid any confusion, bearing in mind that our contemporary society often considers Monday to be the first day of the week, many Christians prefer to use the term Lord's Day for Sunday.

In every place that I have been, and every place in the world where I have connections, the normal pattern for Christian worship is to meet on a Sunday. This has been the case for two millennia. It defies logic to suppose that this is all the fault of churches following a Roman Catholic pattern. In any case, although I accept the Roman Catholic Church to be in error, it has some beliefs that are biblical. Should I oppose those beliefs simply on the grounds that the RCC accepts them? By no means! So the RCC accepts the doctrine of the Trinity. I have heard some suggest that this is a good enough reason to reject the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not. The RCC believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Just because they also believe some wrong things about Mary, does that mean that I should reject the doctrine of the virgin birth? Not at all! In the same way, I will not reject Sunday worship just because the RCC worships on Sunday. as with the above doctrines, Sunday worship is biblical.

The first reason for worshiping on the Lord's Day is that it commemorates the day that Jesus rose again from the dead.

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)

All the Gospel accounts show that the resurrection took place on the first day of the week. Now this would not make the first day of the week special by itself. But, when taken into account with the evidence that we will present next, we can see that the use of the Lord's day as a memorial of the Resurrection is a sound principle.

The Acts of the Apostles is the only book we have in the New Testament that shows the New Testament church actually in the process of working, witnessing and worshiping. Towards the end of the book, in Acts 20, we read about a gathering of Christians in Troas.

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. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. (Act 20:7-8)

It is clear from the verse that these disciples had come together for a meeting. They did this on the first day of the week – the day that we are referring to as the Lord's Day. They had met together for two purposes. First was to break bread together. They were sharing the Lord's Supper together. Second, they were listening to Paul teaching them. Once again, if we take this passage in isolation, it does not mean that Sunday worship had become the norm, but we begin to understand that this is the case, as we add all the incidents together.

Another example of such meetings is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2.

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.

A third worship activity is mentioned here, that of the collection of funds to be able to give. Paul told the Corinthians to save this money up for when he returned, but he did not give them leave simply to give the money in one lump sum on his return. Instead, they were to put money aside weekly, on the first day of the week, when they met together.

Collectively, these events show that the concept of first-day worship was already the pattern in the New Testament.

At the beginning of Revelation, John tells us this:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day. (Revelation 1:10)

So what exactly was the Lord's Day? One of the more obscure manuscripts of Revelation – the Ethiopian – has John saying that he was in the Spirit on the First Day. Moreover, a great deal of early Christian writing equates the Lord's Day of Revelation 1:10 with Sunday, or the first day of the week. Notable among these is Justin Martyr, who was writing only 50 years after the writing of Revelation, so well before there was an institution recognized as today's Roman Catholic Church. Justin, in his Second Apology , made it clear that the first day of the week was known as the Lord's Day. According to John Gill, other early writers who made the same claim included Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen.

Now that we have determined that Sunday worship was the normal pattern for New Testament Christians, should we assume that Sunday is the new Christian Sabbath, and that all the Old Testament Sabbath laws that used to apply to Day Seven now apply to Day One? The answer to this is “no”. It was clearly the practice of Christians to meet on a Sunday, but nowhere was this mandated.

Indeed, the apostle Paul has this to say about mandatory days.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

This verse is a general comment that no daily festivals are mandated. It is noteworthy, for the attention of those who wish us all to return to observing the Jewish Sabbath, that sabbaths are included as examples of days, whose celebration or non-celebration should not be a matter for judgment. In addition to this, we should notice that the celebration of the sabbath is simply a “shadow of things to come” and that “the substance is of Christ”. This last point is important, because the accusation is that those who accept Sunday worship are deliberately breaking the Fourth Commandment. However, the Fourth Commandment is the only commandment not quoted in the New Testament. But this is not merely an argument from silence. Colossians 2:17 shows us that the fulfillment of the sabbath commandment is in Christ. This is also what Jesus said in Luke 6:5 – :The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Therefore, it follows that our observation of the Fourth Commandment is fulfilled by our worship of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath.

For all these reasons, and more, Christian worship is to be every day, not just one – but especially Christians are to meet together on Sunday, not Saturday, and we correctly apply the Sabbath by our salvation. To continue with seventh-day observance is therefore in contradiction to the Scripture, and actually despises Jesus for His salvation. Note what the Apostle Paul says above: “So let no one judge you.” The Apostle reminds us that the celebration of the seventh-day is not the distinguishing mark of the elect, as the Seventh-Day Adventists, Hebrew Roots Movements and some Messianic congregations maintain it is. So for all these reasons, we note that seventh-day observance IS NOT commanded by our Lord, observance of a day of rest IS commanded and the most suitable day to recognize is that which was recognized throughout the New Testament – i.e. the Lord's Day, the first day of the week.

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