By Leonard C. Albert
Nearly every time I lecture on “Witnessing to the Cults” this question comes up: Are people who keep Saturday as the Sabbath a cult? Well, first of all, the answer is maybe—they could be cultists but the determining factor is not which day they go to church—the real issue is what they believe about Jesus. Cultists are people who deny the deity of Christ. Plain and simple. I do believe that they have a false doctrine because, contrary to the gospel of God, these people teach that the law is still binding on Christians today. Teaching “that the law of God is still binding on Christians today” is another gospel, which is really not another, but is a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The church in Galatia was troubled by this same false gospel (e.g. Galatians 3:1-3), except for them the focus was circumcision. For the Sabbath keepers, the focus is the Sabbath. Same issue but different subjects.
So the question remains, “What about all of these people who worship on Saturday and want others to as well?” It might be easier for me if the question was restated. Maybe the real question is something like, “Are Christians under obligation to observe a designated Sabbath day?” I don’t think so. I want to look to God’s Word because I think He has given us the answer here.
Religious groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists, still observe a Saturday Sabbath. While SDA is the largest of the groups, they’re not the only ones. There are many groups in this crowd including Baptists and Pentecostals! They are the “Judaisers” who want to create a form of legalistic Judaism, and Saturday worship is usually a centerpiece. Since honoring the Sabbath was part of the original Ten Commandments given by God, they believe it is a permanent, binding command that should not be changed. There are many scriptures which indicate that the whole law and commandments were completely abolished when the New Covenant came into effect. Consider Ephesians 2:15-16: “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (16) and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (NKJV). Also, Acts 2:46 tells us that the church in Jerusalem met every day in the temple courts and gathered to break bread together in private homes.
Read what Paul says in Romans 14:5-6 when he talks about our personal freedom regarding the observance of holy days: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.” (NLT).
In Colossians 2:16-17 Christians are instructed not to judge or allow anyone to be their judge regarding Sabbath days: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (NIV).
In Galatians 4:8-10, Paul is concerned because Christians are turning back like slaves to legalistic observances of “special” days: “So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. (NLT).
The earliest records of the New Testament period show that the first day of the week soon became a day of worship. When Paul wanted to collect an offering from the church at Corinth, he asked them to gather the money on the “first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2). And when he wanted to meet with the believers at Troas, the gathering took place “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). In Revelation 1:10, the apostle John described himself as being “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Most writers have thought he was referring to Sunday, so that our use of “the Lord’s Day” as a term for Sunday comes from this verse.
Some Thoughts About the Sabbath
First, the meaning of the word. We always hear about “seventh” and “Sabbath” as though they refer to the same word. The words “sabbath” and “seventh” do not come from the same word. The Hebrew word for “sabbath” is “shabbath” (Strong’s #7676 ) and it simply means “rest.” What makes the Sabbath special is not the day of the week but the rest or cessation from work. This rest does not have to be on the seventh day.
Next, it appears from the Bible that Sabbaths were celebrated on different days and for different lengths of time. Leviticus 23: 39 seems to indicate that it was on the first day and the eighth day. “Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest.” In Exodus 20:10 it appears to be on the seventh day. “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” (NKJV). In addition, Sabbaths were of different lengths of time. In Exodus 16: 23-29 it was one day long; in Leviticus 23:6-8 it was two days long. In Leviticus 25:4 it was one year long. There is a future Sabbath in the Millennium so that all mankind can come before God to worship (Isaiah. 66:22-24 ; Ezekiel. 44:24 ; 45:17 ; 46:3 ). Scripture does not reveal what particular day will be observed in the future because the particular day is not the issue nor has it ever been the issue.
Thirdly, Constantine and the Pope did not change the Sabbath in 321 and 364 A.D. as is pointed out many times by Sabbath keepers. There is no way to validate this claim in history. In 321 A.D. Constantine made the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became law by Constantine. The early Christian fathers worshipped on Sunday as well.
Lastly, man was not made for Sabbaths, but they were made for him (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5). We are free from the law. In these passages Jesus was pointing out that the Sabbath was made to serve people, instead of people being created to serve the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a servant, not a master. He was addressing the relative importance of the Sabbath, not which specific people were given the Sabbath or the specific day of the Sabbath.
Why Christians Worship on Sunday
1. To celebrate the resurrection and the finished work of Christ in His victory over death, hell, and the grave (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1).
2. The Lord’s manifestations to His disciples were on Sunday and our Lord Jesus ignored completely the old Jewish Sabbath. The first day is the prominent day after the resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 19, 26).
3. The outpouring of the Holy Ghost came on Sunday. Pentecost was the first day after seven Jewish Sabbaths (Acts 2:1; Leviticus 23:15-21). Thus, both Christ and the Holy Spirit manifested themselves to the church on this day, completely ignoring the Jewish Sabbath.
4. Neither Christ nor any apostle gave a command to keep the old Jewish Sabbath, or any other day, but did command all people not to be bound by any particular day (Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 5:9-1, Colossians 2:14-17). The day early Christians observed–not by commandment but by choice–was the first day, Sunday (John 20:1, 19, 20:7; 1Corinthians 16:2)
5. Although no set day is commanded to be the Sabbath in the new covenant, as in the old covenant which was abolished, they did keep Sunday as their day of worship (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 19, 26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).
6. The fourth commandment (Sabbath) was the only one not brought into the New Testament. Neither God nor Christ made it a part of the new covenant. One can easily find the other nine but the fourth one is just not in the New Testament. Jesus never once commanded any particular observance of any definite day. In fact He only mentioned the Sabbath four times and when He did talk about it He merely said it was lawful to do good on this day. Its sole purpose was to commemorate the deliverance from Egyptian bondage when Israel had no rest (Deuteronomy 5:15). It was only a type of future and eternal rest (Colossians 2:14-17, Hebrews 4:1-11 10:1).
7. The Sabbath commandment is a ceremonial law NOT a moral law. It is the only commandment that could be and has been broken without breaking a moral law. David and others broke it and were blameless (Matthew 12:2-5). The New Testament permits Christians to keep any day as the Sabbath, it being one of the doubtful things not covered by commandment in the new covenant (Romans 14:1-13 Galatians 4:9-11, Colossians 2:14-17).
In Romans 10:4 the Bible says that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The little word “end” is so powerful. The Greek word is “telos.” It means that Jesus is the “aim or purpose” of the law. Christians believe that Jesus came not to negate the law but to complete it—to fulfill it. When Jesus died on the cross he fulfilled the law. Read what Paul said in Ephesians 2:13-15: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” Jesus abolished the law of commandments (the Law of Moses which included the command to keep the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8). He abolished it “in His flesh;” that is by His death on the cross (Colossians 2:14-17).
Luke 16:16 says, “The law [including the Ten Commandments] and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (KJV). The new contract, which is the New Testament, is now in effect. The teaching of the Bible is plain. The Law of Moses was to the nation of Israel only. It lasted as a binding law until Christ died on the cross. At Pentecost, God’s new contract came into effect and this is God’s plan for all mankind today. From Paul’s writing in Colossians 2:16 it appears that the Bible allows evangelical Christians to worship on Sunday and other groups to worship on Saturday or whatever day they choose. The important thing is to not judge others as they choose their day of worship. The Bible clearly teaches that we are permitted to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week. This is the day upon which our Lord arose from the dead (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The day upon which the church began, Pentecost day, also was on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:9-16). Therefore, we can see why the Lord chose the first day of the week as the day of worship for Christians.
Personal Closing Observation
These groups all have false doctrine and teachings. The Seventh-day Adventist Church claims, based on the theology of Ellen G. White, that keeping Sunday as a worship day is the mark of the beast. That is just not true. In forty years of street and community visitation I have yet to see any of these groups out there preaching Christ. For that matter I’ve never seen them out there period! It seems their focus is on the perpetuation of their doctrine—not on winning the lost through the proclamation of Christ. It seems to me they are spiritually insecure, that they promote legalism in the church and that they desire control over others by not allowing the freedom to choose as the Bible teaches.