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How Sunday Keeping Started

A very strange situation exists among Christians today. All Christians worship the same God; they all have the very same Jesus as their Saviour. All Christians accept essentially the same Bible. Yet they have two days of worship!

On one hand there is a large group of sincere Christians who tell us, "Sunday is the Christian day of worship." Another equally sincere group replies, "No, Saturday, the seventh day, is the day on which Christians should worship." How can we decide the question? The only way to know religious truth is to go to God's Word. It does not matter what a church may teach or what a preacher may preach; the only really important question is: "What does God say in the Bible? What is truth?"

In the fourth commandment of God's wonderful Ten Commandment law, we read, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11). With such a plain statement from God Himself, we naturally ask, "How did Sunday-keeping begin?"

When asked, many Christians will say that they observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh because Christ rose from the dead on that day and authorized Christians to observe the day in honor of His Resurrection instead of the seventh-day Sabbath. A woman had just given this answer to a pastor who sat in her living room.

"Could you read me the Bible text which shows that Jesus made this change?" asked the pastor.

"Certainly," replied his hostess, as she reached for her Bible. The moments passed as she turned the pages back and forth. "I can't seem to locate it just now," she murmured at last, "but I'm sure it is there."

"Actually," the pastor stated, "the New Testament refers to the first day of the week, Sunday, only eight times. Five of these refer to the simple fact that Jesus rose from the dead early Sunday morning. These five texts are: Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1, 2; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1. Two of these (Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:1, 2) specifically mention that the Sabbath had already passed before Sunday morning began!"

"But notice John 20:19," answered the young lady. "Here the disciples are meeting on that evening of the first day to celebrate their Master's resurrection."

"I see you have already found the next text which refers to Sunday," admitted the pastor. "But I'm sure the disciples were not meeting to celebrate Jesus' recent resurrection."

"Why not?"

"Because Mark, telling about the same meeting, says that the disciples didn't believe the women who told them that Jesus had risen, and that one of the things Jesus did when He appeared to them that Sunday evening was to reprove them for not believing in His resurrection." (Mark 16:11, 14).

"The account of the meeting itself shows why they had assembled. John says they were hiding from the authorities: 'Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst' (John 20:19).

"You see, the disciples, not believing that Jesus was alive, had hidden from fear of the Jewish leaders in a room with the doors all shut, and probably locked, too! They were afraid that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them next! It doesn't sound much like they were setting a precedent for future Christians concerning a new day for worship, does it?"

"No, it doesn't," she agreed interestedly. "But aren't we supposed to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus?"

"Yes, indeed. But not by observing a day. Neither the day of Jesus' death nor the day of His resurrection has significance in the Scriptures as a holy day, or a day to be observed in honor of these two important events. However, the Lord's Supper is expressly designed to 'shew the Lord's death till he come' (1 Corinthians 11:26), and likewise baptism by immersion is specifically set apart in remembrance of both His burial and His resurrection. As the apostle Paul writes, 'We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his' (Romans 6:4, 5, Revised Standard Version).

"So, we learn from the Scriptures that the Lord Himself has not set aside a particular day to commemorate His death or His resurrection, but He has definitely ordained two separate memorials to honor these two important happenings.

"Being buried in and raised from a watery grave are symbols of His burial and resurrection, and no other memorials have been set aside for these events."

"Where does the Bible next mention the first day of the week?" the young lady wanted to know.

"In Acts 20:7: '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.' "

"Surely that was a religious meeting, since Paul preached to them," exclaimed the young woman.

"It certainly was," agreed the pastor, "But we need to keep two things in mind about this meeting. First of all, it was a special meeting. Paul and his companions had stopped at Troas on their way to Jerusalem. They stayed there seven days, and on the final day of their stay, which was Sunday, Paul held a special farewell service that evening. Acts tells us that Paul 's regular custom involved worshiping on the seventh day each week, just as Jesus' habit had been also (Luke 4:16). In fact, the Book of Acts lists many occasions when Paul worshiped on the seventh-day Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 42-44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4, 11).

"Another important thing to remember is this: Nothing man can do will make a day holy which God has not made holy. Tell me, does your church have a midweek preaching service?"

"Why, yes, every Wednesday."

"And does this make Wednesday a holy day?"

"Of course not!"

"Then why should Paul's preaching service on Sunday at Troas make Sunday holy? You see, without a direct command from God to keep a particular day holy, man can do nothing to make it a sacred day. God has said in Exodus 20:8-10, 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy, Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.' Nowhere can we find a record of God's changing that command from the seventh to the first day of the week. Man cannot keep holy a day which God has never made holy."

"That is true," reasoned the lady as if to herself.

"But you said there were eight texts which mention Sunday," she reminded him, "and that is only seven."

"Yes, the final text appears in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. 'Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.'

"Paul was taking up a collection among the churches to help famine-stricken Christians at Jerusalem. So he wrote the Corinthian believer, that each first day of the week they should set aside what they had to give. This would make it easier for him to collect their gifts when he came through without having to wait for them to do their bookkeeping. The offering could go to Jerusalem without delay.

"Some have thought that Paul was referring to the weekly offerings in church and that the Corinthians were meeting on Sunday. But the text says they were to 'lay by him in store,' or keep the offering set aside at home. And even if the Corinthians had worshiped on Sunday without God asking them to, that would not prove that God had changed the day of worship, would it?"

"So, in the only eight verses of the New Testament which mention the first day of the week, we just cannot find any hint of a divine command to change the worship day from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday, the first day."

"No, I suppose not. But doesn't the New Testament talk about Sunday as the Lord's day?"

"The term 'Lord's day' does occur once in the New Testament, in Revelation 1:10, but it does not say that Sunday is the Lord's day. It does not say that Saturday is, either. Here is the text: 'I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.'

"From this text all we can learn is that Jesus has a special day which is called the Lord's day. What day that might be, it just doesn't say. We have examined all the texts which refer to Sunday and none of them call that day the Lord's day. But in Matthew 12:8 we do find Jesus saying, 'For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. ' The Lord's day, then, is the Sabbath, the seventh-day Sabbath. In Isaiah 58:13 the Lord calls the Sabbath 'my holy day.'

"So the Scriptures are clear that the only day that can be called 'the Lord's day' is the seventh-day Sabbath. Nowhere in all the Bible did Jesus say He was Lord of the first day of the week."

The young woman stood thoughtfully in the doorway watching the pastor move down the sidewalk. The Bible evidence seemed so clear. What should she do?

Protestants profess to take the Bible as their only guide in religious matters. Mr. Dowling in his History of Romanism says, "The Bible, and the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants! Nor is it of any account in the estimation of the genuine Protestant how early a doctrine originated, if it is not found in the Bible."

Historians and prominent church leaders of different religious backgrounds acknowledge that there is no Scriptural evidence in favor of Sunday observance. Let us examine some of their statements.

Edward T. Hiscox, DD , author of The Baptist Manual, in an address before a Baptist convention of ministers, and reported in the New York Examiner, November 16, 1893, commented, "There was and is a commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, but that Sabbath day was not Sunday. It will be said, however, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week, with all its duties, privileges, and sanctions. Earnestly desiring information on this subject, which I have studied for many years, I ask, Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in the New Testament, absolutely not. There is no Scriptural evidence of the change of the Sabbath institution from the seventh to the first day of the week."

Reverend Isaac Williams, BD , of the Church of England, adds his voice: "And where are we told in Scripture that we are to keep the first day at all? We are commanded to keep the seventh; but we are nowhere commanded to keep the first day. . . . The reason why we keep the first day of the week holy instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the church, has enjoined it" (Plain Sermons on the Catechism, Vol. 1, pp. 334-336).

A final quotation from Dr. R. W. Dale of the Congregationalist Church: "It is quite clear that, however rigidly or devoutly we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath. . . . The Sabbath was founded on a specific, divine command. We can plead no such command for the obligation to observe Sunday. . . . There is not a single sentence in the New Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty for violating the supposed sanctity of Sunday" (Ten Commandments, pp. 127-129).

How then, did Sunday observance come into the church? It came about as a direct result of Satan's attempts to counterfeit God's work. Daniel, centuries before, had predicted a religious power which would arise from the Roman Empire, and which would bring about persecution and religious apostasy. "And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws" (Daniel 7:25). Here is a power which would attempt to change the part of God's law dealing with time, the Sabbath commandment.

Paul saw this process of apostasy working even in his day, so soon did corrupt practices come into the early church. He states, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30). "Let no man deceive you: . . . for that day [the coming of Jesus] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. . . . For the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7).

Paul could see the beginnings of the process which would end in apostasy from God's truth. Very soon the church as a whole lost sight of the pure truth of the apostles and of Jesus. Infant baptism, righteousness by works, idols, and Sunday worship came in.

A number of factors seem to have helped in establishing the counterfeit sabbath. Antagonism between Christians and Jews arose very quickly. Christians, anxious to establish themselves as a separate entity, began to look with disfavor on anything which would possibly tend to identify them as Jewish. Of course, the seventh-day Sabbath was distinctively observed by the Jews, and so Christians began to push the Sabbath down and to exalt Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Also, large numbers of former pagans began to come into the Christian church. These people had held the day of the sun as a sacred day because of the sun-god. They did not easily shed their former ideas, and as Christians tried to plan ways of making Christianity appealing to the pagans, the practice of incorporating the pagans' sacred day into the Christian church and giving it Christian meaning became prevalent.

For several centuries Christians kept both the seventh-day Sabbath and the first-day Sunday. But each passing year saw the Sabbath lowered in importance and Sunday elevated. The Sabbath became a day of gloom and fasting while Sunday evolved into a happy festival.

However, the early Christians did not feel that by observing Sunday they were obeying the fourth commandment or keeping the Sabbath.

Chambers' Encyclopedia says, "By none of the Fathers before the fourth century is it [Sunday] identified with the Sabbath, nor is the duty of observing it grounded by them, either on the fourth commandment, or on the precept by Christ or His apostles" (Article, "Sabbath").

Dr. Neander, regarded as the leading church historian of the Christian era, says, "The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, far from them, and from the early apostolic church, to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday. Perhaps at the end of the second century a false application of this kind had begun to take place; for men appear by that time to have considered laboring on Sunday as a sin" (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, Henry John Rose's translation, p. 186).

As the apostasy widened, the Roman Catholic Church took the lead among Christians in attempting to change the weekly worship day to Sunday. This church today unhesitatingly points to the change as her work and as a sign of her power in religious matters. She admits without qualm that the work of changing one of God's commandments is her own. Notice some statements, most of which are from Catholic sources:

The Catholic Bishop Eusebius, who presided in Caesarea in AD 330, writes, "All things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord's day" (Quoted in Cox's Sabbath Laws, Vol. 1, p. 361).

This from Dr. William Prynne, who wrote in AD 1633: "The seventh-day Sabbath was. . . . solemnized by Christ, the apostles, and primitive Christians, till the Laodicean Council did in a manner quite abolish the observance of it. . . . The Council of Laodicea [about AD 364] . . . first settled the observation of the Lord's day, and prohibited . . . the keeping of the Jewish Sabbath under an anathema" (Dissertation on the Lord's Day, p. 163).

The Kansas City Catholic, a Roman Catholic church paper, expressly states, "The Catholic church of its own infallible authority created Sunday a holy day to take the place of the Sabbath."

Monsignor Segur writes: "It was the Catholic Church which, by the authority of Jesus Christ, has transferred this rest to the Sunday in remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord. Thus the observance of Sunday by Protestants is an homage they pay, in spite of themselves, to the authority of the [Catholic] church" (Plain Talk About the Protestantism of Today, p. 213).

The August 25, 1900, Catholic Press, of Sydney, Australia, emphatically declares Sunday observance to be solely of Catholic origin. "Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles. . . . From beginning to end of Scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first."

One final quotation from Cardinal Gibbons, in his official church paper, the Catholic Mirror, December 23, 1893, places the issue squarely before us. "Reason and common sense demand the acceptance of one or the other of these alternatives: either Protestantism and the keeping holy of Saturday or Catholicity and the keeping of Sunday. Compromise is impossible."

There the line is clearly drawn. Either we must obey God or man. Jesus told the people of His day, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

The issue, you see, is not a matter of two twenty-four-hour days. The issue is not really a matter of who is right and who is wrong. The real issue is simply this: "Whose authority will you accept? Will you follow men and disobey God, or will you show your love and loyalty to Him who was willing to die for you by honoring and keeping the day He has specified as His holy day of worship?

Won't you say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15)? 

 

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