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Columnist responds to Sabbath question

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By Michael Waits

Last week, in a letter to the editor, a respondent asked “Where in the Bible did Christ change the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day?” This is a very good question because it is one that has been debated throughout the history of the church – should we worship on Saturday or Sunday? Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer to this question; however, there is enough textual information recorded in the Bible to make a strong argument.

As the writer pointed out, the creation account in Genesis does state that God consecrated the seventh day as holy because that is the day He rested from all His work (Genesis 2:3); although, nowhere in these passages is there yet a command to worship on that day.

Arguably, the observance of the Sabbath was not given to the Israelites until the time of Moses as a special sign between God and his people: “’The sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath…as a perpetual covenant.’ It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:16-17). Later, Moses reiterates the Law to the Israelites, not for the purpose of remembering creation; rather, to remember their deliverance from slavery by the Egyptians. “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out...; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The passage in Hebrews regarding the “Sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4:9) refers not to the appropriate day of worship; rather, to the act of rest from the submission of law and men. Although the Old Testament Law still stands today as a guiding post for faithful obedience to God, New Testament believers are no longer bound by those laws which were in place to guide the Israelites in obedience to God. When Jesus died on the cross, He put an end to the Old Testament Law: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). It was never intended by God to be always in effect, but to lead us to Christ who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law (Galatians 3:24).

In the New Testament, the examples given of the early church never mention Christians meeting for worship on the seventh day of the week (Sabbath); rather, they met on the first day. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them” (Acts 20:7). In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind; he who observes the day, observes it for the Lord” (Romans 5:5-6), and to the church in Corinth, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save” (1 Corinthians 16:2). From these passages it appears the early Christians were coming together for worship on the first day of each week in remembrance of Christ.

It was later recorded in the early fourth century, since dating back to the first century when Christians worshiped on the first day of the week, that Constantine made an official decree to make Sunday the official day of rest for the Roman Empire, “On the venerable day of the Sun, let the magistrates and people residing in the cities rest, and let all workshops be closed” (Constantine, March 7, 321, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p.380). In doing so, Constantine was not, however, changing the day of the Sabbath; rather, he was setting aside the first day of the week for rest.

As a note of personal opinion, although the first calendar day of the week is Sunday, sadly for many it is merely the second day of the weekend and just another opportunity to sleep in before going back to a regular work-week routine. That, in my mind, should be the larger issue. Rather than concerning ourselves in regards to which day is the appropriate day for worship, shouldn’t we be more concerned about those, especially Christians, who do not worship regularly at all?

But the act of worship is more than a religious ceremony passed down from tradition; it is the presenting ourselves to God with all our heart, soul, body and mind. It is the renewing of our minds through Truth found only in the word of God. In his conversation to the woman at the well Jesus said, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). No matter which day you choose to worship the Lord, Saturday or Sunday, remember that it is the heart, not the ritual that matters most to God.