If recent emails I have received are any true indication, Sabbath worship among those who claim to be Christians is becoming more and more popular. Recently, I have heard that the Sabbath was never changed by God; that we are still under obligation to keep it; that refusal to keep it is the mark of the beast; that it was invented by Roman Catholics in order to worship the Sun god. We will go to the Bible and a little history to get at the truth.
The Heresy of Sabbath-Keeping
The New Testament teachings of Paul, far from teaching the necessity of the Sabbath, show that such a teaching is pure heresy. First, consider this passage:
Colossians 2:16 “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:“ 17 “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
In this passage, Paul says that the keeping of Sabbath days was only a shadow of things to come. He told the Colossians not to let anyone judge them concerning the keeping of the Sabbath days (and other Jewish holy days). Since the Colossians were saved Gentiles who would not have originally kept the Sabbath, Paul is referring to those who would judge them for not keeping the Sabbath. In other words, Paul is clearly saying that the keeping of the Sabbath is no longer necessary. Those who would judge anyone else for not keeping the Sabbath are the ones who are wrong. Here is another important passage:
Galatians 4:9 “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” 10 "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years." 11 "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain."
In Galatians, Paul refers to the observing of days (which would include the keeping of the Sabbath) as one of the "weak and beggarly elements" which put men in "bondage." He is fearful (as he says in many ways throughout the book of Galatians) that they are ready to return to the bondage of Judaism after Jesus Christ has made them free.
The Sabbath as a Sign for Israel
The Bible clearly teaches that the Sabbath was given as a gift to the people of Israel. It was a special sign of God’s covenant between Himself and Israel. Exodus 31:12-18 teaches this special relationship between Israel and the keeping of the Sabbath. Note especially verses sixteen and seventeen:
Exodus 31:16 “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.” 17 “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.”
To require Gentiles to keep the Sabbath is to attempt to make Jews out of them. It is true that in Old Testament times Gentiles went to the Jew to find the way of salvation. However, in this age of grace, the Bible is just as clear that Jews must come to the Gentiles to find the way to God. Peter, in referring to the salvation of the Gentile Cornelius and his household, said, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:11). In other words, Jews (like Peter) must be saved according to the pattern of Gentiles (like Cornelius).
New Testament Worship on the First Day
These modern Sabbath-keepers teach that worshipping on the first day of the week was an invention of the Roman Catholics when they assimilated many pagan practices. First of all, Roman Catholicism was not really established as such until the fourth century after Christ. Up until that time, there were some minor moves toward giving an elevated place to the church at Rome, but there was nothing approaching Catholicism. In fact, it took several centuries after this time for them to consolidate their power into one head at Rome.
At any rate, worshipping on the first day of the week began immediately after the resurrection of Christ and continued from that time. Consider the following points:
- Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).
- The day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came down in power, was on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1; Leviticus 23:15-16).
- The early church habitually met on the first day of the week (John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
- The first day of every week we remember the resurrection of our Lord as the beginning of a new dispensation in which we are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:18).
- CONCLUSION: The Roman Catholic Church was not established until about three centuries after Christ. Christians meeting on the first day of the week began immediately after the resurrection of Christ.
Historical Support for First Day Worship
Finally, consider how early Christians began to worship on the first day of the week according to the historical records. It was mentioned as the day of worship by the following men or in the following writings:
Ignatius in his Ad Magnesios written about 115AD.
An unknown author in The Epistle of Barnabas probably written between 107 and 120AD.
Justin Martyr who lived from about 100 to 165AD.
Tertullian who lived from about 160 to 220AD.
These are just some of the earliest examples. The evidence to the contrary just does not match up. Before the completion of the New Testament and immediately afterwards, the Christian day of worship was the first day of the week. On that special day every week we come together to worship God and to remember that we serve a risen Saviour. Those who teach otherwise try to bring Christians back under the bondage of the law. Their false doctrine should be rejected. Let us worship our Saviour truly on the day of His resurrection.