The Sabbath Debate



The Sabbath Debate


To conclude our study on the Sabbath, let us take a look at the modern debate over whether God commands Christians to follow the Sabbatical Law. The modern debate seems to focus around which side one takes on three theological questions. These questions are listed as follows:

A) Question #1: Are the 10 Commandments as given under Moses the rule of God for all generations and all races? 

B) Question #2: Is God’s covenant relationship with Israel still binding or has God replaced Israel with a new people, the Church?

C) Question #3: When interpreting prophetic passages of Scripture, do we understand them in their literal natural sense or do we read between the lines to gain additional insight?

The first of these questions we addressed in segment three of our study and concluded that the 10 Commandments as given under Moses to the Jewish people are not binding on the Church age Saint. The other two questions we will endeavor to address in the following paragraphs.

1) Question #2: God’s covenant relationship with Israel; is it still binding? There are two basic schools of thought on this matter: the Covenant position and the Dispensational position. Where one stands in this debate will have a definite bearing on one’s view of the Sabbath and the way it is to be followed in the Church Age.

a. The Covenant or Replacement theological position can be traced to the late Third Century AD when some Christian leaders began to develop an anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish mind set. This resulted in the development of the belief that God had divorced Israel from the covenant he established with her because she had rejected and crucified Jesus, her Messiah. In divorcing Israel, they believed that God had entered into a new covenant relationship with Israel’s replacement, the Church. All the covenantal blessings, promises, and obligations originally given to Israel were now transferred to the Church. Therefore they concluded if the 10 Commandments were given to Israel than they know would apply to the Church as well. The Church was now bound to keep the Sabbatical law as given through the Ten Commandments by Moses. 

This did not mean that they necessary felt that the Sabbath had to be kept on Saturday. They adapted this law to their worship on Sunday and transformed the ceremonial Sabbaths and their feasts into a liturgical or holy calendar of events such as Lent and Advent. They also put into practice a strict set of rules as to what was and was not permitted on the new Sabbath day, Sunday. It was only logical for them to rename Sunday as the “Sabbath Day” and Sunday now became in many ways a part of the “weekend” with Monday becoming the unofficial first day of the week as it is viewed today. It is interesting to note that recently some companies have offered calendars in which Monday is listed as the first day of the week and Sunday as the last day. Though we recognize Sunday as the First Day of the week, we in practice include it in the “weekend.”

b. The Dispensation or Restoration theological position can be traced back to the time of the Divided Kingdom of Israel as God sent forth His prophets to proclaim not only the impending chastisement of Israel at the hands of the Gentile nations but also its eventual restoration as a thriving nation in the promised land. This view was carried over into the New Testament Church and was taught and held by all the Church until the late Third Century AD. This can be found reflected in the words of our Lord and His Apostles.

i. Words of Jesus in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 speak of the time of the future Tribulation in which Israel will receive her Messiah at the close of “Times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24). Jesus also foretold of a time when Elijah would come in the future to restore all things as foretold in the OT prophets (Mk. 9:12). Likewise it was prophesied of Jesus that He came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This has yet to be accomplished indicating that the Lord has not yet finished with the Chosen people.

ii. Words of Paul in Romans 11:1-33.

“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 "Lord , they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. . . . 11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness . . . For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." NKJV

Since the Church is therefore a temporary stand in for Israel, the things given specifically to Israel as a part of its covenantal relationship with God are not for the Church. Even as Paul wrote, God was using the rise of a predominately Gentile Church as a tool to bring Israel back to Him. The Church is therefore not bound by the Sabbatical Law as given to Israel to worship on Saturday, to keep the restrictive rules given in the Sabbatical Law of Moses, nor to maintain a liturgical or holy calendar. The Church is only bound by the principles laid down by God’s example in Gen. 2:1-3. It is to keep a 7 day week made up of 6 days of regular labor and one day set aside for worship and rest. 

2) Question #3: What is the biblical method of interpreting prophetic Scripture: the literal or spiritual sense? In 1810, William Miller, a NY farmer and part time soldier converted from deism and immediately devoted himself to the study of Scripture. After a time, he became convinced that the Second Coming of the Lord was near and as he studied the prophetic passages of Scripture, he made a fateful decision. Because the desire of knowing the exact date of Christ return was so alluring to him, he chose to interpret the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 in a spiritual not a literal sense. He therefore took Daniel’s period of 2300 days and changed it to 2300 years. Based upon this spiritual interpretation he drew the conclusion that the Lord would return on March 21, 1843. As he went forth and preached his interpretation, many from all denominations joined him in preparing for this day of the Lord’s return.

When the Lord did not come on the date predicted, Miller re-calculated his figures and came up with March 21, 1844. However, when the Lord did not return on this date as well, Miller recanted of his error and went on to become a successful pastor. Unfortunately, the damage had been done as a follower of Miller, Hiram Edson, began teaching that Miller was right about his March 21, 1844 date but wrong about the location of Christ’s return. Edson taught that Daniel’s prophecy spoke of the Lord’s coming not to earth but into His heavenly temple to separate out the true believers from the false ones. Two of Edson’s followers, Joseph Bates and Ellen G. (Harmon) White, added to his teaching that keeping the Sabbath (Saturday) was one of the necessary evidences of a true believer. This, along with several other observances made up the criteria Jesus was using to separate the true believer from the false. Therefore, if a believer desired to enter into the everlasting life promised by our Lord they must worship on Saturday. This movement continued to gain ground and eventually formed into what is known today as the Seventh Day Adventists.

Ellen G. Harmon married Adventist Leader James White and it is said she began to have visions, often caught up to heaven, as the Apostle John. A prolific writer, as time went on these writings of her visions were considered almost on a par equal to the Scriptures and were considered the only accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. As the SDA's Questions on Doctrines states "the Holy Spirit opened to her mind important events and called her to give certain instruct ions for these days... we as a denomination accept them as inspired counsels from the Lord." 

Mrs. White’s writings followed the erroneous pattern set originally by Miller of spiritually interpreting prophetic passages of Scripture. Miller felt he could take the word “day” (literally “morning and evening” indicating a 24 hour time span) and spiritualize it into a “year.” Mrs. White’s interpretation of future events therefore missed the clear Scriptural teaching that the Church is removed from this world (1 Thes. 4:13-18) prior to the 7 year period of Tribulation and the rise of the Antichrist. Therefore she taught that the Church would be persecuted by the Antichrist who will “speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute* the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time” (Dan. 7:25). She saw this changing of the time as an attempt by the Antichrist to force the Saints of God to worship on Sunday not Saturday. She also saw the account of Satan’s attack upon the Jewish people (Rev. 12) and the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13) as applying to the Church Age Saint. Therefore she concluded that the day would come when the Church Saints will be forced by the Antichrist to either worship on Sunday or die. Drawing from passages such as 1 Jn. 2:18 which indicate that the Spirit of Antichrist is already at work, she taught that the Church originally worshipped on the Sabbath until the rise of the Pope who in 321 AD changed the day of worship to Sunday in the Laws of Constantine.

The problem with all of this is that the SDA’s and other groups which share this view have chosen not to interpret Second Coming prophetic passages in their natural literal sense. In doing so, they draw conclusions that are not consistent with the teachings of Christ and His Apostles. Likewise, there is no mention in the Scriptures of the Church worshipping on a Sabbath or Saturday and I know of no historical references passages that allude to such a practice. In fact, in the second segment we showed that as early as the turn of the first Century AD there are historical records of the church worshipping on Sunday as well as two NT passages which document this as well (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

One additional point should be made at this juncture before we leave it. God warns us through the Apostle Paul that women are not to have authority when it comes to doctrinal teaching in the Church. Take note of the following passages.

1 Tim 2:11-12, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” NKJV

1 Cor 11:3-4, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” NKJV

1 Cor 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” NKJV

The SDA disregarded this biblical mandate for the Church by elevating the teaching of a woman over that of the male leadership of the Church and in doing so continued down the path to error.

To conclude, it is this blurring of the Tribulation with the Church Age through spiritual interpretation and the replacement of Israel with the Church that has led to much error in regard to God’s will for the Church and the keeping of the Sabbath. God’s mandate for the Church age Saint is to follow the Sabbatical example given by God in Gen. 2:1-3. We should keep a 7 day week made up of 6 days of labor and one day of rest and worship. God clearly indicates that the day we set aside to worship is up to the conscience of each believer (Rom. 14:5-6). Likewise, God never makes worshipping on Saturday a requirement of salvation. When we make certain commandments a requirement after salvation we make the work of Christ of no effect. We start by putting our faith in Christ as our Savior and we are expected to finish in by faith in Him. I leave you with the words of Paul on this matter. 

Gal 3:1-9, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? — just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” NKJV