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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Plains Baptist Challenger
Published July 2011
At a recent evangelistic outreach into a community, the subject of the Sabbath came up. This kind of thing is not uncommon whenever special meetings are widely advertised. A visitor to one of the meetings let those who talked with him know that he was a “Sabbatarian” — meaning he claimed to be a Christian who believed the seventh day should be observed as the day of worship.
The debate over the Sabbath and the Christian has been going on from the second century A.D. Today there exist a number of Sabbatarian sects — most notably the Seventh-Day Adventist cult, but also Seventh-Day “Baptists” and other small groups.
Official SDA teaching on the Sabbath states: “The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty … When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, then the line of distinction shall be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. While the observance of the false Sabbath [Sunday] … will be an avowal of allegiance to a power that is in opposition to God, the keeping of the true Sabbath … is an evidence of loyalty to the Creator. While one class, by accepting the sign of submission to earthly powers, receive the mark of the beast, the other … receive the seal of God.” (White, E. G. The Great Controversy. Pg. 605.)
The following points set forth the BIBLICAL teaching concerning the Sabbath Day and its relationship to Bible-believing Baptists:
1. The word “Sabbath” means “cessation” or “rest” (from labor).
According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word “shab·bâth” means “intermission.” The Greek word,“sabbaton,” is a transliteration from the Hebrew.
2. The weekly Sabbath was NEVER instituted as a day of worship.
It was a day off from work: nothing more, nothing less.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3) there were certain “holy convocation” Sabbaths prescribed during the feasts of the Lord (e.g., Leviticus 23:6-7,10-11,20-21,24-25, etc.). Even these special Sabbaths were days when no work or labor could be done.
3. The Sabbath was FIRST REVEALED to Israel at Mount Sinai.
“Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And MADEST KNOWN unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant” — Nehemiah 9:13-14.
Prior to the giving of the Law, the Sabbath was not observed. Nehemiah 9:7-8 mentions the great covenant the LORD made with Abraham (500 years before the Law was given) — yet there was no mention of Sabbath observance.
“Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous.”
The Sabbath was not revealed to the Patriarchs.
4. The command to keep the Sabbath day holy (set apart) is first given in Exodus 20:8-11.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh dayis the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 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.”
The first mention of the Sabbath as an act imposed upon man is found in Exodus 16:23. No penalty was attached to this command. It was before the Law was given.
5. The Sabbath was given as a SIGN between the LORD and Israel.
This point is vital to understanding the purpose for the law of the Sabbath.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a SIGN between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 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” — Exodus 31:12-17.
“Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a SIGN between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them” — Ezekiel 20:12.
6. It is significant because the JEWS require a sign.
“For the JEWS require a SIGN, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” — I Corinthians 1:22.
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a SIGN from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a SIGN; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” — Matthew 12:38-39.
“They said therefore unto him, What SIGN shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?” — John 6:30.
7. Violation of the Sabbath Law incurred the death penalty.
This aspect of the Sabbath Law is not practiced by those who hold to a sacramentalist Sabbath-keeping position.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to DEATH. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” — Exodus 35:2-3.
“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses” — Numbers 15:32-36.
8. The New Testament does not include the commandment to keep the Sabbath whenever it reiterates the Law.
For example, the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5) speaks about the sin of murder and adultery, but makes no mention of the Sabbath.
The sins proceeding from the heart of man include murder, adultery, theft, and bearing false witness, but do not mention the Sabbath (Matthew 15:19).
The works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21 and I Corinthians 6:9-10 include murder, adultery, theft, and idolatry — but not any violation of the Sabbath.
When the Lord Jesus Christ spoke with the “rich young ruler” He mentioned the last six commandments by name, but did not bring up the Sabbath law.
When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees over Sabbath keeping, He set the record straight.
“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” — Mark 2:23-28.
Jesus showed that the Sabbath was given to man by a wise and benevolent Creator. Man needs to rest his mind and body one day out of seven. That is a timeless Bible principle. The Sabbath rest was commanded of Israel as a sign between it and the LORD, and the scribes and Pharisees had managed to turn it into a grievous burden for all.
9. For the believer, Jesus Christ is the FULFILLMENT of the Sabbath Rest.
The Sabbath was a foreshadowing of the One Who would give us rest unto our souls.
“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: Which are a SHADOW of things to come; but the body [reality] is of Christ” — Colossians 2:16-17.
Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find REST unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” — Matthew 11:28-30.
This glorious truth is explained in Hebrews 4:3-11.
“For we which have BELIEVED do enter into REST, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my REST: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus [Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. FOR HE THAT IS ENTERED INTO HIS REST, HE ALSO HATH CEASED FROM HIS OWN WORKS, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
Every saved person is COMPLETE in Christ. This is taught in Colossians 2:10. There is nothing we can do or are required to do in order to be saved, to remain saved, or to maintain our acceptance with God! The ordinances of the Law were all nailed to the cross of Christ and marked PAID IN FULL (Colossians 2:14)!
10. Believers have LIBERTY in Christ.
“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” — Colossians 2:16.
There is no “legally prescribed day” for Baptists to keep or observe.
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it” — Romans 14:5-6.
Having said that, this liberty does not extend to esteeming NO day as unto the Lord. A Christian does not have liberty to skip out on assembling with the Lord’s church.
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” — Hebrews 10:24-25.
11. New Testament churches traditionally assemble on the FIRST day of the week.
Not all traditions are bad — if they are grounded in scripture (II Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6). There is no commandment imposed upon churches and Christians to observe the first day of the week, but the practice has scriptural support.
The first day of the week “celebrates” the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a weekly remembrance — it was never intended to be observed once a year!
The Lord appeared to His church on the first day of the week.
“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, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you … And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you” — John 20:19,26.
The church at Troas assembled on the FIRST day of the week.
“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” — Acts 20:7.
It is important to note that, according to Acts 20:6, Paul and his company were in Troas for SEVEN days. This means they were there on a Sabbath day (Saturday). There is no record of that church gathering on Saturday. They came together on Sunday!
The only COMMAND to Baptists concerning Sunday is given in I Corinthians 16:2.
“Upon the FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…”
12. Baptists enjoy full LIBERTY through Christ when it comes to days.
Sunday is NOT the “Christian Sabbath.” The Covenant Theology of the Protestants may have led to that misnomer, but it is not taught in the Bible.
The Sabbath is still Saturday — nobody changed that.
Some will point to the emperor Constantine, claiming that he introduced the “evil” of Sunday worship into Christendom. The fact is his famous Lex Constantini of March 7, 321 A.D. merely codified Sunday as an official civil observance (as an aid to the churches, who were meeting on that day). His law prohibited manual labor, legal transactions, and military exercises on Sunday. He didn’t “invent” Sunday worship.
The fact is the early churches assembled far more frequently that we do today.
“And they, continuing DAILY with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church DAILY such as should be saved” — Acts 2:46-47.
“And DAILY in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” — Acts 5:42.
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the DAILY ministration” — Acts 6:1.
“And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number DAILY” — Acts 16:5.
Proponents of the Sabbatarian cause often point to Paul preaching on the Sabbath Day. Indeed, Paul did (see: Acts 13:14,42,44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). Why wouldn’t he? Paul went to the synagogues on the Sabbath because that’s where lost Jews would be. He was after all an evangelist! If he showed up on the first day of the week there would be no crowds.
Thank God for our Saviour Who gives us rest unto our souls. Thank the Lord for the liberty we have in Christ — the liberty to put the kingdom of God and His righteousness FIRST in our lives; the liberty to give Him the FIRST day of the week and the FIRST fruits of our increase; and the liberty to do the FIRST works.