“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, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:5–6, NASB95)
Over the years I’ve been asked numerous times, if Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, why then do we as Christians typically go to church on Sunday?
This not only can be confusing, but it might even become contentious. Some churches insist that they maintain their worship on Saturday—the Sabbath. And other churches, as they have adapted their limited resources in response to their growth in numbers and the demands of some of their members (attenders) who work on Sunday, which is a relatively new thing in our history, they have added Saturday services. In addition, many churches have traditionally had a midweek study on Wednesday nights only to find in recent years that not only do the nights vary, but so do the locations as these times have moved into individual homes. And to make it even more complicated we also have questions surrounding why and how we celebrate or recognize Christmas, Easter, and even days such as Halloween or All Saints Eve.
The reality is that this is not a new struggle, but one that was even present during the early days of the church. This included Jewish believers who wanted to maintain their Sabbath observances and many others who had switched to meeting at other times and some who did both. Beyond that there were those believers who came from a pagan belief system which had specific days of festivals and observances from which they wanted to distance themselves only to find that some Jewish believers continued to worship their own special days. While some might not have had issues surrounding these days, clearly others did, sounding something like the eating issues from verses 2 and 3.
Here the instruction is the same, and that is the person who observes or even does not observe a day needs to do so in accordance with his or her conscience. And is so doing we were not to sit in judgment over each other for those decisions.
We read here in these verses and in the ones that follow that we are not to judge each other over the days that we observe, as we observe them for the Lord. In Colossians 2:16-17 we read, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17, NASB95) In these verses we read that we are not to act as the judge of another in regard to festivals (annual observances), new moons (monthly observances), and the Sabbath day (the weekly observance). We already saw that the ceremonial dietary restrictions had been lifted with the fulfillment of Christ’s coming. Here we also see that the ceremonial Sabbath observance also is not to be required of all believers.
In Mark 2:27-28, after Jesus had been confronted for picking grain to eat on the Sabbath, we read, “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27–28, NASB95) Jesus declares that even the Sabbath observance is subject to His Lordship. And in so doing He stated the priority that these observances were not put in place for the sake of having man jump through hoops, but for the benefit of man. And now that Christ had come, our benefit is found in Him. We moved from shadow to reality. This did not mean that man no longer was to worship on Saturday, but that it no longer held rule over him.
So the next question is, “Why Sunday?” Again recognizing that there is no mandatory day for all men and that all men are to be free before God in even their day of worship set aside for Him, there is a historical precedent for Sunday. First of all, it was on the first day of the week (Sunday) that Christ rose from the dead.
“Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.” (Matthew 28:1–6, NASB95)
Then later on that same first day of the week as the disciples had gathered we read, “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19–22, NASB95)
Here we find them going from gathering in fear to gathering in rejoicing having seen their risen Lord and being commissioned to go in peace in the power of the Spirit to reach the world with this incredible good news.
Jumping forward in time we move to Acts 20:7 where we read of Paul gathering with believers, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, NASB95) Here we not only find them gathering for a sermon (so to speak), but for the breaking of bread which was the common meal associated with the communion service.
Then in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 we read, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–2, NASB95) The understanding here is that when they regularly gathered for worship on the first day of the week, that they were to take up an offering which then could be distributed at the right time.
We have no instruction that the first day of the week is mandated for gathering, but the passages we do have in the New Testament which mention a day do point to Sunday. And as we look to subsequent history, we know from church writings that the early church did indeed continue to meet on the first day of the week (Sunday) after the close of the New Testament period.
In Revelation 1:10 John writes to us of being given the Revelation from God. “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”” (Revelation 1:9–11, NASB95) This day we understand to be the day that they gathered to worship—the day that belonged to the Lord—the Lord’s Day, the day our Lord rose from the dead and brought to all of us new life in Himself.
So, while the majority of the church might believe it has a solid precedent for establishing Sunday as its day of worship, we also know that there is freedom in this as well. But in this freedom we are exhorted not to negate all days. “[A]nd let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NASB95)
What we never want to lose sight of is that we do all of these things for the Lord and in doing that we are to make the best choices for when we can do so sharing it with one another.