Sabbath in seventh-day churches
The seventh-day Sabbath, observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, is an important part of the beliefs and practices of seventh-day churches. These churches emphasize biblical references such as the ancient Hebrew practice of beginning a day at sundown, and the Genesis creation narrative wherein an "evening and morning" established a day, predating the giving of the Ten Commandments (thus the command to "remember" the sabbath). They hold that the Old and New Testament show no variation in the doctrine of the Sabbath on the seventh day. Saturday, or the seventh day in the weekly cycle, is the only day in all of scripture, designated using the term Sabbath. The seventh day of the week is recognized as Sabbath in many languages, calendars, and doctrines, including those of Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is still observed in modern Judaism in relation to Mosaic Law.
Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant denominations believe the Mosaic Law to be superseded. Yet it is only in the west that some Christians describe the sabbath as being transferred to Sunday, the first day of the week, merged with the day of Christ's resurrection, forming (in some traditions) a "Christian Sabbath".
"Seventh-day Sabbatarians" are Christians who seek to reestablish the practice of some early Christians who kept the sabbath according to normal Jewish practice. They usually believe that all humanity is obliged to keep the Ten Commandments, including the sabbath, and that keeping all the commandments is a moral responsibility that honors, and shows love towards God as creator, sustainer, and redeemer. Christian seventh-day Sabbatarians, arising from Adventist groups in the Millerite tradition, hold beliefs similar to that tradition that the change of the sabbath was part of a Great Apostasy in the Christian faith. Some of these, most notably the Seventh-day Adventist Church, have traditionally held that the apostate church formed when the Bishop of Rome began to dominate the west and brought heathen corruption and allowed pagan idol worship and beliefs to come in, and formed the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches traditions over Scripture, and to rest from their work on Sunday, instead of Sabbath, which is not in keeping with Scripture.
The sabbath is one of the defining characteristics of seventh-day denominations, including Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, the Seventh-Day Evangelist Church, the Church of God (7th Day) headquartered in Salem, West Virginia, the Church of God (Seventh Day) conferences, True Jesus Church, and the United Church of God, among many others.
The sabbath was first described in the biblical account of the seventh day of creation. Observation and remembrance of the sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (the fourth in the Eastern Orthodox and most Protestant traditions, the third in Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions). Most people who observe the first-day or seventh-day sabbath regard it as having been instituted as a perpetual covenant: "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." (Exodus 31:13-17) (see also Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 5:13-14) This rule also applies to strangers within their gates, a sign in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed creation in six days (Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11).
Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his historical work From Sabbath to Sunday, documented the slow change from the original Saturday Sabbath to Sunday in the early Christian church due to pagan influence from the pagan converts, social pressure against Judaism, and also the decline of standards for the day. In the change, the first day became called the 'Lords Day' as that was the name known as the sun god Baal to the pagans so they were familiar with it and put forth by the leaders in Rome to gain converts and got picked up by the Christians in Rome to differentiate themselves from the Jews, who had rebelled, and the Sabbath. According to Justin Martyr, Christians also worshiped on Sunday because it "possessed a certain mysterious import", not anything commanded by the Apostles. "Seventh-day Adventists point out the role played by either the Pope, or by Roman Emperor Constantine I in the transition from Sabbath to Sunday, with Constantine's law declaring that Sunday was a day of rest for those not involved in farming work.
Emperor Aurelian began a new Sun cult in 274 A.D and pagan ordinances were instituted in order to transform the old Roman idolatry and the accession of Sun-worship. Emperor Constantine then enacted the first Sunday Laws, for "the venerable Day of the Sun" in 321 A.D. On March 7, 321, the Roman emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a day of rest from labor, stating:
All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.
"This legislation by Constantine probably bore no relation to Christianity; it appears, on the contrary, that the emperor, in his capacity of Pontifex Maximus, was only adding the day of the Sun, the worship of which was then firmly established in the Roman Empire, to the other ferial days of the sacred calendar…
What began, however, as a pagan ordinance, ended as a Christian regulation; and a long series of imperial decrees, during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, enjoined with increasing stringency abstinence from labour on Sunday."
Early Christian observance of both the spiritual seventh-day sabbath and a Lord's Day assembly is evidenced in Ignatius's letter to the Magnesians ca. 110. The Pseudo-Ignatian additions amplified this point by combining weekly observance of spiritual seventh-day sabbath with the Lord's assembly. If Pseudo-Ignatius dates as early as 140, its admonition must be considered important evidence on 2nd-century sabbath and Lord's Day observance. According to classical sources, widespread seventh-day sabbath rest by gentile Christians was also the prevailing mode in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Ellen G. White states that ecumenical councils generally each pressed the sabbath down slightly lower and exalted Sunday correspondingly, and that the bishops eventually urged Constantine to syncretize the worship day in order to promote the nominal acceptance of Christianity by pagans. But "while many God-fearing Christians were gradually led to regard Sunday as possessing a degree of sacredness, they still held the [seventh-day] Sabbath." Bauckham also states some church authorities continued to oppose this as a judaizing tendency.
In the 4th century, Socrates Scholasticus (Church History, Book V) stated:
For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebaïs, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate in the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.
In the 5th century, Sozomen (Ecclesiastical History, Book VII), referencing Socrates Scholasticus, added to his description:
Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.
The "Sabbath in Africa Study Group" (SIA), founded by Charles E. Bradford in 1991, holds that the sabbath has existed in Africa since the beginning of recorded history. Taddesse Tamrat has argued that this practice predates Saint Ewostatewos's advocacy of observing both Saturday and Sunday as days of sabbath, which led to his eventual exile from Ethiopia around 1337. Emperor Zara Yaqob convened a synod at Tegulet in 1450 to discuss the sabbath question.
In Bohemia, as much as one quarter of the population kept seventh-day the sabbath in 1310. This practice continued until at least the 16th century, when Erasmus wrote about the practice.
The Unitarian Church condemned Sabbatarianism as innovation (forbidden by the Transylvanian law on religious toleration) in 1618. The last Sabbatarian congregation in Transylvania disappeared in the 19th century and the remaining Sabbatarians, who were known as "Somrei Sabat" (the Hungarian transliteration of the Hebrew words for "Sabbath observers") joined the existing Jewish communities, into which they were eventually absorbed. Sabbatarianism also expanded into Russia, where its adherents were called Subbotniks, and, from there, the movement expanded into other countries. Some of the Russian Subbotniks maintained a Christian identity doctrinally, while others formally converted to Judaism and assimilated within the Jewish communities of Russia. Some of the latter, however, who had become Jewish, although they and their descendants practiced Judaism and had not practiced Christianity for nearly two centuries, still retained a distinct identity as ethnic Russian converts to Judaism until later.
A small number of the anti-Trinitarian Socinian churches of Eastern Europe and the Netherlands adopted the seventh day as the day of worship and rest.
Sects such as the Waldenses, Albigenses, and Leonists appear to have retained sabbath observance in Europe during the Middle Ages. A report of an inquisition, before which were brought some Waldenses of Moravia in the middle of the 15th century, declares that among the Waldenses "not a few indeed celebrate the Sabbath with the Jews." The Taiping Rebellion kept the sabbath in China. The Goa Inquisition attacked Sabbatarian Saint Thomas Christians.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation some Anabaptists, such as Oswald Glait, argued that the seventh day should be observed as the sabbath and that Sunday sabbath was an invention of the Pope.
Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was revived in 17th-century England. Early advocates included the Elizabethan Seventh-Day Men, the Traskites (after John Traske, 1586–1636), and Thomas Brabourne. The majority of seventh-day Sabbatarians were part of the Seventh Day Baptist church and experienced harsh opposition from Anglican authorities and Puritans. The first Seventh Day Baptist church in the United States was established in Rhode Island in 1671.
Seventh Day Baptists
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest modern seventh-day Sabbatarian denomination, with 17,214,683 members as of June 30, 2011, and holds the sabbath as one of the Pillars of Adventism. Seventh-day Adventism grew out of the Millerite movement in the 1840s, and a few of its founders (Cyrus Farnsworth, Frederick Wheeler, a Methodist minister and Joseph Bates, a sea captain)were convinced in 1844-1845 of the importance of Sabbatarianism under the influence of Rachel Oakes Preston, a young Seventh Day Baptist laywoman living in Washington, New Hampshire and a published article in early 1845 on the topic (Hope of Israel) by Thomas M. Preble, pastor of the Free Will Baptist congregation in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Seventh-day Adventists observe the sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. In places where the sun does not appear or does not set for several months, such as northern Scandinavia, the tendency is to regard an arbitrary time such as 6 p.m. as "sunset". During the sabbath, Adventists avoid secular work and business, although medical relief and humanitarian work is accepted. Though there are cultural variations, most Adventists also avoid activities such as shopping, sport, and certain forms of entertainment. Adventists typically gather for church services on Saturday morning. Some also gather on Friday evening to welcome in the sabbath hours (sometimes called "vespers" or "opening Sabbath"), and some similarly gather at "closing Sabbath".
Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Ten Commandments (including the fourth commandment concerning the sabbath) are part of the moral law of God, not abrogated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which apply equally to Christians. This was a common Christian understanding before the Sabbatarian controversy led Sunday-keepers to adopt a more radical antinomian position. Adventists have traditionally distinguished between "moral law" and "ceremonial law", arguing that moral law continues to bind Christians, while events predicted by the ceremonial law were fulfilled by Christ's death on the cross.
"Sabbatarian Adventists" emerged between 1845 and 1849 from within the Adventist movement of William Miller, later to become the Seventh-day Adventists. Frederick Wheeler began keeping the seventh day as the sabbath after personally studying the issue in March 1844 following a conversation with Rachel Preston, according to his later report. He is reputed to be the first ordained Adventist minister to preach in support of the sabbath. Several members of the church in Washington, New Hampshire, to whom he occasionally ministered, also followed his decision, forming the first Sabbatarian Adventist church. These included William Farnsworth and his brother Cyrus. T. M. Preble soon accepted it from either Wheeler, Oakes, or someone else at the church. These events preceded the Great Disappointment, which followed shortly after, when Jesus did not return as Millerites expected on October 22, 1844.
Preble was the first Millerite to promote the sabbath in print form, through the February 28, 1845, issue of the Adventist Hope of Israel in Portland, Maine. In March he published his sabbath views in tract form as A Tract, Showing that the Seventh Day Should be Observed as the Sabbath, Instead of the First Day; "According to the Commandment". This tract led to the conversion of John Nevins Andrews and other Adventist families in Paris, Maine, as well as the 1845 conversion of Joseph Bates, who became the foremost proponent of the sabbath among this group. These men in turn convinced James Springer White, Ellen Harmon (later White), and Hiram Edson of New Hampshire. Preble is known to have kept seventh-day sabbath until mid-1847. He later repudiated the sabbath and opposed the Seventh-day Adventists, authoring The First-Day Sabbath.
Bates proposed an 1846 meeting among the believers in New Hampshire and Port Gibson, which took place at Edson's farm, where Edson and other Port Gibson believers readily accepted the sabbath message and forged an alliance with Bates, White, and Harmon. Between April 1848 and December 1850, 22 sabbath conferences in New York and New England allowed White, Bates, Edson, and Stephen Pierce to reach conclusions about doctrinal issues.
Also in 1846, a pamphlet written by Bates created widespread interest in the sabbath. Bates, White, Harmon, Edson, Wheeler, and S. W. Rhodes led the promotion of the sabbath, partly through regular publications. Present Truth magazine was largely devoted to the sabbath at first. J. N. Andrews was the first Adventist to write a book-length defense of the sabbath, first published in 1861. Two of Andrews' books include Testimony of the Fathers of the First Three Centuries Concerning the Sabbath and the First Day and History of the Sabbath.
The pioneers of the church have traditionally taught that the seventh-day sabbath will be a test, leading to the sealing of God's people during the end times, though there is little consensus about how this will play out. The church has clearly taught that there will be an international Sunday law enforced by a coalition of religious and secular authorities, and that all who do not observe it will be persecuted, imprisoned or martyred. This is taken from the church's interpretation, following Ellen G. White, of Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:15, Revelation 7, Ezekiel 20:12-20, and Exodus 31:13. Where the subject of persecution appeared in prophecy, it was thought to be about the sabbath. Some early Adventists were jailed for working on Sunday, in violation of various local blue laws that legislated Sunday as a day of rest. It was expected that a universal Sunday law would soon be enforced, as a sign of the end times, however, with the signs of the times being steadily fulfilled, the possibility of such an event happening in this current generation is inevitable.
Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was a key feature of the former Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, and its various descendant movements. Armstrong, who began the Radio Church of God, was in 1931 ordained by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), an Adventist group, and began serving a congregation in Eugene, Oregon. The broadcast was essentially a condensed church service on the air, with hymn singing featured along with Armstrong's message, and was the launching point for what would become the Worldwide Church of God.
The True Jesus Church supports the seventh-day sabbath, and it has approximately 2 million members worldwide. Initial founder Ling-Sheng Zhang accepted the sabbath after studying Seventh-day Adventist theology, and co-founder Paul Wei was originally a Seventh-day Adventist. An American missionary named Berntsen, who was from a sabbath-keeping Church of God, was also influential among the founders.
Other minor Sabbatarian churches include:
- The Seventh-day Remnant Church
- Church of God (7th Day), headquartered in Salem, West Virginia.
- Church of God (Seventh Day)
- Logos Apostolic Church of God, in the UK, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan
- Sabbath Rest Advent Church
- House of Yahweh 7th Day, headquartered in Clyde, Texas.
- Assembly of Yahweh 7th Day, formed in Holt, Michigan.
- Assemblies of Yahweh, headquartered in Bethel, Pennsylvania.
- Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement, formed as the result of a schism within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe during World War I over the position its European church leaders took on Sabbath observance and in committing Seventh-day Adventist Church members to the bearing of arms in military service for Germany in the war.
- International Date Line as affecting calculations of series of days for travellers and resident Sabbath-keepers
- Christian views on the Old Covenant
- Messianic Judaism
- Sabbath in Christianity
- Sabbath Rest Advent Church
- The Seventh-day Remnant Church
- Sherbert v. Verner
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- From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity
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Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness .... But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's [Day, Dominicam] as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days.
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- The seventh of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England states, "Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral."
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- Sabbath articles from the Biblical Research Institute
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- Guidelines for Sabbath Observance, document voted by the General Conference Session of 1990
- Sabbath articles as cataloged in the Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index (SDAPI; see also Sabbath articles in the ASDAL guide)
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