Our Twitter

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together” (Acts 20:7, ESV).

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. It may be a while before I post again. However, in light of substantial discussion within certain Christian circles, I’ve decided to write a brief series of posts. Specifically, I have had to answer questions regarding some Christians who have become convinced that they should observe the old covenant legal requirements, particularly, forsaking assembling on the Lord’s Day in order to “keep the Sabbath” and gather with a small group or even just their family on Saturdays.

Now, I want to be careful here. Admittedly, the role of the Christian and the Law is one of the more difficult theological issues facing us today. In fact, this is not a new problem; the early Jerusalem church made up of mostly Jewish Christians had to answer the same question when Gentiles began to be converted (see Acts 15).

To be fair, some who profess faith in Christ and trust in Christ (and His work) alone for their justification may enjoy learning about the Passover. Other such Christians may want to restrict their diet and abstain from various foods, say pork. So long as these Christians understand that we can do nothing to gain God’s favor (justification) except to trust in Christ and his saving work on our behalf, we are free concerning diets, days, and personal convictions (cf. Romans 14; Colossians 2).

HOWEVER, the moment someone believes that they MUST observe old covenant regulations such as dietary restrictions (pork) and Sabbaths and feast days, then they condemn themselves. They place themselves under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14).

Sadly, I am hearing of more and more professing Christians who have fallen prey to false, or at the very least confused, teachers who demand that in order to be faithful, Christians must return to the old covenant and keep Sabbath (meet on Saturday), observe dietary restrictions, and celebrate the festivals. Sadly, such professing Christians isolate themselves from the body of Christ because they refuse to meet with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day (Sunday).  Some, in fact, go as far as to condemn new covenant Christians for meeting on the Lord’s Day.  Without realizing it, such professing Christians have fallen for what theologians have called the Galatian heresy (read all of Galatians).

Allow me in what remains of this post to address the question of the day for distinctly Christian worship.

Why is Sunday the traditional gathering day for Christians?

If Christians are no longer under the old covenant/Law, then, we are free from the Mosaic covenant and its sign: the Sabbath. Yet, being free from the Law raises several questions: If Christians are no longer required to keep/observe the Sabbath (Saturday), then . . . (1) Did the early Christians gather at all? (2) If they did gather, then when did they gather: i.e., what day and why that day? (3) What was the purpose of early Christian gatherings? (4) Why should we gather as a church in the 21st century?

After thinking through these questions more carefully, I have come to the following conclusion: the Lord’s Day is, and has been, the gathering day for distinctly Christian worship. The early Jerusalem (mostly Jewish) church observed the Sabbath at first but also gathered on the Lord’s Day/first day of the week for distinctly Christian worship (Acts 2:42-47; 20:7). The fact that the early church observed both means they did not see Sunday as a Christian Sabbath.  Sabbath observance for the early Jewish Christians is understandable, but why meet also on the Lord’s Day? Richard Bauckham provides some helpful insight to these questions, making the argument that the Lord’s Day (first day of the week/Sunday) was the distinctly Christian gathering day (see R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250). Bauckham’s arguments are carefully made and humbly presented. At the risk of oversimplification, I want to summarize them in three points:

1. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240). Early church history attests to this fact as well (see Didache, Justin Martyr’s, First Apology, “Christian Worship,” chapter 67).

2. By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232). In fact, the apostle John can say that he was “caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” without having to provide any further explanation (Revelation 1:10).

3. By the middle of second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).

Some summary implications regarding the Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship gatherings:

1. To those who say “it just doesn’t matter what day we gather,” we’ve already seen above the pattern which begins in the New Testament (Acts 20; Revelation 1) and is attested to early in the history of the church – the Lord’s Day was the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship.

2. To those who insist that everyone keep the Sabbath (meet on Saturday), the apostle Paul reminds us that because of what God has done for us in Christ, we are no longer under the copies and shadows of the old covenant. The old covenant pointed forward to the time when Christ would come. In His life, death, and resurrection Christ has now fulfilled the old covenant; therefore, let no one pass judgment on you, saying that Christians must meet on the Sabbath (Saturday) or abstain from pork or celebrate the Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16-23).

3. To those who apply Sabbath language to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and suggest that new covenant Christians must keep the “Christian” Sabbath, I would remind you that the apostle Paul gives room to differ on such personal convictions regarding days; nevertheless, if that is your conviction, you must be true to it (sabbatarian or not).  Since Paul places such observance of days under the category of personal conviction (see Romans 14:5-9), he also reminds us that we are not to pass judgment on one another on such matters (see Romans 14:10-23).  Instead, we are to love one another and not pass judgment (Romans 14:1-13).

However, we cannot confuse the category of personal conviction with foundational doctrines such as justification.  It is our duty to warn those we love that no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:2:15-3:14).  Instead, we are all to look to Christ and embrace all He has done on our behalf.

Love,
Pastor Juan

Categories : Church, Commentary, Theology

Leave a Comment