29. Is it true that Adventists keep the seventh-day Sabbath by going to church on Saturday, even though it was only a Mosaic Law for the Jews, and done away with at the Cross?
Yes, Adventists do keep the seventh-day Sabbath; however, they dispute the premise that the Sabbath was only a mere Mosaic Law for the Jews, and done away with at the Cross. Adventists would advocate the following points:
#1 The great historic creeds of ‘mainstream’ Christendom recognise the Ten Commandments as part of the enduring Moral Law – as distinct from Jewish Mosaic Laws
Some Evangelical-Pentecostals advocate a type of ‘Antinomianism’, considered by most ‘mainstream’ and ‘orthodox’ Christian groups as a Gnostic-influenced heresy, which is ‘a person who believes that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law’ (Oxford English Dictionary).
By contrast, Seventh-day Adventists, as champions of anti-Gnosticism, agree with most other ‘orthodox’ or ‘mainstream’ Christians, in believing the Law of Moses implicitly had a number of divisions – moral, ceremonial and civil. Some theologians in turn divide the Laws of Moses into two (just moral and ceremonial), whilst some into four (to include health & hygiene laws as a separate category), but the basic principle is the same – Adventist theologians do both from time-to-time.
For example, the
would endorse many of the historical creeds on this subject, such as the Presbyterian (Calvinist) Westminster Confession of Faith (1643), which upholds the Ten Commandments as God’s eternal Moral Law: SDA Church
“19.1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
19.2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.
19.3 Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.
19.4 To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people; not obliging any further than the general equity thereof may require.
19.5 The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” (emphasis added)
The Roman Catholic view, as formulated by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 100 similarly states:
“I answer that, The moral precepts, distinct from the ceremonial and judicial precepts, are about things pertaining of their very nature to good morals… I answer that, As is evident from what has been stated (99, A3,4), the judicial and ceremonial precepts derive their force from their institution alone: since before they were instituted, it seemed of no consequence whether things were done in this or that way. But the moral precepts derive their efficacy from the very dictate of natural reason, even if they were never included in the Law.” (emphasis added)
The Anglican/Episcopalian view as stated in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563) also teaches:
“VII. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. 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.” (emphasis added)
Even the Assemblies of God (the largest Evangelical-Pentecostal denomination), who can arguably be characterised as followers of ‘Antinomianism’, still acknowledge:
“The Ten Commandments are God-given enduring principles of right and wrong.”
Finally, as noted in the SDA Publication Questions on Doctrine, Adventists are in general agreement with these ‘mainstream’ Christian creeds:
“…It should also be noted that the leading confessions of faith, and the historic creeds of Christendom, recognize the difference between God's moral law, the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, as separate and distinct from the ceremonial precepts. (emphasis added)
#2 Simply put, the seventh-day Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments and thus part of the enduring Moral Law
Even the most cursory reading of the Bible reveals the seventh-day Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). Therefore, it undeniably forms part of the Moral Law and in the words of the great historic creeds, “doth forever bind all”.
Furthermore, the notion that it was somehow for Jews alone has no Biblical support; namely, because God instituted the seventh-day Sabbath at creation itself (Gen 2:2-3). The Sabbath commandment in turn reiterates this, directly referring to the creation of the world in six days, and rather poignantly asks people to ‘Remember’ – as God knew it would be forgotten.
#3 There is no statement in the New Testament that the Sabbath was abolished
As to those who say the Sabbath does not apply because it was not positively reaffirmed in the New Testament, first this is debatable given Jesus' multiple comments about proper Sabbath-keeping (Mar 2:27; Luk 6:1-5), and due to such passages as Heb 4. Moreover, the third commandment is not positively reaffirmed either, and yet few Christians would argue that blasphemy against God was only a matter for Jews. Finally, given the Bible establishes a test of precedents (Deut 18:20; Matt 5:17-19; Luk 24:44; and Gal 1:6-9), the onus rests on those who say the seventh-day Sabbath commandment was abolished – not the other way around. For example and by analogy, the Assemblies of God’s official position in relation to the subject of tithe states:
“Though some people believe tithing was an Old Testament practice not intended for New Testament Christians, the Assemblies of God believes and teaches that tithing is still God’s design for supporting the ministry and reaching the world with the gospel. Our bylaws state, "We recognize the duty of tithing and urge all our people to pay tithes to God" (Article IX, Section 7a.) It is true there is no direct commandment in the New Testament saying, "You must tithe to God one-tenth of your income"; but there is also no statement declaring the Old Testament plan as no longer valid.” (emphasis added)
#4 The weekly Sabbath was not part of the Jewish ceremonial system
As to those who say the seventh-day weekly Sabbath was merely a ceremonial command for Jews, Paul makes it clear that the Jewish ceremonial practices were mere ‘shadows’, pointing to the future redemptive work of Christ (Hen 8:5 and 10:1). In fact, the very first animal sacrifices were made just after the fall (if one recalls the story of why Cain killed Abel).
However, Paul obviously could not have been advocating the abrogation of the seventh-day Sabbath, as it was instituted before sin even existed at
(Gen 2:2-3). Thus, whilst the Jewish ceremonial and sacrificial system pointed forward to Christ’s future life, death and resurrection, the seventh-day Sabbath was always part of God’s original, sin-free plan for all of mankind. For this reason, the Sabbath will also continue in heaven (Is 66:22). Eden
As to those who cite proof-texts used against Sabbath-keeping (Rom 14:5-6;
2:9-17) these are references to Jewish feast-days, which were also designated ‘Sabbaths’ (Lev 26:32, 37-39). Christians commonly forget the existence of these Jewish ceremonial Sabbaths. For example, Leviticus 16:23-31 (see also Lev 23:32) makes it clear that Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is considered a ‘Sabbath’, regardless of what day of the week is falls on – it will be a Wednesday in 2012. Col
These feast-Sabbaths are distinguished from the seventh-day Sabbath, established at creation (Gen 2:2-3) and later enshrined in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). In accordance with the historic creeds, Adventists believe these ceremonial Sabbaths were done away with at the Cross (see question 31 for a fuller explanation).
#5 There is no evidence Jesus changed the weekly Sabbath to Sunday
As to those who say the seventh-day Sabbath was changed by Jesus to Sunday or deleted altogether – there is no clear evidence in scripture. As Evangelical-Dispensationalist theologian Wayne G. Strickland observed in ‘Five views on Law and Gospel’ (1996):
“There is in fact no Sabbath transfer or shift taught in Scripture. This constitutes a hermeneutical shift inasmuch as the meaning of the other nine commandments are not modified or qualified in this way in the New Testament. If the Decalogue is perpetually binding, including in the church age, how is it that this commandment can be eradicated or altered?” (p81-82) (emphasis added)
#6 Weekly Sabbath-keeping is not much discussed in the New Testament (either positively or negatively) because it was not a contentious issue
For the early Jewish Christians in
, the exemption of the ceremonial practice of circumcision for Gentiles was a major theological issue that dominated a huge number of pages in the New Testament books (e.g. Acts 15). The Apostle Paul realised very quickly that if all Gentile men had to cut off the ends of their penises, his mission to take the Gospel to the Gentile world would not have many takers – perhaps understandably. Jerusalem
By contrast, the issue of weekly Sabbath-keeping as prescribed by the fourth commandment is notably absent from the raging debates of the New Testament for the simple reason it was not an issue at all. As noted in several places in Acts 13:42, 15:21, 17:1-4, 10-12, 16-17 and 18:4, Gentile God-fearers who believed in the Jewish God already kept the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, attending synagogues with Jews. As these texts attest, many of the first Gentile converts to Christianity were Greeks who were already attending synagogue as uncircumsised God-fearers and just happened to hear Paul's message preached on a Sabbath. Thus, there was no need for the
to focus on Sabbath-keeping, because it was already an accepted practice by Gentiles and no barrier to their full conversion in the same way circumcision had been. Early Church
Given the reaction to the abrogation of the more Pharisaic Christians to the abolishment of ceremonial requirements for Gentiles, it is frankly inconceivable that one of the commandments in the Decalogue itself, written with the very hand of God, could have been discarded or transferred without even a murmur through the texts.
#7 As a matter of history, Sunday keeping only started to replace Sabbath worship in the 4th Century A.D.
In any event, as a matter of historical fact, it is clear that the abolition of the seventh-day Sabbath was not instituted by the Apostles and
but in fact was a more gradual process within Christianity, occurring over some centuries. As the 4th century Christian writer Socrates Scholasticus admitted, it was in Early Church and Rome that the Sabbath was first beginning to be abandoned: Alexandria
“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.”
As a further illustration, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, separated from the rest of Christendom by physical barriers, has continued to keep the Sabbath until this day. For an excellent further examination, see Samuele Bacchiocchi’s notable book ‘From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity’.
#8 Jesus did reaffirm in the New Testament that the Sabbath was for all mankind and not just Jews
The Old Testament makes it clear that the Sabbath is not merely for the Jews but also for Gentiles (Is. 56:2-5). Christ Himself makes it clear that the Sabbath was given for all of mankind (i.e. and not just Jews) (Mar 2:27), and that Jesus remains Lord of the Sabbath (Luk 6:1-5). As such, it is not enough to keep just one day in seven – the Bible requires we keep ‘the’ seventh-day Sabbath. As Lutheran theologian Dougals Moo admits in ‘Five views on Law and Gospel’ (1996):
“Yet worshipping on the first day of the week is not what the fourth commandment requires: It explicitly requires cessation of work on the seventh day.” (p88) (his emphasis).
#9 Sabbath keeping is not necessarily a requirement for salvation but is important in the true worship of God
has never taught that Sabbath-keeping is a mandatory pre-requisite for salvation. However, it would be equally incorrect to say Sabbath-keeping has no relevance to the proper worship of God. Thus, Adventists believe eschatological references to the true worship of God (Rev 12:17; Rev 14:12) must logically include Sabbath-keeping. As notable Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel stated in The Sabbath (1951), the Sabbath is integral to distinguishing true worship from pagan false worship: SDA Church
“Pagans project their consciousness of God into a visible image or associate Him with a phenomenon in nature, with a thing of space. In the Ten Commandments, the Creator of the universe identifies Himself by an even in history, by an event in time” (page 95).
Thus, in accordance with the test established in the great historic creeds, ‘mainstream’ and ‘orthodox’ Christians have either two choices: they can be hypocrites, by denying that all of the Ten Commandments continue to apply Christians in perpetuity, or they can be heretics, by denying that any of the Ten Commandments continue to apply to Christians.
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