History Of The Early Church And The Day They Kept


Now that we have exhausted all possible sources for Sunday keeping without finding the smallest favourable evidence, let us turn to the inspired history of that early church. If they did not keep the first day of the week, which day did they observe? The book of Acts establishes a consistent pattern of seventh-day Sabbath keeping. On one occasion, Paul was petitioned by the Gentiles to hold an exclusive service for them on the Sabbath.

Acts 13:42-44 "42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. 44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God."

There are some very interesting points in these dynamic verses that validate the Sabbath practices of Paul and his fellow Christians. After preaching in the synagogue, where the Gentiles were not permitted to enter, Paul was besieged by the Gentiles with an appeal to preach to them "the next Sabbath."

Many have charged that Paul only preached in the synagogues on the Sabbath because he had a ready-made crowd of Jews to work on. This is a false claim. In this instance, Paul made an appointment to minister to the Gentiles on the following Sabbath, and according to verse 43, many of those who heard him that day were "proselytes" to the faith. This means they were converts to Christianity, and Paul and Barnabas "persuaded them to continue in the grace of God".

How interesting it is that their Sabbath worship is spoken of in the context of continuing in God's grace! Modern critics of the Sabbath try to label Sabbath keepers as legalists who are aliens to the grace of the gospel. Not so the writers of the Bible, who constantly associate obedience with true salvation by faith.

In Acts 16 we have positive proof that Paul kept the Sabbath even when there was no synagogue and no Jews. He was ministering in Greece, where there were only a few scattered Jews and no synagogue at all. What did he do on the Sabbath?

Acts 16:13 "And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither."

Even with no church to attend, the apostle sought out a spot where religious worship was carried on - a place of prayer by the river - and preached to those who went there. Surely, no one can fail to discern Paul's deep commitment to the Sabbath as we follow him in this unusual outdoor mission. Just suppose this Macedonian experience had taken place on the first day of the week instead of the Sabbath. Without question, it would be cited as absolute evidence for Sunday worship, and we would have to concur. But what possible arguments can one present against this example of Paul in true Sabbath keeping?

Again, we read about Paul's customary practice in these words...

Acts 18:4 "And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks."

Finally, we cite the great apostle's personal testimony that he never kept one Sunday holy in his whole life. Just before his death, Paul made this emphatic statement to the Jewish leaders...

Acts 28:17 "And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans."

Think for a moment! If Paul had ever deliberately broken the Sabbath, or kept another day than the seventh, he could not have declared truthfully that he had done nothing against Jewish custom. On the strength of this unqualified declaration by a man of unimpeachable integrity, we close the search for Sunday keeping authority in the Bible. It just is not there.

Had we been able to find it, our religious obligation would, without doubt, be much easier to fulfil. We would have the support and example of most of the great religious institutions of the land, both Protestant and Catholic.

But we are not looking for the most popular way or the most convenient way; we are looking for the Bible way. And we have found it. In all honesty, we must declare that the prevailing custom of keeping a different day from the one commanded in the great handwritten law of God is contrary to the Word which will finally judge us. No amount of popular, majority opinion can annul the weighty testimony of a plain "Thus saith the Lord". We must stand upon the Bible and the Bible alone for our doctrine on this subject.

The word of God declares...

Exodus 20:10 "But the seventh day is 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:"

Until we find some indication in the Bible that God retracted that moral law which He introduced to the world with such a fanfare of power and grandeur, we will accept the Ten Commandments as still relevant and binding today. God said what He meant, and He meant what He said.

Some argue that God exempts us from the fourth commandment because it is impossible to keep the seventh day in the competitive, industrialized society in which we have to earn a living. It is undoubtedly true that Satan has manipulated the economic world to the distinct disadvantage of the Sabbath keeper, but God has never required the impossible. It is never necessary to break one of God's commandments for any reason.

You may say, "But my employer requires that I work on Saturday, and I can't let my family starve". The answer to that dilemma was given by our Lord long ago in the Sermon on the Mount when He said...

Matthew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

The preceding verse defines "these things" as food, clothes, and job. Jesus is simply telling us that if there is ever a conflict between obeying Him and obeying our employer, we should put Him first. Material considerations should never be made more important than doing God's will.

In every case, God honours the faith of a Christian who decides to keep the Sabbath regardless of what happens to his job. Many times God works miracles by making special arrangements for the Sabbath keeper. In some cases, He allows His children to be tested by losing their jobs, and then opens up better ones in response to their faith. Nevertheless, the "things" are always added when we trust Him and obey, regardless of the circumstances.

The real secret of keeping the Sabbath of the Lord is to have the Lord of the Sabbath in our hearts! It is love that leads God's children to choose death rather than disobedience to one of His commandments.

Jesus said:

John 14:15 "If ye love me, keep my commandments."

The apostle John defined love in these words:

1 John 5:3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: ..."

Thus, it is not so much the question of a day as it is of a way - the way of obedience through love, or of disobedience through lack of love.

A multitude of Christians call God's fourth commandment the "Jewish Sabbath". But nowhere is this expression found in the Bible. The seventh day is called "the sabbath of the Lord" (Exodus 20:10) and it is never called "the sabbath of the Jew".

Luke, a Gentile writer of the New Testament, often refers to things that were particularly Jewish. He writes of the "nation of the Jews," "the people of the Jews," "the land of the Jews," and the "synagogue of the Jews" (Acts 10:22; 12:11; 10:39; 14:1). But he never refers to the "sabbath of the Jews," although he mentions the Sabbath repeatedly.

Christ also taught that the Sabbath was made for man...

Mark 2:27 "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:"

Adam and Eve were the only two people who existed when God actually established the Sabbath. There were no Jews in the world until 2,000 years later, so it was never meant just for the Jews. Jesus uses the term "man" in the generic sense, referring to all mankind. The same word is used in connection with the institution of marriage that was also introduced at creation. Certainly no Christian can believe that marriage was made only for the Jews.


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