Some time ago, a group of some doctrinally divided Christian youth at Tema hotly argued over whether it is proper for most churches to worship on Sundays instead of on Saturdays. They nearly resorted to the exchange of blows to settle scores, had some elderly people not intervened.
Naïve, but rather interesting, the whole debate was, either side was seen waxing more and more peevish every moment, defiantly claiming that its position was unassailably right and that of the other was wrong. Without doubt, such debates continue to recur in several places in our Christian world; oftentimes, with either side finally feeling embittered. But should this be so in our Christendom?
Let’s commence this ‘harmless’ debate by identifying the two opposing groups as ‘Sabbatarians’ (that is, those Christians who prefer to worship on Saturdays or on Sabbath days), and ‘Kuriakenians’ (from the Greek work ‘kuriaken’ meaning, the Lord’s Day or Sunday when many people go to church to worship the Lord).
The Sabbatarians take their premise of Saturday worship from Genesis 20:8, 10, and 11 which depicts God as saying: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work ….For, in six days the Lord made the heavens and earth ……. but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (NIV Bible)
The Sabbatarians therefore argue that since the seventh day is Saturday and thus the Sabbath day, which the Lord has made holy, that day must be “remembered” and kept holy by an act of worshipping the Lord. In other words, they dispute that worshipping God on Saturdays is robustly enjoined in Genesis 20: 8-11, and therefore going to church on Saturdays is strictly in keeping with God’s own commandment.
The second salient point posited by the Sabbatarians is that when people refuse to worship on the Sabbath, they break the decree of God and commit “high-handed rebellion” and therefore are liable to be punished by death. Sabbatarians cite a Biblical example of a man who worked on a Sabbath day and thus broke the Sabbath worship holiday decree; whereupon God commanded that “the man must die…” He was therefore stoned to death. (Numbers 15:32-36)
From this, the Sabbatarians argue that even though such Mosaic physical death by stoning is not applicable in modern civilisation, spiritual death (or death of Sabbath offenders’ souls, which are likely to be sent to hell) could be the eventual punishment of non-Sabbath keepers.
It appears the Kuriakenians (or worshippers on Sundays) have several responses to the Sabbatarian arguments.
Firstly, the Kuriakenians claim that the observance of the Sabbath under the Mosaic ‘law’, was strictly speaking, meant for the Jews only, but not for the ‘gentiles’; most of whom are now Christians who are spread throughout the whole world.
Secondly, Jesus who made Himself known as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12 : 8), often set aside Sabbatical observances and healed or worked on Saturdays (Matthew 12:1-14), whilst he taught that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”(Mark 2:27) This consideration alone, so it is argued, should liberate Christians from the complex observances and heavy burdens of the Sabbath, prompting them to worship at any agreed-upon day.
This day became Sunday, immediately after Christ’s death; and this was chosen by the early Christians who were prompted to do so for three reasons:
One, Sunday was the day of the resurrection of Christ.
Two, it was the day when Jesus mostly appeared to His disciples after He had resurrected from death.
And three, it was the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on Christ’s disciples, which gave them the spiritual enablement to form the Christian church through evangelism and the miracles that were wrought that very Sunday.
It thus became the established practice of the early Christians to meet on “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2) which was known in Greek as ‘Kuriaken de Kuriou’, meaning ‘The Lord’s Day of the Lord.’ They often met for fellowship and the Lord’s Supper (Communion).
The famous theologian, Professor Merril Unger of the US, writes that “The Jewish Christians at first observed both the seventh and the first day of the week, but the Gentile Christians (in Europe and Asia) kept the ‘Lord’s Day’ from the beginning.” The controversy over Saturday-Sunday worship was initially resolved by St. Paul who argued that each one is entitled to his own conviction as to whether Saturday or Sunday may be the proper or holy day for Christian worship. (Romans 14:5-6)
However, almost three years after (i.e. around AD 60), St Paul, probably after theological considerations of the “Saturday Sabbath” controversy that had gripped Colosse (the capital of the Colossians as seen in the Bible) once a leading city in Turkey, wrote to state that the Jewish Sabbath had been abolished by Christians with the establishment of the Christian church, because the Sabbath was typological—merely a shadow of the death (‘rest’) and resurrection of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Indeed, the Apostolic institution of Sunday as the Lord’s Day (a day for worship) has been universally accepted by Christendom, as it had earlier been reinforced by State edicts of King Constantine (AD 313) and emperor Theodosius (AD 391), until the Baptist traditions of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys of the 16th century, and the Adventist doctrines of William Miller of the early 19th century, revived the Sabbath worship question. And this, to some extent, has rekindled the old bone of contention between the vast majority of Sunday-worshipping Christians (the Kuriakenians) and the rather small Christian minority of Sabbath-day worshippers (the Sabbatarians)
In my opinion, this Sabbath or Sunday worship controversy is unimportant, because neither this nor that can give any Christian a free licence to go to heaven. It is the outright practice of the teachings of Christ which will land a believer in God’s kingdom. Even though I am a Sunday worshipper, I think our brethren who dissent on this should be lovingly tolerated and allowed to freely practise their faith. After all, we can worship on any day of the week; be it Wednesday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday. Don’t we also worship on Wednesdays or Fridays? Who says these two days are frowned upon by the Lord? Let us not preoccupy ourselves with this unnecessary spiritually fruitless debate.