Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/7 The Christian Sunday


The Christian Sunday

The Christian Sunday is a means of grace in the sense that it is the provision God has made for us to rest a while from the normal activities of life that take up our time during the week, and to give ourselves, for one day in seven, particularly to His worship and service. 

The subject needs rather more consideration than the others because of how it has come into being from the Jewish Sabbath and because of the different opinions concerning it. The best way of dealing with it seems to be to think first of the institution of the original Sabbath and of the day of rest as a universal and perpetual obligation; then of the change from the seventh day to the first, i.e. from the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sunday; finally to give brief consideration to the manner of observing the day.

(1) The Day of rest as a Unversal and Perpetual Obligation.

  1. It is objected that the keeping of the one day in seven is a purely Jewish institution, taken over by the Christians, and there is no universal obligation on mankind to keep it. This is not really the case, however, for the following reasons:-
  2. It was clearly instituted at creation. Gen, 2:1-3 is plain. Its first institution is based on the fact of God's resting at the close of creation, which is called the seventh day. The fact that it was again instituted for the Jewish nation does not invalidate this. Our Lord said, Moses gave you circumcision, but immediately adds, "not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers". It was re-instituted for the Jews, but it was in existence before.
  3. It was part of the moral law, not the ceremonial. The law concerning the Sabbath was included in the Ten Commandments, not in the other laws given for the general practical running of the life of the nation. The remainder of the Ten Commandments is binding, why not this one?
  4. The words of Christ, "The Sabbath, as made for man". The words apply to universal man, not just to the Jew. Christ may have objected, and he did, to the way in which the Sabbath was observed, but He did not object to the fact of the day itself.
  5. It fits into the nature of things. It fits in with the general running of this part of the universe and the seven day period seems to have been the general method for dividing time, at least among the more civilized nations.                                                                                               
  6. The universality of the design for which the day was instituted. It was given to commemorate the creation and it was given because man needs this day of rest every seven days. It has been shown in many ways that one day's rest in seven is the most reasonable and workable system and is the one that is best for the general well-being of man's physical and mental constitution.

(ii) The Change from the Seventh day to the First Day.

The Seventh Day Adventists and some others, hold that the Christian Church is wrong to have changed the day of rest from the seventh day to the first and that it should still be held on the seventh day. In answering this it must first be stated that the keeping of one day in seven is a different matter from the fact of the actual day on which it is kept. 

The emphasis in the command is the keeping of the day of rest, not the question of the actual day. The following are reasons why the Christian Church keeps the first day of the week as the day of rest and not the seventh as did the Jews:-

  1. The Lord stamped this day with His own approval, He rose from the dead on the first day of the week and He met His disciples on this same day for the first time. He met them the second time on the eighth day after the resurrection, which was the second "first day of the week".
  2. The Apostles authorized the keeping of this day. When Paul was at Troas, it was on the first day of the week that the disciples came together to break bread (Acts20:7). He likewise wrote to the Corinthian Church telling them that each one "should lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him", and that this should be done on the first day of the week. If the first day had not been the day of worship with something special about it, surely the more likely day to "lay aside" would have been the seventh day.
  3. John suggests that it was the practice of the early Church. John's reference to the "Lord's Day" in Rev.1:10 can hardly mean anything else than a day different from the Jewish Sabbath, and likewise can hardly mean anything other than the "first day" which is mentioned all through the New Testament.
  4. The Post-Apostolic Church observed the first Day from the start. From the very earliest times there is no sign of anything other than the keeping of the first day. Some, it is true, in the earlier days before the final separation of Christianity and Judaism, kept both days, but the
    first day always. They gave it a pagan name, Sunday, but that was only because that was the popular and normal Roman name for the first day of the week. We have already seen that Justin refers to worship on Sunday; the Didache says, "But on the Lord's Day do ye assemble and break bread, and give thanks"; Tertullian adds, "Sundays we give to Joy", "to observe
    the day of the Lord's resurrection". 

And finally, out of others that could be given, Eusebius has these words - "The Word (Christ) by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light, and gave us the symbol of true rest the saving Lord's day as the first (day) of light in which the Saviour obtained the victory over death.

On this day, which is the first of the light, and of the true Son, we assemble, after an interval of six days, and celebrate the holy and spiritual Sabbath; .... it has the precedence and is the first in rank".
The impossibility of the day itself being binding. What is a certain day on this side of the world is a different one on the other side. It is impossible to decide which exactly is the seventh day and which the first.

(iii) The Manner of Keeping the Lord's Day.

It is at this point that the greatest problems and differences arise. It would be wrong and God surely never intended that exact rules and regulations should be laid down to cover all the details for the observance of the Lord's Day. He does give us principles, though, and it is these which we must use to enable us to be "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day". 

It appears to be wrong to adopt a purely negative attitude to the matter and merely fill our minds with the prohibitions of the day. Perhaps the following will help:-

  1. Acts of mercy and necessity for living are not forbidden. The actions of our Lord Himself on more than one occasion make this absolutely clear and it was this that He meant when He said "The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath". Different cultures and different civilizations may change those things which are necessary, but some things must go on; and saying this does not give licence to mere materialism and moneymaking.
  2. It is the Lord's Day and should be kept as such. As far as the believer is concerned, this is quite clear. It is the day in which he can turn aside from the ordinary, everyday occupations of life and give himself to the worship of the Lord without hindrance. It is the day in which he can wholeheartedly devote himself to the Lord he loves. The day should be used for this purpose and should be given to worshipping, praising and delighting himself in the Lord both in private and in the company of his
    fellow believers. Everything unnecessary should be avoided which does not
    tend to this.
  3. The possibility of a day of rest and worship for others should be guarded. Most people live in a largely non-Christian community, and we cannot force others who are not Christians, to live as Christians. It is quite clear that the early Christians did not cease all secular work on Sunday. Many were slaves of pagan masters, and could not do so. It was not until Constantine's rule that there were any laws governing the use of Sunday. 

But others must be considered and if a Christian believes that certain things are right and beneficial to all, he must seek to spread them. The Christian does believe that one day's rest in seven is literally written into the nature of things, is of God and is a necessity for the highest welfare of mankind; he believes, too, that to give it to God is the very best use of it. 

Therefore he must do his best to see that, in the legislation of the land, the desire of the multitude to obtain their pleasures and enjoyments on the Sunday, does not rob others who desire a real Sunday, of the possibility of enjoying it.

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