Why do Christians worship on Sunday?
Many are surprised that anyone would even ask this question. They reason, “Christians have always worshiped on Sunday. Why bother asking questions? After all, if Christians have always done this than surely it must be supported by the Bible.” The occasional answer of “tradition” is often urged as a reason as to why Sunday should be the day of worship for the Christian. Still others respond by saying it doesn’t matter what day we worship on, as long as we worship God. When these are not the response, than many sometimes respond by saying “we should worship on Sunday to honor the resurrection of Christ” or “because Christ changed the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday after his resurrection!” Are any of these responses valid? Do any of them justify worship on Sunday? Are we as Christians commanded anywhere in the Bible to worship on a specific day?
Why should we even bother asking this question? If it does not matter what day we worship God on, and Christians have always worshiped on Sunday, does this not stand to make asking questions a pointless exercise? Wouldn’t questioning the practice be challenging the established practices of the Church and make one a heretic? In the book of Isaiah we read, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” – Isaiah 8:20.
Everything must pass the test of Isaiah 8:20. Even beyond this, we are warned plainly in the scriptures against reliance on others. In the book of Proverbs it has been said, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” – Proverbs 14:15. This passage is an obvious warning against blind belief in every word that comes from a man’s mouth. It also uplifts careful research of what we are told as the mark of a “prudent man.”
Supposing you were to ask your Pastor the question which we have here asked, would he reply with any of the above responses? Would you accept whatever his answer was as the absolute truth, without effort to verify whether or not it had a foundation in the scriptures? Many accept all or a few of the above responses as sufficient reason both not to investigate the issue of Sunday Worship, and as reasons to justify the practice. Yet these responses are not sufficient for either.
We should never attempt to stifle investigation of God’s word upon any subject. Groups who are aware of the Bible’s power to uproot the foundations of their practices often attempt to prevent others from asking questions. Are we to be found doing the same? Are we no better than such groups? There is nothing wrong with the question, “why do Christians worship on Sunday?” In the book of Acts we read, “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming tither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – Acts 17:10-11
These texts from the book of acts describe a group of people known as the “Bereans.” They mention the Beareans’ practice of putting things to the test of the scriptures, and note that they were more noble than those in Thessalonica for this reason. Beyond what we have already seen from the books of Proverbs and Isaiah, we find in these passages an example that we should all follow. The example of the Bereans was to “search the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” These words of scripture indicate that they were seeking to verify the things which they were told.
The question that we have asked is no violation of scripture. Seeking to answer it from the Bible would only be following the example of the Bereans. There is therefore no good reason to brush such a question off as not being valid merely on the grounds that Christians appear to have always worshiped on that day. Neither is it legitimate to label a man a heretic because he questions the traditions of the church, which a Christian is bound by God’s word to abandon if they do not harmonize with the word of truth.
It has been said, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” – Acts 5:29. These powerful words from Peter and the apostles hammer in a point which should forever lock in the Christian’s mind the place of tradition. If it cannot be defended from the Bible, than this makes tradition the sayings of men alone. Peter and the apostles are here recorded as uplifting the obedience of God as superior to the obedience of men, making tradition worthless when compared to the commands of scripture. In view of this fact, ‘tradition’ is not a valid justification for worship on Sunday neither is it sufficient reason to cease investigation.
Some might still at this point cry out, “but it doesn’t matter!” The thought that what day we worship on does not matter in of itself does not hold water. We have been told, “For this is the Love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” – 1 John 5:3. Love to God is defined as keeping his commandments, and is in fact the motive for obedience. If God has commanded us to worship on a specific day anywhere in the Bible, than we must follow that command. If we Love God, we will do this.
The day of worship for the Christian is therefore a matter of obedience to God. Referred to as keeping his commandments, this is described as “the whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13. We must not be found in disobedience to the commands of God or the teachings of the scriptures, for we enter into rebellion the moment we are found in this state. In view of this fact, it is important that we investigate this matter from the scriptures that we may know the will of God on this topic.
Still some at this point cite the Resurrection of Jesus, as though this alone is somehow sufficient for the Christian to worship on Sunday. It would seem natural for the Christian to want to mark and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Yet where are we commanded to do this in the Bible? Can one produce a text anywhere from scripture to suggest that we are now to worship on Sunday because of the resurrection?
The real question to be asking is, what has God commanded in the past? In the book of Exodus, we find the following “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 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. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” – Exodus 20:8-11
There are many details describing what God’s people are to do found in these passages. The seventh day is mentioned as the exact day, and it is stated that no work shall be done. Here we find the command to remember the Sabbath, in order that it may be kept holy. The phrase “keep it holy” and the fact that it is to be remembered in of itself implies that this day has some special significance, which alone might imply a date of worship.
This command also contains a reference to a statement found in the book of Genesis, which reads “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” – Genesis 2:2-3. The fact that the command in the book of Exodus mentions the sabbath as “blessed and hallowed” in connection to creation is an obvious reference to what is found in these statements from Genesis, making the words ‘sanctified’ and ‘hallowed’ as essentially referring to the same thing. The blessing and sanctification of the Sabbath sets it aside to be of special significance, indicating that it should be marked for celebration. As if the phrase “to keep it holy” were not enough, these facts imply a strong potential for this to be a day for worship.
The fact that God recognizes it as such is made clear in the prophecies of Isaiah, “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” – Isaiah 66:22-23. These prophecies found in Isaiah place the setting of events on the new earth, as shown by the twenty-second verse. The very next thing that happens is a description of worship “from one sabbath to another.” The implication here is that the Sabbath will be kept on the new earth, but especially that the Lord recognizes it as a time for worship.
It is later noted in scripture that Jesus is found worshiping on this day. In the book of Luke we read, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” – Luke 4:16. This passage of scripture implies that Christ entered the synagogue to read on the Sabbath as a ‘custom’, indicating that it was a regular practice of his. The fact is that Jesus is here described as worshiping on the Sabbath. Combined with the passage from Isaiah, which shows God’s recognition of the Sabbath as a date of worship, it should be clear to us that God’s people worshiped on this day in the past. The fact that the Jews have always done this is something which no one within reason is capable of denying.
In view of these facts, there are two things needed in order to prove that Christians must now worship on Sunday. The first is a command, and the second is the ‘blessing and sanctification’ of that day. Unless this day is defined as ‘blessed and sanctified’ or as something to be kept holy, there is no evidence that it is anything other than an ordinary day. If a command cannot be produced, than every conceivable reason for worship on that day falls apart under the weight of scripture.
Is it therefore legitimate to claim that we should worship on Sunday in order to mark the resurrection? Without the components mentioned, this type of reasoning does not hold any water. If one was to search from Genesis to Revelation, one would find no evidence that Sunday has been blessed or sanctified. You would be just as hard pressed to produce evidence from the scriptures that we are commanded to worship on Sunday for these reasons. This is a fact which is a clear indication that it is no different from any other day, and therefore there is no reason to mark it. The grounds of Christ’s resurrection is not sufficient reason to do this.
It is still stated by many that we must worship on Sunday because Christ changed the day of worship. If we were to search our Bibles from Genesis to Revelation, would we be able to produce a text to support this thinking? The answer is of course a solid ‘no.’ This is because scriptures which speak of Christ changing the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. One can search as long as they live and still not find a text which supports this claim.
It starts to become less likely for one to produce a text in view of the previously mentioned components. The pieces that make a day of worship as found in Exodus 20:8-11 cause the potential for locating such a text in support of a change to Sunday to become an impossibility. Without any of these pieces, the Christian is left stumbling in darkness. The Christian does not know which day they are to worship on, why the day is important, how they are to engage in such activity, and whether or not a change even took place. It is therefore impossible to prove that the day of worship has changed, because none of these details can be produced.
If the day of worship has not changed, than exactly when are Christians to worship? Just what are God’s people in this day and age commanded to do? If there has been no change, and none of these arguments stand to hold any water, than all that is left for the Christian is to revert back to the command found in Exodus 20:8-11. The question to be asked than is, just what day exactly is the Sabbath? Some have pointed to this very command as though it in of itself justifies the keeping of Sunday, but it has no such application.
In the previously mentioned passages, we find the following: “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 the gates.” – Exodus 20:10. The Seventh-Day is defined as being the Sabbath. We are therefore left with the question, “just when is the Seventh-Day?” Due to the fact that numbers are used instead of the modern names for days, it appears difficult on the surface to determine which day this passage is talking about.
In view of the fact that some have interpreted the “Seventh-Day” to be Sunday, I am therefore lead to inquire “When did Jesus rise from the grave?” The overwhelming majority of Christians believe the resurrection of Christ to have taken place on Sunday. This is a fact which all seem to acknowledge. In the book of Matthew, we find the following passage speaking of Christ’s resurrection.
“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the woman, fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” – Matthew 28:1-6.
Matthew 28:1 gives the exact place of the Resurrection of Christ. The first describes these events as taking place, “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week.” As previously noted, the entire Christian world acknowledges this day to be Sunday. Without this fact, no one would be able to produce an argument stating that we must worship on Sunday to commemorate the resurrection. It is sound reasoning to point out that the day which comes before Sunday is Saturday, making this the Sabbath and therefore the Seventh-Day of the week according to the passage.
Were this not sufficient evidence, one need only remember the original target of Exodus 20:8-11. Context of who is being spoken to helps in making proper deductions. Before the start of the first commandment out of the ten, God makes a very interesting statement. He says, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” – Exodus 20:2. This statement is a clear indication of who the Lord was talking to when giving these commandments. In view of this fact, the conclusion that he was talking to the people of Israel at this point is unavoidable.
What does this mean? Does this mean that the Ten Commandments were only for the Jews, as some might suggest? Such a conclusion of course ignores numerous scriptures, such as 1 John 3:4 which defines sin as being the ‘transgression of the law’ [an obvious reference to the ten commandments], and 1 John 5:3 which defines love to God as keeping his commandments. Instead this is a fact which actually helps us to pinpoint the seventh-day. On which day do the Jews worship? No one would argue against their worship on Saturday, which is the Sabbath.
At this point the Christian lifts up his arms in frustration and screams, “The Sabbath was only for the Jews!” It is prudent to point out that if we approach the fourth commandment with this logic, we also extend it to the rest of the Ten Commandments as previously noted. If this is indeed the case, than a great many moral problems are created. The Christian is then permitted to cheat on his or her spouse [Exodus 20:14], murder people, steal, and worship idols. Yet even in the face of the sheer ridiculousness of such assertions, many still cling to their thinking that it was only for the Jews in an effort to escape obedience. The following passages put this thinking into question.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13
“And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” – Mark 2:27.
“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: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”- Exodus 20:10-11
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” – Genesis 2:2-3
From H1481; properly a guest; by implication a foreigner: – alien, sojourner, stranger.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 describes the keeping of the commandments as the “whole duty of man.” The logical deduction here is that the keeping of the Ten Commandments is the whole duty of all men, and not simply just the Jews. There is no reason to believe that this only applies to nine of the Ten Commandments, as though the fourth commandment is no longer applicable to Christians to today.
The passage from Mark also gives us a clear picture of the original target of the Sabbath. When it states that the “Sabbath was made for man”, it shows that the Sabbath is meant for all men. To take the Sabbath as though it is meant for the Jews alone is a ridiculous assertion and an attempt to get around obedience at best. Such a statement falls apart into a thousand pieces under the sheer weight and force of this passage from Mark, showing us that the Sabbath is meant for all men who follow the Lord. It is interesting to note at this point that it was also “made for man”, implying that the Sabbath is meant as a gift to men rather than a burden.
Note also that the tenth verse of the twentieth chapter of Exodus contains a description of how to keep the Sabbath. At the end of this description is the statement “nor the stranger that is within thy gates.” You will note that we have produced the Hebrew meaning of this word “stranger”. As you can see, the word means “guest” or by implication “a foreigner.” The real question to be asking is this. If the commandment was only meant for the Jews, why is it that it contains this statement, which obviously applies to anyone who could theoretically be a visitor, whether they be from Israel or not? To suggest that this commandment only applied to the Jews, and was only meant for them at this point actually does not make any sense in view of what this statement contains.
However the idea that the Sabbath was meant only for the Jews starts to vanish even further if we go back to the beginning, and combine this with all of the evidence listed below. The statement of Isaiah 66 that it will be kept on the new earth, the clear evidence that the apostles kept the Sabbath are facts which annihilate the idea that it is Jewish alone. One would have to ask how the idea of it being Jewish holds any water under the weight of Paul and the apostles keeping it, followed by the fact that it will be kept on the new earth by all of humanity. Yet the Sabbath’s institution for humanity at the creation finishes the work of demolishing the thought that it is Jewish. The fact that the Sabbath was instituted for humanity when the world began, as Genesis 2:2-3 shows, destroys the idea that it was meant only for the Jews. The implication is that Adam and Eve would have kept the Sabbath, and the reality is that neither of them were Jewish.
Yet there are many other reasons as to why the Christian should worship on the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 contains a statement of exactly what the Sabbath is about. The verse reads, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” – Exodus 20:11. This is an obvious reference to creation. The fact that these passages state that it was blessed and hallowed in connection with creation shows that it is meant as a memorial for this event. By keeping the Sabbath, we as Christians acknowledge God as our creator. This is a fact which makes failure to do so almost a claim that God is not our creator.
We also find in the book of acts and the gospels several interesting statements which imply a history of observance. “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and the religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” – Acts 13:42-44.
The gentiles in these passages from acts approach Paul and the early Christians with a lot of assumptions. That they were the ones originally preaching is a fact which is evident from the context [see Acts 13:16.] The assumption here on their part is that Sabbath is the day of worship in which things are to be preached. This is evident from the fact that their request is for the things which they had heard to be preached to them “next Sabbath.” Why did they not ask to be preached to the following day, or perhaps a Monday or Tuesday? The conclusion to draw from this is the fact that Sabbath was the acknowledged day of worship for Paul and the early Christians. This implies a history of the observance of the Sabbath by the early Church.
This is hedged in by the fact that Jesus is recorded as keeping the Sabbath in Luke 4:16, and that later in the book of Luke the disciples are recorded as keeping the Sabbath after the crucifixion. In the book of Luke we read, “And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.” – Luke 23:54-56.
Women who followed Christ are here recorded as observing the Sabbath. They are pictured preparing for the Sabbath through the preparation of spices and ointments [an action which is connected with Christ’s burial, something which evidently must have been done before the Sabbath.] These passages also state that they “rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.” The indication here is that these early followers of Christ kept the fourth commandment. It is obvious that they never once got the idea from Christ’s teachings while he was alive that they were cease doing this.
Combined with the fact that Christ is recorded as keeping the Sabbath in Luke 4:16, it should be clear to us that there is a record of past observance. As previously noted, Isaiah 66:22-23 implies that it will be observed on the new earth, indicating that there it is to observed in the future as well. This makes the idea that it was done away with an impossibility. The true day of worship for the Christian is the Sabbath, and not Sunday.
In view of all these facts, the only conceivable reason the Christian worships on Sunday in its stead is tradition. We must remember that tradition is not to take the place of the plain commands of the Bible. As Peter and the other apostles once said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29. The Christian therefore has a choice. It has been said, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15. Let the Sabbath then be a day to remember.