Sunday worship: what does the New Testament say? or Church History?

Glenn Addington By Glenn Addington, 6th May 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Religion

Research into the question of Sunday worship, and the claim by some that the Sabbath is the correct worship day.

Israel's introduction to the Sabbath

In Exodus, chapter 20, the Israelites were introduced to the idea of the Sabbath. It was the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-11 says, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your sojourner who stays with you. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy". More is said regarding the Sabbath in chapter 31.
Exodus 31:12-13 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely keep My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”
Exodus 31:16 “So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.”

"Sunday Worship wrong? " ...wait just a minute!

This had led to some groups teaching that Sunday worship is wrong, and that those involved in it are in violation of God’s law. They emphasize or stress the phrases above, “throughout your generations” and “perpetual covenant”. In their teaching and their printed literature, a statement is made similar to the following sentence: “the Catholic Church changed the day of worship early in its history, but this does not change the commandment in the Old Testament regarding the keeping of the Sabbath, and it being the day of worship.”
While some might believe this, there are several problems with the statement. It is not consistent with statements in the New Testament, nor with the writings of the early church fathers. Church history tells a different story, and an examination of scriptures from the Old Testament may cause us to think twice about the statement.

What does the New Testament say?

Consider these two passages from the New Testament.
Acts 20:7 “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” The phrase, ‘gathered together to break bread’ speaks of the believers meeting for worship, and the phrase specifically refers to the Eucharist, or what is known as the Lord’s Supper, called Communion by some. The first day of the week would, of course, be Sunday. This was the practice of the early church during the first century.
1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” Paul is here speaking of the meeting together of the believers in the church at Corinth. Many of the churches where Paul had journeyed during his missionary travels were involved in collecting funds for the struggling church in Jerusalem. Paul devoted two chapters to this topic in his second letter to the Corinthians, chapters eight and nine.. Please note again the phrase, ‘the first day of the week’.

Writers in the early church

What was written early in the church’s history, by those in the church? One of the early church fathers, named Justin, a second century writer, made this statement: “we are always together with one another. And for all the things with which we are supplied we bless the maker of all through his son Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit. And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or a rural district. We make all our assembly in common on the day of the sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the first day.”
Another early church writer, named Eusebius, said “the Ebionites were accustomed to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish customs but on the Lord’s day to celebrate the same practices as we in remembrance of the resurrection of the Savior.”
In a document entitled, “The Acts of Peter”, we read the following: ”Paul had often contended with the Jewish teachers and had confuted them, saying, 'it is Christ on whom your fathers laid hands. He abolished their Sabbath and fasts and festivals and circumcision'.”
Tertullian, a major writer of Christian doctrine, made the following statement. “Others suppose that the sun is the God of the Christians, because it is well-known that we regard Sunday as a day of joy. Let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day because of the threat of death, teach us that in earliest times righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and so were made friends of God. It follows, accordingly, that, inasmuch as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated in its own times, so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.”
Justin, referenced earlier, wrote letters which we know as “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew”. Questioning Trypho, he says, “There is no other thing for which you blame us, my friends, is there than this? That we do not live according to the law, nor are we circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers, nor do we observe the Sabbath as you do.” In verse 3, Trypho the Jew acknowledges that Christians “do not keep the Sabbath”.
A writer named Bardesanes said, “wherever we are, we are all called after the one name of Christ-Christians. On one day, the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together.

A Secular Source

Coming from a secular author was the report by Pliny, from around 110 AD. He had been appointed by the Emperor Trajan to oversee things in Bithynia. He confirmed that Sunday was a normal day for common worship in the early church, and went on to describe their activities on this, their worship day.

An everlasting covenant?

Regarding the phrase 'everlasting covenant', we must remember that a covenant was an agreement between two parties. When one party broke that covenant, the other person was free from the responsibilities or obligations made under that covenant. God had selected the nation Israel to be his covenant people. In Leviticus 26, verse nine He had promised to make the people fruitful and multiply them and confirm the covenant with them. God continues in the next several verses to tell of the many ways that He would bless them. But beginning with verse 14, He sternly warns them about failing to keep His commandments. Beginning with verse 16 He begins to outline the punishments that will come upon them if they break the covenant with God. We know that they were involved in idol worship repeatedly throughout the book of Judges. And much of the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah speak of the punishment that would come, as do other Old Testament books. The phrase, 'day of the Lord', spoke of the punishment that would come upon them. The devastation, disaster, and death visited upon them by the invading nations would be the punishment meted out by the Lord for breaking the covenant with Him.
Hint of a new covenant shows up in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 3, verse 16. The Ark of the Covenant was a very significant part of the Jewish religion. Yet this verse predicts something quite startling to the Jewish mind. “It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the Lord, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.” This should surely open the mind up to the statement made in Jeremiah 31.

In Jeremiah chapter 31, there is a reference to a new covenant made by God with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Jeremiah 31:31-33 says, "Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” A portion of verse 33 is quoted in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 16, confirming the establishment of the new covenant. And Hebrews chapter 9, verse 15 speaks of Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant. In the book of Hebrews, chapter 8, verses six through 11, speak of Christ mediating a better covenant than the old one. Verse seven states specifically,” for if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second one.”

Why wasn't the Sabbath commandment repeated in the New Testament?

If the Sabbath was to be observed throughout all the generations, even until the end of time, an answer must come to the following question. Why is this commandment never repeated by Jesus or any of the New Testament writers? In some form or another, the other nine commandments are all taught in the New Testament texts. But nowhere in the New Testament will you read,” remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Sunday worship is pleasing to God

Sunday worship became the norm in the early church as a celebration of Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week. It was the practice early in the church's history, as we saw in the passages from Acts and I Corinthians. We have seen that this has been attested to by both Christian and non-Christian writers. There is nothing in the New Testament to imply that Sunday worship was inappropriate or was an affront to Almighty God. Anyone claiming that Sunday worship is wrong has missed the hints in the Old Testament that the old covenant was not to be in force forever.
Never let anyone tell you that Sunday worship is wrong. Here is your proof that Sunday worship is historically and Biblically correct.
Scripture texts are from the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version.
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Church Services, Sunday Worship, Worship Days

Meet the author

author avatar Glenn Addington
I am an American, former Viet Nam veteran, and a Christian, living in East Tennessee. I am now retired and am pursuing a writing career. I would welcome writing assignments.

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