I have been told that Seventh Day Adventists believe that the reason Christians worship on Sunday is because very early on in church history, Christians sought to be accommodating to the worship of pagans. As a result, “they” changed worship from Saturday to Sunday. The problem with this claim is that it is contradicted in both history and the Scripture. In fact, the Scripture has indications that worship occurred on Sunday, while it has no indication whatsoever the worship occurred on Saturday.
Disproving the “Historical Argument.” Many of the lesser educated Seventh Day Adventists and the like believe that worship on Sundays is something that became part of the Christian experience after a few centuries. We have historical records that speak of worship on Sunday beginning in the second century, the earliest of which is Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians.
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day. (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, Chap 9)
Some very complicated, theoretical arguments in the Greek have been contrived to say that Ignatius didn’t really say that, and being that I do not know any Greek I cannot intelligently comment on them. All I can say is that from the context, the following translation would have to extremely off for the preceding not to be talking about worship being on the Lord’s Day as opposed to the Sabbath.
Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour you shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God. (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, Chap 10)
So, unless it can be addressed what Ignatius is talking about and still have it make sense, it does appear he is talking about the Sabbath, especially because he is creating a dichotomy between it and the Lord’s Day, as well as a dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity.
Implications from Scripture. The Scripture in several spots appears to imply that worship is on Sunday. I will begin with the weakest passages and move on to the strongest.
Passage 1–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.
Some believe that the reference to “breaking bread” and Paul preaching until midnight is evidence of a Sunday sermonathon. It is also possible that when Paul comes to town it’s a big deal so people eat and talk into the wee hours of the morning. Either way, some food for thought.
Passage 2–Matthew 28:1
And on the eve of the sabbaths, at the dawn, toward the first of the sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre…(Young’s Literal Translation)
Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave…(NASB)
It is interesting that the term for “Sunday” in the Greek is expressed as an euphemism in Matthew 28:1 (as well as in Mark 16:2 and Luke 24:1). The euphemism “toward the first of the sabbaths” or “early in the morning of the first of the sabbaths” (Mark 16:2) appears to be a reference to an early Christian idea expressed in Hebrew’s 4 which states, “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:3). The Sabbath is seen as being accomplished in the work of Christ, so that those who believe in Him experience the true Sabbath, the “rest” in God.
So, how can Sunday be the “first of sabbaths” when Saturday is supposedly the Sabbath? Apparently, Sunday became the new Sabbath because it is because of the resurrection that we may enter God’s rest. In the way, Old Testament prophecies pertaining to the Sabbath were fulfilled in Christ. If you don’t understand the issue of entering the “rest” that pertains to the believer, please refer to Hebrews 4 for more information.
Passage 3–Revelation 1:10
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day…
This verse does not tell us much. Some go as far to say that John was worshiping, presumably alone, on a Sunday as was the standard practice. I don’t think we can take the few words that far, but the Biblical use of the term “the Lord’s Day” just beg the question: Why did the day have a special name?
Was the term just a historical indicator (i.e. “everyone knows Christ rose on the Lord’s Day!”)? I don’t think so, because the term implies that a day in the week is set apart. However, all of this is reading into implications. Nonetheless, it does increase the probability that the Lord’s Day was a “day of the week” for a special reason, such as worship.
Passage 4–Colossians 2:16, 17
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
This passage alone seems so abundantly clear, that apart from a very compelling reference in the New Testament that shows worship on any other day but Sunday, we would be forced to conclude that the Saturday Sabbath cannot be the day of worship. However, some may quibble and add to the passage that we are not to be honoring special or “high Sabbaths,” but still the regular Sabbath. Of course, they are adding to the plain word of God an idea that is not there, so it is a bit of a stretch to say that when it says “let no one judge you in respect to a sabbath day” that it speaks of anything other than a regular Sabbath. The burden of proof would be on those who reject this simple interpretation, not the one who thinks Sunday is the acceptable day of Christian worship.
Passage 5–Romans 14:5
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
This absolutely nails the whole issue for a very valid historical reason that may not be immediately apparent. Okay, Paul wants us not to argue over which day of the week is holier than the next, that’s fine. But, read in between the lines: If Sabbath worship was a dire necessity and expected from Christians, how could have Paul taught this? Simply, he couldn’t. In fact, the only situation that could possibly make sense is that there wasn’t by necessity a specific day of worship and that it was up to one’s individual conscience whether or not to rest on the Sabbath.
So, this by default disproves any claim that the Sabbath is the day of Christian worship.
If anyone seeks to be contentious about the day of Christian worship, this verse alone should make every mouth silent. How could worshiping on Sunday, Tuesday, or any day be “the mark of the Beast” and still have Romans 14:5 be true? Obviously, it can’t be.
Also, on the other end, we are not to be contentious about Saturday being a day of worship either (sorry Ignatius of Antioch!). God is honored by what we eat, when we worship, or anything else in which we act out of good conscience. That’s the whole point of the Romans 14. The practice, therefore, must be tolerated.
However, because the preceding is true, any strong assertion that we must go against the grain and worship on the Sabbath has to be wrong. Everyone pretty much worships on Sunday. To purposely not do so, and then accuse them of being evil for it behind their backs, blatantly violates Paul’s teaching.
In conclusion: Do we have a pretty good historical reason to believe that worship was on Sunday very early on? Yes. Do we have any historical reason to believe that orthodox Christians worshiped on Saturday? Not really. Does the Bible teach, in the New Testament, that we are not to esteem one day more than the next? Yes. Is there some indication that we should be worshiping on Sunday? Some, at the very least. Is there some indication that we should not be setting apart the Sabbath as a day of special Christian worship? Yes, in fact, Paul might even be arguing it violates the Christian conscience in Colossians 2.
Now that we have established all of this, what good reason is there to believe we should worship on the Sabbath any more than any other day? There really isn’t any. So, we must conclude, those groups that assert that Christians are obligated to keep the Sabbath are in fact imposing a legalistic view of religion that is not in step with New Testament teaching or history. If that be the case, then it is pretty safe to say that it is wrong.