A Tale From Two Cities: When Is the Christian Sabbath?

Scripture shows God’s Church, founded in Jerusalem, fervently kept His seventh-day Sabbath. Later, Rome made a Sabbath change. Did God approve of that change?

Abraham, the father of the faithful (Romans 4:16), obeyed God.

  • “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise [the future Holy Land] as in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:8-9).
  • “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5).

God plainly commands compliance to His law, and Abraham faithfully obeyed.

There—in the land that God chose; the land of the prophets, the Messiah and the New Testament Church; the land that would become known as the Holy Land—God began a work of salvation.

Abraham’s obedience to God was typical of the prophets, apostles and other people of God in their different eras. God worked with them there in the Holy Land, represented by its capital city Jerusalem. The Fourth Commandment—the Sabbath commandment—was prominent in that obedience, and its adherents included Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

Long after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the apostle Paul said that the keeping of God’s law was something he delighted in: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Romans 7:22).

Even when traveling outside the Holy Land, Paul and the churches he visited kept the Sabbath day holy: “And from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made” (Acts 16:12-13).

Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, continued to keep the God-given, seventh-day Sabbath.

Pagan foundations vs. God’s commandments

When we see that later attempts to manipulate God’s law took place within Rome, a city that was immersed in paganism, it should raise questions. Since that change involved the implementation of a pagan day to replace the God-given Sabbath day, it’s clear that syncretism was taking place. The concoction of biblical Christianity and Roman paganism was and remains to this day an amalgamation of two incompatible religions.

Jesus Christ said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the [God’s] Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19, emphasis added throughout).

Many denominations break the Fourth Commandment “and teach men so.” Conversely, the Church of God “does and teaches” God’s commandments. Even if someone thinks the Sabbath commandment is “one of the least of these commandments,” the fact remains that God created it “till heaven and earth pass away.”

Unlike the God-given Sabbath, Rome’s day of worship is nowhere taught in God’s Word. Nor are its foundations to be found in the Holy Land or the city of Jerusalem. Quite the reverse—the pagan-dominated city of Rome is where this new Sunday “Sabbath” emerged. It would soon be enforced by Roman authorities—secular and religious.

Roman government enforces change

Many readers will be surprised how effective the Roman Emperor Constantine was in molding society to his particular whims. He united the Roman Empire under the “Christian” banner around A.D. 312. Although he was not yet fully professing Christianity of any kind, the changes he enforced on Christianity are, to this day, overwhelmingly common around the world. “He made Sunday into a [Christian] day of rest, closing the lawcourts and forbidding all work except agricultural labour” (Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, 1976, p. 68).

To those who ignored his decrees, Constantine wrote: “Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and our care in this respect extends so far as to forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. Let those of you, therefore, who are desirous of embracing the true and pure religion, take the far better course of entering the catholic Church. … From this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place” (Eusebius, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, Book 3, 1845, pp. 175-176).

Constantine’s control over Christianity was one thing; his own practice, up to his final hours, was something very different. Although vehemently in league with the Roman church, he did not convert to it until his deathbed. His conversion was into a Christianity that was, to a large extent, of his own making.

Why would any man—even a high and mighty Roman emperor who is yet puny flesh and blood in comparison to Almighty God—have the audacity to change the day of the Fourth Commandment (something that God established forever)?

Concerning such a change, God’s Word says: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).

Not just the Jewish Sabbath

John Eadie (1810-1876), a Scottish theologian and biblical critic, wrote: “Sunday was a name given by the heathens to the first day of the week, because it was the day on which they worshipped the sun.

“‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ is founded on the fact that the seventh day was blessed and hallowed by God himself. … This commandment is of universal and perpetual obligation. …

“The Creator ‘blessed the seventh day’—declared it to be a day above all days, a day on which his favour should assuredly rest. …

“So long, then, as man exists, and the world around him endures, does the law of the early Sabbath remain. It cannot be set aside.

“It is not the Jewish Sabbath, … which is ordained in the fourth commandment. In the whole of that injunction there is no Jewish element, any more than there is in the third commandment or the sixth” (Eadie’s Biblical Cyclopedia, 1872 edition, p. 561).

John Eadie concluded that the Fourth Commandment is not exclusively Jewish any more than the other commandments are. All the commandments apply to all people. To label the Fourth Commandment as “Jewish” is an attempt to drive a wedge between God’s Sabbath and the Christian.

Our consistent God did not change it

Why would God turn to Rome to approve a day of worship with pagan roots? Why would He look on that very unholy land and command Christians to keep their Sunday—their “venerable day of the sun”—as His Sabbath?

It is impossible for the commandments of men to replace the commandments of God. The commandments of God are holy because God is holy.God is clear: “Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them … and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods. … Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).

Taking into account the above verses, would God have later gone on to say, “Ignore what I have taught you”? Would He have said, “What the pagans do, I now command you to do likewise. I now want you to worship Me their way and on their Sabbath. Observe how they serve their gods, and you shall do likewise”? No, He wouldn’t!

Are the Father and Jesus Christ really so inconsistent? No, the reverse is true: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:8-9; see also Malachi 3:6).

It is impossible for the commandments of men to replace the commandments of God. The commandments of God are holy because God is holy. Any attempt to worship God and His Son with doctrines other than from God is to worship “in vain.”

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The future of God’s Sabbath

Constantine’s misguided efforts to replace what God ordained gave rise to a day of worship that had no roots in the mind of God or the Church that began in Jerusalem. That true Church of God was looked down on as “Jewish” by Roman authorities—secular and religious—as those authorities entrenched Sunday into mainstream Christianity. Many Christians—Jew and gentile—were persecuted for keeping God’s Fourth Commandment.

The faithful, Sabbath-keeping Church of God survived and continues to warn about false doctrines to this very day. It will do that until Christ returns and ushers in His Father’s Kingdom.

Then the truth of God’s Sabbath will be made known from the world’s capital city—Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4). Then the entirety of mankind will gladly participate in God’s own Sabbath day (Isaiah 56:6-7).

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.

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