Issue #103 -------
February 5, 2004
Nothing has more retarded the advancement
of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds
to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The church secretary handed me a letter the other day from an elderly lady who had visited our worship assembly on a recent Sunday morning. She was very complimentary and seemed to have been uplifted by the experience. She wrote, in part, "Dear Minister Maxey, Thank you for a well-spoken sermon on the importance of maintaining a grateful attitude to our heavenly Father regardless of our financial situation. I'm also glad you brought out the need to guard our country's affiliation with the Provider of our many blessings. I enjoyed your presentation and the comfortable, but compelling, way you speak. I like the heart-felt Church of Christ services and beautiful harmonized singing without accompaniment. Yesterday I was reminded how moving your congregation's singing is." It is always good to hear that a visitor among us was moved by their experience of worshipping with us. We certainly want to provide an atmosphere where our visitors can encounter the grace of God and the warmth and love of His people. I believe we accomplish that well here. Part of our congregation's Statement of Purpose reads, "It is our prayer that we can effectively serve our community by providing a place where those who are hurting and distressed can find encouragement, where those who are grieving can find comfort, and where those searching for meaning to their lives can encounter the marvelous grace of God."
Many of our visitors, however, have questions. They discover, when assembling with us, that we are different in some ways from their own denominations; that our traditions and practices, not to mention some of our teachings, are quite dissimilar. This often leads them to inquire of us as to the reason for this. These then become golden opportunities to share with them our convictions regarding the Lord and our understanding of His inspired Word. The above individual, in her letter to me, wrote, "You spoke of keeping God's commandments, a point stressed many times in the Bible. On the wall in your foyer is a plaque comparing the commandments in the Old Testament with those in the New. One commandment especially concerns me -- the Sabbath commandment. In Exodus 20:10 it specifies that the seventh day (i.e., Saturday) is the Sabbath of the Lord. Yet today most Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. Sunday, as its name implies, was named for the sun, which pagans worshipped. The Catholic Church, wanting to convert pagans, changed the designated Sabbath to Sunday to make Christianity more acceptable. To help justify this unbiblical change they say Sunday should be venerated as the day of the week our Lord was resurrected. This is fine, except it's not the day of the week God instructed us to honor as His Sabbath day of rest back in Exodus 20."
The lady informed me in the letter that she had been talking with a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, and this has obviously led to some confusion on her part regarding this whole matter. There are undoubtedly many in our communities who are similarly bewildered. Thus, I have decided to present in this current issue of Reflections an in-depth study of The Lord's Day, including its history and spiritual significance to the people of God. I pray you will find it enlightening and edifying.
Revelation 1:10, which was written by the aged apostle John around the year 96 A.D., reads, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." This is the only place in the Bible this particular phrase appears, which raises some questions: What is the Lord's day? Is it merely another way of signifying the Sabbath day? Is it actually Sunday (the first day of the week)? Just exactly why is Sunday now such a spiritually significant day to so many Christians? Is the Sabbath no longer binding? If not, why not? How did the early church, the Apostolic Fathers, and the various Church Councils, perceive this day? What is the purpose of the Lord's day? What makes it special to the Lord's church today? Is our observance of it today in any way similar to the way in which it was observed in the early church? We will attempt to examine these various questions and challenges in this study.
Some contend the Lord's day = the Sabbath. Thus, they maintain, the Lord's day should be observed on Saturday (there are some groups within Christendom which do indeed observe Saturday as their day of worship and praise to the Lord). It is not uncommon to hear Sunday referred to as the "Christian Sabbath." Both views (that Sunday is the Christian's Sabbath, or that the Lord's day is the Sabbath, and thus can only be observed on that day) are based on the assumption that the Sabbath is still in some way binding on God's people today.
Sabbath observance is clearly decreed in one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11). God declared that there would be a day of rest and religious observance. This was for the benefit of His people; for their edification; not some oppressive law designed solely to enslave them. However, over the centuries the Jews built up numerous traditions around the Sabbath, and they bound those traditions as law.
Jesus continually, and intentionally, violated those traditions. The Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath" (John 9:16). However, Jesus responded, "The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8). He further observed, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
The Judaizers attempted to impose the observance of the Mosaic Law upon the new Christians (the Gentile converts), and this was especially true with respect to such matters as circumcision and Sabbath day observance. In Colossians 2:16-17 (vs. 14) and Romans 14:4-6, 10 the apostle Paul points out this is wrong. We are not to judge one another with regard to these matters, but rather permit others to observe or not observe as they choose. The New Covenant writings clearly declare the Sabbath is no longer binding on God's people. One may, or may not, observe it. It is not a sin either way. However, one may not attempt to bind Sabbath observance upon another, or withhold fellowship from those who do not observe it, or insist that one cannot be justified before God unless it is observed. To do this is to risk being severed from Christ (Galatians 5:1ff).
The early Christians never confused the two days (the Sabbath day and the Lord's day), or felt that the latter was in any way a replacement of the former. For many years the two days were celebrated side by side---not because of any law that required them to observe both, but simply because they chose to do so. Those Jewish Christians who desired to continue to observe the Sabbath were free to do so; Gentiles who chose not to observe it were free to refrain. Neither group was to pass judgment upon, or withdraw fellowship from, the other. Each was to fully accept the other, for God had accepted both (Romans 14).
Ignatius (martyred in Rome in 110 A.D.) wrote, "And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days." Again, we see the two as separate days, and the people of God observing both. In the Apostolic Constitutions (late 4th century A.D.) it is pointed out that Christians traditionally assembled on both the Sabbath and the Lord's day.
"LORD'S DAY" THEORIES
There have been many theories over the years as to what specific day is being referred to in Revelation 1:10. What is the identity of the "Lord's day?"
"LORD'S DAY" EVENTS
The "Lord's day" is obviously a day connected with the Lord Jesus Christ in some special way; a day the early disciples felt the need to honor in some significant way as His day -- a day devoted to Him! On the first day of the week (Sunday) the following spiritually significant events occurred:
Thus, the first day of the week (Sunday) held a special place in the hearts of the early disciples. It was connected significantly with the Lord in so many vital ways (His resurrection, His appearances, the outpouring of His Spirit, and His revelation). Thus, the early church came to view it as His special day --- The Lord's day! A day to assemble together to encourage one another, build one another up, partake of the Lord's Supper, pray, sing, study together, and the like. This was, of course, done daily as well (Acts 2), but there is no denying that in time the first day of the week came to be held in higher esteem than the others, with the above events being part of the cause of that veneration.
HISTORY OF THE "LORD'S DAY"
By the beginning of the 2nd century, the early church writers made it very clear that the first day of the week (Sunday) had become widely recognized as a special day for Christians to engage in public, congregational assemblies. Justin Martyr (110-165 A.D.) identifies the Lord's day as being "Sunday ..... the first day ..... and Jesus Christ our Savior on that same day rose from the dead." He further says that on this day the saints assemble for worship.
In The Teaching of the Twelve (120-190 A.D.) the following statement is found: "But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread." Clement (153-217 A.D.) says that we are to "keep the Lord's day" and thus "glorify the Lord's resurrection." The Constitution of the Holy Apostles says that on this day we are to "meet more diligently ..... assembling ourselves together, without fail."
Ignatius (a disciple of the apostle John) described Jewish Christians with these words: "They have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him" (Letter to the Magnesians 9:1-3).
As Christianity spread throughout the world, and as more and more non-Jews entered the church, observance of the Sabbath faded out. However, some of the distinguishing features of the Jewish Sabbath came to be incorporated into the Lord's Day observance. Like the Sabbath, Sunday was regarded as a day of joy, festivity, and praise. Fasting was forbidden. In time, Christians were even forbidden to work on the Lord's day (although this was the last feature of the Sabbath to be carried over to the Lord's day).
Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) was the first writer to urge the cessation of labor on Sunday. "We, on the day of the Lord's resurrection, ought to ..... defer even our businesses lest we give any place to the devil." In 321 A.D. the Emperor Constantine issued an edict which made Sunday an officially recognized day of rest from labor. This tradition has been carried on even to this present time. Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea; died: 329 A.D.) praised Constantine for this edict, saying it would "lead all mankind to the worship of God."
During the centuries which followed, a great many church councils, imperial laws, and renowned religious leaders, sought to enforce the proper (as they deemed it) observance of the Lord's day.
Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) --- It commanded that one must stand up during prayers on the Lord's day (the 20th Canon).
Council of Gangra (c. 350 A.D.) --- Fasting on the Lord's day is condemned; also staying away from the "House of God" and attending any non-Christian assembly.
Council of Laodicea (363 A.D.) --- Observing the Jewish Sabbath is condemned; Sunday is commanded to be a day of rest from labor: "That Christians must not act as Jews by refraining from work on the Sabbath, but must rather work on that day, and, if they can, as Christians they must cease work on the Lord's Day, so giving it the greater honor" (the 29th Canon).
The Apostolic Constitutions (c. 375 A.D.) --- Worshippers are commanded to assemble twice on the Lord's day -- morning and evening.
The 4th Council of Carthage (436 A.D.) --- Anyone who left church services during the preaching was to be excommunicated. Fasting was again forbidden. Attendance at public games or the circus was forbidden on the Lord's day.
The 3rd Council of Orleans (538 A.D.) --- All agricultural work is forbidden on Sunday. However, those who refuse to travel or prepare meals on this day are condemned as being "Judaistic."
The 2nd Council of Macon (585 A.D.) --- Work of any kind is prohibited on this day, and it is commanded that Christians worship God on this day.
Gregory the Great (became Bishop of Rome in 590 A.D.) --- He condemned Sabbath observance as a "doctrine of Antichrist" (also the applying of Sabbath laws & rituals to the Lord's day). In spite of this, however, Christendom increasingly during the time of the Middle Ages observed Sunday as a Christian Sabbath.
Alcuin (735-804 A.D.) --- He wrote, "Christian custom has transferred the observance of the Sabbath to the Lord's Day." Peter Alphonsus (12th century A.D.) was the first writer to actually use the term "Christian Sabbath" in connection with the Lord's day.
Council of Clovishoff (747 A.D.) --- This council, which was held in England, decreed that travel is forbidden on the Lord's day.
The Constitutions of Egbert (749 A.D.) --- Severe penalties are levied against anyone who works on Sunday.
Charlemagne --- In France he issued a decree (789 A.D.) prohibiting all ordinary labor on Sunday as a breach of the 4th Commandment.
The Archbishop of Canterbury --- In the 14th century he ordered "abstinence from secular works on the sacred day of the Lord." However, he warned the people not to meet on Saturdays lest they "partake in the Jewish profession."
Martin Luther (1483-1546) --- By the time of the Reformation, the Lord's Day had "deteriorated into a mere holiday devoted to idleness and dissipation." It had been reduced to oppressive laws and ceremonies. Luther insisted that the believer was not to be bound by such legalism, and advocated revolt against it. In his Table Talk he says, "If anywhere the day is made holy for the mere day's sake---if anywhere anyone sets up its observance on a Jewish foundation, then I order you to work on it, to ride on it, to dance on it, to feast on it, to do anything that shall remove this encroachment on Christian liberty."
Huldreych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531) --- He taught that worship to God should not be tied down to any one day, for by doing so it "would impose on us a ceremony." John Calvin (1509 - 1564) agreed with Zwingli, saying worship of God was a daily and life-long activity. "Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with a superstitious observance of days" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 2, chapter 8).
John Knox (1505-1572) --- This reformer agreed with the above two men, but felt observance of Sunday should be maintained as a matter of expediency, "for it afforded rest for the body and an opportunity for united worship of God."
The Augsburg Confession --- This was produced by Luther and Malancthon in 1530 A.D. It says in part: "For they that think that the observation of the Lord's Day was appointed by the authority of the Church, instead of the Sabbath, as necessary (unto salvation), are greatly deceived. The Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath. And yet, because it was requisite to appoint a certain day that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church did for that purpose appoint the Lord's Day."
The 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566) --- "Although religion be not tied unto time," yet they felt it expedient to set aside a day (the Lord's day) and "consecrate it to religious exercises and to a holy rest."
The Westminster Confession (1643) --- "As it is of the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him; which, from the beginning of the world to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the Resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath."
This was the product of English Puritanism. The Puritan teachings also affected other countries. The Parliament of Scotland accepted them, for example, and in 1618 they were incorporated into the Synod of Dort in Holland. Finally, the Puritans brought their strict "Christian Sabbath" to America, where it became the prevailing view for centuries.
The Puritans enacted certain laws ("Blue Laws") to insure the strict observance of Sunday. These laws were even more strict than "those formulated by the ancient Jews to enforce the observance of their Sabbath." "The influence of Puritanism on American religious life cannot be overemphasized. The 'Christian Sabbath' of the Puritans, so much a part of their religious life, worked itself into the hearts and minds of the American people, and became a standard of the ideal Sunday of America for many generations."
However, the strict legal, ceremonial, and ritualistic nature of this day has not been without cost. As a result of this harsh legalism, "there has been a manifest decline in church attendance and in any spiritual observance of the day during the present century!" In a report to the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ (in 1917), the following was stated: "While Sunday is being observed as a day of rest, its observance as a day of worship is declining." D.H. Martin wrote (in 1933), "It is fast becoming a day for secular business and amusements, and little is being done to save it."
Such organizations as "The Lord's Day Alliance" have been formed to try and "promote the due observance of Sunday." Their efforts, however, are meeting with little success. By reducing the Lord's Day to a commanded legalistic ritual, and by imposing strict penalties for those who do not comply, we are destroying its worth and effectiveness as originally given by the Lord. "The reaction against the strict observance of Sunday so characteristic of the Puritans has continued, and the observance of the day has continued to become more lax. This neglect of Sunday observance may be correlated with a general decline in spiritual matters. Sunday has become a day of business and recreation, with only an hour or two in the morning set aside for worship, and that only by devout Christians."
THOUGHTS AS TO ITS OBSERVANCE
Jesus Christ regarded the Sabbath as a provision for man's need, and not as a burden to further weigh down the people of God. The Lord's Day should be viewed the same way. The following are given not as commandments, but as suggestions as to how we can derive the greatest benefit from the Lord's day:
#1 --- Let it be a day on which you take advantage of the opportunities to assemble together with other members of the family of God, not only to be personally edified, but also with the goal in mind of encouraging, uplifting, and strengthening your brothers & sisters in Christ.
#2 --- Let it be a day on which you observe the Lord's Supper; commemorating His sacrifice, and celebrating in His victory; a victory which you share "in Him."
#3 --- Let it be a day of praise and prayer. Devote yourself to drawing closer to God "in spirit." Meditate upon His person, nature, love, work, triumph, and grace!
#4 --- Let it be a day of in-depth study into and reflection upon His Word. Set aside some time to really get to know the Scriptures "which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). Attend and participate in Bible classes.
#5 --- Let it be a day of goodness, mercy, kindness, and love. Set aside the things of this world, and let your mind dwell on the things of the Spirit. Set aside your own desires, and try to meet the needs of others (both spiritually and materially). Devote your actions and attitude to the Lord (see Isaiah 58:13-14 for the principle).
#6 --- Let it become the standard/example of how best to live the other six days of the week! When one allows himself to benefit on the first day, he can't help but be benefited on the other six! "A conscientious regard for the Lord's day is ever followed with spiritual improvement and comfort!"
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
I went by the church office today and had a visit with the local (Checotah, OK) preacher. The man is a real lightweight, and talking to him is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube (sorry for the cliché; can't think of a better one). While cogitating over our discussion in a rather depressed state, I thought it sure is nice that we have some clear, intelligent thinkers in the brotherhood like yourself. Our preacher at Muskogee is also one of you. His name is Kevin Stewart and he has been with us a little over two years. We reaffirm our preachers after two years and he got 94% approval. Anyway, I am very thankful for men such as yourself and Kevin. You help me to understand and learn God's will, and that makes life better.
From a Reader in Nevada:
Reflections From A Reader In Scotland was very encouraging to me. I was raised Church of Christ and spent many years in the one cup brotherhood, a sometimes loving but always legalistic part of the church. I was turned out by them (long story) and for years sought refuge in any one of the several Churches of Christ here. But they are all fragmented, offering division and law. Consequently, for some time I moved around in different groups seeking Christian fellowship. Although I have found good brethren in most groups, I still have felt lost in certain ways. But after reading this Scotland Reflections I feel more joyously comfortable knowing that these brethren I have come to know and I are all doing our best in Christ. I thank you and the brother from Scotland for this encouragement.
From a Reader in Florida:
I just wanted to thank you for your comprehensive, in-depth Study of Elders on your web site. I will be installed as an elder in the Campus Church of Christ tomorrow, and I am praying that God will use me as a servant to meet the needs of the church here in Gainesville. I have read your study and plan on doing much more studying of the Scriptures you have presented. I would like to share your study with others and would appreciate your approval. Of course, anything I use will have credits to you and the web site from which I got the information. Once again, thanks for your hard work. Just wanted to let you know that it is appreciated.
From a Reader in Texas:
My brother Al, your article Reflections From Edinburgh may be one of your best! Why? Your heart of love and compassion, and maybe a few tears for the Lord's Body, clearly shines through in this issue of Reflections.
From a Reader in New York:
I am writing to you firstly to tell you I have thoroughly enjoyed your website. I am a mature/aged theology student in New York State and I am currently studying OT Prophets and have found the information you provided on The Minor Prophets to be very stimulating. I would like to ask your permission to be able to print these out for my own reading and study purposes. I have also placed my name on your list to receive Reflections, which I also enjoy.
From a Reader in Oregon:
It's great to hear you are offering a CD with your articles. Your last article, with the letter from your friend in Scotland, was great. It is a double-edged sword in some ways to find that brethren around the world are experiencing some of the same unfortunate problems that many of us here in the states are experiencing. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see that they are trying to make positive changes. Our prayers go out to these brothers and sisters. Keep those Reflections coming!
From a Christian Editor in Missouri:
Brother Maxey, I receive your posts regularly. It would be more suitable to include quotations more in keeping with life in Christ, and less in keeping with the flesh. Nothing about life in Christ supports the benighted statement of John Steinbeck ("It is the nature of a man as he grows older to protest against change, particularly change for the better"). In fact, that is something from which the Lord Jesus has delivered us. Such statements detract from any good thing you write. I desire that the Lord work through your words, causing fruit to abound to your account. That fruit, however, cannot be produced by words from people who themselves are alienated from God. With that, I commend you for your efforts.
From an Elder in New Mexico:
Brother Al, if I may offer a suggestion -- go ahead and prepare a CD of Reflections in MS Word, but then SAVE AS .rtf (rich text format). By doing this any word processor of any version can open the document, even we diehard WordPerfect guys. This will allow a much larger market. I have downloaded the first year of Reflections and have begun converting them. Keep up the good work, Brother!
From a Reader in Georgia:
I would love to extend to the Brother in Edinburgh, Scotland my sincere prayer that he will keep on keeping on, that his purpose is a noble one, and were I there I would be honored to be a part of his house church. I profited from the dialogue between you two.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Just wanted to thank you for your writings. They are a great uplift for me. I really can relate to Reflections from Edinburgh.
From My Critic in Alabama:
Al, I have at least three gospel preachers that have consented to debate you in a public forum in Athens, Alabama. The topics to debate are: (1) Biblical Fellowship -- Unity in Diversity, (2) The subject of Eternal Punishment -- Hell, and (3) The Lord's Supper -- Is Sunday the only time to partake? I will pay for your plane ticket (round trip). Your hotel room will be provided. Only members of the Lord's Body will be invited. If others come, however, that can't very well be stopped. Please let me know your decision ASAP.
From a Reader in Texas:
Grace ... what a beautiful concept! I just want you to know how much I appreciate your thoughts, and I pray for you often. I was so thankful to see you mention the power of prayer in your last Reflections when wrestling with "brethren focused on law." I have a hunch quite a few of us have been under the bondage of law at one time in our pasts. Some may continue to be without realizing it. But, praise God for His grace and mercy! I also want to encourage others to join me in prayer for these brethren in bondage. Recently I have felt moved by the Spirit to lift up these leaders of the militant movement by name, as well as so many others that have not been set free. I just want for them to know how wonderful it is to live under grace instead of constant fear of the Lord's wrath. I'm so thankful that God has been so patient with me. Blessings to you!!!
From a Reader in Texas:
I just read your Dialogue With Pastor Martin on the Internet while doing a search of our church history. Fascinating! Loved your responses! What I couldn't fathom was the so-called "Dr." Ray Meier. I grew up in Dumas, Texas not far from Amarillo. I didn't think preachers like him still existed. The "gentleman" was rude and outright obnoxious. From everything I've ever read, Baptist Churches and Churches of Christ have much more in common than what divides them. One thing I've been most glad about is seeing the change that has taken place in the Churches of Christ over the past twenty-five years. I almost left the Churches of Christ altogether because of a preacher (and elders) who believed we were the only true church. Luckily, when I went to college (and after doing considerable independent research on the various churches) I found a congregation that wasn't stuck in the past, but did have sound biblical doctrine. Personally, I don't believe any congregation or church does everything that God has commanded. However, I believe the Churches of Christ are among those who have striven toward the goal. Baptism is, of course, one of those commandments. I don't think Christ has given us a choice on that matter. Again, your dialogue with Pastor Martin was very fascinating; a wonderful response on your part.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
I wanted to thank you for making your reply to our brother in Scotland an entire issue. I had a lot of similar questions floating around my head, especially the shyness issue. I am not really an assertive person (despite growing up in NY); by nature I am very shy. One person wondered why I do not get up and preach, but the shyness thing gets in the way. I need to give that up to God and rely on Him. As usual, you hit the nail on the head. While I still think your last Reflections was the best, this one certainly helped me the most. Thank you!!
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