The Sabbath Controversy

The observance of the Saturday sabbath is a core belief of Seventh Day Adventism and some other religious sects. Considering the level of indoctrination and confusion disseminated by sabbatarians, this issue needs to be addressed. When a lie is being repeated over and over again, it becomes very believable, most especially when those teaching the lie succeed in poisoning the minds of their listeners against those who disagree. So, before venturing into what Scripture says about the sabbath at all (that will be in Part 2), there is a need to first refute some blatantly false claims or premises planted into the minds of Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs).

They hold Ellen White’s writings as “a continuing and an authoritative source of truth.” Granted, the moment one accepts her visions and teachings as authoritative, one embraces sabbath-keeping as well therefore her claims demands scrutiny.

1. The Sabbath is the Mark of the True Church

She wrote: “I saw that the holy Sabbath is, and will be the separating wall between the true Israel of God and unbelievers, and that the Sabbath is the great question to unite the hearts of God’s dear waiting saints” (Early Writings, 1963, 33).

This is predicated on the error that the church has replaced Israel, and by implication, what applied to Israel now applies to the church (Replacement theology). This is incorrect. While Israel consists of one nationality, the church consists of every tongue, tribe and nation. Israel was given a land with specific promises attached, but the church is not restricted to a geographical location.

Her statement also reflects the typical we-vs-them mentality. She calls Adventists the “true Israel” while non-Adventists are labelled as “unbelievers.”  SDAs believe keeping the 7th day sabbath was “not a new truth discovered by Adventists, but a truth that was taught by Christ and the apostles and by the church in the wilderness, a truth finally recaptured and proclaimed once again by the remnant.” (Prophecy Seminar # 26)

Since SDAs didn’t exist until the 19th century and there was not a single Christian group that kept the sabbath until then, it’s either true Christians had missed this vital truth for 18 centuries or this was a tragic drawback into the bondage of the Law after 18 centuries.

2. The Early Christians Kept the Sabbath

In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians… [until] the early part of the fourth century [when] the emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a public festival throughout the Roman Empire.” (The Great Controversy, 52)

This is historically false. There is no evidence that all the early Christians kept the sabbath for centuries. This can be seen from the writings of early church leaders before Constantine:

Ignatius of Antioch (30-107): “Those who were brough up in the ancient order of things [Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” (Letter to the Magnesians, 9)

Epistle of Barnabas (ascribed to Paul’s companion by Clement):
“He says to them. ‘Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot endure’ (Isa. 1:13). Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present sabbaths are not acceptable to me…I will make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”

Justin Martyr (100-165 AD): “How is it, Typho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us- I speak of fleshy circumcision, and sabbaths, and feasts?… God enjoined you to keep the Sabbath and imposed on you other precepts for a sign… The Gentiles, who have believed in Him, and who have repented from their sins…shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs … even although they neither keep the sabbath, nor are circumcised nor observe the feasts…Christ is useless to those who observe the law.” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 18, 21)

“But Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.” (1 Apology, 67, 6)

Tertullian (b 145): “The Holy Spirit upbraids the Jews for their holydays. ‘Your sabbaths, and new moons, and ceremonies my soul hateth…By us [Christians], to whom sabbaths are strange… to the heathen each festive day occurs but once annually; you [Christians] have a festive day every eighth day.” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers 3:70)

Ireneaus (b 178): “The mystery of the Lord’s resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s day and on this alone should we observe the breaking of the Paschal Feast…Pentecost fell on the first day of the week, and was therefore associated with the Lord’s day.” (ANF VII, 447)

3. Constantine made Sunday the Day of Worship

It was on behalf of Sunday that popery first asserted its arrogant claims; and its first resort to the power of the state to compel the observance of Sunday as ‘the Lord Day‘” (GC p 447)

This claim is devoid of truth. The Edict of Laodicea in AD 321 didn’t impose Sunday as the Lord’s Day, rather it made it a civil holiday. Sunday had been a day of worship for Christians for 3 centuries before. The edict was majorly directed at pagan business men who thought everyday should be a working day. The church of Rome didn’t have the power at the time to enforce laws.

SDA theologian, Dr Samuele Bacchiochi admitted this error in Mrs White’s book:
“But at this time, the Bishop of Rome could not call upon ‘the power of the state’ to compel the observance of Sunday as the Lord’s day, because in the eyes of the Romans, Christianity was still a suspicious religion to be suppressed, rather than to be supported” (Endtime Issues, 87, Par. 1).

4. Sunday is a Pagan Day

As support, SDAs quote from 19th century anti-Christian works that attempt to link everything in Christianity with paganism. For example, they quote from Arthur Weigall’s The Paganism in Our Christianity:
“But, as a solar festival, Sunday was the sacred day of Mithra…The Lord’s day [Sunday] is of Pagan origin..” (pp 136, 210)

What SDA leaders hide from their people is that this is a thoroughly anti-Christian work that also states:
i- The 27 books of the New Testament are false. (p 37)
ii-The account of Jesus’ birth is pagan. (p 52)
iii-The 12 disciples of Christ are from the 12 zodiac signs. (p 25)
iv- The virgin birth is pagan (p 44)
v- The miracles of Christ are of pagan origin (p 58)
vi- The crucifixion account is pagan. (p 69)
vii- The ascension of Christ is of pagan origin (p 100)
viii- Both the Jewish sabbath and Sunday the Lord’s day are pagan days. Let me quote this:

“The origin of the seven-day week which was used by the Jews and certain peoples, but not till later by Greeks or Romans is to be sought in some primitive worship of the moon, for the keeping the day of the new moon as festivals which is widely found in antiquity… the institution is obviously derived from moon worship…” (p 209-211)

Using SDA logic, Sunday came from pagan sun worship while the sabbath came from pagan moon worship! The fact is, almost every day of the week can be linked to paganism – if one decides to live in that cave. These works are too prejudiced to be quoted as authorities. Their theories have been refuted by modern scholars. Not only are SDAs appealing to books by Bible-haters, they are also being dishonest in their citations because their conclusions refute their own position.

5. Sunday is a Man-Made Institution

Vast councils were held from time to time, in which the dignitaries of the church convened from all the world. In nearly every council, the Sabbath which God has instituted was pressed down a little lower, while the Sunday was correspondently exalted” (GC, 53).

The councils being referred to are the ecumenical councils. The first 7 of them are the Council of Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787). In all these councils, there is not a single one in which the issue of Sabbath/Sunday was ever debated. One doesn’t need to be receiving “angelic visions” to know this simple fact.

6. Sunday-Keepers will Receive the Mark of the Beast

When the test comes, it will be clearly shown what the mark of the beast is. It is the keeping of Sunday.” (SDA Bible Commentary, 7:980)

By what criterion will one receive this mark? In 1897, she wrote: “When you obey the decree that commands you to cease from labor on Sunday and worship God…you consent to receive the Mark of the Beast.” (Review and Herald)

Another early SDA leader wrote: “It is very clear therefore, that in order to keep the sabbath day according to the commandments we must not only rest on the seventh day, but we must also habitually treat all other days of the week as working days.” (E.J Waggoner, Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr 16, 1895)

In other words, SDAs must labour and never worship on Sunday or they will receive the mark of the beast. Yet in utter contradiction we read later:

And never must we say to them, ‘You must work on Sunday’…Give Sunday to the Lord as a day for doing missionary work. Take the student out to hold meetings in different places, and do medical missionary work.” (The General Conference Bulletin, April 14, 1903)

One does not receive the mark of the beast because he shows that he realises the wisdom of keeping peace by refraining from work that gives offence. On this day open-air meetings and cottage meetings can be held. House-to-house work can be done.Whenever its possible, let religious services be held on Sunday. Make these meetings intensely interesting. Sing genuine revival hymns and speak with power and assurance of the Saviour’s love.” (Testimonies to the Church, Vol 9, 232-33)

So it was now acceptable to conduct missionary works, do works “that gives no offense,” hold religious services, assemble with other Christians and sing hymns on Sunday. We need to ask, who changed the criteria? Why the blowing hot and cold and flip-flop laws? Mrs prophetess couldn’t even get her criteria of the “mark of the beast” straight so why take the rest of her claims about it as truth?

6. Christians in the Dark Ages kept the Sabbath

Through the ages of darkness and apostasy there were Waldenses who denied the supremacy of Rome…rejected image worship as idolatry, and who kept the true Sabbath. Under the fiercest tempest of oppositions they maintained their faith.” (GC, 65)

What a ridiculous statement. There is absolutely no historical evidence to support the idea that the Waldenses kept the sabbath or were persecuted for not giving it up. It seems Mrs White was probably confused about the nickname “insabbati” which the Waldenses were called, but this word has nothing to do with sabbath-keeping. The word is derived from “sabbatum” the Latin word for sandals, and the term “insabbati” was used to mock the Waldenses because of the sandals they were known to wear.

Obviously, Mrs White was trying to make up a quasi history to fill up the 15 century gap of “Christian sabbath keepers” – as if it wasn’t a 19th century innovation. Such a fancy claim militates against her alleged heavenly visions. Having rebutted the arguments used to cloud the minds of SDAs, let’s now proceed to the Bible’s view of the sabbath.

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