From the book "The Sabbath Under Crossfire"
by Dr.Samuele Bacciocchi Ph.D.
REDISCOVERING THE SABBATH
A paradox of our time is that while some Christians are
rejecting the Sabbath as an Old Covenant institution nailed to
the Cross, an increasing number of other Christians are
rediscovering the continuity and value of the Sabbath for our
tension-filled and restless lives.
In the previous chapters, we examined the origin and
development of the anti-Sabbath theology, manifested today
especially in the Dispensational and "New Covenant" theology
which reduces the Sabbath to an Old Covenant, Jewish institution
terminated at the Cross. We found that such a theology breaks the
unity and continuity of the Plan of Salvation besides ignoring
the cosmic sweep of the Sabbath which embraces creation,
redemption, and final restoration.
An increasing number of Christian thinkers are discovering
that the abrogation view of the Sabbath derives not from
Scripture, but from the "Christian" theology of contempt for Jews
and their religion. This theology originated in the early Church
and has plagued Christianity through much of its history, causing
the loss of the precious Jewish heritage of the Christian faith
by advocating a radical discontinuity between the Old and New
Covenants, Law and Gospel, Sabbath and Sunday.
In their desire to recover the biblical and Jewish roots of
Christianity, many Christians are taking a fresh look at
institutions such as the Sabbath, which for too long have been
regarded as a trademark of Judaism. To their surprise, they are
discovering, as Dorothy Bass puts it in her article
"Rediscovering the Sabbath," that "the practice of Sabbathkeeping
may be a gift waiting to be unwrapped, a confirmation that we are
not without help in shaping the renewing ways of life for which
Objectives of This Chapter.
This chapter has two major objectives. The first is to
briefly report on the rediscovery of the Sabbath by scholars,
religious organizations, and people of different persuasions.
Hopefully this report will counteract any negative impression
some readers may have gained from reading in the preceding
chapters about the different arguments commonly used to attack
the validity and value of the Sabbath.
After reading so many pages about the crossfire of
controversy surrounding the Sabbath today, some may be tempted to
think that the Sabbath is in crisis, as the title of Dale
Ratzlaff's book suggests. The truth is that the Sabbath has never
been in crisis because it is a divine institution. God's moral
principles are not subject to crisis. The rediscovery of the
Sabbath by Christians of different persuasions confirms that the
Sabbath is not in crisis. It still provides rest and renewal to
those who accept God's invitation to make themselves free and
available for Him on His Holy Sabbath Day.
The second objective of this chapter is to explore, by way
of conclusion to the whole book, how the Sabbath enables
believers to experience rest and renewal in their lives. This
final section is a Christ centered, practical reflection designed
to help people discover the Sabbath as a day to joyfully
celebrate God's creative and redemptive love.
Two Types of Sabbatarians.
The rediscovery of the Sabbath today assumes two different
forms. On one hand, some Christians are re-examining the biblical
meaning and function of the Sabbath in order to develop a
"biblical" model for Sunday observance. We may call these people
"Sunday-Sabbatarians" because they believe in observing Sunday as
their biblical Sabbath. They follow the Reformed, Calvinistic
tradition which gives prominence to the moral aspect of the
Sabbath commandment by viewing the observance of a day of rest
and worship as a creation ordinance for mankind. Consequently,
they promote Sunday-keeping as the legitimate substitution and
continuation of the Old Testament Sabbath.
Contrary to Dispensationalists and "New Covenant" Christians
who emphasize the radical discontinuity between the Sabbath
(which they see as the sign of the Old Covenant) and Sunday
(which they view as the sign of the New Covenant),
Sunday-Sabbatarians recognize the underlying unity and continuity
that exists between the Old and the New Testaments, Sabbath and
Sunday. Consequently, they are eager to rediscover the biblical
view of the Sabbath in order to better understand how Sunday
should be observed.
On the other hand, an increasing number of Christians reject
the compromise position of Sunday-Sabbatarians and want to
rediscover the Sabbath as the biblical seventh day, both in terms
of its meaning and experience. These seventh-day Sabbatarians
sense the need to recover the biblical and Jewish roots of the
Christian faith and to return to the beliefs and practices of the
The rediscovery of the Sabbath by both Sunday- Sabbatarian
and Seventh-day Sabbatarians is motivated also by the realization
that the values of the Sabbath as a day for spiritual, physical,
moral, and social renewal are essential for revitalizing the
religious experience of millions of Christians today......
THE REDISCOVERY OF THE SABBATH BY SUNDAY SABBATARIANS
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.
A good example of the rediscovery of the Sabbath as a model
for Sundaykeeping is the book "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly:
Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting" by Marva J. Dawn, a
Lutheran theologian. With refreshing insight she captures the
meaning and experience of the Sabbath in Scripture and in the
religious life of the Jewish people. For example, Dawn writes:
"All the great motifs of our Christian faith are underscored in
our Sabbathkeeping. Its Ceasing deepens our repentance for the
many ways that we fail to trust God and try to create our own
future. Its Resting strengthens our faith in the totality of His
grace. Its Embracing invites us to take the truths of our faith
and apply them practically in our values and life-styles. Its
Feasting heightens our sense of eschatological hope - the Joy of
our present experience of God's love and its foretaste of the Joy
When I heard Marva Dawn present the highlights of her book
at the International Sabbath Symposium, sponsored by the
University of Denver on May 24-26, 1989, I was tempted to spring
forward to extend to her the right hand of fellowship into my own
Seventh-day Adventist Church. I felt that she did a marvellous
job in capturing some of the fundamental meanings and experiences
of the Sabbath. However, my thrill was dampened when I read the
appendix of her book where she explains how to observe the
Christian Sabbath from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday. Dawn's
attempt to invest Sunday with the meaning and experience of the
Sabbath ignores the fundamental fact that Sunday is not the
Sabbath. The two days, as I show in Chapter 1, are different in
their origin, meaning, and experience.
"Call the Sabbath Delightful."
Another example of the rediscovery of the Sabbath as a model
for Sundaykeeping is the article "Call the Sabbath Delightful,"
published in The Lutheran on March 16, 1983. The author, Judith
Fiedler Finn, an attorney, discovered the Sabbath by turning to
the Jews in her community. She discovered that "the Sabbath is a
sanctuary in time. In fact, it is a time in which we can begin to
experience eternity and its peace. She decided, however, that for
her family "the most practical choice" was to make Sunday their
Sabbath. Despite her husband's initial protest, she writes, "We
plunged in 'cold turkey.' No work from sunset Saturday to sunset
Sunday." She continues explaining how her family celebrates
Sunday as the biblical Sabbath.
Finn's attempt to celebrate Sunday from sunset to sunset as
though it were the Sabbath ignores the historical reality that
the essence of Sundaykeeping has never been a consecration of
time, but attendance at the Mass or at a church service. The
recognition of this historical reality has led the Catholic
Church, as well as over 4000 Protestant churches in the USA, to
anticipate Sunday church services to Saturday evening in order to
accommodate those who are unable or unwilling to go to church on
Sunday morning. This may be good enough for Sundaykeeping, but it
is not good enough for Sabbathkeeping because the essence of the
latter is not primarily going to church, but giving priority in
one's thinking and living during the 24 hours of the seventh day.
"Rediscovering the Sabbath."
The article "Rediscovering the Sabbath," written by Dorothy
C. Bass and published in "Christianity Today" on September 1,
1997, offers another fitting example of Sunday Sabbatarianism.
Bass speaks of the Sabbath as "the most challenging and spiritual
discipline for contemporary Christians." She eloquently writes
that "as the new century dawns, the practice of Sabbath keeping
may be a gift waiting to be unwrapped, a confirmation that we are
not without help in shaping the renewing ways of life for which
The problem with the article is that Bass wants to unwrap
the gift of the Sabbath by trying to fit Sunday into what may be
called "the Sabbath gift box." This does not work because Sunday
is not the Sabbath. In fact, Bass has a problem deciding, for
example, "What, besides churchgoing, is Christian Sabbath
[Sunday] keeping?" She suggests that it may be a good idea to
refrain from buying, selling, "paying bills, preparing tax
returns, and making lists of things to do in the coming week."
But she cannot provide a compelling biblical reason for
abstaining from these secular activities. Why? Simply because
historically the essence of Sundaykeeping has been going to
church on Sunday and not refraining from business activities.
This can still be seen today even in the Bible Belt where many
businesses open on Sunday as soon as church services are over.
University of Denver Sabbath Symposium.
The scholarly community also has shown an interest for
rediscovering the Sabbath as a model for Sundaykeeping. An
example is the International Sabbath Symposium sponsored by the
University of Denver May 24-26,1989.
The organizer of the symposium was Dr. Stanley M. Wagner,
Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of
Stanley Wagner received from one of his students a tape of a
Sabbath lecture I delivered at the First Denver Seventh-day
Adventist Church. While listening to that tape, Dr. Wagner
recounts, "I was absolutely overwhelmed by Dr. Bacchiocchi's
address, in which he spoke of the Sabbath in the warmest, most
loving terms I had ever heard from the mouth of a Christian. It
was then that I felt the time had come for Jewish and Christian
scholars to meet to explore our respective traditions relative to
I vividly recall the evening when Dr. Wagner called me to
tell me how impressed he was by my lecture on the Sabbath and by
my book "Divine Rest for Human Restlessness." He told me that the
lecture and the book had inspired him to explore the possibility
of convening at the University of Denver for an international
Sabbath symposium that would bring together Catholic, Protestant,
Jewish, and Sabbatarian scholars for the purpose of re-examining
the relevance of the Sabbath for today. Then he asked me: "Would
you be willing to come to deliver one of the major addresses?" I
replied: "Dr. Wagner, I would be glad to come at my own expense,
This Sabbath Symposium was truly a ground-breaking event
that brought together leading scholars from prestigious
institutions as far away as England and Israel. While some of the
papers presented made an attempt to apply the values of the
Sabbath to Sundaykeeping, most of them examined the history,
theology, and relevance of the Sabbath for today. Eventually, the
papers were published by Crossroad in the book "The Sabbath in
Jewish and Christian Traditions" (272 pages).
What surprised me most at the conference was to hear some
Sundaykeeping scholars waxing eloquent about the Sabbath - a day
they had never observed. For example, instead of critiquing my
paper, Catholic Professor Dennis Kennedy, C. M., from St.Thomas
Seminary, chose to present his own meditation on the relevance of
the Sabbath for both the human and subhuman creation. He said:
"We humans need to experience God's sanctifying presence. So we
keep the Sabbath to (1) follow divine example, (2) acknowledge
God as Creator, and (3) participate in God's rest and blessings.
It is a sign of covenant between God and us - we look back to the
past perfect creation and forward to the ultimate salvation."
Prof. Kennedy continued saying: "I would like to suggest
that this Sabbath symposium is not some kind of dusty, scholarly
tediousness for a few learned doctors only; rather, it is an
attempt to revise the relationship of Creator to creation and to
define what our part in that creation is to be. Sabbath is meant
to refer to rest for all involved in the process of creation:
rest for the earth as well as for human." He called for the
recovery of a sabbatical ecological conscience which consists in
becoming the curators rather than the predators of God's
creation. By teaching us to admire God's creation, the Sabbath
teaches us to respect the natural world.
The willingness of Sundaykeeping scholars to re-examine the
values of the Sabbath for the social, ecological, and
psychological problems of our society represents a positive trend
that needs to be encouraged. In time, this trend could well
motivate Christians to adopt seventh-day Sabbathkeeping, not only
as a philosophical value but also as an existential practice
governing their lives.
University of South Africa Sabbath Conference.
A similar conference on "The biblical Day of Rest" was
sponsored by the C. B. Powell Bible Center of the University of
South Africa on June 16-17,1994. The conference was partly called
to deal with the question debated in the public press on how the
Lord's Day should be observed. The question was stirred up by the
refusal of some rugby players to play on Sunday during an
international game in Australia. These players belonged to the
Dutch Reformed Church that observes Sunday as the Christian
The conference was attended by about 100 scholars and church
leaders of the major denominations in South Africa. The papers
presented at the conference were published in a book "The
Biblical Day of Rest." It was evident that the prevailing concern
was to reaffirm the Reformed view of Sunday as the Christian
For example, in his presentation on "The Meaning of Sunday
as a Day Dedicated to God," Dr. Francois Moller, President of the
Apostolic Faith Mission, said: "Sunday must be observed as a day
dedicated to God. To make this possible, there must be purposeful
rules and behavior on the part of the church and every Christian
individual. Things which need to be done, must be done during the
week. This is not the day to catch up on the washing, mend
clothes, clean the house, service the car, help children with
school work, prepare large meals, go shopping, make appointments,
I was invited to present two papers at this conference on
"The Biblical Day of Rest." The first dealt with the historical
change from Sabbath to Sunday in early Christianity, and the
second addressed the relevance of the Sabbath for modern society.
The response was very positive. I could sense that though there
was disagreement about which day is the Christian Sabbath, there
was agreement on its meaning, nature, and relevance for today.
Three Dutch Reformed pastors attending the conference told me
that they wanted to reexamine the validity and value of the
seventh-day Sabbath for themselves and for their congregations.
In fact, one of them came to visit me at the home of the
Adventist pastor where I was staying and kept me up on a Friday
night until past midnight. Another attended the Sabbath morning
service at the City Hall auditorium where I spoke.
It was gratifying to witness a gathering of church leaders
and scholars eager to deepen their understanding of the biblical
Sabbath in order to find ways to revitalize Sundaykeeping. Such
an endeavor, however, holds little hope of success, because as
noted in Chapter l, Sunday is not the Sabbath. Historically,
Sundaykeeping has been understood and experienced not as the
"Holy Day of Rest" but primarily as church attendance followed by
normal activities. The attempt of church leaders to make Sunday
into a holy day today is a nearly impossible task, because
historically Christians have not understood and experienced
Sunday as a holy day. Moreover, people today are more interested
in holidays than in the observance of a holy day.
The Lord's Day Alliance.
A final example of rediscovery of the Sabbath as a model for
Sunday keeping is provided by the goals and work of the Lord's
Day Alliance of the United States (LDA). I became personally
acquainted with the work of the LDA several years ago when its
Executive Director, Dr. James Wesberry, came to spend a Sabbath
with our family here at Andrews University where I teach. After
reading my book "From Sabbath to Sunday," he wrote me a most
gracious letter inquiring about the possibility of our meeting.
He wrote: "It will be a great joy to meet and talk with you any
time such a meeting may be arranged ... Such a conversation might
add to my knowledge and give me additional ideas about how the
Lord's Day should be observed.... If you propose a time and a
place for such a get-together, it will be an honor to meet and
talk with you. I should hope you might visit me here in our
Dr. Wesberry came to spend Sabbath, December 2, 1978, with
us. The visit was a memorable occasion not only for my family but
also for him. In fact, in his farewell address to the Board
Members of the LDA published in Sunday, the official magazine of
the LDA, Dr. Wesberry mentioned his visit to Andrews University
as one of the highlights of his tenure as Executive Director of
the LDA. He was greatly impressed by the atmosphere of peace and
tranquillity that he felt was so pervasive in our homes, campus,
and lives on the Sabbath.
When my wife and I took Dr. Wesberry to the South Bend
airport that Saturday night, he said: "This was the most
delightful Sabbath I have ever experienced in my life." Then he
"Would you be willing to come to Atlanta, Georgia, next February
and be our keynote speaker at our annual LDA board meeting
that brings together about 150 church leaders representing 21
denominations? I would like you to share with them some of the
things you have shared with me today."
It goes without saying that I was delighted to accept the
invitation. It was for me an unforgettable experience to speak to
such a distinguished group of Church leaders. In my lecture, I
spoke not only on how the change came about from Saturday to
Sunday in early Christianity, but also on how the values of the
Sabbath can revitalize the religious experience of millions of
Dr. Wesberry was especially impressed by my book "Divine
Rest for Human Restlessness" because he found in it new insights
into the meaning and experience of the Sabbath which he felt were
applicable to Sunday observance. In his Foreword to the book he
wrote: "The author has dealt well with his subject. He has built
a gold mine of Sabbath material and made an invaluable
contribution to the strengthening of the Sabbath throughout the
world! No one, no matter of what faith or denomination he or she
may be, can read this book without finding Divine rest for his or
Prior to his death Dr. Wesberry wrote me a most gracious
letter asking me to do him "a big favor," namely, to explore the
possibility of establishing an endowed chair for Sabbath Studies
in his name. When I informed him by phone that an endowed chair
for Sabbath Studies at Andrews University would require an
investment of half a million dollars, he told me that this was
way beyond his means. We discussed the possibility of raising
together the funds needed for this worthy project, but he passed
away before anything could be done about it.
What stands out most in my memory about Dr. James Wesberry
is his dedication to help Christians experience the physical and
spiritual renewal that comes from the celebration of the Sabbath.
Though I could not support his endeavors to apply the values of
the biblical Sabbath to Sunday, I fully share his conviction that
a recovery of the meaning and experience of Sabbathkeeping is
indispensable to revitalize the spiritual life of Christians
today. Christians who give priority to the Lord in their thinking
and living during the Sabbath day ultimately give priority to the
Lord every day of their lives.
(I cannot hand forth such "friendship" to those who want to
simply make Sunday into the Sabbath. As Dr.Sam has said, Sunday
IS NOT the Sabbath. The FOURTH commandment is as clear as the
nose on your face, it is the 7th DAY only that is the Sabbath.
Those who would try to apply the fourth commandment to Sunday are
not only deceiving themselves but they deceive millions of people
who call themselves "Christian." It is SIN to teach Sunday as the
Sabbath of God. Leaders of Christian religion have a duty to
teach fully WHAT SIN IS! No matter what your human mind reasons
as to why you are not observing the 7th day, you are STILL
SINNING by NOT observing it. It is just that clear in the Bible,
the mind of a child, without being taught false ideas, will see
that it is just that clear, the SEVENTH DAY is HOLY to God, not
the first day, and He expects His children to KEEP it holy -
THE REDISCOVERY OF THE SEVENTH-DAY SABBATH
While Sunday-Sabbatarians are satisfied to rediscover the
Sabbath as a model for Sundaykeeping, an increasing number of
Christians today wish to rediscover the Sabbath as the biblical
A comprehensive report on the rediscovery of the seventh-day
Sabbath by individuals and various religious groups is beyond the
limited scope of this essay. Interested readers will find a
listing in "The Directory of Sabbath Observing Groups," published
by the Bible Sabbath Association. This valuable source of
information lists approximately 300 churches and groups who have
accepted the Sabbath in recent times.
It has been a most informative and inspiring experience to
contact by phone a dozen pastors who in recent years have led
their congregations from Sundaykeeping to Sabbathkeeping.
Unfortunately, most of these pastors have not published an
orderly account of how they became Sabbathkeepers. One, Pastor
Dan Gayman of The Church of Israel, wrote a brief report which is
For the purpose of this chapter, I submit first a sampling
of recent publications rediscovering the seventh-day Sabbath.
Then follows a brief report on a few Sabbatarian churches with
which I have become personally acquainted. A comprehensive
history of the many Sabbatarian churches and groups that have
come into existence during the past 30 to 40 years would require
considerable research and the writing of a sizeable volume. The
few examples of Sabbatarian publications and churches cited below
are only representative of the rediscovery of the Sabbath by
Christians of different persuasions.
Catch Your Breath:
God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest.
A fitting example of the rediscovery of the Sabbath in
recent publications is the newly released book "Catch Your
Breath: God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest" (1997), authored by Don
Postema who serves as pastor of the Campus Chapel at the
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The book, which is published by CRC (Christian Reformed
Church), provides a practical and creative study of the meaning
of the Sabbath for today. In his spiritual search for inner peace
and rest, Postema tried various resources including Eastern
mediation until he was struck by the fact that "Jews and
Christians have a practice as near as our Bible, as close as our
tradition, as available as the next ten minutes or weekend: the
Postema explains that "The Sabbath is a gift from God given
to humanity right from the beginning. An attitude waiting to be
lived ever since Moses received the Ten Commandments and Jesus
declared the Sabbath was made for us! A promise that unfolds the
more we participate in it. A vacation with God planned from the
beginning to be enjoyed into eternity."
The aim of the book is to invite people not only to think
about the Sabbath but also to practice it. Postema writes: "The
benefit of the Sabbath is not simply in the study of it but most
assuredly in the practice of it - in living Sabbath. Reading and
thinking about Sabbath is like reading travel brochures and
dreaming about great vacation spots but never going there for a
vacation. It is interesting. You can learn a lot. But you can't
have the experience unless you make the journey. This book is
something like a travel guide to an intriguing vacation spot. But
I hope you don't simply read about it quickly and put it down
thinking, 'I might like to go there some time.' Rather, I hope
that together we can experience a vacation with God."
Contrary to other authors who study the Sabbath as a role
model for Sundaykeeping, Postema focuses exclusively on the
biblical seventh-day Sabbath. I found no attempts in the book to
apply the values of the Sabbath to Sunday.
An unusual journal called Restore was recently started
by Dr. John D. Garr, founder of the Restoration Foundation. Garr
has pioneered research, writing, and teaching on the Hebrew
foundations of the Christian faith for the past thirty years.
The aim of Restore is to promote the recovery of the biblical
Hebrew heritage to the Christian believer. The contributors are
mostly scholars who write within their field of expertise.
I have been invited to contribute articles to Restore and to
participate in their Dallas-based radio program, "The Roots of
Yeshua." The Sabbath has been the major topic discussed in three
radio talk shows. The host of the program can reached at (817)
794-0455. Several articles on the Sabbath have been published in
Restore. One of them, "How to Have a Family Shabbat," suggests an
order of service for opening the Sabbath in a Christian home.
What I find surprising about this organization is that it is
trans-denominational and multi-ethnic. It claims no religious
affiliation. It simply exists to help Christians of all faiths
recover vital aspects of their Hebrew heritage, like the Sabbath,
that have been lost as a result of centuries of anti-Judaism and
anti-semitism. Anyone interested in receiving their journal
and/or their publications can contact them by phone (423)
472-7321 or by email at RestorationFoundation@compuserve.com.
These people represent a fine example of educated Christians who
are eager to rediscover long-forgotten biblical truths, like the
A most unlikely place to find an article discussing the
rediscovery of the Sabbath is Hemisphere, the magazine of
United Airlines. I was surprised on a United Airline flight to
the West Coast to read in the July 1997 issue of Hemisphere a
delightful article entitled "Ancient Wisdom," written by Nan
Chase, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post. Chase tells
the story of how she discovered the Sabbath by reading about it
in a Jewish book about Holy Days. She came across the book at the
very time she and her husband went to a marriage counselor
because they were deadlocked "over crises of time management, of
growth and change."
Chase was "electrified" when she read: "The Sabbath marks
the difference between man and all other creatures that live in
the universe." She noted that "this day of rest was to be
observed in order for humans to cease the everyday struggle for
existence and to enjoy life's material and spiritual gifts."
She decided to begin observing the Sabbath from "sundown
Friday until sundown Saturday" by resting: "No cooking, no
shopping or paying of bills, no pulling of weeds or pruning
shrubs, no cleaning or repairing the house, nor even talking
about or thinking about work and the office. The Sabbath is a day
without labor, a time to savor the sweetness of life ... My
personal life, my professional life, and my family life have all
improved, and I plan to go on celebrating the Sabbath."
What an inspiring testimony to be found, of all places, in
an airline magazine.
This is but one example of how different people today are
rediscovering the blessings of Sabbathkeeping for their families,
marriages, and personal lives.
Du Sabbat au Dimanche
The next example of rediscovering the Sabbath sounds almost
too nice to be true. A Belgian Benedectine monk, Ferdinand
Poswick, Director of the Center for Biblical Information at the
Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium, ordered a copy of my dissertation
"From Sabbath to Sunday," when it first came out from the
pontifical Gregorian University Press in 1977. Being impressed by
documents and arguments which indicate the continuity, validity,
and value of the Sabbath for the Christian life today, Poswick
decided to contact me during his trip to America in 1982. He
never anticipated meeting me in Dallas at the Annual Meeting of
the Society of Biblical Literature.
At the Dallas meeting, Poswick shared his great desire to
translate and publish the book into French if I would give him
permission. He felt that the book could contribute to the
recovery of the biblical values of the Sabbath for today. I was
delighted to grant him permission, forfeiting royalties in view
of the cost of translation.
Poswick supervised the translation done by another
Benedectine monk, Dominique. Sebire, who worked for almost two
years on this project, producing a superb French translation. The
French title of the book is "Du Sabbat au Dimanche." Poswick and
Sebire did all of this as a labor of love, without receiving a
cent of compensation from anyone. They were inspired by the
desire to help Christians rediscover the blessings of the
biblical Sabbath for today. They verbalize this desire in the
Foreword which I do my best here to translate from French into
"Did Jesus of Nazareth abolish the Sabbath? Paul, who was often
accused by his own Jewish brethren of many trangressions-was he
ever accused of Sabbathbreaking? Why then did Christians stop
observing the Sabbath beginning from the fourth century? Was it
perhaps to distinguish themselves from the Jews and to facilitate
their integration in the rhythms and customs of the Constantinian
"Doesn't Sabbathkeeping remain a very visible sign of the break
that occurred between carnal Israel and those who claim to be
spiritual Israel? At any rate, should we not prefer the sincere
and truthful celebration of the Sabbath unto God to the
pharisaism of a paganized Sunday? [Isn't this a daring statement
to make by Benedectine monks?]
"Some Christians, the Seventh-day Adventists, often considered as
marginal among the main line denominations, do observe the
Sabbath. One of their theologians wished to verify the historical
sources dealing with the change from the observance of the
Sabbath to the observance of Sunday... [biographical information
about me follows]. For the reflection of Christians we present
this research that the author has adapted for the American
edition of his dissertation.
"May this thorough study stimulate biblical, patristic, and
liturgical research, challenging everyone to return to the
sources, improve the methodology of research, and reexamine
afresh a truth [that is, the Sabbath truth] which the author
presents with the conviction of someone who has found in the
celebration of the Sabbath a spiritual enrichment which gives a
special quality to his faith in the Resurrection and Return of
Words fail to express my heartfelt appreciation to these
dedicated Benedictine monks, not only for giving unstintingly
their time and skills to this project, but also for daring to
challenge Christians to "re-examine afresh" the values of the
Sabbath which can bring spiritual enrichment to our Christian
life today. It is hard for me to believe that they succeeded in
having the French edition of my dissertation "Du Sabbat au
Dimanche" published and distributed through Catholic bookstores.
The sampling of publications cited above reflect the growing
interest for rediscovering the Sabbath on the part of Christian
thinkers of different persuasions. At this juncture, I would like
to mention a few churches and groups who have rediscovered the
Sabbath in recent times. No special mention will be made of the
rediscovery of the Sabbath by older Sabbatarian churches, like
the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Seventh Day Baptist Church,
or the Church of God Seventh-day, since all of these churches
have been in existence for a longer time.
Various "Churches of God"
Numerous recently established Sabbatarian churches and
independent congregations have adopted the name of "Church of
God" with or without additional qualifying designations. Several
of them use the name "Church of God Seventh-day," the larger of
which has its headquarters in Denver, Colorado. On several
occasions I have been invited to speak at their gatherings.
Others use variations of the same name such as "Church of God The
Eternal," "Church of God and Saints in Christ," "Church of God
Fellowship," "Church of God in Truth," "Church of God,
Jerusalem," "Church of God of the Ozarks," "Church of God,
Philadelphian Era," etc.
Several new Churches of God have come into existence as a
result of the doctrinal changes recently introduced by the
leadership of the Woldwide Church of God (WCG). The Pastor
General of the WCG, Joseph Tkach, Jr., supported by a few close
advisers, adopted the "New Covenant" theology. Early in 1995,
Tkach informed his members that their beliefs in the Sabbath,
Holy Days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, and other things
were part of the Old Covenant and no longer binding upon
Christians today. The result of these doctrinal changes has been
a massive exodus of approximately 70,000 members who chose to
leave the WCG rather than give up doctrines such as the Sabbath,
which had been vital to their spiritual life.
About half of the members who left the WCG have joined newly
formed "Churches of God" such as the United Church of God, Global
Church of God, Church of God International, and Philadelphia
Church of God. Some time ago, The Journal, a paper that publishes
"News of the Churches of God," listed about seventy different
"Churches of God" that trace their roots to the WCG. It is
estimated that an almost equal number of former WCG members have
not as yet joined any church. They often refer to themselves as
"Living Room Sabbatarians" since on the Sabbath they meet with
friends for worship in their living rooms. At a "Friends of the
Sabbath" Conference held in 1996 at the Sheriton Convention
Center in Tacoma, Washington, about half of the 400-plus
participants identified themselves as "Living Room Sabbatarians."
During the past three years I have been privileged to
minister to many former and current members of the WCG at Sabbath
conferences held across the US and overseas. It has been an
inspiring experience to listen to moving accounts of the pain and
suffering some of them have endured to remain loyal to the
principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping. I vividly recall a
gentleman who flew from Phoenix, Arizona to San Antonio, Texas to
attend a Sabbath conference held at the Mansion del Rio Hotel
from December 24-26, 1995. He told me: "After having been a
Sabbathkeeper in the WCG for the past thirty years, I would have
never imagined that the day would come when I would fly across
the country to listen to a lecture on the Sabbath. But my family
has been split over the Sabbath question. My wife and a son have
chosen to stay on with the WCG and they no longer wish to observe
the Sabbath. Out of desperation I decided to come to this
conference in order to get all the help that I can receive."
My heart goes out to these Sabbatarian friends who are
facing opposition and even rejection from their own family
members and former church members because of their decision to
honor their Savior on His Sabbath day.
A Reformed Methodist movement, known as Wesley Synod,
rediscovered the Sabbath in 1996. Bishop Steven Sanchez, S.T.D.,
told me in a telephone conversation that he presides over 68
congregations scattered throughout North America. The concern of
the Wesley Synod is to return to the Hebraic roots of
Christianity. They believe in the observance of God's law, in
general, and the Sabbath, in particular.
Bishop Sanchez explained to me that, though their
denomination was organized only recently, they stand fully in the
Wesleyan tradition because at one time John Wesley was a
seventh-day Sabbath keeper and believed in keeping the dietary
laws. He claims that this information is not found in later
biographies of Wesley's life but can be found in earlier books.
He promised to mail me some of this documentation. The Wesley
Synod views itself as the resurrection of true Methodism.
Obviously this has created some problems with the Methodist
Church to which they are still committed.
The Wesley Synod observes the Sabbath from sunset Friday
till sunset Saturday not only by going to church on Saturday
morning, but also by abstaining from ordinary work in order to
give priority to the Lord in their thinking and living. It is
encouraging to see how the Holy Spirit is moving upon the hearts
of Christians in mainline denominations to recover the Hebrew
heritage of the Christian faith, especially by returning to the
principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping.
The Church of Israel
At the "Friends of the Sabbath Conference" held in Sydney,
Australia, June 1996, the participants were delighted to hear
Pastor Dan Gayman relate in a most gripping way how the Lord led
his Open Bible Church, near Schell City, Missouri, to rediscover
and accept the Sabbath. As a result of the rediscovery of new
biblical truths, the name of the church was changed to "The
Church of Israel." Gayman's presentation was so inspiring that he
was invited to repeat it in several Adventist churches in Sydney
after the Conference.
Pastor Gayman graciously faxed me on September 6, 1998, a
nutshell summary of the providential way the Lord led his
congregation to rediscover the Sabbath. He explains that his
congregation, being an Open Bible Church, was interested in
following biblical truths wherever they might led them.
"Beginning in the year 1985 the Church of Israel [of
approximately 200 members] made a conscious effort to study the
question of the Sabbath.... The congregation studied the issue of
the Sabbath for a period of two years and carefully researched
every word to be found in Scripture on the subject, along with
voluminous books on the subject. The goal was to bring the church
into the truth of the Sabbath without loss of a single family."
Incidentally, Guyman ordered my Sabbath books on numerous
occasions during the time his congregation was involved in the
study of the Sabbath.
After two years of Bible study, "in the late Fall of 1987
the ministers and the congregation made their decision to
transfer their church services from Sunday to the biblical
Sabbath." The official change occurred on December 17, 1987,
"without the loss of a single family." Since that time "the
church has never failed to observe a full scale worship service
on the biblical Sabbath."
Pastor Guyman concludes his summary report with these words:
"The transfer from Sunday to the biblical Sabbath has been one of
the most important spiritual events in the life of the church. It
has wrought powerful transformation in the lives of all the
church members. The church has doubled in size and increased its
evangelistic outreach to every state in the United States. The
church has shared its testimony on the Sabbath with untold
numbers of people and upwards of one thousand people have joined
the church in the celebration of the Holy Sabbath around the
The experience of Pastor Guyman and his congregation stands
in stark contrast to that of Pastor Dale Ratzlaff and his
congregation. Ratzlaff, a former Seventh-day Adventist Bible
teacher and minister, claims in his book "Sabbath in Crisis" that
seven months of a weekly study of the Sabbath with a group of his
members led him to the conclusion that the Sabbath is an Old
Covenant institution, fulfilled by Christ and no longer binding
about "New Covenant" Christians. The outcome was that Pastor
Ratzlaff left the Seventh-day Adventist Church and established a
congregation that meets on Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona.
By contrast, Pastor Guyman, a Sundaykeeper, affirms that two
years of study of the Sabbath with his congregation convinced
every single family of his 200-member congregation to accept the
biblical validity and value of the Sabbath. These two contrasting
experiences illustrate the point that one can study the Bible to
accept or to reject its truths. The difference largely lies in
what one seeks to find in the Bible.
Messianic Jewish Congregations
The rediscovery of the Sabbath has played a significant role
in the religious life of the Messianic Jewish Movement which has
gained prominence during the past thirty years. During this time,
hundreds of Messianic Jewish Congregations have been established
across the United States and overseas. These congregations belong
to one of two major organizations, the Union of Messianic Jewish
Congregations or the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
Messianic Judaism is a fast-growing movement that is bringing the
saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to many Jews around the world.
During the past two years, I have invited a dozen MessianicJewish
Rabbis to speak at Sabbath conferences held in different parts of
the country. Their presentations on the Sabbath have always been
most enlightening. At some conferences, the Rabbis demonstrated
how their families open and close the Sabbath with a special
ceremony by sitting around the family table which, on these
special occasions, becomes the family altar. Their ritual is
largely adopted from the Jewish tradition with new Christian
Learning how the Sabbath is conceptualized and experienced
within the Messianic Jewish community, can be an educational
experience for Sabbatarians. The Sabbath liturgy of Messianic
Jews may provide a model that some Sabbatarians may wish to adopt
with modifications and innovations. In my view, more needs to be
done by Sabbatarian churches to help their members develop a
meaningful family tradition of Sabbathkeeping that can help to
keep alive the significance and experience of the Sabbath.
The rediscovery of the Sabbath among Messianic Jews has been a
gradual process. The Messianic Jewish Movement gained momentum in
the early seventies, possibly influenced by the events that
transpired during the six-days war of 1967. At that time most of
their members were Sundaykeepers. Rabbi Harvey Koelner of the
Temple Aron Kodesh, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Lauderdale
Lake, Florida, explained to me in a telephone conversation that
initially his 500-member congregation had "a split personality."
Some members attended Friday night services, as most Jews do
today, but the rest attended Sunday services. Gradually, however,
his whole congregation became Sabbathkeepers. I understand that
the same thing has happened in over 95 percent of the Messianic
Jewish congregations as they have come to observe exclusively the
Recovering the Jewish Roots
Some Messianic Jews were originally Sundaykeepers largely
because their movement was originally sponsored by Sundaykeeping
Protestant churches. Surprisingly, Sabbatarian churches have done
very little to reach the Jews with the Gospel. I remember meeting
with some Messianic Jewish congregations in Chicago in the early
eighties in facilities offered them by evangelical churches.
Since the mission to the Jews was launched by Sundaykeeping
Protestant churches, one is not surprised that initially
Messianic Jews were Sundaykeepers.
This has also been the case with the Jews for Jesus Movement
whose members today are still mostly Sundaykeepers.
What has led Messianic Jewish congregations to rediscover
the Sabbath in recent times is their commitment to recover the
Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Some Messianic Jewish Rabbis
have explained to me that in their search for their roots, they
discovered that Jesus and the apostles were Jews who observed the
law, in general, and the Sabbath, in particular. They found that
Christianity began as the continuation of Judaism, not as a
radical break away from it. Consequently, they came to realize
that the acceptance of Jesus as their expected Messiah did not
necessitate for them to reject such an important aspect of their
Jewish heritage as Sabbathkeeping.
An important lesson can be learned from the Messianic Jews.
Christians also need to reexamine the relationship between the
Old and New Testaments, Judaism and Christianity, law and grace,
Sabbath and Sunday. For too long Christians have been taught to
view the Cross as the line of demarcation between these sets of
contrasts. In recent years, however, numerous scholars have
exposed the fallacies of this artificial theological construct.
They have come to recognize that the earliest Christians were
believing Jews who were "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20).
For believing Jews in New Testament times, it would have been
unthinkable to abandon one of the chief precepts of the law, the
Sabbath commandment. If Paul had dared to do so, they would have
fiercely condemned his temerity, as they did in the case of
circumcision. The absence of any echo of controversy regarding
the Sabbath is a compelling indication of the continuity of its
observance. We can only hope that Dispensationalists and "New
Covenant" Christians gradually come to recognize this historical
reality and abandon the artificial distinction they have
fabricated between the Old and New Covenant, Judaism and
Christianity, Law and grace, Sabbath and Sunday.
The interest of some Mennonites for a rediscovery of the
Sabbath can be traced back to some of their Anabaptist founding
fathers who were Sabbatarians. The Anabaptist movement represents
the radical wing of the Reformation. Their concern was to
complete the reformation initiated by Luther and Calvin by
returning to the beliefs and practices of the Apostolic
Church. Because of this overriding concern, they became know as
Two active Anabaptist leaders, Andreas Fisher and Oswald
Gait, became the pioneers and promoters of the Sabbath. Both of
them suffered martyr deaths, largely due to their Sabbatarian
views. Sabbatarians owe a debt of gratitude to these Sabbath
pioneers whose work later influenced the origin of the Seventh
Day Baptist church. The latter has been instrumental in helping
the early Adventists and other Christians to rediscover the
Mennonite scholar Daniel Liechy has produced a comprehensive
biography of Andreas Fisher through a painstaking examination of
all the primary and secondary sources he searched out in various
European countries. His research was published in 1988 by the
Herald Press under the title Andreas Fisher and the Sabbatarian
Anabaptists. It was my privilege to write the Foreword to this
Liechty carefully reconstructs the Sabbatarian theology of
one wing of the Anabaptist movement. In doing so, he raises
important questions regarding the theological consistency of the
major Anabaptist streams that wanted to rediscover and restore
apostolic biblical teachings and practices and yet refused to
accept the apostolic practice of Sabbathkeeping. In a personal
letter, Liechty informed me that his research has had such an
impact upon him that he has become a Sabbatarian.
Liechty's research is of immense value to Sabbatarian
churches because it proves that the principle and practice of
seventh-day Sabbathkeeping was rediscovered and accepted in the
earliest years of the Reformation itself. Moreover, it provides
vital information for tracing the historical roots of their
I was made aware of the interest of the Mennonites in the
Sabbath a few years ago when I was invited by the president of
the student association of the Associate Mennonite Seminary, in
Elkhart, Indiana, to speak at their chapel program on the
historical change from Sabbath to Sunday in early Christianity.
The lecture was followed by a pleasant discussion. At the end of
the discussion, an elderly Old Testament professor, who looked
very much like an Old Testament patriarch with a nice flowing
white beard, stood up and made a daring speech. He said something
like this: "I have listened attentively to the presentation of
Dr. Bacchiocchi and to the discussion. It appears to me that
there is a keen interest on the part of some Mennonites to return
to the biblical principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping. Rather
than arguing about this matter, why not open up our church doors
on Saturday morning so that those who have this conviction can
worship God on the Sabbath without interference."
A few months later one of my colleagues learned during a
visit to the Associated Mennonite Seminary that a group of people
on the campus meets for worship on Sabbath mornings. This episode
provides another example of the providential way the Lord is
leading sincere people to rediscover the Sabbath.
Assemblies of Yahweh
One of the larger Sabbatarian churches is the Assemblies of
Yahweh, with headquarters is in Bethel, Pennsylvania. This church
came into existence in 1962 largely as a result of the work of
Jacob O. Meyer, who is regarded as the founding father. Since
then numerous independent Assemblies of Yahweh have been formed.
Though these share the same or a similar name, they function
independently from the mother church.
In an article entitled "Why I Keep the Seventh Day Sabbath,"
Jacob Meyer recounts how he became a Sabbathkeeper at the age of
27. At the time he was serving as a Sunday-school teacher in the
Church of the Brethren, formerly known as the German Baptist
Brethren. Meyer recalls that "Approximately November 1961, the
Sunday school lesson I taught to my young married people's class
concerned the fourth commandment, the keeping of the Sabbath. We
studied through the fourth commandment in the allotted time of an
hour. After some additional study and meditation, I was not as
convinced about keeping Sunday (the first day of the week) as I
had been before."
Sometime later two couples spent a Saturday evening with the
Meyers studying the Bible, especially the keeping of the
commandments, including the Sabbath. The next day, Sunday, Meyer
decided to study about the Sabbath rather than go to church. He
writes: "I stayed home and applied myself to a serious study of
the sacred Scriptures, seeing things I had never seen before in
my Bible. I studied the subject of the keeping of the seventh-day
Sabbath. I read the passages from my own Bible, and with the
center-column references, through a word study I pursued the
subject through the entire Bible....
"After a long productive morning of Bible study with my wife, I
turned to her and said: 'Honey, next week we will begin keeping
the seventh day Sabbath!' From then on (early 1962) we have
observed the Sabbath and we intend to continue to the end of our
Later Meyer discovered that his forefather Johannes
Meyer was a Sabbathkeeper in colonial America in the early 1700s.
He belonged to the Seventh Day German Baptist Church.
The story of the discovery of the Sabbath by Jacob Meyer
serves to illustrate again how the Lord uses unexpected
circumstances to lead sincere people to find forgotten biblical
truths. As a result of Meyer's witness and leadership, numerous
Assemblies of Yahweh congregations are observing the Sabbath
across North America.
True Jesus Church
The rediscovery of the Sabbath is a phenomenon occurring not
only among Christians in North America but also overseas. A few
examples are familiar to me. A rather well-known Sabbatarian
church in China and the South Pacific is the True Jesus Church.
It was established in 1917 in Beijing, China, by Paul Wei,
LingShen Chang, and Barnabas Chung, who had been affiliated with
Sundaykeeping denominations. They claim to have received the
complete truth regarding salvation through the guidance of the
Sabbath observance is one of their fundamental beliefs, as
stated in the list of their basic beliefs: "The Sabbath Day, the
seventh day of the week (Saturday), is a holy day, blessed and
sanctified by God. It is to be observed under the Lord's grace
for the commemoration of God's creation and redemption, and with
the hope of eternal rest."
Although the True Jesus Church originated in China, its
mission has spread to the South Pacific, South-East Asia, and
other parts of the world, including Russia. At present it has
approximately 1,000,000 members in China and 79,000 members in
the free world." In 1985, the headquarters of the church was
relocated from Taiwan to Los Angeles and "four evangelical
centers were also established to meet the expansion of the work:
the American Evangelical Center (AEC), the Europe Evangelical
Center (EEC), the North-East Asia Evangelical Center (NEAEC), and
the South-East Asia Evangelical Center.
In 1992, I received a letter from Robert Kisiel, president
of the Polish Brethren Unity Church, inviting me to attend a
meeting of 1,500 leaders of congregations in Western Ukraine on
November 1, 1992. In his letter dated August 3, 1992, Kiesel
writes: "During this meeting our brethren are going to discuss
the basic topic of the relationship between Judaism and
Christianity in order to establish a new Sabbathkeeping Church of
God.... I hope you can find time to come to this meeting as one
of the best Western Sabbath theologians and help us in the
process of the creation of the new Church."
Kiesel's letter and invitation was sent to me through
Przemyslaw Waliszewski, a scientist in the Department of Cancer
Biology of The Cleveland and Clinic Foundation, an
internationally known cancer re search center. In his
accompanying letter, Prof. Waliszewski (a non-SDA) urged me to
accept the invitation and asked permission to translate my
Sabbath books into Polish and Russian. On such short notice and
with such limited information about the actual location of the
meeting, it was impossible for me to attend. My absence from the
meeting does not detract from the fact that 1500 leaders of
Polish Unity Brethren Church in Poland and Western Ukraine came
together to establish a new Sabbathkeeping Church of God.
More recently I received a letter (October 3,1997) from
Pastor Glen Howard, of the International Church of Budapest in
Hungary. Pastor Howard is apparently an American missionary
sponsored by a Sundaykeeping denomination, as indicated by his
fluent English and ability to pay for my books with a check drawn
on an American bank. In his letter, Pastor Howard informed me
that he has read and shared with his congregations my two Sabbath
book From Sabbath to Sunday and The Sabbath in the New Testament.
According to the letter, "several people in our congregation have
become quite interested in the subject of the Sabbath and would
like to get a copy of these books.... Do you have a special price
for churches of mission organizations?" Rest assured that I was
delighted to ship to them a case of my Sabbath books. It is
heart-warming for me to receive letters almost every week from
individuals and church leaders informing me that through the
printed page the Lord has brought conviction to their minds as to
the biblical validity and value of Sabbathkeeping for their
The foregoing fragmentary report on the rediscovery of the
Sabbath by scholars, church leaders, and religious groups
known to me hardly does justice to the swelling interest in the
Sabbath on the part of many other religious groups that have not
This partial report suffices to show that interest in the
Sabbath has hardly been suppressed by the crossfire of
controversy. The truth is that we are experiencing today a
swelling interest for Sabbath. Christians of all persuasions are
rediscovering that the Sabbath is indeed "a gift waiting to be
unwrapped." Many today are unwrapping this gift by accepting
God's invitation to stop their work on the Sabbath day in order
to allow Him to enrich their lives with a larger measure of His
divine presence, peace, and rest. Many more can receive the gift
of the Sabbath if those of us who experience weekly the blessings
of this divine gift will share with others the benefits this day
brings to our lives.
Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi's Website is:
Entered on this Website May 2008