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The Sabbath under Crossfire #8

The Old and New Covenants #1

                      THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE #8

by Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD

Chapter 3 


     Few Bible doctrines have been under the constant crossfire
of controversy as has the Sabbath. In recent years,
Dispensational and "New Covenant" Christians have renewed their
attack against the Sabbath with fresh zeal. The stock weapon of
their arsenal is the allegation that the Sabbath is an Old
Covenant relic that terminated at the Cross. Their strategy is to
make the Cross the line of demarcation between the Old and New
Covenants, Law and Grace, the Sabbath and Sunday. Since they
believe the Ten Commandments formed the core of the Old Covenant
and the Sabbath is central to the Ten Commandments, by firing on
the Sabbath they hope to destroy the validity and value of the
Mosaic Law in general, and of the Sabbath in particular.
     This is largely the strategy recently adopted by such former
Sabbatarians as the Worldwide Church of God, Dale Ratzlaff in his
influential book "Sabbath in Crisis," and some of the newly
established "grace-oriented" congregations, which consist mainly
of former Sabbatarians. Their literature contains some of the
strongest attacks against the Sabbath ever published. This is a
surprising development of our times, because, to my knowledge,
never before in the history of Christianity has the Sabbath been
attacked by those who previously had championed its observance.
     The weapons used by former Sabbatarians in their attacks
against the Sabbath are taken largely from the aging munition
dump of Dispensational literature.

     For the sake of accuracy I must say that, contrary to most
Dispensational authors, both the Worldwide Church of God (WCG)
and Dale Ratzlaff are more concerned with proving the
"fulfilment" and termination of the Sabbath in Christ than in
defending Sunday observance as an apostolic institution. For
them, the New Covenant does not require the observance of a day
as such, but the daily experience of the rest of salvation
typified by the Sabbath rest. In "Sabbath in Crisis," Ratzlaff
does include a chapter, "The First Day of the Week," where he
makes a feeble attempt to justify the biblical origin of
Sundaykeeping, but this is not the major concern of his book.
     For the benefit of those less versed in theological nuances,
it might help to clarify the difference between Dispensational
and New Covenant theologies. Both emphasize the distinction
between the Old Mosaic Covenant, allegedly based on Law, and the
"New Christian Covenant" presumably based on grace.
     Dispensationalists, however, go a step further by applying
their distinction between the Old and New Covenants as
representing the existence of a fundamental and permanent
distinction between Israel and the Church. "Throughout the ages,"
writes Lewis Sperry Chafer, a leading Dispensational theologian,
"God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth
with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is
Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly
people and heavenly objectives, which is Christianity." 1
     Simply stated, Dispensationalists interpret the Old and New
Covenants as representing two different plans of salvation for
two different people - Israel and the Church. The destiny of each
is supposed to be different, not only in this present age but
also throughout eternity. What God has united by breaking down
the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14)
Dispensationalists are trying to divide by rebuilding the wall of
partition not only for the present age but for all eternity. It
is hard to believe that intelligent, responsible Christians would
dare to fabricate such a divisive theology that grossly
misrepresents the fairness and justice of God's redemptive

Importance of This Study. 

     The importance of this study stems from the popular
perception that the Sabbath is an Old Covenant institution no
longer binding upon "New Covenant" Christians. This thesis is es-
poused by most Evangelical authors and is widely accepted by
Christians at large. In recent years, as we noted, the abrogation
view of the Sabbath has been adopted by an increasing number of
former Sabbatarians.

     This chapter examines primarily the literature produced by
former Sabbatarians, especially Ratzlaff's "Sabbath in Crisis."
We focus on Ratzlaff's book for two reasons: (1) "The Sabbath in
Cris" largely reflects the Dispensational and "New Covenant"
views of the Sabbath. Consequently, the analysis of this book
provides an opportunity to examine the abrogation view of the
Sabbath held by most Christians today. (2) This book has
exercised considerable influence not only on WCG, 2  but also
among a considerable number of former Adventist ministers and
members who have rejected the Sabbath as an Old Covenant, Mosaic
institution that no longer is binding upon Christians today.
     A fitting example of the influence of Sabbath in Crisis
among Seventh-day Adventists is the book "New Covenant
Christians" by Clay Peck, a former Adventist pastor who currently
serves as senior pastor of the Grace Place Congregation in
Berthoud, Colorado. In the "Introduction" to his book Peck
acknowledges his indebtedness to Ratzlaff saying: "While I have
read and researched widely for this study, I have been most
challenged and instructed by a book entitled 'Sabbath in Crisis,'
by Dale Ratzlaff. I have leaned heavily on his research,
borrowing a number of concepts and diagrams." 3
     The far reaching influence of the "New Covenant" theology,
championed among Sabbatarians by people like Dale Ratzlaff, is
hard to estimate. The WCG has experienced a massive exodus of
over 70,000 members who have refused to accept the changes
demanded by the "New Covenant" theology. In the Adventist church,
the "New Covenant" teaching has influenced several former pastors
to establish independent "graceoriented" congregations.
     This study on the relationship between the Sabbath and the
New Covenant extends beyond the sabbatarian communities. Most
Sundaykeeping Christians think of Sabbathkeeping as a relic of
the Old Covenant and of Sabbatarians as "Judaizers" still living
under the Old Covenant. It is urgent, then, for us to examine
this popular perception which, as our study will show, is based
on a one-sided, misleading interpretation of the biblical
teaching on the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.

Objectives of This Chapter. 

     In Chapter 2 I briefly traced the origin and development of
the anti-Sabbath theology. This chapter continues the study of
the anti-Sabbath theology by focusing on the major arguments
adduced by the "New Covenant" theology to negate the continuity,
validity, and value of the Sabbath for today.

     This chapter is divided into two parts. The first deals with
the alleged distinction between the Old Covenant based on Law and
the New Covenant based on faith and love. The fundamental
question addressed in the first part is: Do the Old and New
Covenants contain a different set of laws, or are they based on
the same set of moral principles? The second part examines the
continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants as
taught in the book of Hebrews. The fundamental question to be
considered here is: Does the book of Hebrews support the popular
contention that the coming of Christ brought an end to the Law,
in general, and to the Sabbath, in particular?



     A major characteristic of the "New Covenant" theology
recently adopted by a significant number of former Sabbatarians
is the Dispensational emphasis on the radical distinction between
the Old and New Covenants. To illustrate this point, we briefly
examine two representative studies: (1) The Pastor General
Report, entitled "The New Covenant and the Sabbath," prepared by
Pastor Joseph Tkach, Jr., Pastor General of the WCG; and (2)
Chapters 5,12, and 15 of the book "Sabbath in Crisis," where
Ratzlaff articulates his understanding of the distinction between
the Old and the New Covenants.

(1) Joseph Tkach's View of the Distinction Between the Two

     In his Pastor General Report of December 21, 1994, Pastor
Joseph Tkach, Jr., devotes 20 pages to explain to his ministers
the fundamental difference between the Old and New Covenants. He
argues that the difference lies in the fact that the Old Covenant
was conditional upon obedience to a "package of Laws," while the
New Covenant is unconditional, that is, without obedience as a
requirement 4
     For Tkach, the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant "package
of Laws" and this is why "we don't find the Sabbath commanded in
the New Covenant." 5  "Something was seriously wrong with the
Israelite covenant. The people did not have the heart to obey,
and God knew it (Deut 31:1621, 27-29). Unlike Abraham, they did
not believe and were not faithful (Heb 3:19).... Therefore, God
predicted a New Covenant. He hinted at it even in the old ....
There would be no need for a New Covenant, of course, unless the
Old was deficient." 6  

     If it were true that "something was seriously wrong" with
the Old Covenant, then why did God in the first place give a
faulty covenant that could not change the hearts of the people?
Was something "seriously wrong" with the covenant itself? Or was
it with the way the people related to the covenant? If the human
response was a factor with the Old Covenant, could it also be a
factor with the New Covenant?

Superiority of the New Covenant. 

"The New Covenant is superior to the Old, because it is founded
on better promises (Heb 8:6)." 7  Tkach argues that the New
Covenant is the renewal of the Abrahamic covenant which was based
on God's unconditional promises. "God didn't say, I'll do this if
you do that. Abraham had already done enough. He had accepted
God's call, went to the land as God had commanded, and he
believed God and was therefore counted as righteous." 8  Like
Abraham, "New Covenant" Christians accept salvation by faith and
not by works of obedience.
     Tkach writes: "In the New Covenant, faith is required ...
Christians have a relationship with God based on faith, not on
Law ... We are saved on the basis of faith, not on Law-keeping
... In other words, our relationship with God is based on faith
and promise, just as Abraham's was. Laws that were added at Sinai
cannot change the promise given to Abraham ... That package of
Laws became obsolete when Christ died, and there is now a new
package." 9  The problem with this statement is the gratuitous
assumption that salvation was possible in the Old Covenant
through Law-keeping. This is completely untrue, because, as we
shall see in Chapter 6, obedience to the Law represented Israel's
response to the gracious provision of salvation. Law-keeping has
never been the basis of salvation.

(It is so true as Dr.Sam says, see my study "Saved by Grace" -
Keith Hunt)

     According to Tkach, the Old Covenant did not work because it
was based "on a package of Laws" that "could not cleanse a guilty
conscience." 10  On the other hand, the New Covenant works
because it is based on the blood of Christ and the work of the
Holy Spirit in the heart. "The Holy Spirit changes their
[believers] hearts. The people are transformed, and they grow
more and more like Christ.... The New Covenant affects our
innermost being. The blood of Jesus Christ changes us.... His
sacrifice sanctifies us, makes us holy, sets us aside for a holy
purpose." 11

     Does this mean that the blood of Christ has some kind of
magic power to automatically change people, whether or not they
are willing to obey God's commandments? To attribute such magic
power to the Spirit and/or to Christ's blood reminds one of the
magic power the Jews attributed to the Law. Isn't this another
form of legalism? Does the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the
ministry of the Holy Spirit render obedience to God's
commandments unnecessary or possible?
     The WCG acknowledges that "no New Testament verse
specifically cites the Sabbath as obsolete." 12  But since WCG
believes that the Sabbath is part the Old Covenant terminated by
Christ's coming, the Sabbath also is no longer required. "There
are verses that say that the entire Old Covenant is obsolete. The
law of Moses, including the Sabbath, is not required. We are
commanded to live by the Spirit, not by the Law inscribed in
stone. The Sabbath is repeatedly likened to things now obsolete:
temple sacrifices, circumcision, holy bread, a shadow." 13 

     This statement contains several glaring inaccuracies that
are addressed later in this chapter. We shall see that the New
Testament distinguishes between the continuity of the moral law
and the discontinuity of the ceremonial law (1 Cor 7:19). In the
book of Hebrews, especially, we find a clear contrast between the
Levitical services which came to an end with Christ's coming (Heb
7:18; 8:13;10:9) and Sabbathkeeping "which has been left behind
for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).

Evaluation of WCG "New Covenant" Theology. 

     A detailed analysis of "New Covenant" theology presented in
the literature of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) would take us
beyond the limited scope of this chapter. Consequently, I make
only a few basic observations.

     One fundamental problem in the WCG "New Covenant"
understanding of the Plan of Salvation is the faulty
Dispensational assumption that, during the course of human
history, God has offered salvation on different bases to
different people. God started out by offering salvation to
Abraham unconditionally on the basis of faith; but at Mt.Sinai He
agreed to save the Israelites conditionally on the basis of
obedience to His commandments, or what Tkach calls "the old
package of Laws." When God discovered that such an arrangement
did not work - because the Law "could not make anyone perfect. It
could not change their hearts" He reverted to the "faith
arrangement" He had with Abraham. To make things easier, in the
New Covenant, God did away with most of the old package of laws,
including the Sabbath, and decided this time to work in the heart
through the Holy Spirit.
     If this scenario were true, it would surely open to question
the consistency and fairness of God's saving activities. It would
imply that, during the course of redemptive history, God has
offered salvation on two radically different bases: on the basis
of human obedience in the Old Covenant and on the basis of divine
grace in the New Covenant. It would further imply, presumably,
that God learned through the experience of His chosen people, the
Jews, that human beings cannot earn salvation by obedience
because they tend to disobey. Consequently, He finally decided to
change His method and implement a New Covenant plan where
salvation is offered to believing persons exclusively as a divine
gift of grace rather than a human achievement.
     Such a theological construct makes God changeable and
subject to learning by mistakes as human beings do. The truth of
the matter, however, is that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday
and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8). Salvation has always been in
the Old and New Covenants, first and foremost a divine gift of
grace and not a human achievement. Obedience to the Law provided
Israel with an opportunity to preserve their covenant
relationship with God, not to gain acceptance with Him. This is
the meaning of Leviticus 18:5: "You shall therefore keep my
statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live." The
life promised in this text is not the life in the age to come (as
in Dan 12:2), but the present enjoyment of a peaceful and
prosperous life in fellowship with God. Such a life was God's
gift to His people, a gift that could be enjoyed and preserved by
living in accordance with the principles God had revealed.

Sinai Covenant: Law and Grace. 

     Part of the problem of the "New Covenant" theology is the
failure to realize that the Sinai Covenant reveals God's gracious
provision of salvation just as much as the New Covenant does. God
revealed to Moses His plan to deliver Israel from Egypt and to
set her up in the land of Canaan (Ex 3:7-10,16) because Israel is
"His people" (Ex 3:10). God's deliverance of the Israelites from
the bondage of Egypt reveals His gracious provision of salvation
just as much as does His deliverance of New Testament believers
from the bondage of sin. In fact, in Scripture, the former is a
type of the latter.

     What Tkach ignores is the fact that the Israelites responded
with faith to the manifestation of salvation: "Thus the Lord
saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians ... and the
people feared the Lord; and they believed in the Lord and in his
servant Moses" (Ex 14:30-31). When the Israelites believed, God
revealed to them His covenant plan: "Now therefore, if you will
obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own
possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you
shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5).
     These words show the gratuity of the divine election of
Israel. God chose Israel without merit on her part (Deut 9:4ff),
simply because He loved her (Deut 7:6ff). Having separated her
from pagan nations, He reserved her for Himself exclusively. "I
bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (Ex 19:4).
Through the Sinai covenant, God wished to bring people to Himself
by making them a worshipping community dedicated to His service,
living by the principles of His Law. This divine plan revealed at
Sinai was ultimately realized at the Cross when types met

     The prophets appeal to the Sinai Covenant with emotional
overtones drawn from human experiences to explain the
relationship between God and His people. Israel is the flock, and
the Lord is the shepherd. Israel is the vine, and the Lord the
vinedresser. Israel is the son, and the Lord is the Father.
Israel is the spouse, and the Lord is the bridegroom. These
images, as Pierre Grelot and Jean Giblet bring out, "make the
Sinaitic covenant appear as an encounter of love (cf. Ez
16:6-14): the attentive and gratuitous love of God, calling in
return for a love which will translate itself in obedience." 14  

     All of this hardly supports Tkach's contention that
"something was seriously wrong with the Israelite covenant."

Faith Is Not Alone

     The obedience called for by the Sinaitic covenant was meant
to be a loving response to God's provision of salvation, not a
means of salvation. Unfortunately, during the intertestamental
period, the Law did come to be viewed by the Jews as the
guarantee of salvation, just as faith alone is considered by many
Christians today as the only basis for their salvation. But a
saving faith is never alone because it is always accompanied by
loving obedience (Gal 5:6). Can a person truly obey God's laws
without faith? Is there such a thing as a saving faith that is
not manifested in obedience to God's commandments? Is the problem
of legalism resolved by changing packages of laws? Such
distortions can only serve to make both the Old and New Covenants
ineffective for many people.
     At Sinai, God invited His people to obey His commandments
because He had already saved them, not in order that they might
be saved by His laws. As George Eldon Ladd affirms in his classic
work, "A Theology of the New Testament," - "The Law was added
(pareiselthen) not to save men from their sins but to show them
what sin was (Rom 3:30; 5:13,20; Gal 3:19). By declaring the will
of God, by showing what God forbids, the Law shows what sin is."
15  Ladd continues noting that "the line of thought in Galatians
3 and Romans 4 is that all the Israelites who trusted God's
covenant of promise to Abraham and did not use the Law as a way
of salvation by works were assured of salvation." 16

     Another point overlooked in the Pastor General Report is
that at Sinai, God revealed to the Israelites not only principles
of moral conduct but also provision of salvation through the
typology of the sacrificial system. It is noteworthy that when
God invited Moses to come up on the mountain, He gave him not
only "the tables of stone, with the Law and the commandment" (Ex
24:12), but also the "pattern of the tabernacle" (Ex 25:9) which
was designed to explain typologically His provision of grace and

     The major difference between the Old and New Covenants is
not one of methods of salvation, but of shadow versus reality.
The Old Covenant was "symbolic" (Heb 9:9) of the "more excellent"
redemptive ministry of Christ (Heb 8:6). Consequently, it was
necessary for Christ to come "once for all at the end of the age
to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26).
     Greg Bahnsen rightly notes that "If we allow the Bible to
interpret itself and not infuse it with a preconceived
theological antithesis between the Old and New Covenants (Law and
Gospel), we are compelled to conclude that the Old Covenant -
indeed the Mosaic Law - was a covenant of grace that offered
salvation on the basis of grace through faith, just as does the
Good News found in the New Testament. The difference was that the
Mosaic or Law-covenant looked ahead to the coming of the Savior,
thus administering God's covenants by means of promises,
prophecies, ritual observances, types, and foreshadowings that
anticipated the Savior and His redeeming work. The Gospel or the
New covenant proclaims the accomplishments of that which the Law
anticipated, administering God's covenant through preaching and
the sacraments [baptism and the Lord's Supper]. The substance of
God's saving relationship and covenant is the same under the Law
and the Gospel." 17

     The Old Testament does not offer a way of salvation or teach
justification differently than the New Testament. Justification
is grounded in the Old Testament in "the Lord our Righteousness"
(Jer 23:6). The saints of the Old Testament were people of faith,
as Hebrews 11 clearly shows. Abraham himself, the father of the
Jews, was a man of faith who trusted God's promises (Gen 15:6;
Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, "In the Lord
shall all the seed of Israel be justified" (Is 45:25; KJV). Paul
came to understand that in the Old Testament "the righteousness
of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written [in
Hab 2:4], 'He who through faith is righteous shall live'"(Rom
1:17. cf. Gal 3:11).
     The result of Christ's coming is described as "setting
aside" (Heb 7:18), making "obsolete" (Heb 8:13), and "abolishing"
(Heb 10:9) all the Levitical services associated with the Old
Covenant. It is unfortunate that these statements are interpreted
as meaning that Christ by His coming abrogated the Mosaic Law, in
general, including the Sabbath. This interpretation, which is at
the heart of much misguided thinking about the Law today, ignores
the fact that the termination statements found in Hebrews refer
to the Levitical priesthood and services of the Old Covenant, not
to the principles of God's moral Law which includes the Sabbath
Commandment. Of the Sabbath the Book of Hebrews explicitly
states, as we shall see below, "a Sabbathkeeping is left behind
for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).

     In many ways Ratzlaff' s view of the distinction between the
Old and New Covenants is strikingly similar to that of Joseph
Tkach, Jr. Consequently, there is no need to repeat what has
already been said. Ratzlaff's aim is to show that the New
Covenant is better than the Old because it is based no longer on
the Law but on love for Christ. Like Tkach, Ratzlaff reduces the
Old Covenant to the Ten Commandments and the New Covenant to the
principle of love in order to sustain his thesis that Christ
replaced both the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath with simpler
and better laws. For the purpose of this analysis, I focus on the
major contrast that Ratzlaff makes between the Old and New
Covenant in terms of Law versus Love.

(2) Dale Ratzlaff' s View of the Distinction Between the Two


To be continued


Such ideas as taught by the present WCG and people like Dale
Ratzlaff is so unsound, so crazy a theology, it would be
laughable if they did not take it so seriously, and want millions
to believe it. Salvation has from the beginning always been the
very same - saved by grace - faith and law as Paul in Romans and
James in the book by his name, make abundantly clear. The great
apostle John both in his Gospel and his 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
epistles makes it as clear as the sun in a cloudless sky, that
the commandments of the Lord stand fast forever, just as David
also wrote in the Psalms (just read the first Psalm for starters,
then try Psalm 119). It is the mind of heretics and the doctrine
of demons (see what Paul said in 1 Tim.4:1-2) that teaches the
Ten Commandments of God and the whole law of Moses is "done away
with" under the New Covenant. Nothing could be further from the
truth. Christ came to uphold and MAGNIFY the law (Isa.42:21)
which can be seen plainly, if you have a child's mind, from the
famous "Sermon on the mount" (Mat.5 through 7). 
     The far out, from planet Pluto (which they say is not a
planet) theology of some is so mixed up and plain stupid
reasoning, it blows the mind to think that some minds will do
anything to have no 4th commandment in this age of the New
Covenant. And that is the bottom line as to why they do it, why
they teach such dribble and corruptible theology, so they do not
have to obey the 4th commandment of the holy, just, and good law
of God (see Romans 7). They simply do not want to have ANY rest
day of the week, they want to do their own thing, at their own
time, on any and all days of the week.
     Shame on them, they will be rewarded accordingly with
corruption and destruction if they do not REPENT!! 

Keith Hunt

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