Why do Christians worship on Sunday?

The Ten Commandments specifically command observance of the Sabbath (Saturday), so why worship on any other day? Photo: The Ten Commandments (KJV)

FLOWER MOUND, Texas, November 10, 2012 — Why do modern Christians worship on Sunday when the Ten Commandments specifically command the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest?

The practice of Christians meeting on Sunday to worship rather than on Saturday, as was the practice in the Old Testament, has long been debated. Sabbatarians believe Saturdays must be kept as a holy day of rest and worship. Traditional Christians, both Protestant and Catholics, have worshipped on Sunday.

It is clear from Genesis 1-2 that God rested from his creative work on the seventh day—Saturday. Moses, 430 years after Abraham, commanded the people who were coming out of captivity in Egypt and poised to enter the Promised Land to keep the Sabbath holy. No evidence exists that the Sabbath was enforce prior to Moses. In later Judaism, Sabbath observance became a very legalistic ritual.

Christianity recognizes that Christ fulfilled the law. While the principles of the Ten Commandments are restated in various books in the New Testament, absent is the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.

Christians throughout history have observed worship on the first day of the week in celebration of the resurrection of Christ. 

However, there is no substantial evidence that the Apostles began worshipping on Sunday after the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul hints at the observance of Sunday as he exhorts Christians on the first day of the week to lay aside some money for an offering. In Romans 14:5, Paul seems to suggest all days are the same. He is probably referring to more days than just the Sabbath. His exhortations fall short of suggesting Sunday is to be substituted for Saturday.

It is fairly clear from early Christian writings that Christians observed Sunday as the day of worship by the 2nd century. The question is: Why did Saturday rest as practiced in the Old Testament and commanded in the Ten Commandments morph into Sunday as the day Christians set aside for worship?

By the mid-2nd century, early Christian apologists like Justin Martyr acknowledged the beginning of the cessation of the Sabbath observance as a day of rest, making Sunday the day of Christian celebration and worship. Nevertheless, the Sabbath continued to be observed as a day of rest and Sunday became a time for religious services. As Christians sought to separate themselves from Judaism, they abandoned the Sabbath as their day of celebration.

It was left to Emperor Constantine in AD 321, to decree that Sunday be observed as the Roman Empire’s day of rest. The long battle of Christian persecution finally ended. The new decree favored the persecution-weary Christians and solidified the Church’s Sunday practice.

The 16th century reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin repudiated the idea that Christians are bound to obey the Law of Moses.  They specifically abhorred the substitution of New Testament justification by faith with any suggestion that reinstated the Old Testament commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. They were concerned with Judaism creeping into Christian doctrine.

The great evangelical awakening in the 19th century led to an emphasis on strict, legalistic Sunday observance. Today Protestants and Catholics generally observe Sunday as the day for religious services. Many congregations in America have Saturday evening services to accommodate parishioners’ needs or to expand church rolls. However, some congregations and especially many Jewish Christians meeting in Israel prefer to hold religious services on Saturday.

The New Testament is clear that the Mosaic Law is not the source for Christian faith and practice. Christ fulfilled the Law. It is, therefore, left to the conscience of the believer to worship as he sees fit. The fear today is that the influence of our secular society on Christian worship, whether Saturday or Sunday, will turn the sacred day into just another day—and that is not in keeping with biblical teaching.   

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.


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