The Sabbath Under Crossfire:
A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments

Part 2a: The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath

Index | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

Part 1
The Rediscovery of the Sabbath by Sunday Sabbatarians
Part 2a
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath
Part 2b
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath - Continued
Part 3a
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness
Part 3b
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness - Continued


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 seventh-day. 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 cited below.

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 sizable 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 Sabbath."17

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."18

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."19 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.20

What I find surprising about this organization is that it is transdenominational and multiethnic. 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 These people represent a fine example of educated Christians who are eager to rediscover long-forgotten biblical truths, like the Sabbath.

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."21

Chase was "electrified" when she read: "The Sabbath marks the difference between man and all other creatures that live in the universe."22 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."23

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."24 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 Benedictine 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 Benedictine 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 English.

"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 empire?

"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 Benedictine 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 Christ."25

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 "reexamine 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.

Sabbatarian Methodists.
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.


Chapter 7, Part 1
Chapter 7, Part 2b


Notes to Chapter 7, Part 2a
Dies Domini: Pope John Paul II's Pastoral Letter regarding the Sabbath.

17. Don Postema, Catch Your Breath: God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest (Grand Rapids, 1997), p. 15.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid., p. 5.
20. John D. Garr, "How to Have a Family Shabbat," Restore 2 (Spring 1996), p. 9.
21. Nan Chase, "Ancient Wisdom," Hemisphere (July 1997), p. 118.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Ferdinand Poswick, "Presentation [Foreword]," to the French ed. of Samuele Bacchiocchi, Du Sabbat au Dimanche (Paris, 1984), p. 3.

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Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University