The Rediscovery of the Sabbath by Sunday Sabbatarians
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath - Continued
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness - Continued
The Church of Israel.
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 United States."
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.26 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.
During the past two years, I have invited a dozen Messianic Jewish 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 elements.
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 Sabbath-keeping 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 Sabbath.
Recovering the Jewish Roots.
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.
Two active Anabaptist leaders, Andreas Fisher and Oswald Glait, 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 Sabbath.
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 important research.
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 theological beliefs.
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.
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."27
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 lives."28 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.
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."30
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.31 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."32
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 research 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 heartwarming 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 Christian lives.
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."33 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.
Chapter 7, Part 2a
Chapter 7, Part 3a
Notes to Chapter 7, Part 2b
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University