R. David Pogge
14 October 2012
The reason why Christians worship on Sunday is not what you might expect.
If you ask a Christian why he or she worships on Sunday, the answer will probably be something like, “I worship on Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.” That is an honest, correct answer. But if you change the question slightly and ask, “Why do most Christian churches worship on Sunday?” you will probably get a factually incorrect answer. The commonly given incorrect answers are:
Not one of those answers is historically correct. The real reason why modern Christian churches worship on Sunday is,
If most Christians knew how and why that tradition began, they might question whether or not Jesus would want them worshipping on Sunday. The choice is yours. We can’t tell you and your church upon which day to worship; but we do think you should make an informed decision. Discover for yourself the shocking and disgusting reason why the day of worship was changed from Saturday to Sunday. Then, if you still want to keep Sunday instead of Sabbath, we won’t judge you. But, remember, Jesus will.
Some people think that when the Gregorian calendar was instituted, Saturday became Sunday. Therefore, worshipping on Sunday really is worshipping on Saturday. That error is easily disproved. Wikipedia, or any other encyclopedia, clearly says that the Gregorian calendar was adopted by different countries on several different dates; but in no country did the change affect the days of the week.  Any calendar-based argument about the change of Sabbath is factually wrong. Saturday has always been Saturday, and Sunday has always been Sunday. It isn’t worth wasting another word on it.
The notion that Jesus, or the apostles, changed the day of worship, is equally false; but it, at least, is worth discussing. Some people have tried to revise history and claim that the day of worship was changed during the first century; but it is clear from the Biblical book of Acts that it wasn’t.
There are only two Bible texts that are sometimes used to claim that the apostolic church worshipped on Sunday. The first is Revelation 1, verses 10 and 11.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: [Revelation 1:10,11]
It doesn’t say, “Sunday;” it says, “the Lord’s day.” In 1611, when the King James Bible was translated, Sunday was commonly called “the Lord’s day.” But when John wrote Revelation, “the Lord’s day” was Sabbath—that is, Saturday. Even if John did have a vision on Sunday, it doesn’t prove that Sunday was the day upon which he worshiped.
The only other Sunday proof text is 1 Corinthians 16:2:
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. [1 Cor 16:2]
Sunday is the first day of the week, according to Jewish reckoning. Also according to Jewish custom is the notion that the tithe offering to God is the first tenth of one’s income. So, it is natural that Paul should tell people to set aside the first part of their earnings on the first day of the work week as an offering. Some people try to twist this verse to say that Paul wanted the Corinthians to bring their offerings to church when they gathered together for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday. But the verse doesn’t say anything about bringing money to church. It says to “lay by him in store.”
We know that Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and that Sunday is first day of the week from the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.
And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea … came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate … gave the body to Joseph. [Mark 15: 42 – 45]
Jesus was placed in the tomb just before sunset on Friday. Mark calls Friday, “the day before the Sabbath.” The women did not anoint his body on Saturday because it was the Sabbath, the seventh day. The first day of the week began at sunset Saturday night; but the women didn’t want to go anoint His body, in the dark, in a cemetery, so they waited until the first light on the first day of the week, Sunday morning, to do it.
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. [Mark 16:1-2]
There is absolutely no question that Jesus rose on Sunday morning, the day the Bible calls, “the first day of the week,” and that “the Sabbath was passed” on Sunday morning. There is no question that Jesus died on the cross on Friday afternoon, just before sunset, just before the Sabbath began. There is no denying that the Bible says the Sabbath begins at sunset Friday and ends at sunset Saturday. Furthermore, there have been no changes to the calendar that affect the days of the week because Jews still keep Sabbath on Saturday, and Jesus resurrection is still celebrated on Sunday. There is no question that the days of the week have not changed, and that most Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week.
Despite that, someone might argue that Sunday is the proper day for Christians to worship. In order to determine if it is or not, we need to determine who changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, when that change was made, for what reason, and by what authority.
Some Christians believe that Jesus changed the Sabbath. If so, then Christians should certainly worship on Sunday. Some say that the apostles changed the Sabbath. If so, then we need to determine if the apostles were acting under the direction of the Holy Spirit; or if they made a mistake when they changed it. So, was the Sabbath changed during the lifetime of the apostles? And if so, was that change divinely authorized?
There is no Biblical text that specifically says that the apostles substituted Sunday worship for Sabbath worship, so we need to look for a text that implies a change. Let’s begin by looking at Acts 20, verses 7 through 11. The Reese Chronological Bible says this event happened about 28 years after the crucifixion. If the Sabbath day had been changed by Jesus or the apostles, it should have happened by then.
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. [Acts 20:7-11]
This passage says they came together to eat and break bread on “the first day of the week,” and Paul preached until midnight. As we have already seen from the passage about the crucifixion, the Bible says the first day of the week begins at sunset Saturday night. Paul preached from sunset Saturday night until midnight, at which time the sermon was interrupted by a fatal accident. But Paul raised the young man back to life, they celebrated by breaking bread, and Paul continued his sermon, preaching until Sunday morning, at which time he left town.
This raises a puzzling question. If Christians had, at some time in the 28 years between the crucifixion and this event, began worshipping on Sunday morning in honor of the resurrection, why would Paul start his journey on Sunday morning just before church?
From a Jewish perspective it makes perfect sense because Jews don’t travel on Sabbath. A good Jew would wait to start a journey until Sunday morning. Paul seems to be keeping the Saturday Sabbath, and starting his journey on Sunday because Sunday is the first day of the work week.
There is another relevant story, starting in Acts 13, beginning at verse 13.
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! [Acts 13:13-16]
The text continues by giving a synopsis of the sermon Paul preached to a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles. Basically, Paul reviewed Jewish history and prophecy, with an emphasis on how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies in the scriptures. It is a great model sermon, but let’s not let that distract us from the issue at hand.
Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue and preached on the Sabbath, that is, Saturday. There is nothing particularly surprising or significant about that in itself. Paul wanted to preach the Good News. He knew there would be an audience in the synagogue on Saturday, so he went to the synagogue on Saturday. Even people who don’t like football advertise during the Super Bowl, if they can afford it, because that’s when the biggest audience is listening. Paul preached in the synagogue on Saturday because that’s where the biggest audience was. That, alone, doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. It is what happened after the sermon that is significant. So, let’s pick up the story at verse 42.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. [Acts 13:42-46]
Here’s the question: Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas invite them to the Sunday morning Christian worship service? Why wait until next Saturday to preach to a crowd that included lots of Gentiles, who would not normally worship on Saturday? They had the crowd all excited and eager to hear more. Why wait a whole week, taking the risk that by then people would have forgotten about what a great sermon it was and not come back? They should have invited those people to their Sunday morning worship service to hear more. Why didn’t they?
The answer is simple. There wasn’t any Sunday morning worship service to invite them to. Paul and Barnabas were Saturday Sabbath-keepers. Sunday worship had not been instituted yet. The apostolic church was basically a reformed Jewish church. The Jews were still looking for the Messiah to come. The Christians knew that the Jewish Messiah had come, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus appeared to the disciples several times after His resurrection, before His ascension into heaven. It is possible that on one or more of those occasions Jesus told the disciples to worship on Sunday rather than Saturday. But if He did, don’t you think at least one of the New Testament writers would have reported that instruction to the church? Wouldn’t the change of the Fourth Commandment have been important enough to mention at least once? And if Jesus did instruct the church to change the day of worship, why was Paul still keeping Sabbath nearly 30 years later?
It is clear from sacred history that Jesus didn’t change the Sabbath, and that the disciples continued to worship on the seventh day. The custom of worshipping on the first day of the week must have come into the church some time later.
But, just because Sunday worship began hundreds of years after Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that it was not ordained of God. So, let’s take a short break, and then look at secular history to see when the change was made, who made it, and most importantly, why it was made.
[music – Dave Pogge, “Lord of the Sabbath”]
Before the break we saw conclusively from the Bible that the early Christians kept the seventh-day Sabbath. So, the Christian day of worship must have changed sometime later. We want to know when, why, and if that change was in accordance with the will of God.
According to secular history, the Christian day of worship was changed in the Holy Roman Empire some time during the fourth century. The first of two relevant decrees is The First Sunday Law of Constantine in 321 A.D.
"On the Venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost--Given the 7th day of March, [A.D. 321], Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time." The First Sunday Law of Constantine 1, in "Codex Justinianus," lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Phillip Schaff "History of the Christian Church," Vol. 3, p. 380. 
The second decree is from the Council of Laodicea, in 337 A.D.
"Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord's day they shall especially honour, and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ." Council of Laodicea, c. A.D. 337, Canon 29, quoted in C.J. Hefele, "A History of the Councils of the Church," Vol. 2, p. 316. 
It would appear that the Roman emperor Constantine made the change first, and the church followed along later. However, there are some who say that Constantine made the legal change because the church pressured him into doing it, and the church decree 16 years later was simply an endorsement of the civil law that the church promoted. Whoever gets the credit (or blame, as the case may be) doesn’t really matter. The Holy Roman Empire was the church-state coalition that made the change in any case. What really matters is whether or not the Holy Roman Empire was executing a divinely appointed decree, or was doing something opposed to the will of God.
Let’s look at the wording of both decrees to see if they appear to be divinely inspired or not.
Constantine’s Sunday Law begins with the words, “On the Venerable Day of the Sun …”. That’s s-u-n, not s-o-n. It’s the day honoring the sun god, not the day honoring the Son of God. The pun only happens in English. The actual decree was, of course, written in Latin. The Latin words for the solar object and a male child are not even remotely the same. Constantine’s law has nothing to do with honoring the resurrection of the Son of God.
The Council of Laodicea began their decree with the words, “Christians shall not Judaize …”. It later says, “If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.” If that sounds anti-Semitic, it is because it is!
Anti-Semitism was common and intense in the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century. The change of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to the pagan Sunday was motivated by hatred of the Jews, not the love of Christ. Hatred is a hallmark of Satan, not Christ. Jesus never used hate as a way to motivate anyone to do anything.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said,
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:17-19]
He did not say, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, except the Fourth Commandment. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, except the fourth, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Christian day of worship was changed by a church-state coalition commonly called The Holy Roman Empire because of hatred for the Jews, and a desire not to have anything to do with the Jews. It was one of the errors that crept into the Roman Catholic Church in the dark ages.
Did the Protestant Reformers know that Saturday is the Biblical Sabbath, and that Sunday worship was introduced by an institution badly in need of reform? Yes, it is clear from Article 28 of the Augsburg confession that they understood this.
Moreover, it is disputed whether bishops or pastors have the right to introduce ceremonies in the Church, and to make laws concerning meats, holy-days and grades, that is, orders of ministers, etc. … They refer to the Sabbath-day as having been changed into the Lord's Day, contrary to the Decalog, as it seems. Neither is there any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, say they, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!
But concerning this question it is taught on our part (as has been shown above) that bishops have no power to decree anything against the Gospel. 4
The reformers rejected the claim that bishops or pastors had the authority to introduce ceremonies in the Church, and to make laws concerning meats and holy days. In particular, they recognized that the Church boasted that it had the power to change the Sabbath-day, annulling one of the Ten Commandments. The reformers reiterated their claim that bishops have no power to decree anything against the Gospel. So, how could they let Sunday worship continue?
You aren’t going to like the answer to that question. I don’t like the answer to that question. So, before I tell you the answer, let me remind you that even the holiest of men sometimes make mistakes. King David was a man after God’s own heart. But he raped Bathsheba, and murdered her husband; but despite that, we don’t reject all the psalms he wrote just because he sinned terribly on occasion.
Martin Luther is one of my personal heroes. God clearly used him to begin a mighty work of reformation, for which the entire Christian world is indebted. So it truly grieves me to share with you some excerpts from Luther’s Works, Volume 47, published by Augsburg Fortress Press, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Let me make it perfectly clear that the Lutheran Church has officially condemned the statements written by Martin Luther that we are about to read, and we here at Radio 74 Internationale condemn them, too. But we unfortunately have to share them with you because they explain why the Protestant Reformers did not change the day of worship from Sunday back to Saturday. We love Martin Luther, and agree with just about everything he wrote; but we do not agree with these excerpts from Part XI of “On the Jews and Their Lies,” written by Martin Luther in 1543.
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? …. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. …
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. …
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. …
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. …
Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess. …
Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting,, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.
In brief, dear princes and lords, those of you who have Jews under your rule: if my counsel does not please you, find better advice, so that you and we all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews. Lest we become guilty sharers before God in the lies, the blasphemy, the defamation, and the curses which the mad Jews indulge in so freely and wantonly against the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, his dear mother, all Christians, all authority, and ourselves. Do not grant them protection, safe-conduct, or communion with us. …
And you, my dear gentlemen and friends who are pastors and preachers, I wish to remind very faithfully of your official duty, so that you too may warn your parishioners concerning their eternal harm, as you know how to do, namely, that they be on their guard against the Jews and avoid them so far as possible. …
When you lay eyes on or think of a Jew you must say to your self: Alas, that mouth which I there behold has cursed and execrated and maligned every Saturday my dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me with his precious blood; … 
Now, for those of you who have just turned on your radio, and came in on the middle of that, and were shocked to hear it, let us explain. Neither we, nor the Lutheran church, condone any of these things written by Martin Luther. We are simply reading the reason why the Protestant Reformers did not change their day of worship back to Saturday. The sad truth is that Martin Luther, and practically every other Christian living in the 16th century, hated the Jews, and did not want to worship on the Jewish Sabbath.
As we have already seen from Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession of Faith, the Reformers recognized that Sunday worship was a violation of the Fourth Commandment; but they just could not bear the thought of worshipping on the same day as the hated Jews. So, they looked for a way to rationalize Sunday worship, and here is what they said in Article 28.
There are monstrous disputations concerning the changing of the law, the ceremonies of the new law, the changing of the Sabbath-day, which all have sprung from the false belief that there must needs be in the Church a service like to the Levitical, and that Christ had given commission to the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies as necessary to salvation. 
They recognized the controversy over whether or not the bishops had the authority to change the Sabbath day; but they are focusing on the salvation and authority aspects. The reformers didn’t accept the notion that bishops have the right “to devise new ceremonies as necessary to salvation.” This is key. Bishops don’t have the authority to decide who is saved, and who isn’t. Article 28 then goes on to say,
It is proper that the churches should keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility, so far that one do not offend another, that all things be done in the churches in order, and without confusion,[1 Cor. 14, 40; comp. Phil. 2, 14;] but so that consciences be not burdened to think that they are necessary to salvation, or to judge that they sin when they break them without offense to others; 
In other words, bishops do have the authority to establish rules for the order of service providing those rules have only to do with keeping order, and nothing to do with salvation. Now here is the Reformers’ justification for Sunday keeping.
Of this kind is the observance of the Lord's Day, Easter, Pentecost, and like holy-days and rites. For those who judge that by the authority of the Church the observance of the Lord's Day instead of the Sabbath-day was ordained as a thing necessary, do greatly err. … And yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord's Day for this purpose; and this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason, that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping neither of the Sabbath nor of any other day is necessary. 
They aren’t keeping Sunday to be saved—they are keeping Sunday just for convenience, and to prove they are free from the Jewish law.
Sunday worship began in the 4th century because of anti-Semitism. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformers continued to worship on Sunday because the Jews were still hated by Christians. But that doesn’t mean that modern Sunday keepers are anti-Semitic. Sunday worship is simply a centuries old tradition whose origin has been forgotten.
Before the Internet was invented, few American Christians had read Martin Luther’s essay titled, “On the Jews and Their Lies” because it was written in German, and the English translation was obscure. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler read German, and Martin Luther’s works were well known to him and his Christian countrymen. Although it is shocking to us what Hitler’s people did to the Jews, it wasn’t shocking to them. They thought they were honoring God by following Martin Luther’s advice. The Sixth Commandment clearly prohibits murder, but the Christians in Hitler’s Germany thought they were honoring God by murdering the Jews.
The Fourth Commandment clearly requires God’s people to keep the Sabbath. Isn’t it equally as shocking that Christians think that they are honoring God by breaking the Fourth Commandment every week?
Some people might be taken aback by my comparison of Sunday worship with the holocaust; but is breaking the Sixth Commandment intentionally 6 million times any worse than breaking the Fourth Commandment intentionally innumerable times? Aren’t all the commandments equally binding? Violation of the Sixth Commandment was punishable by death in the Old Testament, and so was violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Commandments. Killing another person, dishonoring the Sabbath, dishonoring parents, and dishonoring the sanctity of marriage, were all capital crimes.
The comparison between Hitler’s Christians breaking the Sixth Commandment and modern Protestants breaking the Fourth Commandment is especially valid because both can be traced directly back to ideas contained Martin Luther’s essay—specifically that God is honored by rejecting everything Jewish, including their day of worship.
The only difference is that most modern Protestants are ignorant of the true origin of Sunday worship. Catholics are correctly taught that Sunday worship began in their church in the fourth century; but most Protestants have been incorrectly taught that Sunday worship began with the apostles in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. Most modern Protestants don’t know the anti-Semitic origin of Sunday-keeping, and really believe they are honoring Jesus by worshipping on Sunday.
God may forgive the Germans who participated in the holocaust because they ignorantly thought they were honoring Him by killing Jews; but I would not stake my life on it. The Germans operating the Nazi death camps should have known they were sinning. Will God punish them despite their ignorance? Or will Hitler and his followers be saved because they were simply taking Martin Luther’s advice, which they thought came from God? God is a loving, forgiving god, so maybe He will forgive them; but I wouldn’t take the chance myself.
Is God going to punish people who ignorantly break the Fourth Commandment every week by keeping Sunday? Any Christian who knows about the crucifixion of Christ should know that Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh. The Bible clearly says to keep the seventh day holy, not the first. Modern Sunday-keepers are sinning out of ignorance, not anti-Semitism. God is a loving, forgiving god, so maybe He will forgive them for keeping the tradition of men rather than the command of God; but I wouldn’t take the chance myself.
Remember the scathing words Jesus said to the Pharisees about traditions:
And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. [Mark 7:9]
What might Jesus think about you rejecting the Fourth Commandment just so you can keep the tradition of worshipping on Sunday?
There is no doubt in my mind that you think you are honoring Jesus by worshipping on the day of His resurrection. You have the best of intentions. Nobody questions your love of Jesus. But are you really honoring Him, showing love and respect to Him, by intentionally disobeying one of his commandments every week?
It isn’t too late. Ask God to forgive your past transgressions, and dedicate yourself to keeping the Saturday Sabbath in the future. The good news is that God forgives your sin, if you truly repent. It doesn’t matter how many times you have broken the Fourth Commandment in the past. What matters is whether or not you will continue to do so in the future.