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Doctrines that creep in: Seventh Day Adventists and Saturday Worship

Is Sunday worship wrong and only Saturday right?
Is Sunday worship wrong and only Saturday right?
Photo by Andrew Verrett

I could make a really good case for having to worship on Saturday and not Sunday. It would begin with the question, “So, you believe in the Nine Commandments instead of the Ten Commandments?”

Wow, that's a heavy question. After all, when presenting the gospel and communicating the need for a Savior, I take people to the Ten Commandments. Why? Because the Law was given to teach us about sin and once we comprehend that we have sinned and we know the wages of sin is death, then we understand our need for a Savior.

Examining their lives by the Law, individuals face God's standards. Have you ever lied? Have you ever disobeyed your parents? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever used the Lord's name as a form of profanity? Have you ever committed adultery? Have you ever been guilty of any one of these just once? If so, you have sinned; you are a sinner; you will die; after death comes the judgment; and you need a Savior.

But what about once I have repented of my sins and called upon the Lord to save me? Don't I strive to honor God and not cause harm to my fellow man? Certainly! Then why do I go to church on Sunday instead of Saturday? After all, God rested on the seventh day after He created the heavens and the earth. He commands observing the Sabbath in the fourth commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

There are several groups that keep the Sabbath. The most recognizable one that champions required Saturday worship is The Seventh Day Adventist Church. It is more than just a preferred religious practice for them, it is one their 28 Fundamental Beliefs:

Number 20. The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts.

They claim this fundamental belief was given to them by God in a vision to one of their founders. In chapter 12 on pages 95 and 96 of her book, Life Sketches of Ellen White, Ellen G. White writes:

But the Lord gave me a view of the heavenly sanctuary. The temple of God was open in heaven, and I was shown the ark of God covered with the mercy seat. Two angels stood one at either end of the ark, with their wings spread over the mercy seat, and their faces turned toward it. This, my accompanying angel informed me, represented all the heavenly host looking with reverential awe toward the law of God, which had been written by the finger of God.

Jesus raised the cover of the ark, and I beheld the tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written. I was amazed as I saw the fourth commandment in the very center of the ten precepts, with a soft halo of light encircling it. Said the angel, "It is the only one of the ten which defines the living God who created the heavens and the earth and all things that are therein."

The fourth commandment has been trampled upon, therefore we are called upon to repair the breach in the law and plead for the desecrated Sabbath. The man of sin, who exalted himself above God, and thought to change times and laws, brought about the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week.

Though Seventh Day Adventists claim their primary guiding doctrine is the Bible, the issue is: who guides their interpretation? The 18th of their 28 Fundamental Beliefs provides a clear answer: One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.

She also writes on page 457 of The Great Controversy, “The preaching of a definite time for the judgment, in the giving of the first message, was ordered of God. The computation of the prophetic periods on which that message was based, placing the close of the 2300 days in the autumn of 1844, stands without impeachment.”

This statement is the basis for Number 24 of their 28 Fundamental Beliefs: There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus.

Before continuing, you may be wondering about this 2300 days and the year 1844. It's a Seventh Day Adventist foundational belief that is based upon Daniel 8:13-14 “Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said, unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” The Adventists interpret the 2300 days as 2300 years and they say the 2300 day period began when Artaxerxes issued the decree recorded in Ezra 7 in 457 BC and the period ended on October 22, 1844. On that final day, Seventh Day Adventists teach Christ moved from the Holy place in heaven to the Most Holy place where He began cleansing the heavenly Sanctuary by examining the dead and living believers and either blotted out their sins or removed their names from the Book of Life. Any believer that asks forgiveness for sins has his/her sins transferred to the Most Holy place where it remains until the end of time when it will be transferred to the scapegoat, Satan. (For a more detailed analysis, see Investigative Judgment and 2300 Days and 1844.)

Originally, William Miller predicted Christ would return on March 21, 1844, based upon his interpretation of the 2300 day prophecy. When that day passed, he changed his prediction to April 18, 1844. Following that, Samuel Snow gave the date of October 22, 1844, based upon his belief Christ would return on the Day of Atonement. When that date passed without Jesus' return, the date became known as The Great Disappointment.

Miller and Snow's followers were devastated. You can imagine many people had been swayed by these speakers and it was reported some sold all they had. Now I imagine the soul searching began and the questions most likely arose, “What went wrong? What do I really believe? Where do I go from here?”

Out of this emotional turmoil, the Seventh Day Adventists formed shortly after Ellen White had her first vision. Her husband and others believed she had the Biblical gift of prophecy. Her visions became answers for some of those who were seeking the reason for The Great Disappointment. Ellen White's visions became the foundation upon which the Seventh Day Adventist movement was built and is why today's Seventh Day Adventist Church's Fundamental Beliefs require allegiance to her.

Through these visions, she understood the 2300 day prophecy had to do with the atonement of heaven and not the second coming of Christ. She wrote:

So it was believed that Christ, out great High Priest, would appear to purify the earth by the destruction of sin and sinners, and to bless His waiting people with immortality. The tenth day of the seventh month, the great Day of Atonement, the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, which in the year 1844 fell upon the twenty-second of October, was regarded as the time of the Lord’s coming." —The Great Controversy, page 400. "The preaching of a definite time for the judgment, in giving the first message, was ordered of God. The computation of the prophetic periods on which that message was based, placing the close of the 2300 day in the autumn of 1844, stands without impeachment."—The Great Controversy, page 457.

The real great controversy is with October 22, 1844, in that it was not really the Day of Atonement on Jewish calendars. The actual Day of Atonement was September 23rd that year. We now have two things to consider. First, Ellen White substituted an observable event (the second Appearance of Christ), which everyone readily saw did not occur, with an unobservable event (an event that allegedly occurred in heaven) and that no one can confirm. Secondly, historical documents indicate that the Seventh Day Adventist's founding prophet was wrong about the actual date for the Day of Atonement.

Furthermore, there are Biblical problems with the 2300 days prophecy. Hebrews 9:11-12, 24-28, and 10:12-14 record Christ's atonement in the past tense – it happened not in 1844, but in New Testament times. Acts 3:19 assures us that as soon as we are saved, our sins are blotted out. 1 John 1:9 tells us our sins are forgiven if we confess them. It is not possible for heaven to be defiled by human sin.

If you were to read White's books, you will find a lot of Biblical truth, but slipped in with it are statements that sound legitimate, but have no Scriptural basis. For instance, she writes, “the Sabbath was kept by Adam in his innocence in holy Eden; by Adam, fallen yet repentant, when he was driven from his happy estate. It was kept by all the patriarchs, from Abel to righteous Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob.” (The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan by Ellen G. White, page 453.) Then she adds a lot of Scripture that is either out of context or inappropriately applied and mingles it with authoritatitve sounding phrases that give the reader the opinion that those who agree with her have the spirit of God and those who disagree are disobedient to God. Here is an example from The Great Controversy, pages 455-456:

In the absence of Bible testimony in their favor, many with unwearying persistence urged,—forgetting how the same reasoning had been employed against Christ and His apostles,—“Why do not our great men understand this Sabbath question? But few believe as you do. It cannot be that you are right, and that all the men of learning in the world are wrong.”

To refute such arguments it was needful only to cite the teachings of the Scriptures and the history of the Lord's dealings with His people in all ages. God works through those who hear and obey His voice, those who will, if need be, speak unpalatable truths, those who do not fear to reprove popular sins. The reason why He does not oftener choose men of learning and high position to lead out in reform movements, is that they trust to their creeds, theories, and theological systems, and feel no need to be taught of God. Only those who have a personal connection with the Source of wisdom are able to understand or explain the Scriptures. Men who have little of the learning of the schools are sometimes called to declare the truth, not because they are unlearned, but because they are not too self-sufficient to be taught of God. They learn in the school of Christ, and their humility and obedience make them great. In committing to them a knowledge of His truth, God confers upon them an honor, in comparison with which earthly honor and human greatness sink into insignificance.

The Seventh Day Adventists, based upon White's writings, teach the change to Sunday worship was part of a great apostasy that allowed pagan ideas into the church and was changed under the direction of the Catholic church (The Great Controversy, page 453) In reality, the Catholic church does take credit for the change, but that's because they trace their Popes all the way back to Peter when the early church was already meeting on Sunday. (More on that later.)

Critics provide evidence that Ellen G. White was a plagiarist and a fraud; she copied what has now become the pillars and foundation of Adventist theology from other sources.

The Church of God (Seventh Day) and the Worldwide Church of God splintered from the Seventh Day Adventist after they rejected the inspiration of White's writings. In one particular document, the Church of God states, “Anyone who has seriously studied the writings of Ellen G. White can find clear evidence of failed prophecies, contradictions, plagiarism, and heretical teachings. The source of her visions was not the Creator God.” However, these splinter groups still maintained the Saturday worship requirement. Some of the doctrines they held in common to different degrees included:

One of the conditions of salvation and having our names retained in the book of life, is to keep the Sabbath.

Sunday observance--this is the Mark of the Beast...If you are branded with this Mark, rejecting the sign of God (the Sabbath), in your forehead and your hand, you shall be tormented by God's plagues without mercy. Yes, you!

Sunday-keeping is an institution of the first beast, and all who submit to obey this institution emphatically worship the first beast and receive his mark, "the mark of the beast."

Okay, we have seen what the Seventh Day Adventists and some others believe. Now, it's time to read the New Testament. First, some acknowledgments.

Jesus honored the Sabbath. Definitely. Jesus was a Jew. He lived before He fulfilled the Law at His death and resurrection and thus, He obeyed the Law.

Several times in the New Testament, Paul went to the synagogues on the Sabbath. Now, since he was trying to win Jews to Christ and he was in foreign cities, where would be a better place to find them? Therefore, he went there not for the Sabbath's sake, but rather to preach Christ to the Jews.

Another group that adheres to the fourth commandment today are some Messianic Jews. Just as in Paul's day, some are always trying to incorporate the Law into worship. They acknowledge that salvation is through faith in Christ, but they argue that to stay in fellowship with God and be righteous, one must obey the Law. This demand to follow the Law by saved Jews was a huge problem for the early church as recorded in Acts 15.

The Apostle Paul would face this unrighteous influence on many occasions and wrote to several of the churches disputing the need to keep the Law and thus, the Sabbath:

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it (Romans 14:5-6).

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross … Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ (Colossians 2:14,16).

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain (Galatians 4:9-11).

It could be argued that the Ten Commandments are superior to and separate from the Law and as such were not abolished. The Bible, in multiple passages, lets us know that the Ten Commandments are a part of the Law. The Ten Commandments, as part of the old covenant (see Deuteronomy 5:2-3), were given on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb in the Bible). Galatians 3:17-25 tells us we are no longer under the Law. Exodus 34:27-28, Deuteronomy 4:13, 9:9, 1 Kings 8:9, 21 all confirm that the Ten Commandments is part of the covenant and thus, the Law. In Paul's allegory found in Galatians 4:21-31, he tells us the Law, represented by Hagar and Mount Sinai has been cast out. So, there is no special status of the Ten Commandments as it relates to the Law. The Bible says we are not under the Law (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18); we are dead to the Law (Romans 7:4); we are delivered from the Law (Romans 7:6); Christ is the end of the Law (Romans 10:4); the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ and we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:24, 25); and the Law has been abolished (Ephesians 2:15). In none of these New Testament passages is there a reference to just part of the Law being canceled or an exclusion for the Ten Commandments. The Law is always referred to in whole as in, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law” (Hebrews 7:12).

In addition to Paul's letters, the Bible records examples of the early church meeting on Sunday:

And upon the first 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 (Acts 20:7). 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 Corinthians 16:2).

There is also a lot of evidence the early church after the apostolic age met on Sundays. (Click here and then scroll down the page until you come to the section While Sabbatarians will quote 20th century authors who guess about what happened 1900 years earlier, we quote Christians whose writings are 1900 years old!)

The early church began to call Sundays the Lord's Day as seen in John's letter:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet (Revelation 1:10).

Notice there is nothing in the New Testament that claims Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. I think many espouse that to give an answer for worshiping on Sunday instead of Saturday, but it's just not the case. As was seen earlier, Paul said the Sabbath, like other ordinances, was nailed to the cross and taken away because they were but a shadow of things to come. Hebrews 4 helps us to understand the shadow of things to come represented by the Sabbath. Verse 10 explains that we will enter His rest when we have ceased from our works, as God rested after He completed His works. Therefore, we enter into our rest when we die.

No one gives a thought about offering blood sacrifices for our sins or keeping the various feasts as mandated by the Law. No one goes to be cleansed by a priest if they touch a dead person or move outside of town if they contract certain diseases. Circumcision is not a requirement for church membership.

Furthermore, there are seven Sabbath days recorded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that are in addition to Saturdays. The Law also prescribed years called “sabbath of rest unto the land” in which the land was not to be farmed in accordance with a set timetable. For every fifty-year cycle after coming into Canaan, no one was to farm the land in years 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and 50. There appears to be no outcry today about people profaning the Sabbath by working on these additional Sabbath days or farming in those years.

Does this mean that the other commandments are null and void and that the Christian is at liberty to commit adultery, steal, murder, and covet? Certainly not. Romans 12:18 instruct us that we are to live peaceably with all men. The key is that the ceremonial law is done away with, but the laws against God and man are still of value.

Mandating ceremonial law in worship is one form of religious legalization. It is very effective for having the appearance of being religious and for controlling congregational behaviors and for distinguishing one form of religion from another, but in terms of worshiping in spirit and in truth, it is found wanting.

There is nothing wrong with worshiping on Sunday or Saturday or any other day of the week. There is nothing inherently better about worshiping on Sunday or Saturday or any other day of the week. The important thing is that we do get together and worship as the Scripture instructs, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

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