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Saturday or Sunday?

July 2014

US-based Christian news agency WorldNetDaily (WND) recently hosted a two-hour, live-streamed debate entitled ‘Should Christians keep the sabbath?’, digging into the issue of how Christians interpret the Fourth Commandment.

According to the WND founder and debate moderator, the event was ‘provocative and historic’, as Jim Staley, pastor of Passion for Truth Fellowship in St Charles, Missouri, and Chris Rosebrough, pastor of Kongsvinger Lutheran Church in Oslo, Minnesota, aimed to shed light on the issue.

Mr Staley took the position that Christians today should continue to keep the sabbath on Saturday, as the seventh day of the week, just as Jesus and his early followers did. Mr Rosebrough countered that the sabbath laws were designed by God for Israelites living under the Mosaic covenant and no longer apply to believers in Jesus, after he died on the cross and rose from the dead.

Mr Staley cited from Genesis, Isaiah, Zechariah and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, and Mark, 1 John, Matthew and Romans in the New Testament, stating: ‘God never intended for all days to be the same. He put from the very beginning the sun and the moon in the sky to set so that he could have those special times and appointments and we wouldn’t miss them.

‘So if the debate is going to be that we can choose the day of rest, then we’re obliterating the day he put the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky’.

Missing the point

He claimed that it was only with the rise of Rome and anti-Semitism that the church started to use the Sunday as the day of rest, in a bid to break away from its Jewish roots.

Mr Rosebrough argued that Mr Staley was misreading the text and missing the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He said, ‘The (Fourth) Commandment does not stand alone, but is part of Torah. This question cannot be answered solely by looking at the covenant. You cannot look just at the law. The early church fathers rightly understood this’.

He cited Hebrews 7 and Galatians 3:19 to understand the purpose of the law, which was to be the guardian so that we might be justified by faith.

He said, ‘In Ephesians 2:14-15, it says Jesus “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations”. For the same reason, Christians do not have to keep a kosher diet or celebrate new moons and Jewish festivals; nor do they have to keep sabbath. The law, according to the New Testament, is the shadow. Jesus is the substance’.

Mr Rosebrough claimed that Christians were not keeping Sundays because they were replacing the Jewish sabbath with a pagan observation, but because they believed that Jesus rose from the dead on the ‘first day of the week’ and that was the day the disciples first gathered for the breaking of bread (Acts 2).