Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: This is the fourteenth installment of the ongoing Sabbath Discussion. In the previous essays I have dealt mostly with the attacks launched against the Sabbath by the Pope, the Lord's Day Alliance, and former Sabbatarians like Dale Ratzlaff and Clay Peck. Reading only about such attacks against the Sabbath, could easily lead a person to conclude that the Sabbath and Sabbathkeepers are becoming an endangered species.
In this essay I am submitting a partial report about the rediscovery of the Sabbath today by scholars, church leaders, and religious groups. This fragmentary report will serve to show that the interest for the Sabbath is far from disappearing. The truth of the matter is that there is today a swelling interest for Sabbath by Christians of all persuasions who are rediscovering it. This is indicated, as you will read, by books and articles written by Sundaykeepers who are rediscovering the Sabbath as well as by various church groups and individuals who are accepting this Biblical truth.
My plan is to expand and revise this essay into a chapter in my new book The Sabbath under Crossfire. The idea of reworking the material of these Sabbath Updates into a book has been impressed upon me by three factors. First, the incredible interest for a scholarly analysis of recent Sabbath/Sunday developments, as indicated by the thousands of people who have subscribed to the Sabbath Updates list. Second, the countless number of requests for a printer version of the Sabbath Updates received from people who do not have an email service. Third, the need to provide a more comprehensive analysis of important issues or documents like the Pope's Pastoral Letter calling for a revival of Sunday observance.
In the light of these considerations I plan to spend the greater portion of my time during the coming months expanding and editing the Sabbath Updates material into a book entitled The Sabbath under Crossfire. The book will include several chapters dealing with important aspects of the Sabbath/Sunday controversy which have not yet been addressed. The aim of this study is not only to provide an update report about recent significant developments, but also to lead Christians of all faith to understand and experience more fully the blessings of the Sabbath.
The next essay that I hope to post within a week, is entitled: "The Sabbath and the Savior." This is an important study that examines the fundamental thesis of "New Covenant" Christians like Dale Ratzalff and Clay Peck, who argue that the Sabbath rest has found its fulfillment in Christ who offer us salvation-rest everyday. Consequently, Sabbathkeeping is no longer required for Christians today. This essay has two objectives: (1) To expose the fallacies of this thesis, which is very popular especially among Dispensationalists. (2) To help interested Bible students to appreciate more fully how in the Old Testament the Sabbath pointed to the Messianic redemption to come and how in the New Testament the Sabbath helps us to internalize and experience the reality of the salvation the Savior has already accomplished fo us.
If you find this material informative and inspiring, feel free to let you friends know that they also can receive all the past, present, and future essays, simply by requesting to have their names added to the SABBATH UPDATES list. Thank you for sharing the information.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
WWW HOMEPAGE: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com
A paradox of our times is that while, on the one hand, some Christians, including some former Sabbatarians, are making renewed attempts to negate the continuity, validity and value of the Sabbath for the Christian life today, on the other hand, an increasing number of Christians are rediscovering the Sabbath as a divine remedy for our tension-filled, cacophanous, restless generation.
In a previous essay entitled "The Sabbath Under Crossfire," I dealt with the origin and development of the anti-Sabbath theology, manifested today especially in the "New Covenant theology," which reduces the Sabbath to an Old Covenant, Mosaic institution terminated at the Cross. Such a theology, we noted, breaks the unity and continuity of the Plan of Salvation, besides ignoring the cosmic sweep of the Sabbath which embraces creation, redemption, and final restoration. In this essay we focus on the rediscovery of the Sabbath on the part of scholars, religious organizations, and people of different persuasions.
Two Types of Sabbatarians.
Contrary to Dispensationalists and "New Covenant" Christians who emphasize the radical discontinuity between the Sabbath (seen as the sign of the Old Covenant) and Sunday (seen as the sign of the New Covenant), Sunday-Sabbatarians recognize the underlying unity and continuity that exists between the Old and the New Testaments, Sabbath and Sunday. Consequently, they are eager to rediscover the Biblical view of the Sabbath in order to better understand how Sunday should be observed.
On the other hand, there is an increasing number of Christians who reject the compromise position of Sunday-Sabbatarians and want to rediscover the Sabbath as the Biblical seventh-day, both in terms of its meaning and experience. These Seventh-day Sabbatarian sense the need to recover the Biblical and Jewish roots of Christianity which have been largely lost as a result of the Christian theology of contempt for the Jews and their religion-a theology that has plagued Christianity through much of its history, causing the loss of the precious Jewish heritage of the Christian faith.
The rediscovery of the Sabbath by both Sunday-Sabbatarian and Seventh-day Sabbatarians is motivated also by the realization that the values of the Sabbath as a day for spiritual, physical, moral, and social renewal, are essential to revitalize today the religious experience of million of Christians around the world. This essay looks at some examples of the rediscovery of the Sabbath first by Sunday-Sabbatarians and then by Seventh-day Sabbatarians.
THE REDISCOVERY OF THE SABBATH BY SUNDAY SABBATARIANS
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly
When I heard Marva Dawn presents the highlights of her book at the International Sabbath Symposium, sponsored by the University of Denver, I was tempted to spring forward to extend to her the right hand of fellowship into my own Seventh-day Adventist Church. I felt that she did a marvellous job in capturing some of the fundamental meanings and experiences of the Sabbath. However, my thrill was dumpened when I read the Appendix of her book where she explains how to observe the Christian Sabbath from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday. Dawn's attempt to invest Sunday with the meaning and experience of the Sabbath ignores the fundamental fact that Sunday is not the Sabbath. The two days, as I have shown elsewhere, are different in their origin, meaning and experience.
"Call the Sabbath Delightful."
Finn's attempt to celebrate Sunday from sunset to sunset as it were the Sabbath, ignores the historical reality that the essence of Sundaykeeping has never been the consecration of time, but the attendance at the Mass or at a church service. The recognition of this historical reality has led the Catholic church, as well as over 4000 Protestant churches in the USA (see "Saturday Night Live at Church, Sunday, Nov. 1992, p. 11) to anticipate Sunday church services to Saturday night for those who are unable or unwilling to go to church on Sunday morning.
"Rediscovering the Sabbath."
The problem with the article is that Bass wants to unwrap the gift of the Sabbath by trying to fit Sunday into what may be called the Sabbath gift box. This does not work. In fact she has a problem explaining, for example, "What, besides churchgoing, is Christian Sabbath [Sunday] keeping?" (p. 42). She suggests that it may be a good idea to refrain from buying, selling, "paying bills, preparing tax return, and making lists of things to do in the coming week" (p. 43). But she can hardly provide a compelling Biblical reason for refraining from these secular activities. Why? Simply because historically the essence of Sunday keeping has been going to church on Sunday, and not consecrating the 24 hours of the day unto the Lord. This can still be seen today even in the Bible belt where many businesses will open on Sunday as soon as the church services are over.
The scholarly community has also shown an interest for rediscovering the Sabbath as a model for Sunday keeping. This is indicated by International Sabbath Conferences sponsored by secular universities. Let me mention two of them where I was privileged to participate.
University of Denver's Sabbath Symposium.
I vividly recall the evening when Dr. Wagner called me to tell me how impressed he was by my lecture on the Sabbath and by my book Divine Rest for Human Restlessness. He said: "You have inspired me to explore the possibility of convening here at the University of Denver an international Sabbath symposium that will bring together Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Sabbatarian scholars for the purpose of reexamining the relevance of the Sabbath for today." Then he asked me: "Would you be willing to come to deliver one of the major addresses?" I replied: "Dr. Wagner you do not need to repeat it twice. If necessary, I will be glad to come at my own expenses."
This Sabbath Symposium was truly a groundbreaking event that brought together leading scholars from prestigious institutions as far away as England and Israel. While some of the papers presented made an attempt to apply the values of the Sabbath to Sundaykeeping, most of them examined the history, theology, and relevance of the Sabbath for today. Eventually the papers were published by Crossroad in the book The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions (272 pages). Incidentally, I do have five copies left of the book for anyone interested.
What surprised me most at the conference was to hear some Sundaykeeping scholars waxing eloquent about the Sabbath-a day they had never observed. For example, instead of critiquing my paper, Catholic Professor Dennis Kennedy from St. Thomas Seminary, chose to add his own meditation on the relevance of the Sabbath for both the human and sub-human creation. He said: "We human need to experience God's sanctifying presence. So we keep the Sabbath to (1) follow divine example, (2) acknowledge God as Creator, and (3) participate in God's rest and blessings. It is a sign of covenant between God and us-we look back to the past perfect reation and forward to the ultimate salvation" (The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p.132).
Prof. Kennedy went on saying: "I would like to sugggest that this Sabbath symposium is not some kind of dusty, scholarly tediousness for a few learned doctors only; rather, it is an attempt to revise the relationship of Creator to creation and to define what our part in that creation is to be. Sabbath is meant to refer to rest for all involved in the process of creation: rest for the earth as well as for human" (p. 132). He called for the recovery of a sabbatical ecological conscience, which consists in becoming the curators rather than the predators of God's creation. By teaching us to admire God's creation, the Sabbath teaches us to respect the natural world.
The willingness of Sundaykeeping scholars to reexamine the values of the Sabbath for the social, ecological, psychological problems of our society, represents in my view a positive trend that needs to be supported. In time this trend could well encourage Christians to adopt seventh-day Sabbathkeeping, not only as a philosophical value, but also as an existential practice governing their lives.
University of South Africa's Sabbath Conference.
The conference was attended by about 100 scholars and church leaders of the major denominations in South Africa. It was evident that the prevailing concern was to reaffirm the Reformed view of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. For example, in his presentation on "The meaning of Sunday as a Day Dedicated to God," Dr. Francois Möller said: "Sunday must be observed as a day dedicated to God. To make this possible, there must be purposeful rules and behavior on the part of the church and every Christian individual. Things which need to be done, must be done during the week. This is not the day to catch up on the washing, mend clothes, clean the house, service the car, help children with school work, prepare large meals, go shopping, make appointments, etcetera" (The Biblical Day of Rest, p. 11).
I was invited to present two papers; one dealing with the historical change from Sabbath to Sunday in early Christianity, and the other on the relevance of the Sabbath for modern society. The response was very positive. The papers presented at the Sabbath Conference were published in a book The Biblical Day of Rest. I could sense that though there was disagreement on which day is the Christian Sabbath, there was agreement on its meaning, nature, and relevance for today.
Three Dutch Reformed pastors attending the conference told me that they wanted to reexamine the validity and value of the seventh-day Sabbath for themselves and for their congregations. In fact, one of them came to visit me at the home of the Adventist pastor where I was staying and kept me up on a Friday night until past midnight. Another attended the Sabbath morning service at the City Hall auditorium where I spoke.
For me it was a gratifying experience to witness a gathering of church leaders and scholars eager to deepen their understanding of the Biblical Sabbath in order to find ways to revitalize Sundaykeeping. Such an endeavor, however, holds little hope of success because, as noted earlier, Sunday is not the Sabbath. Historically Sundaykeeping has been understood and experienced not as the "Holy Day of Rest" unto the Lord but as church attendance at the Sunday service. The attempt of church leaders to make Sunday into a Holy Day today is a nearly impossible task, because historically Christians have not understood and experience Sunday as a Holy Day. Moreover, people today are interested in holidays and not in the observance of a Holy Day.
The Lord's Day Alliance.
Dr. Wesbery came to spent a Sabbath with us on December 2, 1978. The visit was a memorable occasion not only for my family but also for him. In fact, in his farewell addressto the Board Members of the LDA, published in Sunday, the official magazine of the LDA, Dr. Wesberry mentions his visit to Andrews University as one of the highlights of his tenure as Executive Director of the LDA. He was greatly impressed by the atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that he felt was so pervasive in our homes, campus, and our lives on the Sabbath.
When my wife and I took Dr. Wesberry to the South Bend airport that Saturday night, he said: "This was the most delightful Sabbath I have ever experienced in my life." Then he asked me: "Would you be willing to come to Atlanta, Georgia, next February 14, and be our keynote speaker at our annual LDA board meeting that brings together about 150 church leaders representing 21 denominations? I would like you to share with them some of the things you have shared with me today." It goes without saying that I was delighted to accept the invitation. What a marvellous experience it was for me to speak to such a distinguished group of Church leaders. I discussed not only how the change came about from Sabbath to Sunday in early Christianity, but also on how the values of the Sabbath can revitalize today the religious experience of million of Christians.
Dr. Wesberry was especially impressed by my book Divine Rest for Human Restlessness because it offered him new insights into the meaning and experience of the Sabbath, which he felt were applicable to Sunday observance. In his Foreword to the book he wrote: "The author has dealt well with his subject. He has built a gold mine of Sabbath material and made an invaluable contribution to the strengthening of the Sabbath throughout the world! No one, no matter of what faith or denomination he or she may be, can read this book without finding Divine rest for his or her restlessness" (p. 9).
Prior to his death Dr. Wesberry wrote to me a most gracious letter where he asked me to do him "a big favor," namely, to explore the possibility of establishing an endowed chair for Sabbath Studies on his name. When I informed him by phone that an endowed chair for Sabbath Studies at Andrews University would require an investment of half a million dollars, he told me that was way beyond his means. We discussed the possibility of raising together the needed funds for this worthy project, but he passed away before anything could be done about it.
What stands out most in my memory about Dr. Wesberry is his dedication to help Christians experience the physical and spiritual renewal that comes from the celebration of the Sabbath. Though I could not support his endeavors to apply the values of the Biblical Sabbath to Sunday, I fully share his conviction that a recovery of the meaning and experience of Sabbathkeeping is indespensible to revitalize the spiritual life of Christians today. Christians who give priority to the Lord in their thinking and living during the Sabbath day, ultimately give priority to the Lord everyday of their lives.
THE REDISCOVERY OF THE SEVENTH-DAY SABBATH
While Sunday-Sabbatarians are satisfied to rediscover the Sabbath as a model for Sundaykeeping, there is an increasing number of Christians today who 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 The Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups, published by the Bible Sabbath Association, a valuable source of information about approximately 300 churches and groups who have accepted the Sabbath in recent times. For most of the churches a brief historical sketch is provided, indicating when they became Sabbatarian.
For the purpose of this essay I will submit first a sampling of recent publications rediscovering the seventh-day Sabbath and then a brief report on few Sabbatarian churches with whom I have become personally acquainted. A comprehensive history of the many Sabbatarians churches and groups that have come into existence during the past 30/40 would require considerable research and the writing of a sizeable volume. Thus the few examples cited below of publications and churches are only representative of a vast Sabbatarian movement that is manifesting itself today in different forms even within some mainline churches.
Catch Your Breath. God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest.
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" (p. 15).
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" (p. 5). 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.
What I find surprising about this organization is that it is transdenominational and multi-ethnic. It claims no religious affiliation. It simply exists to help Christians of all faiths to 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 to receive their journal and/or their publications, can contact them by phone (423)472-7321 or by email RestorationFoundation@compuserve.com.
On October 8-10 I will join them at a retreat in Estes Park, (near Denver) Colorado. Anyone is welcomed to attend this retreat. For information call (303) 238-0102. In fact, I will cut short my visit to Croatia where I will be from October 2-6 in order to share my research on the Sabbath with these fine Christians. They represent an example of educated Christians who are eager to rediscover long-forgotten Biblical truths, like the Sabbath.
Hemisphere. One of the most unlikely places to find an article discussing the rediscovery of the Sabbath is the Hemisphere magazine of United Airlines. Thus it came as a surprise to me on a 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 when she and her husband went to a marriage counselor because they were deadlocked "over crises of time management, of growth and change" (p. 118).
Chase was "electrified" when she read that "The Sabbath marks the difference between man and all other creatures that live in the universe" (p. 118). She noted that "this day of rest was to be observed in order for humans to cease the everyday struggle for existence and enjoy life's material and spiritual gifts" (p. 118).
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 celebating the Sabbath" (p.118). What an inspiring testimony to be found, of all places, in an airline magazine. This is another example of how different people today are rediscovering the blessings of Sabbathkeeping for their families, marriage, and personal lives.
Du Sabbat au Dimanche.
Poswick supervised the translation done by another Benedectine 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. They 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 will do my best to translate from French into English. The Foreword begins with a series of rhetorical questions which have profound implications. This is my translation of the Foreword:
"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 rhytms 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 Benedectine monks?]
"Some Christians, the Seventh-day Adventists, often considered as marginal among the great Communions, 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 the Lord's Day (Sunday). . .[what follows are biographical information about me]. For the reflection of Christian 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 a fresh 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."
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. I would have never imagined that they would succeed in having the French edition published and distributed through Catholic bookstores. I can only thank God for making it happen.
The sampling of publications cited above reflect the growing interest for rediscovering the Sabbath on the part of Christians of different persuasions. At this juncture I would like to mention a few churches and groups who have rediscovered the Sabbath within the last 30 years or so. No special mention will be made of the rediscovery of the Sabbath by older Sabbatarian churches, like the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the the Seventh-day Baptist Church, the Church of God Seventh-day, and the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), since all of these churches have been in existence for a longer time.
Worldwide Church of God and Splinter Churches.
About half of the members who left the WCG have joined newly formed "Churches of God" such as United Church of God, Global Church of God, Church of God International, and Philadelphia Church of God. Sometime 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 yet joined any church at this time. They often refer to themselves as "Living Room Sabbatarians," since on the Sabbath they meet with friends for worship in their living room. At a "Friends of the Sabbath" Conference held over a year ago at the Sheriton Convention Center in Tacoma, WA, about half of the 400 plus participants identified themselves as "Living Room Sabbatarians."
During the past three years it has been my privilege to share my ministry with 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 have endured to remain loyal to principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping.
I vividly recall the 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 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 Worldwide and reject 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 family members and former church members because of their decision to honor their Savior on His Sabbath day.
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. This information is not found in later biographies of Wesley's life, but can be found in earlier books. He promised to mail you a book with this documentation. Thus, according to Sanchez, 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 their historic Hebraic roots, especially by returning to the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping.
The Church of Israel.
Pastor Gayman has graciously faxed me 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. [They ordered my Sabbath books on numerous occasions]. The goal was to bring the church into the truth of the Sabbath without loss of a single family."
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, saying: "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 number 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 Ratzlaff and his congregation. Ratzlaff, a Sabbathkeeper, claims in his book Sabbath in Crisis that seven months of a weekly study of the Sabbath with his congregation, led him and some of his members to reject the Sabbath as an Old Covenant institution, fulfilled by Christ and no longer needed by Christians today. By contrast, Guyman, a Sundaykeeper, affirms that two years of study of the Sabbath with his congregation, convinced every single family of his 200 members congregation to accept the Biblical validity and value of the Sabbath. These two contrasting expereinces illustrate the point that one can study the Bible to find the way into the truth or out of the truth. In my view, the difference lies in what one seeks to find in the Bible.
Messianic Jewish Congregations.
During the past two years I have invited a dozen of 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 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.
For Sabbatarians it can be an educational experience to see how the Sabbath is conceptualized and experienced within the Messianic Jewish community. Their Sabbath liturgy 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 Sabbathkeeping that can help to maintain alive the significance and experience of the Sabbath.
The rediscovery of the Sabbath among Messianic Jewish has been a gradual process. In the early seventies when the Messianic Jewish Movement gained momentum, possibly influenced also by the events that transpired during the six days war of 1967, most of their members were Sundaykeepers. Rabbi Harvey Koelner of the Temple Aron Kodesh, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Lauderdale Lake, in Florida, explained to me in a telephone conversation that initially his 500 members congregation had "a split personality." Some members attended Friday night services, as most Jews do today, while the rest attended Sunday services. Gradually, however, his whole congregation became Sabbathkeeper. I am told that the same has been true in over 95% of the Messianic Jewish congregations that have come to observe exclusively the Sabbath.
The reason some Messianic Jews were originally Sundaykeepers is largely due to the fact that their movement was originally sponsored by Sundaykeeping Protestant churches. Surprisingly, Sabbatarian churches have done very little to reach the Jews with the Gospel. I remember meeting many years ago with some Messianic Jewish congregations in Chicago in the facilities offered to them by evangelical churches. Since the mission to the Jews was launched by Sundakeeping Protestant churches, it is not surprising that initially Messianic Jews adopted Sundaykeeping. This has been also the case with the Jews for Jesus movement, whose members are still today mostly Sundaykeepers.
What has led the 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 and 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 to be learned from the Messianic Jews is the need for Christians 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 two set 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 gradually Dispensationalists and "New Covenant" Christians will come to recognize this historical reality and abandon the artificial distinction they have fabbricated between the Old and New Covenant, Judaism and Christianity, Law and grace, Sabbath and Sunday.
Two active Anabaptist leaders, Andrews Fisher and Oswald Glait, became the pioneer and promoters of the Sabbath. Both of them suffered a martyr death, 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.
A Mennonite scholar, Prof. 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 by 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 which wanted to rediscover and restore apostolic Biblical teachings and practices, and yet they refused to accept the apostolic practice of Sabbathkeeping. In a private letter Liechty informed me that this research had such an impact upon him that he became 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 with vital information to trace the historical roots of their theological beliefs.
I was made aware of the interest of the Mennonites for the Sabbath 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 exercise 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 Old Testament professor, who looked very much like an Old Testament patriarch, 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."
Few months later a colleague of mine was told during a visit to the Associated Mennonite Seminary that there was a group on campus that met for worship on Sabbath morning. This episode provides another example of the providential way the Lord is leading sincere people to rediscover the Sabbath.
Numerous other examples could be given for the rediscovery of the Sabbath by church leaders and local congregations. Some of the information I have in my possession consists of private correspondence. Before divulging this information I need to obtain permission from the sources. I plan to do so in rewriting this essay as a chapter for my forthcoming book The Sabbath Under Crossfire.
Rediscovery of the Sabbath Overseas.
On August 1992, I received a letter from Robert Kisiel, President of the Polish Brethren Unity, inviting me to speak at a meeting of 1500 leaders of congregations in Western Ukraine on November 1, 1992. In his letter dated August 3, 1992, Kiesel writes: "During this meeting our brethren are going to discuss the basic topic of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in order to establish a new Sabbathkeeping Church of God. . . . I hope you can find time to come to this meeting as one of the best Western Sabbath theologian and help us in the process of the creation of the new Church."
Kiesel's letter and invitation was sent to me by Przemyslaw Waliszewski, M. D, 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 in Polish and Russian. On such a short notice and with 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 congregations in Poland and Western Ukraine came together to establish a new Sabbatkeeping Church of God.
More recently I received a letter (dated 10-3-97) from Pastor Glen Howard, of the International Church of Budapest in Hungary. Most likely, Pastor Howard is an American missionary sponsored by a Sundaykeeping denomination, as indicated by his fluent English and ability to pay for my books with American Express. He informes me that he has read and shared with his congregations my two Sabbath books From Sabbath to Sunday and The Sabbath in the New Testament.
According to Pastor Howard the result was that "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 at a subsidized price. It is heart warming for me to receive letters practically every week from individuals and church leaders informing me that the Lord has used this research to bring conviction to their minds as to the Biblical validity and value of Sabbathkeeping for theirChristian life.
Conclusion. The foregoing fragmentary report on the rediscovery of the Sabbath by a selected few churches and people known to me, hardly does justice to the swelling interest for the Sabbath on the part of many other religious groups that have not been mentioned. I intend to submit a fuller report when I expand this essay into a chapter for my new book The Sabbath under Crossfire.
This partial report on the rediscovery of the Sabbath was designed to counteract any negative impression caused by the previous essays dealing with the attacks against the Sabbath by the Pope, the Lord's Day Alliance, former Sabbatarians and Sundaykeeping scholars. Reading only about such attacks against the Sabbath, could easily lead a person to conclude, that the Sabbath and Sabbathkeepers are becoming an endangered species.
This rediscovery of the Sabbath today by scholars, church leaders, and religious groups shows that the interest for the Sabbath is far from disappearing. The truth of the matter is that we are experiencing today a swelling interest for Sabbath. Christians of all persuasion are rediscovering that the Sabbath is indeed "a gift waiting to be unwrapped." 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 have experienced the blessings of this divine gift, will use ever opportunity to share them with others.