Since the beginning of Christendom, the near elimination of the 4th commandment has to be one of Satan’s earliest and greatest achievements. It happened so early and so completely that it has been culturally ingrained within the majority of Christendom for almost 2,000 years. It certainly was an integral part of my Christian culture for over 50 years of my life until I revisited it while doing mission work in the Muslim nation of Kuwait.
I can still vaguely remember the first time the Sabbath question popped into my consciousness. I was fairly young and I’m not even sure I was yet a teenager. It was basically a calendar issue where I suddenly noticed that Saturday was actually the last day of the week and not Sunday. Growing up in a moderately religious environment, I only briefly wondered why everyone was calling Sunday the Sabbath. But, no one else seemed concerned and I just figured the adults, who were a lot smarter than me, certainly had good reasons for having Sunday as the Sabbath.
If you take a look at some of the sermons by John Wesley and Charles Finney, you will find out that way back in the 1700s they too were unquestionably referring to the Sabbath as Sunday. Searching the internet, I could find nothing definitive pointing to a reason for the shift from Saturday to Sunday. Most credit it with happening around the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine but there are Catholics who claim it was due to a decree by one of the early Popes. It was interesting that this Papal decree, which most of Christendom now follows, was proudly used as an argument for Papal authority. Biblically though, there is certainly nothing to clearly indicate such a drastic shift.
I have a certain theory that interestingly is shared by someone on the internet who wrote a bit on this subject. We must remember that the scattering of the Jews (Diaspora) was accompanied by many and varied persecutions. Anyone associating with the Jews faced persecution as well. Christians might have more and more gathered together on a day which disassociated themselves from the Jews, which happened to be on a Sunday (most likely due to its association with the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead). It wasn’t due to being anti-Jewish. Rather it probably was just to distance them from the unpleasantness the Jews were experiencing, especially during the times of extreme Roman persecution.
Sunday gatherings most likely and quickly became the norm so that when Constantine made his decree that Christianity was the State religion, the official time of their meetings would naturally follow as Sunday. Then with the later Papal decree (which approved the Sabbath day shift from Saturday to Sunday), that would have totally cemented the change.
Of course there is nothing wrong with gathering or worshiping together on any day of the week and if the custom developed to primarily meet together on Sundays there is certainly nothing wrong with that at all. Satan could care less when Christians gather. Every day brings him grief. But if he can get believers to disobey God by eliminating one of God’s commandments, he would achieve a grand victory. And that is just what happened. Ask any Christian today what day is the Sabbath and the vast majority will tell you Sunday.
Well, let’s carefully take a look at what the 4th commandment actually says to see if we can come to the truth of the matter.
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. Exodus 20:8-11
The first part says to: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. So we must be careful to remember exactly the day that is to be observed. In the general sense, sabbath can actually refer to various times of rests or sabbaticals. The Bible mentions various sabbaths of this restful nature, that were to be observed, which were specific to the Jews. But the Sabbath day of the 4th Commandment is very specific to the 7th day of the week or Saturday. Actually it is Saturday on the Gregorian calendar, but going to the Jewish calendar is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
In the second part of the commandment we are directed to not only remember the day, but to keep it holy. How to keep it holy is related to its original purpose. That original purpose was tied to creation.
God worked, creating everything in six days (evening first, then morning second, Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31). Then he rested on the 7th day and commanded that this day be kept holy by everyone resting on that day. The command is very clear for us to remember the Sabbath day (the day following creation which is the 7th day). Then the command is very clear to keep it holy (which was totally clarified under the Mosaic Law as a day of rest because that is what God did on the 7th day, Leviticus 23:32).
The resurrection day of Sunday is wonderful and magnificent. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no justification for ignoring God’s creation and the resting afterward, plus ignoring his command for us to remember that 7th day rest. Just because we are thrilled over Sunday being the day of Jesus’ resurrection does not give us license to ignore God’s creation and God’s established holy day of rest.
To combine the two (resurrection and creation) is like mixing apples with oranges. The resurrection day is not the Sabbath! The Sabbath is the seventh day (a holy day of rest and the Jewish Saturday). Sunday is the 1st day of the week in which many Christians gather together and picked this day of gathering, most likely due to its relationship with the resurrection and possibly a day that helped to distance Christians from the Jewish persecutions. They are two different days and for two different reasons.
But what a victory for Satan to have so many avowed Christians believe they are following the 4th commandment just by going to church on Sunday.
My wife and I started observing the Jewish Sabbath day (Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday) starting in 2011 and we would not change this observance for anything. It certainly has created inconveniences and sometimes consternation, especially when you are cornered into mentioning it. People will respect the customs of Muslims and Hindus and other religious practices but mention observing the Saturday Sabbath and the old self-righteous epithets just seem to flow.
Auctions are held mainly on Saturday. Our city recycling facility is only open on Saturday. And the good old Wisconsin fish-frys are on Friday evenings.
But what a joy it has been and such a peace. It was like finally finding that missing piece to the puzzle. God’s laws are written in our heart. All those years we were in violation regarding the Sabbath. We were walking in a state of relative distortion. Of course, having grown up in this cultural distortion was to my wife and me and to most Christians a state of normality.
Following the 4th commandment has resulted in a corrective shift, putting things into the proper focus. I know you can’t nor should you try to convince anyone based solely upon experience, but our testimony since following the 4th commandment definitely makes us feel we are now well established on that firm and clear foundation.
Below are links to Questions and Answers that might address some of your concerns, several scriptures with comments, a few links to help you investigate the Sabbath issue, and a sermon that touches on the Law by the Reverend John Wesley (delivered around 1765).
I do hope you will remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. And I’m completely convinced that if you do, it will become a most blessed day that you will look forward to with eagerness. And please consider this: What’s the worst thing that could happen if my assessment is wrong? I would say that you’d end up with regular periods of nice, quiet, and stress-free rest where you can focus on God and his wonderful creation and works of salvation, with confidence that you are not making a mistake by violating the 4th commandment.