When Samuele Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-Day Adventist, immersed himself in the research of how the biblical Sabbath moved from Saturday to Sunday, he did so in an unlikely environment for a non-Catholic – the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
He not only had open access to long-forgotten historical records, he also graduated at the top of his class – summa cum laude, an honor which included a gold medal from Pope Paul VI.
But what he found in that investigation would probably shock most Christians who have never studied the subject, nor thought deeply about what became of the fourth commandment.
What caused the switch from worship on Saturday to Sunday? One of the principle motivations in the early church, Bacchiocchi finds, was anti-Judaism.
Consider this Nicene conciliar letter from Constantine written in A.D. 325: "Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd: for we have received from our Savior a different way ... Strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men ... All should unite in desiring that which sound reason appears to demand and in avoiding all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews."
Not surprisingly, anti-Sabbath laws followed in Rome – imposing harsh penalties for anyone who refused to work on Saturday or who deigned to worship on that day of the week.
He quotes Sylvester I, the pope from 314-337: "If every Sunday is to be observed joyfully by the Christians on account of the resurrection, then every Sabbath on account of the burial is to be execration (loathing or cursing) of the Jews."
Observing the Sabbath meant excommunication from the church as of A.D. 363 and the Council of Laodicea: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ."
But Bacchiocchi also reminds readers the Saturday Sabbath, despite official repression against it, never was completely abandoned.
Likewise, over the years, some prominent voices have never forgotten the Sabbath – and what became of it.
Was it, indeed, a Roman Catholic decision made after the first century and the death of the apostles?
It's hard to argue with the historical record.
In fact, some Catholics revel in the role Rome played in the switch.
"The Catholic Church of its own infallible authority created Sunday a holy day to take the place of the Sabbath of the old law," wrote the Kansas City Catholic on Feb. 9, 1893.
Other Catholic sources agree with little self-doubt.
"Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles," wrote the Catholic Press in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 25, 1900. "From beginning to end of Scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first."
James Cardinal Gibbons seconds the motion in his famous "The Faith of Our Fathers," published in 1876: "You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify."
But it's not just Catholics who acknowledge the church has just plain forgotten one of God's great commandments – without so much as a second thought.
Dwight L. Moody
Dwight L. Moody, one of America's great Protestant evangelists of the 19th century, noted the omission in his book, "Weighed and Wanting."
"The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since," he wrote. "The fourth commandment begins with the word 'remember,' showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote the law on the tablets of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?"
How do today's top Christian pastors refute the evidence the Sabbath is still in effect?
Greg Laurie, a Calvary Chapel pastor with one of the largest congregations in the country in Southern California, as well as a weekly columnist at WND, says there are three reasons Christians do not observe the Sabbath:
- It is the only commandment not repeated in the New Testament.
- Jesus never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath.
- The apostles never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath.
The Sabbath, he says, is a "shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."
"It would be like coming back from a long trip away from my wife and kids," he says. "I could not wait to get home and be reunited with them. Then while getting off the plane I see them with the sun behind them casting a long shadow before them. Then I get off the plane and run and fall down and try to hug the shadow!"
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