A Critique of Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?
By William Hohmann
This book was one of the basic tools of Armstrong for putting forth his theology of the Sabbath for the Worldwide Church of God and later by those groups that split off. It was written by Herbert W. Armstrong and originally produced by the Worldwide Church of God. Those that had their first introduction into Sabbatarianism via the Worldwide Church of God were encouraged to study their Bibles, but through the filter of the literature of the "church."
The law (arguably the Law of Moses), and specifically the Sabbath, is presented in this booklet as required of Christians. Various "proofs" are presented. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate where and how these proofs are lacking. The final decision is up to the reader concerning this issue. This is written in order to compare and critique this belief and these "proofs" with what one otherwise would not be aware of or exposed to.
The booklet presents, even in its title, the bias of the issue in question: "Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?" which leaves only two possible answers: Saturday (the Sabbath day) or Sunday. The question asked in the title should have been "Are Christians required to keep a Christian Sabbath?" By loading the question to an "either / or" situation, HWA set up his readers and followers through this straw man argument to accept the Sabbath argument through a default. By knocking down Sunday as a day of rest, the Sabbath was left standing alone as the only other option. This methodology is dishonest and unethical—worthy of a false prophet and deceiver.
"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive"
Jesus said he came to set men free, and His was a law of liberty—not a law of oppression. (Galatians 6:2) In the New Testament, the old covenant is described as being a "yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1) and a law that brought about death, not life. Once we are able to comprehend this, and begin to think "outside the Armstrong box" then we can begin to make progress toward understanding what it was that Christ and the apostles said and what was written.
The WCG practiced a form of Old Testament Christianity. Adherence to the law, especially the Sabbath, was mandated with all the zeal of the Pharisees of Jesus' time.
Adherence to the law is described in the New Testament Scriptures as being a veil over the eyes. (II Corinthians 3:15-16) Only when the focus is taken off the law and placed on Christ is the veil removed. With all this prefaced then, it should be easier for one who was immersed in Armstrong legalism to begin to discern the truth, and the errors taught by the WCG. As Herbert Armstrong was fond of saying—don't believe me, believe your own Bible. Good advice.
I have taken the liberty of not copying the booklet's text in the manner it was written, with many words capitalized and italicized for emphasis.
By William Hohmann
Exit & Support Network™
July 25, 2005
Last updated March 13, 2008
Note: Throughout this critique, Herbert Armstrong's words will be indented. Not all of HWA's words from the book are quoted.
Certainly most professing Christians accept Sunday as the New Testament Lord's Day. Moslems observe Friday. Some religions observe no day.
But there are those who insist the seventh-day Sabbath is still binding. Failure to keep it, they claim, is sin—and the punishment is death for eternity!
Now that is a pretty serious claim!
Almost immediately the reader is confronted with a frightful thought..." if I am not keeping the Sabbath, I could be risking eternity, and I didn't even know it. Better to err on the side of keeping the Sabbath," thinks the reader who is unlikely to have much of an understanding of the Bible and what it says. "This man apparently does understand Scripture, so I will go along for now because of my ignorance." And so the individual is led along a path to being convinced of this view. This is an attempt to educate people concerning this view.
Few take it seriously—but that does not disprove or dismiss the challenge. Have you ever seriously looked into this question?
Again the average person would have to admit to being ignorant on the subject, and therefore psychologically conditioned to accept what is written so as to not risk losing their salvation, never realizing they might be risking salvation by abandoning faith in favor of law-keeping.
If someone tells me my house is on fire, I'm not going to laugh at him and refuse to take it seriously. I'm going to examine, and be sure! If he's wrong, then at least I shall KNOW my house is safe. I learned years ago that it can be very dangerous to carelessly assume, or just take for granted. It's much wiser and safer to get all the facts, and then decide.
Something interesting is stated here. If one checks to see if his house is on fire and determines it is not, then is his house truly "safe"? It may not be on fire, but there could be a burglar in there and you wouldn't know it, for you are not looking for a burglar, you were looking for a fire. In the same way, the argument that limits the debate between keeping the seventh day Sabbath and the first day Sunday tends to not allow for another possibility that also could produce an unsafe spiritual condition.
Few realize, today, but the Sabbath vs. Sunday controversy raged during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Violence and bloodshed mounted. Millions were tortured and put to death over this question.
Who is right?
And, after all, does it make any difference?
No documentation is offered to support this claim. However, if there were such a debate, would true Christians have fought and killed each other over such an issue? We are now confronted by a rationale that would be easy to skip over, but we must be ready to question everything we are told or read. If there is such documentation that Sunday Christians were slaughtering millions of Sabbath-keeping Christians, and the Sabbath-keeping Christians were slaughtering Sunday-keeping Christians by the millions, wouldn't there be more than ample historical evidence extant to support this claim? Why would Armstrong make such an outrageous claim in the first place? Because it serves his purpose to place the idea in the heads of his readers that Sunday keepers were persecuting Sabbath keepers, with all this bloodshed as a result, all instigated by Sunday keepers. Anyone who has studied history and Hitler's Mein Kampf will recognize the value of "the big lie." [Note: Read: HWA studied Hitler's book Mein Kampf]
Years ago I had to face this question. My wife said she had found, in the Bible, that Christians are bound to keep the Sabbath—Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. I was shocked, angered. To me, this was rank fanaticism. I had arguments—plenty of them!
"You can't tell me that all these churches could be wrong!" I said in confident indignation.
I was challenged to look into this question—to get all the facts! I was angered into serious research. I could not ignore the question. I had this question to live with! It had invaded my home!
If one were a novice to the Bible and Scripture, do you suppose that by not finding any evidence for Sunday observance, one would therefore conclude that, seeing as there is a command for the Sabbath, it would be required as one thought Sunday was? Here we see a paradigm at work. He was looking for proof that all those churches were right. In not finding that evidence, he would naturally conclude that the Sabbath was the right day. This also begs the question, what are, or were, the evidence put forth by Sunday keeping churches for keeping Sunday? Why didn't Armstrong provide these, and explain why their explanations were not valid? To put it simply, this would not serve Armstrong's purpose. He is not interested in what they have to say; he is only interested in what he has to say, and bringing people under bondage, sending him money.
Don't we have to adjust our religion to the changing times? After all, wasn't the Bible completely written some 1900 years ago? We live in a different world today! That's one argument. Yet, are we free to reason out our own religion? Are we going to render the decisions on our own fates, in the final judgment? Perhaps we'd better get the truth!
We live in the same world today. As an "argument" this makes no sense. Are we free to reason out our own religion? It is interesting that Paul states, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." We have freedom of choices in our Christian lives. The next question is not a question at all. It is designed to lead the reader in a certain direction. As far as reasoning out things, that's what God gave us minds for.
Some will ask, "How can this world, as it is now organized, keep the seventh-day Sabbath? The world is geared to Sunday."
To claim that the world is geared to Sunday is inaccurate. Christianity is by no means the leading religion of the world. Businesses and services no more stop on Sunday than they do on Saturday. This world is geared 24/7/365. What we see here is simply rationalization.
Or, "Suppose you're traveling on an ocean liner. Would you expect them to stop the engines and cease steaming forward at sunset Friday?"
No more so than sunset Saturday, or any other time.
"What about public utilities in the big cities? Electricity, water, gas. Must the police departments shut down and let criminals have a holiday?"
Do they shut down on Sunday? And if Sabbath keeping were enforced, would the "enforcers" insist on these services being shut down? And if not, would they insist that those employees work on the Sabbath or face being fired?
"Suppose the nation is at war. Should our forces stop fighting at sunset on Friday? The enemy might not see it that way!"
The enemy would appreciate it, even if we stopped fighting on Sunday or any other day.
But hasn't time been lost? How can we know whether the Saturday of today is the same day of the week as it was at creation—or in Moses' day? Hasn't the weekly cycle gotten mixed up since creation?" That question, too, will be answered with the proof in this booklet.
This is, however, an argument that does not address whether we are to keep the Sabbath or not. A better question would be, "Do we determine the Sabbath in the U.S. by traveling east or west from Israel? If the Sabbath begins an hour beforehand about 1000 miles east of Jerusalem, then the Sabbath would begin about 14 hours earlier in America than in Israel, or at sunset on what we call Thursday evening for those who traveled east from Israel to America, abiding by the instructions in Scripture concerning sunsets being the determining factor. One might object, claiming that one crosses over the international dateline in so doing, but the Bible does not address the international dateline. It is only concerned with calculating the changing of the days by sunsets. Keeping the Sabbath on Friday is just as valid as keeping the Sabbath on Saturday in America when you realize the truth of this. (Read my article explaining this in more detail.) [offsite link]
Is there any authority for observing Friday, or Sunday, or Saturday? It certainly is apparent all do not recognize the same authority.
Many recognize the same authority, but many misinterpret or misrepresent that authority.
Let me say candidly right here, that if there is no God—if I were to leave God out of the picture—then I could not see how it could possibly make any difference!
The conclusion to be drawn from this statement is that, seeing as there is a God, then there must be a day to keep.
But the Almighty Creator God does exist! His existence is easily proved. God is emphatically in the picture, whether a man recognizes that fact or not! That Great God has set in living, inexorable motion invisible laws respecting this very question. That God and those laws exist—they live—they are active! And their existence, and their action, do not depend on one man—or all mankind—realizing their existence.
Before any proofs are offered, the author tries to establish that the Sabbath and other laws are in force whether we like it or not, without providing any proof or evidence of this conclusion. These laws are presented as being essentially "immutable." Yet Jesus broke some of these laws [i. e., laws of science]. He walked on water, as an example. And, if the Sabbath were indeed one of these immutable laws, how could Jesus have broken the sabbath and justified His doing so? ( See John 5:16-18) Those who follow HWA's teachings will try mightily to spin John 5:18 away, claiming Christ didn't really break the sabbath; that it was the added sabbath restrictions created by the Jewish religious leaders. But the fact remains that He did break the sabbath, and emphasized that both He and the Father work on sabbaths. [Note from ESN: Read: Jesus and the Sabbath]
The Almighty God holds the keys of life and death! By Him your fate is being determined! For all eternity! And that is the reason why it does make all the difference—for your well-being now, and for your eternity! ... what are the consequences for disobedience or neglect?
There is always a scare tactic involved with legalists when trying to convince people they must do something or abide by something. The Pharisee Christians in Acts 15 insisted that Gentile Christians could not be saved unless they kept the law. Scripture says of Christians that there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) Rom. 3:27-28 says, "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Is the author saying that faith is now subordinated by the Sabbath? Indeed he does.
Did you realize that there is one religious body which lays claim to being the sole infallible authority? It claims the Bible "is not a sufficient guide to heaven." It claims, through its own church leaders, that it, by its own infallible authority, substituted Sunday for the Sabbath.
This religious body offers the very fact that all Sunday keeping people—which includes the Western world as a whole—have bowed down to its dictum on Sunday observance as Proof of its absolute authority.
The attempt here is to imply that the Sabbath is valid because they declared Sunday erroneously to be valid! If not a, then b. But there is still option c: no day is valid. Sabbatarians make the same mistake, believing that faith is not enough for salvation, and that "Law" is also necessary, especially the Sabbath.
Some time ago one ecclesiastical authority stated that you may search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you cannot find one line or verse authorizing Sunday observance—that the Bible enforces the keeping holy of the seventh-day Sabbath—and that the sole authority for Sunday observance is based on edicts of men.
This "enforcement of the Sabbath" in the Bible is true only in the context of the old covenant with Israel. Sabbath keeping is not validated simply because others erroneously believe in keeping another day of the week. This "ecclesiastical authority" (which he doesn't mention) is cited as though he were correct, even though the author at other times had stated that one could not rely on what ecclesiastical authorities had written. So why would we accept what this particular one has written? Why do we now accept what they say, unless it is because they now agree with "us"?
The claim is that a succession of human ecclesiastical leaders has replaced the authority of Jesus Christ. This may surprise many religious people.
And if one claims that the Sabbath is binding on Christians, when Jesus made no such command to Christians, would that not also be replacing the authority of Jesus Christ?
It is claimed that Christ turned headship of the Church over to Peter and his successors. In plain language, that Christ "bowed out," as it were—that men rule in place of Christ, as head of the Church.Yet Sabbatarians believe they are infallible when it comes to the Sabbath. Also, it is not a part of the doctrine of infallibility that Christ "bowed out," but rather the idea that the ecclesiastical head of a church cannot err regarding ecclesiastical matters. This idea is easily disproved when you consider that the one who came up with the concept could easily have been fallible in his conclusion!
Have you ever stopped to really prove whether God exists? Can you actually prove, by irrefutable and positive proof, that God is Creator—that He rules as the supreme and infallible authority over all His creation—over all the universe?
This is still immaterial to the topic of the Sabbath being binding on Christians. A true Christian already believes in the existence of God and Christ. An attempt is being made to tie the two different things together for the sake of supporting the Sabbath as being required. "If God exists, then the Sabbath is necessary," is the conclusion sought.
Is this line of reasoning not intellectually dishonest? Would a true minister and servant of Christ use such manipulative means to prove a belief?
Can you prove, also, that the Holy Bible is the very authoritative Word of God—His inspired Message and instruction Book to mankind—the sole infallible authority, by which humanity shall be judged?
Then what of the untold numbers of Christians who have lived and died, who were never literate? All they would have known in many instances was what they had preached to them, that this Jesus, foretold in Scripture, lived, died, and rose to life and that He is God, and in Him is salvation to those who believe. Or are we now to conclude that only the literate attain to salvation?
He [Christ] merely taught His Message—His Gospel—to His disciples during His mortal human lifetime! But the Church of God was founded—was started—on the day of Pentecost, 31 A.D. ...
That's all Jesus did? Merely taught His gospel to the disciples? He never preached the "gospel" to the masses? He never healed people? He never raised anyone from the dead? He never performed miracles that proved He was the Messiah? The Son of God who was and is God? Could this line of reasoning be an example of Christ "bowing out" so that Moses could be focused on, being the moderator of the old covenant so as to give greater weight to the Sabbath and the rest of the law? It is a common ploy to accuse others of what one is guilty of themselves.
The Greek petra cannot mean the human Peter, but the glorified Christ! Speaking of the Israelites under Moses, in the wilderness, Paul writes: "...for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (I Cor. 10:4).
According to the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, "There is no example, in good authors, of [petra] in the sense of [petros]." On the contrary, petros is "distinguished from" petra.
In plain language, then, that petra was Christ-but the smaller stone, petros, or Kephas, was Simon Peter.
All we have established here is what we already knew... Jesus is the head of the church. If therefore Jesus is the true head of the church, then it should be by the words of Jesus to His followers, or some statement from His true apostles claiming to quote Him that we should find the evidence for Sabbath observance or any other Christian belief. We wouldn't go looking for the answer in the Old Testament would we? This is a New Testament matter.
Was Peter the head of the Church? What did Peter himself say? Peter, speaking of Christ and the Church, wrote as follows: "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion [the Church] a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (I Peter 2:6-8).
This verse is not implying that the chief corner stone is the "church." It refers to Jesus Christ. Those who rejected the cornerstone Jesus, what did they base their "house" on? Moses and the Law? Those that rejected Jesus did so because they continued in Moses and the Law given through Moses, including the Sabbath.
The Church is described in Ephesians 2:20 as being "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [including Old Testament prophets], Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." Here Christ is plainly said to be the Chief, or Head.
The real foundation of the Church is Christ. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 3:11).
Again then, it should be established that Jesus Christ is the authority, and all other authorities (the prophets) are in subjection to Jesus Christ, not superseding Him, such as Moses and the Law given through Moses.
So the True New Testament Church of God was founded by Jesus Christ—not the Apostle Peter. It was the resurrected, Living Christ, after His ascension to God's throne in Heaven, who actually founded the Church. It was on the day of Pentecost, 31 A.D. On that day, Christ, as He had promised (John 16:7), sent the Holy Spirit to enter into His disciples, thus baptizing—or plunging them into, the Church.
The author has gone to great lengths to establish Jesus as the founder of the church, and that Peter serves in the role of administrator. That Jesus is the founder is not the issue, however. When the controversy arose over circumcision, the issue was brought to the church in Jerusalem. (Acts 15) Peter made a determination that Gentiles were not required to keep circumcision and were not required to keep the Law of Moses, which contains the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath command. The difference being that Peter and the other apostles and church agreed in their conclusion. By showing that Peter was never the head of the church in the capacity to make the observance of Sunday for Christians, the author pulls the carpet out from under those that would claim that he or a successor could. But then, the author goes and does essentially the same thing, but in the other direction; i.e., Jesus as the Christ did not command Sabbath observance, but Jesus as God of the O.T. did, hence it should carry over to Christianity. This logic is as flawed as the logic used to prove Sunday observance. HWA taught that the Ten Commandments were not a part of the Law of Moses referenced in Acts 15, and that the Ten Commandments were a separate covenant. This construct falls apart when you realize it was the book of the law that was ratified, and not the tablets of stone, and the book of the law, also called in Scripture the book of the Law of Moses, contained the Ten Commandments.
The receiving of God's Spirit begets one with God-life—makes him partaker of "the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). Such are begotten children of God—and such compose the Church of God. When actually born, immortal, by resurrection or instantaneous change to immortality at Christ's coming, this Church of God will become the Kingdom of God! "
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (I John 3:2)
"Now" we are the sons of God, and not later, and not just "begotten" but now born; born of the Holy Spirit. HWA taught Christians were not yet "born" of God, but rather merely "begotten" now, and subject to spontaneous abortion should we fail to qualify for eternal life after becoming Christian. This teaching only served to keep the people who followed him off balance, always worried about their salvation, and therefore pliant to his will. A Christian is saved now. A Christian has taken hold of eternal life now:
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. - 1 John 5:12
It would also be more correct to say that the Church (i.e. Christians) enter into the Kingdom of God, not become it. The Kingdom of God already exists. (Col. 1:13)
His laws and His decrees determine your happiness, well-being and success here and now—and your fate for eternity!
But what of those who are successful and happy here and now who do not keep the Sabbath or the rest of the O.T. laws and decrees? And, does love fulfill the law, or not? (Rom. 13:10)
The author has once again thrown a claim out without any support for it, simply to produce fear in the reader.
The Eternal God created the entire universe—He set in motion, and sustains, and controls, every power and force and energy. He rules His creation. And the laws He set in living motion determine your well-being or lack of it. Oh, yes, He is in the picture!
Stop and think a moment. We are made to take a leap in logic from physical laws of the universe to laws God gave to Israel as being equal, and therefore equally immutable; i.e., since you cannot do away with gravity, you cannot do away with the Sabbath and other laws. It is as I warned at the beginning of this article: beware of rationalizations that are lacking in logic or fact. If you take this line of reasoning out to its logical conclusion, Christians should be performing sacrifices and circumcising their sons on the eighth day.
Who determines what is sin—and just what difference does it make?
Most people do not know what sin is. ..But that could be very costly ignorance! The first thing you need to get settled in your mind is this: The Living God of all power does not allow us to decide what is sin. He determines what is sin, and compels you to decide whether to sin!
God determines what is sin, but God is not arbitrary in what he decides is and is not sin. Does God want us to be motivated by fear and dread? Is this truly the first thing we need to settle in our minds?
Sin is doing what God says is harmful and injurious to you—and/or others!
This definition of sin is only partially accurate. There is much more to sin as defined in the Ten Commandments. Unbelief is sin (Rom. 14:23); all unrighteousness is sin (I John 5:17); a neglect to do good is sin (James 4:17); drunkenness is sin (Gal. 5:21); pride is sin (Mark 7:22), etc.
Sin is doing what deprives you of God's blessings—peace, happiness, security, abundant and joyful living, as a condition to God's supreme gift of eternal life!
Jesus said that His followers would be persecuted as He was. Does the New Testament anywhere guarantee a Christian all these things, at all times, in this life? And what exactly is/are the "conditions" to eternal life mentioned here?
The question of which day is directly concerned with your connection with God! And that is directly connected with your welfare here and now, and your eternity. It makes a tremendous difference to God!
Again, the possibility of no day being required is omitted. The argument has been reduced to whether the day should be Saturday or Sunday. Is either the Sabbath or Sunday "directly concerned with your connection with God?" Are we connected to God only if we keep a certain day? Were the Gentile converts keeping the Ten Commandments when they received the Holy Spirit, such as Cornelius? Did the Law of Moses define what was sin? Were the Gentiles required to keep any of the law, including the Ten Commandments after God gave them His Holy Spirit? If so, where is the evidence? It does not exist.
It is also interesting to note that when the subject came up concerning Gentile converts being circumcised and adherence to the Law of Moses, there was a division. (Acts 15) Jesus did not address this during His earthly ministry, yet arguably it is of great importance. The church was given the decision to make with the help of the events that had occurred after the ascension of Jesus. It would appear then that Jesus gave authority to His church with the knowledge that they would make the right decisions with the help of His Holy Spirit.
So now let us see what Christ, through the bible, says about which is the day to keep in this New Testament era—and whether it makes any difference?
If we are truly going to look at the evidence in the New Testament era, would we look for the answer in the Old Testament era?