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.
It has been 11 years since I first critiqued this booklet, and in the intervening years, I have learned much more about the subject of the Sabbath. Therefore, I have decided to rewrite my critique of this article written by Herbert Armstrong.
Since his death, now 30 years ago, quite a number of splinter groups have developed, all claiming to be heir to the Armstrong legacy, and many of them have produced their own Sabbath articles that tend to follow the outline of Armstrong's booklet.
In the title of the booklet, we find a loaded question; a method of deception. The unspoken premise is that there exists a Christian Sabbath, and that this article will reveal which day it is. If the author were being honest with the reader, the question would have been stated more honesty, asking, "Is there a Christian Sabbath?" But the question as stated serves a purpose. It weeds out those educated and knowledgeable in Christianity on this subject, so that those who are left are those easily influenced by deceptive logic and reasoning. This is Armstrong's target audience: people who are not well educated when it comes to the meat and potatoes of Christianity. When he is through, their education will be slanted and biased in his favor.
Over the course of time I have been out of the Sabbatarian based theology, I have learned that there are rules to proper biblical study and interpretation, and methods employed in deceptions and deceptive reasoning. Instead of producing a list of these things here, they will be touched on throughout the critique. I would like to mention up front that while attending Ambassador, the students were never exposed to any proper method of Systematic Theology and hermeneutics. Armstrong had the absolute say as to the interpretation of Scripture.
"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.
By William Hohmann (former WCG member; graduate of Ambassador College)
Exit & Support Network™
Originally posted July 25, 2005
Rewritten February 2016
Note: Throughout this critique, Herbert Armstrong's words will be indented. Not all of HWA's words from the book are quoted.
There is a preface statement right before this chapter begins that says in part: "Does the Bible establish Sunday as the Lord's day? Was the Sabbath given for the Jewish people only - while Christians are commanded to keep Sunday as the Lord's day?"
This sounds innocuous enough, but again, the language is being loaded. Christians are not commanded to keep any day. This is not a case of either/or, which is but one of many methods employed in deceptive reasoning. The apostle Paul writes of Christian Liberty, and the freedom to esteem a day to God, or not.
Armstrong starts off chapter 1 with a statement designed to instill fear and phobia in the reader. You could be committing a sin resulting in a death sentence without even knowing about it. You could end up condemned over something you are ignorant about. You need to educate yourself so as to avoid being condemned by a loving God for your ignorance, and Armstrong is here to guide you and see to it that you do not end up dead for all eternity. How altruistic. How caring and concerned he is for your spiritual welfare. Surely, he has no ulterior motive. Yet I am reminded here of the movie, "The Music Man" where the con-artist uses the situation of a new pool hall in town as a means of claiming there is trouble brewing, and he is there to help prevent the inevitable, should the conditions extant with their youth go on unchecked.
Inducing fear and phobia then is a method used to deceive and mislead people to act in a desired manner and response. Many people at this juncture will admit their ignorance on the subject at hand, and conclude it is better to err on the side of doing something, even if maybe wrong or unnecessary, than to continue on and risk suffering the consequences of inaction.
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. (p. 7)
One of the offshoots led by one of Armstrong's leading ministers created a Sabbath article using this same claim. I contacted them and asked for the historical documents and sources they used. They responded and informed me that they did not have access to the source material used by the author. In other words, they did not know where the author came up with this information, but they did not question its validity. It did not appear to bother them any that they had a claim in their Sabbath article that they could not back up as true. But again, statements like this serve a purpose; to cull out those who are thinking for themselves, for what they seek after are those who accept what is told to them without question. They seek minions who will accept things as though they are self-evident. People who think for themselves are troublesome, and once within the system, independent thought is suppressed through a number of means.
It was Hitler that championed the concept of "The Big Lie." The bigger the lie; the more outrageous the claim, the more likely people are going to believe it, without question. The result is the acquisition of an army of minions who will follow you loyally.
Armstrong then proceeds to list arguments and reasons people might raise in order to balk at keeping the Sabbath, yet his listing out of these questions is nothing more than an elaborate straw-man argument; a logical fallacy, again designed to deceive and mislead. The real questions are conspicuously absent from this tirade.
"Anyway," one may reason in conclusion, "what possible difference can it make WHICH day, or WHETHER we observe it?" These questions -- and more -- must be answered! And will be, in this booklet. (p. 10)
Armstrong never addresses the issue of "whether" in this booklet. The debate is reduced to one of two choices; Sunday or the Sabbath. Sunday is the straw-man in this argument, and once Sunday is knocked down, the Sabbath will be left standing, uncontested and the winner, without ever having to stand on its own merit. Another method of deception is to focus on some triviality so as to take the focus off of what is really important. If we are to keep the Sabbath, then we should be examining what the Bible has to say about the Sabbath, and not be distracted by discussing another day.
Armstrong demands "By what AUTHORITY do Christians observe Sunday; . . ." The implication being that there must needs be a command from God for everything we do, and not do. Christian Liberty is reduced to some Orwellian liberty and freedom. You are "free" to keep the Sabbath, or perish.
Is there any authority for observing Friday, or Sunday, or Saturday? It certainly is apparent all do not recognize the same authority. (p. 10)
This begs the question, who or what is our authority? Shouldn't it be Jesus Christ? Do we find a specific command from Jesus to keep any day? Or do we have to resort to inference, assumption and rationalization in order to flesh it out? If keeping the Sabbath is a life or death matter for eternity, isn't there a reasonable expectation Jesus or the apostles would have covered this topic for those destined to become Christians, following Christ?
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. (p. 10)
Quite a claim. "Invisible" laws not only govern the Sabbath, but pretty much everything. What, exactly, is the "question" though? So far, he has not really stated a question beyond the "which day, Sunday or Saturday" question, when he also said he would be addressing the "if" question also. So his statement here is in fact rather vague. What I see as inferred is the question as to whether we should keep the Sabbath or not, with the Sabbath being prefaced with this claim regarding "law" looming over us; laws that are irresistible and absolute in their description.
There is again in this section of the booklet, a bit of fear and phobia indoctrination. Your eternity hangs in the balance in relation to "LAWS." I would like to remind the reader that there is a "law of faith" in Scripture, described as a law that leads to life, and this law is contrasted to another law that leads to death; whose fruit is death; a law the apostle Paul referred to as the ministration of death and condemnation, engraven in stone (II Corinthians 3:7). What law set in Scripture do we find engraven in stone?
So first of all, we must settle once and for all, WHAT, or WHO, is the SUPREME AUTHORITY before whom we shall stand in judgment. Does such authority explain WHY it makes a difference -- and what are the consequences for disobedience or neglect? (p. 11)
Our authority should be the Author of life, Jesus. We should be looking then to what He had to say in relation to the Sabbath. There are two things of note I will mention here for the reader to dwell on:
1) In relation to the Sabbath, Jesus said to the people that they should not judge according to appearance, but to judge righteous judgment, and:
2) That it is lawful to do well (good) on the Sabbath as contrasted to doing evil.
Armstrong, and other Sabbatarians, seek to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the law and the Sabbath so as to preserve the Sabbath as given in the law by claiming there is no conflict; that Jesus upheld the law in all respects, especially the Sabbath. Yet this is quite a departure from the law, for the law commanded that no one was to do "any" work. What modern Sabbatarians do in this regard is to resort to what I like to call "Clintonian semantics" by claiming "any" doesn't really mean "any," citing the example of pulling an ox out of a ditch. This, however, complies with what Jesus said and taught regarding doing good works on the Sabbath, despite the law's prohibition against "any" work. It is an example of judging righteous judgment, as contrasted to judging according to appearance, which by contrast must be defined as unrighteous judgment. What happens here as a consequence is that righteous judgment is not always practiced as a result of a legalistic Sabbatarian paradigm. All too often, a work is judged good or evil, not based on its own merit, but by whether said work is performed on a Sabbath or not; the opposite of what Jesus said and taught. But what Jesus actually said and taught is inconsistent with the desire to maintain a Sabbath requirement, so what Jesus had to say gets redefined; another method employed in deceptions. What I want the reader to keep in mind here is the admonition of Jesus to judge righteous judgment, looking to the heart and intent of heart, and not according to appearance; unrighteous judgment. For one ensconced in a Sabbatarian paradigm, it can be a very difficult concept to accept, but even when it comes to the Sabbath, God judges righteous judgment, which is why Jesus could declare that good works are lawful on the Sabbath, as contrasted to evil works.
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. (p. 11)
Does the reader realize the back story to this? The Protestant Reformation was making the claim that they believed in Sola Scriptura as the basis for their beliefs, and not a combination of Biblical and Catholic dogma for their religious convictions. Those within the Catholic church responded with this claim in order to make the case that the Protestants were not Sola Scriptora when it came to Sunday worship, claiming Sunday worship to be their creation. The Protestants called bluff on the Catholic claim, as put forth in the Augsburg Confession, where the Catholics were reminded that the early church was observing Sunday worship long before there was a Catholic church, and that there were sound biblical reasons for doing so. But Armstrong sees no reason do delve so deeply into the facts of history on this matter. What serves his purpose is the claim, regardless of its validity.
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 the edicts of men. (p. 11)
Who is this ecclesiastical authority? Why would Armstrong neglect to inform us of the identity of this authority? Simple, really... he is citing himself. He is his own authority. He is his own witness. He claims Sunday observance is an edict of men in accusatory language. Christian Liberty is again seen as Orwellian in nature. But stop and think.... something Armstrong doesn't want in his followers. Is there something wrong with worshiping God on a Sunday, or resting? How about a Monday? Or are we only "free" in our Christian Liberty to worship God or rest only one day a week? Did Abraham, the father of the faithful, only worship or rest on the Sabbath? And what of Jesus' statement regarding worshiping in spirit and in truth? [John 4:23-24] If this were something coming about as the context shows, then what was worship before then and up to that point? Worship was done as a matter of compulsion, dictated by the day and location. So if Armstrong is dictating the day and the location, that being within his church on the Sabbath, then how is this worshiping in spirit and in truth?
There is one other issue in relation to this discussion, and that is the wording Armstrong uses here: "observance." In what way were the people commanded to observe the Sabbath? Were they to observe it as a day of rest or cessation of labor, or were they to observe it as a day of corporate worship, or both? Armstrong is being intentionally vague on this point, for he will resort to playing it both ways, depending on need. Yet the Bible did not require or command corporate worship on the Sabbath, for the law demanded that the people remain in their dwellings on that day, even though the day was described as being a holy convocation. That too gets redefined to mean only a gathering. The term designated the understanding that the people were seen as being in the presence of God on that day, and no one can be in the presence of God and be sinning. What is conveniently overlooked in this regard is that God declared that their works were evil "even from their youth." More on this topic and concept later.
The claim is that a succession of human ecclesiastical leaders has replaced the authority of Jesus Christ. (p. 11)
No, that is not the claim; that is Armstrong's accusation. A false accusation, that ignores the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ. If anything, Armstrong rejects the authority of Jesus Christ in favor of the old covenant law, given to a stiff-necked, rebellious and faithless people.
Can you PROVE, also, that THE HOLY BIBLE is the very authoritative WORD OF GOD -- His inspired Message and instruction Book to all mankind -- the SOLE INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY, by which humanity shall be JUDGED? (pp. 11-12)
Herein lies a false claim; that it is by the Book all mankind will be judged. The Book reveals that it will be Jesus who judges mankind, and not the Book itself. What Armstrong is setting up here though is the idea that all mankind will be judged and condemned for not keeping the Sabbath, which command is located within the confines of the old covenant; a legally binding accord or contract between the two parties, God and Israel of old, and no others. So what Armstrong is leading up to here is that you are going to be judged by God for breaking the conditions of a covenant law you are neither a legal party to, and a covenant that ended. Is God going do deal with mankind illegally like that?
Armstrong then proceeds to spend a great deal of verbiage establishing that it is Jesus who is the founder and head of the church, the church being a spiritual organism, and not a church building or church corporate; all are baptized into one body. (p. 15)
On page 16, he states a Christian is a "begotten" child of God. This is distinct from being a born child of God; a concept Armstrong rejects, for such a concept does not serve his purpose, keeping people dependent upon him as their spiritual leader and adviser. If you believe your salvation is not secure, that you could possibly "abort," you will remain compliant, subject to him and his interpretations. But Scripture reveals that Christians are indeed now born of God, no longer subject to spiritual death or separation from God. Our future change is one of putting off a corrupt body for a spiritual incorruptible body, and not a birth. You can read the narrative of this in I Corinthians chapter 15.
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." - Romans 8:14
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." - 1 John 3:1
"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." - 1 John 3:2
So we have found the one and ONLY infallible AUTHORITY to settle this Sabbath question once and for all!
That SUPREME AUTHORITY is Jesus Christ, and His written Word, THE BIBLE. (p. 16)
Jesus indeed is the authority we should turn to. And the Bible needs to be taken in context. As this is the case, would it make sense then to go looking for answers back in the Old Testament writings? Wouldn't what Jesus had to say and teach in regard to the Sabbath be sufficient?
God Almighty put humanity on earth for a PURPOSE! His laws and His decrees determine your happiness, well-being and success here and now -- and your fate for eternity!" (p. 16)
Which of His laws and decrees? Old covenant laws and decrees? Was all mankind made a legal party to that old covenant? Let's examine a possible scenario that fits Armstrong's interpretation of this and see if it holds true. You are a woman, married to an abusive husband. The law says you cannot divorce your husband unless one of you commits adultery. Your husband has not committed adultery, so you, as an abused wife, are happy and content, seeing as you are living in obedience to the law and decrees.
On page 17, Armstrong now turns his attention to sin, using his typical flowery writing style, full of capital letters and italic print for emphasis. We don't have the right to determine what is sin and not sin. Only God determines what is sin, and reminds us that the penalty for sin is death, for all eternity. He doesn't bother to tell or remind his readers the good news in this regard; that Christ came and paid that penalty for us. I guess he didn't get the memo. As a result of His sacrifice, the believer is described as dead to sin, and freed from sin.
SIN is doing what GOD SAYS is harmful and injurious to you -- and / or others! 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! (p. 17)
Thankfully, when it comes to the Sabbath issue then, Jesus informs us that it is lawful and not a sin to do good works on the Sabbath. Are your works good, or evil? Good thing that God's inspired, written Word informs us that a Christian's works are wrought in God, and that which is wrought in God cannot be sin, regardless of the day. (John 3:21) If, however, you conclude a good work is sin if performed on a sabbath, how is this not a case of judging according to appearance?
How comforting also to know that Christians are described as being dead to the law and dead to sin, neither having any power whatsoever over the Christian believer. What sort of man then would seek to resurrect you back to sin and the law, opening you back up to the condemnation of that law?
I would also ask the reader to look carefully at what Armstrong wrote here. What is it that is a condition to God's gift of eternal life? The gift has conditions? If so, then it is no longer a gift; it is a payment. Further, the grammar looks like he is saying sin is the condition! Armstrong is simply rambling along, trying to scare his readers into submission.
Yes, the Living Jesus Christ -- and the Holy Bible -- constitute the sole Supreme AUTHORITY to settle this question once and for all! 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. (p. 17)
Any pretense that Armstrong was going to address the issue of whether we are required to keep the Sabbath has now been conveniently dropped.
Now, please pay close attention to the first sentence quoted above. Both (the two of them) Jesus and the Bible constitute the "sole" supreme authority. Does the reader get the implication here? The two of them constitute one authority. Guess which "half" of this "sole" authority will take precedence in this mix when it comes to what mankind is supposed to be doing? If you work from the assumption both Jesus and the Bible (which will be redefined to mean the old covenant law) are in agreement, then there will be no conflict in your mind. You might as well tear the pages out of your Bible where Jesus is actually in conflict with the law, despite what you have been taught.
Furthermore, is your connection and relationship with God dependent on one day a week? Does God dwell within the believer, or not? Or does God abandon the believer for six days a week?
Jesus Christ is the Living personal Word of God. And the Holy Bible is the written Word of God, by which CHRIST speaks to you! Christ is the active HEAD of the only True Church. We have found the Supreme AUTHORITY!" (p. 17)
There is just enough vagary here to leave things open to a great deal of interpretation. Indeed, Christ speaks to us through the pages of the Bible, but not everything written in the Bible is addressed to all mankind. And what does Armstrong mean here with the term "the only True Church"? He said earlier the church constituted the Christian collective. This usage appears to imply a "True Church" corporate. If this is about the Christian collective, there would be no need to preface the statement with them being "True."
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. (p. 17)
Without any explanation, the possibility of a day not being required has been dismissed entirely. There was no examination of the evidence for or against this possibility regarding the New Testament dispensation.
Armstrong's approach here has not been a scholarly, or intellectual and methodical as it should be. His methodology has been an appeal to emotion and psychological extortion.
Now, if we are going to determine what Christ has to say about the Sabbath and its impact on the New Testament era, would we go looking for answers to this in the Old Testament era and dispensation?
The hook has now been baited, with a combination of threats of severe punishment (death) and incredible blessings from God in relation to which day Christians are supposed to be observing; two potent baits that are nearly irresistible to people. The avoidance of a terrible fate should one not respond, and something of great value to be gained. Now comes the time to "dangle the bait" and see who bites.