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Should we gather on Saturday or Sunday?

Should we gather together for corporate worship on Saturday or Sunday?
Should we gather together for corporate worship on Saturday or Sunday?

Why do we worship corporately on Sunday instead of Saturday? I’ve been asked this a number of times.

With Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, a transition took place between the Old and New Covenants. Both covenants were instituted with blood. The Old with the blood of an animal and the New with the blood of Christ. Consider the parallelism between describing the instituting of both covenants:

  • Exodus 24:8 Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”
  • Luke 22:20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

With the institution of the New Covenant, a transition took place. From the seventh day of the week to the first. From Saturday to Sunday. Primarily this happened in honor of Christ’s resurrection.

Sunday is emphasized in the New Testament.

The phrase “first day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament:

  • Six times in the Gospels (Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, 9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, 19).
  • Once in Acts identifying the day the early church met. Acts 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
  • Once when Paul encourages believers to set aside something to give financially. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. More than likely Paul told them to set their collections aside on the first day of the week, because that’s when they gathered for worship.

If all we had was Acts 20:7 saying the early church met on the first day of the week, that alone would be enough to encourage corporate worship on Sundays.

  • John MacArthur said, The writings of the early church Fathers confirm the church continued to meet on Sunday after the close of the NT period.”[1]
  • Matthew Henry said, “The first day of the week is to be observed by all the disciples of Christ; and it is a sign between Christ and them.[2]

The Sabbath is not emphasized in the New Testament.

But there’s also the de-emphasizing of the seventh day in the rest of the New Testament. “First day of the week” occurs eight times in the New Testament, but “seventh day of the week” never occurs. But understandably we’d expect it to be called “Sabbath” instead. Consider:

  • The Sabbath is mentioned in the Gospels, because the transition to the first day had not yet taken place.
  • When the Sabbath is mentioned in Acts it’s associated with the practice of Jews who have not yet embraced Christ, but it’s never associated with the practice or worship of the church.

After Acts, there’s only one mention of the Sabbath:

Colossians 2:16-17 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

This is the only time the Sabbath is mentioned – say nothing about commanded – after Acts. This fact alone would be unimaginable if believers were expected to keep the Sabbath. The epistles are the letters of instruction to the church. Wouldn’t there be at least one command for Christians? Instead, the one verse mentioning the Sabbath identifies it as a shadow pointing to Christ, while making the point you can’t judge people based on their view of it. Consider the absence of a verse saying, “Let no one judge you regarding forgiveness…love…prayer…service.” Why don’t we see verses like that? Because forgiveness, love, prayer, and service are commanded. The Sabbath is not.

Paul also downplays keeping the Sabbath in Romans. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” (Rom 14:5-6b).

If Paul thought the Sabbath should be observed, two things are inconceivable:

  • That he would write these verses in Romans and Colossians.
  • That there would be no verses mentioning the Sabbath elsewhere in the NT. Contrast the amount of instruction on prayer, love, forgiveness, serving, with the silence regarding keeping the Sabbath.

Gather corporately on the Lord’s Day.

Why is Sunday known as “the Lord’s Day”?

  • In Revelation 1:10 John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He’s probably referring to the first day of the week, which is why Sunday gained this title.
  • The more obvious reason is this is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

The early church met “on the first day of the week…to break bread.” The words “break bread” refer to communion as opposed to simply fellowship together.[3] As much as communion looks back to Christ’s death, it also looks forward to His return: 1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Why would they celebrate communion on the seventh day of the week when Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week? They wouldn’t. This is one other reason for meeting on the first day of the week.

With the transition from the Old to New Covenant, the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ. The same with other ceremonial portions of the Law, i.e. sacrifices, circumcision, festivals. The early church gathered on the first day of the week in honor of Christ’s resurrection, and we should too!

When you worship on the Lord’s Day, are you reminded of the Lord’s Resurrection? Do you have any questions about the Sunday worship, the Sabbath, or a believer’s relationship to the Law? Share your thoughts or questions below!

FOOTNOTES

[1] MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1477.

[2] Matthew Henry’s Commentary: In One Volume, p. 1716.

[3] You can see the that “breaking bread” is not the same as fellowship in Acts 2:42 where the two actions are distinguished from each other: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. In this verse “breaking bread.”

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7 thoughts on “Should we gather on Saturday or Sunday?

  1. The transition between the OT and the NT is not simply “from Saturday to Sunday.” There is much unspoken and implied by this statement that inspires me to clarify it. If we are talking about public worship and group assemblies, then the transition between the OT and the NT is the abandonment of the Jewish calendar system and instauration of weekly assembly of Christ’s disciples on the first day of the week. While the practice of weekly assembly shares the weekly cycle of the Sabbath, they are not the same thing. The paradigm for Christian services can be found in the Jewish synagogue, but the synagogue service in not based on any OT Sabbath law. Christians do not meet together because of the fourth commandment but because of apostolic tradition (NT law) based on the fulfilment of Mosaic calendar ceremonies, such as the resurrection fulfilling the first-day sheaf offering and the gift of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the first-day Feast of Weeks. The Lord designed the Jewish calendar to obsolesce with a final eighth-day Sabbath at the end of their year (eighth day=first day). It anticipated the over-abundance of eighth-day symbolism to supplant the symbolism of completion inherent in the seventh-day. The apostles did not pick the day out of a hat, the Lord chose the day thousands of years before them. The rest of the article (no pun intended) is fine.
    Christians are free to take a break any time they want or are able, but they are not free to be lazy. And “taking a rest” is not Sabbath-keeping, especially if one can move it around at will. Christians are free to gather in small groups any day of the week, but they are not free to avoid the assembly of a local congregation because their presence proclaims their unity with other believers in the body of Christ. They are one bread, and their participation in the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day is an outward expression of that truth. Much could be said to commend weekly fellowship on Sunday, but suffice it to say that if Christ is especially present where Christians are gathered together, then why would a Christ-follower stop following Him there?

    1. Terry,
      I hope people who read my post make it down to your comment.

      If you’ve got this on your site somewhere, you should put the link to it in the comment section. I’d be interested to read a more fully post from you on this topic.

  2. We were studying the need for corporate worship – on the Lord’s Day vs another day – and specifically what that looks like (in different cultures, times, etc). Stumbled on this and thought it interesting as we had never heard the concept of Wednesday worship associated to anything spiritual (have you?). Instead we’d appreciated a mid-week service of gathering and studying and fellowshipping together rather than leave a large gap – and value the casual atmosphere and ability to interact, etc… Interesting to see this historical view:

    The Didascalia (The Teaching of the Apostles) was written in 225AD and it is interesting to note that this document in article #2 & #3, it first talks about the Sunday worship with communion, then the midweek worship without communion:

    225 AD The Didascalia (The Teaching of the Apostles) 2 “The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week [Sunday] let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation [Lord’s Supper], because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven” (Didascalia 2).
    225 AD The Didascalia (The Teaching of the Apostles) 3. The apostles further appointed: On the fourth day of the week [Wednesday] let there be service: because on that day our Lord made the disclosure to them about His trial, and His suffering, and His crucifixion, and His death, and His resurrection; and the disciples were on account of this in sorrow. (Didascalia 3).

    1. Wow Summer, that’s really interesting about midweek gatherings and the discussion of communion.

      I think based on Acts 2:42 and Acts 20 (and some early church fathers’ writings) you can tell they weekly observed the Lord’s Supper, but I’ve never read anything about views of midweek activity.

  3. […] interesting consideration is that although corporate worship on the Lord’s Day is important, if that constitutes your involvement in the church you’ll be unable to obey many […]

  4. Interesting! You know, this family does the “six days you shall labor” thing. Not just labor, we also pack everything else in, too. Any playing, outreach, studying, whatever. By Sundays we are lucky not to be drooling on the shoulders next to us and snoring an obnoxious sounding melody during worship and sermon time! (I think it is only because of your interesting sermons and the phenomenal music we don’t!) Suffice it to say, by Sunday, we hit a wall and just want to rest. Of course there are times when this schedule gets rearranged because of someone’s work schedule or something. Then we try to pick up another day to rest. The whole thing is definitely a work in progress. I am open to learning more about all this but at the same time I remember the trouble my hubby and I had early on at a place that seemed to require attendance at EVERYTHING! This bad experience makes me a little hesitant. Still, I am very interested to learn more about how a day of rest should look. Just saying! 🙂

    1. Hi Lori,
      I think the Bible speaks pretty highly of rest, of course most obviously including even a day of rest in the Mosaic Covenant. Even God rested as an example for us (not because He was tired) in Gen 2:2-3. God even expected the land itself to receive a rest (Lev 25:4-12).

      I think resting is more an issue of faith and trust than anything else. I don’t know anyone who isn’t busy. By that, I don’t know anyone who says, “I have too much time on my hands.” It’s about trusting God will take care of things. It’s trusting if we take a time off to rest and/or worship God that things aren’t going to fall apart. Resting is probably as much about giving our lives, jobs, families, children, etc over to God and having faith He’ll take care of things.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!