Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sabbath Day

The Sabbath Day, the first day of the week, is a topic that separates and defines true Christian believers from the rest of the world. The Muslims worship on Friday. The Jews worship on Saturday. The Christian practice of worshiping on Sunday dates to Christ's resurrection, and has been authenticated through modern revelation as part of the Restoration. When our son Jake was serving in Brazil on his mission, he encountered the question of which day is designated as the Sabbath while he was teaching some Seventh-day Adventists.

June 22, 2003

Dear Jake:

You talked about the special lesson you and Elder Lopes presented to some of your Seventh-day Adventist friends about the Sabbath. Here again, if you will just remember that everything doctrinal can be turned to Joseph Smith and the Restoration, there is a simple line of logic to follow. If the apostasy occurred; if priesthood authority ceased to exist sometime in the first century A.D. through the death of the apostles in Christ’s Church; if Christian practices became corrupted thereafter, including which day was proper to observe the Sabbath; if there was a need for the restoration through the Prophet Joseph; if God and Christ really appeared to him; if the Church was really restored, then Sunday – the first day of the week – is the proper day of Sabbath worship because that’s what God and Christ revealed to Joseph Smith.

And, oh by the way, here’s The Book of Mormon to prove God really was in the Restoration. Sometimes we are tempted to engage in "Bible bashing" to prove a doctrinal point, but you must reject the temptation to take up the challenge. It’s all about the Restoration, and each convert must be challenged to test its truth. Failing to convince your potential converts of that line of reasoning, here are some additional thoughts on the topic.

The Sabbath has several purposes. It is a holy day specified in the scriptures as a day not only of rest but also of worship. The word sabbath is derived from the Hebrew shabbath, meaning “to break off” or “to desist,” and in this can be seen the idea of rest.

“Rest,” however, does not simply mean idleness; it signifies rather a change of emphasis. “Keeping the Sabbath day holy,” means to cease or to rest from the secular labors of the week and to use the specified day in worshiping God and doing good to our fellow beings. It is a day designed for spiritual works and refreshment as compared to the secular endeavors of the other six days of the week.

The scriptures speak of many dimensions of the Sabbath. For example, one mention of the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16:23, and has to do with instructions for the Israelites to gather a double amount of manna the day before the Sabbath so that such labor should not be performed on the Sabbath.

However, Exodus 20:8-11 and 31:12-17, deal with a different aspect of the Sabbath and emphasize that the Lord rested on the seventh day after having created the world. This reconfirms the event told in Genesis 2:1-3, reminding us God initiated the Sabbath in the very beginning. True believers from the time of Adam knew about the sacredness of the Sabbath day, although the Bible is not very clear on this point. Here again, there is evidence of tampering with the sacred texts, as Nephi reminds us – some plain and precious truths were lost. (1 Nephi 13:23-42). The scriptures appear to establish the Sabbath at the time of Moses, but this is probably due more to an incompleteness of the earlier record than to an absence of teaching at the time of the early patriarchs.

Still another dimension is shown after the exodus from Egypt, wherein the Sabbath is used to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from bondage. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). And in the last days the Lord has explained that another purpose of the Sabbath is “that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world” by keeping it holy in the way he has commanded us. (D&C59:9).

In New Testament times, which is where your Adventist friends are hung up, the Sabbath day was called the “Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10) and was observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. With the Restoration came the knowledge directly from the Lord that the Sabbath is “my holy day” in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on Sunday, August 7, 1831. (D&C 59:9-10). Here’s the best key to help Bible lovers understand the true identity of Jesus. Since Jesus is Jehovah, the Creator and the Old Testament God of Israel, these different aspects of the Sabbath all bear witness of the same Lord Jesus Christ but emphasize different features of his ministry.

When the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking ears of corn on the Sabbath, Jesus explained to the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Wherefore the Sabbath was given unto man for a day of rest; and also that man should glorify God, and not that man should not eat; For the Son of Man made the Sabbath day, therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” (JST, Mark 2:25-27). Not only does this manifest a practical view of the Sabbath, it also illustrates its multiple nature. (1) The Sabbath is for man’s benefit; (2) it is a day of rest; (3) it is a day of worship; and (4) Jesus is the maker of the Sabbath and is the Lord thereof in any age of the world.

Proper observance of the Sabbath is a sign and even a test that distinguishes the covenant people of the Lord from those who follow the ways of the world. (See Exodus 31:13-18; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Isaiah 56:1-8; Isaiah 58:13-14; Jeremiah 17:19-27). In this respect, it is not merely private, but outward public worship that demonstrates an inward commitment to Christ’s atonement. It serves a purpose similar to the Word of Wisdom and tithing, which soon divide the believers from the nonbelievers in their performance.

Sabbath observance is more than simply staying at home and thinking about Christ one day of the week or enjoying the glories of His creation fishing on lakes and streams or hiking in the mountains. It also involves public worship. It was and is a day for the believers to meet together for worship and for instruction. The New Testament informs us that Jesus, “as his custom was,” frequently went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. (Luke 4:16).

The most extensive revelation in the current dispensation that deals with the Sabbath day is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants Section 59. In this communication the Lord emphasizes the public nature of Sabbath worship by indicating that one should “go to the house of prayer” on the Lord’s holy day and “pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (D&C 59:9-10).

The Sabbath has eternal significance. The Old Testament declares the Sabbath is to be observed as a “perpetual covenant” (see Exodus 31:13-17). The passage does not mean it should be forever on the same day. Rather, the Sabbath is a covenant for eternity — has eternal significance — and is needed by mortals in every generation for their frequent spiritual rejuvenation.

You mentioned your earlier reluctance to go to Church after a late Saturday night. Overcoming the natural man certainly is one reason God introduced the law of the Sabbath. It is evident from the Bible that the sacred day was the seventh day of the week during Old Testament times, whereas in the New Testament it was observed on the first day of the week by the church after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

Traditionally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recognized Sunday as the day of worship, according to the pattern given in Doctrine and Covenants 59. However, in the Middle East today, some branches of the Church still observe the Sabbath on days other than Sunday, consistent with the custom of the countries in which they are located. This is necessary so public meetings can be held at a time when the members of the Church can be present.

Since the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath, with its purpose not only to be a day of rest for the individual, but also to be a day of spiritual instruction and public worship, it is important that the Sabbath day be observed at a time when the people can attend. The significant fact seems not to be which day is observed so much as how and why the day is observed and that the local group of believers observe the same day each week.

In the Church, the matter of Sabbath-day observance is settled easily. The form of worship -- the timing and selection of meeting formats has changed throughout the years. We now have a three-hour block of meetings that differs from the practice of the Church in former years. But one thing remains constant. Fourteen successors to the Prophet Joseph Smith, including today’s [then] living President Gordon B. Hinckley [and including Thomas S. Monson, his successor] have all set Sunday as the proper day, establishing the latter-day pattern.

The important issue, once again, is priesthood authority arising from the Prophet of the Restoration. Either Joseph Smith is God’s prophet or he isn’t. If he is the prophet, seer, and revelator, and the Lord’s representative on earth, Sunday is the proper day. When rare exceptions to the established day have seemed necessary, as noted above, the proper priesthood authority is able to make the decision.

Hope that helps clarify some things for you. Remember the key is always the Restoration – turn all the questions to this one: Either Joseph was a prophet who spoke with God or he wasn’t. We declare that he is God’s prophet and we invite you to make the same discovery. Don’t argue with us over various doctrinal issues – here’s The Book of Mormon. Read it, pray about it and ask God to reveal its truth to you personally, then we don’t have to argue any more.

Love, Dad

1 comment:

  1. What a great and comprehensive letter to your son on the subject.

    My parents are currently living in the Middle East, and every Friday they attend Church at their local ward and treat it just as they would Sunday here in Australia. There's actually a stake there (Manama Bahrain Stake), that consists of wards and branches spread over quite a few countries.

    Additionally, in some places like Hong Kong there are a number of church services on weekdays for expatriate church members from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia who are employed in professions as helpers or nannies. Their employers usually dictate what day during the week they will have off, and quite often it's not a Sunday. There a large amount of wonderful Senior Missionary Couples who serve there in those branches and so these weekday Church services can operate.