Adventists and Sunday worship

Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and Baptists have something in common: All three denominations offer one of their doctrines in their name. Can a Baptist forget the truth of baptism by immersion? Can a Methodist forget their methodical spiritual disciplines? Similarly, I've often wondered how a Seventh-day Adventist could forget the history of the Seventh-day Sabbath.

The Sabbath is a time that we get to put down our work-load so that we can show love to others, commune together, and learn about God. The day is written in our name, “Seventh-day Adventist”. How can something be forgotten that is remembered each week?

Roughly two thousand years ago, there may have been a group asking that same question. The faithful followers of Jesus may have pointed to the law and questioned why so many were forgetting the 4th commandment. (Exodus 20:8) George Ide Butler writes about the loss of the Seventh-day Sabbath in his book The Change of the Sabbath:

After the death of the apostles, during the second century, we find some voluntary regard being paid to Sunday, with Good Friday and other festival days, for which no command of Scripture was ever assigned, and later on, “custom” was quoted as additional evidence. Subsequently some held religions meetings upon it, and finally the Catholic Church favored it, calling it the Lord’s day, about A. D. 200. At last Constantine, a heathen, passed a law (AD. 321) commanding a portion of the people to rest from labor on 'the venerable day of the sun.' This heathen law was the first ever made requiring cessation from labor on Sunday.

A voluntary regard was paid for Sunday worship that eventually was favored, and finally passed as law. Could this progression of events happen in our day? Could a voluntary regard for Sunday become favored, and even passed as a law (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 3:15)?

In a recent article from Alabama local news, the Huntsville First Seventh-day Adventist church has started a “bit shorter, more informal and more focused” service on Sundays. The Huntsville Adventist church isn’t the only church to initiate this Sunday worship practice. The Atlanta Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church has also started Sunday services as well (see inserts below). Do you suppose that a similar method may have been used two thousand years ago to ruin a  faithful church?

Before we go any further, I want to separate a few things that are commonly tied together.

  1. Church attendance doesn’t make the Sabbath day holy.
  2. We should be communing with God every day of the week including Sunday.
  3. Going in to a church on a day other than Saturday is not a sin.

So, is going to Adventist church services on Sunday a bad idea? Many Adventists have searched Ellen White’s writings for an answer to these questions and found that in Testimonies Vol 9 she states:

Sunday can be used for carrying forward various lines of work that will accomplish much for the Lord. On this day open-air meetings and cottage meetings can be held. House-to-house work can be done. Those who write can devote this day to writing their articles. Whenever it is possible, let religious services be held on Sunday. Make these meetings intensely interesting. Sing genuine revival hymns, and speak with power and assurance of the Savior’s love. Speak on temperance and on true religious experience.

However, scholars are quick to point out that Ellen White never mentioned that the Sunday church meetings were to be held in the church sanctuary: “On this day open-air meetings and cottage meetings can be held… let religious services be held on Sunday.“ In this paragraph she is specifically speaking of the ones in the cottages or open air for evangelistic purposes.

It’s also good to look at the context of the entire chapter from which this paragraph is taken. At the very beginning of this chapter, when she starts writing about holding meetings on Sunday, she is giving instruction on what to do when one is persecuted by required rest laws that are passed for Sunday. She states, “I will try to answer your question as to what you should do in the case of Sunday laws being enforced.” Then, she speaks of religious services in open-air meetings and cottages.

Ellen White is not trying to make the point that we should start creating Sunday church services where we dress up in what some call their “Sunday best”. The point of her letter is to, “Give them no occasion to call you lawbreakers.” In other words, it’s okay to stop working on Sunday and teach others the truths that are imperative for the crisis that is coming. Do this outside of the church, in the open air, a cottage, or anywhere that would not make it appear as if one is confusing God’s law or breaking a Sunday law. This will provide more time to spread the gospel instead of becoming tied up in court.

If our church founders believed that our members should attend church on Sunday, but keep Saturday holy, then they would have established the Seventh-day Adventist Sunday worship service with an emphasis on Saturday holiness. Let’s remember the Adventist church is a peculiar people, set apart from the rest. Conforming to the ways of the world is not God’s way (Matthew 16:24).

Establishing a Sunday service in an Adventist church is reminiscent of another church in Atlanta, GA. In 1996 Alex Bryan, established Sunday services in the New Community Fellowship church to try to reach the young adult community. However, this method resulted in a now non-denominational Sunday-observing church that still meets today. As the conference administration considered Alex Bryan’s termination, Alex resigned in 2002 from the Seventh-day Adventist church and remained independent. After five years, Alex Bryan was picked up by Walla Walla SDA University and is now their Church Pastor and the chairman of the board of The One Project. For more information about The One Project, check out the series called Omega Emerging, Operation Iceberg.

It’s sad to say that I can now see how easily a Seventh-day Adventist can forget their religious history and can lead others into dangerous territory. Let’s continue in prayer for our Adventist brothers and sisters, in Christ, that are dealing with this issue in their churches around the world.

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