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Did the New Testament Church Observe Sunday? - Part VI
Good News Magazine
April 1953
Volume: Vol III, No. 4
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Did the New Testament Church Observe Sunday? - Part VI
Herman L Hoeh   
Church of God

Born: 1928
Died: November 24, 2004
Ambassador College: 1947
Ordained: December 20, 1952
Office: Evangelist

Jesus promised to build HIS CHURCH. But the churches of this world are in utter confusion. They have lost the inspired, divinely instituted practices of Jesus which the original true New Testament church observed. Here's the TRUTH about Sunday.

   THE WORLD today is in utter confusion.
   Hundreds of church denominations, all professing to be the churches of Christ, are teaching different doctrines from those which Jesus commanded His church to observe and preach.
   The practice of the early church, recorded in Acts and described in the epistles, is woefully misunderstood by nearly every denomination.
   Did the original true church observe Sunday?
   This question is easy to solve. After the founding o f the New Testament church on Pentecost, there are only two recorded places in all the Biblical history of the early church where the first day of the week is mentioned. These are in Acts 20:7-14 and I Corinthians 16:1-5.

Sunday Mentioned in These Two Places

   The special value of these two records is that both concern Gentile converts, in Greece and Asia Minor particularly. No matter what the practice of Jewish converts, here is the record of history concerning the attitude of Gentile converts to Sunday.
   "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together" (Acts 20:7).
   At the time when this event occurred, each day began at sunset, not at midnight. It was centuries after the time of Christ that midnight became the common reckoning. The idea of reckoning from midnight to midnight came from Egypt and was not practiced in Asia Minor at this time (Ency. Bib., p. 1035).
   Here Luke relates that upon the first day of the week Sunday when the disciples came together "to break bread," Paul preached to them until midnight. Many lights were burning it was after dark. This places the events described in the hours after sunset of what is today called, Saturday night. This was not a daytime Sunday meeting at all, but a gathering held the preceding night. This couldn't have been a Sunday night meeting either, because if it were it would have been called at that time "the second day of the week," since days ended at sunset.
   At this night gathering Paul was "ready to depart on the morrow." After midnight, the disciples broke some bread to eat while Paul talked with them "even till the break of day." Then Paul departed on foot to meet his friends who were sailing by ship that same night, the first day of the week, to Assos verses 11-13)
   This was not a Sunday church service at all, but a special farewell meeting held after the Sabbath during the early hours of the night. The next morning, after having eaten bread, the apostle Paul spent Sunday walking to meet those who sailed that night around the isthmus to Assos in Asia Minor.
   The expression "break bread" does not imply communion. The breaking and eating of bread daily as a common meal is mentioned in Acts 2:46, also 27:35. They broke bread instead of cutting it as is done today, after which they ate and talked a long while (verse 11). This was not the passover (wrongly called communion service), because it was after the days of unleavened bread (Acts 20:6). The passover comes before the festival of unleavened bread.

What Was the Collection for the Saints on Sunday?

   In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the collection for the saints, the same charge as he gave to the churches of Galatia. This collection for the saints was altogether different from practices carried on in church Sunday morning. This misunderstood text has been the cause for many peculiar practices in Christianity down through the ages.
   Paul said this collection was for the saints. These saints were the poor at Jerusalem to whom Paul was going. He wrote in Romans 15:25-28 that it pleased the churches in Achaia, where the Corinthians were located, "to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." That contribution was fruit (verse 28). Paul's letter to the Corinthians explains how this contribution was to be carried out.
   After the sabbath was over, the first work of each Corinthian on Sunday was to lay in store, or store up by himself, the fruit according as God prospered every person, so that there would be no gathering of it when Paul came. Then the liberality was to be sealed and taken to Jerusalem by several men, even Paul himself, if necessary (I Cor. 16:4). THE APOSTLE BY COMMAND MAKES SUNDAY A DAY FOR GATHERING FRUIT A WORK DAY.
   The historical evidence of the Bible concerning the early church makes Sunday a work day, when one may, like Paul, take a long journey (he travelled nineteen miles to Assos), or travel in a boat, as Paul's friends did, or gather or harvest fruit. In neither of these places, nor in the account of the women at the tomb, is there the least evidence that Sunday was celebrated as a rest day or as the day in honor of the resurrection. It has been through misreading there texts that historians have supposed Sunday was observed in the early church.

Which Days the Church Observed

   The early Christians under the guidance of the apostles observed both the sabbath and the annual festivals which God revealed to his people. The Catholic booklet, "Yes... I condemned the Catholic Church," says: "The Apostles, too. observed the Sabbath, as did most of the Jewish converts to Christianity" (p. 3).
   Lechler says in part, "the Christians were accustomed to celebrate the Sabbath with the Jews" (Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, Vol. 1, p. 57). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, article "Sabbath," says: "The early Christians kept the 7th day as a Sabbath, much after the fashion of the Jews."
   Of course, there are a number of sects today which teach that these statements are incorrect. They hold that because there is no direct command to "observe the sabbath" in the book of Acts that the sabbath was not kept as a day of rest and worship. YOU can find the answer to this weak contention in the Encyclopedia Biblica. page 4175: "The silence of Acts is not to be taken as a proof of the non-observance, but contrariwise as a proof that it was observed as a matter of course."
   THE UNIVERSAL HISTORICAL EVIDENCE IS THAT EARLY CHRISTIANS OBSERVED THE SABBATH AND GOD'S FESTIVALS. The preponderance of facts to this effect is over-whelming with regard to the original true church.

The Sabbath in the Book of Acts

   According to the Bible evidence, Sunday was not observed by Jews or Gentiles in the early church. The phrase found in Revelation 1:10, is in no way referring to Sunday, but to the day of the Lord, the day of wrath (Zepheniah 1:14-15), about which the book of Revelation was written. The Lord's day could not be the first day of the week because Jesus wasn't resurrected then and neither did He claim to be the Lord of that day.
   But how was the Sabbath regarded by the Spirit-filled converts of the early church?
   Not once is the sabbath day in the book of Acts regarded as a work day, either by Jewish or Gentile converts. The first specific sabbath day mentioned in the Book of Acts (13:14-15 and 42-44) is a key to understanding numerous other references to that day. Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue, sat down and then, after being permitted to speak, preached Jesus Christ to those in the synagogue. "And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath" (Acts 13:42).
   These Gentiles who were interested in the gospel and who besought Paul to speak of Jesus, assembled "on the next sabbath... to hear the word of God." (verse 44). Paul, the apostle to Gentile nations, said not one word here or elsewhere, that the Gentiles should cease their practice of assembling upon the sabbath for worship.
   Again, in the controversy with "certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed" (Acts 15:5), there is absolute proof that Gentiles observed the sabbath. The question concerned the law of Moses the handwriting of ordinances (Eph. 2:15) which is explained in Hebrews 9:10 as imposed for only a specific length of time. This was not the spiritual law of which Paul wrote in Romans 7:14. Four ordinances of this law of Moses were still considered necessary for Gentile converts. A letter was written' explaining this decision to the Gentile converts "for Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." (Acts 15:20-21). This letter had to be written to Gentiles because they were attending synagogue services on the sabbath where the ordinances of the law of Moses were preached. The letter did not reprove them for sabbath keeping.
   Acts 16:12-15 contains the account of Paul and others at Philippi, who "on the sabbath... went out of the city by the river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and... sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither." This account presents the custom of meeting on the sabbath to spend the day in prayer and worship even when not preaching in the synagogue to convert Jews.
   In the city of Corinth, Paul taught both Jews and Greeks on the Sabbath. (Acts 18:4). During the six week days he labored unceasingly (verse 3). Previous to this, while among the Thessalonians, Paul, "as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbaths reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Acts 17:2). The apostle Paul's manner or custom was to keep the sabbath day, exactly as Jesus did (Luke 4:16). Paul, following the example of Jesus, commanded the Gentile converts at Corinth to follow him exactly as he followed Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). Because of this command, the Gentiles assembled on the Sabbath with Paul.

The Annual Festivals Observed

   In his book, History of the Christian Church, George Fisher says of the early Christians: "They continued to observe the festivals appointed in the law" (p. 40). To this agree many other scholars because the Scriptures contain records of such observances. The true church was filled with the Spirit of God on the annual festival of Pentecost (Acts 2). Even after the Holy Spirit came, Pentecost did not cease to occur annually. Instead of being a memorial of the material harvest of the first fruit of the land alone, Pentecost, or the Festival of Harvest or Firstfruits, as it is variously called in the Bible, had now a greater meaning. It became a memorial also of the first fruits of the Holy Spirit which makes possible the first harvest of human beings for the Kingdom of God.
   Not only did the Jewish Christians know this, but also Paul, the apostle to h e Gentiles, understood that this annual sabbath was still commanded to be observed once a year for the New Testament church. He "determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost" (Acts 20:16). This desire on Paul's part to keep Pentecost was thirty years after the death of Christ. At another time Paul spent the day of Pentecost in Ephesus, a Gentile city (I Corinthians 16:8).
   The passover and days of unleavened bread were kept by the churches in Judaea (Acts 12:3). These churches were an example to all Gentile converts; for Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in Acts 20:6 that the days of unleavened bread occurred in far off Philippi. The disciples sailed from this Gentile community "after the days of unleavened bread."
   In I Corinthians 5:8 Paul commanded Gentile converts to observe the feast of unleavened bread after the passover. "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven... but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." These Gentiles were ordered not to use old leaven on these days. But instead of taking unleavened bread according to the mere letter of the law as did the Jews, they were admonished to obey according to the spirit, by using unleavened bread the symbol of righteousness with a pure heart in sincerity.
   Again in I Corinthians 11:20-34 Paul gives the Corinthians instructions on keeping the passover misnamed "communion service." It was to be kept as a memorial annually, as the passover had always been observed, to "show the Lord's death till he come" (verse 26). The Gentiles did not understand its institution perfectly. They were coming together in advance of the service, to eat their own meals because they noticed that Christ ate the passover lamb before instituting the symbols that were to be used in all future passover celebrations. Paul says: "When ye come together therefore in one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper." Why?
   Paul continues: "For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken."
   Although thinking they were taking the "Lord's supper," these converts were really taking before each other their own supper and apparently not even sharing it. The words "Lord's supper" are used only for the last passover supper that Jesus himself took, as the observance of the passover is not called the "Lord's supper" anywhere in the Bible.
   The existence and hence observance of the remaining holy days, although nor specifically stated, are alluded to in Acts 18:21 and in Acts 27:9, where the day of Atonement is mentioned. Every one of these God-given days had been commanded forever; hence, their observance by Jewish and Gentile Christian alike must have been perpetuated in obedience to the example which Jesus and the apostles set.

To be continued in next issue

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Good News MagazineApril 1953Vol III, No. 4
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