Why Do Christians Meet on Sunday?

Sunday

The religious world is filled with a multitude of churches engaged in various practices. Yet with all of the diversity of practices, one thing that most professing Christians have in common is that the church which they attend meets on Sunday.

Of course, some meet on other days instead of Sunday. A notable example is the Seventh Day Adventist denomination – they meet on Saturday. Others offer a Saturday service as an option, but still have a regular Sunday assembly. But these are the exceptions. Why is assembling on Sunday the prevailing practice? Should it be? Let us consider the question.

The History of the Sabbath Day

The law regarding the Sabbath day was given to the Jews in the Law of Moses and was based upon the Creation week. Notice some of the facts we see about the Sabbath throughout the Bible:

  • God rested on the seventh day – “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1-3). This was not done because God needed the rest; rather, this was to set an example.
  • God resting on the seventh day was the basis for the Sabbath law – “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
  • Observance of the Sabbath was to continue throughout their generations – “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. […] So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant’” (Exodus 31:13, 16). Note that this was referring to the generations of the Jews – the people to whom the law was given.
  • There was severe punishment for those who violated the Sabbath law – “Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:14-15). The Scriptures even record an example of one being put to death for not observing the Sabbath law (Numbers 15:32-36).
  • Despite the severe punishment that was to be carried out against those who profaned the Sabbath, this day was not always faithfully kept during the Old Testament (Ezekiel 20:12-13; Nehemiah 13:15-18).
  • The Sabbath was observed by the Jews during the first century (Acts 15:21) – This was even done to an extreme so that the Jews believed that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath law by healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5:8-18).

The Change to the First Day of the Week

While the Sabbath was emphasized throughout the Old Testament, there was an unmistakeable shift to an emphasis on the first day of the week in the New Testament – particularly following the resurrection of Christ.

  • Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week – “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (Matthew 28:1-6).
  • The church was established on the first day of the week – “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). This was the day in which the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles (Acts 2:2-4), the gospel began to be preached (Acts 2:14-40), and God started adding people to the church (Acts 2:47). Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks) always occurred on the first day of the week – fifty days after the Passover (Leviticus 23:15-16). It was one of the days in which all the males were to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16), which made for a large audience for the first gospel sermon.
  • Christians assembled on the first day of the week – “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7). “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2).

Some who recognize this shift to the first day of the week will refer to Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath.” This is not Biblical language. While the first day of the week was the day in which Christians assembled in the first century, it was not a mandatory day of rest like the Sabbath was under the Law of Moses. In many cultures – including the one in which Christians lived in the first century – the first day of the week was simply a regular work day. Yet it is still the day in which Christians are to come together to worship God.

Does It Matter?

We began by noting that the vast majority of professing Christians worship with churches that assemble on Sunday. However, the fact that this is done by a majority does not prove it right or wrong. Our practices need to be established in Scripture, not by what is commonly accepted. Notice the following passages:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).

In the first passage, Paul explained to Timothy that the Scriptures – the inspired word of God – equip us for every good work. In other words, if a practice is not authorized in the Scriptures, we cannot classify it as a “good work.” In the second passage, Jesus described those who were engaged in practices they thought were good and claimed to do them in the name of the Lord. However, their practices were labeled as “lawlessness” because they were not doing those things that had been revealed by God in His will.

We can only know God’s will by what He has revealed (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). This point is also made in the Law of Moses: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The prophet Jeremiah noted, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). If we want to know what to do to please the Lord, we have to look to His word.

It is presumptuous to assume that God will be pleased with something without Him revealing it. Yet Jesus said that “many” would be guilty of this (Matthew 7:21-23). We must strive to do everything in His name: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). This means we are to do all things by His authority.

The old law – including the Sabbath law – was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). With Jesus came a new law and a new covenant. The Hebrew writer explained this as it related to Jesus becoming our high priest: “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also” (Hebrews 7:12). He is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Since the law has changed, we cannot go back to it and take anything we want from it and bind it upon people today. Murder was condemned under the Law of Moses (Exodus 20:13), but this prohibition is still in force because it was carried over into the New Testament (Romans 1:29; 13:9; 1 Timothy 1:9; Revelation 21:8). However, the Sabbath law was not. Therefore, it was part of the old law that was nailed to the cross.

As Christians, we can meet on any day; but Sunday is emphasized, special, and bound in the New Testament. The New Testament limits giving and the observance of the Lord’s Supper to Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7), though there are no such limits on other activities. However, because these are to be done on the first day of the week, this is the day in which Christians are to assemble.

Conclusion

Why do we meet on Sunday? It is not about personal preference, convenience, human tradition, or other similar reasons. We meet on Sunday because this is the day that Christians meet to worship the Lord as has been done since the first century. Let us recognize the importance of this and not allow the things of this world to interfere with it.


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Comments

  1. Wayne Teel says

    Good subject, Andy, and I do appreciate you addressing this issue. Christians need to be aware of why they do what they do religiously.

  2. tanya haney says

    Thank you for clarifying this for me.