Ask SanityVille: Sunday Worship?

(Zak Carter) #1

Is Sunday worship required by scripture or is it just a helpful human tradition?

I was talking to a friend recently who takes the position that Sunday worship is not actually commanded in scripture and that Sunday worship is just a helpful tradition on the same level as small group meetings throughout the week. He even went as far to say that small groups are probably more essential to the church because that is the context where the “one anothers” of the epistles play out.

Let me hasten to say that my friend isn’t just trying to shirk corporate worship. He’s actually a pastor who preaches every Sunday and has strong views on the need for intentional, liturgical Sunday worship (in contrast to the cotton candy evangellyfish worship). He also has a high view of the offices of Elder and Deacon. That’s part of why it was so jarring to me to hear he held this position.

Now, since our conversation, I’ve been searching scripture for texts that reference Sunday worship. They’re there, but there isn’t a slam-dunk proof text like on other issues. Most seem to be in narrative sections and mentioned in passing. There is no question that there is an apostolic example of Sunday worship going all the way back, but to what extent is that prescriptive? My friend’s rejoinder to the apostolic example of Sunday worship is to cite Acts 2:46 where there seems to be an apostolic example of something like small groups (i.e.“breaking bread in their homes”). Acts 2:42-47 seems to be his interpretive grid through which all other texts about the church are read.

I’ll admit, I’m scratching my head on this. I’d love to get some of your thoughts.

(Joseph Bayly) #2

If he believes in the necessity of liturgical worship with preaching, his position is at least similar to Calvin’s. He basically says that the Sabbath is part of the ceremonial law, but that as we need a day to gather to fulfill the NT commands, Sunday is a good day to do it.

He wouldn’t filter the priorities the same as you just laid it out, though.

(Zak Carter) #3

Maybe I’ve been holding too tightly to the “specialness” of the Sunday gathering. There are some practical issues that brought all this up, but I think it would be best not to get into that here. Thanks for the reply. And I am still interested in more thoughts on the matter.

(Joseph Bayly) #4

Well, the specialness of the gathering is the part that I believe Calvin would have held to. It’s just that he didn’t think the main gathering had to happen on Sunday per se by command. But you do want a universal day, so Sunday ended up practically being mandatory since it has always been the custom.

Sorry if I’m being confusing.

Rereading your original comment it strikes me that your friend might hold to or be influenced by the restorationist movement. Do you know?

(Zak Carter) #5

No, you weren’t being confusing, but my response was unclear. I meant the “specialness” of having the gathering on Sunday.

He’s not directly influenced by the restorationist movement that I know of. He went to SBTS and then spent some time in a couple Acts 29 churches.

(Jason Andersen) #6

I don’t recall if you were part of the discussion, but we had a pretty lively and in-depth discussion on the topic of Sabbatarianism back in February. If you didn’t follow it back then, it’s a bit of a long read, but I found the dialogue very helpful, and it would certainly touch your area of inquiry.

(Jesse Tiersma) #7

Assuming you’re talking about Sunday as the specific day all Christians should meet for worship, as opposed to Tuesday, for example, I’ve read a number of arguements for it, most of which sound very convicing, but I’m not quite persuaded to be dogmatic about it(although I am convinced of some form of Christian Sabbath). Probably the best I’ve run across is Jonathan Edwards arguement. He builds a solid case with logical conclusions that build on each other, without using a flamethrower against those who may disagree. Although you really need to read the whole thing to understand the flow of the arguement, here’s a taste:

Third, there is another thing which confirms it (that the fourth command teaches God’s resting from the new creation, as well as from the old), which is that the Scriptures expressly speak of the one as parallel with the other: i.e. Christ’s resting from the work of redemption is expressly spoken of as being parallel with God’s resting from the work of creation. Heb. 4:10, “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”

Now Christ rested from his works when he rose from the dead, on the first day of the week. When he rose from the dead, then he finished his work of redemption. His humiliation was then at an end: he then rested and was refreshed. — When it is said, “There remaineth a rest to the people of God;” in the original, it is, a sabbatism, or the keeping of a Sabbath : and this reason is given for it, “For he that entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” — These three things at least we are taught by these words:

  1. To look upon Christ’s rest from his work of redemption, as parallel with God’s rest from the work of creation. For they are expressly compared together, as parallel one with the other.
  1. They are spoken of as parallel, particularly in this respect, viz. the relation which they both have to the keeping of a Sabbath among God’s people, or with respect to the influence which these two rests have as to sabbatizing in the church of God. For it is expressly with respect to this that they are compared together. Here is an evident reference to God’s blessing and hallowing the day of his rest from the creation to be a Sabbath, and appointing a Sabbath of rest in imitation of him. For the apostle is speaking of this, verse 4, “For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.” Thus far is evident, whatever the apostle has respect to by this keeping of a Sabbath by the people of God: whether it be a weekly sabbatizing on earth or a sabbatizing in heaven.
  1. It is evident in these words that the preference is given to the latter rest, viz. the rest of our Savior from his works, with respect to the influence it should have or relation it bears, to the sabbatizing of the people of God, now under the gospel, evidently implied in the expression, “There remaineth therefore a sabbatism to the people of God. For he that entered into his rest,” etc. For in this sabbatism appointed in remembrance of God’s rest from the work of creation, does not remain, but ceases, and that this new rest, in commemoration of Christ’s resting from his works, remains in the room of it.

(Chris Gatihi) #8

Great question @Zak_Carter. I think one might make the case from the NT that as an apostolic pattern/example (as you mention) Sunday gatherings are commanded.

[13] But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. [14] To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. [15] So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:13–15, ESV, emphasis added)

Paul and his fellow apostles gave the Thessalonians not just doctrines but also traditions. And when he commands them in verse 15 to hold to these traditions, he’s talking about all the traditions and not just a particular one.

[2] Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2, ESV, emphasis added)

We see not only the same term (traditions) but the same idea here that Paul expects the Corinthians to hold to all the traditions he passed on to them (assumed to be from Jesus, e.g. Galatians 1:12) just as he charges the Thessalonians to.

[16] If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16, ESV)

[33] For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, [34] the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:33–34, ESV)

What’s notable in both of these passages is that, though in context Paul is speaking to specific issues at Corinth, he expects all the churches of God to be in conformity of practice/tradition. He doesn’t expect one church to embrace tradition/practice X and another church to reject tradition/practice X (which is far removed from where we stand today). Paul seems to take for granted that if one church embraces tradition/practice X then all churches should and if one church rejects tradition/practice X then all churches should.

[20] When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. [21] For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. [22] What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. [23] For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread…(1 Corinthians 11:20–23, ESV).

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul commends the Corinthians with respect to their holding to the tradition of head coverings as he had taught them. But then in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, he rebukes them for not holding to the tradition of the Lord’s supper as he had taught them (v.23).

The point is that the Lord’s Supper is a tradition that Paul had given to all the churches and this was one of the main reasons (if not the main reason the church came together): to partake of the Lord’s Supper together.

[7] On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7, ESV)

Many hold that “break bread” is synonymous with partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If this is the case, then it seems undeniable that gathering on Sunday is a tradition/practice that is common to all the churches because that’s what the apostles not only taught them (Revelation 1:10?) but practiced with them.

But I suppose one might argue that they could have gathered to break bread on the second and third day (and every other day of the week) in addition to the first day and it just so happened that this particular day that Luke writes of was the first. This argument would be consistent with Acts 2:46 where the early church is described as breaking bread (same term as in Acts 20:7) in their homes every day (day by day) and not just Sunday.

The point remains that they at least gathered on Sunday based on apostolic tradition which is commanded by God in contrast to human traditions (Matthew 15:1-9).

I guess the operative question then becomes: what did the apostles teach should take place during such gatherings (at least the Lord’s Supper?) and is it what we would call “Sunday worship”?

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #9

I happened to read Calvin’s reasoning on seeing the Sabbath as being abrogated in the New Covenant and yet still something of a necessity in the New Covenant.

My understanding of his reasoning was based solely on the doctrine of the orderliness of God. God is a God of order. The church should likewise be well ordered. In order to maintain good order in the church it is good for the church to have a set day for worship.

Christ rose on a Sunday, the early church gathered on a Sunday, and so Sunday it is. I believe this was Calvin’s teaching in sum. Correct?

(Lucas Weeks) #10

I just preached on John 20:19-31. It really struck me reading that passage this time around that Jesus met with His disciples on the first two Sundays after his crucifixion. I think it does add weight to the idea that Sunday, in particular, is an important day.