Article written and provided by Richard K. Foster
First of all it is necessary to define what the Christian Sabbath doctrine is. For this we will cite the Westminster Confession of Faith:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.Westminster Confession, chapter 21 section 7
Notice that fundamentally, the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10), the first day of the week, is said to be the Christian Sabbath. It was made so by virtue of the resurrection of Christ. The foundations for the idea of a Sabbath continuing in the New Covenant are based on:
1. That it’s a law of nature that time must be set aside to the Lord.
2. That the Sabbath is rooted in creation, and therefore, is not purely a Mosaic institution which was abolished with the Mosaic Covenant.
Now you may disagree with the conclusion of the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding the Christian Sabbath, but it certainly provides the quintessential definition of what the doctrine is historically. We would just add that if you do disagree, do so carefully, as this Confession was written by a stellar company of well over one hundred theologians, who thought they were doing justice to the Scriptural teaching in their doctrinal formulation concerning the Sabbath.
That being said, here are five brief reasons why the Christian Sabbath is not to be confused with the Adventist Sabbath:
1. The Christian Sabbath day is not an end in itself, but a sign pointing to the great end. It is like a once a week foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest we will have in the state of glory.
In Adventism, the seventh day Sabbath is the end. It is claimed that it will be observed in heaven for all eternity. It is also set up as the great “testing truth” in the “Great Controversy”, which will determine whether or not someone is loyal to God, and thus whether they are saved or lost.
2. The Christian Sabbath recognizes that a change has taken place in redemptive history, in light of the finished work of Christ. This is why the Christian Sabbath is the first day instead of the seventh day. Because we understand that Christ completed His gospel work when He rose, and entered into His mediatorial rest at that time, which was the morning of the first day of the week. His resurrection also provided the inauguration of the new creation, being identified by the Apostle Paul as the firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15.
The Adventist seventh day Sabbath does not recognize these things though, but continues to point to the old creation, the redemption from Egypt, the rest of the original creation which man can never enter due to sin, etc. On the other hand the first day Christian Sabbath recognizes the greatest event in all of history, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the inauguration of the new creation, the ultimate rest, and the ultimate redemption (Hebrews 4:1-11).
3. The Christian Sabbath is not required for salvation. It is not the “seal of God”, and not a “testing truth”. There are saved Christians who do not recognize the first day Lord’s day as the Christian Sabbath. Whether a Christian does or does not observe the first day of the week as a Sabbath rest, they will be saved if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. For the gospel of Christ is the testing truth that determines someone’s eternal destiny, not the keeping of a day.
Yet as has already been pointed out, in Adventism seventh day Sabbath observance is the “testing truth” at the end of the Great Controversy, which will ultimately determine salvation or damnation at that time. Furthermore, it is staple Adventist teaching that if a Christian is “ignorant” of Saturday being the Sabbath, they can still be saved. However, if they learn of it, and then don’t keep it, their salvation will be lost.
4. The Christian Sabbath recognizes the liberty given in the gospel, in how it’s observed. The chief rule for a New Covenant Christian Sabbath observance, is that the day is to be observed in the spirit of the gospel, and NOT the spirit of the law, which the Lord Jesus condemns. Practically this means that Christ’s teaching regarding Sabbath observance is paramount. And from the teaching of the Lord Jesus we learn that the Sabbath is an ideal day for works of necessity and mercy. That is, things necessary to life and comfort should be performed on the day. It also means that to help fellow humans with their pressing needs is very fitting. And most of all it is a day fit for the worship of God with the body of Christ, and remembering His finished gospel work for us.
In Adventism, Ellen White alone has added some three hundred rules on how to keep the Sabbath. In addition to all of Ellen White’s added Sabbath rules, Adventists often fail to allow for works of necessity and mercy on their Sabbath, in harmony with Christ’s teaching. If you have ever lived in an Adventist community (like I have), there’s not a single Adventist grocery store or restaurant open on the Sabbath. And this despite Jesus’ example of allowing His disciples to go into the field to pick the food they needed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2).
One wonders what travelers through an SDA community are supposed to do if it is Saturday. Hopefully they are carrying their food with them.
5. Historically the Christian Sabbath has been of great benefit to both Christians and the society around them. For 350 years, from the earliest days of the American colonies to the mid 20th century, observance of the Christian Sabbath was normative from the east coast to the west coast of the North American continent. It was a day of rest not only for committed Christians, but for the whole society! Across the Atlantic Ocean in Great Britain, the story was the same. As a result, the whole of society enjoyed the blessings of rest, family time, and a day off from the cares of life. If people wanted to attend Sunday church services, they generally didn’t have to worry that it would conflict with work schedules.
Sadly, Adventism did its part in tearing down what was once a highly beneficial institution in the English speaking world. D.M. Canright documents that wherever Adventists went, they spoke against the first day Sabbath, encouraged people not to rest on that day, and thus did their part to destroy what was once the agreed upon Sabbath of countless communities. In doing so Adventists played a role in destabilizing the long established rest and work cycle of many communities. And all because those communities rested on what Adventists claimed was “the wrong day.”
As can be seen just from the five examples given, the Christian Sabbath and the Adventist Sabbath are nothing alike. While the Christian Sabbath is a day of gospel rest, gospel liberty, and gospel joy, the Adventist Sabbath has been to thousands of Adventists a vehicle of fear over maintaining one’s salvation, a burdensome list of do’s and don’t’s, and an overall bondage done in the spirit of the law rather than the gospel.
Please do not make the mistake of confusing the two. And please give the Christian Sabbath a try. In doing so you just might find each Sunday to be a beautiful foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest that we shall all enjoy glory, without end.