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Saturday, January 3, 2015

We Left Our Church over the Sabbath

Genesis 2:3, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

Exodus 31:16-17, “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

Leviticus 23:3, “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.”

Mark 2:27, “And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath:”

The seventh day of the week is the only day that God actually gave a name to - the Sabbath - which we find to be very interesting. Yet, many question does the Sabbath still apply today?

We admit that it may seem strange, even extreme to choose to leave a church over something like the Sabbath. While this was not the only reason we chose to leave, it was definitely a major factor, especially since the understanding of the Sabbath ultimately influenced our whole perspective about the Bible - in ways that we could neither foresee nor ignore. When people would ask us about the Sabbath and why we wanted to leave, our response was simply, “it’s complicated”. After all, how does one explain the Sabbath and all the related implications in an easy-to-understand, two to three minute response? You can’t.

Additionally, how do you explain the concept of God’s laws to a group of people that sincerely believe that they have been done away with; people that don’t seem to understand that you believe obeying God’s law is the “fruit” of your salvation and not the “root” of salvation. You just get tangled up in a works versus faith debate that can get really confusing and convoluted. We still believe that we are saved only through God’s mercy; but we also believe that our obedience to God’s law is proof to others of our salvation. In other words, our actions should speak for themselves. First John 2:6 tells us, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” Do we or do we not do what God says to do? Do we or do we not “walk even as Jesus walked”?

And so, we are hoping that this post and subsequent White Paper will not only help to explain why we left the church, but also help others with questions about the Sabbath be able to journey the same path we did. Hopefully, this will also help others be able to better communicate their beliefs with something other than “it’s complicated”.

As you review everything that we document in this post and White Paper, as well as any other White Paper we publish, keep in mind Acts 17:11. In this verse, Paul describes the Bereans as “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” The key point here is that the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily. We are constantly searching the Scriptures these days. And questioning literally everything we have ever been taught or thought we believed.

You might be wondering, can a different understanding of the Sabbath really cause someone to question everything? The short answer is yes. The reason is because a close look at the Sabbath ultimately requires one to look at the Scriptures of the Old Testament in a new light. Like many Christians, we believed that the Old Testament was, well old. And because it was old, it was not really relevant to our lives - at least, not in the same way as the New Testament. We have learned that nothing could be further from the truth. And this change, this paradigm shift in our perspective and understanding of the Bible as a whole, really has led us to question a lot of things. We now examine the Scriptures much differently. And so, we hope to take our time and provide you with as thorough of an understanding of the Sabbath as we can. We admit that we are not experts here; just believers like you that had questions that God chose to answer - and answer in a way we never anticipated.

As we go through the Scriptures together, we pray that you too will have an open mind, an open heart, and a teachable Spirit. We also recommend you grab your Bible - you will need it to keep up with all the Scriptures we are going to present. After all, it does not matter what we think - what matters is what God thinks.
But before we start, we want you to answer these three simple questions: (1) Does God ever change? [See Malachi 3:6]; (2) If God says something is “right”, is it always right? (3) If God says something is “wrong”, is it always wrong? We are not going to discuss these questions in depth; we just ask that you keep them in the back of your mind as you read through the Scriptures for yourself.

Now, let’s start looking specifically at the Sabbath. The first question that we would like to look at right away is probably the most common - and the biggest hurdle, for lack of a better description, to overcome. Did Jesus take away the requirements to obey the Sabbath as defined by God? Or, did He change it from Saturday to Sunday? To answer this question, the first verses we should look at are Matthew 28:19-20, the very last words spoken by Christ in the book of Matthew. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” It is important that we also remember that “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” as it says in Hebrews 13:8. In other words, He never changes. God also never changes as it says in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.“ Jesus also explained in Mark 2:28, “And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath:”

How do we know that God meant for us to celebrate the Sabbath always? In a nutshell, because neither God nor Jesus change. Ever. If we believe the Scriptures to be true, then any changes not directly and specifically instituted by God are automatically suspect.

Isaiah 66:23 says, “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.”

Does the Sabbath still apply today?

To answer this question, it is important to note that a lot of the New Testament was written by Paul of Tarsus. And, as the Bereans knew, they needed to search the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching them was true. This begs the obvious question - what Scriptures were the Bereans searching? There really is only one answer: they were searching out the Scriptures that we refer to as the Old Testament. Yes, the very same Scriptures that many of us were taught were not all that important for today. This also means that everything preached in the New Testament has to be in agreement with the Old Testament. In other words, there cannot be any conflicts or contradictions between the two portions of the Bible.

The best way to describe the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is to envision a building. The Old Testament is the foundation, sunk deep into the bedrock, by God Himself. The New Testament is the rest of the building, with the first story built on top of the foundation by Jesus Christ and the gospels, and the second story built on top of the gospels by the rest of the books of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Epistles. We hope that this image will help you understand the relationship better.

Even though the Old Testament is the foundation to the Scriptures, to better answer the question of does the Sabbath still apply today, we are going to start by examining the Scriptures in the book of Acts that specifically reference the Sabbath or the first day of the week. The first verse that most people seem to want to show us to explain why we should celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday is Acts 20:7, which says, “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.”

Notice in the verse above that we emphasized the word “day”. This was done specifically to draw your attention to it - because it is an addition to the verse. Yes, it was added by the translators. We’ll be going into more detail about it below, but for now, let’s remove that word. Secondly, we also emphasized the word “week”. The word “sabbaton” was used for both singular and pluralized version of the series of days that ended in the Sabbath. It is our contention that this word should actually be pluralized, which we explain more fully below, so now, let’s read the passage as it should have been written: “And upon the first of the weeks, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”

One of the errors in reading Scriptures is to take them out of context. In other words, people have a tendency to pick and choose a single verse and then claim that the single verse chosen represents a particular point of view. This is the same thing that happens when someone looks at Acts 20:7. To help put it in better context, let’s also look at Acts 20:6. This verse says, “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” And then verse seven continues, And upon the first of the weeks, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”

We have emphasized the key point from verse six that ultimately influences the context of verse seven. We have also drawn attention to the controversial portion of verse seven. We agree that in English, it does appear as if verse seven is referring to Sunday, which is why we believe that it is important to look at this verse more closely in Greek. The literal Greek version translated as “first day of the week” is μία (mia) [G3391] τό (to) [G3588] σάββατον (sabbaton) [G4521]. The first word, μία (mia), literally means “one” and not “first” as is used in the verse. If it was supposed to be “first”, then the Greek word πρῶτον (prōton) [G4412] would have been used, as it was in Matthew 5:24. This means that a precise, literal translation of this phrase of the verse from Greek to English would be “one of the Sabbaths”. It is also important to note that some scholars have advised that the word “day” as translated in this passage, actually does not even exist in the Greek language. While every attempt has been made to confirm or refute this, we have not been able to. We can, however, confirm that the word “day” was an addition to verse seven in the King James Version.

Regardless, we next need to determine what “one of the Sabbaths” is referring to. And this is where the previous verse, number six, provides the context. It references “after the days of unleavened bread”, which is a direct reference to the Feast of Unleavened bread. As a side note, we find it interesting that while the King James Version states “after the days of unleavened bread” most other translations state “Festival of Unleavened Bread” or “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. In order to understand the reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, one needs to have an understanding of this feast, and so we need to go back to the Old Testament, to Leviticus 23:4-7, which says, “These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD'S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.”

Verses 8 through 14 provide specific instructions on how to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and so we need to continue to verses 15 and 16 of the same chapter, which provides these instructions, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.” The counting of fifty days brings one to the Feast of Shavuot, or as we know it, the Feast of Pentecost. We have tried to emphasize the important part to notice in verse 15, specifically that one needs to count seven Sabbaths.

Now, if we go back to Acts 20:6 we will remember it says, “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” Since we now know that verse seven is following a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it now makes sense that the writer is referencing the number of the Sabbaths that they are counting until Pentecost. In other words, this is one, as in the number one, of the seven total Sabbaths and not the first of the week as translated and implied in English. Based on the information gleaned from these passages, we now know that Paul celebrated: the weekly Sabbath, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost.

We do not expect you to believe us, though, based on just a few verses, so let’s continue and take a look at another passage, commonly quoted in defense of Sunday. First Corinthians 16:2-3 which reads, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.” The reference to the “first day of the week” in this verse, in the original Greek, is the same as Acts 20:7, which we just looked at. Secondly, in order to understand the expectations of believers at the Feast of Shavuot and Pentecost, one must look to the Old Testament, this time to Deuteronomy 16:16, which says, “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:” In other words, Paul was taking up a collection and providing letters of introduction so that the Corinthians could determine who they would give their collections to so that they may appear at the temple and appear not empty handed.

Another passage we are often referred to is Galatians 4:8-10, which says, “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” Specifically, many believers equate the admonition in verse ten “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.” to referring to the feast days and the Sabbaths outlined in the Old Testament. Again, verses are being “picked” and taken out of context. So let’s back up and look at this passage again.

In verse eight, it says, in plain English, “how is it that when you did not know God, you performed services to those who are not really gods? (i.e. graven idols or false gods). The key thing to note in this verse is that they did not know God and therefore, could not have known about the feast days or the Sabbath. Now, let’s continue. In verse nine, again in plain English, it says, “Now that you know God, and are known by God, how can you again serve those false idols? Do you desire to be in bondage to the false gods?” It seems that even though the Galatians, who were once pagan and did not know God, now do know God, and for some reason, have gone back to their old ways of serving the idols or false gods. It can’t possibly be referring to God’s feasts or the Sabbath because how could people turn back to something that they never even celebrated in the first place? Finally, we need to look at how they were serving these false gods. Verse ten says by observing days, months, times, and years - of the false gods. Hopefully, this will help you to see how manipulating just one Scripture and taking it out of its original context really can change the entire meaning.

Romans 4:5 is another verse often taken out of context, similar to the Galatians passage that we just reviewed. In Romans 4:5, it says, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” But is this passage talking about the Sabbath? We do not believe so, because if one backs up and reads verses two through three, it can easily be discerned that Paul is talking about fasting. Let’s look at those verses ourselves. “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”

The Life Application Bible comments on verse 2: “The ancient system of sacrifice was at the center of the religious, social, and domestic life of the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. The remainder was often sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian might easily-even unknowingly-buy such meat in the marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend. Should a Christian question the source of his meat? Some thought there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols because idols were worthless and phony. Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up meat altogether, in order to avoid a guilty conscience. The problem was especially acute for Christians who had once been idol worshipers. For them, such a strong reminder of their pagan days might weaken their newfound faith. Paul also deals with this problem in 1 Corinthians 8.”

So what really is the point of Paul's instruction in Romans 14? Early believers had several choices they could make when it came to the foods they ate. If they did not want to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, they could choose to fast or eat only vegetables to make sure they did not consume any meat of suspicious background that might offend their conscience. If their consciences were not bothered by eating meat sacrificed to idols, they could choose any of the options. Within this context, Paul said, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” in verse five. The debate then continued on to which days were to be set aside as days to fast. This was a debate that had raged on since Isaiah. In fact, Isaiah 58, shows how the Israelites used fasting as a way to attempt to make God hear them - and caused physical fights between people! It is all very interesting to read and compare. Not much had changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and even today.

The fact that Paul is talking about fasting is confirmed when one continues reading verse six, which says, “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” Again, the debate was over which days to fast, or not to fast, and had nothing to do with the Sabbath or the Lord’s feasts - since these were not even mentioned. The entire fourteenth chapter of Romans concerns food and drink. That’s it.

Yet another passage we have heard a lot about recently is found in Colossians 2:16-17. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Many people believe that this verse is saying that we no longer have to celebrate the Sabbath, that we can do all things through Christ. In other words, they believe that Christ has done away with the requirements of the Sabbath and that we can celebrate it any day of the week. Hmm, that means that Jesus changed? And that God changed? Remember the questions we asked you to keep in mind? Again, it is our belief that these Scriptures are being taken out of context and that the opposite is true. Paul is saying that we should not let anyone judge us FOR celebrating these things.

In fact, just a few verses earlier, in verse eight, Paul advises, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It’s as if Paul knew that his words would be taken out of context and manipulated, spoiled by various philosophies and for the traditions of men. By celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday as instructed in the Bible, this is exactly what we are doing. We are following the philosophy of anti-Semitism, the traditions of men - alleged church fathers of the Catholic Church, and the rudiments of the world.

Secondly, we cannot imagine any true believer saying that God’s Word - any of it - is a philosophy, written after the traditions of men, or rudiments of the world. We think that it is time to take a fresh look at God’s Word, to see what it really says about everything, with fresh eyes. In fact, Colossians 2:20-23 says, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” If we are truly dead in Christ, we should not be following the religious laws of the world - unless they are grounded in the truth of God’s Word. Many believers claim to be dead with Christ, yet their lives and actions are actually contrary to what the Bible says. We believe that the reason for this is that most churches no longer preach the real Truth; instead, they preach a pseudo-truth - a mix of Scripture and personal beliefs watered down to be palatable by the congregation as a whole. Where are the preachers that are willing to stand up and preach the Truth - exactly as it was written in the original Hebrew and Greek - without regard for the personal feelings of the congregation? Imagine what would happen to the churches today if preachers actually started preaching how to do Bible things in Bible ways instead of man’s things in man’s ways.

Verse 17 of the second chapter of Colossians reads, Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Think about this verse for a moment - a shadow of things to come. This particular epistle was written AFTER Christ had already died and yet, it is still a shadow of things to come. We know that when Christ came the first time, He satisfied the prophetic requirements of the Feast of Passover, Feast of First Fruits, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Shavuot. All of these were prophetic guideposts to Christ and continue to be memorials to Him today. We know that Christ is coming again and that there are feasts that He has not yet satisfied, specifically the Day of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. If one does not study, know, or celebrate the feasts of the Lord, then how is one supposed to understand the shadows much less the reality of what they represent?

You might be wondering what any of the shadows have to do with the Sabbath. Well, these are a foreshadow of the 1,000 years rest in the millennium. Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” If we look at 2 Peter 3:8, we learn, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This means that we can anticipate Christ’s return around the 6,000 year mark (counting from Creation), prior to the 1,000 years of rest; six days of work followed by one day of rest.

We find it interesting that so much of Paul’s writings are manipulated. We are even warned about this in 2 Peter 3:15-17, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” First, notice that Paul writes according to the wisdom given unto him. This is wisdom specifically given to him by God to write what he writes. Now, ask yourself this - would God contradict Himself in His own complete book? Secondly, we agree that some of what Paul writes is hard to understand - especially when words are manipulated and taken out of context in even the English translation that we mostly trust. We are warned that there will be unlearned and unstable people that will “wrest” the Scriptures. In other words, manipulate them, to their own destruction. And finally, we are all exhorted to beware that we too will not be led away with the errors of the wicked; we are to be steadfast - but steadfast to the Truth.

It is the goal of Learning to Live God’s Way to stay as true to the Scriptures as we possibly can. We recognize that we too are unlearned. We too, can make mistakes. However, we also try very hard to eliminate any bias, man-made doctrines, and traditions from our studies. Based on the verses that we reviewed above, we truly do believe that the Sabbath still applies today. Nothing that we have read in the New Testament has led us to believe that it has been done away with by God. We believe that we had previously been led away from the Truth of the Scriptures, and have only just recently, found our way back by reading and listening to the whole Bible and not just select Scriptures.

Do you now see how studying the Sabbath can become just one piece of a gigantic puzzle? Discovering this one piece changed our understanding of the big picture as well as some of the other individual pieces. And we discovered that there were pieces we were trying to fit that did not even belong in this particular puzzle. We are continuing to identify each piece and see if it is a piece of the puzzle of God’s Word or a piece included to simply try to confuse and confound us, as it has unfortunately confused and confounded so many others.

We recognize that this is not an easy concept to see and believe, especially when the concept of “Sunday” church is so engrained in the pattern of our lives. So many people have the routines and rhythms of their life connected to the “church” and it’s special “days” without every realizing that God has His own routines and rhythms designed specifically to keep us safe and to bless us. So, whom are you going to choose to follow today - God’s Word with His schedule or some church father’s manipulation of the Word concluding with man-made traditions and days? As for us, learning to live God’s way was our decision.

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