Historians indicate that the earliest Christians not
only met together on Sunday, but also came together regularly with their
Jewish community in the synagogues on the Sabbath. This was their
traditional heritage and where most of their neighbors, friends and family
would congregate — a great place to witness. However it seems about A.D.
135, there was great upheaval in the synagogues. The influential Rabbi,
Akiba, proclaimed the leader of the Jewish rebellion in Palestine, Bar
Cochba, as the Messiah,¹ and the Jewish Christians were quick to refute
this. Such hostility arose against the believers that a curse against
"sectarians" (which referred to the Christians) was introduced into the
synagogue services. Thus, anyone who would not pronounce the curse with
other worshipers would be ejected. This effectively ostracized the
Christians from participation in the synagogues on Saturday, but they
continued with their meetings on Sunday.
Although they were no longer bound to a rigid code of
laws or Sabbath keeping (Gal. 3:10-11, Col. 2:16), it is believed that the
early church probably came to view Sunday as a combined observance of the
Sabbath and the resurrection day of Jesus (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). This day
of Christian worship came to be called the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10), a day to
fellowship in celebration of the resurrection, to worship, pray and study
the Word together.
There are several early, historical references which
confirm the continued Sunday tradition by the early Christians. One of these
is "The Didache," (IXV), a compilation of teachings of the first century
church, thought by some to be a copy of teachings by the first disciples
(possibly A.D. 100-130), and clearly describes the church meeting on the
Lord's day. "On the Lord's day of the Lord, come together, break bread and
hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may
be pure; but let none who has a quarrel with another join in your meeting
until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice be not defiled..."
Another such reference is found in the writings of
Justin Martyr (Approx. A.D. 140). Not only did he affirm the churches'
meeting day, but also gave one of the best explanations of the meaning
behind it, as viewed by the early believers. "We assemble in common on
Sunday [the Lord's day], because this is the first day, on which God created
the world and the light, and because Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same
day rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples."²
Sunday worship took on new dimensions in the fourth
century as the Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine, proclaimed the
believers' day of worship (the first weekday) to be a holiday (A.D. 321).
However, instead of using the term that Christians used, the Lord's Day, he
continued with a term, "Dies Solis" (The Day of the Sun) which the Romans
had already used for a couple centuries in homage to their worship of the
sun god. Prior to his Christian profession in 312, Constantine was a pagan
worshiper, his favorite deity being the Unconquered Sun, and throughout the
remainder of his life, his understanding of the Christian faith was less
than perfect and never did fully extract himself from pagan philosophy.³ He
was apparently unable to clearly distinguish between the Father of Jesus
Christ and the sun deity, and while he sanctioned the Christian's day of
worship, his title for it left a lasting legacy to the pagan sun god, what
is known on our calendar as Sunday.
¹ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian