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Why do most Christian churches meet
on Sunday instead of the Sabbath?

Up until the beginning of the church, God's people were used to going to synagogue on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) which was called the Sabbath. This was a holy day to the Lord, the fourth of Ten Commandments God gave Moses. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). This was, and will always remain, the official Sabbath. However, after Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, the New Testament shows that the early Christians began meeting together on this new day as a weekly commemoration of their new life in Christ. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7). (See also 1 Cor. 16:2)

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, 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There are several early, historical references which confirm the continued Sunday tradition by the early Christians.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."

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. 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.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff
Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.