F A L L • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 3
Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning Adventists in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the Adventist chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington, Ohio, churches.
Adventism’s Fundamental Belief #20
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God's perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts.
Comments about the belief statement
It would be impossible to address adequately the complexity of the Adventist Sabbath doctrine in one short column. Instead, I will address what the Bible teaches about Sabbath as compared with Adventism’s Sabbath doctrine and show how this belief statement deceptively obscures the organization’s real belief.
First, if the Sabbath commandment was instituted for all people as God’s sign of His covenant between Himself and His followers, then Seventh-day Adventists are correct in insisting on resting during the seventh day from evening to evening. There is no biblical case to be made, however, that the seventh-day Sabbath was ever adapted for the church.
The central question is this: is the Sabbath day a universal command given by God to all people for all times? Let’s examine the facts:
1) There is no record of God commanding anyone to observe the Sabbath, nor of anyone observing the Sabbath, before the nation of Israel was brought out of Egypt.
2) The seventh-day Sabbath command is given as both a memorial of creation (Ex. 20:8-11) and of Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:12-15).
3) The Sabbath is described as a sign between God and Israel (Ex. 31:12-17; Eze. 20:12). Exodus 31 is clear for whom the Sabbath was a covenant: “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (vs 16-17).
4) The Holy Spirit is described as the sign or seal between God and His followers in Christ (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14; Eph. 4:30).
5) There are no recorded New Testament cases of believers gathering to worship on Sabbath. The frequently cited cases of Paul’s Sabbath synagogue attendance are all in the context of presenting the Gospel to the Jews and the gentile followers of Jewish teachings who were already gathering on the Sabbath. There are no cases where Sabbath observance is noted after people believed in Jesus and were born again. In the few recorded cases of believers gathering for worship, they either met every day (Acts 2:46-47) or on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2).
The Sabbath question ultimately hinges on the question of God’s covenants. If the covenant that applies to all of mankind is the law of the Ten Commandments, then the seventh-day Sabbath remains as part of this covenant. However, Scripture is clear that the covenant God made with Israel was not a covenant He had made with their fathers (Deut. 5:2-3). Some Adventists try to claim that the Ten Commandments were not God’s covenant with Israel but were separate from it. The plain testimony of Scripture, however, declares the tablets of stone to be the tablets of the covenant (Deut. 9:9-11). Furthermore, the covenant God made with Israel after the exodus from Egypt is described as being inside the ark (1 Ki. 8:21), and we know that the only law inside the ark was the Ten Commandments (Heb. 9:4; 1 Ki. 8:9). If any doubt remains about the identity of the covenant God made with Israel, the direct statement of Deuteronomy 4:13 should clear up the confusion: “And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.”
Paul also distinguishes plainly in Galatians 3:12-18, 29 between the temporary covenant of the law and the permanent covenant of promise:
But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise…
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
The law came after the covenant of promise. God receives believers in Christ on the basis of the covenant of promise, not on the covenant of the law (including the Sabbath law). The new covenant included a new law (Heb. 7:12; 8:13), and this new law includes substantial changes from the law covenant established at Sinai—including changes to the requirement of Sabbath.
In fact, the newly-formed church acknowledged this change in covenant laws when the leaders met at the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15) to discuss whether Gentiles were required to follow the laws of Moses (verse 5). The conclusion of both the apostles and the Holy Spirit was a resounding, “No!” Gentile believers were not required to follow the law of Moses (see verses 28-29).
Several New Testament verses detail this change in law regarding the Sabbath:
1) Colossians 2:16-17: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
2) Romans 14:5-6: One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Sabbath rest for God’s people
Scripture teaches that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). Sabbatarians often ask, “Doesn’t that text plainly argue for the continuity of the seventh-day Sabbath?”
Context, however, denies this argument. Hebrews 4:1-10 states:
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
This passage teaches that, in spite of having the seventh-day Sabbath, the people of Israel didn’t enter into a true Sabbath rest with God. Perhaps it could be argued that this failure to achieve rest was because people never really observed the Sabbath as commanded, but the next verses clarify that failure to observe a day was not the reason they did not enter His rest. Rather, unbelief was the reason they did not find rest. Moreover, true Sabbath rest is available now on “another day” (v. 8). For believers in Jesus and His finished atonement, “Today” (vs 7)—not the next seventh-day on the calendar—is the day for Sabbath rest.
How can God’s Law change?
The law changes because the covenant is changed, and the new covenant requires new laws. Let’s look at some ways the new covenant is different and therefore requires new laws.
First, there is a new priesthood. Jesus wasn’t eligible to be a priest, and certainly not our High Priest, according to the laws of the old covenant, because he was not from the tribe of Levi. In fact, the laws about the priests pointed to a greater Priest who would come.
Second, the entire sacrificial system is now disbanded. The once-for-all sacrifice of Christ isn’t possible under the laws of the old covenant. The laws about the sacrifice pointed to a better sacrifice that would come.
Third, the weekly Sabbath (as well as the monthly and yearly sabbaths) disappears. We come to Christ and begin our rest in Him the day that we believe. Wearing the robe of His own righteousness, we no longer have to “work” to be righteous. The weekly Sabbath law pointed not just to a future eternal life in God’s Kingdom, but to our entrance into that Kingdom the day that we believe, for we have already passed from death to life (Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14).
Importantly, just because believers aren’t subject to the laws of the old covenant does not mean that they are lawless. Certainly three overriding laws are presented in the New Testament: we are to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and our Savior; we are to love God; and we are to love others as ourselves, or more demandingly, as Christ loved us.
These three overarching commands only scratch the surface of the imperatives given to believers. We are to feed the poor, care for the sick, preach the Gospel, baptize, make disciples, refrain from gossip, and flee sexual immorality, just to name a few, but these commands are the fruit of being saved, not the condition for being saved. In fact, Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice promises us perpetual rest and assurance when we believe and trust what He has already done. Our obedience to the old covenant law has nothing to do with our being saved.
This new covenant teaching is exactly the opposite of the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the Sabbath, regardless of how much Adventists might sugarcoat the teaching. Official Adventist doctrine “requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath” and considers it “a token of our allegiance”. This wording, however, soft-sells Adventism’s complete teaching about Sabbath. They teach the seventh-day Sabbath is the seal of God1 and that the day is coming when anyone worshiping on a different day will receive the mark of the beast.2 At that time, only those who observe the Sabbath will be saved.
According to Adventist doctrine, the defining point of salvation will be the “work” of correctly following a law rather than having faith and believing that Jesus has accomplished all the work necessary for our salvation.
Must we rely on works of the law, or do we rest in assurance that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for our salvation? This is the fundamental question arising from this Fundamental Belief. †
1. White, Ellen G., The Great Controversy, p. 640. 2 Ibid., p. 605
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