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Yemenite Jew blowing the shofar (ram's-horn trumpet) for Sabbath in the 1930s.

Sabbatarianism is a movement within Protestantism whose proponents advocate that certain observances, specifically enumerated in a code of behavior or law, are required for Christians to properly observe the Sabbath or Sabbath principles. Its historical origins lie in Puritan Sabbatarianism, which delineated precepts for keeping Sunday holy in observance of Sabbath commandment principles. This observance of Sunday is the purest form of first-day Sabbatarianism, a movement which diminished and largely disappeared in the 18th century, though traces and influences remain today.[1]

Today, seventh-day Sabbatarianism is the most prominent type, a movement that generally embraces a literal reading of the Sabbath commandment that provides for both worship and rest on the seventh day of the week. Seventh-day Baptists leave most other Sabbath considerations of observance to individual conscience. The Seventh-day Adventist Church and Church of God (Seventh Day) have similar views, but maintain the original, scriptural duration as Friday sunset through Saturday sunset.

Non-Sabbatarianism is the view opposing all Sabbatarianism, declaring Christians to be free of mandates to follow such specific observances. It upholds the principle in Christian church doctrine that the church is not bound by such law or code, but is free to set in place and time such observances as uphold Sabbath principles according to its doctrine: to establish a day of rest, or not, and to establish a day of worship, or not, whether on Saturday or on Sunday or on some other day. It includes all Catholics and Orthodox, and most Protestant denominations.

Sabbatarianism and non-Sabbatarianism

Sabbath in the Bible is informed by the Genesis creation narrative and has a formal origin before the giving of the Ten Commandments. By the time of Jesus, an emphasis on freedom from legalistic Sabbaths had arisen (compare Is. 1:13). Some of Jesus's teachings are considered as redefining the Pharisees' Sabbath laws (Lk. 13:10-17, Jn. 5:16-18, 9:13-16).[2] Since Jesus is understood to have fulfilled the Law of Moses (Mk. 2:28, Mt. 5:17, Antithesis of the Law), apostolic teaching confirmed to Christians that they are not bound by the letter of Sabbath law, Pharisaic or Mosaic, since being bound instead to Christ frees one from death and sin (Rom. 8:2) that the law reveals (Rom. 7:7). Later, Church fathers Justin Martyr and Augustine also taught specifically that Sabbath according to the Decalogue does not apply in a binding fashion to Christians.

These teachings, the starting point of Christian liberty, solidified in the early Church as a fundamental principle behind its rejection of Hebrew Sabbath practices in its observances, calling its legalisms Judaizing. In the late 4th century, the 29th canon of the Council of Laodicea declared that Christians must not rest on the Sabbath, but must work on that day and if possible rest on the Lord's Day, and that any found to be Judaizers are anathema from Christ.[3] Judaizing influences diminished and almost disappeared as all of Christianity, east and west, became effectually non-Sabbatarian. Most of it remains so today.

The essence of Sabbatarianism, named for the Sabbath, is that it reintroduced the idea that Christians are bound to keep a specific code of conduct in relation to the principal day of Christian worship, or a day of rest, or both. The first-day, Puritan Sabbatarians constructed their code from their understanding of moral obligations following from their interpretation of "natural law", first defined in writings of Thomas Aquinas. Not seeking to re-establish Mosaic Law or Hebrew Sabbath practices, their connection to Judaizing was limited to the use of a legal code by which Christians might be judged. Later, the seventh-day Sabbatarians were much more comprehensive, seeking to re-establish the Mosaic Law itself, along with Pharisaic interpretations and Hebrew Sabbath practices, including observances running from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Most identify with the early Jewish Christians, and consider early church condemnations of Judaizing to be the marks of a "Great Apostasy" in early Christianity, which they seek to rectify.

Tendencies towards Sabbatarianism began to arise very early in the Reformation (early 16th century), causing some of the first Protestants, Luther and Calvin among them, to deny the need for legal codes and accept the non-Sabbatarian principles long established in Christianity. Since then, Protestants from many denominations have reaffirmed them as well, including Anglicans Peter Heylin, William Paley, and John Milton, nonconformist Philip Doddridge, Quaker Robert Barclay, Congregationalist James Baldwin Brown, and Christadelphian Michael Ashton.[4][5]

Differences among non-Sabbatarians in their views of Christian law reflect both their interpretation of Christian liberty and the nature of their rejection of Sabbatarianism. For some, that liberty includes freedom from the letter of the (Mosaic) law rather than the law itself, for it remains with the law of righteousness, but is followed in the Holy Spirit through the power of baptism given in Christ. For others, it is liberty from the law, considered to be fully replaced along with the Mosaic covenant. For yet others, it is founded on the belief that all or some of Mosaic law has been completely set aside or abrogated, laying the way for some to full antinomianism. The common ground in non-Sabbatarianism, though, is the rejection in principle of the binding force of any required code of Sabbath-related conduct, a denial of legalism.

The roots of Sabbatarianism have been described as beginning with not making a distinction between the Christian festival of Sunday and the Hebrew Sabbath,[6] a distinction most non-sabbatarians do make. However, in recent decades, the expression of the difference between Sabbath and Sunday has been blurred through a looser, non-doctrinal application of terminology. Often used among non-Sabbatarians in regions where Sabbatarianism itself has had its greatest prominence, it signifies a contrast with seventh-day Sabbatarianism. "First-day Sabbatarian" is often applied to those more accurately described non-Sabbatarians, because of their Sunday worship and rest. But not all non-Sabbatarians would agree to being called first-day Sabbatarians, wishing to disassociate with all of Sabbatarianism, while yet upholding Sabbath commandment principles on Sunday. Similarly, the common term "Christian Sabbath" is sometimes used to describe the fact that most Christians assemble in worship on Sunday, and may also consider it a day of rest, aligning with the Biblical norms of the Sabbath, and even the Puritans. However, many non-Sabbatarians resist that usage as inaccurate. Most continue to make a clear distinction or separation between the Sabbath and Sunday,[7][8] arguing that the Christian observances on Sunday stand on their own without any necessary connection.

Sunday Sabbatarians

The Puritans of England and Scotland brought a new rigorism into the observance of the Christian Lord's Day, in reaction to the customary Sunday observance of the time, which they regarded as lax. They appealed to Sabbath ordinances with the idea that only the Bible can bind men's consciences in whether or how they will take a break from work, or to impose an obligation to meet at a particular time. Sunday Sabbatarianism is enshrined in its most mature expression, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), in the Calvinist theological tradition. Chapter 21, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day, sections 7-8 read:

7. 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.
8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The confession holds that not only is work forbidden in Sunday, but also "works, words, and thoughts" about "worldly employments and recreations." Instead, the whole day should be taken up with "public and private exercises of [one's] worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."

The Puritans' influential reasoning spread Sabbatarianism to other Protestant denominations during the 17th and 18th centuries, making its way beyond the British Isles to the European continent and the New World. It is primarily through their influence that "Sabbath" has become the colloquial equivalent of "Lord's Day" or "Sunday".

Strict Sunday Sabbatarianism is sometimes called "Puritan Sabbath", and may be contrasted with "Continental Sabbath".[9] The latter follows the continental reformed confessions, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, which emphasize rest and worship on the Lord's Day, but do not explicitly forbid recreational activities.[10] However, in practice, many continental Reformed Christians also abstain from recreation on the Sabbath, following the admonition by the Heidelberg Catechism's author Zacharaias Ursinus that "To keep holy the Sabbath, is not to spend the day in slothfulness and idleness".[11]

Though first-day Sabbatarian practice declined in the 18th century, the evangelical awakening in the 19th century led to a greater concern for strict Sunday observance. The founding of the Lord's Day Observance Society in 1831 was influenced by the teaching of Daniel Wilson.[4]

Seventh-day Baptists

Sabbatarian Meeting House, built in 1729 in Newport, Rhode Island, is now part of the Newport Historical Society building
Ephrata Cloister buildings in December 2006, built in 1732 in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, now administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Seventh-day Baptists emerged out of the separatist movement in England in response to laws enforcing conformity to Sunday worship, founding Mill Yard Seventh Day Baptist Church in London in about 1650.[12] Spreading rapidly to the English colonies, seven members of the First Baptist Church of Newport withdrew from that church to establish Sabbath worship. They called themselves Sabbatarian Baptists, and founded the first Seventh Day Baptist church in America at Newport, Rhode Island in December 1671.[12] A similar occurrence in Piscataway, New Jersey in 1705 led to the formation of a sister conference among the Germans in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in about 1728.[12] The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference united them in 1802.[12] The Ephrata community formed the German Religious Society of Seventh Day Baptists in 1814 and its site came to be known as the Ephrata Cloister. Its last surviving resident, Marie Kachel Bucher, died on July 27, 2008, at the age of 98,[13] but its grounds are now owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and are open to public viewing.

Embracing education where it had not yet become available to the public, the churches established schools, including three that became colleges in Alfred, New York, Milton, Wisconsin, and Salem, West Virginia. A seminary was added at Alfred University in 1871. Missionary activity in the 19th century led to expansion both in the U.S. and overseas into China, India, the Philippines, Oceania, and Africa.[12] Today, its General Conference offices are located in Janesville, Wisconsin, although most of its membership resides outside the U.S.

United in a literal interpretation of the Sabbath commandment to keep the seventh day holy (in worship) and to rest, seventh-day Baptists leave other observances largely to its individual members to interpret and follow for themselves. In this way it represents the least uniform and least rigorous type of Sabbatarianism.[14]

Seventh-day Adventism

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest modern seventh-day Sabbatarian denomination, with 17,214,683 members as of June 30, 2011,[15] and holds the sabbath as one of the Pillars of Adventism. Seventh-day Adventism grew out of the Millerite movement in the 1840s, and a few of its founders (Cyrus Farnsworth, Frederick Wheeler, a Methodist minister and Joseph Bates, a sea captain)were convinced in 1844-1845 of the importance of Sabbatarianism under the influence of Rachel Oakes Preston, a young Seventh Day Baptist laywoman living in Washington, New Hampshire and a published article in early 1845 on the topic (Hope of Israel) by Thomas M. Preble, pastor of the Free Will Baptist congregation in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Seventh-day Adventists observe the sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.[16] In places where the sun does not appear or does not set for several months, such as northern Scandinavia, the tendency is to regard an arbitrary time such as 6 p.m. as "sunset". During the sabbath, Adventists avoid secular work and business, although medical relief and humanitarian work is accepted. Though there are cultural variations, most Adventists also avoid activities such as shopping, sport, and certain forms of entertainment. Adventists typically gather for church services on Saturday morning. Some also gather on Friday evening to welcome in the sabbath hours (sometimes called "vespers" or "opening Sabbath"), and some similarly gather at "closing Sabbath".

Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Ten Commandments (including the fourth commandment concerning the sabbath) are part of the moral law of God, not abrogated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which apply equally to Christians.[17] Seventh-day Adventists believe it is possible to maintain an antinomian position while at the same time faithfully observing the Ten Commandments. Adventists make a keen distinction between the "law of Moses" and the "law of God", with the former being the traditional levitical requirements intended to maintain the integrity of the ancient nation of Israel and their special role in sharing God with the rest of the world, and the latter being the universal moral code by which the universe is governed. In other words, Adventists have traditionally distinguished between "moral law" and "ceremonial law", arguing that the moral law (the Ten Commandments) continues to bind Christians, while events symbolized by the ceremonial law (the law of Moses) were fulfilled by Christ's death on the cross.


"Sabbatarian Adventists" emerged between 1845 and 1849 from within the Adventist movement of William Miller, later to become the Seventh-day Adventists. Frederick Wheeler[18] began keeping the seventh day as the sabbath after personally studying the issue in March 1844 following a conversation with Rachel Preston, according to his later report.[19] He is reputed to be the first ordained Adventist minister to preach in support of the sabbath. Several members of the church in Washington, New Hampshire, to which he occasionally ministered, also followed his decision, forming the first Sabbatarian Adventist church.[20] These included William Farnsworth[21] and his brother Cyrus.[22] T. M. Preble soon accepted it from either Wheeler, Oakes, or someone else at the church. These events preceded the Great Disappointment, which followed shortly after, when Jesus did not return as Millerites expected on October 22, 1844.

Preble was the first Millerite to promote the sabbath in print form, through the February 28, 1845, issue of the Adventist Hope of Israel in Portland, Maine. In March he published his sabbath views in tract form as A Tract, Showing that the Seventh Day Should be Observed as the Sabbath, Instead of the First Day; "According to the Commandment".[23] This tract led to the conversion of John Nevins Andrews and other Adventist families in Paris, Maine, as well as the 1845 conversion of Joseph Bates, who became the foremost proponent of the sabbath among this group. These men in turn convinced James Springer White, Ellen Harmon (later White), and Hiram Edson of New Hampshire.[24] Preble is known to have kept seventh-day sabbath until mid-1847. He later repudiated the sabbath and opposed the Seventh-day Adventists, authoring The First-Day Sabbath.

Bates proposed an 1846 meeting among the believers in New Hampshire and Port Gibson, which took place at Edson's farm, where Edson and other Port Gibson believers readily accepted the sabbath message and forged an alliance with Bates, White, and Harmon. Between April 1848 and December 1850, 22 sabbath conferences in New York and New England allowed White, Bates, Edson, and Stephen Pierce to reach conclusions about doctrinal issues.[25]

Also in 1846, a pamphlet written by Bates created widespread interest in the sabbath. Bates, White, Harmon, Edson, Wheeler, and S. W. Rhodes led the promotion of the sabbath, partly through regular publications.[26] Present Truth magazine was largely devoted to the sabbath at first.[27] J. N. Andrews was the first Adventist to write a book-length defense of the sabbath, first published in 1861. Two of Andrews' books include Testimony of the Fathers of the First Three Centuries Concerning the Sabbath and the First Day[28] and History of the Sabbath.[29]


The pioneers of the church have traditionally taught that the seventh-day Sabbath could be a test, leading to the sealing of God's people during the end times, though there is little consensus about how this will play out. The church has traditionally taught that there could be an international Sunday law enforced by a coalition of religious and secular authorities, and that all who do not observe it will be persecuted, imprisoned or martyred. This is taken from the church's interpretation, following Ellen G. White, of Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:15, Revelation 7, Ezekiel 20:12-20, and Exodus 31:13. Some early Adventists were indeed jailed for working on Sunday, in violation of various local blue laws that legislated Sunday as a day of rest. It has been speculated that a universal Sunday law could soon be enforced, as a sign of the end times.

See also


  1. Watts, Michael R. (March 19, 2015). The Dissenters: Volume III: The Crisis and Conscience of Nonconformity, Volume 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 156–160. ISBN 9780198229698.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Edersheim, Alfred (1994). "Sabbath in the Temple". The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (updated ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. pp. 149–50. ISBN 1565631366. There was scarcely any Divine ordinance, which the Rabbis, by their traditions, rendered more fully void, and converted into [a yoke], than the Sabbath law. [Christ] exhibited the true meaning and object of the Sabbath. Never did the antagonism between the spirit and the letter more clearly appear.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Schaff, Philip; Wace, Henry (eds.), "Synod of Laodicea, Canon 29", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series (NPNF2, Vol 14), retrieved 3 Jul 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bauckham, R. J. (1982). "Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition". In Carson, D. A (ed.). From Sabbath to Lord's Day. Zondervan. pp. 311–342.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ashton, Michael. Sunday and the Sabbath - Bible teaching about God's day of rest. The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association, Birmingham, 1993.
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  8. Canon of Holy Saturday (Orthodox), Kontakion: "Exceeding blessed is this Sabbath, on which Christ has slumbered, to rise on the third day."
  9. Marsden, George (1991). Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Eerdmans. p. 25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 103.
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  29. [1] DjVu, [2] HTML