Occasionally the question of when should Christians meet comes up in religious discussions. It is a question that rightly deserves an answer from scripture, and though that is true, many of those who pose the question believe that no clear answer can be found in Gods writ.
The question is of importance not only to us who seek to correctly follow the word of God, but it is also important in our teaching of those round about us as concerns the accuracy of scripture. We must be able to clearly discern the will of God in order to do that which God would have us to do.
Perhaps you have been asked or have heard one of the following questions or some that are similar to them.
Why do Christians meet on Sunday? As there are some Christian groups that don’t meet on Sunday; what is wrong if we pick the day to worship; or won’t another day do?
Why don’t Christians meet on the Jewish Sabbath?
Or perhaps, you’ve heard the statement that the Christian day of worship is the equivalent of the Sabbath and should be kept as such.
To find an answer to these questions we need to sit down to read and study the word of God. There is found the answer to this and to every other question we might pose. But we must be willing to seek out the word of God and then to diligently search it in answer to our questions. Paul told Timothy to “Study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” If we start every inquiry with such a mind we will never err from the path that has been set before us.
Let’s start into this by noting that the Sabbath is not a Christian day of worship at all. It is not given as a holy day or talked about as a day to be observed anywhere in the New Testament. If you can find such a recommendation, an example, or a command to observe the Sabbath as a Holy Day anywhere in the New Testament, I would be unaware of it.
It may be useful to see where the Sabbath comes from at this point. The beginning of the Sabbath dates to long before the Law of Moses and the rise of the people of Israel. Please look at Genesis chapter two.
The Sabbath actually dates to the remotest edge of time itself – to the first of days and the end of the creation of the earth and all life here. At the end of the six-day cycle of creation God rested from his mighty labor. Note Genesis 2:2 – 3: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
This passage not only introduces the Sabbath but also tells us its purpose – God blessed the seventh day because he had concluded his grand work in the creation of heaven and earth. The Sabbath then began as a holy day ordained by God in the earliest reaches of time that man might remember the great and abiding works of the God of Heaven. And so the Sabbath was given to provide a day for God to rest and for man to honor and remember the unparalleled works of the creator.
This day of remembrance was observed by the Israelites even before the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses had been given. Evidence of this can be found in Exodus 16, beginning in verse 22:
“And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice the bread, two omers for each person. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “this is what the Lord has said: “”tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.
Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none. Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”
Notice that although this preceded the giving of the Law and the Ten Commandments, it was told them as to what they should do concerning this incident and the gathering of manna and the observance of the Sabbath. Notice again, that it was given even here as the commandment of God for their observance.
However, it wasn’t long at all until the Sabbath observance was coded and brought into the Law of Moses through one of the original Ten Commandments. This is borne out in a reading of Exodus 20 and the several other places in which the law is repeated in the Books of Moses. In chapter 20 beginning in verse 8, we read: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
If you should desire to honor the Sabbath as a day hallowed to the Lord, you have just read some very good reasons why you might wish to do so, but its observance is not and was not ever commanded for anyone beyond the Children of Israel under Moses Law.
The Sabbath observance remained a part of the duty of Israel until the time when Christ died and abolished the law of ordinances. For as Paul observed at the death of Christ, the ordinances of the Law of Moses were no longer binding. This is noted in Colossians 2:14 (one of several such passages): “that Jesus, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us, (and He) has taken it out of the way having nailed it to the cross.”
As far as I know God never “de-sanctified” the Sabbath. But he specifically told the nation of Israel to observe it as a holy day and no other people have ever had such a command – including you and including me. You can search the New Testament from cover to cover and you’ll not find a command such as the ones that we have just noted and identified in the Law of Moses coming from the Old Testament concerning the observance of the Sabbath by anyone other than Israel. You’ll not come across any command, example, or inference to or for Christians or for anyone else except Israel to observe the Sabbath as a hallowed day, as a religious day.
In your search however, what you will find is where Jesus and his disciples observed the Sabbath, and not only that, you’ll find they sought out the Jewish assemblies in the synagogues that met on the Sabbath.
As believers and Jews, they obeyed the commands they had been given each week. But even more than this, Jesus went to the local synagogue each Sabbath, for which there was no command. This is rather like our coming out in the churches for own mid-week meeting times. That this was their custom is told us in the scriptures in Luke 4:16: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” Apparently he attended to this on every available occasion. Further I believe that they went to the synagogue not for any imposed ordinance (for the Jews had no such command) but rather because it was the gathering place of the Jews and the center of their culture and seat of learning. I think we miss something in that today, in that if you want to teach people the truth you should have the idea that you need to carry the word to them, and not expect them to come to you to get it. What Jesus did in his day would be the equivalent of some of us going over to the other fellows meetinghouse on a Wednesday evening to learn and to teach among them.
But, lets move on.
While the Sabbath began as a strictly enforced day of no work, the Jews of later times began to fill it with imposed observances and even greater restrictions and codes. This appears to have been the doing of the rulers of the Jews at sometime prior to the time of Christ, although history and time have obscured the beginnings of the changes. While it had always been an enforced day and the observance was strict enough, it in time became much more structured. You could only travel so far, you could only do certain types of activities; and it became an observance that had been embellished through the traditions of men. But the point is still that God commanded Israel to observe it, and though they changed and modified its observance, it was still only the Jews that had this requirement.
With that said, let’s now move on to the larger question: “why do Christians meet on the first day of the week?” The second of related questions to this one is “Why don’t Christians meet on the Jewish Sabbath?”
Let’s do an examination of the evidence in the scriptures as to the times that Christians meet in assembly and why they meet. First, let us note that the purpose of our meeting is to worship God and to honor Christ in the memorial supper. Second, we do so on the day of our Lords resurrection – the first day of the week. There are many that don’t understand this, but as we gather to worship God and our Savior, we come together primarily to partake of the memorial feast. We do so on the same day upon which our Lord arose. Now you might well ask: how do I know that such a thing is true?
Look at the reason for the assembly on the first day of the week as it is posed in the scriptures. By note the word church refers to a “called out” group, an assembly of purpose, and this has been mentioned repeatedly in articles on this site. The church is composed of those who are called out for a reason, a particular function and purpose. This is extremely important. We as Christians are that assembly of purpose. And the central purpose in this assembly is, as I just said, to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
The memorial supper is a reminder of the death of Christ. Lets take a look at a passage that should be familiar to most: 1 Corinthians 11, beginning with verse 17. In this section Paul is talking to the collective body of Christians – the church meeting in Corinth.
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was bet ray ed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lords death till He comes.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lords body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
Here we learn of the proper disposition for Christians in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, as well as the actual purpose of the supper. We said earlier that the purpose of our assembly is primarily to partake of this supper. This passage clearly teaches that.
Let’s take a careful read of verses 18 through 20 again: “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.”
Examining the instructions here in detail, we see that the apostle is instructing the Christians at Corinth that the very purpose of their meeting is in participation in the memorial supper. Paul is chiding them because of the factions they had fallen into and he states that in being so divided that they have overlooked the principal purpose of their coming together – to partake of the Lord’s Supper. He tells them because they were coming together with other things in mind — “therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” By this statement the apostle implies that the center of their coming together was in fact to partake of the Lords Supper. Therefore the assembly of purpose has as its central purpose the taking of the memorial supper.
We are also interested in the phrase, “the Lord’s Supper” as it occurs here, but well return to that in a moment.
So we have established that the main purpose of the assembly is to partake of the memorial supper. (Now I’m not trying to lessen the importance of the other acts of worship – God has given them as well. But the fundamental and central purpose in what we do is to come together to partake of the supper and that should be clear from the previous reading.)
If we can ascertain then when the Supper is to be observed we can settle on the day that Christians should come together in the assembly of purpose – the church.
There are a number of places that we reference to establish this. Lets start with Acts 20:7, there the record states: “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.”
Here is plainly stated that the disciples came together on the first day of the week (literally “the day after Sabbath”) with the express intent to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Now I will dispense with the futile argument that states the phrase “to break bread” implies a common meal or anything other than the taking of the memorial supper. There is no reason to think the church had come together to eat a fellowship meal as we have just read of that very activity being condemned by Paul at Corinth. If there is any consistency, Paul would not condemn in one group what he might allow in another under the same circumstances. God is not the author of confusion.
You should note that it was Paul’s intention to stay in Troas until this meeting with the church there on the first day of the week. Take a look at verse 6: “But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas , where we stayed seven days.” Clearly the intent and purpose was to meet with the church specifically to partake of the Supper on the day of the “assembly of purpose.” You should also note that the meeting of the church was not arbitrary, but was on a known schedule, so that Paul’s purpose was to tarry at Troas in order to be present when this regular assembly took place.
It is then quite clear from this that on the first day of the week the church – that assembly of purpose – came together with the express purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and in so doing fulfilled the main part of their obligations in worship to God. In meeting on the first day of the week we then likewise commemorate our Lord’s resurrection, and in partaking of the Supper we so remember the Lord’s death until he comes. Friends, if you are attending a church that does anything but that, you then stand in jeopardy of losing your soul.
We should also note that from the very day the Lord arose, the disciples met on the first day of the week. Please take note of the record from John chapter 20 and verse 19. This portion of the narrative takes place the evening of the day of Christ’s resurrection: “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Now look at verse 26: “And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”
As the Jews counted the starting point of any list as first count, so eight days from the first day of the week, counting it as the first takes you to the next “day after Sabbath,” the first day of the following week.
In effect here you have a record of the disciples specifically meeting upon the first day of the week two weeks in succession. Acts 20:7 bears out that this, meeting upon the first day of the week, was also the practice in later days.
These are the well-known evidences, and they are more than adequate; but there is more.
Take a minute to read Revelation 1:10. There John stated, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”
This is the only occurrence of this English phrase (“the Lord’s Day”) in the scriptures. This is really a combination of two phrases: first – “the Lord’s” and the second is the familiar phrase, “the day after the Sabbath.” As the day after Sabbath is properly rendered as the first day of the week we could take John’s language to literally mean, “The Lord’s Day after the Sabbath” or as, “the day after the Sabbath belonging to the Lord.”
Now lets examine the first portion of the phrase, “the Lord’s Day” — as pertaining to the words in English – “the Lord’s.” This wording occurs only here in Revelations 1:10 and in 1 Corinthians 11:20 as we had noted and drawn from earlier: “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.”
The point is that this Lord’s Day that John refers to is the “day after the Sabbath belonging to the Lord.” We could then rightly say that it is “the first day of the week belonging to the Lord.”
We then can also use similar phrasing to describe the Supper – “the Supper belonging to the Lord.” These two occurrences of the phrase, “the Lord’s” are the only such occurrences of this wording that are found in the New Testament.
The actual phrase, “the Lord’s” in this case is much stronger than you might surmise from the suggestions we have given here. The scholars of the Greek language unanimously state that this phrase, “The Lord’s” refers to a particular scheduled event as “pertaining (belonging) to a Lord or Master.”
While most of the time I prefer to stick simply to the scriptures and to let the word itself be its own interpreter, and we have made this a rule in the articles listed here whenever possible. But, this is one of those cases where a little outside help is of use in solidifying the intent of the writers for our understanding. In order to aid in understanding fully the meaning of this word translated as “the Lord’s,” it is of use to go to some of the scholarly works commonly available to read what they have had to say.
W. E. Vines work (particularly his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) is widely accepted as meeting the highest standards for accuracy and clarity in Biblical word studies. Mr. Vine noted this of these two phrases: “”Pertaining to a lord or master; “lordly is not a legitimate rendering for its use in the NT, where it is used only of Christ; in 1 Cor. 11:20, of the Lord’s Supper, or the Supper of the Lord; (and) in Rev. 1:10, of the Day of the Lord.”
Mr. Vines studies concerning this word are supported by all of the major lexicons and dictionaries that mention this topic.
Probably the most interesting remarks concerning this are found in the late A.T. Robertson’s Word Studies in the New Testament. Robertson was one of the first scholars to concentrate on the common Greek in his translations and word studies (what is called Koine Greek). This is what Mr. Robertson had to say of this phrase from his notes on Revelation 1: “(Deismann*) has proven (Bible Studies, p 217f; Light, etc. p 357ff) from inscriptions and papyri that the word (kuriakos) was in common use for the sense of “imperial as imperial finance and imperial treasury and from papyri and ostraca that (hemera Sebaste) (Augustus Day) was the first day of each month, Emperors Day, on which money payments were made (cf – 1 Cor. 16:1f). It was easy, therefore, for the Christians to take this term, already in use, and apply it to the first day of the week in honor of the Lord Jesus Christs resurrection on that day. In the NT the word occurs only here and 1 Cor. 11:20 (kuriakon deipnon The Lords Supper). It has no reference to (hemera kuriou) (the day of judgment, II Pet. 3:10 ).”
[*Note: “Deismann” here refers to Adolph Deismann, a Biblical scholar and linguist and a contemporary of Robertson. (RAV)]
Robertson’s notes on 1 Corinthians 11 read similarly.
If this phrase doesn’t refer to the Christian day of worship, the first day of every week, then I’m at a loss as to what it does refer.
It is then my opinion that this is the strongest scriptural evidence as to why Christians should meet on the first day of the week. Coupled with the preceding scriptures and thoughts, it is simply stated that all evidence shows that from the very first Christians have met on the Lord’s Day: the first day of the week. And what is also clear is that the meeting on this the Lord’s Day, was to partake of the Lord’s Supper. This day is rightly called “the first day of the week belonging to the Lord,” or as said simply “the Lord’s Day.” And so the Supper is also rightly called the “Supper belonging to the Lord” or as stated: “the Lord’s Supper.”
Any church claiming to be following Christ, which meets in assembly on any other day than the Lord’s first day of the week, either ignorantly or willfully chooses not to teach and use these scriptures, or they lack the desire to actually perform the will of God. Any church that ignores the purpose of the memorial supper on that day willfully ignores the intent and purpose of these scriptures or they lack the desire to actually perform the will of God.
On the first day of every week we gather together to worship God, to honor the Son of God and to perform our obligations before God. These things are not based on flimsy notions or flights of fancy, but upon sincere application of the patterns left for us in the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, these things are not so obscure that we cannot find the truth and then apply it.
Perhaps these things will aid you when asked by friends and acquaintances to explain why Christians meet when they do, and why we do what we do.