An earlier post I wrote, Answering Seventh-day Adventism, has generated some helpful feedback from both current and former Adventists. The consensus seems to be that even if Catholics can show that the founders of Seventh-day Adventism were false prophets, that won’t be good enough.
At its core, the logic is simple: Sabbath observance is part of the Ten Commandments. Actually, Adventists often claim that it’s the most important of the Ten. White made the odd claim that it was “the only one of the ten which brings to view the true God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.” So if One of the Ten Commandments is no longer binding, what about the other Nine? Can we just start murdering and committing idolatry, willy-nilly?
The answer to this gets into a broader question of the relationship between the relationship between the Law of Moses and the New Covenant. The short answer is this: Christ fulfilled the Law. None of the Law is binding simply by virtue of being the Law. Instead, here’s what we’re bound to follow (from Matthew 22:36-40):
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Those are the two commandments that we Christians have to live out. So some of the moral rules and restrictions found in the Law are still in effect: not because they’re Law, but because they’re necessary for living out a life of love of God and love of neighbor. This necessarily means that the prohibition against murder is treated very differently than, say, the prohibition against wearing wool and linen at the same time (Deuteronomy 22:11).
There’s much more that can be said on that topic, but like I said, that’s a bit complex. So let’s look at the simpler question: what happens to the Sabbath. And here’s the answer that the Scriptures give.
The Old Testament set special days set aside each week (the Sabbath), each month (the New Moon), and each year (the specific religious festivals, like Passover). Solomon refers to each of these in 2 Chronicles 2:4, in a letter to Hiram, the king of Tyre:
Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.
So what happens to these special observances in the New Covenant? Look at Colossians 2:16, right after the passage I quoted yesterday, in which St. Paul says:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
That’s about as clear as can be. We’re not bound to observe Passover or Hanukkah, or the New Moon celebrations, or the Saturday Sabbath. We’ll get to why this is, shortly, but for now, just recognize that the above passage ends the controversy. Christians are not still bound by the Saturday Sabbath. So Seventh-day Adventism’s central doctrine is still false.
Without going into a full discussion of the relationship between the Law and the New Covenant, for now, it’ll suffice that Jesus Christ said of His mission: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). He died on the Cross on Friday, and was laid in the Tomb. He rose again on Easter Sunday, “when the Sabbath was over” (Mark 16:1). That is, His Body rested in the Tomb, fulfilling the Sabbath once and for all. By forever tying the Sabbath in with the Triduum, Christ swept the Sabbath up into eternity.
So how do Christians observe the Sabbath now? We hear the answer in Hebrews 4:6-11. After
Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.”
This He did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage 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 later about another day.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
St. Paul often offers solid pastoral advice for dealing with those who still found bound by the Jewish Law. He’s quick to correct their errors, as their spiritual father, but he’s just as quick to tell the rest of us to mind our own business. So he corrects the claim that Saturday Sabbath observance is necessary, but then he has this to say to the rest of us, in Romans 14:5-6:
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
This is an important point to keep in mind. Yes, Adventists are wrong when they claim that the observance is still required. (In fact, Romans 14:5-6 wouldn’t make sense if they were right, since Paul would have to say that the one who regards every day alike was sinning against the most important Commandment.)
But if Christians want to devote Saturday to God in a special way, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, they’re doing something for God, and it’s pleasing to Him. It only becomes wrong once they declare that this is somehow required, or that everyone is supposed to do it.
Given that no one day is inherently more sacred than any others, as Paul’s writings show, why do Catholics have things like a Sunday obligation? Short answer, Hebrews 10:25 tells us to continue assembling together as Christians. Communal worship doesn’t work if people come and go whenever they want, so every Church – Catholic, Protestant, Adventist, you name it – sets worship times. The Catholic Church sets the primary day for worship on Sunday, to ensure that the full assembly of Christians is present together, encouraging one another and worshiping God. Longer answer? Here.
Update: Link fixed.