Is Anything Wrong with “Sunday Church”?

“Sunday church” is a derogatory term I hear from well-meaning people, usually of the Judeo-Christian variety (Hebraic roots, Jewish roots, gentile Messianics). The adjective Sunday place before the word church is thought to convey all that is wrong with religion that is unenlightened about the Jewish origins of faith in God and Jesus.

In part, “Sunday church” is the language of frustration. I would like to affirm the validity of some forms of this frustration while at the same time making the case that there’s nothing wrong with Sunday church..

The first source of frustration that leads people to a term like Sunday church is the often-repeated, continually reinforced, and woefully misinformed church language of replacement, triumphalism, supersessionism. How many sermons and Sunday School lessons must the Judaically informed Christian sit through in which the Pharisees are nothing but villains, the Temple is held up as an example of faulty and carnal worship, the law is portrayed as 613 rules to make life miserable, and Jews, at best, are the people who have some future hope in God’s plan but who have completely departed from God and belong to a false religion?

The second source is either what I will call strict Sunday-ism or benignly blind Sunday-ism or even the Sabbath-as-symbolic-principle school.

Strict Sunday-ism says the Sabbath was Saturday until Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday and God changed it. Lacking biblical support, only those who are either uninformed about the Bible or who belong to a denomination whose tradition names Sunday as the Sabbath tend to believe this. I would characterize this view as a harmful deception which should be denounced.

Benignly-blind Sunday-ism is the more common variety. Adherents generally haven’t thought deeply about the matter. It is assumed that as Saturday was allegedly the Jewish day of worship (actually, the biblical Sabbath is not a day of gathering or national worship) and Christians instead worship on Sunday, that Sunday must now be a Sabbath. But these folks do not generally observe any Sabbath restrictions (Golden Coral after church?).

A lesser form, one which seeks to be more Jewish friendly in some cases, is the Sabbath-as-symbolic-principle school. God just wants us to rest. Pick any day. Sabbath means whatever.

Those who criticize and avoid “Sunday church” have some legitimate gripes about these matters. The Sabbath is what God says it is. Who redefines what God defines? Good luck with that. And replacement theology is harmful, has led directly and indirectly to genocidal rampages throughout church history, and needs to be utterly stamped out. Many thanks to writers like Barry Horner (Future Israel) and R. Kendall Soulen (The God of Israel and Christian Theology) who have so excellently made the case (tons more have as well, but these two are my faves).

But there are several reasons why nothing is wrong with Sunday church:

(1) It is not true that God requires Saturday to be a day of worship or the primary day of worship. This was not the practice of the earliest Yeshua-community (every day, perhaps with Saturday night havdallah as the main time of gathering in houses).

(2) Sabbath is about rest, not gathering. Do not believe English translations of Leviticus 23 which call the Sabbath a holy convocation. It is a holy proclamation (check the Hebrew). There were no synagogues in ancient Israel. What do you think the people from way north in Dan had motorcycles to ride to the Temple every week?

(3) The tradition of Christians, probably non-Jews, worshipping on Sunday was set early. You are right to say that the evidence for exclusive Sunday worship in the New Testament is lacking (two references, don’t include the one in Revelation which does not say Sunday, and neither reference establishes a rule). The Didache, early 2nd Century, perhaps establishes that Sunday was the norm (I could be wrong and I am not a Didache expert).

(4) It makes great sense that non-Jews, for whom the Sabbath is not a requirement (see Exodus 31:13), would choose Sunday, as Yeshua rose on that day. Why should non-Jews keep a Jewish day that is not required of them and has little meaning for most of them?

So, here is what I propose. If you are a Judaically informed Christian or a Messianic Jew and you wish to use language indicating your frustration with churches where replacement theology is routinely expressed, or where the teaching is light on the Bible and uninformed about God’s covenants and the origins of Christian faith, please don’t call them “Sunday churches.”

Why not call them Supersessionist churches, if that is the main thing that bothers you. Or if it is a matter of ignorance of God’s covenants and the history of redemption in which the nations have been brought to Messiah and the God of Israel through the people of Abraham that bothers you, why not call them Shallow churches? Sunday isn’t the problem.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Barry Horner, Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Sabbath. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Is Anything Wrong with “Sunday Church”?

  1. Aaron says:

    Good point. I also like to mention that every fully populated Orthodox synagogue has services on Sunday. Actually, not being the Sabbath actually makes Sunday a very convenient time for several important community activities (such as handling donations – cf. 1 Cor 16:2). It could be that Sunday activity took hold among early Jewish believers specifically because it wasn’t the Sabbath.

  2. drake82dunaway says:

    Sabbatarian Christians often evoke the “Beast” in Daniel “who would change the laws and the times.” Worldwide Church of God, SDA, all believe Sunday worshipers bear the mark of the beast and are doomed. But my conscience tells me otherwise.

    However, what is the meaning of that passage in Daniel? I have not really discerned it. I’m not a nutjob who thinks Sunday worshipers are lost, although I keep Sabbath myself.

    Dan 7:25 “And he [the little horn] shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”

    Was that King Antiochus IV?

    If G-d dreamt the universe into existence, I guess I can see the times and weeks as His alpha waves…His circadian rhythm. Or so I like to imagine…

  3. Dear Derek,

    It is ok but we Messianic Jews need TO TEACH more. Many believes don’t know this. I say so: Sunday is first day and Shabbat is the seventh day. 7 is fullness, we see this in all Bible.

  4. Pingback: “Little Meaning For Them” « Heaven is Near

  5. cybrsage says:

    Romans 14

    Romans 14
    The Danger of Criticism
    3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.
    5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him…
    10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

  6. jgj84la says:

    I wonder… Perhaps, it was Hashem’s plan for gentile belivers to worship on Sunday because He wants a bilateral ecclesiology.

  7. jaysalt says:

    derek. thanks for the article. it hits it straight home to me.

    can you please comment on why (if God chose to reveal himself to Israel, and i believe one of Israel’s role is to reveal God to gentiles) should we not, as messianic gentiles, attempt to mirror some of the things that God has commanded to Israel which were specific for them at that time, but will also be relevant for all mankind in the kingdom to come?

    i believe one of them is sabbath rest. yes, it may not be relevant for us gentiles now, on which day we worship, but do you think when God’s millennial kingdom comes that we will be worshiping on a Sunday rather than a sabbath? is not this life a good time to practice for things to come?

    i believe that sunday worship, functions to build relationships with other people, spur on each other and all the good things that comes with it. but then, any benign club or organisation devoid of God may also function and benefit in the same way.

    obedience of sabbath rest, i believe, pleases God. sunday worship was never a command. yes it may be good, for the reasons mentioned beforehand, but in terms of worshiping God, could it be futile or superfluous?

  8. cybrsage says:

    As I understand it, those who choose to sojourn with Israel (walk with, adopt the ways of, etc) are considered Jews for purposes of the Law. If they honestly follow the ways of Israel, then their children are born Jewish, regardless of the bloodline of the mother. Ruth is a prime example of such a person. She was definately not a Jew, but she chose to sojourn with Israel (your ways are my ways, your people my people, your God my God).

    You can follow Yeshua and not sojourn with Israel.

  9. Derek,

    Thanks for articulating these points and making some practical suggestions. Your post made me wonder, “When did Christians start referring to Sunday as “the Sabbath?” Typically the accusation that I hear is that this happened at some early church council or through Constantine–but is there any basis in fact in that?

    I wrote a blog post on the question:

    Shabbat shalom,

    • cybrsage says:

      Constantine did, at the Council of Laodicea
      Canon XXIX.

      Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

      The Lord’s Day, was Sunday, as decreed by Constantine a few years earlier.

      • cybrsage,

        It’s clear to me that the council ruling prohibited Christians from resting on the Sabbath, and instead ruled that they should worship and rest on Sunday. However, the excerpt you posted actually preserves the distinction between the Sabbath (the day of Jews and “Judaizers”) and Sunday (the “proper” day of worship for Christians). But what it doesn’t say is “Sunday has now become the Sabbath.”

        I’m sure that the latter statement has indeed been made many times in Christian history. I’d just like to know when it was said first and in what context.

  10. What cybrsage said is mostly correct. Sunday as primary day started much earlier. Constantine and the council did bring a number of anti-Jewish and supersessionist measures. I recommend reading Mark Kinzer’s paper on Messianic Judaism and Nicea. If you click the Mark Kinzer category here you can see some of what he has to say.

    The subtle error here is that Constantine is the bad guy who corrupted everything. Anti-Judaism was well established in the church before him. He changed little, but only used his emperor’s voice to stamp a lot of existing ideas.

  11. Derek, you said,

    >> “Sabbath is about rest, not gathering. Do not believe English translations of Leviticus 23 which call the Sabbath a holy convocation. It is a holy proclamation (check the Hebrew)

    I’m going to hesitantly take issue with this statement. :grin:

    My very limited Hebrew vocab says the word here is מִקְרָא, “miqra”, meaning an assembly of people. Looking at several translations, including some Jewish (non-Christian) translations of the Tenakh, I see miqra there. Am I mistaken?

    Perhaps our friend Mr. Eby here could contribute his expert Hebrew skills to clear this up?

  12. Judah:

    Consider Lev 23:4, then, which has miqra and also tiqre’u, from the same root. It is translated, “the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim.” So, in one, it is assumed that the word from qara means “assemble” but in the other “proclaim.” This, I am saying, is an error. Jacob Milgrom also says this is an error (going on memory as his commentary is not at my fingertips at the moment).

    All references to miqra’ei kodesh and miqra in general are either about something that must happen on feast days that are Shabbats (Yom Tovs in modern Jewish parlance) or about speaking/reading aloud. Qara is about verbal proclamation, not assembly.

    And, as I argued here, and wonder how you would respond to this, there could be no possibility of a national gathering every Shabbat. There were no synagogues. Some, who have debated me about this, have said, “Well, they must have met in homes.” Where is the instruction for that?

    It means a sacred proclamation (to cease work and observe the Sabbath nationally). Some have suggested an assembly of priests at the Temple, but I don’t think this is in view either. Qara is about proclamation, not assembly.

    Derek Leman

    • Interesting. Thanks for the info.

      I don’t know whether ancient Israelites assembled together for shabbat, homes or otherwise, I’m was only taking issue with your assertion that “convocation” wasn’t in the Hebrew text.

      It still isn’t entirely clear to me. I am cautious of arguments that start, “You see, virtually all translations have this wrong”. I wish I knew Hebrew better.

  13. Thanks for the information; Our problem with religion today is interpretation of the Bible.May GOD help us.

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