“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.