Are Christians who meet together to worship God on Sunday deceived? Historically, the Adventist church has answered this question in the affirmative. “Sunday-worshipers”, as they are often labeled by Adventists, are obviously misled because they ignore God’s clear command to worship on Saturday, citing the Fourth Commandment as evidence (Exodus 20:8-11). And if those who worship on Sunday are deceived, someone must be guilty of promoting this deception. As such, it is perhaps not surprising to see an Adventist conclude that Christians who believe the Fourth Commandment supports Sunday “Sabbath” observance are guilty of promoting great deception. This is sadly the conclusion of a recent Adventist Review article by journalist Mark Kellner entitled “The Lure of Sabbath Deception”.
The stimulus for Kellner’s article was a sermon series he heard on the radio by Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. In this series, Begg argued for a continuing role of the Old Testament Sabbath for Christians. Because Christians worship together on Sunday, Begg belives the Sabbath principle should continue to apply to this day. To an Adventist, Begg’s teaching is part of the great deception about the Sabbath that has been promoted in Christianity since the fourth century rule of the Roman emperor Constantine. Adventist prophetess Ellen White claimed that Christians would one day be tested on their loyalty to God on the basis of their day of worship—those who worship on Saturday will be eligible for heaven while those who worship on Sunday will not.
Kellner revives this Adventist teaching in his criticism of Begg. “So how did [Begg] move from dogmatic insistence on honoring the fourth commandment to an about-face on the God-specified day?” Begg’s answer, of course, is that the day of worship was changed from Saturday to Sunday in the first century as a result of Jesus’ Sunday resurrection. Striking at the heart of Adventism’s view of early Christian history, Begg stated that Constantine did not change the day of worship 300 years after Christ’s death, but merely endorsed a widespread and long-standing Christian practice. Kellner, obviously not moved by this argument but providing no evidence of his own, writes, “Such assertions, however, lack much in the way of actual historical proof...”. Nevermind that over one hundred years earlier, former Adventist preacher D.M. Canright provided ample historical evidence to support Begg’s conclusions.
Not surprisingly, Begg reported receiving harsh criticism of his position from Adventists, some even accusing him of not being a Christian. Kellner casts doubt over the truthfulness of Begg’s account, saying, “...there’s little way of proving that such a charge was made”. Perhaps Kellner chose his words poorly, but the way the article reads, Begg’s honesty is at least implicitly questioned. Kellner proceeds to counter the Adventist criticism of Begg by citing the Adventist fundamental belief statement that “the universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ.”
While Kellner is willing to give Begg the title of “Christian” with the one hand, he endeavors to take it away with the other. “To be sure, God will hold responsible those who don’t keep the Bible Sabbath when it is plainly revealed that Sundaykeeping is a counterfeit. But to multiple millions—and even perhaps to Alistair Begg himself—there is justification for ignoring the Bible’s clear command, at least for now.” It is left to the reader to decide whether Begg is really a Christian, but we can be sure that if he has ignored the Bible’s “clear command”, he will be “held responsible” for his actions. For those who know the Adventist version of end-time events, the underlying message is fairly obvious. If Begg rejects the teaching of God’s Word about the Sabbath when it becomes “plainly revealed”, he will receive the mark of the beast. The only hope is that God will not make Sunday “plainly revealed” as a “counterfeit” during his lifetime so that Begg won’t be held accountable for accepting Satan’s false Sabbath and receive his mark.
Turning his attention toward other Christian teachers, Kellner presses home his point. “...there is an added level of concern now—a lure, if you will, of deception about the Sabbath.” Listing a group of Christian authors who have written about the Sabbath as it applies to Sunday, Kellner claims that a great deception is unfolding before our eyes. Satan is using these Christian authors to lure more people into false Sabbath worship so that apparently, more people will be lost by receiving his mark. In a sarcastic tone, Kellner singles out the noted Christian author Marva Dawn. “The lures posed by radio expounders such as Begg, Tony Evans of the Urban Alternative, and some Christian authors—including Marva Dawn (author of several books on ‘keeping Sabbath’ without keeping the Sabbath)—appear to be that one can freely choose how to observe a commandment of God without adhering to what God dictates.” Using the same logic, an orthodox Jew could just as easily include Kellner among a list of authors who write about the Sabbath without actually keeping it the way God prescribed. One wonders what Kellner does with the very explicit list of commands God gave to the Israelites about how the Sabbath was to be observed, much less the commands to observe feasts and holy days.
Concluding the article, Kellner leaves his audience with the take-home message. What are we to do with this growing evangelical Christian interest in Sabbath—interest that is clothed in the world’s greatest deception? “The opportunity for Adventists, in their words and in their living witness, is to present Sabbath, and Sabbathkeeping, as not only delightful, but attractive. It may surprise many to see who shows up when we treat the Sabbath as a true delight, and share that delight with the world.” The centerpiece of Adventist evangelism is here on vivid display—it is all about the Sabbath. Non-Christians and Christians alike need this precious message, because without it, they may stand condemned. If the Sabbath is made attractive enough, people will begin to realize that they should be keeping it and thereby avoid God’s condemnation.
It’s tragic, but what’s missing from all of this is Jesus. If only Adventists had the same zeal for converting people to Christ that they have for converting them to a day of worship. Sadly, the most precious message of Christianity has been replaced in Adventism by the worship of a day. The day was never meant to be the object of worship or the dividing line between believers, but a sign pointing the way to Jesus, who deserves all worship. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17, see also Romans 14:5-6) The apostle Paul’s teaching is straightforward. All who would divide the body of Christ over a day of worship have missed his point. While Christians hold fast to the substance of Christ, Adventists continue to direct people to his shadow and in so doing, risk missing the Savior who can redeem them from their sin, even their sin of imperfect Sabbath-keeping.