Sabbatarian Churches of God: What Are the Doctrinal Distinctives of a Sabbatarian Church of God?
This is an article which has been written to help define what the basic Sabbatarian Church of God is. I was born-again and drawn to Jesus in one, and attended that same Sabbatarian Church of God for over 27 years. So I know a little bit about them. First I am going to explain a couple Messianic Jewish terms that defines these groups and how they differ from the rest of Gentile Christianity. All the Sabbatarian Church of God denominations fit into the first of these two categories, while one did come into the second category, but did not remain a non-Torah observant Sabbatarian Church of God for more than five or six years, before becoming a Sunday observing church. So here goes with those two Messianic terms or categories:
Torah-observant: Torah-observant believers in Jesus believe the Ten Commandment Law of God including seventh day Sabbath, Holy Days of Leviticus 23 and dietary laws of Leviticus 11 are in full force for the believer. They often look at other (Sunday observing) believers as “false Christians” from strictly a doctrinal belief point of view, and not out of any hatred or dislike for Sunday observers. As such their doctrinal beliefs have separated them out from active joint participation within the rest of the body of Christ. They still perform an active and important role in witnessing to the carnal world, as the Lord directs them. Romans 14 warns, “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (vs. 4). That “man” in “man’s servant” is Jesus Christ, in context with Paul’s epistle here. Having spent 27 years in one of these Sabbatarian Churches of God, and having fellowshipped with several others from time to time, I have witnessed the indwelling Holy Spirit in many if not most of their membership.
Non-Torah observant: Non-Torah observant believers in Jesus or Yeshua believe in what they term as the New Testament “Law of Christ” (9 of the 10 Commandments) to be in full force for the believer. They believe “Days of Worship” have been made an optional choice according to their interpretation of the New Testament (cf. Romans 14 and Acts 15). That means “days of worship” are an optional choice for them, left up to the believer and the denomination he or she attends. If one does not agree with the choice of his or her denomination, the individual is free to go to the one that matches his or her choice in days of worship. Gentile Christian believers for almost 1700 years have chosen Sunday/Christmas/Easter as their primary days of worship. Messianic Jewish believers who are non-Torah observant choose the Sabbath and Holy Days to worship on, and most also observe the dietary laws of Leviticus 11, mostly out of ethnic cultural choice. But rest assured, their Messianic Jewish observance almost matches the observance of the Torah observant Sabbatarian Churches of God, those days being previously ingrained into their cultural upbringing for millennia.
I prefer these Messianic terms over others, as they are totally non-derogatory and lack the slanderous connotation of other terms that have been used to define these two groups of believers.
Torah-observant Sabbatarian Churches of God
As you will notice, it is the “Days of Worship” which define the Sabbatarian Churches of God. In their obedience to the biblical Christian standards Christ gave to the Church (i.e. 9 of the 10 Commandments), they are in total harmony with the rest of Gentile Christianity. It is in days of worship where they differ. Their church life revolves around the Sabbath and Holy Days, especially in what these days symbolically represent in Scripture. We will see that what they believe in this area almost totally matches what the Messianic Jewish believers believe. And God has just restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ all just within the past 40 short years, so taking a closer look at our Sabbatarian Church of God brothers wouldn’t be a bad idea. First they base their belief in the Old Testament Law of God still being in full force on a simple interpretation of Matthew 5:17-19, which states, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled…” Now here is an important point in their theology. Have heaven and earth passed? No they haven’t. Even though others argue that Christ fulfilled them, it can be pointed out that he expects us to follow his example, which was one of obedience to God’s law. Also, in Scripture we can see when heaven and earth do pass away, and that is in Revelation 20:14-15 and Revelation 21:1 “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” Also see 2 Peter 3:10-13 where Peter graphically describes this event. So “till heaven and earth pass” puts a time element for the law of God remaining intact, a time element which is often ignored by Gentile Christians who try to use only part of this verse to prove their point. Continuing in verse 19 of Matthew 5, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men to do so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to define the spirit of the 10 Commandment Law of God. So this passage is the bedrock of the Sabbatarian Churches of God’s belief in the Old Testament 10 Commandment Law of God being for Christians. As I stated before, the major difference is in the days of worship they observe. But it is important to also see what they see in these days. So let’s take a look.
The Sabbath: A careful reading of Leviticus 23 will show the seventh day Sabbath is also listed as a Holy Day (Leviticus 23:1-3). Hebrews shows the actual physical Sabbath represents the spiritual rest we have in Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within believers. This rest is experienced in reality 24/7. But just because we are living the reality does not make it wrong to observe the shadow of that reality. Read Hebrews 4:1-11. Verse 10 is a direct reference to God taking rest in Genesis right after the creation, which created the Sabbath by the very fact that God rested. The Jews, Messianic believers and Sabbatarian Churches of God feel this is significant in that the Sabbath wasn’t created at the time of Moses, but predates the Law being given to Moses right back in Genesis at the creation of man. Quoting A History of the True Religion, chapter 20 [obviously a Sabbatarian Church of God history, which reflects their non-recognition of Sunday observing Christians as valid Christians] “Luther himself, while it is said believed in and practiced the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, did not prescribe it in his articles of faith for his followers, in the copies we now have access to. However, it has been said that in his original thesis, Luther advocated the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, but that his colleagues objected on the grounds that it was an unpopular doctrine, which would have a tendency to repulse supporters of the Reformation who were not as pious as they should have been, but were of great assistance against the usurpations of the papacy.” And then it gets real interesting. Luther makes the same point Jews and Messianic believers make, as well as Sabbatarians. Quoting from his commentary on Exodus 16:4, 22-30, regarding the Sabbath: “Hence you can see that the Sabbath was before the Law of Moses came, and has existed from the beginning of the world. Especially have the devout, who have preserved the true faith, met together and called upon God on this day.” (Translated from Auslegung des Alten Testaments (Commentary on the Old Testament), in Sammtliche Schriften (Collected Writings), edited by J.G. Walch, Vol. 3, col. 950 [St. Louis edition of Luther’s Works, 1880]). “Luther said of the Waldenses ‘that among them he had found one thing [in particular] worthy of admiration, a thing unheard of in the popish church, that, laying aside the doctrines of men, they meditated in the law of God day and night, and that they were expert, and even well versed, in the knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Jones’ Church History, p. 263).” So we see Luther had contact and was influenced by the Sabbatarian Waldensians. His argument that the Sabbath started in Genesis 2 is both Biblical and a Jewish and Sabbatarian observation. Each group, Sunday and Sabbath observing see the argument for their practice within this chapter (Hebrews 4). But the proofs lie elsewhere and are not the subject of this article. It is just important to see the significance of what they see in the Sabbath. Another symbolic meaning which some say can be seen in the Bible is that mankind has been allocated 6,000 years for his governments, and that after the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, God rules over mankind for one thousand years of peaceful existence—and that the Sabbath typifies or symbolizes the last 1,000 years of God’s redemptive plan for mankind in Revelation 20. This is a viable argument which does have Scriptural backing. According to those within the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, the Sabbath Command has not been abrogated or transferred to Sunday. See http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/Has%20the%20Sabbath%20Been%20Abrogated.htm to read a good explanation of why they believe this.
The Holy Days of Leviticus chapter 23
To learn the biblical historic and prophetic significance of God’s Holy Days, believed by both the Sabbatarian Churches of God and all Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua, log onto the following link and read the whole file: http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Holydayshadows.htm. The Holy Days and what they represent, when properly understood, appear to have far more significance in explaining the whole of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for mankind than the Gentile Christian days. Few understand this important point, because few look beyond the actual days and into what they represent. So be very sure to log onto that link above and read that file before continuing. There is tremendous meaning in the historic and prophetic symbolism of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 which most of Sunday observing Christianity is almost totally ignorant of.
An Example of a Sabbath-keeping Church of God
A fairly large and well organized Torah-observant Sabbatarian Church of God is the United Church of God. In spite of them being Torah-observant, they are fast becoming what I term Agape-Christ centered, and quite friendly. Check out this link going to the United Church of God’s website: http://www.ucg.org.
Some might be led to think the Torah-observant variety of Sabbatarian Churches of God are sort of dying out after the massive split in the Worldwide Church of God during the 1990s. Not so. There are over 375 separate “denominations” of Torah-observant Sabbatarian Churches of God in existence right now.
The Sabbath-keeping Churches of God’s argument for Sabbath-observing:
Biblical symbolic meaning of the Holy Days:
History of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God:
Early Church History:
Modern Example of a Sabbatarian Church of God: