Note: This article was originally published February 8, the day in which the controversial Sunday service hosted by a Seventh-day Adventist church, was officially launched.
About an hour from now the First SDA Church in Huntsville, AL will hold its inaugural Sunday Surge service. Some people in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have criticized First SDA for deciding to hold a regular Sunday service. They believe it is problematic and confusing for a church that upholds the seventh day Sabbath to hold regular worship services on the first day of the week. Moreover, when the church has a prophecy regarding the use of Sunday worship as a weapon of persecution, people can get uncomfortable at the appearance that an Adventist church may be engaging in worship on that day. In the end this seems to be much ado about nothing. However there are some things that I find interesting about the more conservative elements of the SDA church being against something like this.
If the Bible doesn’t prohibit services on Sunday, and the prophet of the church explicitly supports services on that day, I’m not sure that there is any reason to have a debate on the issue.
First, there is nothing to stop any church from worshiping on Sunday. There is nothing wrong with worshiping on Sunday or any other day for that matter. Now I believe just like every other Seventh-day Adventist, that God has given a special reverence to the seventh day. That is why we choose to worship on that day. However, the theological basis for Sabbath comes from the 4th commandment (as well as Genesis 2). When we look at the text itself, we can see that the heart of the Sabbath commandment is rest, not worship. That doesn’t mean it is either right or wrong to worship on the Sabbath, but what is true is that we don’t have any explicit biblical basis to require that worship only take place on the Sabbath. I am sure some Adventist will quote the prophet Ellen G. White to me. While I haven’t looked it up, I am sure she has made some statement about the importance of having worship on the Sabbath day. In response I would say this, “Whenever it is possible, let religious services be held on Sunday. Make these meetings intensely interesting. Sing genuine revival hymns and speak with power and assurance of the Saviour’s love.” That is also a quote from Ellen G. White. If the Bible doesn’t prohibit services on Sunday, and the prophet of the church explicitly supports services on that day, I’m not sure that there is any reason to have a debate on the issue.
Despite this, some will argue that worship services are what should be reserved for the Sabbath. I don’t know how we decide the difference between worship services and other religious services, but even then I don’t think there is anything to discuss. I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the pastors of the First SDA Church about the Sunday services last week. He said that the type of service they will be holding is not in any way like the services that they hold on Sabbath. Instead, the program will be a Bible study in which they will be discussing Adventist beliefs and doctrine. The service is targeted for those who cannot make it to First SDA’s Sabbath services and members of the church who would like to start their week off right. Once again, I am not sure why anyone would be upset about a Sunday morning Bible study.
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Second, I find it interesting that “conservative” Adventists are now forced into a position to make arguments that sound awfully “liberal.” Normally fundamentalist or conservative Adventists are in support of the expressed word of the Bible and the word of Ellen G. White. In this case those things don’t work in their favor. So now, at least in the discussions I’ve seen on this subject, conservatives are arguing that we need to understand the cultural context of what White said, and how that context proves that her words don’t apply the same way now as they did then. They argue that in this situation we have to be critical of what we read and not just accept everything at face value. These are the same principles that they argue against when liberal Adventists make those arguments in regard to jewelry or Sabbath observance or dress codes. I find the turnaround to be fascinating, although I’ll doubt that anyone will remember this when we have the next theological debate.
So long as the church is not violating any Adventist principle, then there is really nothing for us to criticize.
Third, I was in a Facebook discussion with some people about this over the last few days, and someone told the story of how their church tried Sunday services and it didn’t work. Of course, the story was given to prove the point that First SDA shouldn’t try it either. I don’t know if that is the lesson that this anecdote teaches. Instead, I think the lesson we should learn is that everything isn’t for everybody. Much like each person’s walk with Christ is individual and unique, so is the life of every church. Some churches should not do this, either because it wouldn’t be beneficial for the community they’re in, or because the members of the church would not be able to handle having a Sunday service. But the fact that your church can’t do it says nothing about whether another church can. So long as the church is not violating any Adventist principle, then there is really nothing for us to criticize.
At the end of the day, our predilections about what type of service should occur on what day are not important. What is important is what this particular church believes is their mission, and what is the best way for them to have an impact on the community around them. In speaking with one of the pastors of the church, he told me that the criticism of the project has not come from within his church, because the members there understand what the service is for and see its value. Instead, the criticism has come from those on the outside who, quite frankly, are ignorant of all the time, effort, energy, and prayer that the church has gone through before engaging in this project. This does not mean the services will be successful. They may peter out after a while for any number of reasons. They may be successful but short-lived as the needs of the church and the community change. Regardless, we have to be willing to extend ourselves outside of our comfort zones in order to reach those who are seeking a genuine relationship with God. If even one person’s life is made better by these services, I say it is well worth the effort.
This article was originally published at thehinesight.blogspot.com. It has been shared with permission. Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 9, Pg. 233.
Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.