The Sabbath Changed? Responding to Archbishop Palmer Buckle’s Claims

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Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God…

– Exodus 20:9, 10

ProvingAllThings Ministry is dedicated to clarifying Bible truth for a generation that is dealing with unprecedented changes in philosophical, religious, scientific, technological and cultural ways. The Bible admonishes us that in this milieu of teachings, philosophies and theories, Christians should prove all things, that is, test every proposition against the Bible, and only accept – hold fast to – what is good.

My attention was recently drawn to a video in which a well-respected member of the clergy, Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle, addressed questions on the Sabbath from some youth of the Roman Catholic Church. I must begin by saying that I have great respect for Archbishop Palmer Buckle. I have listened to him speak many times, on issues both spiritual and social, and since my early adulthood I have held his words with great substance. I fully believe that to the best of His immense knowledge and undoubtedly deep understanding he serves our common Lord Jesus Christ from the depths of his heart, honestly and with seriousness. Clearly he also has an avuncular relationship with the youth of his church and beyond, and cares for their proper direction as a good father would. This response is not meant in any way to disrespect his person. I cannot agree, however, with his answers to the question posed on the Sabbath command, and here is why.

 

We Changed it to Monday Too…

In response to the question “Why has the Roman Catholic Church canceled worship on Saturday?”, the respected cleric rightly responds that the Catholic Church actually opens on everyday for whomever would like to visit. Also, you can actually have mass any day of the week in many Catholic churches. In fact, Catholic canon law invites priests to offer the Mass daily, even if they are the only ones attending.

But we need to ask ourselves what the questioner meant by “cancelled the Sabbath worship.” Clearly, she is referring to a definite change in the degree of sanctity and sacred honour accorded to Sunday, over and above Saturday. And she asks the question knowing that the commandment in Exodus 20:8 – 11 enjoins Christians to honour Saturday as the Sabbath of the Lord.

And so here I must say that it is not enough simply for the archbishop to say one can go to church on all days of the week. Indeed, that is not true only of the Roman Catholic Church. Many Protestant churches are similarly open on all days as a sanctum for those who wish to come in and find solace and some alone time with God.

Rather, the question concerns why the Roman Catholic Church accords Sunday a greater degree of sacred honour than the day God commanded, Saturday. Where does this sanctity, sacredness, or solemnity come from? Well, the Bible tells us that God sanctified the seventh day after he created the world, as a memorial of six days of creation. This sanctity is what He commands us to respect and honour by focusing on Him in worship and Christian fellowship (Exodus 20:8 – 11, Leviticus 23:3). It is this sacredness that the young questioner is concerned about, and there is no denying that the Roman Catholic Church has indeed tried to transfer it to another day. For example, here are some statements from Roman Catholic sources on the subject:

First, let’s hear from Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, who wrote in his book Faith of Our Fathers:

“… you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”

Faith of Our Fathers, by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, 88th edition, page 89. Originally published in 1876, republished and Copyright 1980 by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., pages 72-73

Clearly, Cardinal Gibbons understood that his church sanctifies Sunday rather than Saturday. Next, here is a statement from an issue of Sentinel magazine:

“Perhaps the boldest thing, the most revolutionary change the Church ever did, happened in the first century. The holy day, the Sabbath, was changed from Saturday to Sunday. “The Day of the Lord” (dies Dominica) was chosen, not from any directions noted in the Scriptures, but from the Church’s sense of its own power.”

Sentinel, Pastor's page, Saint Catherine Catholic Church, Algonac, Michigan, May 21, 1995

Yet again:

“If Protestants would follow the Bible, they would worship God on the Sabbath Day. In keeping the Sunday they are following a law of the Catholic Church.”

Albert Smith, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, replying for the Cardinal, in a letter dated February 10, 1920

In fact it gets so interesting that John Anthony O’brien asks:

“But since Saturday, not Sunday, is specified in the Bible, isn’t it curious that non-Catholics who profess to take their religion directly from the Bible and not the Church, observe Sunday instead of Saturday? Yes, of course, it is inconsistent; but this change was made about fifteen centuries before Protestantism was born, and by that time the custom was universally observed.”

John Anthony O'brien, The Faith of Millions

If you prefer official catholic sources you should read the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which says:

The Church of God has thought it well to transfer the celebration and observance of the Sabbath to Sunday!

p 402, second revised edition (English), 1937. (First published in 1566)

In the Convert’s Catechism, the question is asked:

“Which day is the Sabbath day?”

To which the answer is given:

Saturday is the Sabbath day.

“Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?”

We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea, (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday

—Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.SS.R., (1946), p. 50.

So it is not specifically true as he said, that they have changed it to Monday too, and Tuesday, and every other day. That answer is dismissive of the very important issue of the sacredness imparted deliberately by God to a given day, and hides the truth that the church actually decided to hold Sunday in higher regard than the true Sabbath, “out of a sense of its own power.”

 

Everyday is the Day of the Lord

A related point, and indeed the concluding premise he provides for this argument, is that everyday is the day of the Lord, suggesting that no day is any more special than the other. It also suggests, correctly, that we should be able to worship God on all days of the week, and we should. But this does not mean that all days are the same.

The Bible tells us with triple emphasis that God blessed, sanctified, and hallowed the Sabbath day.
The inescapable reality is that He conferred that degree of honour to no other day. Indeed, the word used for sanctify means He set it apart, made it special. It is His day in a different sense; a special sense; one that cannot be so easily brushed away. In Isaiah 58:13 He calls it “my holy day.” Indeed, there are only two days in the Bible referred to as “the day of the Lord”: the day of the second coming, and the Sabbath. Not once is that phrase used in the Bible to refer to Sunday.

Well, while it sounds like a nice thing to say, the truth is that not everyday is the day of the Lord.

 

A New Commandment

The archbishop also makes the point that Jesus has given us a new commandment (he interchanges this with “new covenant”). Even though there is a great deal to say about the relationship between the two, we will simply deal with what he means, which is that this new commandment somehow does not include keeping the Sabbath.

The interesting thing is that this so called new commandment in John 13:34, is not really so new at all. Consider this interesting fact: only John uses the phrase “a new commandment”. First in John 13:34 where Jesus says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Then in 1 John 2:8- 11, John uses the phrase again to refer to loving one another. But he prefixes this in verse 7 by saying that really, this is no new commandment at all! Likewise in 2 John 5 he says: “And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.”

Interesting! John says that the command to love one another is not new at all! In fact in the next verse he goes on to say: “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”

So Friend, for John, loving one another means keeping the commandments we have had from the beginning! This is true in two respects. First, the commandments of God are expressions of love. The Sabbath command, along with the first three, directly expresses our love for God. The other six directly express our love for our fellow humans. This is why Paul is able to say correctly in Romans 13:10 that when we fulfill the law, love is the result.

So in what sense is it a new commandment? It is new because it is the basis of a new covenant. It is the same law that was the basis of the old covenant, but now it ushers in the covenant of grace found in Christ, and so it is new. But it is old :-).

Another claim he made is that Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments into two: you shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul and might, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. We need to take a careful look at what he meant by “reduced.” Well, if “reduced” means summarised, distilled, encapsulated, then yes, Jesus did that. If, however, it means that Jesus pruned away specific statements of the Ten Commandments, well that is another matter altogether: Jesus Himself said He did not come to change, but to fulfill the law; He also said that not a jot or title could be pruned out of the law (Matthew 5:17, 18) until heaven and earth pass away! That sounds pretty unambiguous to me.

What’s more, these two summaries are not new: Deuteronomy 6:5 says:

“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

And Leviticus 19:18 says

“…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…”.

So the new commandment, really, is the old commandment summarised: do all you can to love the Lord, and all you can to love your neighbour. So for instance to love your neighbour you should help him or her in times of need, and to love the Lord you should honour His holy Sabbath, among other things.

Archbishop Palmer Buckle also stated that Moses gave Israel the Ten Commandments. This is true as far as human instrumentality goes, but ultimately it is incorrect, because Scripture clearly states three occasions when God Himself gave the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:1 He spoke them with His own voice down a thunderous smoking mountain. On the other two occasions He wrote them with His own finger, either side of the great idolatry of the Israelites with the golden calf (Exodus 24:12; 34:1). Moses was only the instrument; God Himself was the Agent.

There was also a rather interesting attempt to link three biblical teachings as a final rational for why Sunday is honoured above Saturday by the Roman Catholic Church. They are the Lord’s supper, the phrase “the breaking of bread”, and the biblical reference to the first day of the week to suggest that Jesus instructed them to keep the Lord’s supper everyday, and particularly on the first day of the week. Let’s look at them one by one.

 

The Lord’s Supper and the Breaking of Bread

In Luke 22:19 Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and instructed that we should “do this in remembrance of me.” The archbishop suggests that the disciples and early Christians took this to heart so much so that they repeated the Lord’s supper every day after that. He cites Acts 2:46 and 47 in his defense. This is a strange assertion, because those texts have nothing whatsoever to do with the Lord’s Supper celebration. The context is simply that the early Christians were simply united both in the temple during worship, and at home during brotherly fellowship. Breaking bread from house to house simply refers to sharing meals in one another’s houses, and thereby supporting one another and building genuine community.

To suggest that the early Christians were holding mini Lord’ supper services everywhere all the time is a rather suspicious way to read the text. Indeed, the phrase “the breaking of the bread” which the archbishop uses, is not even a precisely biblical one. The proper phrase is less definite. It is “the breaking of bread”. The indefinite reference suggests a common meal; everyday food, and not a specific mealtime ritual.

The Famous Meeting – Acts 20:7

This is another place where I am frankly surprised at the analysis. I have read many defences of the change of solemnity from Saturday to Sunday, and interacted with a few Catholic priests on it as well. None of them has ever claimed, like the archbishop does, that the meeting spoken of in Acts 20:7 indicates that Paul and the early Christians met on Sunday for worship, and it is because they have known better than to do that. Doubtless some will argue it, but without meaning any disrespect, it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard said about that text, and I’ll show you why.

In Acts 20:6, Paul arrives in a town called Troas, where he spends seven days. The seventh day was the Sabbath, because in verse 7 we read that on the first day of the week he met with them to break bread and spoke with them until midnight. Clearly, this meeting lasted from the evening, the time of the breaking of bread, or the evening meal, until around midnight. It could not have been from morning to midnight. What’s more, we know that Jews counted days from the evening, rather than the way we do today, from the morning. The reference to the first day of the week then, was a reference to the evening after Sabbath. For us, that would have been Saturday evening, but for them, Sunday evening.

So two things are important: first, they most certainly had regular Sabbath worship on the seventh day, after which Paul met with them in the evening all the way into the dawn of the first day, Sunday. Second, they met that evening to break bread, as Jews did, not for worship. Paul joined them for a meal, and also to share a parting exhortation, because he was traveling in the morning on Sunday, not going to church.

 

The Resurrection

The last point Archbishop Palmer Buckle makes is a more traditional one; the one most often cited, and indeed more by Protestants than even Catholics. The archbishop’s claim is that it is the resurrection, and not the death of Christ, that is the fulfilment of the new covenant. In this he strongly echoes Catholic tradition:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the eighth day” following the Sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday:

We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of Sabbath

.[1]

The Resurrection is no doubt an important event for Christians. I believe with all my heart that “The bodily resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death.”[2] But in the absence of direction from God Himself, it is reckless to change His law on the basis of this or any other fact. Facts may compel, but only God commands.

The archbishop contends that it is the Resurrection that fulfils the new covenant, and not the death or “lying in the grave.” Two things suggest that he is wrong here too. The first, there could have been no resurrection without the death. Certainly, both events speak to different aspects of the work of salvation. The death speaks to our atonement and justification, and the resurrection ensures our sanctification (holiness) and future glorification (eternal life).

The second is biblical: Jesus says that the new covenant is the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). At this point, I might say that the blood was shed in the dying, not in the rising from the tomb. And yet it would be inadequate to reduce the entire fulfilment of the new covenant to this or any single act beyond what scripture declares it to be, and it is this:

In Jeremiah 31:31 – 33 God promises to make a new covenant with His people (the house of Israel and of Judah): to write His law in their inward parts, and in their hearts, to be their God, and to make them truly His people. We are the house of Israel and of Judah, we who are circumcised in the heart (Romans 2:29). That new covenant is the same He makes with us, according to Hebrews 8:8 – 11. God wants to write His law on our hearts. In other words, He wants righteousness and obedience to be so natural to us that it becomes inherent rather than foreign. That way we will truly be His people, and He will truly be our God.

After all, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 7:21

 

Conclusion

As I have already said, Archbishop Palmer Buckle is a man I respect greatly. I believe he serves God honestly and with great passion and commitment. Clearly he also has a heart for rightly guiding young people according to what he believes to be right. Again, this response is not meant in any way to disrespect his person. It is, however aimed at addressing specific views he shared, views which in my understanding are unbiblical, and therefore spiritually misleading.

The fact is that the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath is God’s institution, and no council, court or church can change that. To suggest otherwise, especially by a string of improperly applied Bible passages, poses a danger to the youth who boldly asked the question, but also to other seeking Christians elsewhere.

Friend, it has long been established that Sunday reverence is an institution of the Catholic Church, and not of God. It is an expression of her power, and as long as we follow that course we are putting the traditions of men over and above the word of God. That, if you haven’t realised it already, is the essence of false worship! It is true that in times of ignorance God winks, but now He calls all men to repent (Acts 17:30).

Human society, both secular and religious, is attacking the two institutions God established after creation, and the strategy is the same. Marriage is being altered and modified to include sexual combinations never intended by God, and the Sabbath is being removed to a day God never hallowed, blessed or sanctified. Friend, error may be convenient and comfortable, but at all times and in all things, however difficult it may be, we must follow the example of Peter and the other apostles, who under penalty of great punishment for their fidelity to Christ, said “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

To learn more about the Sabbath, visit Sabbath Truth, a website dedicated to informing you about all you need to know concerning this important subject.

For proof that Saturday is the seventh-day Sabbath, read Which Day is It?

If you’d like to get the broad historical sweep of how the church has tried to change the Sabbath over the course of centuries, I highly recommend The Seventh Day – Revelations from the Lost Pages of History, a five part documentary series that will surely peel the lid off your eyes.

You can also let us have your email address if you’d like to learn more about the Sabbath.

May God richly bless you as you seek to obey Him more fully and follow Him more closely.

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References

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c1a3.htm

[2] Seventh-day Adventist Church Fundamental Beliefs #9.

 

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Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.
  • Derrick Adofo

    God bless you!