Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire

Itís out, itís awesome, and you need it! Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchiís newest book, The Sabbath Under Crossfire: A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments, addresses critical issues especially important to current and former Church of God members. If there is any book that you read this year, donít put if off, read this one.

††††††††††† In July, 1998, Pope John Paul II issued a lengthy Pastoral Letter, Dies Domini, which appeals to Christians to observe Sunday as the fulfillment of the Sabbath, and calls for civil legislation to facilitate Sunday observance. In a break with traditional Catholic teaching, which until now, has admitted that Sunday-keeping came from Church tradition rather than Scriptural mandate, the Pope attempts to provide Biblical support for Sunday-keeping. The need to respond to the Popeís "new" theology was one reason why Bacchiocchi decided to write his new book.

††††††††††† Earlier in 1998, former SDA Dale Ratzlaff, author of the book, Sabbath in Crisis (1990), appeared on radio station KJSL in St. Louis, Missouri. He savagely attacked the Sabbath. His book had earlier been used by Joseph Tkach of the Worldwide Church of God to overthrow the validity of Sabbath-keeping. My friend, Neil Gardner of Florissant, Missouri, responded to the radio station with letters answering Ratzlaffís points, asking for equal time to present an affirmation for the seventh-day Sabbath. Gardner asked me to join with him in defense of the Sabbath. It became apparent to me that a stuttering bumpkin such as myself would be no match for the polished rhetoric of Ratzlaff. I suggested that we try to get Dr. Bacchiocchi to debate Ratzlaff, which he graciously agreed to do. The one-hour debate was held on June 15, 1998, and continued for many weeks over the Internet. Eventually, Ratzlaff backed off from further discussion. Ratzlaffís anti-Sabbath attacks were a second motivation for Bacchiocchiís new book.

††††††††††† Dr. Sam had promised his wife Anna that he would take a year off from writing books to spend more time with her and attend to household chores. Because of the urgency of the Popeís Letter and Ratzlaffís frontal assault on the Sabbath, Dr. B. felt he had to break his promise. I am sorry, Sam, for helping you to break your promise, but I trust the result will benefit many, as indeed it has and will. Incidentally, when I met her in 1995, in San Antonio, I asked Anna Bacchiocchi if she has trouble getting in a word edgewise with her constantly talking husband Sam. She assured me that in their private lives, she does get to say her peace!

††††††††††† The Pope challenges Christians to respect Sunday, not merely as a Church institution, but as a divine command, the "full expression" of the Sabbath. This is in stark contrast to the so-called "New Covenant," and related "Dispensational" teaching (adopted by Ratzlaff and Tkach) which emphasizes the radical discontinuity between Sabbath and Sunday. Dispensationalists hold that the Sabbath is a Mosaic, Old Covenant, institution that terminated at the cross. Bacchiocchi shows that Sunday is not the Sabbath, as the Pope now maintains, because the two days differ in authority, meaning, and experience. Sunday is so lacking in authority that it needs the Pope to call for civil legislation to foster its observance. In most European countries, Sunday Laws have been in effect for many years, yet Sunday Church attendance is less than 10% of the Christian population. In Italy, 95% of Catholics go to church only three times in their lives, when they are "hatched, matched, and dispatched." Sunday laws fail to encourage Sunday-keeping.

††††††††††† In Chapter 2 of his book, Sabbath Under Crossfire, Bacchiocchi explores in depth the question: "Is the Sabbath creational or ceremonial?" In spite of Genesis 2 and Mark 2:27-28, many professing Christians, includeing Ratzlaff and Tkach, believe that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance given to mankind, but a Mosaic ordinance given to the Israelites together with the Ten Commandments.

††††††††††† Bacchiocchi carefully reviews the Biblical evidence, and uses non-Sabbatarian commentators in this (and other portions of his book), to lend authoritative support that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance for all mankind.

††††††††††† In Chapter 3, Bacchiocchi looks at the "Old and New Covenants," referring to Joseph Tkachís view of the distinction between the two covenants as the model for his discussion. Dr. Sam shows that salvation by grace through faith is the central theme of both the old and new covenants. Saving faith is never alone, because it is always accompanied by loving obedience, Galatians 5:6. The Decalogue is not merely a list of ten laws, but primarily ten principles of love. There is no dichotomy between law and love, because one cannot exist without the other. Bacchiocchi shows that Paulís use of sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9, supports literal Sabbath-keeping, answering Ratzlaffís five reasons against literal Sabbath-keeping. Rather than the Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices which were "abolished" (Hebrews 10:9), "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13), Paul explicitly teaches that "Sabbath-keeping has been left behind for the people of God" (literal rendering of Hebrews 4:9).

††††††††††† Lutherans, as well as Ratzlaff and Tkach, believe that Christ fulfilled the Sabbath commandment by terminating its observance altogether, and replacing it with an existential experience of salvation-rest available to believers every day. For others, such as Catholics and Calvinists, Christ fulfilled and terminated only the ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath commandment, the observance of the seventh day, but the moral aspect of the Sabbath commandment, the principle of observing one day in seven was not abrogated by Christ, but transferred to the observance of the first day of the week, Sunday. In exploring the topic of "the Savior and the Sabbath," Dr. B. demonstrates the fallacy of both of these views. The healing miracles of Jesus on the Sabbath show the expansion, not the termination, of the Sabbath, and reveal the redemptive nature of true Sabbath-keeping. Just as God "is working until now" (John 5:17, literal translation), we too must work to extend the Sabbath rest and peace to others, John 9:4. "This means that for believers today," Bacchiocchi states, "the Sabbath is the day to celebrate not only Godís creation by resting, but also Christís redemption by acting mercifully toward others," page 173.

††††††††††† Next, Bacchiocchi presents a thorough discussion of "Paul and the Law," and "Paul and the Sabbath." How can one reconcile the seemingly contradictory statements of the Apostle Paul about the Law? Five major passages are examined, which frequently are quoted to support the idea that the Law is done away with by Christ, and consequently is no longer the norm of Christian conduct: Romans 6:14, "not under the law"; II Corinthians 3:1-18, the letter and the spirit; Galatians 3:15-25, faith and law; Colossians 2:14, what was nailed to the cross? and Romans 10:4, "Christ is the end of the law." Bacchiocchiís conclusion is that when Paul speaks of the Law in the context of salvation (justification, right standing before God), he affirms that Law-keeping is of no avail (Romans 3:20). On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the Law in the context of Christian conduct (sanctification, right living before God), he upholds the value and validity of Godís Law (Romans 7:12, 13:8-10; I Corinthians 7:19). This is the most valuable portion of Sabbath Under Crossfire.

††††††††††† In my opinion, the teaching of the Worldwide Church of God throughout its history has been rather weak regarding Godís Law and the New Covenant. This shortcoming opened the door for Dr. Ernest L. Martin, former Chairman of the Department of Theology of Ambassador College, to lead over 10,000 members out of the Church in 1974, most of whom abandoned the Sabbath entirely. Martin paved the way for the Systematic Theology Project in the late 1970s, which was the theological underpinning for Joseph Tkach, Senior, and Junior. In a letter dated April, 1995, Dr. Ernest Martin (rightfully in my opinion) claims credit for many of the doctrines the Worldwide now says are "new truths." Why, Martin claims, he has been proclaiming many of these "new truths" for over twenty years! Martinís so-called "New Covenant" and anti-Sabbath teachings are well in line with those of Ratzlaff and Tkach. Many of the senior ministers today were taught by Martin when they went to Ambassador. Is it any wonder why so many have rolled over and played dead, when it comes to a Biblical understanding of Godís Law and the New Covenant? Tkachís current teachings are merely Martinism, Act II.

††††††††††† In Sabbath Under Crossfire, Bacchiocchi states, "Contrary to what many people believe, the Old Testament does not view the Law as a means of gaining acceptance with God through obedience, but as a way of responding to Godís gracious redemption and of binding Israel to God. . . . salvation has always been a divine gift of grace and not a human achievement," pages 186-187. There is no such thing as Old Testament legalism; this aberrant concept was developed between the Testaments by the Pharisees. "Paul rejects the Pharisaic understanding of the Law as a means of salvation and affirms the Old Testament view of the Law as a revelation of Godís will for human conduct," p. 189. Ernest Martin, and some ex-WCG ministers today, make Paul into a law-breaking antinomian. But the Truth is that our new life in Christ enables us to keep the Law, not as an external code (in the letter), but as a loving response to God (in the spirit).

††††††††††† Prior to reading this section of Sabbath Under Crossfire, I did not have a well-grounded understanding of the place of Law in Christian life. The plain, easy-to-understand terminology of Bacchiocchi, and his Biblical exegesis, is extraordinary. If you know someone who has left the Church, maybe many years ago, and has given up the Sabbath and most all the other distinctive teachings we hold dear, perhaps they would consider re-examining the issue of the Sabbath, Godís Law, and Pauline theology. Sabbath Under Crossfire could be the best book on this subject ever written, and would make an ideal gift to help someone regain their spiritual footing. Donít forget yourself. Maybe you, like me, did not really dig into the teaching of Law by Paul like Bacchiocchi does in his excellent book.

††††††††††† Finally, in Chapter 7, Sam Bacchiocchi shows that many Sunday-keepers are re-examining and rediscovering the validity of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not an hour in worship services, but twenty-four hours of holy time spent with God, a divine vacation from the turmoil and stress of daily life. While some Sunday-keepers are more zealously keeping Sunday, the fact remains that Sunday is not the Sabbath. You cannot keep cold water hot! As Ratzlaff and the Worldwide Church of God are abandoning the Sabbath, the exciting news is that other Christians are rediscovering the seventh day Sabbath, observing the literal day, and learning more of its spiritual meaning.

††††††††††† Bishop Steven Sanchez and the Wesley Synod of sixty-eight Methodist congregations in North America have recently become Sabbath-keepers, claiming that John Wesley originally kept the Sabbath and dietary laws. They observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset till sunset Saturday, have Saturday Church services, and abstain from work on the Sabbath. What great news!

††††††††††† Most Messianic Jews, who accepted the Messiah through Protestant efforts and were thus originally Sunday-keepers, have now become seventh-day Sabbatarians. Sabbatarian Mennonites such as Daniel Leichty, are renewing the Anabaptist heritage of Andreas Fischer and Oswald Glait by returning to the Sabbath. The True Jesus Church, founded in 1917 in China (which may have descended from earlier Nineteenth Century Chinese Sabbatarians) today has a million members in China and 79,000 in the free world. Their basic tenet states, "The Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week (Saturday), is a holy day, blessed and sanctified by God. It is to be observed under the Lordís grace for the commemoration of Godís creation and redemption, and with the hope of eternal rest."

††††††††††† What is it going to be for you? Are you going to throw away the Sabbath like Martin, Ratzlaff, and Tkach? Are you going to observe the Sabbath in a legalistic, hard-hearted way, thinking that by so doing, you gain favor with God and earn salvation, turning the Sabbath into a burden for your children so that they will reject it when they become adults? Or instead, will you, even as a Sabbath-keeper perhaps for many years, rediscover the joy of the Sabbath, "a gift waiting to be unwrapped"? Will you allow God to enrich your life with a larger measure of His divine presence, peace, and rest that the Sabbath affords? And, most importantly, as Bacchiocchi concludes, will you DO SOMETHING to spread the Sabbath delight to others? Will you share your faith with others? Dr. Sam implores us to rid ourselves of spiritual lethargy: "Many more can receive the gift of the Sabbath if those of us who experience weekly the blessings of this divine gift will share with others the benefits this day brings to our lives," page 283.

††††††††††† Dr. Sam, now that you have helped me and others to become more thoroughly grounded in New Covenant Law, take some time off with Anna and get those household chores done!

††††††††††† Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchiís book, Sabbath Under Crossfire, retails for $20 per copy. His other two classic Sabbath books are: From Sabbath to Sunday and Divine Rest for Human Restlessness. It is a pity that perhaps Bacchiocchiís BEST book, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, has received so little publicity. A theological study of the philosophy and meaning of the Sabbath, Divine Rest helps us understand the spiritual meaning of the Sabbath, and how to keep it holy and wholly. You may order any one of these three excellent Sabbath books for $15.00 postpaid from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849. Or, order any two, or all three, for $12.50 each from the same.

ó written by Richard C. Nickels

Additional Articles:

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
When Does Your Sabbath Begin?
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
The Sabbath and Ecology
How to Keep the Sabbath Holy
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Popeís Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
PO Box 100
Neck City, MO 64849
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