The Sabbath -- A Divisive Issue?

Millions of Sabbath-keepers have lost their lives because they refused to give up the Sabbath. Families have been torn asunder, acrimonious debates have ensued, taunting, ridicule, and foul names have been heaped upon those who have the audacity to believe in the Bible Sabbath. Hopefully, the vast majority of this persecution has not been deserved or caused by Sabbath-keepers. Even a cursory study of the history of New Testament Sabbath-keepers demonstrates that the Sabbath can be, and often has been, a most divisive issue.

The history of the first recorded Sabbath-keeping congregation in North America illustrates the inherent divisive nature of the Sabbath. The Bible Sabbath, as well as other key Biblical truths, divides and cuts asunder, Hebrews 4:12, Matthew 10:34-36.

When the Sabbath-keeping lay member, Stephen Mumford, came to America in 1664, he had no Sabbath-keeping brethren to fellowship with. Seeking religious freedom in Rhode Island, Mumford was tolerated by Roger Williams, who did not share Mumford's Sabbath convictions. Mumford began attending the Newport Sunday-keeping Baptist Church. He did not keep his Sabbath convictions to himself.

In 1665, Tacy and Samuel Hubbard joined Mumford in Sabbath observence in his home. Others joined in the next couple of years. Mumford held Sabbath services in his home, yet still attending the Newport Sunday Baptist Church. When it appeared that Mumford was affecting numerous members of the Baptist Church with his "divisive" teachings, John Clarke and other Sunday-keeping elders began to preach against the Sabbath-keepers, denouncing them as heretics and schismatics. Clarke taught that the whole of the Ten Commandments were done away. Mumford was willing to tolerate this vituperation.

However, a significant event occurred that was to change the entire picture. Clarke's sermons convinced the Wild and Solomon families to desert the Sabbath-keepers, and to return to sole Sunday worship. This caused great consternation among the remaining Sabbath-keepers, who asked, "Should we continue to take communion with a church that includes apostates?" It was not a problem to continue to worship with long-standing Sunday-keepers. But it was a problem to fellowship with Sabbath-keeping brethren who had rejected the Sabbath truth. The unpleasant situation fermented for years.

Mumford wrote to his Sabbath-keeping brethren in England for counsel. Dr. Edward Stennett, of the Bell Lane Church in London wrote this advice on March 6, 1670: "My dear friends, as for those that have drawn back from the Sabbath to profaneness . . . [you] must withdraw yourselves from them, as sinful and disorderly persons; and if the [Baptist] church will hold communion with those apostates from the truth, you ought then to desire to be fairly dismissed from the church, which if the church refuse, you ought to withdraw yourselves, and not be partakers of other men's sins, but keep yourselves pure . . . ."

Even this strong advice was not immediately implemented. Mumford quietly withdrew from Sunday fellowship. Some of his American Sabbath-keeping converts were unusually longsuffering, and remained. In June, 1671, Elder Obadiah Holmes gave a blistering sermon lambasting those who observed the Sabbath. He said the Ten Commandments were given to Jews and were not binding on Gentiles; those who observed the seventh day were gone from Christ to Moses. A church trial ensued when William Hiscox, one of Mumford's converts, refused to take communion with the apostates. Hiscox told Holmes: "The ground of our difference is, that you and others deny God's law." Hiscox was charged with misrepresenting (slandering) the Church, and meeting with the Mumfords, who had withrawn from the Church. On December 7, 1671, the rest of the Sabbath-keepers withdrew. And on December 23, 1671, William Hiscox, Stephen and Mrs. Mumford, Samuel and Tacy Hubbard, Roger Baster (or Baxter) and Rachel Langworthy entered into a church covenant. Hiscox was chosen pastor. There were no articles of faith except the Bible. The first independent Sabbath-keeping Church in North America, that we know of, had begun.

Lessons from this episode are evident: those who insist that the Bible requires Sabbath-keeping are "divisive" to those who do not believe this teaching. Also, Sabbath-keepers cannot long continue to fellowship with those who once accepted the Sabbath, and later reject it.

Former Sabbath-Keepers

Apostate Sabbath-keepers have presented Sabbath-keepers with obstacles. In the first century, Simon Magus promoted a counterfeit religion in opposition to the teaching of the Messiah and His disciples. John Traske reneged on the Sabbath in the Seventeenth Century under persecution, changing from a great promoter to an opposer of the Sabbath, with his book, A Treatise of Libertie from Judaism. John Cowell, after thirteen years of promoting the Sabbath, abandoned it. His book, The Snare Broken (1677) devastated British Sabbath-keepers.

D.M. Canright left the Seventh-day Adventists in the 1880s and attacked the Sabbath in his book, Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced. In 1974, Dr. Ernest Martin left the Worldwide Church of God, leading 10,000 people or more to abandon the Sabbath. Former Seventh-day Adventist minister Dale Ratzlaff's 345-page book, Sabbath in Crisis, was read by many Worldwide Church of God ministers, and appeared to be a springboard for many to reject the Sabbath. "We have met the enemy, and he was once part of us!"

It is better to have never known the wonderful Sabbath Truth, than to have known it and then turn away from it. But the Eternal allows problems among Sabbath-keepers to temper them and help them learn valuable spiritual lessons, Daniel 11:35.

Switching Denominations Causes Anguish for Believers

Sabbath-keepers are not alone in facing problems in their midst from those who turn away from former teachings. Indeed, this is a worldwide phenomenon. The June 14, 1996, issue of The Wall Street Journal carried the story of Chuck Bell, a longtime fundamentalist preacher, who switched to a radically different denomination: Eastern Orthodoxy. Bell told his stunned congregation that God had shown him his former teachings were wrong. Rock music and "speaking in tongues" gave way to liturgical readings, lit candles, and kissing paintings of the Virgin Mary. Some felt betrayed and left, but many followed their respected leader.

In the past, the Journal relates, such a minister would have quietly left his congregation and taken up residence where he felt God had called him. But now, the tendency is for the church leader to simply waltz into his church, tell of the "new truth" he has seen, and lead his parishoners with him into radically different beliefs. The result is that the congregation has to choose between their former beliefs, or their leader. In the process, friends and families are often broken to pieces.

A factor which amplifies this trend is that the belief systems of some of the faithful have begun to change with the latest fashions. People choose their religion like they might pick items from a restaurant menu. One day they like one thing, the next day their taste changes.

During the first Orthodox service conducted by Chuck Bell (who renamed himself "Father Seraphim Bell"), one member had difficulty kissing the priest and the cross. She got used to it, and now does it with ease.

A Divisive Issue?

Strongly held religious beliefs can, and often do, divide people. The Sabbath is one of the most divisive Biblical teachings. It would be right for Sabbath-keepers who later reject the Sabbath, to quietly leave and go their own way. But, that is not always what happens. Sometimes, they take over the church, and expel those who hold to the Bible Sabbath. Sabbath-keepers can then show what they are made of. Will they rail and denounce the "traitors" to the Truth, or instead, "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth," II Timothy 2:25.

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
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
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