Keeping the Sabbath; Breaking the Sabbath
How did the Worldwide Church of God get to its present position, that the seventh- day Sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians? In the Twentieth Century, Herbert W. Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God promoted the Sabbath in a powerful way, throughout the world. After Armstrong's death in 1986, his successor Joseph Tkach led an assault on all of Armstrong's teachings. This attack resulted in an abandonment of teaching that the Sabbath is a commandment of God, acceptance of the Trinity, Christmas and Easter, and in short, a wholesale departure from nearly every one of Armstrong's distinctive teachings. Some Worldwide Church of God congregations today meet on Sunday, or other days of the week. They now believe that no day of the week is holy time, and have disfellowshipped those who insist the Sabbath is holy time.
How did this change come about? It did not start after 1986. It began decades earlier. Paul Royer, one of the leading ministers in Pasadena for many years, left the Worldwide Church of God in 1975 and currently heads The Church of God, Sonoma in California. In a 1976 sermon tape entitled "Keeping the Sabbath," Royer claims that breaking the Sabbath was the beginning of the downfall of the Worldwide Church of God. Royer maintains that one of the major ways we show our respect for God is how we keep the Sabbath.
In the late 1960s, Royer noticed students jogging at Ambassador College just before sundown on Friday evening, and others shopping at El Rancho supermarket on Sabbath afternoon. He remarked to his friend Rod Meredith, "Give us 15-20 years, and this Church will not even know the Sabbath." Meredith thought it would take 40 years.
Garner Ted Armstrong hunted on the Sabbath, and at one time even commandeered the Church pilot to fly him in to hunt on the Sabbath. According to Royer, both Garner Ted and Herbert Armstrong broke the Sabbath for years. HWA watched the Lakers play basketball on the Sabbath. Workers for the "House for God" auditorium in Pasadena worked on the Sabbath. When the workers were behind schedule, Herbert Armstrong commissioned Sabbath overtime work at overtime pay, in order to have the building finished in time. When I worked in Big Sandy in 1972, construction workers were laboring as we entered the building for Sabbath services. When I questioned the ministers about this practice, they said that the Church had a contract with the construction company, and the Church could not dictate their working hours. Years later, when I personally had some major repair work done on my house, I had no problem enforcing the rule that workers quit at 4:00 PM on Friday. After all, I was paying the bill! The ministers had lied to me.
Paul Royer asks the question: "Can you keep the knowledge and fear of God without keeping the Sabbath?" His answer is "NO!" Israel went into captivity for breaking the Sabbath, Ezekiel 20. The first thing God revealed to Israel when they came out of Egypt was the Sabbath, Exodus 16. Breaking the Sabbath was the beginning of the downfall of the Worldwide Church of God.
Paul Royer's tape, "Keeping the Sabbath," describes many practical ways to make the Sabbath an enjoyable spiritual experience. It is available from The Bible Sabbath Association.
Another excellent sermon tape was given by Dean Blackwell in 1978, which I have entitled, "Defense of the Sabbath." Blackwell demonstrates keen logic in showing that the Sabbath is found throughout the Bible. It is no coincidence that many of Jesus' activities were centered around Sabbaths and Holy Days. The Sermon on the Mount was given on a Sabbath. The Gospel of John, the whole book, is about the Sabbaths and Holy Days observed by Christ. There was no "Palm Sunday," it was really "Palm Sabbath." Dean Blackwell's humor, and practical, down-to-earth east Texas drawl make this tape one of my all-time favorites.
Paul Royer's audio tape, "Keeping the Sabbath," C205, and Dean Blackwell's tape, "Defense of the Sabbath," C206, are available for $2.50 each (or $3.50 for both tapes), from: The Bible Sabbath Association, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718. Toll-free phone, 888-687-5191.
More needs to be said about improper Sabbath observance and the downfall of the Worldwide Church of God. There was certainly Sabbath-breaking extant, from the top leadership down to the membership. But an opposite problem was also a significant factor. Some parents in the Church made the Sabbath a burden of restrictive do's and don'ts, thus turning off their children to the joys of true Sabbath-keeping. It is said that Joe Tkach, Jr., resented his childhood experiences of the Sabbath, which he viewed as restrictive. When he got the chance, he threw out the baby with the bath water. The Sabbath is not a day to watch the Lakers play basketball or hire workers to labor for you, but it is, and can be, a day of joy for the whole family.
Perhaps the best book Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi has written is one that has received the least attention. It is entitled, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness. This masterpiece shows the beauty of the Sabbath, which truly is "good news," and not "bad news" as Tkach was led to believe. Bacchiocchi's three best books, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, From Sabbath to Sunday, and his newest book, The Sabbath Under Crossfire, are available from The Bible Sabbath Association for a $12.50 donation each (or, any two for $20, and all three for $30). Please add postage.
What is going to be for you? Are you going to make the Sabbath a harsh, mean, restrictive, burdensome day, that any thinking young person would automatically reject? Are you going to throw out the Sabbath, and "do you own thing" on God's Holy Day? Or, are you going to call, and make, the Sabbath a delight, and honor the Creator, speaking His words and doing His spiritual work on the day of divine rest that pictures the Kingdom of God? You are either going to be keeping the Sabbath, or breaking the Sabbath. Which one will it be for you?