|19. The Early Church Fathers and the Sabbath|
Some Sabbatarian Christians maintain that the Catholic Church changed the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday, starting with a Sunday law enacted by Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.) in 321 A.D. The assumption here is that Constantine put into place a religious law. But Constantine did not enact a Christian law, but a civil one. He could not have been a Catholic, since the Catholic Church as was known during the Reformation period was not even formally organized until several centuries later. It is even doubtful that he was even a Christian, though some make that claim. Christians by this time were already meeting together for worship on the first day of the week. Many, if not most, had been doing so for at least a couple centuries before Constantine arrived on the scene. They did not call this day Sunday, but rather referred to it as the Lord's Day, in honor of Christ's resurrection from the dead.
The claim by the Catholic Church in some of their catechisms that they changed the sanctity of the Sabbath day to Sunday is not evidence that they actually did so. The New Testament does not anywhere make Sunday holy, neither does it make the Sabbath holy. The emphasis had been taken away from the day and placed on Christ, making the observance of particular days no longer necessary. The Catholic Church claims that Peter was the first Pope. It also claims that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a co-regent with Christ in Heaven now. It is doubtful that most Sabbatarian Christians, if any at all, believe this. Why accept what the Catholic Church says regarding transferring the sanctity of the Sabbath day to Sunday, while not believing Peter to be the first Pope, or that Mary is a co-regent with Christ in Heaven? Scripture does not really portray Peter to be the first Pope, neither does it say that Mary currently is a ruler with Jesus in Heaven. She was no more a saint than any other Christian. And history does not support statements by the Catholic Church that they changed the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday. This is an inconsistent argument that fails to make any sense.
The early Christian Church fathers of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. did not consider the Sabbath day to be a day all Christians were obligated to observe. They gave a different testimony. While the following epistles and statements are not in Scripture and should therefore not be considered canonical, they help to provide useful historical information regarding prevalent beliefs of the early Church in its first centuries.
Ignatius was bishop of Antioch in Syria (c. 1st-2nd century A.D.) and martyred in Rome by beasts (c. 105-116 A.D.). On his way to Rome, he visited and wrote to various churches, warning and exhorting them. He also wrote ahead to Rome to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Ignatius warned the Church against heresies that threatened peace and unity, he opposed Gnosticism and Docetism, and in his Epistle to Smyrna, insisted that Christ came in the flesh not just in spirit.
The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 8-10 (c. 110
The Epistle of Barnabas was probably not authored by the Barnabas of the New Testament. The writer repudiates the claims of Jewish Christians at the time who advocated adhering to observance of the Mosiac Law. He also argued that Christ provided salvation and man is no longer bound by the Law. This letter compares holy life to unrighteousness.
Epistle of Barnabas 2:4-6 (c. 130 A.D.)
The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles was an 11th century manuscript discovered by Philotheus Bryennois. It consists of various parts, starting with the Two Ways ethical instruction and including community rules for liturgical practices and leadership conduct, before ending with a short apocalyptic section. While some of the material might go back before the year 100 A.D., the current form of the document probably dates to the mid-second century at the earliest.
The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)
14:1 (c. 70 A.D.)
The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus (c. 260-339 A.D.) is probably one of the most important works on early Church history available, covering the events of its first three centuries. As one born during the early Church period, Eusebius was an able historian who had a close view of the events that helped shape the historical and theological developments of the early Church.
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 5 (c.
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 27
(c. 315 A.D.)
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 23
(c. 315 A.D.)
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 178 A.D.)
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.) lived during the reign of Antonius Pius and suffered martyrdom in 165 A.D. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He was an enthusiastic evangelist of the Gospel, and after traveling widely throughout the Roman Empire settled in Rome as a Christian teacher. While there, neighboring philosophers plotted against him because of his Christian profession, brought him up before the Roman authorities, who carried out his execution by beheading him.
The First Apology of Justin, Chapter 67
Some Christians would say that these epistles and statements are unreliable and reflect a general apostasy that was going on in the Church at the time. But this is the Church of which Christ said "the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." Also, the men who wrote letters such as these to the early Christians were the type of people of whom were spoken in Hebrews 11.
Many early Church leaders and followers of Christ such as Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin Martyr, to name a few, suffered severe persecution and eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Romans for spreading the Gospel of Christ. But to keep to the main point, Sabbath-keeping was not a requirement in those days for all Christians, nor was it generally observed. And this was going on long before Constantine the Great enacted his civil Sunday law.
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