Sunday: Christian Sabbath, Lord’s Day, or Something Else – An Explanation of the Traditional Position

For the entire series, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

At this juncture in this study of Sunday, I will now define and discuss the traditionalist position of the Lord’s Day–this term originating from Dr. Beale. The traditonalist position seems to be the view that Sunday is a divinely intended day for Christian worship and commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dr. Beale does give a list of about 10 points defending the justification for Sunday worship (Historical Theology in Depth: Part 2, pp103-104). These could be summarized as follows:

  1. Multiple historical events post-crucifixion occurred on Sunday (from the resurrection to the Day of Pentecost). This covers his points 1-4.
  2. Three theologically significant events that happened specifically on the Day of Pentecost, which was on a Sunday. This covers his points 5-7.
  3. Three references to Sunday are found in the apostolic church, which are interpreted to give sanction to our current practice of Sunday worship. This covered his points 8-10.

More can be amplified concerning the three instances of Sunday in the apostolic church, apart from the early historical references. These references are significant as to their categorization – one is descriptive of Christian gathering on Sunday (Acts 20:7), one is prescriptive of gathering donations on Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2) , and one is descriptive of “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Whether this is a reference to Sunday is debated. Dr. Beale is especially helpful by noting that the word used here is a unique adjective that is not used anywhere else except in one reference (1Cor. 11:20, “the Lord’s Supper”). By contrast, it is not the construction we find in reference to the prophetic Day of the Lord (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:2). Given that John spends the first three chapters of the Revelation talking about the present, it does not seem to refer to the prophetic day of the Lord. Still, identification of what John meant in context is difficult in my opinion, without resorting to later historical studies and doing some form of eisegesis.

Now, at this point Lewis Sperry Chafer’s discussion of Sabbath and Lord’s Day contributes more to the discussion. While offering a similar defense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day to the other two, he gives his own emphasis. He ties the subject to the broader theological themes of the distinction between law and grace and the Spirit-filled life.  His unique contribution is the position that Psalm 118 prophesied of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and therefore as a weekly day of worship.

In conclusion, in contrast to the Christian sabbath position, this traditionalist position is helpfully summarized by Overmiller. He points out that the Lord’s day is a result of the new covenant in contrast to the Sabbath as a requirement of the old covenant. It correctly identifies that there was no specific requirement for Sunday worship in the early church, even though it did come to be a day of worship. It is logical, and reasonable for us to select a day to worship once a week, and Sunday being the day of the Lord’s resurrection is surely a good day to do so. However, what is wrong with this position? I will begin to offer some disagreements I have with this in my next post or two. In a word, I will again affirm that I love Sunday as a day for spiritual focus, and I question that any church should change this pattern today before Jesus comes.