Sabbath Meetings  

Sabbath Meetings


Calvin Lashway

January 2008 Revised


God instructs us to assemble on the Sabbath with fellow believers:


The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:1-3 New International Version).


And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25, all scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted).


But what are we to do once we assemble on the Sabbath? Historically the Sabbatarian Church of God has followed a format for services copied from traditionally Protestantism, who received these traditions from Catholicism. (If you would like to explore this topic in detail, see Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices by Frank Viola, Present Testimony Ministry, 2002). The services starts with two to three hymns, followed by an opening prayer, a sermonette, announcements, maybe another hymn, the sermon, final hymn and closing prayer. Except for singing, most of those attending these services just sit and listen. This format is sometimes called a “hymn sandwich.” The problem is, nowhere in the Bible can you find a description of this form of Sabbath assembly. In fact, the Bible never gives explicit instructions on how to assemble on the Sabbath.


If the Bible fails to give explicit instructions on what to do during a Sabbath assembly, what are we to do? Continue following a format that has no biblical basis? No, what we can do is examine those scriptures that describe what Christians did when they assembled. These scriptures are not exact commands on what to do during a Sabbath meeting, but are principles we can follow. It makes more sense to follow the pattern of the early church, then Protestant and Catholic traditions. This study will examine the practices of the Jerusalem and Corinthian churches to see what they did in their assemblies. We will then take these principles and see how we can apply then in our Sabbath assembles.


Lessons from the Jerusalem Church

The book of Acts offers a brief look at what the early church, especially the Jerusalem church, did during their assemblies:


Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:41-42).


And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40-42).


The early church gathered to listen to the doctrines or teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42; 5:42). The New Testament preserves their teachings. First, there are the records of Matthew, John and Peter. Then the writings of the later apostles James and Paul. In addition, there are the records of Mark and Luke. Both men served as assistance to Paul. Finally, there is Jude who was the physical brother of Jesus and James. From these men we receive the direct or as with Mark, Luke and Jude, the indirect teachings of the apostles.


The apostles based their teachings upon what they directly learned from Jesus, and what the Spirit led them to understand (John 14:26; 16:13). The apostles also taught from what we today call the Old Testament. The book of Acts records at least forty Old Testament references made by the apostles as they taught and preached (See Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament, Robert G. Bratcher, United Bible Societies, Third Revised Edition, 1984). When the apostle Paul wrote Timothy that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), he was referring to the Old Testament. At the time, this was the only Holy Scriptures people had to read.


The Bible is the only authoritative record of the apostles’ teachings. As modern Christians, we can still gather and listen to these teachings. This involves listening to those with the gift of teaching (Ephesians 4:8, 11; 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4, 28-31), who instruct us from both the Old and New Testaments.


Preaching

And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Timothy 3:15-4:4).


The Paul instructed Timothy to preach the Scriptures, to use them “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In 2 Timothy 4:2 the Greek word translated “preach” is kerusso 2784: “1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald 1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 1b) always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed 2) to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done 3) used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers” The Online Bible. Sometimes scripture teaching involves preaching or heralding. This is a more formal manner of learning with the audience listening to what the speaker has to say. This is not an interactive or participatory approach to learning.


Interactive

Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples [of Troas] came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead (Acts 20:7-9).


In Troas Paul uses a different form of teaching. Instead of the one-sided format of preaching, he used a more interactive approach. In Acts 20:7, the New King James Version says Paul “spoke to them” or as the King James Version has it, “Paul preached unto them.” This Greek word translated “spoke” or “preach” is dialegomai 1256: “1) to think different things with one's self, mingle thought with thought 1a) to ponder, revolve in mind 2) to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss” The Online Bible. The Greek word translated in verse 9 by the New King James Version as “speaking” or “preaching” in the King James Version is also dialegomai. Green’s Literal Translation of verse 7 has “Paul reasoned to them,” and in verse 9, “Paul reasoning for a longer time.” This was not just a one-side conversation; Paul was carrying on a discussion with the brethren. This is what today we might call an interactive Bible study.


The teaching sessions in our modern Sabbath assemblies may include a more formal lecture style of deliver (preaching). Or they might be interactive, with the teacher carrying on a discussion with the assembly. This would depend on the ability of the teacher and the needs of the congregation.


Fellowship

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship . . . (Acts 2:42).


As well as assembling to listening to the teachings of the apostles, early Christians would also gather for fellowship. The Greek word translated “fellowship” is koinonia 2842: “1) fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse 1a) the share which one has in anything, participation 1b) intercourse, fellowship, intimacy 1b1) the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office) 1c) a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship” The Online Bible. This word means more then just a group of people getting together for a meeting. It means more then just spending time with someone else. It means sharing our lives with one another. Building a bond that extends beyond the four walls of where we meet. Our Christian gatherings, especially on the Sabbath ought to encourage this style of fellowship.


Breaking Bread

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:42, 46).


Besides fellowshipping, the Jerusalem church ate meals together. Breaking bread is a reference to eating a meal; it’s not referring to a “communion services” or “Lord’s Supper.” Clearly breaking bread means eating food. The early church gathered daily in the temple and then “breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “Breaking bread” is a descriptive term for eating food (Acts 20:7, 11, 27:33-38). In the book of Acts, fellowshipping and eating meals together (breaking bread), are two different activities. Although, sharing a meal contributes to fellowship. There is something about eating food with others that stimulates fellowship and draws us closer together. When possible, sharing food should be a part of our assemblies.


Group Prayer

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).


And being let go, they [Peter and John] went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: 'Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.' For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31).


Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the [Jerusalem] church. . . . And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying (Acts 12:5, 11-12).


Group prayer was also a practice of the Jerusalem church. Based upon these examples in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42; 4:19-31, 12:5, 11-12), it’s not wrong for Christians to pray with one another. Even the apostle Paul prayed with others (Acts 16:23-25; 20:17-18, 36-37; 21:4-5). It’s essential that our assemblies include congregational prayer.


Praising God with Songs

Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).


So far in this study we have seen how the Jerusalem church listened to the teachings of the apostles, fellowshipped, shared meals and prayed together. It also appears the church sang praises to God. The Greek word translated in verse 47 as “praising” is aineo 134: “1) to praise, extol, to sing praises in honour to God 2) to allow, recommend 3) to promise or vow” The Online Bible. One of the ways we can honor and glorify God is by singing praises to Him (Psalms 7:17; 9:2; 30:4, 12; 61:8; 104:33). The apostle Paul gave instructions to the Ephesian brethren to praise God in song, “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). He wrote similar words to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). As Christians, we should also sing praise to God when we gather on the Sabbath.


Lessons from the Corinthian Church

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he corrects and instructs them on several issues. Some of these issues deal with what happened during their assemblies. Although we live in a different time and culture, what Paul had to say to the Corinthians still has value today. There are several principles we can learn from this letter and apply to our present-day Christian assemblies.


Disciplining

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).


Paul instructs the Corinthian on how to discipline a fellow Christian with a serious sin. When the Corinthians were all “gathered together” (1 Corinthians 5:4), they were to deliver this sexually immoral person over to “Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (verse 5). The goal of this action was to save the individual’s spirit “in the day of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5). Turning someone over to Satan included no longer participating in Christian fellowship with them (verses 9-13).


In his letter, Paul doesn’t say when this gathering took place. From the statement “when you are gathered,” it appears the Corinthians had a regular time for meeting. One such time would be the weekly Sabbath. There are times when more then just worshipping God may happen during a Sabbath assembly. Sometimes it may be necessary to conduct some types of “church business,” like disciplining a fellow Christian. But, Paul also makes it clear that certain financial or physical activities shouldn’t occur on the Sabbath, but on other days, such as the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16: 1-2).


The Corinthian Assembly

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. . . . Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:26-33, 40).


When the Corinthians assembled, each of them had something to contribute to the gathering. Some of them had a psalm to sing, others had a teaching to give, several spoke in tongues, while others interpreted the meaning of the tongues, and there where those who had a revelation to deliver from God (1 Corinthians 14:26). For the modern Christian this tells us that everyone attending a Sabbath meeting has a part to play. No one should just be “warming a seat.” The Sabbath meeting is not a spectator activity. Each of us has something we can contribute to the assembly.


The purpose for the Corinthian assembly was for edification, learning and encouragement (1 Corinthians 14:26, 31). This is similar to what we find in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” We assemble of the Sabbath for edification and encouragement so we can learn to be a loving people who have good works.


One person didn’t dominate the Corinthian assemblies. Their meetings had multiple speakers (1 Corinthians 14:27, 29). The principle we learn from Paul’s instructions is that our modern Sabbath gatherings should be open to more then one speaker, each taking his turn to speak (verse 31).


In the Corinthian church, those listening to the speakers were to judge the content of the message for correctness. Listeners where not to just accept the message without question (1 Corinthians 14:29). The Greek word translated “judge” is diakrino 1252: “1) to separate, make a distinction, discriminate, to prefer 2) to learn by discrimination, to try, decide 2a) to determine, give judgment, decide a dispute 3) to withdraw from one, desert 4) to separate one's self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend 5) to be at variance with one's self, hesitate, doubt” The Online Bible. Green’s Literal Translation of verse 29 is: “And if there are two or three prophets, let them speak, and let the others discern.” The Amplified Bible translates verse 29 as: “So let two or three prophets speak [those inspired to preach or teach], while the rest pay attention and weigh and discern what is said.” Following the model of Corinthians, we shouldn’t just accept what a speaker says. But judge the content of the message, following the example of the Bereans who searched the scriptures to prove if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:10-11).


Paul corrected the Corinthians for having chaotic assemblies. He taught that their gatherings must take place in a decent and orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40), because “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (verse 33). Those speaking shouldn’t all try to speak at the same time; but take turns (verses 30-32). Our assemblies must be peaceful and orderly, not chaotic and confusing.


Conclusion

The practice of the early church must determine how we assemble on the Sabbath, not the traditions of men. Our Sabbath assemblies should include Bible teaching by one or more individuals. These teaching sessions may be preaching or interactive, with all present being able to evaluate the content of the speakers message. The purpose for gathering on the Sabbath is for mutual edification, a responsibility of every member of the congregation. Sometimes an assembly will include “church business.” It’s crucial that our Sabbath meetings allow us the opportunity to share of our lives with one another. When possible, it’s important for us to share food during our gatherings. Sabbath assemblies ought to include prayer, as well as music and singing. Finally, our gatherings must be orderly and peaceful.

© Calvin Lashway 2017  -  Contact: cinfowritings@gmail.com