By Bill McMilleon
In Romans 14:5 Paul wrote, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord.”
Does this passage teach that our worship services on the first day of the week are only a matter of personal preference; that one day is as good as another? Can this verse be applied to the Seventh Day Adventist position? Should we not allow the Adventists the liberty of worshiping on the Sabbath without condemnation? These are questions which have occasionally come to me from young Christians or older ones who should know better.
The First Day Assembly
Before dealing with the context of Romans 14, it is in order to consider what the New Testament Scriptures say about the first day of the week.
In Hebrews 10:25 we are told “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together.” We can easily see from this verse, though negatively stated, that we are commanded to assemble. Granted, the day of the assembly is not found here, but can be elicited from a study of other pertinent passages.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul had to give specific instructions concerning observance of the Lord’s Supper. In v. 20 Paul says, “Therefore when you meet together it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” If you continue reading, the reason for Paul’s statement becomes obvious (i. e. their abuse in its observance). The point to be emphasized here is that, even though their manner of observance was faulty, their coming together was not rebuked. The Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated when they came together. Now, when did they come together? The only passage directly related to our subject at hand is Acts 20:7 which states, “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” Since Paul was present (v. 7b) and participated, this assembly for the purpose of breaking bread (Lord’s Supper) had apostolic approval (see Phil. 4:9). While it is true that the assembly in Act 20 took place in Troas, the concept would have universal application. Paul taught the same thing in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17).
What have we learned?
(1) We are commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25).
(2) That the purpose for this assembly is the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11).
(3) By apostolic example we know the time of this observance (Acts 20:7).
The foregoing facts establish the New Testament pattern for the specific day of worship under the New Covenant. If Paul is saying in Romans 14 that each man is left to his own convictions in this matter, he has contradicted not only himself, but the other writers of the New Testament Scriptures.
Context And Situation
I firmly believe that most, if not all, difficulties in understanding a particular Scripture can be resolved by a close examination of the context and situation. With this thought in mind, let us examine Romans 14:5.
In Romans 14 Paul uses phraseology which demands that we should understand these verses as applying to individual action. Notice the language, “one who is weak” (v. 1), “one man has faith” (v. 2), and “one man regards one day” (v. 5). It is obvious (at least to me) that Paul is not dealing with group or collective action and, therefore, has nothing at all to do with the first day of the week assembly.
Jews that were converted to Christianity would initially hold to many things found in the Old Covenant until they were spiritually mature enough to recognize these things as not belonging to the New Testament system. That is why Paul calls them “weak in the faith” in verse one. Thayer says that this word “weak” means, “want of strength or capacity; to understand a thing.” If an individual felt, due to his “inability to understand a thing” in the faith, that he had to honor a day not necessarily belonging to the New Testament system, he was allowed that liberty. The rub came when he would try to make his liberty a law binding on someone else (notice v. 4). This does not excuse remaining immature or “weak” but does give some allowance for time to grow (Heb. 5:12, 13). Any thinking person can see that the Adventist position is not, even in the remotest sense, an exercise in individual liberty by immature Christians. They not only would bind the Sabbath upon all but take it to the extreme of anathematizing those who observe the first day of the week. The following statements from their own writings show this to be true. Referring to the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 19:20 they may, “Sunday keeping must be the mark of the beast” (The Marvel of the Nations, Uriah Smith, pg. 183). Also, in the August 1850 issue of the Advent Review Extra on pages 10 and 11, we have this statement, “Sunday keeping is an institution of the first beast and all who submit to obey this institution emphatically worship the first beast and receive his mark, `the mark of the beast’. Those who worship the beast and his image by observing the first day are certainly idolaters, as were the worshipers of the golden calf.”
I do not have to be an exegetical genius to recognize that this type of arbitrary definition of the mark of the beast is erroneous. The Adventists cannot escape the fact that their all inclusive condemnation of those who observe the first day of the week would cast the apostle Paul into Hell! Read Acts 20:7 and Revelation 14:9-11 along with their exegesis (?) on the mark of the beast which is found above and see if this is not so!
The Spirit inspired apostle wrote, “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival, or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16). This includes the Adventists.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 6, p. 210
April 7, 1983