Why Do Christians Worship on Sundays?

It’s not a matter of Bible trivia or historical oddities. It’s a matter of redemption. The conundrum can be stated simply. God commanded Israel to “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). This meant the seventh day of the week—Saturday. But Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. Why do Christians do this? Are we disobeying the fourth commandment?

God formed Adam on the sixth day of creation, which was a Friday. God then rested on the seventh day, giving Adam and his posterity a day of rest on Saturday. Adam did not work his first full day on earth. He didn’t even show up at the office and pretend to work. He took a sun-soaked nap instead. As he napped, he soaked in more than the sun. He practiced laying aside his works to allow God to work in him. This is the first Adam’s creation story—and not just Adam’s creation story but all those in Adam. Later, when Adam ate of the tree and disobeyed the Lord (Gen. 3:1-6), all those in Adam died (1 Cor. 15:22a). But as Christians know, this isn’t the end of the story.

The second Adam came to earth to make all those in Christ alive (1 Cor. 15:22b). “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). How did the last Adam—Jesus Christ—give life? The paradox of the gospel is that life comes through death. But not just death. Death and resurrection. The cross of Calvary and the empty tomb are the new creation. Resurrection day—Sunday!—is the Sabbath of the new world. Those who rest in that receive redemption.

Since God made man to participate in the life of the eternal God and since the Sabbath points to the eternal life that comes through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Adam’s Sabbath rest looks forward to Christ’s Sabbath rest. After the Exodus, the Sabbath rest also commemorated the redemption of God’s people from the hands of Pharoah. This also looks forward to Christ’s Sabbath rest, which means the chief job of the OT Sabbath was to foreshadow. Saint Paul’s exact words are that the Sabbath is “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). For Old Testament Israel, this shadow was only dimly appreciated. For the church, Christ’s resurrection validates the accomplishments of his death. All those in Christ now drink of the cup of the covenant of Christ’s blood (Lk. 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:23-32). In so doing they participate in the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).

This is why the early church began worshipping on Sunday, because it was resurrection day, what John refers to as “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Every Sunday is resurrection day. It’s the day the church gathers “in one place” (Acts 2:1) to “break bread” (Acts 20:7), collect an offering (1 Cor. 16:1-20), and meet with the Lord (Mt. 28:1-10; Lk. 24:13-49; John 20:1, 19, 26).

The Old Testament observance of the Sabbath pointed to the future reality accomplished by Jesus Christ, which adjusts Christian obligations to the Sabbath, something that Isaiah prophesied about (Is. 66:22-23). The Sabbath was originally tied to God’s act of creation. The only thing that could change the day is a new creation, a regeneration, a resurrection (Heb. 4:10).

Romans 14:5 says “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” This speaks to the controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians over observing the Saturday Sabbath. John Frame explains:

“Paul and other believers hoped initially that the Jews as a body could be won to Christ. Had that taken place, all Jews would have worshipped Jesus on the first day. But, in God’s providence, the mass conversion did not take place. Like Jesus, Paul attended the synagogue services and presented the gospel there (e.g., Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1, 10). But the number of Jewish converts was a disappointment, which brought much agony to Paul (Rom. 9:1-3). The hostile response to the Jews led him to take the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 13:42-48; 18:6; 28:28). So the churches outside Israel became increasingly Gentile churches, churches made up of people who had not historically kept the Jewish Sabbath. Further, Jewish Christians were either expelled from the synagogues or left voluntarily. So Christianity became less a sect of Judaism, more a faith independent of Judaism. The Lord’s Day became, increasingly, the main time of worship for believers, and observance among them of the seventh-day Sabbath declined.”[1]

The Church Fathers confirm both the biblical testimony and Frame’s historical summary when they wrote about how Christians in the early church gathered to celebrate the resurrection on the first day of the week.[2] And thus so do we, in accordance with Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him (Ex. 20:8, 10-11; Is. 56:2-7), which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week (Gen. 2:2-3; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7), which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10; Mt. 5:17-18).”

It’s not just that the Lord’s Day is for the sake of weekdays. It’s also not the case that the weekdays are for the sake of the Lord’s Day. It’s only when they are self-consciously and mutually reinforcing that the church will further the Kingship of the Lord on earth. Why? Because it’s not enough to merely contemplate the Lord. Rather, Kingdom-living has to be nurtured in a life of devotion and ritual, in the dimension of time, on the Lord’s Day. If we cannot properly honor Christ on the Lord’s Day, how can we expect the Kingdom to be spread to the other days of the week? And if not spread to the other days of the week, how will the Lordship of Christ spread to the whole earth? And so it’s not just important that you know why Christians worship on Sunday. You must treat each Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

Here are some of our other articles about Covenant Renewal Worship

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

[1] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ; P & R, 2008), 563.

[2] G.W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1961), “Kyriakos.”