Is Going to Church Necessary on the Sabbath?

Q. The Sabbath command speaks of rest but not worship. Is it necessary to go to church on that day?

?A. It’s true that when God first instituted the Sabbath in Eden, He made no mention of going to church on that day; He just set it aside for a holy purpose, which He would expand upon at a later time. (See Genesis 2:1–3.) And in Exodus, He did indeed give us more details about the specifics of that holy day in the Ten Commandments. Still, the Ten Commandments give no instruction that we are to gather together for worship on that day. It just gives guidelines on what it means to keep it holy. (See Exodus 20:8–11.)

But as we continue to move forward in Scripture, we come across an interesting verse in Leviticus: “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:3). The word “convocation” is from the Hebrew word miqrâ' (????), which means a public meeting, assembly, or gathering. Here God is giving even more details about the Sabbath: In this case, it’s also to be a time for holy assemblies (i.e., worship services).

Moreover, in Isaiah, we read, “It shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). This is speaking of worship in eternity, but God specifically mentions the Sabbath and coming together for worship in this passage.

The main reason, though, that we associate the Sabbath with assembling for worship is the example of Jesus. Here are some scripture references that highlight this:

  • “They went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught”?(Mark 1:21).
  • “And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?” (Mark 6:2).
  • “He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16).
  • “It came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered”?(Luke 6:6).

Over and over again, we see Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. We’re even told that it was His custom to be there on that day. The disciples also followed in the example of Jesus, as we can see clearly in the book of Acts:

  • “When they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down”?(Acts 13:14).
  • “When the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath”?(Acts 13:42).
  • “He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks”?(Acts 18:4).

It’s well-known that when the Jews went into the synagogue, it was for the purpose of worship. These scriptures are referring to those church services, where people gathered together on the Sabbath day.

Now let’s look at this issue from a common-sense point of view. God says that we are to keep the Sabbath holy. That means no work, i.e., ceasing from secular labor, according to Exodus 20:8–11. That leaves us with a free day! What better way to spend the Sabbath than to gather together with like-minded believers and worship God together? Worship itself is an act of love in its true sense. What a privilege to worship our Lord, on His holy day, surrounded by His people—that’s a triple blessing for us! Also, no man is an island. We gather strength from one another. That’s why God told us the following in Hebrews 10:24, 25: “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

If you’re looking for that “gotcha” verse that says specifically, in so many words, “Go to church on Sabbath or else,”—well, you won’t find it. However, God has given us the example of His Son, and many verses besides, to lead us to a clear conclusion in this matter.

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