kenryland.jpg (4767 bytes)Salvation on Sunday?
by Kenneth V. Ryland

 

As Eddie and I sat there at his desk talking, Eddie turned away for a moment to grab his Bible from the shelf above his desk. When he turned back toward me, he said, "Just a minute, I want to show you something." He opened his Bible to the back, to a page that had once been blank, but I could see that there was quite a bit of writing on the page, some in blue ink, some in black. His scribbles were all in numbered rows with checks at the beginning and end of each item. "This is my list of answered prayers. My pastor told me several years ago that if I kept a written prayer list and checked off each answered prayer, I would really be surprised and have something that I could always praise God about."

And, it was true. There were many answered prayers on the list that were indeed amazing, especially when he began to explain the details of how God has taken care of his needs -- completely apart from his own efforts. He related the story of a porno parlor which had set up shop at the end of his block a few years ago. Since he and many of the neighbors had children, they were very concerned about the type of people who visited the peep shop all hours of the day and night. Eddie said that he pondered for a long time what to do rid the neighborhood of this low-life establishment. Since the city fathers in their wisdom had no interest in rezoning the neighborhood to ensure the safety of the local residents, Eddie knew that it was up to him and his neighbors to do something about it. But what?

After considering a number of options, including burning the place to the ground and bulldozing it, he concluded that there was little he could do that would not land him in jail. One Thursday as he gazed dejectedly at the store on the corner, he said, "Lord, I can't do anything about this. If this porno shop is to be put out of business, You’re going to have to do it." Having uttered these words, he turned and went into his house.

Well, having washed his hands of the matter, he paid it no more attention until something caught his eye on his way home from church that weekend. As he and his family drove past the store, they noticed that the place had been boarded up. It was out of business. And, to magnify God's hand in this matter (not to mention His sense of humor), a short time later a new business opened on that corner. It is now Holy Joe's Donut Shop.

Other items on Eddie’s list of some 40 to 50 prayer requests had equally astounding stories behind their answer. One petition was to achieve some sort of reconciliation with his first wife. Eddie once told me that the kindest words his first wife had ever spoken to him were, "I want a divorce." Well, when Eddie and Loretta were married, neither was a Christian, and life was pretty rough -- and they were rough on each other. In spite of the bitterness of their divorce and their relationship during the succeeding years, God answered Eddie’s prayer. Through circumstances outside the control of either one of them, God dissolved the hostility that had fatally infected their marriage.

Along with this reconciliation came the answer to another one of Eddie’s prayers: that his two daughters be returned to him. He had not seen either daughter for years, but God restored them to him without wrenching them away from their mother. They are both now married to godly young men (another item on the prayer list), and there is peace where alienation once reined.

Well, I could go on for many pages relating the answers to other prayers, but the point is clear: prayer really works. God listens and answers. However, the main thing I want you to know from this is that my friend Eddie does not keep the Sabbath; he is a Sunday-keeper.

 

Can a Sunday-keeper Be a Christian?

The subject of Sunday-keepers and whether they are really Christians is a "hot" topic on the Internet discussion group to which I belong. Although many of the participants say, "Yes, Sunday-keepers can be Christians and have the Holy Spirit," there is a very large number, probably over half, that reject this notion. The most common argument is that since the Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments and Sunday-keepers regularly violate that commandment, it is not possible for a Sunday-keeper to be a "true" Christian because we all know that God gives His Spirit only to those who obey Him. And, since God does not hear sinners, "obviously," Satan is answering their prayers, not God.

Well, this is a very tidy theological argument against including Sunday-keepers in the body of Christ, but it overlooks a number of important issues.

However, before examining some of these issues, I need to make a disclaimer, lest I be misunderstood. I believe emphatically that the biblical day of rest is the Sabbath, not Sunday. Let no one construe anything said in this article as advocating the keeping of Sunday. On the contrary, I wish I could convince every Sunday-keeping believer in Jesus Christ of the blessings of the Sabbath. There is a dimension of understanding God as Creator, Deliverer, and Provider that is greatly deepened by keeping the Sabbath.

That being said, can I sit here and tell you that God has nothing to do with people like Eddie? No, I cannot. Does Satan do all these kind and wonderful things for Eddie and his family just to keep them in the dark about the Sabbath? Can a bitter spring bring forth sweet water?

Although I continue to lobby for the keeping of the Sabbath because it is the true biblical day of rest, I am continually amazed at the belief of many that the best you can hope to get from God if you keep Sunday is an "E" for effort. One pastor told me that God recognizes their sincerity and will give sincere Sunday-keepers a chance for salvation at the second resurrection. Is that really what God thinks, or is this an attempt to make God fit our mold?

In the Gospel of Mark is an account that should make us think about such things. "Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.’" (Mark 9:37-41.)

Is it a requirement that we be able to recognize someone as a Christian before that person is a Christian? Obviously not! From this passage we see that Jesus had disciples who were not a part of his inner circle and were unrecognizable to them. Yet, these disciples did miracles in His name, and the Lord declared them to be "on our side." This goes hand-in-glove with what Jesus said in the passage about His being the good Shepherd. "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16.)

Jesus will bring all his sheep together into one flock, but He does not say when that will be. We know that we will all be one with Christ and the Father at the resurrection, but the Bible does not seem to reveal a church in complete unity this side of the Kingdom of God. Many Sabbath-keeping groups have little chance of coming to any kind of unity (to our shame), let alone achieving unity with those who keep Sunday. However, God’s purpose cannot be thwarted by His squabbling, bickering children. At the moment of our Savior’s return, the Church will be without spot or wrinkle. Perhaps in the fires of the Tribulation we will all seek to hear His voice and yield to His will. If there is a moment of unity for the body of Christ, it will be in tribulation when our very lives depend on clinging to Him. At that point there will be no "playing at church."

Perhaps the Seventh-day Adventists are right. God is not now making the Sabbath a "make-or-break" point of salvation. Adventists believe that God will not require all to keep the Sabbath until the Tribulation when the Antichrist mandates the keeping of Sunday in conjunction with the worship of him. For now He is overlooking this sin because of the ignorance of Sunday-keepers about the Sabbath.

One point that is often passed over in this debate surrounding the Sabbath and salvation is, where does a Christian’s walk with Christ begin? Does he become a new creation in Christ only when he begins to keep the Sabbath, or are repentance and faith in the atoning death of Christ enough? If keeping the Sabbath is a requirement for beginning our walk with Christ, I do not find it in scripture. What I do find is Peter saying, "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). It is true that Peter was speaking to Jews and proselytes at Pentecost, but this same call to repent and be baptized is repeated consistently throughout the New Testament to both Jews or Gentiles. There is not Sabbath requirement attached to it.

 

Dedicated to Christ

One thing that has impressed me greatly in recent years is the number of Sunday-keeping Christians who have risked imprisonment and even death to smuggle Bibles into areas of the world where God’s Word is forbidden. It is true that Seventh-day Adventists have sent missionaries into some very dangerous areas of the world in order to bring Bibles and an expression of God’s love to people who would otherwise be shut off from the rest of the body of Christ, but in actual fact, Adventist missions make up a very tiny part of the total effort to carry God’s Word to people in restricted countries. This work is spread across almost all conservative Christian denominations who hold the Word of God to be the source of God’s truth to the world--people who consider God’s Word to be as valuable as life itself. Jesus said that there is no greater love that any of us can show than to lay down our lives for others, and so it has been in the "Underground Church." Thousands have "loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11).

Some of you may have heard of the following Romanian pastor and Bible smuggler, who like many other Christians in his country were forced to endure many years of suffering at the hands of both the Nazis and the communists. He gives us the following account of how he received smuggled Bibles from Christians in the West:

"One afternoon I rested for a little bit in the house of a brother in a provincial town. He awoke me and said, ‘Brethren from abroad have come.’ In the West there were Christians who had not forgotten or abandoned us.

"Rank-and-file Christians had organized a secret work of relief for families of Christian martyrs and smuggling in of Christian literature and help.

"In the other room I found six brethren who had come to do this work. They spoke much with me. After a long time they told me that they had heard that at this address there was somebody who had spent fourteen years in prison and they would like to see him. So I told them that I was the man. They said, ‘We expected to see somebody melancholic. You cannot be this person because you are full of joy.’ I assured them I was the imprisoned one and my joy was in knowing they had come and we were no longer forgotten. Steady, regular help began to come to the Underground Church. By secret channels we got many Bibles and other Christian literature and relief for families of Christian martyrs. Now, being helped by them we of the Underground Church could work much better.

It was not only that they gave us the Word of God, but we saw that we were beloved. They brought us a word of comfort." (Tortured for Christ, page 52.)

The author, Richard Wurmbrand, like many of his Christian compatriots never wavered in their love of Christ and His Word even though it cost many thousands their lives along with countless beatings and years of imprisonment. Have not these and those who offered them help from outside their country obeyed Christ’s command to visit those in prison. These Bible smugglers have also fulfilled Christ’s command to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

Sheep and Goats

We should keep in mind what Christ said would be one of His principle criteria for judging between the sheep and the goats:

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and cloth You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

"And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:31-40)

So, where can we draw the line on what it takes to be saved? Is it at the Sabbath alone? In spite of my love of the Sabbath, to set this as the principle criterion for salvation seems to me to be a very narrow, one-dimensional approach to Christianity. Jesus did say that there was one way that the world would recognize us as His people: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). We understand that the Sabbath is God’s gift to us to ensure our fellowship with Him and with each other. However, it is not our only means of fellowship, and those who do not share our love of this gift can still love their Creator with all their heart, soul, and mind. If our Lord has brought people to repentance and into fellowship with Him in a climate which does not include the Sabbath, then He must lead them to all truth. It is not within our authority to judge their level of conversion or their ultimate fate. In fact, we must be very careful about making any such judgments of anyone. "Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:4)

 

Looking for Balance

Where do you stand this issue? Are you one who avoids Sunday-keepers because you believe that they are pagans masquerading as true Christians? Or, are you willing to accept those who you know embrace Christ as Lord and obey Him to the full extent of their knowledge without subscribing to their beliefs?

In spite of the excesses and outright fraud of some religious leaders we have all too often witnessed in the news (it would be too easy to focus only on these examples), there are a lot of ministries doing the very things that our Lord said Christians must do. If we truly believe that these people are not of God, why do we continually go to them for advice and guidance?

There is probably no one in the Christian world who has done more to set marriage and family relations on a godly track than James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Having spent many years working in the publications department of a Sabbath-keeping organization, I cannot count the number of times Focus on the Family material was referred to in order to gain a better perspective on family problems. Their material was used for one reason: it stated the truth from a godly perspective much better than we could. Was that a mistake on our part? No, the only mistake would have been to reject the truth because it didn’t come packaged the way we would have liked. Truth belongs to God, and pride should not keep us from receiving it. If we could have found better material written by Sabbath-keeping Christians we would have used it, but there was none.

Many Christians have regained a godly perspective on their finances through the ministry of Christian Financial Concepts. Larry Burkett’s ministry has help thousands get out of debt by teaching the necessity of putting God first and exercising financial discipline.

When it comes to fulfilling Jesus’ command to take the gospel to the world, we need look no further than a kind Dutchman named Brother Andrew who grew up under Nazi tyranny. As a young man during the 1950’s he got the idea of filling the space under the fender panels of his little Volkswagen with Bibles and smuggling them into countries behind the Iron Curtain. His ministry, called Open Doors, continues today in many very dangerous areas of the world. And, there are many others who have done the same. The willingness to lose their own lives if necessary so that others might gain the Word of God should evoke our admiration. There have been many who have carried God’s Word where we have not been willing to go.

Having been personally involved with the Rutherford Institute for a number of years in this area, I can attest to the fact that this organizations’s lawyers have taken on numerous cases in defense of Sabbath-keepers who have either lost their jobs because of the Sabbath or were facing some other form of discrimination resulting from their religious practices. And, all of this was done at little or no cost to the client. Yet the Rutherford Institute is only one of several groups of Christian lawyers who are engaged in vigorous defense of our religious freedom.

I could go on to many other areas of Christian life such as scientific research and publications which exalt our Creator and debunk the theory of evolution, ministries oriented to preparing Christian youth to meet a world hostile to Christianity, and the like, but I think you get the point.

In all this a sense of proportion must prevail. It’s easy to center our attention on the news of a pastor who runs away with the church secretary and the church’s money. There has been much to criticize in the religious realm. We have witnessed a great deal of fraud and chicanery. The things that catch our attention are the big-name ministries which flaunt big money, big houses, big cars, and, sometimes, big theft. But, in spite of the notoriety received by these wolves in sheep's clothing, a large percentage of Sunday-keeping pastors live below the poverty line. They pastor their churches because they are convinced that God wants them to serve the body of Christ in that manner. It’s that simple. They serve because they believe they are called to serve.

We should not forget that the body of Christ is diverse in need and scattered over the entire globe. The needs of the followers of Christ are too many and too great for one group to fill them all, and our time to carry out His work appears to be short. Jesus Christ takes care of His flock and will always supply whatever is needed for its edification as well as its preparation for the hard times ahead, which precede His coming. Each person and each group of people who are willing to listen to Jesus Christ and do whatever needs to be done have specific duties in completing the worldwide work that has to be done before our Lord will set foot again on this earth. We are His hands, His feet, and His voice to the world.

 

Some Advice

My best advice is for all of us to be too busy plowing our own fields to worry about how another should plow his, and treat all who say they are Christians as Christians until they prove otherwise by their behavior -- not by whether or not they keep the Sabbath. If my friend Eddie or Richard Wurmbrand or any Sunday-keeper can pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ and have such prayers answered, I can only rejoice that God has heard and answered his prayers. I cannot blaspheme as the Pharisees who said that Jesus cast out demons by the power of "Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons" (see Matthew 12:22-37). If I am secure in the knowledge that I know Jesus Christ and that I am obeying Him to the full extent of my understanding, then I should have little concern over what others may be doing and have no reason to oppose anyone who says he is a Christian, unless he is clearly turning people away from Christ. If we are seeking perfection -- even in doctrine -- in this human condition, then we have missed the point of what it means to be human. That’s one of the reasons we long for a "better country," and in that better country there will be plenty of time for Jesus to straighten out our understanding of doctrine.

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The author welcomes your comments and questions. You can reach the author by writing to ACD, or directly by e-mail at kvryland@fn.net