Sabbatarianism

In its developed form, Sabbatarianism demands a strictly religious use of Sunday which transfers the rest of the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sunday. Some communities like Seventh-Day Adventists* regard the rest of Christendom as seriously in error because Sunday has replaced the literal Sabbath, but increasingly, strict observance of Sunday is declining even among churches of Anglo-Saxon origin, where it reached its most striking development. Resting on the conviction that the Fourth Commandment is part of the perpetual moral law, Sabbatarianism has led not only to ecclesiastical censures, but also to strict civil law against work and recreation on Sundays. Though there were signs of popular strictness in keeping Sunday in the early and medieval church, civil and canonical requirements were based on tradition and utility rather than natural law.

Saints' days were observed far more strictly than Sundays and during the Reformation of the sixteenth century this legalism was strongly attacked by Reformers without insisting on similarly strict observance of Sunday. Reformers like Beza* and Zanchius emphasized that the Fourth Commandment was natural, universal, and moral. In continental churches this did not lead to Sabbatarianism, but in England and Scotland this doctrine combined with strongly antipapal attitudes and local needs to produce a strictness of Sunday observance which was unique. Originally a feature of Puritanism it gained wide support, and Commonwealth legislation was consolidated in 1677. Future legislation in 1781 and 1871 closed further loopholes, and similar legislation was found in many colonies and parts of North America. There were fierce nineteenth-century battles over Sunday trains, opening of museums, libraries, and limited recreational facilities, but groups like the Lord's Day Observance Society (1831) have had decreasing success since 1945. Reaction against legalistic and joyless Sabbatarianism has been practical rather than theological, and the theological issues involved have largely been ignored by modern Protestantism, except by K. Barth.*

R. Cox, Literature of the Sabbath Question (1835); P. Schaff, The Anglo-American Sabbath (1863); W. Whitaker, Sunday in Tudor and Stuart Times (1933) and The Eighteenth Century English Sunday (1940); M. Levy, Der Sabbath in England (1933); P. Collinson, “The origins of English Sabbatarianism” in Studies in Church History I (1964); C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (1964); W. Rordorf, Sunday (1968); R.D. Brackenridge, “The Sabbath war of 1865-6,” Records of Scottish Church History Society 16:1 (1966).