Is it necessary to go to church on the Sabbath?

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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. They just give guidelines on what it means to keep it holy. (See Exodus 20:8–11.)

But as we move forward in Scripture, we come across an enlightening verse in Leviticus: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; 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 added a detail about the Sabbath: It’s also to be a time for holy assemblies (i.e., worship services).

Further, in Isaiah, we read, “ ‘It shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says 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 scriptures that highlight this:

  • “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21).
  • “When the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!’ ” (Mark 6:2).
  • “So 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 to read” (Luke 4:16).
  • “Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there 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 clearly see 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 went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42).
  • “He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

These scriptures are referring to church services, where people gathered together on the Sabbath day.

Did Jesus and His disciples worship at the synagogue every Sabbath only because they were Jews? Was it simply a cultural thing to do? God created the seventh-day Sabbath and set it apart for rest and worship when there were only two human beings on the planet—long before Abraham, the father of the Jews. Also, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The word “man” comes from the Greek word “anthropos.” This word is where we get our word “anthropology” and means “human being.” Jesus and His disciples worshiped every Sabbath not because they were Jews but because they were human beings!

Now let’s look at this issue from a common-sense point of view. God said 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 the God who created it?

Worship itself is an act of love. What a privilege to worship our Lord, on His holy day, surrounded by His people—that’s a triple blessing for us! Also, no person 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 in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

If you’re looking for a verse that specifically says, “Go to church on Sabbath,” you won’t find it. However, God has given us the example of His Son, additional verses, and common sense to help us answer this question with confidence.