- In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), the Ten Commandments state "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." For the Jews, this command led to an elaborate weekly observance that began at sunset on Friday evening and continued for the next 24 hours. it included participation at communal worship, as well as refraining from anything that would be considered work, such as cooking, manual labor, and traveling more than a mile (i.e., to the synagogue and back home).For most Christians, who believed that Christ's resurrection took place on a Sunday morning, the sabbath commandment was reinterpreted as applying to Sunday. Believers who read the Bible literally and attempted to live by its precepts, however, would repeatedly face the issue of the proper Sabbath day. Most stayed with Sunday, but a minority reached a different conclusion.The 16th-century Anabaptists revived the issue. Oswald Glait and Andreas Fisher, both former Catholic priests, began to propagate Sabbatarianism (the belief that Saturday is still the Sabbath) around 1528 among Anabaptists in Moravia, Silesia, and Bohemia. Glait wrote a booklet on the subject, known today only from the refutation by Caspar Schewenckfeld (1487-1581). By mid-century in England, as the Reformation spread, individual believers felt free to raise questions that arose from their Bible reading. They discussed the viability of keeping the seventh day (Saturday), the proper behavior for Sabbath rest, and the role of government in enforcing the Sabbath. After all, the Reformers were comfortable denouncing church tradition, and the Bible did not mention Sunday worship.The first congregation organized around the idea of a seventh-day Sabbath was formed in 1617 in London under the leadership of John Trask. It was a Baptist church, and its Sabbatarianism was just one of many characteristic public departures from the norms of the Church of England. By the end of the century, some 15 congregations existed. In America, immigrant Stephen Mumford (c. 1639-1707), who had joined the Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1664, left it in 1671 to open the first Seventh-day Baptist church in what would become the United States. Similar events took place in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the Sabbatarian Baptist movement slowly spread. The unique communal society that was formed at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, by Conrad Beissel (1690-1768) observed the Sabbath on Saturday. After its demise, a small German-speaking Sabbatarian Baptist movement persisted.A national English-speaking organization for Sabbatarian Baptists appeared in 1801 - the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference. A missionary society was formed in 1843, which sent its first missionaries to China. During the 20th century, the General Conference has helped develop Seventh Day Baptist churches around the world. In 1965, the World Federation of Seventh Day Baptist Conferences was formed.In 1840, Joseph Bates (1792-1872), a Seventh Day Baptist, introduced the practice to the Adventists, then in deep sorrow over Christ's failure to return in 1844. The practice spread among many Adventists, though the movement split as a result. In the 20th century, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has become the major force spreading Sabbatarianism among Christians in every country.Smaller Sabbatarian groups also arose. By the 1980s, the Worldwide Church of God had become the second-largest Sabbatarian group in the world, but in the following decade, the church repudiated Sabbatarianism, which had been one of founder Herbert W. Armstrong's (1892-1986) unique ideas. Breakaway Sabbatarians formed several new denominations.The diverse Sabbath-keeping groups, which all faced the common problem of living in a social and legal context that recognized Sunday as a day of worship, banded together in 1943 to form the Bible Sabbath Association. It offers smaller Sabbatarian groups support and works to end discrimination against Sabbatarians in the workplace.Further reading:■ Herbert W. Armstrong, Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?, rev. ed. (Pasadena, Calif.: Worldwide Church of God, 1989)■ Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Biblical Perspectives, 1977)■ Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups (Fairview, Okla.: Bible Sabbath Association, periodically updated)■ Richard Nickels, Six Papers on the History of the Church of God, rev. ed. (Neck City, Mo.: Giving & Sharing, 1993).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.