National Sunday Law

Recently a local gentleman paid for most local homes to receive a little book that somewhat disturbed several members of my congregation. Here’s my response…

Dear friends

Several of you have asked me for my opinion on the little white book passed through letter-boxes over the last couple of weeks, called National Sunday Law by A. Jan Marcussen. The book says that it wants to bring our attention to the impending passing of a national law making Sunday worship compulsory in the USA. As the author points out, such a law would set the state over individual religious choices – an interference that Baptist churches have argued against for over 400 years now. Earlier generations of Baptists gave their lives for the right for all peoples to worship as their conscience dictates, and so we should oppose any such law. Ironically, the book claims that American evangelical churches (and that includes Baptists) are leading the charge to define Sunday as the day of worship, thus disadvantaging those who worship on other days. However, I note that the book was first printed in the 1980’s, that no such law has yet been passed, nor is it likely; the American constitution clearly forbids the state from interfering with religious freedoms, and that is highly unlikely to be overturned. In fact, the last (unsuccessful) proposal for a national Sunday law in the US was in 1880, around the time when the 7th Day Adventist founder, Ellen G. White, first proposed that this would be the ‘mark of the beast’. The suggestion that such a law might be proposed now is simply a means for Mr Marcussen to argue his case for Saturday (sabbath) worship. The book’s key thoughts can be summed up like this: The Roman Catholic church is the first beast, and the USA, specifically the evangelical churches of the USA, are the second beast mentioned in the book of Revelation. The ‘mark of the beast’ is Sunday worship, whereas the ‘seal of God’ is ‘Sabbath’ (Saturday) worship. The book is careful to not condemn those who worship on a Sunday unknowingly, but suggests that those who continue to worship on a Sunday after hearing that it is wrong to do so (i.e., those who have read this book), are definitely in danger of being cast into the lake of fire.

This book was distributed by local author, J.G., who while he was previously associated with the local Seventh Day Adventist church is not a member, and both he and the church leadership are clear that he was not acting on their behalf or in consultation with them in distributing it. The local Adventist pastor says that the contents (as I describe them above) may be held by some of the more ‘hard-line’ members of his congregation, but should not be read as a statement of their doctrine.

You may disagree or agree with the conclusions that the author has reached but overall the arguments of the book are supported by very poor use of the scriptures, even poorer use of logic, questionable facts, and atrocious use of external documents. Let me give you some examples:

a. Poor use of Scripture: On pages 2 & 3 he makes his central argument that the USA is the ‘second beast’, on the grounds that:

  1. it comes up out of the earth whereas the first beast comes up out of the sea, and
  2. a beast that comes up out of the sea represents a beast from a populous area, therefore,
  3. a beast from the earth must come up from a deserted area.

Quite apart from the racism implied by seeing North America as ‘deserted’ prior to the arrival of European colonists, the Biblical reasoning here is very poor. The Bible does say (Rev. 13.1) says that the first beast arose from the sea. The book (pg 2) says: “When a beast comes up out of the “sea” it is represented in prophecy as rising amid many “peoples and multitudes,” {a highly populated area} Revelation 17.15.” It then goes on to say, “To come up out of the ‘earth’ is just the opposite.” Firstly we have to note that Rev. 17.15 is not talking about the beast from the sea but the Whore of Babylon; it does not say that a beast from the sea comes from a heavily-populated area; it says that the ‘many waters’ where the Whore of Babylon is seated (Rev. 17.1) are “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” This indicates not so much a great population, as an extensive rule. The ‘Many waters’ of Revelation 17 do not equal the sea of Revelation 13, but are frequently used in OT poetry and prophecy to indicate ‘floods’ of enemy armies; usually the image is of a river in flood. In Biblical thought, the sea is normally an image of chaos, and the abode of the enemies of God. The image of Revelation 17 is of ‘The Whore of Babylon’ (evidently the Roman empire) as enthroned upon threatening multitudes of nations. As for the final statement, there is no evidence to say that “to come up out of the earth is just the opposite.” It is more likely that it is intended to be seen as complementary – that between them the beasts cover both earth and sea. The conclusion that Mr Marcussen reaches, that the second beast must be North America because it was a ‘deserted’ place in contrast to a heavily populated place relies upon extremely shaky links between scriptures interpreted in very odd ways, and should not be taken seriously.

Later, on page three, the two horns of the second beast are said to indicate “youth, gentleness, and represent civil and religious freedom.” Civil and religious freedoms were central to the founding ideals of the USA, this much is true, but there is no Biblical warrant sought or given for this interpretation, beyond a note that horns are described as being like those of a lamb; hence youth and gentleness. This is completely contrary to the way the bible talks about horns everywhere else, where they are the symbols of power. The natural context for this description of the beast is the extremely aggressive ram of Daniel 8. It should also be noted that the word translated ‘lamb’ can as easily be translated ‘ram’ and is not usually translated thus in the book of Revelation because the translators have made the decision to stick with ‘lamb’ as the most obvious reference to Christ (Christ is usually the one referred to as a ‘lamb’ in Revelation), and are simply being consistent in using ‘lamb’ here, though lambs have no horns, and ram might well be more appropriate. Mr Marcussen does not show any links between ‘youth and gentleness’ and the founding ideals of the USA, or between the beast as described in scripture and these ideals and qualities. He simply says that one means the other and makes no attempt to justify his interpretation, even though it is clearly contrary to basic Biblical reading.

I have to conclude that the Biblical reasoning in this book is shoddy in the highest degree, and should not be trusted but tested carefully at every point.

b. Poor Use of Logic I should say here that this book is not setting itself up as a logical treatise, but is attempting to move people through rhetoric. Nevertheless, it does rest its arguments on supposedly logical conclusions drawn from evidence.

  • One example is the statement that the Bible ‘defines’ blasphemy as “For a man to claim to be God” (pg. 9). This is a logical error on several grounds, but the most glaring is the confusion between an example and a definition. For instance, if I point to a submarine, and say “That is a vehicle,” I’m not wrong, but I’ve given an example of a vehicle, not a definition. If you were to treat my statement as a definition then every other vehicle that didn’t look like a submarine would no longer fit the word ‘vehicle’ – which is ridiculous. Marcussen takes an example of (supposed) blasphemy (Mark 2.3 – 11) and calls it a definition. It doesn’t help that the example was mistaken in any case! And not just because the Pharisees didn’t know that Christ was God, but because God has, in fact, given us the ability to forgive sins on his behalf – that is a key ministry: (See Matt. 9.8, 16.19, 18.18-35, John 20.22-23).
  • On Pg 46 the author asks ‘What is God’s seal?” and then goes on to give three features of a ‘seal’. These three features are then ‘discovered’ to be present in the 4th commandment. But where did the definition of the seal come from? Marcussen doesn’t say and as I cannot find any such definition elsewhere, I have to conclude that he drew his evidence from conclusion; that is, he decided to call the commandment a seal, then looked at the commandment to discover what a seal should look like, and then declares that the commandment is a seal because it has these features! This is called a tautology, or a circular argument.

 c. Questionable facts

  • On Pg. 3 the USA is said to have ‘sprung up quietly, peacefully, “like a lamb.” I think that the nations who were involved in the American Rebellion (France and Britain) that inaugurated the new nation might disagree with this description of its emergence, as might many of the Southern states, who suffered the most from their civil war nearly a century later, and unquestionably the few remaining native American tribes would have something to say about the ‘gentle’ beginnings of the nation.
  • On page 5 the statement is made “Crime doubles every ten years.” There is no reference given, but there has actually been a significant reduction in violent crime in the USA since 1980.

d. Use of External Documents There are two essential problems here.

  • One is that the author is primarily using ‘in-house’ documents; that is, his authorities for the opinions and facts he gives are the books and magazines of his own group (primarily the works of Ellen G. White, and other Review and Herald (Seventh Day Adventist) publications). Thus there is no evidence that he has sought or used information from outside the perspective he hopes to persuade us towards. He gives no indication of actually engaging with alternative points of view or information that might point in a different direction.
  • The second difficulty is that he doesn’t seem to have actually read or understood some of the documents he refers to, and thus uses them incorrectly. An example here is the claim that the Roman Catholic church calls the pope “Lord God the Pope” (Dominum Deum nostrum Papam) (pg. 27). This refers us to appendix 3 where we read, “see a gloss on the Extravagantes of Pope John XXII, title 14, Chapter 4, Declaramus” as if this proves the matter. For me, it raised more questions; a ‘gloss’ means a marginal note on a text, not the text itself. The ‘Extravagantes’ are collections of church law outside the main collections. A gloss on one of these laws means a comment upon that law. Surely a comment on the law is not the law itself, any more than my comments on Mr Marcussen’s writing are his words? Further-more, I discovered a website that answered these charges in detail, saying With much pain and time we found the passage you are quoting in the original manuscripts (Vaticanus latinus 2583, f. 258 v; Vat. lat. 1404, f. 22 r, both from 14th century), and in both it is clearly said “Dominum nostrum Papam”. The wrong formulation, “Dominum Deum nostrum Papam”, we found in an edition of the end of the 16th century, but these old editions cannot be philologically trusted. The original manuscripts have the correct version, and there is no word “Deum” in that sentence. In other words, a copy of the commentary made a couple of centuries later included the word “God” in the pope’s title, but it was clearly seen to be an error, and in either case, it is not part of the formal doctrine or laws of the Catholic church – it is a commentary upon them. Also in Appendix 3 he quotes another Roman Catholic document (the Decretals (laws) of the Lord Pope Gregory IX) as saying that the pope is ““the viceregent upon earth, not of a mere man, but of God;” and in a gloss on the passage it is explained that this is because he is the viceregent of Christ who is “very God and Very Man.”” Perhaps we are meant to read this as saying that the pope is describing himself as “very God”, but that is not what is said; rather it is stated that he is the viceregent (representative) of Christ who is very God. Not only would we want to endorse that fact, but we would want to say that it applies equally to every follower of Christ; we are all charged with being his representatives on earth. We do disagree with the Roman Catholic church in that they see priesthood as being for a few among the believers, whereas we see it as the privilege and responsibility of all who are called to follow Christ, but that is not what is at issue here. Appendix 3 is meant to back up the author’s assertion that the Pope claims to be God. This entire extract contributes nothing to that claim. I’ve been unable to check the authenticity or the weight of the other texts quoted in appendix three, but the way in which these two have been (ab)used doesn’t inspire me with any confidence in the references. The simple checks I have made on these references should be taken with a grain of salt as I haven’t cited the original documents or reliable copies myself, simply done some internet searches. But the results of my chicken-scratch investigations, I think, show that the references made to external documents by Mr Marcussen should be treated very suspiciously indeed.

Because of the very poor process of biblical interpretation, reasoning, regard to fact, or reference to external documents, it does seem very like Mr Marcussen has approached his subject with his mind made up, and has then sought biblical texts, references, and pseudo-facts that can be made to look as though they lead to the conclusions he has already chosen. This needs to be kept in mind when examining his conclusions.

But what about the conclusions themselves? Are the Roman Catholic Church and the American Evangelical churches ‘beastly’? Is Sabbath worship a requirement of Christians? Are we going to hell for worshipping on a Sunday? In answer to the latter, I still intend to be present this Sunday, and for several more following – and I look forward do eternity with Christ NOT because I’ve done all the right things and kept the law perfectly, but because I know my God has forgiven me my sins and I am included in Christ. Now that’s not a reason or excuse for further law-breaking, but we do need to keep before us that our salvation is by God’s righteousness given us in grace, not self-righteousness; Grace, not works.

As regards the Sabbath, there is no question that scriptural support for Sunday worship is minimal at best – and for that reason alone we should never insist that Sunday must be kept as a holy day. But what about the Sabbath (Saturday) as a day of rest and worship as per the 10 commandments? In answering this question, we have to bear in mind what happened to the 10 commandments in the New Testament. Marcussen argues that the 10 commandments are a special sort of law, and that they still apply. This is simply not the message of the New Testament. In general, Jewish laws of all sorts were seen as applying to some degree to Christian converts; thus, while there is no requirement in the 10 commandments to avoid blood or strangled meat, this was so essential to Jewish lifestyles that it was included in the decision of the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15, so that Gentile Christians could have table fellowship with Jewish Christians. Interestingly, in this ‘bare minimum’ of regulations for the gentile believers the only other two prohibitions are idolatry and (sexual) immorality. There is no mention of sabbath observance, and it’s easy to see why this was; the gentile church was made up largely of slaves and freemen – the lower classes of society. These people were not free to cease work or to worship of their own volition and such a commandment would have separated them from Christ. It seems that it went without saying that there should be no ‘sabbath rest’ burden put on these new believers – in fact that would have been a travesty of the sabbath; making a burden out of what should have been a delight!

We should also notice that while the Jerusalem council forbade strangled meat and blood, Paul, in addressing issues of food, doesn’t talk about these features but about the effect of eating on ones self and on others; the questions he asks are “will I be entering into idol worship by eating?” “Will I cause offense to Christians or non-Christians by eating or not eating?” “Will I compromise the Gospel through legalism or licentiousness by eating or not eating?” (See Rom 14, 1 Cor 8 and 10.14-33, Gal 2.11-14), not “Am I breaking a law or commandment – either from the 10 commandments, or from the Jerusalem council?” Underlying everything seems to be the two great commandments; to Love God and to Love our neighbours, and Christ’s New Commandment, to Love one another. He seems to see no problem in people taking the councils requirements as recommendations!

The issue of ‘special days’ also gets occasional mentions in Paul’s letters (Romans 14.5, Colossians 2.8-19 and Galatians 4.10) and while it is not certain in any case that he is talking about the sabbath, it is a likelihood, and his words certainly apply to it: to the Romans, where the Jews are a minority in the church, he writes that they should not judge one another for keeping or not keeping special days, but in all things give Glory to God. To the Galatians, who are being persuaded away from a gospel of grace towards Jewish legalism he describes the observance of special days as ‘turning back to weak and beggarly elemental spirits.” Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to keep and honour the sabbath, but we are commanded to abstain from immorality, from idols, from greed, from gossip, drunkenness, and violence. We are commanded to give generously, to love one another and to honour our leaders – Paul and the other New Testament writers weren’t shy about telling the churches what was required of them. Surely, if sabbath worship was so important to salvation, it would have received a little bit more attention in the scriptures?

In fact, when we read the gospels, we see two things; that Jesus observed the sabbath insofar as he attended synagogue worship (as did Paul) until such time as he was cast out from it, and then he would meet with people wherever and, we have to presume, whenever they gathered! Also, he was constantly accused of breaking the sabbath. Jesus was free in relation to the law, consistently subordinating the sabbath law to God’s call to preach the Good News in word, sign, and deed, and we are to do likewise.

It is good to have a sabbath; to take every 7th day out to enjoy and honour God and God’s people. I take my hat off to those who want to honour God by doing so on the 7th day, when our society expects them to do so on the Sunday if at all. I think their desire to be obedient to God as they understand his command to them is beautiful and should be respected. I will not accept, however, that we are required to conform to a law that Jesus and the apostles do not lay upon us, and I reject as modern-day phariseeism the attempt to make us all 7th-day worshippers with the threat of hell – especially when it comes with such atrocious Biblical analysis!

Are some churches beastly? Undoubtedly. There are very few Catholics, let alone Protestants, who will deny that the Roman Catholic Church has behaved abominably over the centuries – as have many Protestant denominations. RC problems are somewhat more intractable given the enormous size and centralised nature of the church, but Protestant churches are frequently no better, and have often engaged in bitter blood-shed, torture, and mass murder in the name of God.

I do not believe that the Roman Catholic church is the main target of the prophecies of Revelation, nor the USA; those prophecies usually had a very specific referent in the institutions and powers of John’s day – The book of Revelation was kept and read and passed on because it was obviously relevant and true to the first readers. Nevertheless, medieval and modern institutions and powers today should certainly be ‘read’ in the light of the bible, and especially of Revelation. To the extent that any body behaves like a beast, it should be so named, and the judgement of God pronounced. We need simply be aware that where we point elsewhere with one finger, we point back at ourselves with three.

For those who continue to be concerned about issues raised in this book or elsewhere, please feel free to talk with me, an elder, or a home group leader when you’re able. I hope this is helpful.

Your pastor

RDB

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  1. #1 by http://yahoo.com on February 10, 2013 - 11:42 am

    Precisely how long did it acquire u to post “National
    Sunday Law Confessions”? It offers a great deal of beneficial knowledge.

    Thx -Trey

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