Saturday: The True Lord's Day. Changed by ANTICHRIST. Daniel 7:25. Avoid His Mark.
So reads a billboard in Aberdeen.
Curious about this message, I called the number on the billboard and received the pamphlet, The Antichrist Identified, from the Eternal Gospel Church. This church, according to the pamphlet, was founded in 1992 by Seventh-day Adventist believers. This church, however, should not be confused with The Seventh-day Adventist Church; they are distinct organizations who do not necessarily share the same beliefs.
I'll jump right to the pamphlet's conclusion: The Antichrist is the Roman Catholic papacy.
Now it's no light matter for one church to label the leadership of another church as the Antichrist. But as far as I can tell, members of the Eternal Gospel Church are sincere in their convictions, and they have the right to express their beliefs. The only relevant question is whether their claim is true.
Let's begin with a little background. The teaching that the papacy is the Antichrist is not new. The belief was commonly held by the reformers, including Martin Luther and John Calvin, and reiterated in the early doctrinal statements of several churches whose roots are in the Reformation. Many, though not all, of those churches have now qualified or rejected this teaching.
The pamphlet's author claims that the Catholic church has fulfilled prophecies, found in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, related to the Antichrist. The billboard highlights one particular prophecy, He will speak against the Most High and oppress the saints and try to change the set times and the laws. (Daniel 7:25)
The author believes that this prophecy was fulfilled when the pope changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
One slight problem with this interpretation, however, is that it has no basis in fact. Followers of Jesus changed from observing the Jewish sabbath (on Saturday) to recognizing Sunday as a holy day of worship gradually and spontaneously, motivated by the growing recognition that Christianity was distinct from Judaism.
The first followers of Jesus were simply Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Gradually, however, the beliefs and practices of these followers became so distinct from Judaism that the two groups separated. One way in which early Christians began to express their distinct identity was by abandoning the observance of the Jewish sabbath and holding their own distinct worship services on Sunday (the Lord's Day) in honor of Jesus' resurrection.
Already in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles reads, On the first day of the week we came together to break bread (20:7) and the Book of Revelation refers to the Lord's Day (1:10). In the early second century, Ignatius of Antioch summed up the change, And so those who lived according to the old ways came to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath but living according to the Lord's Day.
The pamphlet erroneously claims that the papacy officially changed the sabbath in 364. Even if this were a historical fact, however, it's difficult to explain why Christians had been observing Sunday worship for centuries prior to the pope's supposed action.
Limited space prevents me from responding to other errors and misleading statements in the pamphlet, so this one example must suffice. Let the readers decide where the truth lies.
Martin Albl teaches religious studies at Presentation College. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.