The Saturday-Sabbath is such a big deal to Seventh-day Adventists that it's their first name, and members around the world have endured significant cultural, economic and sometimes even governmental persecution because of members' determination to keep Saturdays as a day of rest and worship.
The "Adventist" part of "Seventh-day Adventist" refers to the belief that Jesus is coming again, literally and soon, in clouds of glory with angels and trumpets and a live-feed around the world so that every eye will see him. Both parts of the denomination's name point to how the more than 18 million Adventist faithful worldwide take the Bible at face value. Just last year, the SDA world president informed college professors that if they believed in evolution rather than the Bible's literal seven-day creation, then they were not really Adventists.
So why is one of the fastest-growing Adventist churches in the country - First Seventh-day Adventist Church, at 1303 Evangel Drive in Huntsville, Ala. -- beginning a Sunday worship service on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, at 10 a.m.?
"This is kind of next in the evolution of things," said First SDA Pastor Debleaire Snell, an energetic 37-year-old with an engaging smile and quick intelligence. "The Sunday service is going to be a first point of contact for the unchurched in the community and for people who, for whatever reason - beliefs, work - can't come on Saturday. We have communicated to the Conference office (the regional center) because they wanted clarity on this, but once we communicated the purpose to them, they saw that it is not a big deal."
Sabbath still on Saturday
The Sunday service is in no way meant to cancel the importance of receiving the gift of a 24-hour Sabbath from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday each week as a time of fellowship with God and family, Snell said. Anyone visiting an Adventist church for long will hear sermon illustrations about the blessings reserved for those who observe the Sabbath rest in the same weekly rhythm established, according to Genesis, as the crowning work of Creation. Adventists point to the traditions of Jews, who also keep Saturday as their holy day as a way to mark the fact that Saturday is still Creation's seventh day of the week and a continuing celebration of God's creative work in the world -- both at the beginning of time and now.
Traditionally, Adventists aim to make the Sabbath a day of rest and Bible study and do what they can to see that no one else works on Saturday because of them. That's why restaurants around Adventist churches do not fill up on Saturdays after worship service ends, and why Adventist families don't head to Wal-Mart on the way home.
"We're not changing the concept of the Sabbath - this Sunday service is for new members and maybe for our members who want a spiritual kick-start to their week," Snell said.
Snell said that many of his members have said they're likely to come on Sunday even after attending the Saturday, 11:30 a.m., service. The Sunday service, he said, would be a bit shorter, more informal and more focused on teaching than the Saturday service.
Snell points to the first-day gatherings of the early Christians described in Acts as an example of how believing communities meet when they can.
"This shows there is a paradigm -- the Early Christians created a gathering where people could hear and receive the full news of Jesus," Snell said. "We want to do that."