The Commandments and the Church

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In 1664, Stephen Munford introduced the Seventh Day Baptist Church and its observance of the seventh-day Sabbath to North America. Nearly two centuries later, the Sabbath was introduced to, and accepted by, a portion of William Miller’s failed Adventist movement.

A member of the Seventh Day Baptist Church named Rachel Oakes convinced Frederick Wheeler, a Millerite Adventist pastor, and his congregation at Washington, New Hampshire, to begin observing the Sabbath in March 1844. T. M. Preble submitted an article supporting Sabbath observance to Joseph Turner’s Adventist publication, The Hope of Israel, which appeared February 28, 1845. Preble’s article caught the attention of Joseph Bates, an activist in William Miller’s Adventist movement. After an all-night Bible study with Wheeler, Bates began observing the Sabbath. In 1846, he introduced Sabbath observance to a portion of the Millerite Adventists’ defunct movement through James and Ellen White, founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Bates also convinced Gilbert Cranmer and Merritt E. Cornell, both Millerite Adventists, to become Sabbathkeepers in 1852. In March 1858, Cranmer established the Church of Christ, in southwestern Michigan. Cornell, employed by James White as an evangelist, founded the Church of Jesus Christ, Marion, Iowa, in June 1860. These churches were the earliest predecessors to the Church of God (Seventh Day).

Since the observance of the Sabbath is stated in the fourth of the Ten Commandments, Sabbathkeeping became synonymous with the phrase “the observance of the whole law” in the 1850s. Those who worshipped on Sunday were said to be keeping nine-tenths of the law, and their salvation was suspect by many Sabbathkeepers.

The Church of God’s position on the law of God in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was addressed by Alexander C. Long. His tract titled The Two Laws was published in January 1898 and became a permanent part of the Church’s Bible Tract Series. It supported the Church’s decades-old position on the nature of God’s laws by stating that God gave Israel two laws: one, the Ten Commandments — a universal, eternal, moral, and unchanging law; and the second, the law containing instructions on Judaism’s annual Sabbaths, ceremonies, and sacrifices, written by Moses in a book.

Based on Long’s concept of the law, the Church of the 1860s through the early 1900s did not teach her members to tithe their increases for the support of her gospel endeavors, nor to abstain from the use of meats that the Bible declared unclean. The Church considered those laws to be a part of Moses’ law and, therefore, no longer in force.

In 1915, Andrew N. Dugger, treasurer of the General Conference, resurrected a resolution that the General Conference had adopted in 1891. It recognized the “tithing system,” not the “law of tithing,” to be its main source of funding. Throughout the 1920s, his implementation of the tithing system resulted in a great increase in the Conference’s tithe receipts and unprecedented growth in the Church’s membership.

However, by the 1930s the tithing system and the distinction between clean and unclean meats were being taught as an obligation of law in some quarters of the Church. The Church’s revision of her doctrinal statement, What the Church of God Believes, And Why in 1949, made them an obligation of the law.

But by the 1970s, the Church of God’s theology was undergoing a dramatic change from her legalisms. It became Christ centered and grace based and abandoned the concept of the two laws. Further, the Church concluded that the new covenant established in Christ’s blood retained only the moral precepts, including the Sabbath, of the Ten Commandments. This change of emphasis was reflected in the revision of her doctrinal statements in 1994.

The Church’s present position on the Sabbath, tithing, and diet are non-legalistic, as stated in her Statement of Faith, 2010:

Article 8, The Sabbath: The seventh-day Sabbath is God’s gift to humanity from creation, was written into the Ten Commandments . . . kept and taught by Jesus, and observed by the apostolic church. A memorial of both creation and redemption, the Sabbath should be faithfully celebrated by believers now as a day of rest, worship, and well-doing.

Article 10, Christian Living: Christians                 are called to holiness in thought, word, and deed and to express faith in Christ through devotion to God and godly interaction with others. As a result — not a cause — of redemption, believers should . . . observe these Bible principles: give tithe and freewill offerings for the support of the church and its gospel ministry; eat for food only those meats the Bible describes as “clean.” . . .

The Church of God continues to celebrate Sabbath rest as a gift to humanity by the God of creation, among the other moral precepts of the Commandments. She does not observe because they were given as law, as previously taught by the Church, but as a new creation in Christ, devoted to pleasing our God and Savior in love!


Read Alexander Long’s extensive
list of the two laws in contrast at


Robert Coulter
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Robert Coulter is a past president of the General Conference of the CoG7 and of the North American Ministerial Council. He pastored numerous congregations, served as the district superintendent of three districts, and directed Missions Abroad for eighteen years. Robert grew up in the Church of God (Seventh Day) in the 1940s, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. From his youth he has had a keen interest in the affairs of the Church and joined its ministerial staff in 1955. He served 24 of those years as the board’s chairman and as president of the General Conference. In his retirement Robert wrote The Journey: A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day). He and his wife, Ida, reside in Northglenn, CO, and attend the Denver church.